Yoga for Men: Dealing with Stress and Pain Before it Gets Out of Control

An interview with Andrew Beaumont, M.D., Ph.D., Yoga Therapist & 5 Koshas Yoga Partner
By Bernice Thill, Writer and Yoga Practitioner

Andrew Beaumont, M.D., Ph.D., was inspired to become a yoga instructor after seeing so many patients in his neurosurgery practice with back and neck pain and few options for self help. In addition to his medical work, he now teaches Viniyoga and yoga therapy focused on helping men and women tackle their structural issues as well as stress.

 

“I realized the benefits of yoga after trying to deal with my own injuries,” Beaumont explained. “I wanted to bring those benefits to others.”

 

While men and women are equally affected by back and neck problems, Beaumont’s experience is that men tend to get into more pain before they seek help. “Some men have a fear of showing weakness, or complaining about pain. They can be less likely to take care of themselves with preventive strategies,” he said.

 

Beaumont sees two consistent and related problems men endure.

 

The first is increased muscle tension, which can cause neck, back, leg and pelvic pain and headaches. The second is stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety make muscle tension worse, and increased muscle tension and pain makes stress worse. 

 

“The accumulated pain and stress can start to influence relationships with wives and children and extended family, which in turn causes more stress,” he explained.

 

“Men and women in middle age are often wearing many hats. They are still raising children, but might be caring for parents as well. They often have to do physical work at their own place of residence and sometimes at their parents as well. There may be workplace stress that compounds all this.” 

 

Beaumont finds that men dealing with these issues often react to the stress by tensing up and holding that tension in their back and necks, hunching their shoulders over and walking with a flexed posture. This is a physically defensive position, brought about by the mental stress. All this muscle tension leads to fatigue and pain.

 

“Yoga can help relieve muscle tension,” he explained. “Through breath work and meditation, it can also help with anxiety and stress. So with regular yoga practice you can begin to unravel the vicious cycle of muscle tension, pain, stress and fatigue.”

 

For men in particular, yoga therapy can help in several ways:

  1. Stress reduction
  2. Muscular relaxation
  3. General and cardiac fitness
  4. Help with neck and low back pain
  5. Improved relationships with family and friends

“Men and women are prone to developing structural spine problems in middle age,” he said. “The most common symptom is pain. It can be hard to distinguish the pain of muscle tension and stress from the pain of structural spine problems. Numbness, tingling, pain shooting into the arms or legs and weakness would all be unusual symptoms for muscle tension and stress, and these symptoms should make you think of underlying spine problems.” 

 

Yoga therapy, when performed with a yoga therapist, has the ability to help with spinal disorders too, and regular yoga and other exercise is an important tool to help prevent flares of symptoms related to degenerative spine disease.

 

“To get the benefits from yoga, it is important to have a regular practice. When you are tired, stressed and in pain, it can help heal you, but it’s also really useful as a way to prevent the build up of stress,” Beaumont added. “Keeping up with that ‘you time’ is key to being able to keep going through all the stress and physical demands we face in life.”

 

With Father’s Day just around the corner, consider giving a 5 Koshas gift card to the men in your life HERE. Gift cards can be used toward exploring various classes and getting started with a new practice to help ease pain and stress.

Mind-Body Practices to Manage & Alleviate Chronic Pain

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”…. Buddhist proverb

Pain is an important part of life. Pain is protective. It helps stimulate the healing response through release of chemicals and hormones in the body. We will all feel pain in our lives. However, pain can also become prohibitive. It can stop us doing the things we want to do. It can become chronic and consuming, where it affects the way we think, and feel and interact with those around us. It becomes suffering.

The best way of dealing with pain is to try to eliminate the source. Sometimes this means medical treatment. Sometimes it means rest and recuperation; breaking the cycle of repeated injury that we can easily fall into. Sometimes eliminating the source isn’t possible though. It continues. There are good days and bad days, changing with the weather, our diet, our mood and for inexplicable other reasons. Some pains relate to diseases or conditions which cannot be cured and we have been told to ‘live with it’.

The Buddhist proverb tells the story. We will all feel pain, and not all pain can be directly eliminated. But do we have to suffer? Mind-body practices have a unique ability to help, especially when it comes to determining whether or not pain leads to suffering, because that distinction occurs within the space of the mind.

On the simplest level body work such as yoga and massage can improve blood flow to tissues, increase lymph flow, help wash away inflammatory chemicals and contribute to tissue healing. The mental aspect of mind-body practices however can help how we process pain. How we react to it, and how we let it affect us. Chronic pain leads to stress, fear and depression which can be reversed. Meditation has been shown to be very helpful for pain from many sources. Science has shown, using scans, that the brain handles pain differently in patients who meditate, even to the extent of different parts of the brain being active. It has also been shown to be able to reduce the amount of pain medication people take. So it is a powerful tool.

Taking part in mind-body practices is not an admission that its ‘all in the mind’, and pain is certainly not ‘weakness leaving the body’ as the military saying goes. One of the core goals of mind-body work is taking a non-judgmental approach. Feeling pain is not your fault, its not because you have not been trying to get better. The very step of calming your perspective to the situation can be a first major step in the pathway to feeling better.

If meditation can improve the way the brain processes pain, then it can alter pain perception, it can improve how the pain affects us emotionally and how we handle our thoughts and feelings in the context of chronic pain. Chronic pain leads to a rewiring of the nervous system that makes it increasingly easy to feel pain; like a memory that becomes ingrained. Meditation has the power to reverse this imprint, as well as improve emotional and psychological well-being.

Combining physical and mental exercise in a mind-body practice therefore has the greatest ability to impact pain by combining the benefits of both. Yoga has a unique power to achieve this and yoga has an increasing amount of scientific evidence to support its power over pain.  Doing a practice regularly and consistently is important. Doing it with a friend or an understanding partner can really enhance things through the benefits of social connection.

While pain may be inevitable, suffering as a result of it isn’t. If you deal with chronic pain consider exploring mind-body practices and deepen your understanding of and relationship with your pain. Wrestle back control of your situation and don’t let your pain become suffering.

Meditate for Better Health

So what exactly is meditation?  Meditation can mean different things to different people. To some, it is something weird or eerie that Buddhist monks do. To others, it is something they think they could never do because they don’t have the patience. To others, meditation is a life-changing experience that gives them mental clarity, less stress, and better physical health. Which of these will meditation be to you?

The good news is that meditation can be a life-changing experience for anyone. You don’t need any special skills, mental super powers, or inductions into secret societies. Meditation simply means mastery of the mind. We can all do that to some degree. Imagine a big, sweet, sticky cinnamon bun, dripping with frosting. It’s easy, right?  You were probably able to control your mind and bring that image into your awareness with a simple instruction. Unfortunately, we don’t focus on controlling our minds very much.  Our thoughts tend to run wild, causing chaos, lack of focus, fear, anxiety, and stress.

Imagine your internal dialogue any time during the day.  Our minds tend to fly from one thought to the next, thinking of problems, solutions, fears, things we are looking forward to, memories of the past, etc. The thoughts are like bubbles coming up through water, and as each one hits the surface, it is in our attention until the next one appears. This is a hugely inefficient and stressful way of thinking.

The goal of meditation is to wrestle control of these bubbling thoughts, and replace them with a fixed thought or series of thoughts, which calms the mind and reduces the internal chatter. In many ways this acts as brain rest, which allows the brain time to recharge and collect itself. It is better than sleep, since when we sleep our minds can be just as active, running rampant through our dreams.

Meditation has been scientifically shown to alter brain waves measured by electroencephalogram. It can reduce stress, and in turn, reduce stress-induced disease. In the world of ancient yoga, it was believed that meditation helped you approach a state of complete bliss without care or worry, completely at peace with yourself and the world. Yoga postures were designed to prepare the body for breathing exercises (pranayama), which were in turn designed to prepare the mind for meditation. So the whole premise behind yoga was that of preparation for more efficient meditation.

There are many types and styles of meditation. In one of the simpler methods, we select a pleasing image (such as the cinnamon bun), an object we associate with, or a memory.  We try to fix the mind on this object or place, and keep thinking about it. If the mind wanders off to the thoughts, we bring it back to this image, and keep doing that until the meditation session is over. Meditation sessions can be minutes or hours (even days) in duration, depending on your goal. There are definite health benefits to even a few minutes of meditation every day. Starting with a modest goal is very reasonable.

With a little practice, this process becomes easier and easier. It becomes possible to drop into meditation almost anywhere, even for a few moments, to help clear the mind and rejuvenate, or de-stress. There is nothing mystical about any of this, it is just a clearing of the mental bubbling.  Anyone who is capable of thinking is capable of doing it.

Controlling the Breath for Well Being – Pranayama Part 1

Pranayama is the technique of breath control during yoga or meditation. The origin of the term is Sanskrit, literally translated as ‘control of the life force’. Pranayama is an incredibly powerful technique that can influence both the mind and body. If performed incorrectly however the influence can be negative. There are many ways of controlling the breath, including changing rate, depth, mouth shape and other variables.

But how can Pranayama work? How can changing the breathing have any impact on our body?

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