Yoga helps us to slow down and become more self-aware. This increase of awareness is important when we are working with pain or stress because it helps us to see the triggers that cause or increase our dis-ease. Greater awareness helps us to make changes in our lives to help us to minimize or alleviate pain and/or stress.
Adversely, when we are in pain (emotional or physical) our nervous system responds by enacting the sympathetic stress response system, or the “fight/flight/freeze” mode. Our bodies tense in readiness to respond to threat and cortisol and adrenaline flood our system. In yoga we de-activate the sympathetic nervous system, allowing us to settle back into the parasympathetic, or “rest/heal/digest” mode.
Releasing Muscular Tension
When we are in physical or emotional pain our bodies subconsciously tend to grip and hold tightly in the body or around areas of pain. Through yoga movement we move gently to coax the body into releasing muscles that are chronically contracted. Gentle movement like this increases circulation, releases muscular tension and signals the nervous system that we are in a state of calm.
After we experience a painful or stressful event we may continue to experience the pain or stress psychologically and physically as if it were occurring right now. The body and the nervous system respond the same to real threats as it does to perceived threats. As a result we can get stuck in a mental/physical feedback loop that keeps us continually on edge, waiting for danger. In yoga we break the negative feedback loop so we focus on feeling what is happening right now, in the present moment, with calm and full awareness.
Sometimes even with all that yoga has to offer, we still experience pain (physical or emotional). It is here that yoga can help us can help us discover and cultivate an understanding of ourselves beyond our pain so that we can handle our experience without pain completely defining us. It is through our connection to what is greater that we live more fully, with pain or without.