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How to Beat Pain with Mind-Body Techniques

More often than not, back pain and injury stories surface as reasons people give for trying mind-body methods. Oh, other reasons are plentiful, too. Feet, hips, ankles, and the like all may bring one person or another to a mind-body method, too. But backs are one driving force.

Sometimes even health professionals have injuries that force them to rethink what they’re doing. Yamuna Zake, a longtime New York-based Yoga teacher and massage therapist, came up with her Body Rolling technique after she ripped up her left hip muscles when she had a baby at age 25. She ended up dislocating her hip because it didn’t have the muscular support it needed.

Later, while living in Spain with no one to give her massage, Zake began to experiment with a ball to work the deep muscles on her own. Now she teaches her technique to massage therapists, personal trainers, osteopaths, and other health professionals. (And her hip is just fine, thank you.)

Sometimes people turn to mind-body methods temporarily to make a muscle feel better or to make an injury go away. The funny thing is, they often stay and become devoted followers after they see how much the movements can help.

The physical balance that you can hone through the movements in many of these mind-body practices — such as Yoga, Tai Chi, or Qigong — can train the proprioception of the nerves and muscles (basically the muscle sense).

When the muscles and nerves can sense correctly how and when to contract or fire, you don’t fall or get hurt. Staying upright can help decrease not only sports injuries, but also broken hips in seniors. Core (abdominal) training emphasized in methods like Pilates also can help keep you from falling on your nose and getting hurt, too.

Broken hips and other bones caused when seniors fall cost the health care system heaps of money. And they cause the seniors who fall despair because the injuries often take from them any semblance of independence. Maintaining strong bones that can withstand a bump here and there is vital, but being able to stay upright can mean the difference between living in a nursing home or your own home.

Tai Chi, in particular, has been found to help physical balance. Its emphasis on slow, flowing movements mandates core control and one-legged balance throughout the practice. You may not actually hold a balance for a long time, but rather you move through it. To achieve the smooth flow of Tai Chi you must have balance, perhaps more so than to perform a more traditional exercise well.

Many studies have also shown that people who practice mind-body methods can have less chronic low-back pain. One study compared people who did a modern offshoot of the ancient practice of Tai Chi Chuan, called Tai Chi Chih, to a group that did not do the practice. What happened? Pain diminished in the Tai Chi Chih group and did not in the control group.

Because 8 out of 10 of us will have back pain at some point in our lives, mind-body methods may be an option worth considering.

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