The pain Shara Baack experiences every day defies description as a headache.
Confined mostly to Baack's right side, the sensation travels from the back of her head, up over her ear and radiates to her right eye. Diagnosed as "chiari malformation," Baack's skull squeezes part of her cerebellum, the area of the brain that controls balance. The condition — often present from birth — also compromises the flow of cerebrospinal fluid.
For Baack, it's pain that seizes her senses the moment she wakes up and holds her consciousness captive with few options for escape. The 60-year-old Medford resident is one of more than 116 million Americans — about one in three people — suffering chronic pain, according to a 2012 report in the New England Journal of Medicine.
"It's just overwhelming if you have a headache all day, every day," says Baack.
A quest for coping mechanisms, instead of more pain medications, led the Medford resident to meditation, yoga and a holistic program designed for anyone in daily discomfort. Breaking Free of Chronic Pain combines energy medicine, gentle movements, deep breathing, body awareness, mindfulness and guided relaxation in weekly classes with three local practitioners of alternative therapies.
"Chronic pain is so complex," says instructor Laura Winslow. "Really, what it's about is helping people cope and function."
Winslow devised the six-week series with Kathryn Reppond, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body therapist. The two teamed up five years ago to create Integrative Recovery Therapy, a yoga-based take on 12-Step Programs for treating addiction.