Should You Try Yoga as a Treatment for Your Fibromyalgia?

Should you try yoga as a treatment for your fibromyalgia?Yoga. It’s everywhere. From passers-by on the sidewalk toting yoga mats, to health headlines in the media, it seems like yoga has saturated the mainstream. But if you live with a chronic condition, like fibromyalgia (FM), you may be unaware of what twisting yourself into a pretzel has do with managing your daily symptoms. In fact, you may be unaware that yoga isn’t about twisting yourself into a pretzel at all.

Research is clearly on the side of trying yoga to manage your fibromyalgia symptoms. The Oregon Health and Science University published a study in 2010 that compared the impact of an eight week yoga program on FM patients against a control group who received standard FM treatment. Researchers found that “pain was reduced in the yoga group by an average of 24 percent, fatigue by 30 percent and depression by 42 percent”.

So what is yoga actually all about? And how can it help you manage your chronic condition?  To answer these questions, I asked my good friend and yoga therapist, Kathrin Gottwald, who also blogs at Soulicious Moments.  Kathrin explains that “A carefully tailored yoga practice can not only lead to more flexibility and muscle tone, but also more awareness and potentially a different way of experiencing yourself and life.” This mind-body aspect of yoga exercise is at the core of what makes it effective. “Yoga means union,” explains Kathrin, “it is a practice to establish a feeling of connection to ourselves, others and the world around us.”

Should you try yoga as a treatment for your fibromyalgia?

Before my diagnosis, I was a beginner yoga student. Although I was never a very athletic person, I found I craved my weekly class. Week to week, I noticed that my strength, balance and flexibility improved. I enjoyed being in my body, rather than in my head, for those 60 minutes. After my diagnosis, I assumed by yoga days were over. I could barely sit on the floor, after all!

Eventually,  I attended a pain management class, which included a yoga component led by a teacher who herself had fibromyalgia. I began to include certain yoga poses into my daily stretching routine. Finally, I found a DVD with a yoga routine designed specifically for FM (see below). The genius part of the program is that they show each pose at 3 levels of ability, so you can customize your program based on your daily level of pain. I try to do this routine twice a week. I have the same benefits as before, even though my yoga routine is much gentler and shorter than before: feeling a positive connection to my body, feeling more present, and feeling my flexibility, balance and strength improve.

Beyond physical benefits, yoga is about developing body awareness and mental presence. Kathrin elaborates: “Yoga is not about perfecting the poses or contorting yourself into difficult positions, but it is all about how you relate to yourself and that which you encounter and experience in life. Especially for people living with chronic conditions it can be very beneficial to find skillful ways of relating to themselves and their illness.”

I also include a breathing practice three to four times a week along with my yoga routine. This is also an important part of yoga. As Kathrin notes, “In yoga the breath is considered our life force. The practice is to consciously move this energy within you and use it skilfully. Observing the breath and resting your awareness on your breath is already a yoga practice in itself.” Even if you are having a flare, and all you can do is breathe, you can still practice yoga. This practice has to do with sitting or lying quietly and focusing on the breath. When thoughts or sensations distract you, as they inevitably will, you gently bring your attention back to the breath as soon as you realize you have gotten carried away.

I find yoga helps me ‘practice’ being in the here and now, helps me to know the contents of my own mind and heart better, and increases my awareness of my body, so I can check in with what I am able to do day to day. In Kathrin’s words, “Yoga practice starts with being. We do not need to constantly strive to be different and improve. When we practice, we are just striving to be more fully ourselves.”

So if you want to start a yoga practice, where do you begin? You can work one-on-one with a yoga therapist or teacher. Kathrin explains that “in yoga therapy you work with a specific intention of finding more skilful ways of relating to yourself and your condition. This is a very personal and individual path. The yoga therapist will develop a targeted practice for you, which will be individually adapted as needed”.

More and more studios are beginning to offer targeted classes, like yoga for back pain or chair yoga, which you may be able to join. I definitely recommend asking if you can observe a class before joining, to ensure it is at your level and uses a therapeutic approach.

If this is out of your price range, several resources you can consider are listed below. These include instructional DVDs or online routines you can do at home. This is usually better for people with some yoga experience, to avoid injury.  However you start, I hope you find greater presence, connection, and health!

 

Should You Try Yoga as a Treatment for Your Fibromyalgia? —Guest Post for Leaving a Legacy

I haven’t tried yoga for my fibromyalgia, so I’ve asked a friend to give us some insight. Katarina has some great pointers for us here ….

via Should You Try Yoga as a Treatment for Your Fibromyalgia? — Leaving a Legacy

Move More: How I Actually Started Exercising with a Chronic Condition

Move More: How I Actually Started Exercising with a Chronic Condition

Does just seeing another article about exercise make you want to turn the page? It often makes me want to. When I got diagnosed with my chronic condition all the information about exercise seemed so out of touch with the reality of my life. If I’m already tired, sore and busy then I’m not going to be able to go to the gym. I can’t afford a personal trainer. With my back pain there is no way I can participate in the group yoga classes I used to take in university. Even more frustrating was the fact that all the research I came across proved how beneficial exercise is to health. I knew that I should exercise but I felt like I couldn’t.

 

But what if I could?

One day I came across an(other) article reporting on research that showed yoga could improve fibromyalgia, my chronic condition (OHSU, 2010). The results were impressive – pain was reduced by 24%, fatigued by 30% and depression by 42%. Great, I thought, another thing I can’t do that would help. But in this case I also found that two of the researchers were part of a nonprofit organization that produces exercise DVDs for fibromyalgia, including one on yoga and Pilates (link below). I ordered the DVD and skeptically waited for it to be delivered. I was surprised and excited to find that I was able to do the routine – which was shown at three different intensity levels so I could modify the poses as needed. I found that the at-home instructional DVD format was affordable, convenient and accessible – I could do it when I was able, for as long as I could and without wasting energy traveling somewhere and back.

Woman stretching arms behind back

Photo by Steven Depolo

During my health coach training I learned that yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and stretching are all range-of-motion or flexibility exercises. These types of exercise can also build strength and promote balance, but primarily focus on lengthening tight muscles and moving joints through the full span of movement they are intended to achieve. “Limited flexibility can cause pain, lead to injury, and make muscles work harder and tire more quickly (p. 92, Lorig et al., 2013).

My positive experience with the yoga/pilates DVD encouraged me to find other programs with a similar format. One of my favorites is the Tai Chi for Health series by Dr. Paul Lam (link here), especially the Tai chi for Arthritis program that was designed in conjunction with the Arthritis Foundation. This instructional video that takes you step-by-step through 12 lessons until you have the movement sequence memorized.  I enjoyed learning an entirely new way of moving and began to feel more confident that I could include exercise in my weekly routine.

I also started seeing a physiotherapist who put together a thorough stretching routine for me to do daily. Without doubt, this is the single most effective thing I tried to improve my health and well-being. My pain has decreased and my daily functioning has improved, along with my quality of life.

Many flexibility/range-of-motion exercises programs also share a second common feature as mind-body movement practices. For example, “Yoga is a set of theories and practices with origins in ancient India. Literally, the word yoga comes from a Sanskrit work meaning “to yoke” or “to unite”. It focuses on unifying the mind, body, and spirit, and fostering a greater feeling connection between the individual and his/her surroundings” (Moonaz, 2015). Greater body awareness, stress reduction, emotional balance, and improved energy are all benefits of mind-body exercise programs (Moonaz, 2015).

Flexibility/range of motion exercise programs are a great starting point for anyone who has not exercised for awhile, or who has a health condition that makes movement challenging. They are easy to do at home or you can find many classes offered in your community. Gradually incorporating these routines 2-3 x/week and practicing daily stretching is how I was able to actually begin to  move more. Below is a quick primer on what these kinds of activities are so you can pick the right one for you and a link to programs that I have tried:

Yoga: “Yoga involves directing your attention and breath as you assume a series of poses, or stretches” (Gaiamlife, n.d.).

Qi Gong and Tai chi: “The term qi gong (or chi kung) describes the complete tradition of spiritual, martial and health exercises developed in China. Tai chi is one of the most common of these. Practicing qi gong involves performing a series of movements while paying attention to the body and staying aware of the breath. The exercises are especially effective for developing balance, focus, coordination and graceful, centered movement” (Gaiamlife, n.d.).

Stretching: Poses to lengthen muscles and increase range of motion in joints

 

References:

OHSU. (2010). OHSU Research Suggests Yoga can Counteract Fibromyalgia. http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/about/news_events/news/2010/2010-10-14-ohsu-research-sugge.cfm

Moonaz, S. et al. (2015). Yoga for Arthritis. Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center. http://www.hopkinsarthritis.org/patient-corner/disease-management/yoga-for-arthritis/

Gaiam Life. (n.d.) How to Choose a Mind Body Exercise. http://life.gaiam.com/article/how-choose-mind-body-exercise

 

 

 

Exercise DVDs for FM You Can Actually Do!

If you have fibromyalgia, you may be tired of reading all about how exercise will improve your quality of life.

There are zillions of articles on the internet citing studies that demonstrate how moderate exercise reduces pain and improves other FM symptoms. I don’t know about you, but the last time I went to try a yoga class, I spent the next three days in bed from a major flare up. Or the last time I jogged to catch a bus, walked in the snow, or did anything else remotely aerobic – it didn’t turn out so well.

So how exactly are we supposed to get this exercise, in a way that improves our FM, instead of triggering it? Previously I wrote about a tai chi dvd for arthritis with Dr. Lam, which is very gentle, yet therapeutic. However, sometimes you need several options to entice you into a work-out! Recently, I came across an excellent resource for FM exercise DVDS at www.myalgia.com. They are produced by the Fibromyalgia Information Foundation, a non-profit run by doctors and researchers at the Oregon Health and Science University. This means that all the exercise routines are designed by reputable instructors and approved by FM medical specialists from the University.

There are 4 DVDs in total: Yoga and Pilates, Stretching and Relaxation, Strength and Balance, and Aerobic Exercises. Here is the best part – along with the instructor, each video includes three FM patients demonstrating the movements. Each patient follows a program at a different level of difficulty, with modifications for more severely affected patients, to ‘medium’, to ‘advanced’ movements. I have tried the Yoga and Pilates DVD and really enjoyed it. 1 can pick which ‘level’ to do based on how I feel. Over time, I can feel myself improving and following the more ‘advanced’ level program more often. I hope to move up to the strength DVD. I previewed it – it is older than the Yoga DVD and has awesomely cheesy music! If you are looking for an at-home exercise routine (maybe to fulfill your New Year’s Resolution for 2015), I highly recommend these DVDS. They are reasonably priced and thoughtfully produced for FM patients.

* Please note this is an independent review, and I have no affiliation with the organization.