How to begin yoga when you have chronic pain

How to begin yoga when you have chronic pain

You may have heard that yoga is good for persistent pain. An appropriate class and teacher can certainly help you manage your pain by teaching you to relax, participate in exercise, and increase body awareness.

But many people with chronic pain find even beginners classes are too much for them. They say they feel frustrated when they can’t keep up with others in the class. Here are some guidelines for approaching your first yoga class when you experience chronic pain.

Find a yoga teacher who specialises in pain
There are many styles of yoga and many yoga teachers, each with a unique approach. Find a teacher who understands your condition and offers a gentle, graded approach to learning.  

Book a private class before joining the group
In a group class the teacher may be looking after eight or more students.  If you have special requirements, are particularly challenged with movement, or nervous about being in a group, you may wish to book at least one private session with the teacher beforehand.  This will allow the teacher to attend to you personally and show you easy ways to modify postures to suit you.  Private sessions usually range between $65 and $150 depending on the length of the session, the teacher’s experience and the support they provide before or after your consult.

Arrive ten minutes early
Before class there will be a registration form to fill out and you will need to set up your mat.  You will probably also want to briefly let the teacher know that you experience pain and so will be modifying postures when you need to.

Remember that you can’t fix pain with pain
A good yoga class won’t intentionally push you beyond your limits.  It’s more often our own expectations that make us want to do more.  If the teacher asks you to do something that your body doesn’t like, don’t feel obliged to do it. Take personal responsibility for your body and, if something is uncomfortable, ease out of it and see if you can discover a smaller, more satisfying version before it becomes agony.

Don’t try to keep up with bendy Ms Jones on the mat next to you
Yoga teachers often say “just do what you are able”.  This is an incredibly difficult instruction to follow, especially if the person next to you is bending like a pretzel.  Know that he or she has been a beginner at one stage, and that being bendy doesn’t make you a better yogi.  Yoga is an invitation to steady the mind, which you can learn by being OK with the body you have today – not the body you had twenty years ago, or the body you think you might have if you just push a little harder.

When in doubt, Savasana
Savasana is the relaxation pose often done at the start and end of class.  It is a very important posture and often considered the most challenging because being completely relaxed doesn’t come naturally to many people.  If it’s your first yoga class, or your millionth, and your body just isn’t up for it, just turn up to your yoga mat and, simply, do Savasana.

The 12-week Yoga for Pain Program helps people with persistent pain get their lives back. Learn to move more effortlessly, manage stress and gently build strength. Email rachael@findingyoga.com.au for information or visit the schedule above. Yoga for Pain is also now available as a self-led online course.

2 Comments
  • J. W. Kain
    Posted at 01:14h, 29 January Reply

    Reblogged this on Wear, Tear, & Care and commented:
    Yoga for pain!! I wish I was near Australia.

  • rachaelwest
    Posted at 16:06h, 09 March Reply

    Thanks JW Kain, appreciate the comment. We’ve just started training for yoga teachers in Australia so maybe we’ll come your way soon!

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