Pain-friendly doesn’t mean “all-welcome”

Yoga teachers starting out as Yoga for Pain Practitioners categorise their classes and consults into pain-specific and pain-friendly. Put simply, pain-specific caters for people who get pain flares after activity, and pain-friendly for those who can move comfortably without making their pain worse.

A natural progression is from pain-specific to pain-friendly and on to a regular, fulfilling yoga practice.

This important distinction is informed by experiences, habits and beliefs common to those with longstanding pain. It’s one of the many frameworks practitioners use to help people with pain move forward.

As more studios offer, with good intention, yoga classes that welcome people with pain, we want to explain why all-welcome classes may not always be the kindest option, even when they are very gentle.

1. A pain flare after a gentle yoga class can last days
Many with low level pain benefit from a generic gentle yoga class – sometimes, even, a very physical one. But if your student has longstanding pain and sensitised nervous system (indicated by fatigue, brain fog, sleep disturbances or digestive issues) they may experience what they call a ‘pain flare’ after an activity most would call gentle.

Pain flares may come on immediately, or a day or two later. They tend to include fatigue, overall pain and brain fog.  (“I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus” many say.)

2. Pain flares (or simply a sub-optimum experience) hinders progress
Most people with pain have tried a lot of other things before they get to yoga. Most of those things haven’t worked. At best, a pain flare, feeling inadequate in the face of what you can’t do, or not continuing long enough to see benefits make for slow progress. At worst, they reduce hope. Your client may give up on yoga. Students often don’t disclose negative experiences so you should always follow up a few days later to check how they went.

3. Pain-friendly classes take into account beliefs and habits
Pain-friendly classes are open to the general public so they are an opportunity for people with persistent pain to challenge themselves. This is not simply physical challenge. The critical factor at this point is mental. Pain-friendly classes offer a supportive environment for students to check they don’t fall into unhelpful habits when confronted with people who are presently more capable. A teacher at this level provides informed guidance.

4. By pain-friendly we mean considerate of each person’s future wellbeing
Welcoming everyone to a class can feel generous, but may do more harm than good if not executed with care. An expert pain-friendly class is one that cares for someone before, during and after class such that their progress in yoga (and life) is made possible.

Learn to work skillfully with clients with persistent pain as a Yoga for Pain Practitioner. Email [email protected] for information, or peruse the website for ideas.

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