By Julia Westbrook
Improve your brain to stop the pain.
Protect your body from pain by beefing up your mind with yoga, according to research from the American Pain Society. The research found that the areas of the brain that are torn down by chronic pain are built up by yoga, likely due to the meditative aspects of the practice.
“Practicing yoga has the opposite effect on the brain as does chronic pain,” said M. Catherine Bushnell, PhD, scientific director of the Division of Intramural Research, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, NIH.
Chronic pain has shown to cause brain damage in gray matter, which can lead to memory issues, emotional issues, and decreased cognitive functioning. Chronic pain is also a symptom of inflammation in the brain. “The inflammation causes reversible damage to the brain with a loss of gray matter and disruption in the normal functioning of the brain,” explains Gary Kaplan, DO, author of Total Recovery.
So, the logical solution: Fix the inflammation, fix your brain, and stop the pain.
Dr. Kaplan recommends meditation and yoga as effective ways to combat inflammation in his own practice. “If we could bottle the beneficial impacts yoga and meditation have on the body it would be the best-selling medication around,” he says.
Improved Coping With Inflammation
Dr. Kaplan says this meditative practice may address the root brain inflammation that causes pain. “We do not know the mechanism via which meditation and yoga protect the brain,” he says, “but since we know that both practices result in repair of the brain and growth of new gray matter, it is reasonable that both practices reduce inflammation. You cannot have brain tissue repair unless you shut down the inflammatory process.”
While yoga doesn’t make people less sensitive to pain, yoga and meditation can help boost their resilience when it comes to dealing with their pain. While these practices don’t decrease your ability to feel pain, Dr. Kaplan says that previous research has found that they do improve the time of reactivity to pain and the emotional consequences of experiencing pain. “Both practices unquestionably can reduce the level of chronic pain and again reduce the emotional import of the pain, i.e. the suffering component,” he explains. “They allow you to ‘distance’ yourself from the pain and see it more objectively.”
Your ability to deal isn’t just a matter of will—it might be a matter of your brain, too. “There are several studies that look at insula mass interrelationship to resilience,” says Dr. Kaplan. “If yoga is also increasing the insula mass, then we might also expect people doing yoga on a regular basis to have a greater capacity to manage stress and adversity.” In his practice, he sees that a meditation or yoga practice can also help with anxiety, depression, improved sleep, concentration, and energy.
As seen on RodaleNews.com.