By Marlene Saxe
There have been many occasions after completing a yoga practice that I have heard the Statement “You know since I have been doing yoga my _____________ is so much better.” I have said it many times myself. Through the practice of yoga my knees don’t hurt and my balance is better. I am taller and stronger and more flexible than ever. I am much more aware of my surroundings and feel more peaceful in my daily life. I am far more comfortable with myself since I began yoga. Clearly yoga is the root of my wellbeing and I believe can be too many other people. It is doctor recommended for stress, arthritis, back pain, depression, and high blood pressure to name a few. People with fribromyalgia can use yoga to relieve their symptoms there by helping them manage their disorder.
Fibromyalgia is a painful disorder that is characterized by multiple tender points. These tender points are localized areas of soreness around the joints. Common spots can be found on the upper back, chest, neck, hips, elbows, and knees. The Mayo Clinic defines fibromyalgia as a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. The article goes on to say “While there is no cure for fibromyalgia, a variety of medications can help control symptoms. Exercise, relaxation and stress-reduction measures also help. Exercise, relaxation and stress reduction are all components of Yoga. So yoga is the answer, Right? Well let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The pain from fibromyalgia is similar to other disorders and it may not be constant. People with fibromyalgia have a lower threshold for pain because there is an increased sensitivity to pain signals in the brain. Fibromyalgia literally means muscle fiber pain. Some research says the brains of people with fibromyalgia change from repeated nerve stimulation. There is an abnormal increase in the level of a certain chemical or more accurately a mediator found in the spinal fluid of the fibromyalgia population. The brain’s pain receptors seem to have a memory of the pain and become more sensitive and over react to the neurotransmitter’s pain signals.
Another important finding for people with fibromyalgia is that this disease does not damage the joints, bones or the internal organs. And it does not progress to death. Knowing that can be reassuring, but it does not diminish the pain. Today doctors have more information about this disease, but many doctors do not know how to do the exam to diagnose it. In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology (ARC) established two criteria for the diagnosis of fibromyalgia; the first one is widespread pain lasting more than 3 months and the second one having at least 11 positive tender points — out of 18.
Typically blood tests are done to rule out any other underlying conditions that may also cause pain.
Currently treatment for fibromyalgia includes medications such as analgesics, antidepressants and anti-seizure drugs. Therapy for both physical and emotional support. Acupuncture although not used as much can be effective. Acupuncture a Chinese medicine is the insertion of fine needles into the skin at various depths. It has been interpreted to be a change in the blood flow and levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and spinal cord. Studies have been inconsistent in its effectiveness. Massage Therapy can help with stress and anxiety, relax muscles, and improve range of motion in joints.
Lifestyle changes play a critical rule in reducing symptoms and improving health. Changes include:
- Reducing Stress both physical and emotional stress.
- Developing Regular sleep habits and limiting daytime napping
- Exercise regularly can often decrease symptoms
- Pace yourself moderation is key
- Maintain a healthy weight a well balance diet and limiting caffeine
Yoga and Tai Chi have been recommended to help control fibromyalgia symptoms. Slow movements, deep breathing and relaxation minimize the strain on muscles. Yoga and fibromyalgia are a great combination for stretching, strengthening and relaxation. Yoga can improve your outlook, improve your body and help you sleep. Of course not all yoga poses are good for persons with fibromyalgia. But there are many poses that can be done safely that can become a practice that can provide relief from pain.
There is a great deal of information on the internet that addresses chronic pain management. These articles all seem to have the same approach to yoga practice and fybromyalgia. Yoga practice begins with warming up muscles. Walk around get your yoga mat, a blanket, 2 blocks whatever you think you will need for your practice all the while you are warming up and getting your blood flowing. For persons with fybromyalgia gentle smooth movements combined with deep breathing slowly warm up the joints. These movements should feel good, if there is pain back off. Begin by rotating the joints clockwise they counter clockwise. A full body warm up includes toes, ankles, knees, legs, hips, trunk, arms, elbows wrists, each finger, each knuckle and the neck. This warm up has been shown to have wonderful effects. Doing this warm up for 10 minutes daily can improving circulation, increases range of motion and best of all this warm up can prevent pain from building up in muscle tissue. For example Mountain pose for good posture and alignment. Reaching for the Stars can energize and release tension. Forward bend can promote flexibility in the spine and Dancer’s Pose can help balance. All poses can be modified to accommodate anyone. Remember Gentle tension is best, don’t push knowing your tolerance is important. Take breaks, don’t over exert and always use proper body alignment. Arm and foot rolls can add strengthen arms and feet. Active breathing and an abdominal lift can stimulate digestive system and calm the central nervous system.
Other tips for persons with fibromyalgia practicing yoga. Try not to over do it. If you are tired one day don’t forgo your practice do the warm up and stick to restorative poses such as legs up the wall pose and seated forward bend. And don’t spear the props. Blocks, blankets and bolsters can be an asset. And second learn when to work through the discomfort of fibromyalgia verses a sharp pain that comes from compressing a joint or straining a ligament. This can make all the difference in sticking to a yoga practice and managing the symptoms of fibromyalgia. One article said the most important tip is don’t give up. Staying motivated can be a real challenge to people with fibromyalgia, but
Making a commitment and regular practice of yoga can be just what fibromyalgia suffers need. Lack of neither time nor ability should stand in the way. Physical and physiological benefits can be achieved in a regular 10 to 15 minute a day practice. A goal can be to practice for an hour, but fibromyalgia sufferers need to be realistic this is about their health. Not all yoga classes are suitable, peer presser may cause a person to over do it. Know that there are many modifications for yoga warm up, yoga poses and final relaxations otherwise known as Savasana.
Through my research I found Anita Murray who is a Professional Health Coach, Nutritionist and suffered from fibromyalgia. In addition to nutrition and vitamins Anita Murray recommends the practice of yoga. She suggested five things to concentrate on.
1. Breathing long deep breaths through the nose
2. Keeping eyes focused on one spot
3. The Alignment of your body
4. The sensations in your body
5. Tightened stomach and Kegal muscles
Beginning each yoga practice with a warm up and end with a relaxation. Some standing yoga postures Murray recommends are mountain pose, reach for the stars, half forward bends, modified dancer’s pose, arm/foot rolls, standing twists and abdominal lifts.
I asked three woman ages 38, 57 and 42 all diagnosed with fibromyalgia what it was like to have this disorder and how they manage their symptoms. They all complained of wide spread body pain, lack of energy, depression, sensitivity to light, temperature, sound and touch. All three women took medication, all had massage therapy although not regularly, none of the women had tried acupuncture, but all did some type of exercise. The 42 year old did yoga on 3 – 4 times a week at home. The 57 year old exercised 1 to 3 times a week at a gym primarily on the treadmill since the classes went too fast for her. Occasionally she liked the water class but had a hard time hearing the instructor. The 38 year old belonged to a gym. She used free weights and the elliptical machine when she felt up to it. She had attended a yoga class at the gym, but had a hard time fitting it into her schedule. All three women agreed when stretching and some exercise when part of their day felt better mentally and physically.
There are videos for beginners that are suitable for persons with fibromyalgia. A.M. P.M. Yoga for beginners and Kathy Smith New Yoga Basics for Beginners could be a great starting place. Chair yoga is also another alternative. Find a class, get a video ask a friend just get on the mat three times a week or better yet every day. Some days may be corpse pose, other days may be a warm up, but the important thing is to set aside time to regularly practice. Yoga is not a cure, but taking the time for slow-easy movement, meditation and deep breathing will calm the central nervous system and help manage the pain from fibromyalgia.
In conclusion, it is my opinion that people with fibromyalgia could better control their symptoms with a regular practice. If the yoga practice was presented in a way that would allow them complete freedom to participate in any way they are able. Yoga is not a competition it is as unfolding as a morning stretch and relaxing as the surrender before sleep. Yoga is a healing and uplifting gift for everyone.
Marlene Saxe is a certified Yoga teacher. She teaches Yoga classes in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.