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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Yoga Eases the Weariness

9 September 2013

Although Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) can be debilitating, people who suffer from it report, first and foremost, that they experience profound fatigue that no amount of sleep or rest can relieve. It causes an assortment of non-specific symptoms including weakness, impaired memory, and fatigue (for no apparent reason), often accompanied by loss of concentration, varied muscle pains, headaches, sore throat, insomnia and apathy. The list of symptoms is also sometimes diagnosed as fibromyalgia because it’s often difficult to distinguish between fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Researchers and specialists are still trying to determine the differences. Some experts believe they are two completely separate illnesses sharing many similar symptoms and others feel they are different aspects of the same disorder. To complicate matters even further, a significant number of people with fibromyalgia also have CFS and vise versa.

Possibly the simplest explanation of the difference between fibromyalgia and CFS is that with the former, pain is the most predominant symptom, while with CFS, extreme fatigue is the most predominant.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome - Yoga Eases the WearinessDoctors often think people with this mysterious disorder are lazy, or have some form of hypochondria, but that doesn’t help relieve the symptoms of extreme tiredness and low energy. Most doctors do agree however that CFS sufferers need to move away from a sedentary lifestyle and they generally prescribe different types of exercise. The problem here is that those with CFS have little motive to engage most traditional exercise regimes, and some are downright resistant to giving them a try, due to the discomfort they experience. Subsequently their lowered physical status often results in mental sluggishness, further complicating things.

The science of yoga may be able to offer a cure, or at least substantial relief for those with CFS, filling the gap where conventional medicine falls short. Yoga tends to address the root of the problem, instead of exhausting the body further, as traditional exercise techniques might. Yoga restores the energy in the body that is necessary for it to heal itself. Yoga does this primarily through gentle, restorative asana, pranayama, and meditation for effective relaxation, all of which, when combined, provide a much needed balance of stimuli and rest.

Doctors, scientists and many other researchers don’t really know why yoga helps people with CFS, but some yoga students and instructors believe they do and they cite the following reasons…

  • Yoga helps without causing pain. Research shows that yoga can help people with CFS recover their strength. Yoga’s gentle, restorative asanas increase blood circulation and oxygenation which are key to healing, and this is done without hurting the body and/or aggravating the condition. Whereas more rigorous forms of exercise trigger a worsening of CFS symptoms by raising blood pressure and creating excessive lactic acid.
  • Yoga balances the mind and body. Most often, people with CFS have lost touch with their mental and physical connections to natural human rhythms. They either tend to move too fast, or do too much and their bodies have run down and they find themselves mentally depleted. Yoga shows them a slower, more natural pace. It becomes a discipline of peace with themselves and a non-obsessive daily practice. Rather than a discipline of “more and more,” it can be a discipline of “less and less.” leading composed self-acceptance.
  • Yoga will energize. All those with CFS struggle with the feeling of exhaustion, and yoga helps restore vital energy to their fatigued body, signaling the parasympathetic nervous system to start calming things down.

When dealing with CFS the thought of any movement at all might seem excruciating, but gentle, restorative asana can help direct energy into parts of the body that are lacking life force. Begin by using bolsters and pillows, yoga blocks and any supports you deem helpful to guide you through the asanas. This will make you practice feel more like nurturing than the abrupt movement associated with “exercise” that will drain the body. Balasana (Happy Baby Pose), Shavasana (Corpse Pose), and Viparit Karani (Legs-up-the-Wall Pose) are wonderful asanas to start with if you don’t feel like moving at all. Over time, and as you start to feel improvement, you can slowly add more challenging asanas, but always practice them in small doses to prevent overly fatiguing an already tired body and mind.

Note: Forward bend poses soothe the nervous system by allowing energy to flow into the spinal column while increasing blood flow and oxygenation to the heart, head and muscles. Remember, a gentle approach (supported when necessary) is the most effective when practicing the following asanas.

Two simple, gentle forward bend asanas known to help relieve CFS symptoms.

1. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog) promotes blood flow to the head, neck, and heart.

 2. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) soothes the nervous system, gradually increases blood flow to the brain, and releases the tension of the respiratory muscles of the neck, trunk and shoulders.

Additionally, lying over cross-bolsters in varying positions helps to stimulate the nervous system in a subdued way and increases blood circulation to the adrenals, thyroid, and kidneys, which are a storehouse of energy.

With the science of yoga, dedicated practice, and self-love, CFS can turn from an unpleasant daily experience to slowly vanishing thing of the past.

Of related interest, click on: Combating Fibromyalgia

*Rae Indigo is ERYT500

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