Yoga as Therapy 3: Fibromyalgia

Article 3 in my ‘Yoga as Therapy’ series, linked here to see article 1 and 2.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that manifests as pain in the fibre of the muscles, often throughout the body, along with extreme fatigue, headaches, and sleep disturbances. While the exact cause of fibromyalgia is still a mystery, science is beginning to shed light on the disease.

There are genetic risk factors that make it more likely that you will, under certain circumstances, develop a chronic pain disorder like fibromyalgia, A person may be born with a risk factor, but it will remain dormant until it’s activated by something like a car accident, a repetitive-motion injury, or osteoarthritis, stress is also a trigger. Medical brain imaging has revealed that people with fibromyalgia process pain differently from those without it, there is a hypersensitivity of the nervous system. For instance, pressure that feels mildly uncomfortable to the average person may feel very painful to someone with fibromyalgia; like the control dial on pain is turned up as high as it will go.

What can help?

Foods & Supplements

B vitamins: can help restore energy levels, such as Vitamin B12: important for the health of your central nervous system and helps in the function of your metabolism. B12 is found in animal products such as milk, meat, poultry, fish and eggs. Vegetarians and those who don’t consume B12-rich foods can get B12 from vitamin supplements. A lack of B12 can lead to numbness or tingling in the arms and legs, balance problems, weakness and anemia. Some of these symptoms, particularly fatigue, are also associated with fibromyalgia. Magnesium: keeping the heart, kidneys and bones strong, it also helps avoid muscle spasms, weakness and pain. Magnesium is found in green leafy vegetables, pumpkin and sunflower seeds and raw spinach. (these foods are a good source only if you eat them raw. Half of the minerals’ benefits are lost when cooked). Fish Oil has terrific anti-inflammatory properties, which may help reduce fibro pain. It reduces the body’s production of inflammatory hormones (prostaglandins) which may mean less stiffness or fewer tender joints.

Yoga

Yoga’s ability to shift the nervous system out of the stress response and into the relaxation response is vital to people whose central nervous systems are sensitive. It also acts directly on the very muscles where fibromyalgia pain occurs. Imagine a painful cramp: first the muscles shorten, then they get stuck in the shortened position, and eventually they hurt, yoga can help return muscles to their normal length

Other benefits include a range of motion increase, chronic pain decrease, and I you may start sleeping more soundly, an asana practice can help fibro symptoms become a less frequent and less intense.

Fibromyalgia affects everyone differently, and your yoga practice should reflect that. Some people may want to follow bring awareness back into the body with meditation and breathing exercises before starting an asana practice. Others may benefit from going to a a yoga nidra or restorative yoga class. Experienced yogis may thrive with a energetic practice. The key is to find the right type of class and teacher for you.

Beginners should explore very gentle practice that enhances relaxation and that they avoid strenuous poses until they know they can move into them without triggering a pain reaction. Going too far into poses may result in pain the next day, practise moving slowly into a pose until you feel muscles start to stretch, and hold in this comfortable stretching. Also, stay warm, because cold can tighten muscles.

What Yoga poses?

To fight fatigue, try backbends, like supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose), to bring energy into the spine.

People with fibromyalgia often have chronic tension in the upper back, shoulders, and neck. All three areas are easily targeted with a few simple yoga poses. Seated Garudasana (Eagle Pose) stretches the muscles around the shoulder blades in the upper back. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) to extend the back while opening the chest as well as gentle head rotations to relieve tension in the large muscles on the sides of the neck.

Pranayama — Breath

People in chronic pain, or under stress often default to short, shallow breathing, which can set off the body’s fight-or-flight response and trigger the release of stress hormones like cortisol. Breathing deeply counters stress by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Here is a short Yoga routine specifically for fibromyalgia sufferers.

1) Mountain Pose

Mountain Pose may look like simply standing, but when attention is given to grounding feet into the mat, drawing the shoulders down the back, and lengthening the spine and breathing, you’ll feel your stress decrease, along with a relaxation throughout the body.

Gently reach arms to the sky and hinge at the hips to come to

2) Standing Forward Fold

This is a wonderful posture for the calming effect as well as the opening it provides across the entire back of the body. keep softness of the body in mind in this pose, allow the knees to bend if this is more comfortable.

If this feels too challenging, place your hands on a wall or chair for support until you’re able to place your hands on your thighs comfortably.

Sweeping arms up to the sky once more to come back to standing, take a wide stance and raise arms for:

Warrior 1

3) Warrior 1

It’s important for fibromyalgia patients to also keep muscles strong, and Warrior 1 is a great way to do that while also calming the mind. This asana strengthens the muscles of the legs, back and arms.

Take a few breathes in Warrior 1, first with right leg in front and then left. Now lets move to the floor for:

4) Cobbler’s Pose

This is great pose for opening the hips and strengthening the knees and groin. we hold a lot of stress in our hip muscles, allow yourself time to relax here.

5) Child’s Pose

Child’s pose allows you to turn inside and quiet the mind. Because of the nature of the pose, outside stimulus is eliminated, allowing you to focus on your breath.

Bringing hands under shoulders to gently bring yourself to all fours, and then lower youreslf to the ground, keep hands below shoulders.

6) Cobra

Cobra helps to open the chest and front body as well as strengthen and stretch the back — both of which can be highly sensitive areas for fibromyalgia sufferers. Ease into this pose gently peeling the chest slowly off the ground. If cobra feels too much, slide hands forward and support yourself on forearms in Sphinx pose.

lowering yourself back to the ground, roll over gently into:

Waterfall Pose

7) Waterfall pose

Place a blanket or cushion under your hips to help you feel relaxed in this gentle inversion.

8) Savasana

This concluding posture can be done at any time as a way to quiet the mind and relax the body. Allowing the muscles and organs to simply relax and return to an easy state. Inhale and exhale slowly, focusing on how the air feels as it passes through the nose, into the body, and back out. Visualize this breath filling the whole body. With the exhalation, let the tension and heaviness of the pain flow out of the body.

If you suffer from fibromyalgia and are new to yoga, you may want to talk to your physician before starting any exercise routine, even something gentle like this. The most important thing in each of these postures is that you listen to your body and breathe!

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