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Therapeutic Yoga





Healing Your Body with Therapeutic Yoga


Yoga therapy involves using yoga postures to balance and align your muscles to heal your body from pain and other chronic health conditions. For me, yoga meant the difference between living a normal life and living in constant pain. In my case my scoliosis, TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder) and many other pain issues arose from having tight leg muscles that pulled on my upper body. One of my legs was tighter than the other, causing one of my shoulder to be pulled lower. The low shoulder would pull on my jaw, causing TMJ, neck and shoulder pain. Yoga was the one therapy I tried that addressed the root cause of my pain issues.

In yoga therapy, you use a set of posture designed specifically for your individual problems and imbalances to heal your body. Often many pain and misalignment issues will clear up in unison once your muscles are balanced and properly aligned.

Most medical and even many alternative health practitioners who treat conditions like TMJ focus only on relaxing muscles around the jaw, but I think that may not always be the most appropriate approach treating muscoskeletal disorders.

Most people don't think of relaxing leg muscles to treat neck, TMJ and shoulder pain, but for me that is what did the trick. Interestingly, I noticed that my jaw and shoulder got better when I did stretches and yoga postures to loosen up my legs. I know it sounds unconventional, but if you think about it logically it makes a lot of sense.

Visualize your body as being similar to a three story building. If one of the supporting beams is shifted and pulled downward, over time even the top floor of the building will start to sag downward, too. I think the same thing can be true with the human body. If you leg muscles are tight, they can cause a perpetual pull on your upper body. Over time, this constant downward pull can cause a variety of chronic pain conditions.

I used to do a lot of hiking and biking, sports that would tighten up my leg muscles. But I never did many sports or exercises to strengthen my upper body. So over time my leg muscles become overly tight and cramped. They pulled on my upper body causing TMJ, headaches, neck pain, sciatic nerve pain, plugged ears and related conditions.

Yoga Therapy Compared to Physical Therapy

I used to see physical therapists for my chronic pain issues, but most of them (except for one who was an expert at body alignment) actually made me worse instead of better. When I would get prescriptions for exercises for my shoulder or jaw, the therapists always said they could not give me any exercises for my legs or other body parts that the prescription from the doctor did not cover. I think this these statements from the therapists actually get to the heart of why yoga therapy often works better than physical therapy -

Having a physical therapist try to fix your neck without working on your legs is the equivalent of telling a structural engineer that he has to fix a sagging upper story without working on the foundation of the building.

This idea that where you feel pain is also the source of the pain is not always true and is often why physical therapy often makes people like me even worse instead of better. The most important point I learned from my research on yoga to end my pain problems has been:

Where you hurt most likely is not the source of your pain. Exercising only the parts of your body that hurt may only serve to irritate your weak and stretched out muscles more, and may do nothing to solve your long term health issues.

For me, I often hurt where my muscles were weak, yet the cause of the pain was tight muscles elsewhere on my body. At one time I was sent to a hand and arm clinic for my pain issues. Guess what? My hands and arms got stronger and started feeling better, but I started to develop terrible problems with my feet and ankles. One of my ankles kept getting sprained for no obvious reason. The orthopedist who sent me to the arm clinic just brushed off my ankle issues as saying "that just happens sometimes".

Eventually I realized that the arm exercises were not really curing but just shifting the tension points in my body. As I pulled my muscles upward from all of the arm and shoulder exercises, my arms got looser and my ankles got tighter. Yoga ended up working better for me because most of the postures tend to involve the whole body, so one part is not being overworked at the expense of another. Yoga is a holistic approach to pain management that treats the whole body.

The trick to yoga therapy to heal my chronic pain issues then was:

  • Balancing my muscles by stretching out tight muscles and strengthening up loose muscles.

  • Improving my posture so that once my muscles were balanced and aligned they stayed that way.

  • Once my body was healed, I had to keep doing a maintenance yoga routine so that my desk job and my hiking and biking hobbies do not get my muscles out of balance again.






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