Can Yoga Prevent Chronic Pain and Make You Smarter?
I love yoga. I really do. It’s the most relaxing form of physical activity I’ve ever tried and leaves me feeling rejuvenated.
Unlike higher-impact exercise, yoga focuses on core strength and flexibility. Since I’ve never been particularly flexible, it’s given me a much better range of motion. The movements are slow, focused, and gentle on the body. After a hot yoga class (seriously, give it a try), I sleep so good that you’d think I was medicated.
Over the last decade, the conventional medical community has (finally) embraced yoga as a great way to keep your body and mind healthy. New research from the American Pain Society and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) discovered that it could be a natural and effective way to get rid of chronic pain.
I talk a lot about mind-body techniques to improve your overall quality of life. Practices such as yoga, tai-chi, and meditation are amazing at reducing stress, calming the mind, and helping your body feel recharged.
Chronic pain affects more than 76 million Americans. It’s the number one reason for long-term disability and results in astronomical costs to the economy from medical treatment and time lost from work and personal activities.
When you suffer from pain that never seems to ease, that lasts longer than three months, it’s considered a chronic condition. What you might not know is that this state of being can actually re-write your brain’s nerve pathways.
Pain can literally damage your memories, emotions, and overall brain function.
Your level of pain tolerance can vary drastically from everyone else and the source is not always clear. Since there is not a way for doctors to measure pain or accurately pinpoint the cause, finding ways to get rid of chronic pain has become a global endeavor.
During the American Pain Society’s annual conference, yoga was at the forefront. Scientists now believe that yoga can prevent and possibly even reverse the brain damage caused by chronic pain. Common “side effects” of never-ending pain are depression and anxiety.
“Imaging studies in multiple types of chronic pain patients show their brains differ from healthy control subjects,” explained M. Catherine Bushnell, PhD. She’s the scientific director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health at NIH. “Studies of people with depression show they also have reduced gray matter, and this could contribute to the gray matter changes in pain patients who are depressed. Our research shows that gray matter loss is directly related to the pain when we take depression into account.”
You know what has the exact opposite effect on the brain as chronic pain? YOGA.
Incredibly, the conditions that lead to damaged pathways and loss of gray matter in the brain are countered by this ancient practice. It could be possible to get rid of chronic pain in your life by simply partaking in this low-impact (and truly lovely) exercise.
The study’s examination of long-time practitioners of yoga shocked researchers. Bushnell said, “Some gray matter increases in yogis correspond to duration of yoga practice, which suggests there is a causative link between yoga and gray matter increases.” She added, “Insula [the structures that make up the cerebral cortex] gray matter size correlates with pain tolerance, and increases in insula gray matter can result from ongoing yoga practice.”
Physical pain, mood disorders, and loss of brain function can be minimized with yoga. “Mind-body practices seem to exert a protective effect on brain gray matter that counteracts the neuroanatomical effects of chronic pain,” said Bushnell.
10 More Benefits of Yoga – A 5,000 Year-Old Practice
- Improved flexibility and better athletic performance overall
- Increase in core strength and muscle tone
- Excellent for heart health and respiratory system
- Higher energy levels
- Weight loss and improved metabolism
- Better quality of sleep
- Lower levels of stress, anxiety, and may aid symptoms of PTSD
- Improved emotional state and sense of well-being
- Boost to memory, concentration, and total brain cognition
- Helpful with symptoms of arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and asthma
Mentally, emotionally, and physically, you’re going to love the way yoga makes you feel. It’s gentle on the body without jarring you or putting strain on your joints while making a huge impact on your total wellness.
If you can get rid of chronic pain and the affect it has on so many areas of your life, that’s yet another reason to give this ancient form of exercise a try today. You’ll find classes at gyms, community centers, and so much more but you can also pull up amazing videos that can be done in the privacy of your own home.
For more information about improving your daily life gently, naturally, and effectively, check out “” I think you’ll love the information I share with you.
Right now, I’m going to get my mind and body in a peaceful place with a 15-minute yoga video before I have to get back to work. If you try it, I think you’ll love it as much as I do.