What is pain education and how can yoga help us understand our pain?

Q:

What is pain education and how can yoga help us understand our pain?

A:

There's some interesting research out of Australia with Professor Lorimer Moseley and Professor David Butler on how pain education changes pain. I think teaching mindfulness is such an important foundation when working with pain as it allows us to peel away the filters of our past experiences as we shift to this nonjudgmental attention.

We actually don't have pain receptors in our tissues, we have nociceptors, which are basically just sensing extreme changes in pressure, temperature & chemicals, and relaying that information back to our brain. Our brain is then filtering that against all of its past experiences, emotions and beliefs about pain or fear of pain. It's filtering all these things and then predicting whether there is an inherent danger to the system. So ultimately the nerves are actually danger receptors, protecting us from harm to our tissues.

The interesting thing about that is that our brain is always going to air on the side of safety and protection. The feelings that we feel don’t always match up with the threat to the tissues, especially in chronic pain when the mechanical issues are long gone. For me, this is where yoga becomes such a really important tool; being able to slow down and peel away the filters of our emotional body & past experiences to sit with the experience (safely of course). Is there actually a threat or danger? Can I relax here and see if it's still there?

Pain is in some ways our greatest teacher. If something is painful, can I go slower and allow it to shift? If I go slower and it’s still there, what is it trying to teach me? Maybe I shouldn’t be moving there. Maybe not every day. Maybe that changes tomorrow. The idea of being able to look and take away the judgment, take away the reactions, the emotional reactivity of it, and really look at this experience and remind ourselves of the fact that we all experience stress. We all suffer. We all experience pain.

Empowering our students to understand their bodies rather than be afraid of it, is really an important & empowering part of our practice.

Fear-based approaches never benefit anyone. "Don’t do this or you're going to hurt this." We need to empower our students to be advocates of their health and empower them to appreciate pain as a learning opportunity. To respect it by slowing down enough to listen and adapt rather than pushing through.

Pain is a precious signal and a brilliant and intelligent system that is constantly adapting. Pain education is an interesting field that we’re still learning so much about.

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Written by Tiffany Cruikshank
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Tiffany Cruikshank is the founder of Yoga Medicine®, a community of teachers focused on fusing anatomy and western medicine with traditional yoga practices to serve the medical communities. Cruikshank has trained thousands of teachers around the world, graced the cover of over 15 magazines, been featured regularly in major media outlets, authored two books, and released over 150 classes on various topics on YogaGlo.com.

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