Living With Chronic Pain

A surprising number of our private clients have chronic pain of some sort: that’s usually what prompted them to try yoga.

I really empathise: I am lucky enough not to have to live with a chronic pain but I do live with another kind of chronic condition: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), developed in childhood. I manage it, and to me it’s no different to living with, say, Type 1 Diabetes. 

It’s just part of who I am. 

Interestingly, just as with inflammatory diseases and chronic pain like recurrent migraines, we don’t yet fully understand why some people develop PTSD while others, who may have had the same experiences, do not. 

With migraines, scientists arestarting to think that there is a genetic factor. Humans are so very complex, and there is so much about how we work that we don’t understand yet. 

Over the years of working with people with conditions of chronic pain and inflammation, I’ve come to understand that sometimes yoga helps. 

And sometimes it doesn’t.

Why?

I’m not entirely sure - sometimes it’s kinda obvious: the movements are causing aggravation to joints or whatever. Sometimes, what worked for months stops working.

Perhaps it’s for the same reason that we need to vary movement: our bodies get used to that loading and stop responding in the same way.

What does seem to help fairly consistently, is what I’m going to call an acceptance practice.

You could call it cognitive reframing, too.

Basically, it seems to come down to this: we can’t always influence how much PAIN we have, but we can influence how much SUFFERING we have. All that time spent worrying about we you will next be in pain, feeling frustrated that you are ‘broken’ (you aren’t by the way, you are just a complex human with complex things happening in your body!), trying to find cures, being disappointed when interventions don’t help or stop helping…

It’s exhausting.

I go through that cycle whenever my PTSD symptoms flare up, as they are wont to do if I’ve had a period of intense stress or something has triggered me (I don’t always know what those triggers will be, unfortunately).

Slowly, I am learning to just relax about the whole thing. I have this condition. I also have tools. And if I have a flare up, well, there’s not much I can do except wait for it to pass. 

This reframing has helped so so much. I no longer think of myself as broken as I did when I was a young ‘un - and I experience a lot less suffering in the times when I don’t have symptoms. 

I’m not gonna lie, I don’t get this right all the time, but it’s a tool that’s worked for me, and it seems to have helped the clients I’ve shared the idea with.

I’m not saying stop looking for things that will help your pain - just reframe what you say to yourself about your pain. 

I’d also love to hear what does/doesn’t work for you!