Yoga is so much more than asanas (the poses). Here we’ll talk about the yamas, niyamas, and asanas for chronic pain.

The Yamas, essentially guidelines for ‘living an ethical life’, are divided into 5 concepts; Satya (truthfulness in thought, action, and speech), ahimsa (non-violence in thought, action, and speech), brahmacharya (conservation and awareness of use of energy), astheya (non-stealing and freedom from cravings), and aparigraha (non-hoarding). Increased awareness of the Yamas can lead to a practitioner being more mindful of their bodies, behaviors, and attitude, reducing the frequency of stressful interactions throughout their lives.

Those that have a casual practice of yoga probably have only a cursory knowledge of yamas, but they’re important.

The niyamas serve to ‘improve behavior’ and make an individual further aware of their interpersonal behavioral habits. Like the Yamas, the niyamas are also divided into 5 concepts; tapas (discipline), svadhyaya (self-study), santosha (contentment), saucha (cleanliness/purity in thought, speech and action), and ishvara pranidhana (being of service). The niyamas are tools for cultivating self-confidence and happiness. For sufferers of chronic pain, they can help to reduce the reactivity it may foster in the human psyche. Study and practice of the Yamas and niyamas works towards creating a sense of awareness and contentment in the individual, equipping them to face head on any physical suffering or aliments they may encounter, with grace, understanding and a perspective that extends beyond themselves.

The asanas — traditionally just 1/8 of the practice of yoga, but in the 21st century, undoubtedly the main focus — with the right care and guidance, can help to minimize and provide clarity around the symptoms, and causes, of chronic pain. A regular practice of asana, and the focus on relaxation, brings a new awareness to the body. This combination creates ‘steadiness, health and lightness’ within the practitioner, whilst also optimizing tissue function. Essentially, asana opens up a vital flow of energy through the body, fostering feelings of positive wellbeing.

Specific asanas, or the combination of postures, have unique benefits for the body. Balancing asanas work to correct posture and build strength in the muscles, reversing pain reinforcing forces. Other asanas affect blood flow and lymph flow, with contrasting stretches, contractions and spinal movements. The awareness and progression to relaxation can work towards eliminating pain and giving the practitioner a heightened sense of control. There is reasonable evidence to suggest that an asana practice will enhance inner balance, adjustment and coping abilities.

If you have chronic pain, there are a variety of yoga studios in our area for you to see if yoga is right for you and your pain levels.

Tina Samuels, a native of Rome, is a local yoga instructor and shiatsu bodywork therapist. Readers can contact her at www.romebodyworkandwellness.com.