How yoga therapy can support relief from chronic pain
Millions of people experience chronic pain worldwide, and yoga therapy can help.
In this article, yoga therapist Marlysa Sullivan, DPT, PT, C-IAYT, discusses how yoga therapy practices support individuals living with chronic pain—including exactly how these mechanisms can regulate the nervous system.
“Yoga offers body-based practices such as breathing techniques and movement which provide ‘bottom-up’ strategies for regulation and resilience. In other words, through breath and movement, a change in autonomic nervous system activation may occur which can also help foster changes in emotion, mood and posture.”
Breaking down the mechanisms of yoga for pain
The nervous system has some control over nearly every aspect of health and well-being, including stress, sleep, movement, memory, thoughts, and emotions. Bottom-up strategies work directly with sensory input to regulate the nervous system: Breath (like yogic pranayama) and movement (like asana, or physical yoga postures) activate sensory receptors that send information to the brain, where that information is processed and interpreted. Breathing slowly and rhythmically, for example, sends information that signals the system to relax. This in turn can ease the stress response common in states of chronic pain, soothing symptoms.
Beyond breath and movement
Beyond breath and movement, other aspects of the yoga therapy approach can help with chronic pain:
“Through intentions (i.e., non-harming or contentment) and meditation, a change in mental state and autonomic nervous system state is cultivated which can assist in regulation and resilience of the body and mind,” says Dr. Sullivan. “In addition, research indicates that yoga helps to foster experiences of connection and compassion which has a positive impact on both levels of pain and disability.”
Find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist to help you or a loved one with chronic pain.