Yoga for Chronic Pain Management: How Simple Practices Can Help


According to the CDC, in 2021, an estimated 20% of U.S. adults experienced chronic pain, while 7% of adults experienced high-impact chronic pain in a given year.

High-impact chronic pain is characterized by limitations in life or work activities due to pain, and it often requires substantial medical treatment or intervention.

As a person who has been living with chronic pain for over a decade, I discovered that there are meditation, breathwork techniques, and yoga for chronic pain that can help manage pain.

There is hope! Aside from physical therapy in clinical settings, these alternative approaches to pain management have been increasingly recognized for their evidence-based potential to alleviate symptoms and enhance the quality of life for people living with chronic pain and all that it entails.

In this article we will discuss the following:

Read on with us and see if yoga for the management of chronic pain may be of benefit to you.

a woman doing a restorative yoga pose on a green bolster against a yellow circe

What is chronic pain?

According to the World Health Organization, chronic pain is any pain that lasts or recurs for longer than 3 months.

Unlike acute pain, which serves as a warning sign of injury or illness and usually subsides as the underlying issue heals, chronic pain persists long after the initial cause has been addressed.

This enduring discomfort can significantly impact the person’s quality of life, affecting their physical and mental health.

Several factors can contribute to the development of chronic pain, and it often arises from complex biological, psychological, and social elements.

Understanding the diverse causes of chronic pain is important for effective management and treatment.

Here are some common causes of chronic pain:

  • Chronic pain can result from trauma and injuries such as fractures, sprains, or soft tissue damage. Even after the initial healing process, the nervous system may continue to signal pain, leading to persistent discomfort.
  • Certain health conditions, such as osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, and inflammatory disorders, can cause ongoing pain. These chronic pain conditions may involve inflammation, nerve damage, or changes in the structure of organs or tissues.
  • Alterations in the nervous system, such as neuropathy or central sensitization, can lead to chronic pain. In these cases, the nervous system becomes more sensitive and may perceive normal stimuli as painful.
  • Emotional and psychological factors, including stress, anxiety, and depression, can contribute to the development and exacerbation of chronic pain. The mind-body connection significantly affects how pain is experienced and managed.
a restorative yoga class with people lying on their backs with blankets

Yoga and chronic pain

Yoga has gained recognition as a complementary approach to managing chronic pain, offering a holistic method that combines physical postures (asana), breath control (pranayama), meditation, and philosophy.

While the benefits of yoga can be significant, it is important to recognize that not all types of yoga are suitable for individuals dealing with chronic pain.

Yoga includes movement, but also breathwork, meditation, and philosophical principles, and when used well, it may be beneficial for folks living with chronic illness.

Please, remember that you should always speak with your medical team and health professionals before embarking on any yoga practice so that they can help you find what would be most beneficial for you.

Consider also contacting a qualified yoga teacher or yoga therapist to guide you as well.

Which Yoga Is Best For Chronic Pain?

Here are some of the styles we invite you to get more information on that can be supportive yoga for chronic pain practices:

In truth, depending on how you feel, many of the components of yoga can be beneficial when creating a pain management plan, but it is important for you to listen to yourself and stay gentle.

There might be times when you feel well enough to go to vinyasa yoga classes or go to an ashtanga yoga session, and during flare-ups or challenging days, you may stick to restorative yoga or do some pranayama for mindful wellness.

a restorative yoga class in a studio with practitioners lying down supported by props

The nervous system and chronic pain

Your nervous system is like the body’s communication network, comprising the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) and the peripheral nervous system (nerves throughout the body).

Chronic pain often disrupts the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the ANS, leading to heightened stress responses.

Yoga, with its emphasis on mindful movement, controlled breathing exercises, and meditation, acts as a potent modulator of the autonomic nervous system.

Through practices like deep breathing and meditation, yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, fostering a “rest and digest” state.

This shift counteracts the chronic stress associated with persistent pain, promoting relaxation and potentially reducing pain perception.

Benefits of mindful movement for chronic pain

Engaging in mindful movements, such as yoga, tai chi, or qigong, encourages you to be fully present in the moment, cultivating awareness of bodily sensations, breath, and movement.

This heightened awareness helps break the cycle of pain-related stress and tension, promoting a sense of calm, well-being, and relaxation.

Unlike high-impact exercises that might exacerbate pain, mindful movement prioritizes gentle, deliberate motions that can be adapted to what you need at the moment.

Mindful movement for chronic pain involves truly paying attention to bodily sensations during the practice, fostering a deeper connection with yourself and what you need.

an elderly couple stretching sitting cross legged on the floor in front of a sofa

Tips for practicing yoga for chronic pain management

Although we’ve already shared some tips for you to get started with yoga for chronic pain, here we’ve gathered some more considerations:

  • Remember to check with a healthcare provider before getting started
  • Find the right styles and practices for you and how you feel
  • Incorporating conscious breathwork practices is also a great tool to manage pain.
  • Adapt and modify the practice to what you need, using props to support you.
  • Introduce mindfulness and meditation practices to complement your yoga for chronic pain routine.
  • Consider using props in your practice to find more support and comfort.

Yoga poses for chronic pain management

What I have found when practicing regular yoga for chronic pain, is that beyond the physical benefits of each of these asanas, I have learned to listen to what my body needs at any given moment.

Be kind and compassionate with yourself, and only do those poses that feel good in the moment.

The practice of yoga for chronic pain can help you find tools for pain relief, for self-regulation, and also to help you find gentleness and self-care in your day-to-day life.

Here are a few yoga for pain relief postures with some suggestions on how to make them accessible for different needs.

1# Child’s pose (Balasana)

annotated image of a woman doing child's pose

Balasana gently stretches your lower back, hips, and thighs, relieving tension in these areas. Child’s Pose helps redirect your energy inward, fostering a calming and grounding effect on the nervous system.

Practice this posture with a blanket between your sitting bones and your heels for more comfort, rest your forehead on a block, or your torso on a bolster, and let yourself breathe.

If this asana isn’t comfortable for your body right now, consider laying on your back on the ground or your bed and hugging your knees toward your chest.

2# Cat- cow pose (Marjaryasana – Bitilasana)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing cat cow pose

For an active and more dynamic posture, try alternating cat and cow poses as you breathe in and out.

Cat-Cow promotes the flow of energy along the spine, helping to balance and align the body’s energetic channels.

Place a blanket or towel under your knees if they are sensitive!

3# Reclined bound angle pose (Supta Baddha Konasana)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing reclined bound angle Pose

This pose is associated with the activation of the sacral chakra (Svadhisthana), believed to govern emotions and creativity.

If you live with chronic pain, the release of tension in the pelvic region through Supta Baddha Konasana can contribute to a sense of emotional balance and harmony.

Use a bolster under your back and blocks to support your knees, and let yourself rest in this pose for a few minutes.

4# Legs up the wall (Viparita Karani)

an annotated image of a woman wearing black yoga clothes doing legs up the wall pose

The inverted position of Viparita Karani has a calming effect on the mind, reducing stress and anxiety.

Chronic pain often correlates with heightened psychological tension, and this posture can help you release even if just a bit of it.

If you don’t have a wall nearby, use a chair to place your legs on top as you lay on the ground.

Consider that you can use these yoga postures for chronic pain in different ways; choose energizing postures and practices when you feel better, and explore grounding and gentle poses on more challenging days.

A yoga for chronic pain management practice

Here is a yoga for chronic management class for you to try, focusing on myofascial release:

To Close

Incorporating practices like yoga, meditation, and breathwork into chronic pain management fosters a holistic approach that can help you change your relationship with pain.

As the body, mind, and energy systems harmonize through intentional movement and heightened self-awareness, you may create a path toward sefl-love, resilience, and, relief.

If you’re living with health challenges and want to learn more about accessible practices, read this next:

Photo of author
Laia is an Afro-Catalan accessible and inclusive yoga & meditation teacher. She has trained in hatha, vinyasa, trauma-informed yoga, yin yoga, and restorative yoga and holds E-RYT 500 and YACEP accreditations with the Yoga Alliance. Additionally, she is a freelance writer and translator, publishing in Catalan, English, and Spanish. As a former professional athlete who lives with a chronic illness, Laia has gained valuable insights into the benefits of self-care and the importance of pausing and slowing down. She is dedicated to sharing accessible and sustainable practices of yoga and meditation to help people create a more harmonious life. Being a black and chronically ill individual, her mission is to empower non-normative yoga teachers to find their unique voices and develop tools to make wellness practices accessible to the communities they serve, thereby taking up space and creating a more inclusive and diverse yoga industry. Furthermore, as a writer and creative, she is passionate about supporting other creatives and innovators. She fosters a genuine community dedicated to finding balance while staying productive and inspired. Laia has developed unique techniques that intertwine yoga and meditation with writing, journaling, and other accessible methods to help each other stay creative and mindful.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.