Dear Yogini: I am 50 year old woman with Fibromyalgia. Will yoga help or hurt me? ~~ Recovering

Dear Recovering: If you have been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia your primary symptom is muscular and tactile pain. You may also have trouble sleeping and a host of other associated symptoms. Current medical understanding of Fibromyalgia is poor at best and sufferers often find more relief in alternative medicine than allopathic medicine. The symptoms indicative of Fibromyalgia may have more than a single cause and it may be more than one disease. Additionally, there is positive feedback between symptoms; for example, loss of sleep exacerbates pain which causes further difficulty sleeping.

The first goal of your yoga practice should be pain reduction and relaxation. You will want to create a calming practice that soothes your irritated nerve fibers. As such, extremely vigorous practices like Ashtanga and Bikram Yoga are often contraindicated for Fibromyalgia. Begin with a restorative yoga practice, and work with heightened mindfulness as you follow your body. This will be the key to sustaining a practice that improves your health. Practice Ahimsa (non-violence) with yourself, follow your body’s lead and treat yourself with compassion.

In Yoga as Medicine, Sam Dworkis states that supported Savasana is the most important yoga pose for Fibromyalgia. Use as many props as you need to find full release in the pose. Then, remaining in Savasana, add small movements, fingers, hands, arms, toes, feet, legs and become attuned to the range of movement that doesn’t cause pain. As you become attuned and sensitive you can include more vigorous poses while remaining in the pain-free zone. Dworkis states your the primary yoga practice for Fibromyalgia is tuning into the body, doing more when the body feels strong and less when pain levels are high. Working this way will sustain your health and prevent you from exacerbating your condition.

I would suggest learning a few short yoga sequences to sprinkle through your day. You might want to work with a yoga teacher to develop and memorize some set sequences. Three or four ten minute practices are more likely to support you and be sustained then an occasional long practice that leaves you depleted. Early in the day start with eyes-closed standing mountain posture, then warrior poses, and half dog pose at the wall. Midday practice standing twists, tree pose, and a standing back bend to rejuvenate your energy. Before bed practice forward bends, staff pose, wide angle pose and legs up the wall to prepare the nervous system for sleep.