There are a myriad of health benefits that have been attributed to the ancient practice of Yoga, including relief of depression and fatigue to weight loss and overall body strengthening. As more studies are completed, it has been found that Yoga, which encompasses a series of stretching, toning, breathing exercises and meditative practices can also aid in pain relief. Most of us particularly as we age find that our bodies begin to experience aches and pains on a mild to severe degree and though it may at first seem that maneuvering one’s body in a series of poses and stretches may not be helpful, or even something we want to do, combining specific poses and movements along with breathing exercises and some mind/body conditioning is actually an effective way to reduce pain and decrease inflammation within the body.
Yoga utilizes deep, slow breathing techniques and research has shown throughout the decades that when we slow our normal breathing patterns, we also trigger certain nerves within the sympathetic nervous system. It is here that our brains register how much pain we are feeling and the rate at which the pain is released. Many of the techniques are the same that are used in Lamaze breathing which women in labor utilize to curb contraction pain.
Additionally the fibers found in the central nervous system also regulate things such as skin temperature and the rate at which our blood flows. By adjusting our breathing, studies and research have shown that we are simultaneously reducing the amount of pain felt within the sympathetic nervous system. Moreover we can also ensure that the pain felt will be less acute.
Adults on average engage in approximately 15 to 18 breaths per minute and sometimes more when they are having a high rate of pain. As our stress levels increase (which often happens when we feel pain) our breathing becomes quicker and shallower thereby increasing our blood flow and triggering our nerve endings. At this point the pain we are experiencing will also increase.
When engaging in Yoga it is recommended that with practice, we slow our breathing down to 6 to 10 breaths per minute. This will calm the sympathetic nervous system, decrease stress levels and ultimately reduce the amount of pain felt.
Yoga breathing is often referred to as pranayama and when practicing this as a method to reduce pain one should find a comfortable and quiet place to sit or lay. Then focus on your breathing and slowing it down. To do this, begin at the top of your body (the brain and hair) and concentrate on relaxing each part of the body concurrently until you have reached the tips of your toes.
Count your breaths quietly and practice inhaling deeply to the count of 5 and hold the breath for a moment or two. Then slowly exhale the breath in a slow, rhythmic pace to the count of 10. This will help you practice slower breathing but it may take several sessions.
One of the most popular poses for reducing pain with Yoga is called the ‘snake pose’ or ‘cobra.’ For those who suffer back pain this is a great pose. To do this pose, find a comfortable place on the floor and lie down on your stomach while extending your legs fully. The tops of your feet should be touching the floor and your stomach, thighs and groin should also be fixed tightly to the floor. Extend your arms reaching forward.
As you inhale deeply, keep your arms straight and then gently begin to lift your chest off the floor and hold the position for a few moments. Lift your chest only as high as is comfortable for you. Release the position and return to the starting position. Repeat this stretch a few times while maintaining your deep breathing the entire time.
The ‘dolphin’ pose is also helpful in alleviating pain especially for those who suffer from fibromyalgia. Additionally this pose will help you to strengthen your core muscles. To do this pose, get into a cat-like position with your hands and knees firmly pressed to the floor. Your knees should be aligned with your hips and your hands aligned with your shoulders.
Begin your deep breathing and at the same time gently and gradually lift your knees up off of the floor while keeping your back straight. Be sure to keep your hands flat to the floor for support. Straighten your knees as much as is comfortable and when you have reached the point to where you can’t straighten them anymore without discomfort hold the position for a few moments. Continue deeply breathing and upon your last exhale release your knees and return to your starting position.
This movement should be slow and steady and may take some practice as it requires some balance and utilizing your core muscles. Repeat the exercise a few times or for as many as you can comfortably do. This is a great exercise for reducing tension in the neck and shoulder area known to cause headaches as well as assisting in reducing the inflammation around the disks in the back.
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