7 Yoga Tips That’ll Help You Cope With Chronic Pain

woman sitting on a yoga mat preparing for a workout

If you're living with chronic pain, yoga might not be top of your list. However, studies show that if you keep it gentle it can help to soothe lower back pain and make you more flexible. Here are seven tips that might help.

Note: These tips aren’t meant to be medical advice. Think carefully about your own situation and what works for you before trying anything new. Consider checking with others including your doctor before you use them.

If the movement increases pain, try doing it more gently or skip it. If you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or other inflammatory conditions, you may need to reduce effort or skip poses during flare-ups.

Thanks to yoga teacher Claire Ferry and clinical massage specialist Ursula Ruminski for the tips.

1. Breath awareness

Yoga cow pose

How to:

  • Sit on the front of a firm chair, the feet under your knees and hip distance apart.
  • Sit evenly on the buttocks. Rest your hands on your thighs or belly.
  • Relax the shoulders and gently try to lengthen your backbone upwards towards the crown of the head. Lift the breastbone.
  • Feel the movement of each breath in the belly and chest, letting go of distractions.

2. Release the back

yoga release the back

How to:

  • Sit on the front of a firm chair with your knees bent, in front of a table.
  • Breathe out, fold forward at the hips and rest your arms on the table or rest your elbows and support your head in your hands.
  • Feel the breath in the back of your body. This can be relaxing for lower back pain.
  • Avoid if you have a herniated disc.

3. Stretch the spine

yoga stretch the spine

How to:

  • Stand facing a wall and put your hands on the wall at chest height or higher if you need to.
  • When you breathe out, walk the feet back until your feet are underneath your hips and your back is straight and lengthened.
  • Keep your ears between your upper arms so your head doesn’t drop.
  • This can help people with herniated discs.

4. Soften shoulders and neck

yoga soften the shoulders and neck

How to:

  • Stand (or sit) tall with your feet hip distance apart.
  • Slightly draw the belly back and up to help support your back.
  • Stretch arms down. Turn the palms to face front and stretch the arms behind you.
  • If you can, link the fingers behind your back to open the upper chest and release tension in the shoulders and neck.

If you suffer from chronic pain, you might want to do these under the supervision of a yoga teacher. So here are some quick resources:

  • Always check that your teacher has appropriate qualifications and experience.

5. Foot roll

yoga foot roll

How to:

  • Place a massage or tennis ball on the floor close to a wall.
  • Put your hands on the wall in front of you for support and put one foot on the ball. Using your body weight, lean onto the ball and slowly roll your foot over it.
  • Gradually increase pressure. Roll for 30-60 seconds then change foot. 
  • This can release pain of the feet, legs and low back.

6. Legs & hips

yoga legs and hips

How to:

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on floor.
  • When you breathe out, hug your right leg towards your chest. When you next breathe out, stretch your left leg along the floor until it’s straight.
  • Hold for a few breaths then slide the left leg back to bent.
  • Release right leg to join it and repeat on the other side.
  • Gentle movement can help with sciatica.

7. And relax

yoga relax pose

How to:

  • Sit on the floor with knees bent and using your arms for support slowly lie down.
  • If comfortable, straighten your legs as you breathe out. If this puts tension on your lower back, keep knees bent, or support behind them with a pillow.
  • Focus on your breath. With each out breath, let tension release. Start at the head, then move down the body all the way to the feet.

Have you tried yoga to alleviate chronic pain? Let us know what worked for you in the comments below. 

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