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November 18, 2009 > Yoga Can Help You Cope With Chronic Pain

Yoga Can Help You Cope With Chronic Pain

Washington Women's Center Class Focuses on Improving Quality of Life

Chronic pain can hurt more than just your body. It can also take an emotional and spiritual toll, often causing those who experience it to withdraw from life. Yoga can help you cope with chronic pain so you can get your life back.

"Yoga offers so many health benefits," said Bonnie Maeda, RN, a certified yoga instructor at Washington Hospital. "For example, it can improve flexibility and strength as well as reduce depression and anxiety so you are better able to deal with chronic pain."

She will teach an upcoming "Yoga and Chronic Pain" class on Tuesday, December 1, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Washington Women's Center, 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont. The class is limited to 12 participants and registration is required. The fee is $15 and a credit card number must be provided at the time of registration. Call (510) 608-1301 to register.

The class is for anyone who experiences chronic pain or discomfort, including those with arthritis, fibromyalgia, joint pain, migraine headaches, back pain, cancer and peripheral neuropathy.

"Yoga is available for every body type, age and ability," Maeda said. "Whether you are in a wheelchair or are able to move around, this class is for you."

She will provide an overview of how pain is processed in the brain. "Spiritual, emotional and physical pain are processed in very similar places in the brain, so it's often hard to separate them," she said. "I will talk about all three types of pain."

Maeda will explain the difference between sensation and perception. "Sensation is an awareness of the pain signals the brain receives," she said. "Perception is how we interpret those signals. Yoga can help you change the perception of pain."

She will also help participants learn how to assess their pain so they can accurately describe it to their doctor.

"Is it a sharp or dull pain? Is it aggravated by sitting or standing? You need to know what kind of pain you are experiencing so you can get the best care possible," Maeda explained. "Different medications affect different types of pain. Your doctor needs to have a clear picture of your pain to prescribe the most effective medications."

Reaching for Relief

Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and is based on the premise that body and mind are one. The two basic components are proper breathing and exercises called poses. You can do these poses while sitting, lying down or standing.

Maeda will start the yoga portion of the class with participants sitting in a chair, where they can concentrate on breathing, posture and body awareness. Then she will move to some gentle standing poses for those who have the strength.

"We will start slow so everyone can be successful," she said. "I will introduce some restorative poses that focus on breathing awareness and relaxation."

Yoga can help reduce muscle tension and fatigue, and increase flexibility of the joints, according to Maeda. She said it also helps to improve circulation and increase energy levels.

"Yoga improves the efficiency and quality of breathing," she said. "People under stress tend to breathe in a shallow way. Yoga can help you learn to breathe deeper and exhale fully, which oxygenates body tissues more fully."

Those with chronic pain often find it difficult to get a good night's rest. Yoga can help improve both the duration and quality of sleep, Maeda added.

"Yoga may just provide the motivation you need to get more engaged in life," she said. "It gives people a sense they are doing something about their pain, so they can get back some control over their lives, which they may have lost due to the pain. It can also improve the way they process and respond to pain, making it much more bearable. Hopefully, they can get back to doing some of the activities they enjoy."

For information about other programs and services offered by the Washington Women's Center, go to

Sign Up for the Next Yoga Class Session

The next Gentle Yoga class sessions will start on Thursday, January 7, 2010. Six week sessions take place from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. and second class takes place from 5:45 to 6:45 p.m. Classes take place at the Washington Women's Center Conference Room. Call the Women's Center at (510) 608-1301 to register or for more information.

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