If you are suffering from fibromyalgia, it can be hard to get yourself moving, but movement and exercise are key ways to help manage and minimize pain. Practicing yoga daily can help. Yoga targets not only the body but also the mind. You can access multiple benefits by using yoga for fibromyalgia pain.
Why yoga for fibromyalgia pain works
Before we discuss some of the benefits of yoga for fibromyalgia pain, a quick primer on what fibromyalgia is and how it affects the body.
Yoga’s popularity is surging thanks to its ability to build strength and flexibility while training the mind to stay peaceful and present. This mix of benefits has profound benefits for people experiencing fibromyalgia pain.
Some people mistakenly believe that it’s not possible to practice yoga unless you’re flexible. You may have seen young, slender women in pretzel-looking poses and thought, “Gosh. I could never do that.” Good news: achieving these difficult postures isn’t required for yoga, nor even is touching your toes.
While most forms of exercise are beneficial for fighting fibromyalgia pain, yoga is especially healing. The practice helps maintain and increase muscle flexibility, improves spinal alignment, and reduces stress. Stress hugely impacts pain, worsening it and increasing the risk of a slew of other health problems like heart attacks or strokes.
1. Reduces muscular tension
The first benefit of yoga for fibromyalgia pain is keeping the muscles flexible.
One of the hallmarks of fibromyalgia is muscle tightness and stiffness. Easy stretches for large muscles can prevent those muscles from seizing up or feeling stagnant. Even practicing a gentle forward fold with knees bent and chest relaxed onto the thighs can wake up tight hamstrings and back muscles.
A wide-legged forward fold on the ground opens up hips, and lunges keep hip flexors mobile. Warm muscles that stay flexible are muscles that are less prone to contraction, and that can help manage fibro pain.
2. Improves spinal alignment
When joints and tendons are aching, the impulse might be to hunch over or cradle them to decrease the pain. Yoga helps teach people how to properly align their skeletal systems so that the entire body is properly supported. The skeleton, wrapped in muscle and tendon, is beautifully designed to support the weight of the body. If something is out of alignment, pain and stiffness is usually the result. Yoga helps re-align the body for better support and pain relief.
In addition to flexibility and spinal alignment, gentle, consistent yoga for fibromyalgia helps keep muscles strong, and strong muscles provide more support. Strong muscles help increase stamina so daily tasks are not as difficult. Yoga can be gentle and does not need to be hot, intense, or fast-paced to have muscle strengthening benefits. Even seated yoga that increases core and back strength can help with fibromyalgia pain.
3. Improves sleep quality and mental health
The final (and arguably most important) benefit of yoga for fibromyalgia pain is mental.
Research shows that yoga increases quality sleep, reduces stress, and calms both mind and body. Yoga helps manage stress by regulating stress hormones with daily practice, and intense yoga produces endorphins, the feel-good hormones in the brains that boost mood.
You can begin your practice with a simple routine. Make modifications with blocks or props. Stretches can be intense but should not exacerbate or cause pain. Work slowly, and do what you can. Managing fibromyalgia pain through yoga is possible, but listen to your body as you exercise and back off if it is too much.
How to get started with yoga for fibromyalgia
For people looking to reduce fibromyalgia pain through yoga, here are several ways to get started with your practice.
1. Select the right practice
Many types of yoga exist, from extremely vigorous, heated classes, to the most gentle, restorative classes that may have five poses for an entire 60-minute class. Select a class depending on how your body feels, and how much energy you have.
Excellent types of yoga for people with fibromyalgia include a Level 1 or beginner hatha yoga class. Hatha involves postures that are held for a longer period of time, usually five or seven breaths. These longer holds help build strength and flexibility.
Yin yoga, which also features longer holds, is excellent for building flexibility. While hatha yoga includes many standing postures, yin poses are usually seated or lying down.
In yin, poses are held for three to five minutes, maybe longer. These poses target major connective tissue in the hips, hamstrings, and upper back—typically stiff areas that require longer holds to open up. Yin frequently involves a lot of forward folding, however, so you’ll want to avoid this if you have lower back issues.
Restorative yoga is a slow, sweet practice. The long holds are not meant to encourage flexibility, but instead allow for a complete releasing of the body. It’s a practice to refill the energetic cup, and is very helpful for stress relief, but won’t help develop strength or physical ability.
Just as life is a balance of energetic days and not, sad days and happy, choosing the day’s yoga practice is also a balance. Tune into the body, see what it needs, and respond in a way that best serves your journey of health.
2. Find your edge
Yoga should never hurt. You may experience discomfort, but if you feel sharp pains at any time, especially in the joints, adjust the pose or ask the teacher for a modification. Always use your body as the ultimate guide. All poses have multiple variations, ways to deepen the posture and ways to make it gentler. Check the ego and focus on what feels good. Feel the pose from the inside out, letting go of what you think it’s supposed to look like.
It’s important to practice in an atmosphere that encourages you to respect your limits while still pushing right up to them. In yoga, this place where effort meets ease is called the edge. Experiment with teachers and studios to find places where you feel at home and comfortable, places that make it easy to find your edge without going beyond, which can lead to injury.
3. Try online videos
No studio? No problem? The explosion of yoga has made it incredibly accessible, and many teachers post videos online. This free YouTube video offers a 20-minute sequence specifically designed for people with fibromyalgia.
If at all possible, try to make it into a studio at least a few times to learn proper alignment. Yoga increases body awareness, but at the start, many people find it difficult to maintain proper alignment. This is completely understandable. Learning something new takes time, and the poses are unfamiliar in both your body and your mind.
A trained teacher will help you stay safe and check for proper alignment, such as ensuring the knee does not extend over the ankle in standing poses, which puts the knee at risk for injury. Over time, you’ll develop the knowledge and muscle memory to start a home practice, which is when the vast benefits of yoga truly unfold.
Practicing several times a week is ideal, but having enough time or money to practice that frequently in a studio isn’t a reality for many people. Online videos make it easy to practice frequently and allow the practice to transform your life.
4. End the day with restorative postures
Taking a few minutes at the end of each day to unwind with restorative yoga postures is a wonderful way to release tension and prepare for bed.
Some poses are particularly beneficial for helping to manage fibromyalgia pain or swelling. One excellent posture is legs up the wall pose, also known as viparita karani in Sanskrit, the language of yoga. To access this pose, lie with your legs against a wall on the floor, torso extending at a 90-degree angle in an L-shape. Gently swing the legs up the wall, keeping the L-shape so the back is flat against the floor and the legs extending up the wall.
This video from Yoga International shows how to get all the benefits of this restorative pose.
Those with tight hamstrings may want to place a blanket under the hips to lessen the stretch. Enjoy this pose for anywhere from three to ten minutes, or even longer. Try to relax the mind, let go of thoughts, and tune into the breath. This pose reduces stress and also encourages blood circulation. It may also help reduce swelling in the ankles that sometimes happens with fibromyalgia.
Another feel-good restorative pose is reclined bound angle, known in Sanskrit as supta baddha konasana. Lying on the back, bend the legs and connect the soles of the feet together. Take thin pillows and place them under the knees, providing support as the legs gently open. Lay here from three to five minutes, or even longer, soaking up the restorative benefits of the practice.
Find fibromyalgia pain relief
To learn more about all the benefits of yoga for fibromyalgia and other chronic pain patients, check out our series of posts on this topic.
If you’ve tried yoga or other complementary practices, like chiropractic or physical therapy, and haven’t found relief, it may be time to talk to a pain specialist. They can suggest treatments that could help you reduce pain. And, you can get back to your life. To find a pain doctor near you, click the button below.