When you’re in pain, exercise may feel like the last thing you want to do. But working your body with yoga may bring chronic pain relief through focused yoga breathing and gentle yet effective stretches.

When you’re experiencing chronic pain, twisting and stretching your body may seem like the last thing you want to do. But regularly practicing yoga, a form of mind-body exercise that combines physical postures with relaxation and specific yoga breathing techniques, may help provide chronic pain relief.

Recent studies have indicated that practicing yoga for pain can cause physical changes in the body to promote healing, says Maureen McBeth, a physical therapist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore.

“There has been research to measure cytokines, which are markers in the body that indicate inflammation,” McBeth says. “Cytokines have actually been found to decrease after people do exercises like yoga.” Additionally, McBeth says, yoga can help you become more aware of your body, which can lead to a reduction or localization of your pain.

“Many patients with chronic pain tend to feel like ‘everything hurts,’” McBeth says. “When they do yoga, they can quiet the body and listen to where the pain is coming from, so maybe only one part of their body will hurt after they’re done.”

Yoga for Chronic Pain

If you’d like to practice yoga for pain or integrate yoga principles into your treatment regimen, try a few of these techniques:

Focus on yoga breathing.
One of the core principles of yoga is pranayama, also known as yoga breathing.

To help relax the body and reduce pain, McBeth suggests finding a quiet, comfortable place to lie down, then relaxing each part of your body, one by one, from head to toe as you inhale and exhale deeply. “Think of the scalp and head, then breathe into that area and let it relax as you blow out,” McBeth says. “Then move to the jaw and do the same thing. Then the shoulders, arms, chest, and so on. Within about 10 breaths, you can start to feel a difference.”

Channel your inner snake.

Yoga positions that stretch the spine, such as the cobra pose, are great for relieving tension in the back and maintaining flexibility, says Kim Hardick, a yoga instructor and owner of Aledo Yoga near Fort Worth, Texas.

To perform the cobra pose, lie face down on the floor and stretch your legs back, with the tops of your feet touching the floor. Press your thighs and groin firmly into the floor, then inhale and straighten your arms, lifting your chest off the floor. Only rise as much as is comfortable for you, then release back to the floor after a few seconds.

“If you have a bulging disk, for example, the disk matter is being pushed into the spine,” Hardick says. “With backbend poses like this, the disk is pushed away from the spine, and that can help alleviate pain.” But if you have known disc disease or a pinched nerve in the neck or back, you should first check with your doctor before attempting these moves. The cobra pose can also help counteract problems like headaches, which are often due to neck tension from rounded shoulders and a hunched-forward sitting position, Hardick adds.

Be a dolphin.

The dolphin pose is a great overall body stretcher that can relieve some of the body stiffness often associated with fibromyalgia or other painful conditions. It also improves the strength of the core muscles, shoulders, and upper body.

To perform the dolphin pose, start on your hands and knees, putting your knees directly under your hips and your forearms on the floor. Curl your toes under, then exhale and begin to straighten your legs, lifting your knees away from the floor. Continue to press your forearms into the floor and keep your back in a straight line, taking care not to round it. As you stretch, you can straighten your legs, but keep them bent if that’s more comfortable for you. Hold for several seconds, then bend your knees and release to the floor.

To learn more about yoga, you can use a home DVD, follow a TV program, or take a beginner’s class at a yoga studio to get personalized instruction.

Taken from Everyday Health