“When my condition improved, I was ready to come off of the patch,” Jacqueline said. “But then I experienced withdrawal, a new kind of pain I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. For days, I shook uncontrollably. I sweat through my sheets. I wanted to tear my hair out of my skull and my scratch the skin off of my body. An Epsom salt bath did nothing. My body rejected food. Every nerve was on fire. I’d desperately sit to meditate the panic away and would sob within seconds instead.”
Dealing with chronic pain is an excruciating ordeal that is made even more complex by the pervasive threat of opiate addiction that comes with many pain medications, such as Percocet and Oxycontin. With the constant desire to ease the symptoms that consistently break into your everyday life and make living extremely difficult, it’s easy to get caught up in the cycle of painkiller use without realizing the withdrawal that is waiting for you at the end of the road. Without the help of positive treatment and therapy, chronic pain can make you forget that it’s possible to alter your perception of pain by encouraging proper awareness.
Chronic Pain and Mental Health Issues
Coming off of opiates while suffering from chronic pain is a difficult process—increased anxiety, agitation, and muscle aches compound the pain that you already feel from your condition and sap away any energy and enjoyment that you have left. In addition, 50 percent of individuals with chronic pain also suffer from a mental health disorder. If you fall into this category, mental illnesses, such as anxiety (which has been connected to worse pain and decreased quality of life) and depression can make your life much harder.
The links between chronic pain, anxiety, and depression are ones that can increase the intensity of the opiate withdrawal process by adding to the darkness that blankets your mind. When these problems intersect, the result can often be a devastating process that makes continued medication use seem like the only viable option. In reality, an ancient and effective solution is available in the form of yoga, which promotes brain activity that can help increase awareness of your pain, addiction, and mental health issues and support a smooth recovery.
Yoga for Chronic Pain: Promoting Mental and Physical Healing
Although yoga’s development can be traced back to more than 5,000 years ago, some believe that it may be up to 10,000 years old. Many people associate yoga with physical activity and stretches, but its main purpose was initially to induce transformations through transcending the ego. Indeed, the word yoga means “spiritual discipline” in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, and much like meditation it can be used to promote a positive frame of mind that can help you deal with the negative feelings and sensations that chronic pain forces into your consciousness.
Both yoga and chronic pain alter brain structure in ways that are linked to anxiety, depression, and cognitive function—just in different directions. In particular, yoga causes an increase in the volume of gray matter in the brain and maintains a healthy connectivity between white matter. Decreases in gray matter volume have been linked to numerous effects including emotional problems, memory impairment, and reduced cognitive functioning, and white matter is essential for the proper communication between the various regions of your brain.
Yoga engages the mind and the body, but its effectiveness hinges on the exercise that comes with it. Using a combination of meditation, breath control, and numerous poses that enhance strength and flexibility in your muscles, yoga offers equal benefits to your physical health as well as your mental health. Pain is a physical sensation, but we experience it only due to the signals being sent to our mind. With a focus on restoring mental clarity and improving physical health, yoga improves the mind-body connection on both fronts and promotes healing. In fact, one study found that yoga was just as good as standard physical therapy at reducing chronic lower back pain.
Detoxing from opiates is a painful process. Doing so in the presence of pain, depression, anxiety, and a host of other side effects can make each moment feel like an eternity. Practicing yoga not only conditions your body to promote healing on a physical level, but also helps you better accept and manage your pain by becoming more aware of it. Awareness can lead to greater focus on positive emotions and the ability to more effectively deal with negative feelings such as anxiety and depression.
Parting the Clouds of Negativity
Dealing with chronic pain can drag down every aspect of your life and make it hard to feel hope for anything. Its relationship to depression and anxiety can weigh even heavier on your mind and body, pushing you into darkness each day until you can’t see any other way to fight it but through the use (and perhaps abuse) of medication. Unfortunately, this can take you down a road with an equally dark ending.
The grip that opioid addiction and chronic pain can take on your life is often devastating. Although yoga alone can’t break this grip, in combination with a comprehensive addiction treatment program that works to minimize the side effects of detox and address the roots of your addiction, you can learn to look at your struggles in a more productive manner. Healing is possible—with the right drive and frame of mind, you can break free from the prescription pill addiction that you’ve been harnessed to for so long and properly manage your chronic pain in order to experience the world in a whole new way.
Alta Mira offers comprehensive addiction rehabilitation that includes yoga to help those suffering from chronic pain push through the difficult process of opiate withdrawal and recovery. If you or a loved one is suffering from this ordeal, contact us today to learn more about our programs that can shine a positive light on this process.
Lead Image Source: Unsplash user Patrick Hendry