Yoga for Pain Relief– Book review

yoga for pain relief cover imageThis excellent book was written by Kelly McGonical, a professor at Stanford University, who has chronic pain herself.

If you think yoga cannot be for you, then this is a good book to start with. It introduces you to the mind-body benefits and practices of yoga–what yoga really is about–not just physical poses, but there are quite a number of breathing and great guided meditation practices in this book, some I had not seen anywhere else.

Kelly writes about pain, and how to work with it skillfully with a combination of physical and mental approaches.  She mentions a number of research studies, but focuses more guiding you in trying out a number of different ways to experience yoga.

If you are doing yoga regularly you may at first be disappointed by the relatively small number of yoga poses shown in this book. At the same time, that is the strength of the book– if you are experienced you are invited to step back and look at your practice more holistically and more comprehensively from a chronic pain perspective. For the beginner, the many different short sequences and combinations of the same set of poses – for finding balance, for peace, to receive support, for sweet dreams– and so on, offer a practical beginning, that is inviting and doable.

In this video Kelly explains chronic pain and how our bodies respond the ways they do. She also talks about recent studies of why yoga helps chronic pain. An excellent presentation for the first 23 minutes, then Q&A.

Why Yoga:

The power of yoga lies in the tradition’s deep understanding of the mind-body relationship. Yoga may be marketed in magazines as a way to give you a great physique, but the aim of traditional yoga is to restore health of body and peace of mind…you will learn a a wide range of ova practices that reflect the full scope of its healing tools. You will soon discover that if you can breathe, you can do yoga. If you can pay attention no your thoughts and feelings, you can do yoga. Yoga is not about twisting your body into uncomfortable positions, and you can practice yoga even if you cannot get out of bed. 

These simple practices will lead you on the path of ending your own suffering. Yoga can teach you how to focus your mind to change your experience of physical pain. It can teach you how to transform feelings of sadness, frustration, fear, and anger. It can teach you how to listen to your body and take care of your needs so that you can participate in the activities that matter to you. It can give you back the sense of safety, control, and courage that you need to move past your experience with chronic pain. Yoga for Pain Relief, page 4.

Here is a great article that summarizes Kelly’s approach beautifully and shows some of the restorative poses from the book.

My largest critique would be the way the down-ward dog pose is shown throughout the sequences. It looks pretty uncomfortable to me, but there is an alternative on page 87, and Kelly certainly encourages us to modify poses for comfort and safety.