Dustienne Miller, CYT, PT, MS, WCS instructed the H&W remote course Yoga for Pelvic Pain. Dustienne passionately believes in the integration of physical therapy and yoga in a holistic model of care, helping individuals navigate through pelvic pain and incontinence to live a healthy and pain-free life. You can find Dustienne Miller on Instagram at @yourpaceyoga
Research demonstrates multiple benefits of a yoga practice that extend beyond the musculoskeletal system. These benefits include improved mood and depression, changes in pain perception, improved mindfulness and associated improved pain tolerance, and the ability to observe situations with emotional detachment.
Do the brains of yoga practitioners vs non-practitioners look different?
A study by Villemure et al looked at the role the insular cortex plays in mediating pain in the brains of yoga practitioners. They included various styles of yoga to capture the essence of yoga across multiple styles - Vinyasa, Ashtanga, Kripalu, Sivananda, and Iyengar.
Rewind back to neuroanatomy class - remember the insular cortex? The insular cortex is responsible for sensory processing, decision-making, and motor control by communicating between the cortical and subcortical aspects of the brain. The outside inputs include auditory, somatosensory, olfactory, gustatory, and visual. The internal inputs are interoceptive (Gogolla).
Villemure et al found several interesting objective differences. The practitioners had increased grey matter volume in several areas of the brain. This increase in grey matter specifically in the insula correlated with increased pain tolerance. The length of time practiced correlated with increased grey matter volume of the left insular cortex. Additionally, white matter in the left intrainsular region demonstrated more connectivity in the yoga group.
Other differences were seen in strategies utilized to manage pain. Most folks in the yoga group expected their practice would decrease reactivity to pain, which it did. The yoga group used parasympathetic nervous system accessing strategies and interoceptive awareness. These strategies were breathwork, noticing and being with the sensation, encouraging the mind and body to relax, and acceptance of the pain. The control group strategies were distraction techniques and ignoring the pain.
The authors determine that the insula-related interoceptive awareness strategies of the yoga practitioners being used during the experiment correlated with the greater intra-insular connectivity. Therefore, the authors conclude that the insular cortex can act as a pain mediator for yoga practitioners.
The more strategies our patients have for pain management, the better! Yoga is one of several non-invasive modalities our patients can add to their healing toolbox.
Yoga for Pelvic Pain was developed by Dustienne Miller to offer participants an evidence-based perspective on the value of yoga for patients with chronic pelvic pain. This course focuses on two of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path: pranayama (breathing) and asana (postures) and how they can be applied for patients who have hip, back, and pelvic pain.
A variety of pelvic conditions are discussed including interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome, vulvar pain, coccydynia, hip pain, and pudendal neuralgia. Other lectures discuss the role of yoga within the medical model, contraindicated postures, and how to incorporate yoga home programs as therapeutic exercise and neuromuscular re-education both between visits and after discharge.
Gogolla N. The insular cortex. Current Biology. 2017; 27(12): R580-R586.
Villemure C, Ceko M, Cotton VA, Bushnell MC. Insular cortex mediates increased pain tolerance in yoga practitioners. Cereb Cortex. 2014 Oct;24(10):2732-40. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht124. Epub 2013 May 21. PMID: 23696275; PMCID: PMC4153807.