After nearly a decade, Gary Kraftsow returned to Seattle for a weekend workshop: Yoga for Chronic Pain at 8 Limbs Yoga. For anyone unfamiliar with Kraftsow, he began his yoga journey in the early 1970’s with T. Krishnamacharya and T.K.V. Desikachar in India. He is the founder and director of the American Viniyoga Institute and he is very influential in the yoga therapy movement.
The workshop began on Friday evening and ended on Sunday and included lectures and practices focused on back pain, fibromyalgia and headaches. Over 100 people attended the workshop, including Viniyoga teachers, yoga students, medical practitioners and people with chronic pain. Like all great teachers, Kraftsow has a great depth of knowledge. He has many stories to share and wisdom that was gained through life’s many twists and turns. His instructions during our practice sessions were precise and easy to follow. I experienced profound effects throughout the weekend on many levels, both internal and external.
On Friday night, Kraftsow presented an overview of chronic pain and the Viniyoga philosophy towards pain and healing. As yoga therapists, we should not view our clients as their diagnosis or dwell only on the pain and symptoms. Instead, we should focus on each individual and their unique relationship to their pain. Some pain can be eliminated completely, whereas other types of pain can only be reduced or at best, managed. Pain inhibits the relaxation process and therefore may hinder or slow down the healing process.
Yoga and yoga therapy can help people experiencing chronic pain in a number of ways. Kraftsow stressed the importance of a breath-centered asana practice as opposed to a form-centered practice. Each person has unique movement patterns they have developed over a lifetime; our asana practice often reinforces dysfunctional movement patterns. The result is that pain may be reinforced rather than alleviated by yoga. Conscious movements can take the yoga student or client beyond the structural level and into the autonomic nervous system. Several times Kraftsow stressed the fact that we are not teaching asana, we are teaching people.
Yoga and yoga therapy have several objective strategies to deal with chronic pain:
- muscular activation–contract/release and stretch
- increase circulation of prana and blood
- breath regulation
- build prana shakti (vital energy)
Asanas go beyond alignment and function and help re-educate our bodies on how to move. In Viniyoga, muscles are contracted and released through repetition before stretching. Relaxation is used to reduce muscular tension and create inner space. Meditation can help a client shift their attention from the locus of their pain to other senses. With certain types of pain, it is effective to first focus attention upon the center of the pain, then draw attention outward and away from the pain. Continue reading >>