How Restorative Yoga Can Help Manage Symptoms of Chronic Pain

When I was in Chronic Pain Rehab (aka “pain camp”), I was encouraged to try yoga. I shot back to the doc quickly stating that every time I tried a different yoga class I would end up in a major pain flare so “Thanks, but NO THANKS”.  He then told me there are different types of yoga (I was oblivious to this). He encouraged me to try “Restorative Yoga (RY)” as that is what works best for people with Chronic Pain and it can actually help with symptom management. So, my guard came down and I decided to be a good little patient and listen to my doctor.

Luckily for me, I found a place fairly close to home. I was apprehensive (past major yoga fails) and had some fear of being judged. I’d gained a lot of weight since my plethora of diagnoses and was certainly not “in shape”. Despite my fears I was desperate to feel better, so I showed up to class not having any idea what to expect. I was greeted by two fabulously friendly ladies (the owner and also my RY teacher). My teacher was awesome. She was very patient and she put up with my Chronic Pain self (aka hyper-vigilant hot mess). I shared my concerns with her and she made sure I was comfortable in the class and taught me modifications of the poses I was not able to do because of my various issues. I had a great time and went regularly until I was comfortable enough doing it at home. I purchased the items I needed and still continue to use this tool for overall stress and pain management. So what is Restorative Yoga, how does it work and where can I purchase what I need to do it at home?

What is it? Restorative Yoga (RY) is a yoga practice inspired by B.K.S. Iyengar of India. It has been perfected in America by Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, PT and major contributor to our yoga culture in America. The goal of RY is to create balance in the body (organs, energy, circulation, blood, breathing), and help return the Central Nervous System to a relaxed state. Thus relieving the effects of chronic stress and Chronic Pain!
How does it work? By setting up props and using a sequence of RY movements and poses, the body reacts in a way to “restore”. Props include bolsters, blankets and other things to support the body in relaxation poses. Each pose has a specific purpose for a system of the body. Some are targeted at lowering heart rate, some address digestion and bowel issues, and others are for regulating the endocrine system. Some poses help with lower back pain and headaches. They even have special RY classes for people with cancer. My favorites are the Savasana, Legs Up The Wall and the Supported Reclining poses (pretty much all I can do but it is perfect for me and my body!).
What will I need? If you go to a yoga studio that teaches RY, they should have all of the props there to make it easier for you. Because I wanted to invest in my own props and start being more independent with my main RY poses I grew to love, I started off with Judith Lasater’s book Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times. Over a few months, I purchased a bolster and some blocks for supporting the bolster and blankets. I got 4 heavy wool blankets and 2 lighter blankets to supporting arms, legs, head and neck. The strap is for stretching and holding legs in place in some poses. I got a nice thick mat for my back and last but not least, the fabulous lavender eye pillow! I am now able to set up my RY props into the poses I need and practice at home. In Lasater’s book she also talks about using chairs, walls, tables, sandbags, towels and doors as props.
How can I find a RY Teacher? First of all, check with your physician and care team prior to starting RY. We trust that Pain Campers are already doing such things with anything they embark on in their journey! You can find a Restorative Yoga Teacher in your area by checking out the Yoga listing on our Alternative Medicine – Resources Page.

Pain Camp is a safe place to share your thoughts, experience, strength and hope.  Have you tried Restorative Yoga or any other types of yoga with success for managing your pain? What’s your favorite pose?

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