Why pain-friendly classes are not “all-welcome”

We recommend first level Yoga for Pain Practitioners categorise their classes into pain-specific and pain-friendly. A simple way to distinguish the two categories is that pain-specific classes are for people who get pain flares after activity without really knowing why; pain-friendly classes are for those who have learned to move comfortably without a pain flare or making pain worse.

We would expect students to naturally progress between the two, and on to a regular, fulfilling yoga practice.

There are important reasons for this distinction, related to beliefs, habits and experiences common to those experiencing persistent pain. Pain-specific v pain-friendly is one of many frameworks practitioners consider to allow someone with persistent pain to gradually and appropriately progress, so yoga is available.

As more studios offer, with kind intention, gentle yoga classes that welcome people with pain, we want to explain why a pain-friendly class is not the same as “all-welcome”.

1. A pain flare after the wrong yoga class can last days
While someone with general pain, and without other symptoms of a sensitised nervous system, may benefit immensely from a generic gentle yoga class (even sometimes a very physical one) if your student has longstanding pain and sensitised nervous system – often indicated by fatigue, brain fog, sleep disturbances or digestive issues – they may be left exhausted after an activity most of us would call gentle.

‘Pain flare’, as this is often described (“I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus”) may come on immediately after an activity, or a day or two later.

2. Sub-optimum experience hinders progress
Pain flares, feeling inadequate in the face of what you can’t do, or not continuing long enough to see benefits at best make for slow progress. At worst they destroy the hope of someone who has already tried everything, and they never try yoga again. If you are not following up with students after class, you may never learn what they did not receive from you.

3. Pain-friendly classes take into account present beliefs about pain
Because pain-friendly classes are open to the general public, they are an opportunity for people with persistent pain to challenge themselves. However, this is not simply about physical challenge. The critical factor at this stage 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 physically capable. The teacher 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 info@yogaforpaincare.com for information, or peruse the website for ideas.

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