I have had all manner of wonderful and unique students come to my classes: and I try and tell them as often as possible that they are so brave and so awesome for turning up on their mats.
Because, honestly there are a hundred reasons not to, daily stuff: like stress, being busy or tired. Personal stuff: people are so often concerned they aren't ‘bendy’ enough for Yoga, or that its all about chanting and singing. And health stuff: I’ve had students with arthritis, injuries, recent operations, car accidents, metal hips, fibromyalgia and most recently ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome) Which is one I’d love to focus a little on today. Trying a new fitness class with a chronic condition can be hugely intimidating: you have no idea how your body is going to react, what you might feel, so I am totally in awe of my brave ME students. I have several good friends with the condition and what they struggle through is no joke (with constant grace and good humour, which is credit to what truely lovely people they are)
So lets break it up a little, and start with what ME is:
(this is my layman understanding of the condition, with a little input from my friends that experience it first hand)
People with ME suffer from extreme fatigue that no amount of sleep can relieve. They also have any number of other symptoms, including weakness, muscle pain, impaired memory or mental concentration, insomnia, and Post Exertional Malaise — the body is unable to recover after expending even small amounts of energy; the result is chronic pain, and ‘payback’ of feeling completely floored after any exertion.
In addition to being debilitating, ME can be a frustrating disorder to diagnose. A decade or so ago, when doctors knew little about ME, just getting a diagnosis could in itself be an exercise in aggravation. Some doctors would chalk up the symptoms as psychosomatic or a result of depression.
Ok, so why might Yoga help?
Yoga can help without hurting. Research shows that mild exercise can, in some cases help people with ME recover their strength. Yoga’s gentle, restorative poses increase circulation and oxygen flow keys to healing without irritating the body. (Raising heart rate and blood pressure and creating more lactic acid in more rigorous forms of exercise can trigger a worsening of symptoms.) The body responds to gentleness, but I should stress that its not about just doing all the ‘right’ restorative poses, seeing them as a way to ‘fix’ the body. This is a way to take you to a place of compassionate acceptance.
Yoga balances. Sometimes, people with ME are out of touch with their natural human rhythms. They might have moved too fast, done too much, and their bodies have run down. Yoga helps to find a slower, more natural pace. Listening to your body is not easy: rather than a discipline of more and more, it can be the discipline of less and less, a nonobsessive daily practice.
Yoga energises. ME sufferers struggles with depleted energy, and yoga helps restore energy to the fatigued body, allowing the cells, senses, and nerves to quiet down
Yoga empowers. Feelings of empowerment, being actively involved in your healing can bring positivity, and hope.
Yoga can take you somewhere else, even when you are stuck. For those who are bed-bound with ME, Yoga Nidra and Guided Meditation are uplifting and inspiring techniques to embrace relaxation and calm the mind.
Some specific poses:
Forward bends soothe the nervous system by allowing energy to flow to the spinal column while increasing blood and oxygen flow to the heart and head.
Downward facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) encourages blood flow to the head, neck, and heart. Puppy pose and child’s pose are great alternatives if Down Dog is not right for you.
Standing Forward fold (Uttanasana) soothes the nervous system, gradually increases blood flow to the brain, and frees the respiratory muscles of the neck from tension.
Lying over bolsters can help stimulate the nervous system in a beautifully gentle way and increase circulation to the adrenals, thyroid, and kidneys, which are a storehouse of energy. Experiment with bolsters/pillows under your legs and back, for the the most comfortable position.
I’m not suggesting that anyone with a chronic condition does anything new thay are not comfortable with. It is my intention, as always just to offer a few ideas, that just maybe, might help make life a little calmer. And guys, I really hope they do. To all the wonderful gentle warriors out there that suffer with chronic pain.