Millions of people suffer from Fibromyalgia (FMS), but symptoms can vary wildly. Some report feeling flu-ish, others experience extreme sensitivity to touch, light or sound. As a result, treatment approaches can also vary.
Yoga can be effective in managing the symptoms of FMS because it addresses many different individual triggers and symptoms, allowing people with FMS to feel in control over their symptoms.
Here are six ways yoga and meditation can help:
1. Stress Relief
The symptoms of FMS are either initiated or exacerbated by stress; therefore, it is especially important that people with FMS or who are prone to developing FMS learn to manage stress effectively. Yoga works in many ways to relieve stress; but perhaps its greatest asset is its ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous symptom, or the “rest and digest” counter to the sympathetic nervous system’s “fight or flight” response. Forward folds and consciously long exhales are comforting ways to settle the body and mind into relaxation.
2. Improved Sleep
It’s not hard to imagine that people suffering from the chronic pain of FMS have difficulty sleeping; but it may be interesting to know that sleep deprivation can mimic the symptoms of FMS. The result is a vicious cycle of pain, sleep deprivation, and daytime fatigue. Regular exercise is proven to promote better sleep, which can reduce the symptoms of FMS. Couple this with yoga’s ability to relieve stress, and sleep comes even more easily.
3. Reduced Tension and Stiffness
In its most basic form, yoga is movement; and any movement can reduce stiffness. The beauty of yoga for stiffness is that the student is encouraged to work at his or her level, which could be better than or worse than it was the day before. Additionally, yoga works to reduce tension by first contracting the muscles then releasing them, a process that makes the student more aware of the muscles holding tension and therefore more able to relax them. Simple twists and back bends help reduce tension along the spine, in the neck, and in the shoulders.
The important thing to remember with FMS sufferers is to build gradually. Rather than moving quickly into a pose, FMS sufferers should progress slowly into the pose until the first point of tension is noticed. Allow that tension to dissolve before moving again. Otherwise, movement can have the undesirable and opposite effect of triggering a pain reaction.
4. Pain Management
For sufferers of chronic pain, meditation can be a frightening concept. Tuning into your body, when it has been the source of constant and unexplained pain, is contrary to the natural tendency of attempting to ignore and forget the pain. But becoming more mindful of the body helps the student with chronic pain pin-point the location and source of the pain rather than feel overwhelmed by radiating, whole-body pain. Other forms of meditation help the practitioner visualize the pain as a malleable object that he or she can mold into different shapes, change the color to a lighter shade, and reduce the size to give the student a greater sense of control.
5. Improved Concentration
The stress relieving benefits of yoga, combined with its mindful meditation, help to quiet our noisiest distractions. Balance poses and intricate alignments with detailed physical requirements create an element of difficulty that trains the mind to focus on the task at hand. The more familiar a student becomes with the pose, the more focused the student becomes in the finer details of the pose. No pose, no matter how simple it may seem, can truly be mastered to the point that it can be achieved without focus.
6. Permission to Relax
Learning to tune into the self, appreciate the self, and accept it for what it is today teaches us compassion. It may be easy to be compassionate towards others, but it takes special effort to accept one’s self as being perfectly imperfect. Once a student gets to that place of peace and acceptance, he or she can allow relaxation in its fullest.