I’ve been finding less and less time to blog these past few months, but I would like to share these few bits of information regarding yoga and chronic pain.
Neil Pearson of Life is Now (www.lifeisnow.ca) is a Yoga Therapist, Physiotherapist and Pain Science Researcher. He holds a position at the University of British Columbia and has been studying, researching and teaching about the realities of pain experiences for quite a long time. Although Neil reckons he doesn’t like credentials and wishes he could get rid of them, the truth is (from my perspective anyhow) his credentials and experience pack a powerful punch when sharing and teaching about changing pain. Two years ago I completed my Pain Care Yoga certification, and since then I’ve participated in several other Yoga Therapy modalities. I am excited to share the information and practices to help clients create the circumstances for peace and ease in their bodies and minds, and ultimately to change their pain.
Neil’s website: http://www.lifeisnow.ca is a wonderful source of information for the scientific ins and out of changing chronic pain. If you are looking for resources to share with your physician or physiotherapist, I recommend this site. Neil also offers load of free resources like audio and video downloads to help you understand how to change pain. Check out the free webinars under the “Yoga for People in Pain” section. Believing change is possible is fundamental to the ability to change, and Neil delivers a clear, science-based message about why and how we can change our pain experiences.
Here are some other key points I took away from the last Pain Care Yoga workshop that I’d like to share with you:
1. Being AWARE and FEELING our bodies is key to Pain Care Yoga. We need to experience what is going on where, to see and feel the areas of tension or the areas that we feel disconnected to, so that we can reconnect with these spaces and cultivate healthy change in our minds and bodies.
2. Breathe: longer, slower, softer, smoother. Take some time everyday (5mins great, 15mins better, 30mins awesome, anything is better than nothing) to first be aware of your breath (ask: does it feel stuck anywhere? rigid? choppy? smooth? easy? fast? irregular), and second work to iron out the wrinkles. Your breath doesn’t have to be the “smoothest” or “longest” or “softest”, it doesn’t have to be pretty or perfect. Try to acknowledge where it feels short, choppy, or rigid and then see if you can make it just a little smoother, a little nicer, a little longer.
3. Neil talks about the four P’s: Practice, Patience, Persistence and ComPassions, which is complete harmony with my personal three P mantra: Peace, Patience and Persistence. It takes 6 tries for the average smoker to succeed at quitting to smoke. Changing our nervous systems experience of pain is no different. These are the same sort of reaction patterns as any other habit in our lives (watch the webinars if you don’t believe this statement or if it doesn’t quite make sense). It takes a persistence practice, and compassion to ourselves as we work to create change, as it’s not always a steady upward slope, sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one step back.
4. Make a plan and be easy on yourself when the plan has to adapt or change or go on pause and then be resumed at a later date. Such as: plan on taking 10mins/day to relax your body and feel your breath. If this turns into 20mins great, if it’s only 10mins great, if you miss one day, but manage to remember the next, great. The point is to be flexible and gentle with your self when your plan goes a miss. Every day, every breath is a new start.
5. On the note of A Plan and the Practice, we need to practice that which we want to get better at. This literally GROWS more brain map space for whatever we end up practicing. Right now, the pain has a large brain map space, or is taking up lots of real-estate in our brains. If I want to grow more awareness of what feels GOOD in my body, I need to take time being aware of it, feeling it and moving with it, basically practicing it. If I want to shrink the pain, I have to meet it’s hardness with my softness. This doesn’t mean I disassociate with the parts of my body that say “hey, I hurt”. Instead I investigate them with my awareness, and then while holding them in my arms I allow them to cry, or complain, but I avoid the temptation to get all caught up in their drama. I listen attentively, but I continue to breathe calmly, relaxing any tension that might be building in my body, and simply be with them as a calm witness. It’s more than likely that if I am calm while listening to their anxieties, or fears, or pain, that they will take on the energy I am emitting, and feel relaxed in themselves. “Them” might be my muscles, my emotions, my nerves, my thoughts, my skin, my joints. As Neil says, listen to them whisper so they don’t have to scream, but also listen calmly so you don’t end up taking on the negative, bound up, wound up energy and story they are telling.
6. From a practical yoga point of view, rhythmic movements that are coordinated with your breathing and your awareness are INCREDIBLY soothing to your nervous system…which in turn can turn on the parasympathetic and turn off the flight or fight mode in your mind and body. This has the knock on effect of allowing your muscles to relax and feel safe.
7. Also from a practical point of view, give new things or yoga a reasonable go or investment of time. If it doesn’t work after one week or two weeks, keep at it. I would give it at least 4-8 weeks of effort. It’s like learning any new skill, although for some of us it happens “just like that”, for most of us we have to keep trying and trying, practicing and practicing, until it truly becomes our new way or a skill we can easily call upon.
8. There is so much I took away from this workshop that I would like to tell you about and share…if you are experiencing chronic pain and this sounds inspiring or interesting to you, I would love to share more with you and am available for one-on-one consultation at my home clinic. Otherwise you can find me a Yoga By Nature in Brunswick Heads, Mondays 4:30-5:30pm.
9. The last tidbit I would like to pass on, is make a list of the things you love to do and feel great doing. Anything that you enjoy that either turns down your pain or leaves you feeling happy, positive and/or relaxed. Keep that list handy and keep adding to it. Make the list as long as you can, add little things and big things. These are the things we HAVE to keep doing, these are the things we HAVE to practice to be well. Sometimes it feels hard to give ourselves permission to do what simply makes us feel happy, as if we have to earn it or deserve it. But if you are suffering from chronic pain than your treatment plan HAS to include doing the things that bring you joy, peace, ease in body and ease in mind, as this is what you have to practice. If you don’t do these positive, feel good things, than you just keep practicing the opposite…which is not healthful for you, or your community, or the people you love.
K…I said this was going to be tidbits of information…but it all just came rambling out as a LOT of information. Hopefully you find it useful:-)
Please ignore all the spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. If you noticed them and got caught up in them, perhaps then try re-reading it and noticing instead all of the correct grammar and spelling:-) If you are an English teacher/professor, you’re off the hook;-)