How Can Restorative Yoga Help Chronic Pain?
When you start to feel the tension that comes with chronic pain, yoga might be the last thing on your mind. But you may be surprised to learn there is a specific type of yoga that emulates the same therapeutic sensation as simply staying still and relaxing. If you are open to trying something relaxing and new, restorative yoga might be perfect for safe, long-term pain management.
What is restorative yoga?
First of all, yoga is a type of exercise where you connect the mind, body, and heart. Restorative yoga is a slower and more restful version.
Restorative yoga strives for ultimate relaxation by encouraging our body and mind to make time for recovery while enhancing our ability to heal and self-soothe. It re-balances our nervous system, helping us positively respond to stress and pain management.
Why restorative yoga?
This style of yoga involves less muscle effort, making it safe for people with chronic pain. It involves four to six long restful-passive poses with the help of comfortable props such as pillows.
Despite the seemingly simple practice, restorative yoga requires an advanced technique of stillness, quietness, and acceptance.
In this article, we’re going to explore the benefits, some poses, and classes to help you understand the world of restorative yoga as pain management.
The benefits of restorative yoga for pain management
Yoga has become massively popular in the last decade, thanks to its various health benefits. The NHS says yoga improves the overall health of those who practice it regularly. Many link the benefits to effects that boost our daily activities such as increasing mood and metabolism.
For people with chronic pain, here are the three major benefits of practising restorative yoga.
1. Decrease pain perception
A study found restorative yoga could result in the reduction of pain interference, as well as improvement of energy, especially in older women. That’s why people who do it regularly feel less pain.
The gentle method of yoga helps us tolerate pain. A researcher from the Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine concludes that yogis are generally accustomed to slower and deeper breathing methods that can nurse discomfort.
As yoga becomes a habit, your body will develop a “tend-and-befriend” rather than a “fight-or-flight” system.
2. Give you ultimate relaxation
Restorative yoga also works perfectly for people with sleep problems, according to 2020 research published by BMC Psychiatry.
Restorative poses will increase melatonin for a healthy sleep cycle and soothe pain receptors, granting you uninterrupted rest and deep relaxation.
Cardiologist Dr Herbert Benson described restorative yoga as the process to “stimulate what needs to be stimulated, and calm down what needs to be calmed.”
3. Boost mobility and flexibility
Harvard Health finds people who regularly practise yoga have more mobility compared to those in general medical care.
With restorative poses, your body will stretch in a relaxed manner and ease any tension, leading to more flexibility. The founder of ExhartYoga community, Yogi Ekhart, says “during a restorative yoga sequence, you still stretch, but you relax fully in the stretch so that tension can slowly be released.”
As your body is carefully stretched, restorative yoga aids the flexibility of areas in the neck, lower back and knee.
The flexibility effect is pretty similar to pilates, which is a less spiritual alternative to yoga. You can find out more about two similar, but different exercises for lower back pain here if you want to compare the two.
That being said, here are a few restorative poses you can try at home to see if they help manage your pain and relax you!
Simple poses to try at home
What makes restorative yoga attractive is its simplicity. You don’t have to buy fancy props or go somewhere far away to do it. Just lay down, relax, and you’re all set.
If you’re unsure about what poses you can do, you can seek advice from a medical professional.
1. Supported backbend poses
Yoga and meditation teacher Kelley McGonigal recommends this pose for a safe back pain healing. Don’t be afraid of not getting it right, because Yoga teacher Caren Baginski can also guide you through the steps with her youtube video.
Good for: Back pain and shoulder pain as the pose help releases tension by opening and improving the breathing and blood flow in your chest and belly.
Props: Yoga mat, block/bolster/pillows/thick blankets, towels
2. Supported forward fold
This simple pose is mostly good for your back health, according to yoga teachers Julia Ruff and Madeline Phillips. It helps to stretch your back muscles gently and safely. You can head to their website for full instruction.
Good for: Backside pain as the pose fully extends your body safely from head to heels while you can feel the gravity gently pulls you down.
Props: yoga mat, thick blanket/bolster
3. Legs-up-the-wall pose
Rejuvenate your legs by doing this pose from the yoga and mindfulness teacher Sara Clark. The relaxing pose allows you to stretch the legs and knee evenly after a long walk, as well as lower back pain. For full guidance, feel free to check their website.
Good for: Leg pain and knee pain as the pose gently stretches the back of your hamstrings and helps the build-up of your blood circulation.
Also good for: Lower back pain as you elongate your back muscle and release the tension.
Props: Wall, yoga mat, blanket (additional to support your back side)
Classes to check out in the UK
Now that you’ve taken a sneak peek into the world of restorative yoga, why not join others? Challenge yourself by learning directly from the experts and socialize with others who strive for the same goal. Exercising with a partner(s) may lessen the burden of an exercise and boost your spirits instead.
1. Restorative yoga with Triyoga
The class is open for people with all kinds of yoga experience to calm the heart while resting the mind and body. You will learn plenty of restorative poses with simple props.
It is available every day of the week with different teachers. You can check their timetable here and choose the one that fits your schedule.
2. Restorative Flow with The House of Yoga
Restorative Flow is a programme under The House of Yoga that focuses on mobility, opening, and restoration. The class is designed to help you release daily tensions and stresses.
Can’t leave your home? Not a problem as they have a one-hour online live stream that is available on Monday, Tuesday, and Saturday evening.
They have a wide range of options from a single class, five classes, to a full month class. All you need is to sign in to their website and book the class from here.
3. Restorative yoga with East of Eden
As you will mostly be lying down, you can prepare your own props like bolsters, bricks, and blankets in advance. A Spotify playlist is also accessible to get you in the mood.
One to two classes are open daily with a different teacher and schedule. If you’re interested, you can check their site to see the full schedule.
We hope this mini-guide to restorative yoga helps relax your body and inspire peace of mind. If you have tried it before or are just beginning your restorative yoga journey, we’d love to hear about your experience. Share your experience or ask questions on our community page here!
Don’t hesitate to seek advice from experts if you are still feeling unsure. It might come in handy as benefits from yoga can differ and depend on each person.
That said, restorative yoga is always worth trying to help your body, mind and soul.