Yoga Is One of the Best Exercises for Chronic Pain
I’ve always prided myself on being fit and strong. Dancing has been my first choice of exercise. But I’ve also skied, run track, swam laps, lifted weights and played Ultimate Frisbee. Plus a little boot camp, softball, pick-up football and hiking in the mountains when I’ve had the chance. I always push myself to finish strong. As I started nearing my 50th birthday I found myself slowing down with these activities and suffering more injuries and chronic pain. While I didn’t feel 50 my body was trying to tell me a different story, especially with chronic pain.
I tried yoga and even owned a mat. But like many athletic people and particularly moms, I didn’t want to slow down with yoga when I could be working up a perfectly good sweat in a cardio conditioning class. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day and I have little people to care for.
Eventually a chronic back pain had me crawling out of bed in the morning. I was finding it hard to get motivated to teach my fitness classes. Six weeks of physical therapy helped a lot but there was still a subtle chronic pain. Plus, I knew I would get lazy about doing the PT exercises on my own and would suffer chronic pain again. But I realized a lot of the PT exercises were similar to what I had done in yoga. I started to commit to attending yoga classes. Then wanting more knowledge about it, I took a 200-hour yoga training. It was mind blowing!
I did a lot of yoga during those three months and I started to feel great! But even better I discovered Yin Yoga. This is a more passive, relaxing form of yoga where you take a shape and then focus on breathing and relaxing into the pose. It targets the connective tissues like the ligaments, joints and the fascia sheath that covers the muscles. It allows these areas to open up for fresh circulation and healing.
That chronic pain in my low back that wrenched when I climbed stairs disappeared.
I realized that the hardcore exercises I regularly did with jumping, squatting and lifting heavy weights made my hip and leg area so tight that my back was seizing up. I’m a big proponent of stretching and known for chiding the participants in my class to stay for that boring part at the end of the hour. Apparently it still wasn’t enough. In Yin Yoga you hold the shapes for three to five minutes at a time, giving that connective tissue time to relax with the breath.
Yoga is growing by leaps and bounds particularly among us hard-core exercisers and athletes.
People who were either intimidated or not interested or just didn’t want to slow down to try yoga are finding that it enhances their exercise performance. An estimated 36 million Americans engaged in some form of yoga. From the moms following a DVD at home to the professional basketball, football and Olympic skiers working with private teachers, all find it keeps them flexible, balanced and focused. The mind-body connection is a whole other benefit for us restless types who made our way to the yoga room for the physical aspect.
“Strength without flexibility equals rigidity, and flexibility without strength equals instability.” Says Jonny Kest, international director of the Life Power Teacher Training program that I studied. “You need both for longevity and performance in any athletic effort.”
I regret that I’m late coming to the yoga party but better late than never. Now that I’m into my 6th decade I find both Vinyasa, a more active style of yoga and Yin Yoga to be the best exercise for those of us who want to be fit over 50. I’m not advising anyone to quit running, dancing or doing Cross Fit. Just add yoga and particularly Yin Yoga to your regimen. It’s the yin to the yang. High impact more stressful exercise needs to be balanced by a gentle, internal and healing exercise.
There are a wide variety of yoga practices designed for an overall workout, to the more gentle types allowing for more breathing, meditation and stretching.
Some are in hot temperatures, which help the body to be more flexible, but could be dangerous for some people. Or they can be in normal temperature allowing you to build your own heat with fast movement or weights.
I think as my years pass I’ll see myself more in the yoga room to train than the group exercise room. Make sure that you take all your prescribed prescription drugs and talk to your doctor about adding yoga to your exercise regimen for chronic pain.
Chronic Pain Resources: