Yoga and pain is a complicated subject. Lots of people come to yoga hoping it might help them with their pain. But can it help you with yours? Maybe, but maybe not in the way you might expect.
My pain and me
I first got really into yoga because I had pain in my shoulder and I thought it might help. I had heard that yoga might be a good thing to try and if I’m honest I wanted a quick fix.
I used to get fustrated that yoga didn’t make my pain feel better straight away. I wanted an external recipe to fix me, and I assumed that doing some yoga would immediately result in an improvement.
I realise now that’s a pretty short sighted view of yoga. Yoga won’t cure your pain. Yoga teachers aren’t (generally) physical therapists or doctors. Yoga is not a secret sauce or magic bullet for all your ailments.
But what yoga can do is help you find some space for you to look at what’s going on in your body (and mind). It can give you the opportunity to slow down and really notice what’s happening.
After a while I started to realise actually what yoga could do was help me learn to notice the discomfort I was feeling without needing to immediately fix or remedy it. I no longer see pain as a linear thing to be immediately fixed – it ebbs and flows and my body feels different everyday. I don’t pin my hopes on something ‘working’ only to be disappointed and probably feel more pain when it doesn’t. I can appreciate what makes me feel better day by day.
Yoga taught me to observe without judgement what’s happening in my body, to soften and be okay with the fact that maybe sometimes discomfort is there. And ironically when I learned to accept that, often the pain would feel a bit better.
Yoga is about holding space
I increasingly believe that when you go to a yoga class (in real life or online) what you are really doing is investing / paying / trusting someone to hold the space for you to do this. If you are practicing at home on your own this takes a bit more self discipline, but however you do your yoga, committing to taking and making some time for yourself is key.
Holding space for your own thoughts and observations is important. It’s why the first and last pose in almost every class offers us a place of physical stillness which gives us time to recalibrate and notice what’s going on.
How yoga might help
If you are in discomfort I can’t offer you general advice. I can’t say to you try this yoga pose and it will stop the pain. I know this won’t help, and in fact might make you feel worse if and when it doesn’t. There are too many variables, what feels good for me or someone else might not feel good for you.
What I can tell you as someone who has lived with some physical discomfort for a long time is that the pain might not go away straight away (sorry). You might need to learn to be kind of okay with it for a little while and adjust to a new kind of normal.
Yoga might give you the opportunity to try some movements and a chance to see how they feel for you. You might be able to identify if certain movement feels really bad and find ways you can avoid them both in a yoga class and in everyday life.
And yoga can encourage you not to rush and be gentle to try to avoid further aggravation or injury.
Yoga might give you some tools to help manage it, like breath work or certain poses that help. Some stretches or ways to strengthening exercises might help you. Sometimes other people might be able to help you too – doctors obviously, maybe massage or physical therapy.
I’ve tried lots of things but have learned not to pin too much on immediate fixes. I am grateful to my yoga practice for allowing me to accept and embrace what is.
Pain is personal
Pain is super complicated, individual and ever changing. I am learning to deal with some new pain in my hip at the moment and I am working on trying to be inquisitive and open minded about it. I’m trying not to run into my pain head on as something to be solved. Trying not to fight and instead appreciating that pain is more nuanced than that.
So yoga didn’t fix my pain and it would be remiss of me to tell you it will fix yours. But yoga has helped give me some space to change how I think about it. Lots of people come to yoga for the physical but go on to find more benefits in terms of the mind – it’s certainly true for me.
Pain can be really, really tough and it’s deeply personal. What works for me might not for you but I hope that if you are in physical pain you can find some comfort and ways to move through it.