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Chronic Pain : Yoga Offers Something for Everyone

Sarah Lundgren, The Brunswick News, Ga

Instead of running countless miles or sweating profusely in an aerobics class, try something new: Yoga.

Regardless of flexibility or skill, yoga can help gradually build up exercise goals and improve mental states.

Dixie Howell, a certified yoga and Tai Chi teacher, says yoga is for anyone.

"I recommend it for everyone at any age and any ability," the Blythe Island resident said. "It's not a religion or belief. And there's something for every person."

The total mind and body therapy isn't just for those who can stretch or contort their bodies into seemingly impossible positions, said Howell, who is hosting a fundraising yoga workshop Jan. 21 to give people a better understanding of it.

"The wonderful thing about yoga is it's up to you. What feels right for you and what your body responds to in that moment is what you do," she said. "There's no competition. It's very different from most Western exercises."

By going at your own pace, the workout becomes your own, she said.

"For people who want to pump it up, there are even forms that you can go as hard as you want to, like power or hot yoga. But always be cautious of the type of teacher and class you take to make sure you're exercising the way you want to," she said.

After nine years of teaching yoga in Brunswick and 40 years practicing the art on her own, Howell knows a thing or two about its benefits.

"Yoga can increase your range of motion, flexibility, strength and endurance, as well as aid mentally, like increasing calmness, peacefulness and awareness," she said.

Don't be intimidated by the various positions in yoga that might seem difficult, said Howell. During arduous exercise, joints and their surrounding muscles and connections tighten up. Yoga actually aids in relaxing those cramps, making it easier to continue in your regular exercise and increasing your abilities in yoga itself, all at a pace you are comfortable with.

Howell loves the exercise for that reason.

"It's very personal. You do what you can do and you don't worry about what the person next to you is doing," she said.

Marlysa Sullivan, a yoga instructor and physical therapist from Atlanta, plans to demonstrate just how personal yoga can be during a workshop she'll be hosting Jan. 28. Sullivan incorporates it into her physical therapy work.

"Yoga is about a process of empowering people to heal on their own," she said. "It's teaching people tools that they can take home to use to help themselves -- self-understanding and self-exploration."

Always interested in the mind-body connection yoga has in regards to chronic pain, the physical therapist recently started on an 800-hour training program on the emerging form of yoga therapy.

"After studying it, I see it brings in the mental and emotional aspects of pain and dysfunction," she said. "Yoga gives tools and techniques of dealing with pain on all levels of being, physically and mentally."

After incorporating yoga positions into her therapy, Sullivan has first-hand watched improvement in stretching, strengthening and stabilizing to create better balance, as well as a better mental state.

"Yoga works muscles to create mindful movement patterns, decreasing pain, which is usually a response of dysfunctional movements," she said. "From a nervous system standpoint, yoga works on getting us away from the natural fight-or-flight response, which all together creates better muscle tone and less stress hormones in our body, having a great impact on depression and anxiety, too."

©2012 The Brunswick News (Brunswick, Ga.)
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