It’s an interesting idea to think of a yoga mat as a prescription for fibromyalgia. This debilitating condition affects about 10 million Americans (obviously more worldwide) every year. It is often misdiagnosed and consequently mistreated and can lead to years of chronic pain, depression, and loss of quality of life. Fortunately, with better diagnostics and more alternative solutions available, many are finding that an asana yoga practice can be part of the path toward relief. And it makes sense.
When you’re on your yoga mat, you’re focused on your breath, a key to relaxing muscles. When the muscles of a fibromyalgia patient are in acute response, they tighten, like a cramp, or simply project pain through the whole body. A focused breathing routine takes those short, raspy breaths so commonly associated with pain, and transforms them into slow, deep, restorative breathing that not only oxygenates the blood, but loosens muscle tissue. And loosening muscles is a key to pain relief. If you think about what happens to muscles in pain, you’ll realize they contract, kind of like when you get a muscle cramp. Too much of this, and the muscles want to stay that way: short and tight. Focused breathing helps to release these muscles – and then you’re on to actively lengthening them.
In a supported posture on your yoga mat, you begin with breath. Then you move on to stretching the muscles causing pain. For fibromyalgia sufferers, this is best done with the guidance of an instructor who understands the pain. Exceeding your capacity can be counterproductive, so with the help of a good yoga instructor, you can learn your limits and understand how to stretch without causing an acute response. Many poses are helpful for those trigger points common to so many fibromyalgia sufferers. Almost half of the trigger points used in diagnostics are in the back and neck, and many yoga poses focus on stretching these neglected areas of the body. Uttanasana, or forward fold, is a simple stretch and can easily be modified to meet the needs and limitations of a patient in pain. It stretches the lower back and challenges the spine to move consciously. Moving in the opposite direction, the Bridge pose flexes the spine and invites a challenge to the arms and thighs as well as the spine. There are myriad other poses that focus specifically on areas sensitive to pain and contraction, and the right yoga instructor will be able to teach these with modifications and patience.
If you suffer from chronic pain, muscle cramping, and general fatigue, using your yoga mat might be one step you can take toward a little relief – maybe even a lot of relief. Hang in there.