The Yoga of Fibromyalgia: Reconnecting the Body with the Self

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The Yoga of Fibromyalgia: Reconnecting the Body with the Self

yoga teacher trainingBy Gatlianne

While the core of Yoga is a mind-body connection – the core of Fibromyalgia is a mind-body disconnection. There is little that is more damaging to the body and spirit than pain and with Fibromyalgia, pain is abundant. Not only is the pain widespread, but in many cases the pain is uncontrollable. Medications offer a semi-fix but wear off quickly if they work at all. Exercise offers benefits in pain management but on days that even the slightest movement hurts exercise falls by the wayside as instead of a management system for the pain it has become an instigator. When living with Fibromyalgia it is easy to give up and suffer with the pain. There are many days that seem hopeless and the physical pain coupled with the emotional pain create a prime combination of self-pity and withdrawal from the world.

I know this because I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia last year after (1) years of pain and (2) years of doctor’s visits and wondering what was “wrong” with me. After receiving the diagnosis I was relieved that I finally knew the culprit but my “problem” having a name provided only temporary relief. I had wanted to know what was wrong so that I could fix it. I’d hoped for a vitamin or mineral deficiency, or even for someone to tell me that my vegetarian ways were creating my distress and to eat some meat. That is not what happened, however, and when the word I’d rolled around in my head left the lips of my doctor to surge through my ears into my brain it mattered not that I’d pondered the syndrome for a while – the word Fibromyalgia was huge to me. There was no “here take more B vitamins” easy remedy. Instead there was a looming word that rocked me to my core. I finally had a name for the pain – but that name didn’t come with much solution. My doctor told me to listen to my body, to let go of thoughts of how I should be, to let go of the past and what I used to could do or used to feel, that Yoga would be my best friend and to have chiropractic adjustments.

I left the office feeling a false-sense of hope. I finally knew what was wrong – but I had no way to fix it. That false hope ate at me for days until I fell into a downward spiral of depression and anxiety. I woke in the mornings swollen and stiff and in pain. My clothes wouldn’t fit my body that seemed to have betrayed me. I cried at the bedside assaulting my sleepy-eyed husband with a barrage of “oh woe is me” and “will it ever stop.” He offered much support and sympathy but having never felt the pain of Fibromyalgia, though he was understanding- he could not understand. I fully grasped the concept of positivity and changing my thinking. I’d written inspirational books! People came to me for advice and counsel. I’d helped people change their thinking for years. Yet, with that huge, looming word FIBROMYALGIA I sank – I could help others but I could not find a way to help myself. I became a shell of who I’d been; I stopped writing, stopped painting, stopped doing Yoga. I stopped laughing, dancing, loving, living. I simply stopped being. The in-between became my solace, as well as my prison. The in-between being places in my home, be it a doorway or section of a hallway, that were neither here nor there, neither in nor out. I felt lost as though I had no real place in my body, in the world or in existence. So I lay in the in-betweens and simply stopped being.

Essentially, I gave my power to the fear of the huge, looming word. I was terrified that nothing would change and for the rest of my life I would wake miserable and feel miserable and be miserable. The irony was that I was creating my misery all along. So, one day I stood up. I crawled from the in-between and I was mad…fighting mad! I’d had enough. I would not lie in the floor any more trying to get lost in the neither here nor there. I would not give my power away any longer. I refused to let Fibromyalgia win – after all it was only a word, right?

Instead of losing myself to that word I began educating myself. I read every book and article I could get my hands on. My belief was that if I fully knew and understood the syndrome and fully knew and understood my body I could create a change. I’d always been one to have an ingrained intuition of what was going on within me so I began listening closely and deeply. I noticed things that triggered my symptoms and flares. I woke up to my Fibromyalgia! I realized that as long as I let the pain control me – the pain controlled me! When I took control of the pain and didn’t focus on it – I wasn’t focused on it and could function. The pain was still there, I just didn’t give in to it. I began changing my mind in order to change my world and along the way began to embark on a path that would enable me to help others with Fibromyalgia, and chronic pain conditions similar, to change their minds in order to change their worlds.

Suddenly I didn’t feel so bad. I gradually and gingerly stepped foot back onto my Yoga mat. There were days I couldn’t do certain poses. There were days I could do little but lie in Corpse. But I got on the mat. My strength increased, my flexibility increased and my pain decreased. I saw my path evolving. If I could help people change their minds and think positively – what could I help them to with their bodies? How could I help them reconnect to themselves and eventually reconnect their bodies to themselves?

A new word began looming in my mind and it was just as huge though much less daunting and disparaging – YOGA. I began to evaluate how I felt, both physically and mentally, when I did Yoga and meditation. I evaluated how I felt when I took days off from Yoga and meditation. I noticed much difference in my pain, physical aptitude and mental standing from when I did Yoga and did not. When I got on the mat, in whatever aspect, I was more at peace within myself, more in tune with my body and could manage my pain and Fibromyalgia symptoms much more efficiently. I began studying Fibromyalgia, Yoga and meditation even more in depth. I saw how many of the symptoms of the syndrome could be managed or remedied by the practices of Yoga and meditation. I even created an emotional healing technique to use with my Reiki and Chakra balancing practices. I saw how emotions manifest as physical and that when I was more aware of my emotional state I was more in control of my physical state. Eureka!

In my studies, I found that many Fibromyalgia symptoms had a Yoga or meditation counterpart or antidote as I like to think. Pain and symptoms could be managed, controlled or eliminated with Yoga or meditation. The symptoms of Fibromyalgia include:

Widespread body pain

Widespread body aches

Morning stiffness

Tender points

Non-restorative sleep

Fatigue and lack of energy

Anxiety, depression

IBS and bladder difficulties

Chemical sensitivity

Brain fog

Short term memory loss

Heat/Cold intolerance

PMS

Headaches

Impaired coordination

Irritability/Mood swings

Numbness in extremities

Sensitivity to light, sound and odors

Restless Leg Syndrome

Raynaud’s Syndrome

Skin sensitivity

Swelling or the sensation of swelling

Visual problems

Localized neck and back pain

Dizziness

Heart palpitations

Triggers of Fibromyalgia symptoms and flares include:

Stress

Traumatic physical or emotional experiences

Accumulation of toxins

Chronic Fatigue

Hypersensitivity

Overwhelmed or impaired immune system

Prolonged infection or illness

Poor diet, nutrient deficiencies and lack of exercise

Neurotransmitter/nervous system dysfunction

The relation between Yoga and Fibromyalgia are this:

Yoga focuses on mind-body connection.

FM removes the mind-body connection.

By awakening to the body and to Fibromyalgia through Yoga and meditation one can easily reconnect the body with the self and manage the symptoms of Fibromyalgia.

Yoga emphasizes stress management.

FM flares with and exacerbates stress.

By using meditation practice and the slow-easy movements of Yoga you increase your connection to yourself and can see where in your body stress lies. With this awareness you can more easily release the physical stress that uses excessive prana and relax the tense muscles. Relaxed muscles are less prone to the aches, pains and muscle spasms associated with FM. A plus is that the excessive prana used by the tense muscle is now restored as life giving energy within the body.

Yoga is a gentle form of physical exercise.

FM patients can’t always perform hard physical exercise.

Because Yoga is about allowing the body to reach a pose in its due time instead of forcing the body into a posture it permits bodily control. This gentle control also helps create awareness but also is much more effective for physical stability and strength than the harsh and hurried movements of more modern exercise. These harsh and hurried movements can also result in injury to anyone, especially one with the pain of FM.

Yoga emphasizes mental control.

FM patients often have brain fog, loss of memory and impaired coordination.

When we can control our mind – we can control our body. By utilizing the Yoga practices of pranayama and meditation we can move from controlling our breath to controlling our mind to increase our mental capacity to retain information so that brain fog and memory loss affect us less. With the same practices we can control our body and regain our stability and coordination.

Yoga postures and breath control can help headaches.

FM patients often have the common symptom of severe headaches.

Many Yoga postures, such as cat-cow, bridge, child’s pose, legs up the wall pose and standing forward bend, relieve the tension that comes with headaches. Relieving this tension often releases the headache itself though when that is not enough Yogic breathing brings in more oxygen and increases relaxation, both of which aid in headache relief.

Yoga can lower levels of anxiety.

FM patients can have high levels of anxiety.

When the central nervous system is breeched, anxiety rises rapidly. When pain inundates the body, anxiety flares for many reasons. Emotions escalate, often out of control, until the body is riddled with anxiety which often leads to depression. By creating a state of inner calm we are able to dispel our anxiety, or at the very least, keep it in check. Yoga emphasizes this inner calm.

Yoga utilizes stage-by-stage relaxation.

FM patients often have difficulty relaxing their body fully.

Stage-by-stage relaxation is a way to relax the body completely and fully – releasing tension slowly and intentionally throughout the body, one body part at a time. This technique is used in conjunction with breath to create a deep, total-body relaxed state. This state can greatly ease the pain of tense, stiff muscles in those with Fibromyalgia Syndrome. Also, this relaxed state can aid in deeper sleep. A main symptom of FM is sleep disturbance: lack of sleep, disrupted sleep, inability to go to sleep or non-restorative sleep. Being able to fully relax the body and put the self in a state of total relaxation is extremely beneficial to those who have sleep disturbances.

Yoga practices benefit the central nervous system.

FM patients often have a central nervous system dysfunction.

Yoga postures, breathing and meditation stimulate and calm the central nervous system. This can be outstandingly beneficial to Fibromyalgia patients in managing their pain. If they are able to have a hand in how their nervous system functions then they can control their levels of pain, anxiety, symptoms – ie, they are in control of the syndrome instead of the syndrome being in control of them.

The correlation between Yoga and Fibromyalgia is vast. This paper only touches the surface of the depths of knowledge and possibility there are for using Yoga as a significant factor in pain management in Fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. Yoga is the connection of Mind, Body and Spirit. It is a pathway to becoming one with the self. In Fibromyalgia that self can sometimes seem a very distant memory – the “you” that once was having been replaced with the “you” that hurts and suffers. Though physical pain is not always a choice – suffering is. We choose to suffer and we can just as easily choose to accept our bodies as they are and that sometimes they will hurt. We can also make a conscious choice to be aware of our pain and our body and do all we can to be in control of that. Again, we choose to suffer. We choose to give in to that pain and give over our control. Just as we choose to claim our power and be well instead of being in pain. Is the pain still there? Maybe so, but instead of suffering in pain we are living and being well – one with our self. That connection to the Self is a basis of Yoga philosophy. Therefore, if we combine Yoga with Fibromyalgia pain management we are reconnecting with, strengthening and awakening our self, which I believe is the objective of a Yoga practice. If we take that objective and carry it forth in our daily lives then we can manage Fibromyalgia symptoms and reconnect our body to our Self.

© Copyright 2011 – Gatlianne

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