Yoga for Chronic Pain – Can Hot Yoga Help?

Pain can consume everything—like a thick fog, it obscures the joy in life that surrounds us. Forty-five-year-old Michael Fine experiences agonizing chronic pain all day, every day, according to a Chicago Sun-Times article. On April 14, 2010, the Glenview, IL resident endured a 50 mph head-on collision with a truck, leaving him on disability. “My 24/7 pain usually hovers around 6 or 7,” Fine told the Sun-Times. “Pain dictates my life.”

Now, he spends most of his time going from one medical appointment to another. The pains of his injuries rob him of sleep, even with a personal pain control device that disrupts the pain signals to his brain.

Fine may have thought that he would be trapped like this, his pain rendering him a slave to the medical system and to what he calls “evil narcotics.” As a former black belt in martial arts, he decreed that pain and drugs would no longer rule him, and began to pursue alternative treatments. Although practices such as acupuncture and flotation therapy helped Fine, his treatments thus far had missed a crucial element—aiding the union between his now altered body and mind.

A friend guided him to Bikram yoga, hoping to help ease his struggles with off-kilter balance. He soon found that the practice could do much more. Each week he takes three to five 90-minute yoga classes at Bikram Yoga North Shore in Glenview, his pain dropping to a relieving 4 or 5 for hours after each class.

So what makes Bikram—or hot yoga—work for Fine? In the 105-degree heat, he challenges his body and mind simultaneously in deep focus.

“It took me a few times because I was used to more touchy-feely yoga with music, and Bikram has no music,” Fine says. “Instead, you focus on the instructor. And the mirror took some getting used to as I tried to get my balance, especially on my left side. As it turns out, the mirror turns you into yourself—your eyes are open, but they are clouded—you’re almost robotically going through the 26 positions.”

Fine now experiences some relief from his pains as well as a newfound “attitude of gratitude.” This improvement has not gone unnoticed by his pain therapist, Dr. Howard K. Weissman, director and founder of the Chicago Stress Relief Center, Inc., a diversified holistic practice dedicated to traumatic stress recovery.

“Physically, Michael is so much stronger. His balance has improved, and his mental fortitude has gained more and more momentum,” Weissman told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Having come so close to death, Michael looks at life—being with his wife, his sons, his dogs—as a gift, a real rebirth,” says Weissman. “He has gratitude for being so much more present in his life. He’s not giving away his power to the healer, the doctor, the pain; instead, Michael’s empowering himself, which enables him to live life as fully as he is.”

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