Yoga for ME/CFS

I’m a big fan of yoga and practise nearly every day. I find that a very gently routine of about 20 minutes in the late afternoon can boost my energy and get me through the rest of the day feeling OK, (the alternative being a tired, groggy evening in front of the TV). My morning energy boost comes from my T’ai Chi practise.
When I got ill the first time round I was also practising yoga of sorts. Someone had given me a book and I copied the postures with all the dynamism that I was used to throwing  at all aspect of my life. Back then I was just interested in how bendy and flexible I could be and I hadn’t really got what it really should be about. Every day I tried to be better that the day before, and instead of it being a relaxing therapeutic activity I ended up with more and more painful muscles until I eventually gave it up. Further along my journey, once I learnt how to listen to my body, how to pace myself, how important it is not to exert, I took up yoga again and this time found it incredibly beneficial. The more experience with yoga I have the more I have become attuned to noticing tension in my body, and relaxing that tension straight away. This is a wonderful therapeutic skill for people with ME/CFS.
Here is an edited excerpt about yoga from the self-help book I am writing:
‘Yoga can be a very helpful activity for people with ME/CFS but also has its dangers if not approached with the right attitude. In the MEassociation 2010 survey 28% of people who tried yoga (of 812 respondents) found that it made them worse, whilst 39% experienced an improvement to their condition. Many people do yoga because of how it can improve flexibility and sculpt the body and in some classes there is a certain level of competitiveness about how bendy you can be or how long you can hold a position. It is not always acknowledged by the instructors that we are all made differently and will all find that different stretches will offer us a different level of challenge compared to the person on the next mat. Some classes, particularly those run in fitness clubs even have an instructor who is biased more towards the fitness aspect of yoga and less towards the relaxation and spiritual side.
If you have this condition, the aim of yoga should not be about how flexible you can become or how long you can hold a difficult position, it should be about reaching a state of complete relaxation within each stretch.  You should stop the stretch and come out of the position the second that it becomes a real effort. If you wish to take a yoga class, look for a beginner’s class even if you have done some before. The stretches are more likely to be gentle and held for less time. Also talk to the instructor about your illness and make sure that they encourage you to listen to your body and focus on being in a relaxed state during each stretch. If they don’t, it might be worth looking for a different class. In some areas you may even find specialist classes run for people with this or other chronic illnesses but unfortunately these are still few and far between.
As well as taking care not to measure yourself against other people, it is also very important not you measure yourself against what you could do yesterday or in last week’s class. Always remember that your daily ability can change for all sorts of reasons and that although there will hopefully be an overall improvement over time this will not be a straight forward linear improvement. Yoga is a great practise for learning how to listen to your body in that moment and only go as far as you can go in a relaxed effortless manner, ignoring what you might expect yourself to be able to do. I believe that yoga could be beneficial to far more that 39% of people with this condition if it is approached with the right attitude and with a good, understanding instructor.’
The following links explore yoga specifically for ME/CFS in more detail:
Fiona Agombar has published a book and DVD both called ‘beat fatigue with yoga’. Quoted from an article for yoga- she writes:
Angela Stevens has created audio CDs/ tapes for safe home practise and can also be contacted for a list of specialist classes in the UK.
The Yoga for Health and Education Trust also write about how yoga benefits ME/CFS.
The routine I practise is based on a routine from Deepak Chopra’s audio CD: Chronic Fatigue: The Complete Mind/Body Solution.  I guess it might also be included in his much cheaper book:  Boundless Energy, the Complete Mind/Body Solution to Chronic Fatigue.
Last year I went on a wondeful yoga retreat in Thailand but thats a subject for another blog!

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