In the United States alone, about 3.4 percent of women experience the debilitating pain, fatigue, muscle tenderness, and insomnia of fibromyalgia. While there is no cure, a number of treatments exist to alleviate symptoms and create a better quality of life. Along with medical care, a number of people turn to alternative therapies for treatment.
According to Timothy McCall, MD, medical advisor to Yoga Journal, a 1999 study at Texas Tech University’s Health Sciences Center led by Patrick Randolph, Ph.D. found that a “program of gentle yoga stretches and mindfulness meditation reduced pain and improved patients’ ability to cope with it.” Another study in 2007, published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine by G.D. da Silva and others from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of São Paulo, Brazil, showed that 40 women with fibromyalgia all benefitted from “eight weekly sessions of stretching, breathing, and relaxing yogic techniques.”
Some of yoga’s benefits are thought to be derived from its stress management function. Stress often exacerbates fibromyalgia symptoms, and according to the National Fibromyalgia Association, reducing stress, getting more rest, and practicing relaxation can help reduce symptoms and enhance quality of life. Some specific benefits are:
- decreased pain
- increased muscle strength
- greater endurance and stamina
- improved sleep
- mood stability
- enhanced concentration
- easier breathing
- more energy
- stronger immune system
- better coping ability
Because of the particular health needs of women with fibromyalgia, Dr. McCall and women with fibromyalgia with a yoga practice such as Anita Murray and Shakti Huss, give the following advice for starting your own practice:
- Listen to your body and don’t push it too hard. It’s important to begin slowly to avoid symptom flare-up. If you’re particularly tired, just do restorative poses.
- Learn when to work through pain. Differentiate between the dull discomfort that comes from stretching tight muscles, and the sharper pain that comes from compressing a joint or straining a ligament. If you feel the latter, come out of the pose.
- In the beginning, the most important exercises are those that allow you to deeply relax the body-mind.
- Breathing is the next step for relaxation, energy, clarity, and peace.
One gentle yoga exercise recommended by Body & Brain Yoga founder Ilchi Lee is Intestine Exercise. This exercise facilitates better circulation throughout the body. As with other exercises, start gently at first, especially if experiencing some discomfort:
- Stand up or lie down with feet shoulder-width apart and knees relaxed.
- Form a triangle with your hands on the lower abdomen, with your thumbs over your navel.
- Exhale and pull in your lower abdominal muscles as if you were trying to touch your back.
- Then inhale and push out, feeling some pressure.
- Repeat, starting with a set of 30 and working up to 300 or more.
Before starting any exercise, check with your physician. Do a little yoga every day for consistent results, rather than for longer periods less often.