The Central Nervous System, Restorative Yoga and Fibromyalgia

Let’s chat central nervous system, restorative yoga and fibromyalgia. A lot of research suggests that Fibromyalgia is the result of central nervous system dysfunction – specifically an overactive nervous system, stressing and exhausting the brain (Dennis W. Dobritt, Fibromyalgia – A Brief Overview)

Having lived it for over 15 years, I would be inclined to agree.

Check out the video of my live training

It is not the sole problem, but it certainly causes physiological flow on effects, even after we have learned to calm it down again.

Like perhaps a switch gets flipped in our brain from some kind of trauma – an illness, childbirth, experiencing abuse of some kind, experiencing a natural disaster etc. and then it is very hard to turn it off.

the central nervous system, fibromyalgia and restorative yoga

The simplest way to put it

Simply put – we are too often in “fight or flight” mode and struggle to active the “rest and digest” mode.

Fight or flight is that response we have to stressful stimuli – a bear chasing us? Energy is diverted to the functions that are needed to fly, or run really fast! We experience that belly full of butterflies on crack, feel shaky, anxious and fearful.

The rest and digest response is that delicious restful feeling when we are totally relaxed – like during a good, gentle massage.

When you have a central nervous system over activation it is like you are stuck in the fight or flight mode. A chronic, low level anxiety that persists that you live with for so long you might not recognize it as anxiety – because you try to adapt.

This causes real problems in the body. If our energy is constantly diverted to scanning for threats and getting to run or protect ourselves, how can we have energy for normal functions? Digestion itself takes a lot of energy. Then being unable to drop into deep sleep because our brain is watching for threats, even more energy is drained. It is a big, vicious cycle.

What are some of the symptoms of a central nervous system over activity?

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Breathlessness
  • Inability to relax
  • Poor digestion
  • High blood pressure
  • Fear
  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy

What are the benefits of a balanced central nervous system?

  • Better sleep
  • Less pain
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Relaxation
  • Good digestion
  • Heal well
  • Have enough energy
  • Less brain fog

Yes please to all of these!!

So, how can we treat an over activated central nervous system?

  • Rest
  • Sleep (easier said than done, I know)
  • Gentle breathing
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Restorative yoga
  • Removal of perpetuating factors

It’s not a quick fix…

From personal experience, I can tell you it is not a quick fix either. I have meditated, done yoga, worked on sleep, removed myself from perpetuating factors (as best as I can) and it is still a work in progress.

And – although my central nervous system is MUCH calmer, I am not magically healed. But with my whole of life plan in place, including a heavy amount of the above treatments, I am feeling much better.

For a long time meditation was my thing, particularly yoga Nidra guided meditation, because I needed the profound rest it offered immediately.

Gentle breathing was a great tool to reduce some of the constant tension in my chest, shoulders and neck. It is also fantastic at helping to calm the central nervous system when it gets flared again.

Right now, though, my jam is restorative yoga.

Why? Because it is a little less passive and easier to access for those who find it difficult to just sit still and breathe.

What are the benefits of restorative yoga?

  • Enhances flexibility
  • Total relaxation of body and mind
  • Improves capacity for healing
  • Balances the central nervous system
  • Helps us tune into our body
the central nervous system, restorative yoga and fibromyalgia

What is restorative yoga?

Well this is a big question. Because a lot of people get it confused with yin yoga.

Restorative yoga is a passive practice that utilises props (cushions, bolsters, blocks etc.) to achieve total support. Yin yoga also holds poses for longer than other yoga traditions, around five minutes or so, but it is looking for deep sensation and it is energetically more strenuous (while still being relatively gentle).

In a restorative yoga class you will have your props around you, it will be a calm atmosphere and you will like only do a few poses. There may or may not be calming music and essential oils.

Would you like to learn restorative yoga with me?

restorative yoga for the chronic life person doing poses

Restorative Yoga for the Chronic Life class is available now! But only until the 6th of March. Join us for my signature blend of poses and classes designed to be as accessible as possible and specifically for people with chronic pain and fatigue. I am super passionate about this and cannot wait to share this with you.

Sources

In this post I have taken my combined knowledge and written it up as you see. For some sources and further reading see below…

https://irenelyon.com/2018/09/30/9-benefits-nervoussystem-regulated/

https://www.everythingzoomer.com/health/2018/08/20/yoga-after-50-yin-restorative/

https://chopra.com/articles/10-benefits-of-restorative-yoga

https://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/why-restorative-yoga-is-the-most-advanced-practice

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/articles/practice/why-restorative-yoga

My Top Five Self-Care Plans for 2020

Have you thought about your self-care plans for this year yet? Self-care is as vital as it is undervalued. Especially for busy women juggling multiple priorities. Add in chronic health issues and it should be compulsory.

Accidental multi-tasking is one of my favourite things – a two for one on your energy levels. When self-care doubles as something that also manages my health, I’m pretty stoked.

Here are my top five self-care plans for 2020 that also double as part of my chronic illness management plans.

Meditation


If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you will know that meditation saved my life. I do it every single day, and if I must miss a day it’s very rare. It gives me deep rest my body doesn’t even achieve during sleep. It tops up my energy levels for the afternoon. It calms my central nervous system. It is just for me. 15-30 minutes of pure self-care.

Try it: I have a free challenge for you to try it out for five days.

Do you meditate? Tell us about your practice in the comments!

Yoga


Ya’ll know I LOVE Yoga. Yoga is simultaneously mindful movement (gentle exercise), relaxation, stretching, strengthening, pain management and a sleep aid (for me). It balances the central nervous system which has been key for me.
I have shared extensively how I use it to help me. Here’s the short of it: One off poses, “micro yoga” formal practices (of 10-20 minutes) and a bed time class I made to help me wind down for sleep.

Try it: I have a five minutes a day for five days free challenge so you can see how the tools of yoga can fit into your life.

yoga for chronic pain and fatigue challenge
Join us for the FREE five minutes a day for five days yoga for chronic pain and fatigue challenge

Have you tried this challenge? Please tell me if so!

Getting to bed on time


Sleep is way too underrated. Seriously, lack of sleep will kill you (slowly) and make you feel terrible. I’ve written extensively about it. Going to bed around the same time each night is a key part of good sleep hygiene aka practices that help you sleep.

Try it: Check out this post on sleep and how you can improve it.

Treat yourself


(Who just went, “What? I can’t treat myself. Ain’t nobody got time or money for that! It need not take much money or time!)

What is something that makes you feel super special that doesn’t cost the earth? This year I’d like to attempt something different each quarter: a manicure, a massage, a weekend away with the husband etc. With three kids 5 and under we’ve been snowed under and going to the physiotherapist every month has been the extent of it for me.

Try: Schedule something right now!
A manicure? Book one once a month, schedule a time to do it yourself, or swap with your friend to do each other.
Massage? Book one once a month, swap with your partner, or get out that lavender oil and give yourself a hand and foot massage.
A Saturday morning lie in? Negotiate with the partner if you have kids, or send them to grandparents/aunts/uncles and grab at least one a month.

Journaling


I am an analyst, a thinker, a written processor. So taking the time, even just five minutes to process with my pen is helpful for me to work through things. Even if you’re more of a talker, research shows journaling to be useful. You can have free reign to vent. To get things out of your head. Write down memories. Whatever works.

Try it: You can make a habit of giving yourself 1 or 5 minutes a day, a gratitude journal of just three good things or maybe you could draw in your journal.

Do you journal? Tell us how you do it in the comments.

Want to jump in and get some real, concrete help with your self-care in 2020?

Restorative Yoga for the Chronic Life is open for enrollment now! But only until the 6th of March 2020. We are going to learn some super gentle, relaxing stretches to activate our rest and digest mode so that we can sleep better, relax, reduce tension and more. I’d love for you to join us!

restorative yoga for the chronic life person doing poses

So these were my top five self-care plans for 2020, I’d love to know what are yours?? Tell us in the comments below.

My top five self care plans 2020

Do you enjoy this work? Want to help me ensure people with fibromyalgia receive the tools, encouragement and hope that they deserve? When you join the team to support my work in the pay what you can (starting at just $5 per month) Melissa vs Fibromyalgia membership you will immediately access an exclusive members library of resources and tools.

What Does it Mean to “Do” Yoga, What Can it Look Like?

I am super passionate about sharing the tools yoga offers with people with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia. The thing that often gets in the way is what people think it means to “do” yoga.

Today I am going to share with you all sorts of raw pictures of me “doing” yoga because I want you to start to get a sense of the fact that “yoga” has been usurped by the perfect poses on Instagram. If you have a teacher who gets your situation, then they can help you adapt yoga to your needs.

A visual representation of the below points:

  • Yoga can be adapted for almost anybody (if you have been cleared to move gently and the teacher “gets” your needs)
  • Breathing is a central part of yoga (and many of us don’t do it optimally)
  • Meditation is my favourite part of yoga (yoga Nidra guided meditation is my jam, I do it in bed with my heat pack)
  • You can do one pose
  • I have several poses I enacted whenever I need them during the day
  • Chair yoga is a great way to make yoga more accessible
  • You can do yoga in bed
  • Classes can be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes or more
  • You don’t need to be super bendy, in fact, I am not

For the benefits of yoga, why I do it and more check out my post about Yoga for Chronic Pain and Fatigue here.

Breathing

Me simply breathing, in hero pose (with a baby about to climb on my back, life). Breathing is one of the most accessible parts of yoga and really helps me to calm down when feeling overwhelmed.

A little more challenging

Me at the very beginning preparation phase of maybe one day doing crow pose (where you lift your feet off the ground)

Relaxation and meditation

This is the final relaxation of many classes, or an excellent standalone pose. This is complete rest. You can add all sorts of things to make it more comfortable, usually I have a blanket or cushion under my legs to help my low back.

If you are curious about restorative yoga (a passive, very gentle practice) then come and check out this free workshop Restorative Yoga for the Chronic Life, it’s available from the 28th February until the 6th March.

One that can be done in bed

You can do this on your bed (I like to do it as part of my bedtime routine)

A multi use tool

I am known to do this pose all the time. It is child’s pose, it rests the lower back and calms the mind. You can do it facing up on your bed (hugging your knees), with a bolster between your legs under your chest/abdomen to make it restorative. When the kids are overwhelming me or I’m feeling really tired, then I’ll drop where I am and do it. Often the kids follow!

Adapting to my needs

Using a block to bring the ground closer to me. I am not super bendy!

#notabouttheperfectpose

This is my son doing this pose not at all correctly but he is enjoying it and not in danger of hurting himself so I encourage him to play with me when I do yoga.

Using the chair

Me doing a chair sequence. I love using a chair because it means I don’t have to get on the floor. It also means I can do some of the poses in the car when I am not feeling so nice and on the edge of my bed if I am awake in the night.

My all time favourite that can be done almost anywhere

Me doing seated cat and cow – I do cat and cow all the time, in my favourite chair, on the side of the bed, in the car, on the floor and in my classes

I hope this gave you a sense of how “yoga” can look and hopefully hope that, if you want to, you could try it in one way or another.

Show me how yours looks

In Foundations of Yoga for Chronic Pain and Fatigue, I have students who take one or two of the poses in the opening module and use those as a “class” to start. There are two full class options in module three, chair and a flow class. Many students choose only the chair class.

For the first time I’m in a yoga class that I feel like I’m actually going to get it…I really can do this and I love how it feels.”

– Student of Foundations of Yoga for Chronic Pain and Fatigue

I’d love to see how your yoga looks. Comment below, tag me on Instagram @melissanreynolds or come and join the inner circle on Facebook.

yoga for chronic pain and fatigue challenge
Join us for the FREE five minutes a day for five days yoga for chronic pain and fatigue challenge – it’s open now for you to see how you could “do” yoga.

Yoga for Chronic Pain and Fatigue

I have been dabbling with yoga for chronic pain and fatigue for more than 10 years. For the past five I have progressively become more enamoured with it.

In this post I will share some research, the benefits (in brief), the thing I love most about yoga, it’s multiple uses for chronic pain and fatigue, specific ways I use it, and how you can learn more about incorporating it into your well being journey.

Let’s be clear right out of the gate. Yoga is not a panacea. It is not a cure all. It is one useful tool that can be a part of a holistic plan for wellness.

yoga for fibromyalgia infographics

Type “yoga for fibromyalgia” or “yoga for myofascial pain syndrome” or “yoga for pain” etc. And you will find a wealth of search options to delve into.

There is research specifically for using poses for myofascial pain syndrome, fibromyalgia and more. Taking a more macroscopic view, mindfulness for chronic illness is just as much of a buzz topic at the moment.

Research around Yoga, Pain and Fatigue

Take this 2010 study that found, “pain was reduced in the yoga group by an average of 24 percent, fatigue by 30 percent and depression by 42 percent.” The yoga group participated in a holistic program for eight weeks – gentle yoga poses, meditation, breathing exercises, yoga-based coping instructions, group discussions and a daily diary assessing their progress. The control group received standard medication treatments.

This was followed up three months later: “Follow-up results showed that patients sustained most of their post treatment gains, with the FIQR (Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire Revised) Total Score remaining 21.9% improved at 3 months. Yoga practice rates were good, and more practice was associated with more benefit for a variety of outcomes.”

This study was small, just eight participants completed the study on the effect of yoga on myofascial pain syndrome in the neck. It comprised two weeks of breathing and relaxation practices and two weeks of asanas (poses), breathing and relaxation. The poses were Trikonasan (triangle pose), Tadasan (mountain pose), Vakrasan (twisted pose), Balasan (child’s pose) and Vajrasan (thunderbolt pose).

However, let’s not lose sight here – Vajrasan is a more advanced pose, the ability to do this pose indicates a pretty high level of physical ability to me.

The results were that this program “led to significant improvement in the quality of health, physical capacity (strength), cervical range of motion, and pressure threshold of the trigger points, and decreased the disability and pain.”

Perspectives on Yoga Inputs in the Management of Chronic Pain describes the benefits: “This consists of decreased metabolism,[24] decreased rate of breathing, decreased blood pressure, decreased muscle tension, decreased heart rate and increased slow brain [alpha] waves.[25] As the neural discharge pattern gets corrected, the habitual deep muscle hyper tonicity and thus the static load on postural muscle also slowly come down. The function of viscera improves with the sense of relaxation and sleep gets deeper and sustained. The fatigue level comes down.”

woman doing yoga

Benefits of yoga for chronic pain and fatigue (or anyone)


• calms the autonomic nervous system
• help with sleep
• reduced fatigue
• reduced pain
• increased physical capacity
• decreased myofascial pain
• less anxiety
• reduced depression
• relaxation
• mindfulness of movement
• awareness of proper alignment

What I love the most about yoga for managing chronic pain and fatigue:

Ease of adapting to my current abilities -Whatever my symptom level on any given day there is an option for me to practice yoga.

yoga for chronic pain and fatigue picture of toolkit

Let’s talk a couple of key things here:
Yoga is a tool, a multi use tool, but a tool nonetheless. I will use any tool at my disposal to help with the symptoms I live with. In much the same way I use low dose naltrexone- it was not designed for fibromyalgia or myofascial pain syndrome but it helps anyway.

If some parts of the spectrum of yoga practices don’t resonate with you, ignore them. If you want to look at it as a purely physical practice, then do so.

In terms of the spiritual side, I shy away from much if it. My belief practice is Christianity and I have never felt a conflict. In fact, there is a great Christian yoga channel on YouTube.

Some of the options in yoga

Asanas (poses): one or two gentle poses (like child’s pose and forward bend), a flowing sequence of 5, 10, 20 or more minutes, chair yoga, bed yoga or restorative yoga.

Pranayama (breathing): breathing is always useful when you are managing a chronic illness. Simply focusing on your breath and helping your exhale to be slightly longer than your inhale will cause a relaxation effect. Breathing through pain, fatigue, stress, anxiety and overwhelm can help centre your thoughts on something else, release tension and help to ease the symptoms. Synchronising movements with the breath makes you more likely to be mindful of your movement and less likely to overdo it or injure yourself.

Meditation: I began using meditation specifically to achieve rest where sleep provided little. It was a means to an immediate end. After a few years I realised it was helping me much more profoundly in the form of turning down my central nervous system overdrive. There is nothing better than the comfort I feel after a 20 or 30 minute yoga nidra meditation. I cannot achieve it another way.

Day to day my practice changes but I usually practice in one way or another.

Meditation is my top tool for managing fatigue and pain. I very rarely miss my daily meditation.

I have never completed a 60 or 90 minute class or resembled a pretzel in any way. Because that is not the point.

Strengthening, calming, being mindful and moving is.

When my first son was young I had a yoga instructor come to my house for a private session to ensure my posture was correct and craft a sun salutation sequence suitable for my physical abilities at the time.

Sometimes I do the sequence with several breaths for each pose, one breath for each pose or a mix. If I feel a particular benefit from one of the poses I will engage in that one longer. Forward bend is a particularly good one for letting the neck gently stretch.

Cat and cow pose is a great tiny sequence for the pelvis and back. I did this multiple times a day during my pregnancies. I teach cat and cow pose in my free challenge, Five Minutes a Day for Five Days Challenge, sign up here.

When my pelvis was unstable due to pregnancy and I could hardly walk, I could still do half sun salutations (standing) or chair salutations.

The key is to be mindful of your body on any given day. Pay attention to what you need and can reasonably do.

Learn the many options- these tools have a place in our natural pain relief toolkit.

The complexity in yoga for chronic pain and fatigue

When we have extra challenges to think through, we need to be extra mindful. 

There is some complexity involved in practicing yoga when you have chronic issues. This is why it can be helpful to see a teacher privately – either for some initial guidance or ongoing personalised work. 

There are several types of yoga, many asana (poses) to choose from and we need to choose sequences that make sense for our current context. The other bonus is that you can create a homework plan so that you can continue your work between sessions, equipping you further.

As an example of the complexity – I have severe, recurring trigger points in my neck and shoulders. Holding poses that activate these muscles for up to five minutes (yin yoga) is not a good idea for me. I have a heat intolerance so hot yoga isn’t for me. The fibromyalgia and poor tense fascia responds well when given a chance to gently release.  So I gravitate toward slow flow and gentle yoga. 

I trained to be a yoga teacher because I got so frustrated with doing “beginner” classes that we out of my reach physically and for the time frame. I also wanted to share these tools to show you that “yoga” doesn’t mean 90 minute classes getting into very bendy positions. 

This is also why I created the below challenge!

Learn how we can use the tools of yoga in just five minutes a day?

Join us for the challenge!

yoga for chronic pain and fatigue challenge
Join us for the FREE five minutes a day for five days yoga for chronic pain and fatigue challenge

Join us for five minutes per day for five days and see how the tools of yoga might be of service to you.

restorative yoga for the chronic life person doing poses

I’d love to hear from you – have you found benefit from any of the tools of yoga?