Monday Medical: Yoga for health
During the past few years, Lynda VanTassle has learned a lot about dealing with pain. With rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis so severe it resulted in a shattered pelvis, VanTassle knows what it’s like to have a body that feels fragile.
One of the practices that has helped her through it is yoga.
As a longtime registered yoga teacher, VanTassle has been trained to teach yoga to people with cancer, heart disease and other debilitating diseases.
“(Yoga) helps with pain management, emotional issues, stress issues,” VanTassle said. “It allows people to be re-empowered to get back into their own bodies for healing.”
The practice of yoga has been around for thousands of years and has long been cited for its benefits in reducing stress and aiding physical health. Over the past few decades, it has also been used to promote management and healing of chronic health issues.
At Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Integrated Health, cardiac patients and cancer patients receive three private yoga sessions as part of their treatment. Yoga can also be helpful with other conditions, including ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, multiple sclerosis and orthopedic surgeries. Yoga does not replace traditional treatments, VanTassle said, but is a complementary tool.
Most sessions incorporate gentle stretching, deep breathing and a guided rest period.
Patients shouldn’t be intimidated by the idea of traditional yoga classes, which can include intense stretching and strengthening. Instead, VanTassle works with each individual to ensure the movements are gentle and comfortable. For many patients, that means performing the stretches while seated in a chair.
“Very gentle stretching releases that tension in the muscles and opens up pathways of circulation,” VanTassle said.
Deep breathing is also important, especially when it comes to easing anxiety and mitigating pain. Often, when someone is in pain, they take shorter, shallower breaths and even hold their breath in more. With longer, deeper breaths, patients can diffuse some of their pain and anxiety.
“Whenever you start focusing on pain, it can feed the pain,” VanTassle said. “When you can pull out of that by breathing and stretching and moving, the pain is still there, but it gives you that little break … something else to go to, and changes the intensity of the pain.”
In the final portion of each practice, VanTassle guides patients through a deep relaxation, also called a yoga sleep. The deep relaxation can help release tension patients may not be aware they’re holding and can promote healing.
Perhaps most importantly, yoga can help patients reconnect with their bodies. Experiencing an intense health issue can cause a person to feel as if they don’t want the body that they have, VanTassle said.
“And if you don’t want it, you kind of pretend like it’s not part of you,” she said. “If you disassociate any part of you because something is uncomfortable, no energy goes there.”
But with gentle yoga, patients reincorporate wholeness, making it easier to manage pain and to heal.
Susan Cunningham writes for Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For a complete list of complementary services offered at Yampa Valley Medical Center’s Integrated Health, visit yvmc.org/integratedhealth.
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