Yoga and Pain

A lot has been written about Yoga and pain.
And now we actually have some research! The Cochrane Review has released their findings on yoga for chronic non specific lower back pain. Yoga wasn’t the ‘cure all’ that many believe it to be for pain. Indeed there were some adverse outcomes for those who tried using yoga to manage their pain. Nonetheless this research is promising and a step in the right direction.
If you haven’t heard of the Cochrane Library – it is basically some of the best health care research you can find. Numerous scholars work together, analysing data and the quality of data to make recommendations…it is high quality research.
Unlike what we find in the world of yoga / wellness blogging.
In the world of the internet and social media, prosaic can win out over research. Which is fine if we are not trying to establish any sort of facts, simply speaking from experience and offering philosophical insights.
However, I often read blogs which are written as if they are the truth, but are highly subjective and based on anecdotal evidence. Which is fine as a starting point for inquiry, but not necessarily a space from which we can helpfully draw conclusions, especially when it comes to complementary or alternative health care.
Social Media now means there are no gatekeepers when it comes to research and sharing of ideas. It’s liberating, but it also results in a lot of confused yoga practitioners who take blogs as fact because they are unable or untrained in critically reading  information that is presented to them.
When it comes to yoga and pain generally there is an abundance of unsubstantiated claims and information regarding pain in the yoga tradition. Many of these views are outdated, not supported by evidence and generally very unhelpful for yoga teachers & students.
An example are somatising claims like “your back pain is due to feeling unsupported”
While intuitively appealing, the ‘psychogenic’ view of pain being substantially caused by unresolved psychological issues has so little empirical evidence that it is discredited in the pain science literature. Sure, your psychological history and response to pain affects the pain experience but it is inaccurate and stigmatising to assume someone with ongoing pain issues is somaticising.
It is important that as teachers we try our best to not present outdated views on pain, and the relationship between yoga and pain. There are many authors engaged in fiery debates about pain and yoga. It is great to begin this conversation, but I do encourage everyone to begin with the research we have available to us, such as this review. We might then also ask ourselves if we find the question of pain in yoga so important and find ourselves becoming interlocutors of people’s experience of pain and injury if we are integrating what research has to tell us about yoga and pain …
We can’t know everything through the scientific method, however I do believe it is a helpful starting point for our discussions.
In general when it comes to yoga as a form of complementary care I would love to see a continued movement beyond the anecdotal and speculative so that then we can use that data to make real change? Otherwise we fail to actually know whether there is a real problem, and if there is how it might be addressed.
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