This article originally appeared on pages 24-25 of the March 2014 issue of Natural Nutmeg
There’s a diagnosis and a pill for everything these days, isn’t there?
As someone who lived most of her life on medication for something, I can honestly say that I have seen more relief from my chronic low back pain through therapeutic and gentle yoga than I ever did from steroid injections and pain killers. The same holds true for all other aspects of my life and health.
For five years now, I have not taken medications of any kind, for any reason, and have instead focused on diet and lifestyle changes that support my health.
Looking back, I realize that those diagnoses and prescriptions provided, at best, temporary and superficial relief. They weren’t solving the problems, but just masking the pain.
Healing on a deeper level requires a balanced dance of stillness and movement. That’s where yoga can help.
In my private therapeutic yoga practice in West Hartford, I find that I am consistently—and successfully—helping my clients to heal from several common issues that are so often treated unsuccessfully, and only with medications:
- High stress
- Low back pain
- Neck/shoulder pain
- Hip pain
- Knee replacements and/or knee pain
- Pulmonary disorders
- High blood pressure
Many clients of mine have gone the traditional route with their primary care physicians and Western medicine, but, unfortunately, found themselves with more pain and discomfort, and only a prescription in hand as “treatment.” For most, turning to therapeutic yoga was their first try at a holistic approach to healing. They’ve realized that it’s up to them and only them to decide that they want something better for themselves—that they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired, and ready and willing to embrace a new approach to their health.
From what I’ve seen and personally experienced, most injuries are stressors from compressing, tightening and decades of repetitive motion. When we softly and gently open and release that compression, the muscles are given a new memory, where tension and the past is released, and tightness, aching, and stiffness dissolves.
In that releasing, we also free buried emotions and old thought patterns. By practicing yoga, we connect with ourselves and get to know ourselves on a deeper level, noticing our belief and thinking patterns. By simply noticing these patterns, we can soften around them, release them and lay down new tracks. True and lasting healing takes place by softening the physical and emotional body and uniting the mind, body and spirit in relaxation.
Common ailments seen with my clients and how I have helped them to overcome them:
Therapeutic Yoga for Pulmonary Disease
For instance, for my client with pulmonary disease, who could barely speak a full sentence without gasping for air the first time she came in, we focused on opening up the side body and chest with therapeutic and chair yoga. Combining breath work, long holds of therapeutic poses and movement on a basic level with chair yoga, we noticed a major improvement, and quickly.
The more we opened the areas that were tight and restricted with gentle stretching and deep breathing, the more space she had for her breath and aches and pains improved.
I encouraged her to notice her breath throughout the day, and notice the stressors that would trigger her gasping for air. Using simple mindfulness techniques, she became more aware of stressors in her outside world, as well as in her interior world. Simply noticing allowed her to let them go and practice acceptance of her limitations. In just a few months, I noticed a dramatic improvement in her breathing and overall demeanor. She comes to me now lighter and softer, with an obvious improvement in her attitude and a more positive outlook. She complains less about aches and pains, and has far less difficulty speaking without gasping for air.
Therapeutic Yoga for Low Back Pain
For my clients with low back pain, we work on countering their lifelong bad habits that typically relate in some way to poor seated and standing posture. We do this by lengthening, bending and twisting the spine in all six directions, and also opening up incredibly tight and restricted hips, to bring movement into the joints and bring in space between the discs. Almost all of my clients with back issues have some form of arthritis in their backs or in their necks and shoulders, which contributes to the stiffness and joint pain they feel. Through gentle yoga, softly releasing tension in the muscles and getting more synovial fluid into the joints, my clients experience less stiffness, aches and pains.
Prior to one of my clients’ starting her private therapeutic practice with me, she suffered from chronic pinching, aching low back pain that had led to her having to give up her favorite activities, such as bike riding and hiking. After just a few weeks of twice weekly sessions with me, she noticed a dramatic improvement in her level of pain and was able to get back on her bike for lengthy rides, pain-free. I taught and encouraged her to practice yoga poses on her own each morning and night to release built-up tension, accumulated from sitting at a desk all day. Combining breath and movement has released tension in her body, resistance in her mind about her old story that she “can’t do that, because she’s in pain,” and relieved her stiff and sore neck and low back. Mindfulness awareness taught her to not overdo it as she became more active again, experiencing less pain the day after her activities.
Therapeutic Yoga for Stress and Anxiety
I also have many clients with high-stress, high-anxiety jobs that leave them wound-up, overwhelmed, and exhausted. As a person formerly on an 8mg daily dose of Xanax, who suffered from panic attacks so bad I couldn’t leave the house, I understand how crippling anxiety can be. In my former life, treatment consisted of prescriptions, never the power of breath and its calming effect on the nervous system.
What I learned is that deep breathing triggers a response in the nervous system to shut off the fight-or-flight stress response, bringing in a sense of calm. With practice, deep breaths can bring relief from anxiety within a matter of minutes. With a pill, you’re waiting about twenty minutes before the pill dissolves into the bloodstream, sending a signal to the brain. With that pill, you’re basically rewarding yourself with a nap, long after the anxiety has already passed. I teach mindfulness, present moment awareness, and breathing techniques to students with high anxiety and stress, to help them during difficult and stressful work and life situations. After all, most anxieties come from being trapped in future-thinking, contemplating fears of what can “go wrong” and the “what-ifs” of life. If we stop the fearful train of thought about things out of our control by focusing on the breath—the here and now—we find it easier to release those fears and worries, resulting in a calmer and clearer state of mind.
There is another way
Uniting breath, movement, body, mind and sprit are powerful ways to treat illness, disease, stress, and injuries. My clients and I have personally experienced tremendous healing from the practice. It’s a new season, a new start, the perfect time for a new outlook on your health.