Chronic Pain and the Brain

A close up of a person rubbing their eyes, forehead and temples with their hands

More and more research is showing that pain begins first in the brain, further solidifying the yogis’ concept of mind/body connection.

This does not mean that your pain is imagined. In fact, your pain is often so real that when it becomes chronic, it actually changes your brain’s chemistry. “The way we construe pain, happens in the brain, and mind/body practices are proving to help”. As David Lindon, a professor of neuroscience at Hopkins University has said …”our perception of pain is shaped by brain circuits that are constantly filtering the information coming from our sensory nerves”.

In fact, Dr. Catherine Bushnell, scientific director of the NCCIH who oversees a program on the brain’s role in perceiving, modifying and managing pain, wrote that chronic pain triggers changes in brain structure which have been linked to depression, anxiety, and impaired cognitive function. In her findings, Dr. Bushnell found that “practicing yoga has the opposite effect on the brain as does chronic pain”.

“Yoga increases gray matter through neurogenesis and strengthens white matter connectivity through neuroplasticity, and it is believed that these internal structures [of the brain] are the ‘most significant players involved in chronic pain.”

Dr. Catherine Bushnell

Studies for the the efficacy and benefits of yoga therapy are showing promising results for chronic back pain, cancer, auto-immune disorders and even with substance abuse. Yoga therapy is becoming a mainstream modality, with doctors prescribing it and patients seeking it. Some insurance companies now cover it as a viable treatment, and VA hospitals now employ yoga therapists.

So, what is yoga therapy?

Yoga therapy is based upon the principle that the body is comprised of more than just physical tissue, muscles, organs and bones. Your body is actually comprised of five layers. The physical body, truth be told, is the last layer to be affected by dis-ease in the Body. By the time we feel physical pain, we have compromised the spiritual, intellectual, emotional and energetic layers already.

A yoga therapist is specifically trained in the therapeutic interventions of each of those five layers of the body, addressing the mind, body, and spirit connection as well as the the physical issue. In effect, yoga therapy treats the WHOLE person, not the symptom. Yoga therapy as an intervention takes time and consistency and is best used in conjunction with the care you are receiving from your medical doctor.

I have found that combining yoga therapy with coaching and mindset interventions has had the greatest results in those clients dealing with chronic pain.  In my private programs, the client and I effectively work together with the Brain and the Pain to alleviate, then heal, underlying issues contributing to the pain.

For more information on my private programs or free resources for healing holistically, please visit my website at

Photo by Luis Galvez@