194
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Acute pain, such as an ankle sprain or a slip-and-fall injury, often needs rest
to heal, which may mean avoiding or modifying yoga poses. But when pain
becomes chronic, mind-body practices such as yoga have been shown to
be well-suited to providing a safe supplement to medical care.
CHRONIC PAIN
Q
Can yoga really
help when pain
becomes chronic?
Yes, there is evidence to show that
it can help. Pain becomes chronic
when it persists beyond the healing
time of about three months. If you
suer from chronic pain, such as
many cases of back pain or
arthritis, you generally don’t need to
rest more because there may be
little to no physical damage to heal.
In fact, you probably need to move
more because exercise tends to
help relieve chronic pain, along
with reducing associated stress.
Yoga practices have been shown
to have an analgesic—or pain-
relieving—eect. In one study of
military veterans with lower
back pain, opioid use
declined in all subjects
after a 12-week, twice
weekly yoga program.
BRAIN PERCEIVES
PAIN MORE
FREQUENTLY
BRAIN IS UNABLE
TO INTERPRET/
REGULATE
PAIN SIGNAL
LESS LIKELY TO
MOVE, SO PAIN
IS NOT RELIEVED
EMOTIONAL AND
PHYSICAL HEALTH
IS AFFECTED
MYTH-BUSTER
Meditation relieves
pain because of the
placebo eect.
Recent research has shown that
mindfulness meditation works
better than a placebo in reducing
pain. Subjects were exposed to
a painful heat stimulus before
and after receiving treatment: a
placebo cream, “fake meditation,
and traditional mindfulness
meditation. The intensity and
unpleasantness of the pain was
evaluated psychophysically and
by functional neuroimagery.
The mindfulness group’s pain
intensity and unpleasantness
reduced most signicantly.
Four 20-minute
mindfulness classes
can reduce pain’s
unpleasantness by
57%
CHRONIC PAIN CYCLE
When the brain frequently
perceives signals as pain, it
becomes inured and is unable
to regulate its response. Yoga
helps break the cycle.
US_194-195_Chronic_pain.indd 194 02/11/2018 14:06
195
Q
Will asana practice reduce
my chronic pain?
It depends. Some asanas can
help reduce pain by stretching and
strengthening the aected area(s).
However, biomechanics is just one
piece of the puzzle. At its most basic
level, what your brain interprets as
“pain” starts as a signal received
from a receptor (nociceptor) in your
body. Research has shown that the
amount of pain perceived doesn’t
depend on the amount of tissue
damage as seen in X-ray or MRI
scans. This means that without the
brain there is no pain; but this
doesn’t mean pain is imagined. Your
brain builds your pain experience
just as it constructs your reality and
perspective. The level of pain you
experience is based on your brains
interpretation of the level of danger
those signals represent. So, as with
chronic stress, chronic pain is partly
a problem with regulation, often
related to a faulty alarm system.
Research shows that relaxing yoga
asanas and practices, such as
meditation and pranayama, can
help regulate the pain response.
Did you know?
Chronic pain
causes gray matter
deterioration,
but the areas of
the brain that are
degraded by
chronic pain are
restored during
meditation through
the increase of
neural connections
in those areas.
Q
How much do I
need to meditate
to reduce pain?
Research has shown that less
than 1½ hours of meditation training
may help alleviate pain and diminish
pain-related brain changes. One
study showed that just four
20-minute mindfulness classes
reduced the unpleasantness of pain
by 57 percent and the intensity of
pain by 40 percent. It wasn’t just the
perception of the pain that changed:
the brains activity also measurably
changed. The same study showed,
via fMRI scans, that meditation
reduced pain-related activation of
the primary somatosensory cortex.
Instead of a spike of activity in the
area of the somatosensory cortex
related to the location of the pain,
researchers found that, while
meditating, participants had more
brain activity reecting sensory
awareness of the neck and throat,
which represented the participants’
mindfulness of their breathing.
Relaxing yoga
asanas and
practices, such as
meditation and
pranayama, can
help regulate the
pain response
US_194-195_Chronic_pain.indd 195 02/11/2018 14:06
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