Why and How Yoga Works to Relieve Chronic Pain (Guest Post/Virtual Book Tour — Kelly McGonigal)

Euston Arch’ First Virtual Book Tour Proudly Presents Kelly McGonigal and Yoga for Pain Relief

From Annie: As I noted here earlier , Kelly McGonigal is a yoga instructor and Stanford University psychology instructor. Most importantly for our purposes, she’s just published a book titled Yoga for Pain Relief , and as a long-time Tramadol Diaries reader, she wanted to share some of the fruits of her labors with other TD readers in a virtual book tour.

Of course, I grabbed that opportunity! I’ve written about my experiences with yoga before, both here and in articles for other sites, but I really can’t say enough good things about yoga.

I joke that tramadol saved my life, and it did — but the truth is, so did yoga. Without my daily practice, I honestly doubt that I’d be here right now, joyfully writing this introduction in support of Kelly’s “labor of love.” Chronic pain not only means we don’t move our bodies as we want to and should — it also means our psyches are burdened as well. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that chronic pain patients have a high incidence of depression; as many of us say, “Let me stand on your chest for ten years and let’s see how long it takes YOU to get depressed.”

Yoga not only helps relieve the physical pain but it also gives me the tools I need to eliminate the suffering aspect of pain. That, in turn, greatly and positively enhances my quality of life and sense of wellbeing. Yes, I still hurt. The difference is, I’m not letting it define me, nor am I burdened with all those fearful, tense feelings that collectively comprise suffering.

So, without further ado, here’s Kelly with an excerpt from her new book, Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind & Heal Your Chronic Pain (Whole Body Healing) ( disclosure: that’s an affiliate link to Amazon – costs you nothing extra, adds a few pennies to my bank account). This excerpt includes instructions for a special practice sequence that might help anyone coping with chronic pain. Also be sure to check out the special bonus guided meditations at the end of the post!

CAUTION: As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen.

Lisa’s Story: Finding Hope Through Yoga

Lisa’s achey fatigue was both mysterious and maddening. When it first showed up during the winter holidays, she thought it was just the flu combined with exhaustion from overdoing things. But as the holidays passed and her fatigue didn’t, her family became alarmed and encouraged her to see a doctor. Her general physician couldn’t give her a definite diagnosis and referred her to a specialist.

The specialist gave her lots of tests but also couldn’t tell Lisa for sure what was causing her exhaustion. Eventually Lisa was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. By this time, she had taken an extended sick leave from work and was wondering if she would ever be able to return.

Lisa’s physician gave her two prescriptions: an anti-inflammatory drug and an antidepressant. What she wasn’t given was an explanation for her symptoms, or any answers about when or even whether she would recover.

To Lisa, the lack of medical understanding meant lack of hope. Her growing sense of hopelessness was accompanied by greater fatigue. Some days she was so tired, she crawled back into bed less than an hour after waking. The worst part was that even though she was almost always exhausted, she had trouble sleeping. This left her plenty of time alone with her worries and frustrations. She described it as a “wide-awake nightmare.”

Without a clear path for recovery, Lisa needed some way to feel like she was taking care of herself. She wanted to be able to do something every day that felt like an active step toward improving her energy and mood. Lisa didn’t have the strength for exercise, but she found great solace in restorative yoga. It was something she could do every day, knowing that it made her feel better both physically and emotionally.

Lisa kept her yoga mat and props out so that there would be no barrier to practicing. She took great care in choosing inspirational music to play while she practiced, knowing that her favorite songs would lift her spirits. She took seriously the idea that focusing on gratitude, joy, connection, and courage could change the state of her body. She chose one meditation each day to practice in her final restorative pose, imagining the thoughts and sensations of each meditation restoring her strength and well-being.

Lisa thought of her restorative yoga practice as her third daily prescription. It became the one part of her self-care program that consistently made her feel optimistic about her future.

Many types of pain and illness are physically and emotionally overwhelming, especially when they pull you out of your normal life and put you into the role of patient. When pain or illness is this overwhelming, even a few minutes of focusing on health can restore hope and inspire courage in the journey of healing. Whenever you find yourself lowest in spirit, you can always turn to yoga to affirm the part of you that is healthy and whole, despite pain or illness.

A Simple Restorative Yoga Practice: Supported Inversion

Benefits: By gently bringing the legs above the heart, this pose improves circulation and has a healing effect on many systems of the body, including the nervous system, the lymphatic system, and cardiovascular system. It can be done no matter how little energy you have, and can help make “rest” more restful and less stressful.

Props needed:

  • A wall, chair, or sofa.
  • Optional: a small rolled towel or blanket to support your neck and head
  • Optional: an eye pillow or cloth to drape over your eyes.

Instructions: [Annie’s Note: there are three parts to this practice — the physical asana, breathing, and the meditation. Read through the entire description at least twice before attempting. You might also want to consider tape-recording these instructions and playing them back as you go, or having a friend or loved one read through them as you move through the asana, at least the first time you try it.]

  1. Find yourself seated on the floor near the wall or your chair, with one side of your body facing the wall or chair.
  2. If you are using extra support for your head and neck, place it about one arm’s length away from the wall or chair, where your head will rest.
  3. Start to lean back on your arms as you raise your legs onto the support of the wall or chair.
  4. Let your hips turn as you do so, until you find yourself lying comfortably on your back, with your legs resting on the wall or chair.
  5. If you are at the wall, make sure that you do not feel a strain behind the knees, in the back of your legs and hips, or in your lower back. If you do, try the pose with hips further away from the wall, to reduce pressure on the legs and back. If you continue to feel any strain in the wall version, you may find the bent-leg version using a chair or sofa much more comfortable.
  6. Let yourself relax into the support of the pose.

Breathing: Once you are settled in the pose, bring your hands to rest on your belly. Feel the belly rise and fall as you breathe.

Meditation: This pose is in invitation to drop your usual worries and burdens. As you inhale, say silently in your mind, “Let,” and as you exhale, “go.” Yoga is about feeling safe and supported, in both your body and in all areas of your life. You can also repeat silently in your mind, “I am safe” or “I am supported.” If there are other words, images, or memories that make you feel safe and supported — such as loved ones, a favorite place, or a prayer — bring them to mind.

Bonus For Euston Arch Readers! Meditations Just For Chronic Pain Dolls

In addition to the awesome meditation/yoga asana practice Kelly shares above, she’s offering something special just for Tramadol Diaries readers. At Kelly’s website, Yoga For Pain Relief, you can also download or stream a guided meditation that will guide you through practices of breath awareness, body gratitude, and listening to your body. There’s one for befriending your body, and another for listening to your body (both links are to MP3 files).

I’d like to thank Kelly both for writing such an amazing resource for those of us living with chronic pain, and for sharing her words of wisdom with Euston Arch and its readers. I’ve learned a lot, and I hope you have, too. Kelly has an open invitation to stop back by anytime she likes!

One thought on “Why and How Yoga Works to Relieve Chronic Pain (Guest Post/Virtual Book Tour — Kelly McGonigal)

  1. Pingback: how yoga works – Latest how yoga works news – New Years Resolution Yoga Trio #giveaway : MomStart

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