My goal as a yoga teacher is first and foremost to help you deal with pain, and fully experience joy. All else comes from that. In my recent Freedom from Pain workshop, we went over 10 tools you can instantly use to free yourself from pain on a daily basis.
1. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Sound amazingly simple? It is. When we do this type of breathing it does a few things. First, it brings your attention to your breathing. That in itself calms the nervous system by slowing down and focusing your mind.
2. Put a hand on the part of your body that is causing you pain. Bringing your awareness and attention to the part of your body that is in pain is naturally completing the feedback loop your body is trying to get you to engage in. When we ignore or run away from pain actually increases our perception of pain, as your mind/body connection is interrupted. Pain is a messenger, and when we ignore the messenger, the pain will increase until it gets our attention. Ever heard the phrase “Listen to the whisper so you don’t have to hear the scream”?
3. Massage your nervous system. The chanting of “OM” in yoga classes isn’t just because its new agey and all weird. The vibrations you make when you create this sound vibrate your spinal column and like a wave, those pleasant vibrations ripple out through your whole body, helping your feel better.
4. Use music to help create beneficial brain wave states. Dr. Jeffrey Thompson has created many sets of music to help with sleep, stress, creativity and more. I use this music daily to help regulate my own nervous system. Any music you love, however, will help increase helpful chemicals in your body.
5. Develop more proprioceptive awareness. What’s that, you ask? Its how aware you are of your body in space. There are many ways to do this; it simply involves bringing heightened awareness to a body part in any one moment. Try this: Stand up, in bare feet if you can. Bring your awareness to your feet. Press your feet strongly into the floor, one at a time. Pick up your toes, and put them back down, one at a time. Rub your feet across the floor. Now, you are much more aware of your feet. It feels different to stand this way. Try this exercise a few times and see how it changes how you feel.
6. Use a mantra. Any statement you come up with that makes sense and has purpose for you will help. If you repeat “I am generous” to yourself over and over during the day, you will become more generous. Why? It’s not a mystery – you are training your brain to think about and act in generousity. You are creating a nueron superhighway that automatically turns your thoughts to generousity. Your mind is a muscle, and you can train it to pick up and put down things, just like your legs and arms.
7. Use a pain scale when you practice yoga. As you start, ask yourself where your pain level is today. 1 is little or no pain, and 10 is as bad as its ever been. As you practice, keep checking back in about where your number is right now – in this pose, this breath, this moment. The more your are aware of your pain level, the more opportunity you have to take care of yourself, stop the feedback loop, and not injure yourself further in practice.
8. Use and develop strength in your practice. Everyone focuses in on flexibility in the mainstream media for yoga – all we see is bendy pictures of girls in bikinis on the beach. Can you touch your toes? Are you skinny? Can you do a handstand? None of this matters. Strength in body, mind and spirit are the touchstones to developing a stable life, a healthy body and a calm mind. Find strength in learning anatomy so that you know how to keep yourself safe. Find strength in meditation to train your mind to stay centered. Develop strength in your physical practice so you can live life fully.
9. Practice breathing. The breath is the key to understanding your psyche, your body, your mind and your spirit. It’s your guidepost to understanding each moment of your life. Learn to develop it, understand how it changes, and use it in your daily life as a barometer for the emotional weather around you. Bramari Pranayama, or Bee Breath, is one of my favorite pain relieving breathing practices.
10. Practice playful curiosity. Never stop learning. Practice being a beginner daily. There is always something new to learn, a deeper level to understand, and what you want is directly behind what you fear the most. Your playful curiousity will lead you to the answer in a way that helps you avoid future suffering.
Interested in learning more? Come to my next Freedom from Pain workshop, Saturday, April 12 at Mountain Yoga in Johnson City, TN.
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