As many of you know, I often get Blog Topic inspiration from my clients. This blog post is no exception.
Last week, one of my clients told me about his wife who has fibromyalgia. He has hinted to her to maybe try yoga and has encouraged her to come to class even if she can’t do all of the poses. (Just him saying this to her demonstrates he understands about listening to your body and that yoga is for everyone). As a response, I gave him my business card and told him she was absolutely 100% welcome in my class and for him to let me know ahead of time if she would be attending so I could bring some extra props in for her as well as tailor something special for her. (All my clients get special treatment).
The yoga class she might attend is on Thursday evenings at the Air Force Academy Community Center Gym. Generally, class demographics consist of all types of people with age ranges of 18 to a man in his 70’s. I teach Vinyasa style, but I’m not strict as to my lesson plan. I always encourage my clients to be active in the class by asking them for preexisting conditions, pose requests, or if something is bothering them. Once I learn what they would like, I include it in my class practice even if I have throw out what I had already planned.
So as I anticipate the possibility of my client’s wife joining our class to at least give it a try, I decided that I have homework to do because I’m pretty sure I DON’T know everything I need to know in order to effectively guide her practice. Plus, I don’t have fibromyalgia and having knowledge greatly assists with empathy. I hope she does come and she finds it to be helpful!
WHAT IS IT? Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain that is often described as a constant dull ache, usually arising from muscles. There can be additional pain when “firm pressure” is applied to specific areas of the body known as “TENDER POINTS.” There are 18 points and a person who has fibromyalgia feels pain in 11 or more. (I’m including a picture of these Tender Points). Other symptoms might be fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues. I’m not sure why but women are more likely than men to suffer from it.
CAUSE: From my understanding, doctors don’t seem to know what actually causes it. They seem to believe it may involve a variety of factors such as genetics or symptoms may come on after some type of physical trauma, surgery, infection, or significant psychological stress to include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). And then there may be no identifiable triggering event.
TREATMENT: Unfortunately there is NO CURE! There is however, a variety of approaches out there that can help control symptoms:
Medications, Exercise, Relaxation, Stress-Reduction Measures, and Self-Care.
YOGA AND FIBROMYALGIA: As you read above, the last four treatment approaches could be incorporated into a fibromyalgia sufferer’s yoga practice!
• Avoid/Reduce Stress: There are a lot of things that stress people out. One is over tasking yourself. Learn to say “NO.” Try stress reducing strategies such as deep-breathing exercises or meditation.
• Exercise Regularly: This can be a variety of exercise modalities. As a sufferer, one has to explore and see what works for them. The big key is to pursue it gradually, pacing oneself, and regularly. Also, everyone is different. What works great for one maybe totally wrong for another.
1. Yoga and Tai Chi would be good ones to try because these modalities often combine meditation, slow movements, deep breathing, and relaxation. (Do know that it depends on the type of yoga class so do your homework before you commit to going to a class).
2. A big benefit yoga might bring to a sufferer is stress reduction! Yoga has been shown to reduce stress. This is hugely accomplished by breathing exercises (Pranayama), quieting the mind and being present in the moment, quiet relaxing music playing in the background, or aromatherapy, meditation, and with various poses especially ones with props. All in all, stress has a way of tensing up muscles or aggravating the nervous system and when it is reduced all people, not just people with fibromyalgia benefit.
• Listen to Your Body: This is a huge lesson that is reinforced in any yoga class. AND every day, your body’s feedback will be different!
—- Take time before you practice to tune into your body and gain a sense of what is going on with it. Chose a quiet place that is free from distractions and close your eyes. It is easier to gain internal awareness this way. Ask yourself these three questions as you scan your body.
1. Do I have tightness or uncomfortable sensations to include pain? Where are these places?
2. Am I feeling stressed out? Am I feeling overwhelmed? Did I have a bad day?
3. Am I feeling great?
Then after you have your initial awareness, focus on your breath.
—- As you practice, focus on your breath. Just having awareness of breath is yoga! Let your breath be your guide. Take time to breathe deeply through your nose. Breathing counters stress by stimulating the Vagus Nerve which activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System. After you become aware of your breath, focus on a spot in front of you. Concentrate! The spot doesn’t move and it is called your “Dristi.”
Some breath work to try includes:
1. Three Part Breath: On the inhalation, fill the lungs slowly from the bottom up. Belly will expand first, then ribs, and then the chest. Take a moment to transition. On the exhalation, slowly release the air though the nose, allow the chest to come back to neutral, the ribs, and then the belly.
2. Expansion Breath: (maybe a 2:4 ratio with a 2 count inhale and 4 count exhale)
3. Ujjayi Breath: Inhales and Exhales are of equal ratio and this breath is great for the “active portion” of your practice. How: During the exhale, narrow the throat passage. By doing this, your exhale becomes audible sounding like an ocean sound or Darth Vader. (The easiest way to get you to do this is to imagine you are fogging up a mirror as you exhale).
—– Pace yourself and keep the following in mind:
1. If you need to slow down, slow down. If you need to stay in a pose longer, do that. Nothing wrong with holding a pose for 5-10 breaths vs. 1 breath. GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION!!!!!
2. If you need to visit “Child’s Pose,” know that it is available whenever you need it.
3. If you need a prop, grab it, and allow it to be your friend. Props include: the wall, a chair, blocks, straps, blankets, bolsters, mats…use your imagination.
4. There are a variety of modifications for any one pose, select the one that your body responds too and also know that sometimes your body just might say “No” and that is 100% OK. If your body does say “No,” sometimes just visualizing yourself doing the pose is all you need.
5. Remember Sensation is good. Pain is not. This means to not strain yourself and don’t lock joints. Focus on your own mat and don’t pay attention to what your neighbor might be doing. As I often remind my competitive Army clients, there is no “Hooah” in yoga!
6. Remember the body is a “whole” system. Pursue poses for the whole body, not just where it hurts.
—- Online Suggestions from Other Sufferers who Practice Yoga: The internet is a wealth of information as far as what sufferers are saying feels good. Here is what I found.
1. Backbends like “Supported Bridge” help some people with fatigue.
2. “Standing Forward Fold” helps some fight anxiety.
3. 10 of the 18 Tender Points are located around the neck, shoulders, and upper back so upper back stretches like “Eagle” arms relieve tension. “Cobra” with a gentle head turn is nice.
4. Stay warm! Cold temperatures can tighten muscles. Dress accordingly. Have a blanket. Maybe try some warmer yoga styles.
After looking at this, the main message is to “LISTEN TO YOUR BODY.”