Bridging the Gap: Physical Therapy and Yoga Therapy for “Client Heal Thyself”

Meryle Richman, PT, DPT, MS, CST, 500 Hour- RYT, Advanced Teacher of Therapeutic Yoga

In addition to physical therapy helping in recovering from an injury, surgical procedure and/or chronic pain, by becoming an advocate for yourself, you will enhance your healing process and well-being. Medication can initially help and relieve symptoms, but frequently does not address the causes of chronic pain and can result in side effects. It is important if you are subject to chronic pain, to educate yourself on self-help techniques, and to learn how to tap into your inner – wisdom. By doing so you can gain insight and grow more conscious for healing.

Pain is to a large extent a function of personal habits of emotional and mental stress, postural misalignments, inefficient movement, incorrect breathing patterns, chronic muscle tension and specific muscle weaknesses, which all contribute substantially to pain syndromes.

Begin by Regulating the Autonomic Nervous System

Sometimes in the healing process, you can become stressed and overwhelmed with obstacles, such as pain, fear, depression, anxiety, and our Autonomic Nervous System becomes dysregulated.  This can cause you to go into the ‘fear and flight’ response, or a protection phase within yourself to cope with stressful situations. This is also known as a “freeze response”. Negative emotional patterns that are associated within the amygdala or limbic system of the “emotional brain”, trigger off a pain response to help you survive. If this occurs, you move from a “state of threat” to a place of safety and feel good. A yoga therapist can teach you tools for “Healing Thyself”:

Self – Compassion

Learning self-care and compassion for yourself is a dynamic process of meeting your needs and is rooted in the genuine care that you can give yourself. Begin with being present in the moment and self-realization for yourself. Just by taking the time to take a quiet walk by yourself and be with nature is something you can do for yourself.

Changing Negative Behavioral Patterns

Become aware and change behavioral patterns that you tend to repeat and injure yourself. For example, by learning to pay attention to your posture and body mechanics you will avoid unnecessary strains to your body with improved alignment and body awareness

       1. Practice Cognitive Awareness: STOP! ????, Breathe, Reflect and Choose. Notice when thoughts or habits no longer serve a purpose and set new goals for healing!

       2. Create SMART goals: Set short term and long- term goals that are measurable and achievable for yourself (2) 

Tools for Reducing Muscle Tension*

If you suffer from chronic pain, you might be exerting more effort in daily activities than people who are free of pain. Your muscles tend to be chronically tense. Start with a distraction-free experience of just being still with yourself. Taking the time to practice meditation allows you to clear the mind of all external distractions. This brings an inner peace for your healing and focuses your attention on the present moment. By incorporating Mindfulness (self – awareness or interoception) (3) with activities that you enjoy for your recovery, such as therapeutic yoga, riding your bicycle, golfing, or a morning walk outside, you can notice or become aware of areas of tension (body awareness) with breathing.

Get Started with Simple Breathing Techniques

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing:
  • Begin by sitting comfortably, with feet flat on floor and equal weight on your “sit-bones” (buttocks). Close your eyes or you can keep them open
  • Place one hand on your upper chest and the other just below your rib cage. This will allow you to feel your diaphragm move downwards and your belly expand like a balloon as you breathe in
  • Continue to breathe in slowly through your nose for 5 – 6 breaths so that your stomach moves out against your hand. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible
  • Engage your “belly-button” towards your spine (abdominal muscles), as you slowly exhale through your nose 5 – 6 breaths. The hand on your upper chest remains as still as possible
  • Repeat for 3 – 5 minutes
  1. Three-Part Pranayama Breathing Technique
  • Begin by sitting comfortably in the chair. Close your eyes or you can keep them open
  • Place both your hands on either side of your navel
  • Begin to observe your breath. There are three parts to this breathing routine. Begin by breathing into your belly and expanding it like a balloon. Then expand the sides of your rib cage and then your upper chest. Pause. Slowly breathe out from your upper chest, sides of the rib cage and then your belly
  • Breathe in for a count for 5 – 6 breaths and slowly breath out for 5 – 6 breaths
  • Repeat for 3 – 5 minutes
  1. Meditative Breathing (4)
  • Begin by sitting on a comfortable chair with armrests. Close your eyes or you can keep them open
  • Choose a simple mantra (which is a sound or word or just use your breath) and repeat it over and over, while saying your mantra once for each full cycle of your breath
  • If you find that your mind wanders, simply note this distraction and continue with your mantra
  • After your meditation take a couple of minutes to notice the effect that this practice had on yourself
  • Start with 5-10 minutes and gradually increase to 15-20 minutes; 1 – 2 times daily

Note: Stop these breathing techniques if you have any difficulty or become lightheaded

Strengthen Weak Muscles

Appropriate muscle strengthening should follow learning how to release excess tension from the body, and should always be accompanied by attention to deep breathing and to postural alignment

It is the nature of the body to heal itself. Begin by changing self-limiting beliefs and negative behavioral patterns. Also, by reducing muscle tension with mindfulness, breathing techniques and meditation, you have tools to begin to use for healing yourself. These tools will also be discussed in more detail in future articles. “Now begins the journey”. Start your healing journey today with the breathing techniques discussed above.


  1. Polyvagal Theory Explained,
  3. Kabat-Zinn, John, Mindfulness for Beginners, Sounds True: Boulder, Colorado, 2012
  4. Meditation and Relaxation Techniques to Lower Blood Pressure,

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