This is a big yoga myth. Yoga is not a cure for chronic pain, fibromyalgia, any illness. But it really can help.
It is my mission to share the tools of yoga for fibromyalgia with you, but it is also my mission to dispel the idea that yoga is a panacea or a cure all.
It is simply one part of my whole of life wellness plan.
In this training I go through some of the myths, including that yoga is a cure for chronic pain.
We talk about:
The benefits (calming the central nervous system, relaxing, helping with sleep, pain etc.)
What “Yoga” isn’t
What my practice looks like as a yoga teacher with fibromyalgia
How you can do it
It ISN’T WHAT YOU THINK – it’s not 90 minute classes or being a pretzel!
Why do I talk about these things? Because I get so frustrated and sad when I hear that people with fibromyalgia won’t try yoga because of what they think it is. Or that it is touted as a cure all – and therefore cannot be any help at all.
Or, worst of all, when people have been put off by previous experiences of trying to cram their fibro body into a class that wasn’t made accessible for their needs. Especially if they ended up in pain for days.
If you have been around for a while, you may have noticed that I have a thing for supported child’s pose. Well, child’s pose in general. But the supported version has a special place in my heart.
Restorative yoga is a passive practice that helps to calm the central nervous system and is therefore super relaxing. From the first pose I tried, supported child’s pose (!), I was hooked.
Below is your opportunity to give it a try. You will want two or three cushions/pillows/bolsters to make a comfortable bed to relax into as pictured. The aim is to relax fully, so you don’t want your body to be “holding” you want it to be supported.
Feel free to play with the set up and hold for as long as is comfortable.
Try Supported Child’s Pose Right Now
How did this make you feel?
Hopefully relaxed, calm and ready to give more yoga a go. I have heard from way too many people that they were put off by yoga previously. I don’t want that for you.
If we haven’t met yet, I’m Melissa, and I am passionate about sharing the tools of yoga for fibromyalgia with you. I use these tools myself every day to manage my pain, fatigue, insomnia and basically feel a little better. If you’d like to learn more check out the following:
So I shared my routine – what I have been doing to manage neck-caused headaches. This routine is the further development of one I was already doing to manage between physiotherapy appointments. When, all of a sudden, I was stuck at home with three small children, a new job that required me on the computer for 20 hours per week and no access to physiotherapy – I had to step it up in order to cope.
My team loved it.
So I created a 10 minute version for you all to try.
Yoga for Neck Headaches Video
Please remember that, no matter how gentle the sequence, you do need to be cleared to exercise by your medical team. Move mindfully and if something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.
We utilise gentle yoga, breathing and meditations in this practice (and all of my practices).
Let’s talk about my favourite yoga poses for fibromyalgia. As a yoga practitioner and a teacher I have a few poses I come back to again and again in mine and my student’s toolkit.
These are great standalone poses that have a prominent place in my toolkit and my students are loving these too.
As you can likely tell, there are a multitude of tools on offer from the yoga toolkit and I use many. It is hard to narrow it down so in this post, I share just six.
My favourite version of this pose is supported child’s pose, but even usual child’s pose is a great restful pose. It gently stretches the lower back and shoulders (if you take it extended). Placing your forehead on the ground will calm you down. This pose comes from restorative yoga, a lovely, gentle yoga style that is great for calming the nervous system.
This is such a great introductory restorative pose. One prop required. It is very calming and can be replicated with pillows/cushions/an ottoman, anything to raise those legs a little. Relieving pressure in our legs can be a nice bonus here. Place your neck on a flat pillows/cushion/folded towel if you find it uncomfortable.
While they are stand alone poses, I like them together, they are the perfect counter pose to each other and a great way to mobilize the back and neck. I use this regularly throughout the day. Not only does the physical movement help my body but matching the movement to my breath and moving mindfully helps my mind. It’s calming and relaxing.
Forward bend is so great for a gentle neck and back stretch (as well as the hamstrings). I was using it for gentle neck tractions between physiotherapy appointments before I knew what I was doing (using yoga as tools).
Eagle is really great for helping out the upper back (a key problem area for fibromyalgia, desk workers and almost everyone). In Foundations of Yoga for Chronic Pain and Fatigue we work through this pose as a journey because there is so much space in this pose for us to grow.
This is great if you’re not getting onto the floor and want to stretch your lower back. You could use this as a standalone pose, as part of a sequence before bed, in bed and first thing in the morning.
Micro yoga is such a good tool for managing chronic pain and fatigue. The benefits of yoga are continually being proven in research, especially for chronic symptoms. I want to share what micro yoga is, how micro yoga helps me as a mama with chronic pain, fatigue and insomnia and tiny children and how you can use the tools too.
What is micro yoga?
It is simply yoga that is not a traditional length or what we typically (in the west) think of as “yoga”.
I literally do 5-30 minute snippets at a time. As a person with chronic symptoms I find it much better to do 10 minutes regularly than one hour once a week.
I’d take it one step further and call my yoga super accessible micro yoga. When done right, yoga is super accessible for us and what we need.
What does this look like?
Five minutes of asana (stretches) when I am getting dressed.
A random pose to help my back when it is feeling tight during the day.
Five minutes of breathing when I am feeling overwhelmed.
“By weaving micro practices into your everyday life, you will: Cultivate a consistent yoga routine that won’t overwhelm your busy schedule Have the tools to reset your mood and energy with just a few breaths Feel empowered by the quality of your self-care Recognize that small acts can make a major difference in your physical and mental health.”
I use micro yoga as part of my toolkit for managing pain and fatigue.
You might like the targeted stretches section starting pg 65. The best part of The Little Book of Yoga Practices is the succinctly described pose section. You can see what resonates and try one or two at a time.
The one minute miracles section is a gold mine! Pg 82
Rachel might not specialise in yoga for chronic pain and fatigue but her books are great resources when you are trying to build a micro yoga practice. And the size of The Little Book of Yoga Practices means it isn’t going to be hard on the old brain fog to get through, it is succinct and easy to follow.
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.
It is not the sole problem, but it certainly causes
physiological flow on effects, even after we have learned to calm it down
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 simplest way to
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?
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
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?
Total relaxation of body and mind
Improves capacity for healing
Balances the central nervous system
Helps us tune into our body
What is restorative
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?
Join me in this free workshop to learn what restorative yoga is, how it can benefit us, try a restorative pose (the one that made me fall in love with restorative yoga) and more.
In this post I have taken my combined knowledge and written
it up as you see. For some sources and further reading see below…
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.
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.
Do you meditate? Tell us about your practice in the comments!
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.
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.
(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.
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?
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.
I ask group members regularly what topics they would like me to share about, “how to save money on physical therapies” was the top request on the last post where I asked for suggestions. So here I share how you can spend less money on physical treatments for chronic pain and strategies for decreasing your pain at the same time.
What a whopper! As soon as I read the comment, I was formulating ideas. As a person who has tried physiotherapists (many different ones), Eastern practitioners, massage therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, personal trainers (who did not get it) and more, I know the costs involved here. We run a public system here in New Zealand so none of these private physical treatments are funded at all.
When I was at my worst I was going weekly, paying $50 or $60 a session to very little benefit. As I have finally put these things into place I have reduced to three or four weekly – this is a saving of $150-200 per month! That adds up!
These are the things that you can do to reduce the amount of treatments you need from physical therapists (physiotherapists, massage therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, etc.). If they are not necessarily easy, when are they ever?
The four ways of how to spend less on physical treatments for chronic pain
1. Remove or reduce the things that perpetuate the physical issue the physiotherapist/massage therapist/chiropractor etc. has to work on.
This might be a tough one as you may not be willing or able to do the things. For example, working full-time on a computer really exacerbates my neck and shoulders. I cannot, no matter the steps I take to mitigate it, experience less pain and keep doing it. Do you engage in something that aggravates your tricky spots? Is your bed and pillow correct for your needs? Check your breathing!
Let yourself brainstorm as there might be lots of things that come up.
2. Work on the whole of life things
So a lot of our physical issues are related to our overall health. When the fibromyalgia was worse, I needed to see the physical therapists for in search of relief (which never came).
When I changed my entire life – reducing work hours, cutting my commute, moving to a warmer climate, learning to rest (and later meditate), gentle exercise (which for me meant cutting back!) etc. – the amount I needed to see the physical reduced.
3. Finding the right treatment
This alone halved how often I
had to go. For severe, recurrent trigger points in my neck – for which I’ve spent at least $1500 per year for over
10 years trying to get some relief from – I have the right practitioner and
treatment at last. It’s a physiotherapist who places acupuncture needles into
the trigger point, leaves it to relax and then performs gentle traction and
stretches. The amount of time and money I spent on massage therapists,
physiotherapists, osteopathy and chiropractic is insane.
Ask yourself, does that
massage or chiropractic session actually help enough to justify the cost? Does
the benefit hold long enough to be justifiable?
4. Learn to do things yourself
This might be the most
important and the easiest!
For me, this is copious amounts of stretching/yoga.
Always ask a practitioner you see to give you suggestions for things you can do at home and DO them.
So these are my top four ways to spend less on physical treatments (and reduce your pain at the same time). Are you working on any of these areas? What is your favourite way to cope with physical pain?
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.
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, decreased rate of breathing, decreased blood pressure, decreased muscle tension, decreased heart rate and increased slow brain [alpha] waves. 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.”
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.
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?
Step four discusses using the breath as an energy source, “Pranayama can increase your fitness and energy levels – without getting out of bed!”
Step five is the actual yoga! Kuran provides a more active routine, a gentle restorative routine and discusses yoga Nidra.
“Like other forms of meditation, yoga Nidra helps release serotonin and decrease cortisol which lowers your stress response.” I adore yoga Nidra and it’s a vital part of my coping when I’m tired, especially when I have tiny babies and am not sleeping much at night – so I always enjoy learning more about it.
I loved the suggestion that even in a flare up we can do yoga. Practicing yoga doesn’t mean a big routine or even physical movement – Kuran points out that even visualizing yourself doing yoga poses can be useful. A breathing practice while lying in bed is sufficient. This makes yoga such a useful tool for those fighting chronic fatigue – its adaptability.
If you enact the action points suggested at the end of each step you will be a long way toward a holistic healing process.
I highly recommend this book and yoga if you struggle with chronic fatigue.
Get your reading on
Purchase your copy from Amazon here. (Affiliate link: Please note that if you make a purchase using my link, I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you).
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If audio books are more your speed, as they are for me with three little ones, you know you can get a free trial of Audible on Amazon here. I’ve recently started reading a lot more audio books as the hands free option is far easier to access with the wee ones. You will get access to two audio books, plus two Audible Originals, and other cool membership options for 30 days. Cancel anytime if you don’t want the full subscription.