How Yoga can Help Manage Pain
For many years yoga has been said to help you physically and emotionally as well as mentally. As it includes an element of meditation, it is thought to reduce stress levels as well as tone the muscles. But until recently there was no scientific proof that doing yoga could actually help a person manage pain.
While people who practiced yoga may have realised that their pain seemed to be less while they were in that meditative frame of mind, this was often put down to being simply ‘mind over matter’ – for which there was no real proof.
However, a recent study has shown that yoga practitioners can manage their pain, and gave scientific proof that this is happening by recording brainwave patterns using an fMRI to scan the brain during episodes of pain.
It is not so much an actual physical decrease in the pain – but more of an altered perception of pain. Pain is reduced by being able to tolerate it rather than by mentally controlling it. The end result was that less pain was felt, so it translates to roughly the same thing.
Very often, anticipating pain gives rise to an anxious state that makes the person feel the pain all the more when it comes. However, while the pain perception was reduced by up to 22% in this study, the anxiety of anticipating pain was actually reduced by 29%. These results were quite surprising.
How the Study was Done
The study was done by taking a group of 17 people who were used to meditating during yoga and a control group of the same number who did not meditate at all. All participants had similar healthy lifestyles. All the participants were placed into the fMRI scanner for the test. While in there, pain was administered by way of specific electric stimuli that the participants were told to expect.
The scanner was able to read their brainwaves and could measure the increased activity in the rostral anterior singular cortex of the brain for the meditative group. Similarly, for those who felt less pain during the stimulation there was a decrease in activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex, but an increase of activity in the right posterior insula.
These results were the opposite of what happened in the control group who felt more anxiety and hence, more pain.
Those brain images of the seasoned yoga practitioners showed that they had brain networks that were sturdier and better organised than the control group. However, the control group actually had slightly higher mental faculties when fluid intelligence – or the ability to reason in a new situation – was measured.
What it Means for Today
So for those cynics who scoffed at the idea that Yoga and meditation techniques could change the way the brain works, there is now positive scientific proof that it does. This can make a big difference in how older people are treated to manage their pain, an important consideration for societies where the population is an ageing one.
It is possible that in the future, healthcare providers will be able to reduce those pain medications that have such unpleasant side-effects and recommend meditation instead.
In fact, there is no need to wait for your doctor to put you on pain medication. Equipped with the knowledge that medication really does alter pain perception, sufferers can easily adopt and work towards perfecting their own Yoga meditation techniques to control their pain.
We know that being comfortable while doing yoga is an important factor in the success of each session.
The Stomp Fitness Apparel range includes modern and practical yoga pants and tops, all designed with your comfort in mind. View the range here.