By: Emily Lunardo
A recent study has shown that there may be some major benefits to practicing yoga for fibromyalgia. But what is fibromyalgia?
It’s a chronic disorder that predominantly plagues women over men. Sufferers experience varying degrees of muscle pain and constant persistent fatigue. All of the following conditions can be categorized as fibromyalgia: endometriosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia, and temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
A recent study consisting of 53 female participants who were 21 and older and diagnosed with fibromyalgia showed that practicing yoga on a regular basis could help improve the intensity of fibromyalgia symptoms. To qualify for this study, these women had to be taking prescription over-the-counter medications to help treat their fibromyalgia symptoms for at least three months at the onset of the study.
For the sake of comparison, 25 of the women were enrolled in an eight-week Yoga of Awareness class, whereas the other 28 women continued to receive their standard medical care for fibromyalgia. The classes consisted of 40 minutes of light stretching, 23 minutes of meditation, 10 minutes of breathing exercises, 20 minutes of verbal presentations teaching the women various yoga principles for coping with their pain, and were concluded with a 25 minute group discussion during which participants were afforded the opportunity to talk about their home yoga practices and the impact it had on their lives.
So, is yoga good for fibromyalgia?
Researchers found that the women who participated in the Yoga for Awareness class experienced significantly reduced symptoms of fibromyalgia and their condition was much easier to manage.
Lower levels of pain, less fatigue, elevated moods, and an improved ability to cope with the pain in a more positive light were all benefits reported by those who learned to incorporate yoga into their daily lives. Some women even turned to greater spiritual guidance as a coping mechanism for their symptoms.
How does yoga help alleviate fibromyalgia pain?
There are several benefits to practicing yoga for fibromyalgia, including the following:
Reduces muscular tension
Anyone who suffers from fibromyalgia can attest to the fact that it can be extremely difficult to manage due to it being undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Sometimes, conventional fibromyalgia treatment methods are insufficient.
Yoga can help alleviate a lot of the tension and tightness in your muscles. Contrary to very popular and misguided beliefs, you don’t actually have to be flexible or coordinated to practice yoga on a regular basis. In fact, with regular practice, your flexibility and muscle coordination will naturally improve.
Practicing yoga shouldn’t be a competition against yourself. The primary objective is to improve your physical strength, mobility, and mental state of mind in a healthy, safe, and welcoming environment that’s conducive to your well-being. Starting off with gentle stretches can vastly help to maximize the quality of your movements both on and off the mat.
Improve spinal alignment
Your musculoskeletal system is naturally and intuitively designed to support your entire body. That said, the wrong movements can completely throw certain parts of your body out of alignment.
If done correctly and under the guidance of a qualified yoga instructor, yoga can actually help to improve your spinal alignment and teach you valuable techniques which will inevitably bleed into your everyday life. Through the power of yoga, anyone can achieve more naturally fluid and mindful movements.
All yoga poses can be modified to your skill level and making these adjustments throughout your practice will also make you more aware of the way in which you’re moving and how this can either be effective or harmful to your bodily alignment. Mindfulness is a learned trait and it will help you avoid certain movements that can exacerbate your fibromyalgia symptoms.
Improves sleep and mental health
Your mind and body are connected, which means that in a lot of ways, they’re one and the same. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that yoga targets your mind and body equally.
Each and every single pose you’re able to accomplish is a personal win for your mental state of mind just as much as it is for your physical disposition. That also means that yoga forces you to listen to the needs of your body, understand its limitations, and never over-exert yourself past your limits. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t challenge yourself to some extent.
Experiencing some minor discomfort while learning new poses is completely natural and expected because you’re using muscle groups that were most likely idle for a long time. However, you should never feel any outright sharp or shooting pains and if you do, then try to see if you can modify the pose to suit your level of practice. Working with a licensed yoga instructor to help you adjust or fix your alignment is a good starting point until you’re comfortable doing your own personal home practice.
Yoga poses for fibromyalgia
The following is a list of yoga poses for fibromyalgia pain:
This pose has numerous useful variations that you can try depending on your skill level and physical ability. The standard is to come onto your knees and then slowly and gently round your back forward, lowering your forehead to the ground or as close to it as possible. You can either place your knees together, hip-width apart, or as wide as your yoga mat depending on your comfort level and flexibility. Either lay your arms limply at your side with palms facing up or down or you can stretch them out forward.
The goal is to stretch your back muscles without straining them and focusing on your breathing. This is a great way to relax the mind and body after a long day at work or to relieve lower back pain. Come out of the pose slowly and gently by using your core for support as you lift yourself up.
This inversion pose involves placing your legs, hips, and feet against a wall and holding the pose for as long as you wish. You can modify the pose according to your needs by bending your knees for added support or even using a bolster to prop your body up. This pose helps to relax your lower body and increase blood flow to the lower extremities, which can help stretch out the hamstrings and open the hips.
Outwardly, mountain pose seems like it’s one of the easiest yogic postures available, but it’s actually more challenging than it seems because it tests your center of gravity and ability to maintain a strong standing posture while also focusing on your breath. This exercise of concentration on keeping your muscles and breath in alignment can help relieve physical pain and stress.
Standing forward fold
Standing forward fold is another excellent and versatile pose for stretching out the back muscles as well as the hamstrings, while also opening up the hips. You can stand with your feet together or hip-width apart, take a deep breath in and slowly exhale as you gently bend your upper body to meet your toes. Hands can either fall to the ground, grasp the opposite elbows, or rest behind the calves. It all depends on your physical abilities and what you’re hoping to achieve with this posture. Your fingers don’t even have to touch your toes and you can bend your knees as generously as you need to for added support or to reduce the intensity.
Also known as “corpse pose,” savasana is one of the most relaxing, restorative, and rejuvenating postures. It may seem like all you’re doing is lying down, but the reality is that you’re focusing on exercising the mind and relaxing the body by ignoring outside stimuli as much as possible while simultaneously acknowledging, but not responding to, their existence. The goal is to use your senses to pay attention to your surroundings and remaining mindfully present while accepting that there are certain external forces over which you have no control. Corpse pose is generally ideal to do at the end of your practice or right before going to bed.
Cobra pose is an excellent yoga posture for fibromyalgia sufferers because it opens up the chest and actively stretches out the back, both of which are major problem areas for people living with chronic pain. Start by laying down flat on your belly with your nose facing downward. Gently place your palms on either side of your chest directly below your elbow creases. Then inhale deeply and gently lift your chest, neck, and head up while keeping your elbows as close to your body as possible. Hold this pose for a few breaths or as long as you can and then on your next exhale, gently lower yourself back down.
While it’s extremely important for fibromyalgia sufferers to relax their bodies and their minds, it’s equally important to practice poses that strengthen the muscles and help activate them. Warrior I is the ideal posture to achieve this healthy balance because it strengthens the legs, core, and the back while also keeping the mind actively engaged and focused.
This posture targets the hips, thighs, knees, and groin by actively opening them up and stretching out the muscles that are there. It also helps strengthen and engage the core and back muscles because you need to use those to hold yourself up and maintain a straight and perfectly aligned posture. Sit up straight with your legs stretched out in front of you and then breathe as you slowly pull your legs in toward your body.
Clasp onto your ankles or shins with your hands as you gently bring your feet in toward your groin and press the soles of your feet toward one another. Concentrate on sitting up straight, rather than trying to get your knees to touch the ground. If this pose is too difficult, you can place yoga blocks under each of your knees to help support them.
Tips to consider while doing yoga for fibromyalgia
If you’re new to practicing yoga for fibromyalgia pain, then here are a few important tips to consider:
- Choose a relaxing and stress-free environment as your practice space that is free of distractions.
- Try to remain mindful and present.
- Listen to your body and never try to over-exert yourself or go beyond your limits. Everything will happen in good time and progress is gradual.
- Modify the postures if you feel any sort of pain or immense discomfort.
- Come into it with an open mind and remember that your results won’t happen overnight. It takes time, patience, practice, and commitment.
- Create a feasible routine that works for you and stick to it.
- Try not to feel discouraged if you haven’t reached a certain level of strength, stability, or flexibility by a certain point. It’s good to set goals for yourself, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t accomplish them all within a certain timeframe. As long as you’re doing the work, then the outcome will always be good.
- Focus on your breathing techniques and learning the proper alignment for each posture.
- Pay attention to the sensations in your body and remain active in all of your senses. This will help you remain in the moment.
- Don’t be afraid to let your mind wander to other things occasionally. This is perfectly normal as long as you practice reeling it back into the current moment and focus on the here and now.
- Never lock your knees during any poses because this can exacerbate your pain and discomfort or even lead to serious injuries.
- If you’re new to yoga, try attending a few classes first with a licensed instructor. They can help you learn the proper alignment for your body and how to do each posture in a safe manner.
- Use props such as yoga blocks, blankets, or pillows as needed to help you modify the more difficult poses.
Yoga is an excellent form of light and gentle exercise for people who suffer from fibromyalgia and other physical conditions. It helps you become more attuned to what your body is capable of doing as well as what its limitations are. Yoga provides a good alternative to traditional fibromyalgia treatment methods or it can be practiced in conjunction with them.
When it comes to yoga and the fibromyalgia study mentioned in this article, there aren’t any definitive answers yet as everyone’s situation and intensity of symptoms are completely different. However, there’s considerable evidence to show that formulating a steady practice that incorporated the above mentioned poses can mean yoga is good for fibromyalgia in many different capacities. Whichever route you choose to take with your fibromyalgia treatment and yogic journey, always make sure to consult your doctor before implementing any changes to your exercise routine.