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What’s your best approach to healing chronic pain?

A simple online search for ways to reduce chronic pain will turn up a wide range of approaches. I’m going to assume that most or all of these approaches help a lot of people feel better (because otherwise they wouldn’t continue to be used), and that there may be people they don’t help as effectively. So how do you choose the right approach for your pain?

There are a lot of areas to consider in answering this question, and this post is by no means intended to provide a comprehensive response. However, I wanted to highlight an important difference in how yoga views healing. My intention with this post is not to criticize any approach to healing – any approach that helps people experience less pain is wonderful. Rather, I hope this post can help bring a little more clarity for anyone who is trying to evaluate which approaches might be the best fit.


A lot of approaches to chronic pain are what I’m calling “achievement oriented”. Achievement-oriented approaches to healing:

  • Aim to accomplish a particular task or tasks.
  • Focus on what you do more than how you feel doing it.
  • Tend to use one or more set protocols to move towards the goal.
  • Maintain a narrow focus.
  • When the goal is reached, the process is complete.
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An achievement-oriented provider might look at a person with a shoulder injury and have a specific set of shoulder movements that they should be able to do pain free. They might then use a set of exercises to move the person towards that goal. The focus of those exercises might be more on getting them done than on the experience of doing them. When the movements can be achieved, the work is considered complete.


Yoga therapy takes more of a inquiry-oriented approach (as do many other providers). Yoga therapists work with several aspects of a person, including breath, body, mind, and spirit. We also tend to look more broadly at lifestyle factors. Inquiry-oriented approaches, including yoga therapy:

  • Aim to understand the broader patterns that contribute to how a person feels.
  • Focus on how you feel more than what you do.
  • See many paths to the goal and follow a fluid and adaptable process.
  • Have a broad and variable focus.
  • When a goal is reached, the process may be complete or it may continue towards evolving goals, depending on the individual.

An inquiry-oriented provider might look at a person with a shoulder injury and evaluate a range of factors (including non-physical ones) that might be contributing to the symptoms, as well as the person’s individual strengths, values, and desires, in determining a care plan. Depending on the provider and their expertise, there might be a focus on breathing, stress responses, sleep, diet, mental health, and other areas. The focus is on the experience of the client/ patient, which might lead to adapting the process. As the person moves towards recovery, there’s space for re-evaluation and natural evolution of their goals.


In choosing a provider or a team of providers to support you in healing from chronic pain, it may be useful to consider whether you prefer a narrowly-focused process towards a goal, or a more broad-based inquiry. If you’ve tried approaches that haven’t helped or haven’t gotten you as far as you’d like, it might also be useful to see where those approaches fit on this spectrum.

If you find an inquiry-based approach to healing interesting, I’d love to talk about your goals and what support you need. You can send me an email at rachelishiguroyoga@gmail.com, CLICK HERE to book a free online consultation call, or explore ways to work with me on my website.

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