Yoga Helps Chronic Pain

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

“Practicing yoga has the opposite effect on your brain as does chronic pain”, says M. Catherine Bushnell, PhD, scientific director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Bushnell has been working to study the benefits of yoga on chronic pain. She, along with colleague, Chantal Vellemure, studied yogis (people who regularly practiced yoga for at least 6 years) and matched them with people with same age, sex, education, and other exercise.

Their study revealed the yogis had more gray matter in a number of regions. Chronic pain leads to changes in gray matter volume. Bushnell believes that gray matter changes in the internal structures of the cerebral cortex are the most significant players involved in chronic pain.

In other studies, Vellemure has found yogis to have an increase in pain tolerance and pain thresholds. He has found that when most people are expecting pain, the “fight-or-flight” response (sympathetic nervous system) is engaged which causes the significant release of cortisol. However, when the yogis anticipated pain, their parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) responded.

(Christopher Bergland’s “How Does Yoga Relieve Chronic Pain?” article published in Psychology Today.)

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Kirsten Erickson, C-IAYT, YACEP, E-RYT200, RYT500, iRest® Yoga Nidra Level 1 Teacher, Yoga Wellness North