On the days when your fibro flares, the last thing you might want to do is head out for some pavement-pounding exercise. You know regular exercise is a great way to manage even your most painful days, but it can be hard to go out for a walk or hit the gym when your whole body aches. Yoga for fibromyalgia is a great way to get the pain-relieving exercise you need, right in your own home. These are the greatest benefits of yoga for fibro, as well as poses to try.
Is yoga good for fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a widespread pain condition characterized not only by whole-body aches but also by extreme fatigue, mood disorders, and cognitive dysfunction. The origins of this syndrome are unknown, but it can be debilitating. As many as ten million people in the U.S. suffer. The vast majority of those are women between 20 and 50 years old.
As part of a comprehensive treatment strategy that includes changes to diet and medications, yoga for fibromyalgia offers three key benefits.
1. Reduces muscular tension
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.
Likewise, 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 tightness, and that can help manage your fibro pain.
2. Improves spinal alignment
Your skeleton, wrapped in muscle and tendon, is beautifully designed to support the weight of the body. If something is out of alignment, though, pain and stiffness is usually the result.
When joints and tendons are aching, the impulse might be to hunch over or cradle them to decrease the pain. Yoga for fibromyalgia teaches you how to properly align your skeletal system so that your whole body is properly supported.
In addition to flexibility and spinal alignment, gentle, consistent yoga for fibromyalgia helps keep muscles strong. Strong muscles provide more support. Strong muscles help increase stamina so daily tasks are not as difficult.
These muscle-strengthening benefits are available to everyone, regardless of their fitness level. Yoga can be gentle and does not need to be hot, intense, or fast-paced to increase muscle strength. 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.
Recent research into yoga for fibromyalgia
One of the earliest studies that looked specifically at yoga for fibromyalgia came in 2010. Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University found that pain, fatigue, and depression were all significantly reduced in patients who did yoga when compared to those who did not.
Another study in 2015 looked specifically at an eight-week intervention of yoga for beginners with fibromyalgia. Researchers implemented both a group class format and an at-home sequence of five yoga postures and found that participants experienced symptom relief and were more likely to practice at home.
In 2016, a review of studies looked at yoga in terms of managing a variety of chronic illnesses, including chronic pain conditions. This review found that yoga offered significant improvement in exercise capacity and a correlated increase in the health-related quality of life (HRQL).
Another review of studies agreed, noting that not only did exercise in general help with pain, fatigue, and HRQL but also that yoga specifically was effective in relieving physical and mental symptoms of fibromyalgia.
More recent, small-scale studies continue to bolster these findings, adding that yoga for fibromyalgia is effective whether it is vigorous and sweaty or gentle and restorative.
So, is yoga good for fibromyalgia? Yes. Here’s how to start your practice, softly and safely.
Build your yoga for fibromyalgia routine, safely
Starting a practice of yoga for fibromyalgia does not require any special props, equipment, or clothing. Sure, yoga blocks, bolsters, and straps can help, but you can substitute pillows and a belt and still have a lovely, supportive practice. Make sure your clothes are comfortable and allow for easy movement. Talk to your doctor to make sure there are no alterations you need to be aware of.
The most important part of yoga for fibromyalgia is to start with a simple routine—just a few poses strung together to start. There are a variety of styles of yoga to choose from. It can be helpful to take some time to find the right practice for you.
Once you find your practice and come into each pose, don’t worry about what the pose looks like. Focus on how it feels in your body, and use your props or pillows to get safely into your version of the posture. This practice is part of “finding your edge”: that place where you feel a stretch or a muscle engagement that you can hold for a period of time with a deep, even breath.
Stretches can be intense, but should not exacerbate or cause pain. Be on the lookout for the following signals to back off the pose:
- Sharp pain
- Intense pain that does not allow you to catch your breath
- Numbness or tingling in the extremities
Work slowly and do what you can. Recognize that each day will be different for you on your mat. Commit to a consistent, manageable practice for best results. Fifteen minutes of yoga for fibromyalgia every day is better than two, one-hour practices a week.
Managing fibromyalgia pain through yoga is possible, but listen to your body as you exercise and make adjustments as needed. Again, any sharp or intense pain means you’ve gone too far into the pose. Back off or come out of it completely, returning more gently the next time you practice.
The 8 best yoga poses for fibromyalgia
Yoga for beginners can start with these eight postures. Many of these poses take their cue from yin yoga, a practice that utilizes long holds and deep breaths to gently open the body. Take your time and allow your mind to become quiet as you explore.
Again, check with your doctor to make sure these are all safe for you to do.
1. Legs up the wall
Some poses are particularly beneficial for helping to manage fibromyalgia pain or swelling. One excellent posture is legs up the wall pose.
To get into this pose, start with one hip against the wall. Lean back and support your torso with your forearms as you gently swing your legs up the wall. Your body will form an L-shape, with your back flat on the ground and your legs resting on the wall.
If your hamstrings are tight, place a blanket under your hips hips to lessen the stretch. You can also move your hips away from the wall and gently bend your knees. 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.
2. Reclined bound angle
Another feel-good restorative pose is reclined bound angle. Lying on your back, bend your knees and bring the soles of your feet together. Allow your knees to fall open to the sides. If the stretch is too much for your inner leg, use blocks or pillows to support your knees.
Breathe here for three to five minutes, or even longer, soaking up the restorative benefits of the pose.
3. Supine twist
Another excellent restorative pose in yoga for fibromyalgia is supine twist. A gentle twist also helps keep the digestive system healthy—a bonus for fibromyalgia sufferers with intestinal symptoms.
Lie on your back and bring your knees to your chest. Open your arms to the shape of a T, then drop both knees to the right. If your knees don’t touch the ground, catch them with a pillow. You might also place a pillow between your knees.
Breathe here, allowing the left shoulder to relax towards the ground. If you would like a bigger twist, cross the top leg over the right for a pose called twisted root. Stay in this pose for three to five minutes, then switch sides.
4. Banana pose
Banana pose opens up the side body slowly and gently.
Lie on your back. Inhale your arms up and overhead, then move both legs to the lower left corner of your mat. Then move both arms to the upper left corner of the mat so that your body forms a banana shape. You will feel a big stretch along the right side of your body.
If you would like to experiment with more sensation, feel free to cross the right ankle either over or under your left ankle. Make sure your hips and shoulders stay flat on the ground.
If your shoulders are tight, or you feel numbness or tingling in your hands, separate your hands, or put a slight bend in your elbow. Let your head fall to whichever side is comfortable, then stay here for five minutes. Switch to the other side, bringing your arms down by your sides between stretches.
5. Downward facing dog
This quintessential yoga pose is a full-body, invigorating and strengthening posture. It can be modified as needed.
Start on all fours with your toes tucked under. Walk your hands one handprint forward, then exhale and lift your knees to hover off the ground. Take a deep breath in, then exhale and begin to lift your hips into the sky, making an upside-down V shape. Knees can stay bent as you breathe here.
You can experiment by peddling the feet, straightening one leg and then the other. Keep your hips lifting high. Move your shoulder blades onto your back as you stretch the crown of your head to your hands, lengthening your neck. Keep your belly engaged, navel towards the spine.
Take three to five breaths here, then lower down to all fours on an exhale.
6. Forward fold
If mobility is an issue, try chair yoga for fibromyalgia. The following are three poses to get started.
Sit in a chair with a flat seat. Make sure your feet are firmly on the ground, with ankles directly below your knees. Have blocks or large books handy.
Take a nice deep breath in, feeling your sitting bones firmly ground on the chair, then hinge at the hips to fold forward over your thighs. Feet can be apart if that feels better. Make sure your hands are resting on something. Use blocks or other props if the floor is far away.
Breathe here for three minutes, then slowly roll up, one vertebra at a time, with your head coming up last.
7. Gentle twist
Sit with a nice tall spine, belly lightly engaged. Inhale deeply, and on an exhale, pull your navel to your spine as you begin to twist to the right. Your right arm can reach for the back of the chair, and the left hand can rest on the outside of your right thigh. Don’t crank your neck around—try to keep it in line with your shoulders.
Keep your knees aligned with each other as you twist. With every inhale, sit tall. With every exhale, twist just a bit deeper. Stay here for three to five breaths, then untwist with a tall spine on an inhale. Repeat to the left.
8. Figure-four hip opener
Fibromyalgia can create very tight hips. A seated figure-four stretch can help gently ease them open.
Sit again with a tall spine, feet firmly on the floor. Bring the right ankle to rest on the left knee, creating a figure-four shape. Let your hands rest on the right knee and ankle. If your right knee is level with the right ankle, you can hinge at the hips to fold forward until you feel the stretch. Otherwise, focus on releasing any tension in your right hip so that your knee can begin to relax down.
Stay here for three minutes, then switch to the other side. Even practicing just a few poses daily can help ease pain and other symptoms of fibromyalgia.
Yoga for fibromyalgia videos and routines
If you are brand new to yoga, it can be hard to get started at home. Going to class can help you check on your alignment to get started, but on your most painful days, leaving the house might be impossible.
The solution? Video routines that teach yoga for beginners. Here are some of our favorites.
Yes, chair yoga is a good option for older people who struggle to get down to the floor (and back up!), but it’s also a great way to add movement on days when pain flares up. From prop-heavy seated yoga to a full practice with supported standing poses and restorative yoga, our earlier post covers four videos to try.
Jessamyn Stanley offers a beautiful 30-minute practice for total beginners who are intimidated by the stereotypical “yoga body.” Find more of her connected series at her site, The Underbelly.
A beautiful, relaxing restorative sequence that also helps stretch and strengthen. Teacher Chelsea Jackson Roberts focuses on practical applications of yogic principles in the world, using mindful movement and breath for sustainable energy. Roberts’ organization, Red Clay Yoga, works to support those in social justice and community-based work, as well.
This standing sequence with Adriene (and her dog, Benji) can also be adapted to chair yoga for fibromyalgia sufferers who cannot stand. The practice is 25 minutes long and ends with legs up the wall for a more restorative easy rest.
Adriene’s whole playlist features easily adaptable classes. If you want to give yin yoga a try, she has a sequence for that, along with other themed classes.
Chaz Rough has designed a sequence specifically for fibromyalgia. This whole-body, 20-minute video includes tips for practical applications of the postures, too.
Get help with your fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a pain syndrome that requires a compassionate, holistic approach. If you are interested in trying yoga for fibromyalgia as part of your treatment plan, a pain specialist can help you integrate it into your current treatments.
Find a pain specialist in Arizona or Texas by clicking the button below or look for one in your area by using the tips here: https://paindoctor.com/pain-management-doctors/.