Developed in Northern India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga is a gentle form of exercise that consists of slow, controlled moves called poses. For chronic pain sufferers, it’s sometimes a welcome relief from distracting discomfort. There’s research suggesting that practicing yoga counteracts changes in the brain common in people with lingering pain. Here are some specific poses that may help manage your pain–but talk to your doctor first.
Reclining Bound Angle Pose for Inflammation
This is a restorative pose that focuses primarily on calming the nervous system. For this reason, it may help ease inflammation around joints. Assume the reclining bound angle pose by resting on the ground with your knees bent and feet flat and your head on a pillow or folded blanket. With your arms at your side, bring your feet together and allow your knees to naturally fall to the sides. Relax for 3-5 minutes.
Twisted Figure Four for Knee Pain
Tight muscles on the outside of your thighs sometimes contribute to knee pain. Relieve tension in these muscles with the twisted figure four pose. It’s performed by moving one leg over the other one. The extended leg is bent outward at the knee. If this is too difficult, move the extended leg down to a more comfortable position.
Supine Twist for Lower Back Pain
Hip muscles that are tight or tense can place added stress on your lower back and its supporting discs. The supine twist gently stretches these muscles as you rest on your back with your knees pulled toward your chest. Move both legs over to one side so that the knee on your outermost leg is touching the ground. Hold for a few minutes before switching sides.
Cow Face Pose for Shoulder Pain
Tense rotator cuff muscles can make you more susceptible to shoulder pain and injuries from overuse and over-extension. The cow face pose targets rotator cuff muscles with a stretch that’s performed from a seated position on the floor. Take a strap or towel and place it over your shoulder with one hand. Use your other hand to reach around to your back from the side. Slowly move the one hand up along the strap or towel until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold the stretch for about a minute. Switch hand positions to stretch the other shoulder.
As for why yoga manages pain for some people, one theory is that it alters dark tissues in the brain and spinal cord called gray matter. It’s this area of the brain that also helps determine tolerance and thresholds to pain. Yoga has also been shown to help ease the stress that sometimes makes pain worse. If yoga isn’t something recommended for your type of pain, there are many other pain management options that may provide relief.