Yoga has made it to the mainstream. And it’s touted not only as a way to get flexible and build strength but as an aid to healthcare practitioners and patients. So what’s really the deal with yoga for chronic illness? Does it work? If so, how? What do you need to know about yoga for chronic illness to practice it safely for your body? I’ll aim to answer those questions on this page. If you’re impatient to give yoga a try, scroll to the bottom of this page for a free, short, video.
Does yoga help manage the symptoms of chronic illnesses like Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?
It depends. The exciting thing is that for many people the answer has been yes.Research in this field is new, but the results it is showing are promising. Reading over some of the research studies here and here, as well as personal stories here show that for many people, yoga has helped relieve pain and fatigue, and build muscle strength. For some, it's led to a full recovery. But, every body is different so it’s important to try yoga for yourself and make your own decisions about whether it is beneficial to you.
How/why does it work? How is it different than other treatments like ‘Pacing’ or ‘Graded Exercise Therapy’?
The short answer is, we don’t know for sure because research in this area is new. But practicing yoga is an ancient form of medicine. What we do know is that yoga has more positive effects than other forms of exercise therapies. To understand why yoga for chronic illness is more effective than other forms of exercise, or just simple stretching, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is and how the mind and body interact when faced with stress. Yoga is mind-body medicine so it’s important to understand how your mind and body work together to make you ill or make you healthy.
Understanding primary and secondary suffering also sheds light on how yoga helps lessen pain and fatigue. We heap a whole lot of stress on ourselves which can make our pain worse. Yoga and meditation can help relieve this kind of secondary suffering so that your pain is more manageable. For a personal account of how yoga helps me, check out my post on why I do yoga for chronic illness.
How can you start practicing yoga?
Ready to give yoga a try? First, give this article a quick read-over to learn about how to use mindfulness to better understand your limits and not push yourself too far. It sucks having a crash after trying a new activity. It may take some experimentation to find your limits. But tapping into your mindful body is a helpful tool to get there.
If your energy and mobility is severely limited, I recommend starting with a visualisation. The cool takeaway from this article: visualising doing an exercise can actually affect your muscles up to 70% the amount it would if you were physically doing the activity! More evidence of how the mind-body connection is real and how we can use it to heal our bodies. There are also a number of free videos you can check out on this page.
Grab this free video:
My favourite video is this 20-minute floor sequence for people living with chronic illness. It is suitable for people living with chronic illnesses who have a moderate amount of physical ability. Head over to this page to check it out, and let me know how it goes!
I hope this page has helped you understand why so many people are adding yoga to their healthcare routine. For people living with chronic illnesses like Fibromyalgia, Chronic fatigue syndrome, Lupus, Insomnia, and other related illnesses, yoga can provide a much-needed way to show yourself and your illness kindness. Remember, the most important thing is to learn what works for you and your body. The best way to find out if yoga is for you is to give it a try!