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.

Yoga + Mindfulness Tools for Conscious Eating & Embodied Well-Being

When we start to pay attention in an intentional and nonjudgmental way, as we do when we cultivate mindfulness, and thus bring ourselves back into the present moment, we are tapping into very deep natural resources of strength, creativity, balance and yes, wisdom – interior resources that me may never have realized we even possess.  Nothing has to change.  We don’t have to be different or “better.”

– Jon Kabat-Zinn in the Foreward to ‘Mindful Eating’ by Jan Chozen Bays, MD

Are You Ready For A New Relationship to Food, Eating and Exercise?

Are you ready to inhabit your body from the inside out?  Are you ready to listen to your internal cues for what nourishes you?  Have you had enough of scales, diets and external sources of control?  Yoga and the mindfulness tools that are part of this ancient science can re-orient us to our own inner wisdom about what makes us feel well.

How Yoga Helps Conscious Eating

Yoga has a vast set of tools that can be helpful for cultivating conscious eating and emotional well-being around food, eating, exercise and body image.  Here are a few ways that yoga and mindfulness can help:

  • Breath-centered yoga postures done slowly and mindfully can create a feeling of groundedness and rootedness for inhabiting the body we have
  • Yoga posture practice and breathing practices help cultivate stability and strength in body, thoughts and emotions
  • Yoga postures, breathing practices and meditation help manage stress, a saboteur of a positive and healthy relationship to food, eating, body image and enjoyable forms of movement
  • Breathing, meditation and awareness exercises often improve our internal sense of hunger, fullness, thoughts and emotions that ultimately drive behaviors
  • A well-rounded yoga practice helps us continually dig into the well of our own deep wisdom around what helps our energy level, sleep, physical comfort, and emotional well-being

We live in a time where they are so many “shoulds” and “don’t’s” around food, weight and exercise.  The tools of yoga and mindfulness offer an intuitive, conscious and inner wisdom-based approach to food, eating, movement and relationship to oneself.

A Mindful Eating Exercise

As we move through this time of celebrations and resolutions, you might ask yourself, “What is it I really hunger for and how am I hungry for it?”  Here are 6 questions to guide you in your mindfulness around eating:

  1. Are my eyes hungry for this because of its beauty?
  2. Am I hungry for the smell of this food?
  3. Is my stomach feeling hunger or thirst for this food?
  4. Do I have a deep craving for this food at a cellular level and how is my body responding to this food that I craved?
  5. Is my mind running a script about this food, telling me the “shoulds” or “don’ts”?
  6. Is my heart craving this food because it’s soothing or nourishing to me, and what is the story about this food that attracts me to it?

Access Deep Inner Wisdom Through Holistic Yoga Practice

Slowing down the art of eating with simple mindfulness tools can help re-establish a deep inner connection to food and eating.  Moving, breathing, grounding, and reflecting through a holistic approach to yoga practice can help cultivate a sense of inhabiting the body.  By accessing deep inner wisdom, we become more fully aware of what helps us feel well at all levels of the Koshas – physical body, physiology, mind, intuition and heart.