According to The Institute of Medicine Report, more than 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain (2018). Commonly reported areas of pain are low back, headache and joints. Chronic pain often occurs as a result of: 1) an ongoing health condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia; 2) a previous injury or accident; or 3) a physical misalignment or structural issue.
Long-term pain impacts all aspects of a person’s life. It can cause irritability, fatigue, insomnia and depression. Chronic pain intensifies stress – which may increase anxiety, raise blood pressure and lead to other physiological changes. Chronic pain has also been shown to cause inflammation in the brain.
In recent years, there has been an increased interest in non-pharmacological approaches for pain management. Research studies have validated that both Yoga Therapy and Reiki can be quite effective for reducing chronic pain symptoms. How can these gentle therapies help with the management of pain?
First, Yoga therapy and Reiki encourage a gentle awareness of the body, listening compassionately to better understand what it needs to feel better. These therapies interpret pain as a message from the body communicating that it needs help. What is the body asking for? Are there any movements that allow the release of pain? Are physical asymmetries or misalignments a causal factor? Is the body able to discharge restricted energy from a painful area during Reiki therapy? Does past trauma play a role in the experience of pain?
Secondly, increasing awareness of how pain impacts breathing and overall energy. Pain literally “takes the breath away”, causing it to become fast, short and shallow. This breathing pattern tells the body it is in danger, keeping the nervous system in an alerted state. This triggers the release of more cortisol, creating more inflammation, which aggravates pain. However, the opposite is also true. Yoga therapy practices that slow/deepen the breath calm the nervous system and the release of stress chemicals.
In addition, these therapies support homeostasis, helping the body restore internal balance. Chronic pain keeps the sympathetic nervous system turned “on”. This increases heart rate, blood pressure and blood sugar; while also reducing circulation, digestion and memory. Reiki Therapy allows the nervous system to downshift into parasympathetic mode, quieting heart rate and mind while increasing circulation and respiration. The deep relaxation that occurs with Reiki Therapy treatment seems to mitigate pain quite significantly.
Over the years, I have worked extensively with a wide variety of people experiencing chronic pain. I have seen how truly effective these gentle therapies can be in providing pain relief and in empowering people to feel better.