The benefits of yoga include building stamina, strength, and flexibility as well increasing a body’s range of motion. Salonpas sat down with Nashville, TN-based Monique Richard, an AAAI certified yoga instructor who is also a licensed and registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Nutrition-In-Sight.
“Beyond those benefits, pain relief has been associated with yoga in terms of decreasing lower back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches and joint pain,” says Monique Richard. “Often we do stretches in a way that connects the body to the breath and allows it to relax, loosening tense muscles and tendons. Synovial fluid in the joints is massaged as we move slowly through a flow of movements. Often, upon a continued gentle, safe practice, pain can be lessened or relieved.”
“I’ve found that runners and athletes, who use a specific part of the body and do not stretch the muscles/tendons/joints in opposition of those most often utilized, benefit from adding yoga to their regimen. Pain in the sciatic nerve, hip pain associated with sitting or lower back pain is often soothed from the gentle stretching and posture strengthening moves yoga implements.”
“The focus on breath improves circulation which in turn improves oxygen delivery and enhances bodily function and reactions. Yoga improves core strength which helps to stabilize and protect the lower back from further inflammation and injury. Also, props (such as blocks and straps) can help alleviate tension held in the muscle by removing pressure, therefore pain. The long term benefits of building strength and space within the body may reduce or eliminate many basic areas of pain and tension.”
Why did you decide to become a certified yoga instructor?
I have been practicing yoga for nine years, throughout my academic career studying dietetics, and when I became a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). I knew I wanted to be able do more than just tell my clients about the benefits of mindfulness, the mind/body connection and importance of physical activity along with nutrition, I wanted to be able to show them. This certification allowed me start building a strong foundation of knowledge that I can share with my clients and patients and continue to build on as I look to obtain the 200-500 hour registered yoga training in the next year or two.
For me, as an integrative RDN, I think it is critical to be well versed in three areas: the clinical/medical nutrition therapy aspect, the practical culinary/cooking/shopping/preparation application and the physical activity wellness/life balance component. Yoga became that outlet that so beautifully complements my third component; can meet everyone at all stages of change, all ages, and all fitness level. It offers numerous benefits, physically, mentally and spiritually. I want to be a dynamic professional with a variety of tools in my toolbox to help nourish my clients’ lives.
What are the health benefits of yoga?
As an RDN, we use evidenced-based research to guide our professional recommendations (hence our opposition to fad diets, diet pills and other marketing gimmicks). I use those lenses to make sure that everything I am doing as a dynamic professional has a strong base of support and is not just anecdotal. I’m so excited to say that the research surrounding yoga is catching up to what people have discovered and known for thousands of years. Some strongly supported health benefits include:
- Increased respiratory efficiency
- Enhancement in genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion, telomere maintenance and reduction in inflammatory response
- Mood, anxiety and Thalamic GABA levels in the brain
- Alteration in brain structure and pain tolerance
- Attention, stress management and mood
- Enhancement of insulin sensitivity and on insulin receptors
- Reduction in obesity, reversal of heart disease and decreased weight gain
- Reduction in medication
- Improvement in mental health status
More simply stated; yoga can improve breathing, posture, stamina, flexibility, range of motion, stress management, strength, sleep, mood, pain tolerance and overall general health. It is also important to remember, as a wonderful colleague said “just like medicine and dietetics, yoga is a practice, not perfection.” Benefits come with time and patience.
How does a regular practice of yoga contribute to pain management?
A regular practice can contribute to pain management because of the repetitive, gentle nature of most of the movements in yoga. The muscles are building strength and flexibility while the gentle stretching on the tendons, ligaments, builds the strength in the bone as they are adding resistance.
Simultaneously, organ stimulation and increased circulation helps the body’s processes work effectively. It allows your body a chance to hone in on the pain, tension and discomfort- working with your mind and breath to address the root cause or at least build a level of tolerance which aids in managing it a different way. Inflammation, arthritis/stiff joints, tension from stress such as tight muscles may not completely resolve, but the signals transmitted to the brain when your mind and body are really working in unison can be quite liberating.
You are able to really give your body the attention it needs to allow focus while building mental and physical stamina. All this may allow some space to be created inside the body and supporting shifts in brain/thought processes.
Yoga also nurtures self-acceptance, understanding and compassion for oneself, which are all healing and contribute to pain management but may be more difficult to scientifically quantify.
How can a “newbie” best get started safely with yoga?
I often recommend, after clearing it with your doctor, to see what classes are being offered in your area using the Internet or local paper. There are usually always beginner classes. Often senior centers, community centers and churches offer free or discounted classes. If a group setting makes you uncomfortable, try a DVD at home until you’re comfortable with body awareness and more of the names of the asana, or posture.
Oftentimes for my patients who are obese, I recommend chair yoga, which is exactly what it sounds like- yoga done in and with a chair. That way one is focusing on breathing and not putting weight or pressure on the joints but begins to build a foundation of knowledge and practice. I have colleagues who teach chair yoga, gentle yoga and have referred them to those classes. We are also able to offer private lessons in our clients own home for their comfort, safety and peace of mind.
The key is to listen to your body-only you can hear what it is telling you! Find somewhere you are comfortable, an instructor who can modify movements for your needs, and sometimes that honestly just takes some trial and error. Go to class with a friend so you don’t feel so intimated and feel free to ask lots of questions. And also know, trust me, no one is looking at you; they’re all concerned with what they are doing. So really the first steps are to take a chance, take it slow and get started.
There are many types of yoga – what type of yoga is best for pain management?
Some of the best for pain management will be more gentle and slower such as Restorative Yoga, a version of more simplistic flow with slower movement into poses. Yin Yoga could be beneficial if tightness is contributing to pain. It is a collection of deep stretches held for five minutes or more, allowing the body and mind to get into a deep relaxation and reaching the deep tissues and ligaments of the specific area of focus.
Hatha Yoga is usually a general term for all types of yoga, but may incorporate many philosophies in one class. Always ask the instructor and read the class descriptions if you are unsure what the class entails. Beginner and Level one classes may be appropriate for pain management as well depending on the instructor and structure of the class.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, what type of diets do you generally recommend for your patients?
The key that RDN’s always work to make clear is that the terminology of diet has really become skewed. We don’t necessarily put someone on a diet per se, but one’s diet is what is recommended they consume for the quality and health for LIFE, not just a moment. As an integrative RDN, I tailor the needs to the individual based on many different factors: environment, cooking skills/ability, current health status, lab values, financial ability, genetic predisposition, weight/height/body composition and so on. However, that being said, I work with patients who have diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, cardiovascular disease, eating disorders, athletes, obesity and their diets are tailored to their needs suited for their circumstances and may evolve as their needs change. A common focus that everyone can benefit from in their diet is moving toward a plant-based, whole foods diet rich in fruits, vegetables, plant proteins, whole grains and good old-fashioned H20.
Monique’s bio can be viewed here.