Over the years, I’ve worked with many yoga clients who are seeking chronic pain relief. People don’t like to be hooked on pain medication and are seeking alternative pain management methods.
Chronic pain can have many different causes – arthritis, injury, healing from surgery, fibromyalgia, sciatica, a degenerative condition, bad posture, etc. Because so many people at midlife are in need of pain relief, this has become the focus of my teachings.
I’ve developed a three-tiered methodology for dealing with chronic pain:
1. Specialized Breathing Techniques
2. Mindfulness Skills
3. Regular Appropriate Movement
Last year I turned a broken rib into an opportunity to test my own methods.
Here’s the story…
One rainy fall day, I was heading out for a walk with my big dog named Grizz. I put on my rain gear and we bounded down the steps of my wet front porch. My feet slipped from under me and I cracked a back rib on the step. Thankfully I made it onto my hands and knees without injuring anything else. (My tushie hit the step too but has enough padding to soften the blow.) While I was catching my breath – and Grizz was sticking his nose in my face wondering why I wasn’t up and running – my mind went into panic mode.
“My rib is broken! I won’t be able to teach for months. I won’t have any income. Who will take care of my dogs and cats? How will I drive myself to the hospital? This will never heal. I’ll have chronic pain for the rest of my life. I’ll never teach fitness again. I’m going to lose my home! I’ll be living on the streets! I’ll be destitute!”
Once I caught my breath, I went back inside and gingerly crawled into bed. The panicky thoughts continued. Then suddenly a new thought arose, “STOP! I teach yoga and meditation. Now is the time to put my methods to the test.”
• I began to focus on my breathing.
• I allowed it to get soft and easy and slow down.
• Then I moved my awareness on the spot where the pain was most intense and began to label it.
• Instead of calling it pain, I called it: heat, heat, heat, pulsing, pulsing, pulsing, movement, movement, swirling, contraction, contraction, contraction.
I kept it up for a few minutes and you’ll never guess what happened!
I fell asleep.
Through these actions, I told my hyperexcited nervous system that everything was going to be okay. Although it didn’t heal the broken rib, it took the edge off the pain and made me feel better. I don’t like pain medications and I’m happy to have been able to use an alternative pain management technique.
HERE’S WHY IT WORKS:
Instead of continuing to quickly gulp in air through my mouth, which sends a signal to the body that it is an emergency, I breathed slowly and softly.
This change to my breathing sent a different message to my body that goes like this:
• Slow the heart rate.
• Stop producing pain hormones and start producing endorphins (which block pain hormones).
• Muscles can release and stop tensing up.
• Neurons can stop sending pain signals to the brain.
Rather than labeling what I felt as pain, which has negative and emotional connotations, I gave the physical sensations a neutral label. This calms the brain. When the brain relaxes it sends out a message to the body that it can relax too.
Alternative Pain Management: You Can Do This Too
You can take control of your body and nervous system this way too. And you don’t have to wait for a serious injury. It can be used for relief from temporary pain or chronic pain relief.
You can start with 10 minutes a day:
1) Practice soft breathing.
2) Explore the area of pain using the mindfulness technique.
Hypersensitive Nervous System
People who experience chronic pain often end up with nervous systems that become hypersensitive. Normal signals like touch or mild heat can be misinterpreted as pain. The more this happens, the better the body gets at sending pain signals to the brain and producing pain and stress hormones. However, because the nervous system is adaptable, the opposite also applies: the more you take your body and mind into relaxation mode, the better they get at reproducing that state.
A Holistic Approach
You can use this technique daily when you are suffering and want chronic pain relief. The breathing calms the physical body. The mindfulness takes care of the mental part of the equation.
While this technique is not going to completely eliminate chronic pain, it will take the edge off and make life more livable. It is alternative pain management that may help some people reduce reliance on pain medication.
Let me know how it goes or if you have questions. I’d love to hear from you! Leave me your comments below.
Sometimes you need a little help. If you are seeking alternative pain management techniques, you can find guidance in the program The Release Method: Breathe Your Way to Pain Relief. Its an easy to follow pain relief method that anyone can do even if they are immobilized by pain.