Yoga therapy and pain

Someone from a yoga therapy group asked me how my experiences informed my yoga therapy. I thought it was useful to post the reply here as well.

Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other’.

An example of applying that from my experience is managing pain. Pain is worse the more afraid you are. Naturally Pranayama helps greatly and if you can suppress the activity of your sympathetic nervous system sufficiently even extreme pain becomes just an unpleasant sensation. Now I am across Pranayama but a person I am helping almost certainly isn’t.

It is usually not possible to get someone to the point where they can manage pain by a direct approach, i.e., ‘Do this and you’ll feel better’. So working with them to reduce the fear, which can approach blind panic, is an important beginning. That requires an understanding of what triggers the fear for the person you are dealing with and what engages ideas of planning, loving, etc. to decrease the intense focus on themself. Often care for their children, grandchildren, dog, whatever can start the process.

Once there is a purpose that a person really cares about it is possible to teach them some breathing techniques to reduce the experience of pain. They will need support because it may hurt more at first as their existing way of coping switches off and the new method begins. They may be going from denial to management and that is an important step to help them through. Gently bringing the practice back to its purpose e.g., to be able to support their grandchildren as they grow up, helps people stay in track and get past difficult bits.

I think that in circumstances like that your own care for the person as another person, not so much as a therapist, is of great value. Being the wise educated therapist often puts a barrier between you and the person you are treating. So along with teaching what is inside you as Krishnamacharya counsels, I would add another saying…

People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’.

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