Yoga and Fibromyalgia:
What You Should Know
(guest post by Sarah Woodard)
During the 23 years I can be certain I’ve had Fibromyalgia, including those prior to diagnosis, I’ve tried many different physical activities such as running, martial arts, and yoga.
While each of them has been amazing in their own ways and served a purpose, it was inevitable with running and martial arts that as the illness progressed; my body was no longer able to cope with those high impact workouts.
There are a lot of things I love about yoga, but the biggest physical reason I love it is that there’s so many different styles. Depending on how my body is feeling on any given day I can take a faster paced class like Vinyasa or a more restorative class like Yin or Hatha, or anything in between. They all keep me moving and can be modified on the fly to fit my body’s needs.
Choosing the Right Yoga for Fibromyalgia
Choosing a style of yoga that best suits your needs is important.
There is no one answer that will work for everyone, whatever diagnosis you may or may not have. To decide what’s best for you, you’ll need to consider several things:
1. What’s your current activity level like?
2. Are you looking for something gentle or something more intense?
3. Do you prefer to work out in heat (not just warmth, really hot heat)?
4. Are you interested in the meditation and other more spiritual aspects of yoga?
5. Remember that not all yoga studios will offer all styles, so you may be somewhat limited by what is offered in your area.
Choosing the right type of yoga can improve #Fibromyalgia, while the wrong type can make you feel worse Click To Tweet
Choosing the right type of yoga for fibromyalgia
If your current activity level is low….
If you’re current activity level is fairly low, you’ll likely want to start with something gentler such as Kripalu, Yin, or Hatha (or something maybe labeled simply Restorative).
Hatha is typically a bit more intense than Yin, but check with the instructors and read class descriptions carefully.
In general, these classes are slower paced, lower intensity, and often use various tools to help support your body weight.
These classes may be the best choice for those with Fibromyalgia. Do read class descriptions carefully and check with instructors, as there is always some variation.
If you are already active…
If you’re currently fairly active and are looking for something more intense, check out Vinyasa or Kundalini.
Again, read class descriptions carefully and talk with instructors, as classes will likely vary slightly from instructor to instructor and yoga studio to yoga studio.
If you like to get hot and sweaty…
If the idea of doing yoga in 105 degrees Fahrenheit and 40% humidity sounds great to you, Bikram is a good place to start your search.
Frankly, that’s a bit too stuffy for me, but many people really enjoy it.
The temperature issues that often come with Fibromyalgia may make this type of yoga a nonstarter for you.
Traditional Bikram yoga will be a series of 26 basic poses repeated twice, so it gives you the opportunity to master those poses.
Yoga & Spirituality
In general, the level of spirituality in yoga practice is set by the instructor(s) and is also optional based on your own personal level of interest and comfort.
Many classes may start and end with an OM, but in a welcoming yoga studio, it’s not required that you participate in saying it.
In some areas of the country, there is also a high intensity yoga style called Jivamukti, which pulls in many of the spiritual practices. It is a very challenging and physically demanding style, so not a good choice if you’re new to yoga or have been fairly inactive.
Adapt & Modify to Your Needs
Typically, each style can be adapted and modified during class to fit your body’s needs.
Speaking with the instructor beforehand will help give you a good idea of what adaptations can be made and how to ask for them, if needed.
Don’t feel that you have to select one style or studio and be locked in to it forever. Try several; maybe rotate between different styles depending on how you feel on a given day.
Personally, I like Vinyasa on days I’m feeling pretty good and enjoy Yin or Hatha on days when my body isn’t being as cooperative. I also enjoy some of the more spiritual aspects of yoga practice, so I chose a studio that aligned with those.
Changing Your Mindset
We all know the doctors tell us that low impact movement helps Fibromyalgia and that taking care of our body helps ease the pain, but when we’re in pain it can be hard to get motivated to get out of bed, never mind go to a yoga class.
Over time, yoga helps with the pain and the motivation. It slowly helps develop a change in mindset from one of “I can’t do this today” to “Maybe I can” and then further to one of “I will.” Over time, that mentality starts to apply to other aspects of your life.
Until there is a cure we’ll never live “normal” lives, but we can do everything in our power to live the fullest lives we possibly can.
Yoga is not an overnight solution to Fibro pain, and in fact, if you’re trying it for the first time and haven’t been doing a lot of moving prior to that, the first several classes may cause pain or even a flare. But I encourage you to stick with it.
Yoga is not an overnight solution to the chronic pain of fibromyalgia, but practicing the right kind regularly can help relieve symptoms. Click To Tweet
The effects of yoga are long term, not instantaneous. It can be hard to delay gratification when all we want is relief from the pain, but in the case of using yoga to help relieve symptoms of Fibromyalgia, patience really is a virtue.
Yoga also teaches patience. A big part of any yoga practice is noticing where you are today in any given pose and accepting it without judgment. Seeing your body as an instrument that is perfectly tuned and not comparing yourself to anyone else.
Living with chronic pain and a myriad of other symptoms, it can be easy to look around and see all the things we can’t do, but yoga focuses our minds and hearts on what we are doing and congratulates us for it.
Finding the Right Yoga instructor for fibromyalgia
Convinced? Want to give it a shot? Here’s how to begin:
1. Do a search online for yoga studios in your area
2. Check out their websites to see if they’ve got a variety of styles being offered or just one. Read about their instructors, etc. and use your gut to see if you want to take it to the next step
3. Call or go in and talk to the lead instructor(s). Talk them about your condition(s), what challenges you currently have, your goals, etc.
4. Check in with yourself about those conversations. Who made you feel comfortable? Who seemed to understand your particular situation?
5. Think about if it’s in your budget. If it’s not, don’t lose hope. Reconnect with the yoga studio you’re interested in and ask if they have any programs to help defray the cost. Many will have some sort of “karmic yogi” program where you can help out with things and get classes covered.
Feeling timid? Completely understandable! Trust that all yoga studios love new comers and will be open to having a discussion (or several) with you. Nobody’s first time was ever their best!
Sarah lives in Nashua, NH with her 2 cats and a Beta Fish. She had memorable Fibromyalgia symptoms for at least 22 years and been diagnosed with FM for 15 of those years. Sarah takes pride in helping others and bringing her sunny disposition to challenging situations. She believes she was given FM because she is supposed to help and educate others. Sarah is also a Reiki Master and believes that energy work aides in managing her symptoms. If you’d like to reach her to talk about all things chronic illness, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah decided to start her own blog, you can check it out here.