We now believe 80 percent of illness is stress-related, that whatever your genetic weak link, stress will trigger it.
Going to a spa is wonderful, but until you teach yourself ways to achieve peace of mind from the inside, you'll remain
vulnerable to stress.-- Richard Brown, M.D.
Everyone experiences stress at some point in their lives. For a lot of adults today, stress has become the norm – a lifestyle.
Have you ever experienced a back ache when you are stressed at work or after a fight with your spouse? This is real, and it can be damaging, but you can change it.
Stress and chronic pain are mind-body processes. Repeated experiences of specific emotions, thoughts, and stress make it more likely that you will experience these in the future. We are stressed! We are fatigued! We are fed up! So what can be done? Yoga. Mindfulness practices. Relaxation. Meditation.
In western modern science, we use the word neuroplasticity to describe the process of learning from past experiences; yoga uses the word samskara.
Samskaras are the memories of the body and mind that influence how we experience the present moment
and make you more likely to repeat your past experiences and actions and more likely to interpret the
world through the filter of your past experiences. These habits keep you stuck, feeling the same emotions, thinking
the same thoughts, and even experiencing the same pain.
Samskaras are formed through repetition – every thought, experience, action and behavior counts! These make marks in your brain and nervous system that lead to and shape future actions, feelings and experiences. The good thing about neuroplasticity or samskaras is that it if you can “get good” at a thought process or stress response, you can do the same with healing responses. The key is to retrain the mind and the body to unlearn the stress or pain responses and offer the mind and body healthier responses. This takes practice, but it is totally worth it!
Why Yoga: Mind, Body + Spirit
Yoga gives us tools to work with the body and the breath – effecting the physical and energetic body – the mind – effecting our mood, psychology – and the heart and spirit – which touches us at our deepest and most divine self, the place of joy and hope.
Yoga offers a straightforward approach to transform samskaras or patterns of any kind:
-- practice awareness of habitual thoughts, emotions, and behaviors,
-- understand how those patterns lead to suffering,
-- and then practice the opposite and notice if that reduces your suffering.
So, in the case of stress or chronic pain, we try to become aware of our stress-pain response and how that perpetuates more suffering. Then we also practice the opposite – like being relaxed, comfortable, kind to ourselves – and see if that reduces our suffering. As we do more of these healing practices, we will start to create new habits of the mind and the body, and we will in fact experience less pain and suffering, and more comfort and joy.
“Every yoga practice is an opportunity to leave a new, positive trace on the body, mind and spirit.” 
Breathwork: Breathwork or pranayama is a powerful tool for reducing anxiety, stress, and managing pain. “Small
changes in your breathing can lead to big changes in how the mind and body function, including lowering stress
hormones and reducing your sensitivity to pain.”
Gentle asana: The physical postures are important to maintain strength, flexibility, and overall health of the body. Stress
hormones are best moved through your systems with the help of physical activity and exercise. In addition to walking, or
any exercise you enjoy, practice asanas mindfully. Move the body every day, balance effort and ease, and be consistent
with your practice.
Relaxation: In order to properly care for yourself, it is important to take time to relax – not only to heal a current
condition, but to get to a place of stillness, of calm, where you can more easily hear what your body and heart are
telling you so that you can make intelligent, compassionate choices for yourself, instead of running the same patterns.
Our samskaras are like railroad tracks. It’s easy for our mind-body to just run them. If we take the time for relaxation
and silence, we can choose to step off the tracks, and start a new, healthier path. Let’s get good at being relaxed!
Meditation: Meditation can be a really powerful tool to combat stress and stop the cycle of suffering. The more you
experience a particular thought pattern, the more likely you are to repeat it. Meditating gives us the opportunity to create
some space in order to see our patterns more clearly, and then, with practice, choose something different. If you practice
meditation regularly, you will be less at the mercy of your old thought patterns and samskaras and enjoy the freedom to
choose something different, perhaps more in line with your highest self.
Life is mysterious, and it can be stressful, but sometimes our pain and suffering can be our greatest teachers. If we can build our awareness, learn to treat ourselves with compassion and kindness, honoring our divinity, the potential for health, joy, and abundance is unlimited.
I wish for each of you peace, joy, and freedom from all unnecessary suffering. BKS Iyengar wrote “The body is the child of the soul.” Please take care of yourself as though your body and mind where a small child – one that needs both love and positive example, nurturing and discipline. If you care for yourself in this way, your child will grow and blossom, and the divine gifts of
your heart will be revealed to you.
For more information about this kind of research, check out Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. and Timothy McCall, M.D. for their work on yoga therapy. References for this article are listed below.
McGonigal,Kelly. Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Chronic Pain. (The New Harbinger Whole-Body Healing Series) New Harbinger Publications. 2009.
McCall,Timothy, M.D. “Yoga for Chronic Pain” Parts 1,2 &3 Yoga Journal.
McCall, Timothy, M.D. “Your Brain on Yoga.” Yoga + Joyful Living. Fall 2009.
McCall, Timothy, M.D. “The Scientific Basis of Yoga Therapy” Yoga Journal.
NurrieStearns,Mary. Yoga for Anxiety: Meditations and Practices for Calming the Body and Mind. New Harbinger Publications. 2010.
 Yoga for Pain Relief: Simple Practices to Calm Your Mind and Heal Your Chronic Pain. p.20
 Ibid. p 21
 Ibid. p 23