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Soothe Symptoms of Chronic Pain and Fibromyalgia with Yoga

25 Jun

When I was working at YogaWorks in Los Angeles, a woman came in to the studio who looked like she’d just been hit by a truck. She had recently been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition that affects the joints, muscles, tendons and other soft tissues. She told me she had been debilitated, unable to leave the house or go to work in months because she was in such excruciating pain. She was exhausted, anxious and just plain beat-up. Fibromyalgia is hard to diagnose and even harder to treat, and she had run the gamut on experimental drugs and other medical interventions. Someone had suggested she try yoga, so she figured why not? She couldn’t possibly feel any worse. I did not know much about the condition, but I had heard over and over that yoga has helped many people manage their Fibromyalgia symptoms, if not eradicate them altogether. So I suggested she start some gentle yoga classes, especially some that include breathing and meditation exercises.

I kid you not, within three months she was a different person. It was like she had been plugged back in; the color had returned to her skin, she looked brighter and calmer, and she told me she felt a hundred times better. Not quite ready to quit her medication, but getting there. This is not an unusual case for me either, I have had other students tell me similar stories. My student, Lori, was able to go off her meds entirely after about six months of weekly yoga classes and lost about 25lbs in the process! I think the combination of the gentle stretching, calming/soothing techniques such as meditation and breath work, visualization and self-care that come from a holistic yoga practice all contribute to the reduction of fibromyalgia symptoms.

Here is a series of gentle yoga poses and breathing techniques that have been proven to help. Make sure that you are warm and that your room is at least 70 degrees. Have a chair and some blankets nearby, and if you don’t have a yoga mat, doing this sequence on the carpet is fine but put something down if you have hardwoods.

1. Savasana, aka Corpse Pose

Lay down on your back with your legs extended long. Have your feet at least hips distance apart and allow them to comfortably turn out to the sides. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart, and close your eyes. Breathing in and out through your nose, begin by filling your lungs all the way to the top as you inhale, feeling your belly and chest rise, and empty all the breath out as you exhale. Repeat this cycle for 10-15 breaths. (The picture does not show the person with hands on belly/heart, but you can figure this one out for yourselves 😉

2. Uttanasana Variation aka Standing Forward Fold Variation

Place a folded blanket on top of a chair and one on the floor for you to sit on. Sit either cross-legged in front of or straddling the chair with your legs wide, and cross your arms on top of the blanket. Rest your forehead on top of your folded arms, adding a slight tuck to your chin and close your eyes. Breathe into your back body. Hold this pose for at least 15 breaths.

3. Seated Garudasana aka Seated Eagle

Come into a seated position, remaining on the blanket to keep your hips lifted. Sit up tall, and stretch your arms straight forward, parallel to the floor, and spread your scapulas wide across the back of your torso. Cross the arms in front of your torso so that the right arm is above the left, then bend your elbows. Snug the right elbow into the crook of the left, and raise the forearms perpendicular to the floor. The backs of your hands should be facing each other. Press the right hand to the right and the left hand to the left, so that the palms are now facing each other. The thumb of the right hand should pass in front of the little finger of the left. Now press the palms together (as much as is possible for you), lift your elbows up, and stretch the fingers toward the ceiling. Hold for 5-10 breaths, then switch sides.

4. Bhujangasana aka Cobra Pose

Come to your belly with your legs outstretch behind you. Bend your elbows and place your palms flat on the floor and in line with your upper ribs, fingertips facing towards your shoulders. Start with your forehead on the floor, take an inhale, press your palms, and lift your chest and head away from the mat. Hug your elbows in to your sides, and draw your shoulders back and down, away from your ears. Maintain a long neck, gazing out in front of you rather than up. Keep your tailbone long and your glutes relaxed, and release your forehead back down on an exhale. Inhale up and exhale down, repeating 5-7 times.

5. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana aka Bridge Pose

Come to your back with your knees bent and your feet hip distance apart and stack your knees above your ankles. Plant your feet firmly on the floor and make sure they are parallel to one another. Place your arms by your sides with your palms face up, and gently roll your shoulders underneath you to create space across your chest. On an inhale, firmly root your feet into the earth and lift your hips and pelvis off the floor. Lengthen your tailbone to the back of your knees, and spiral your inner thighs to the floor. Stay here for a breath or two, and gently release to the floor while tucking your chin to your chest. Repeat this pose 3-5 times, steadily breathing the entire time.

6. Alternate Nostril Breathing

7. Finish this sequence how you started, in Savasana but with your arms extended by your sides, palms face up. Allow your body to relax down into the earth, and release any redisual tension you might be holding onto in your face, shoulders, neck or back. Stay here for at least five minutes before gently getting back up.

I hope you enjoy this and find some relief and relaxation. It’s also a great idea to find an audio CD that includes guided relaxation and visualization techniques that you can use during Savasana. Please contact me with feedback!

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