People with fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) generally have a difficult time with exercise. It can drain all of our energy and cause other symptoms to flare up. Because of this, doctors recommend moderate amounts of gentle exercise. (For general information, see Exercising With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.)
Yoga is one of the more commonly recommended forms of exercise for FMS and ME/CFS. It can be a good, gentle way to stretch your body and loosen up tight muscles and joints. It also helps with balance and strength, and as you become more advanced, it can provide you with a cardiovascular workout as well.
Some people treat yoga just as exercise, but when done in the traditional way, which emphasizes controlled breathing and awareness, it also can help you relax, calm and focus your mind, and deal with emotional turmoil.
A few studies have shown that people with FMS can benefit from yoga. While they've generally been small, they've shown improvements in pain, fatigue, mood, function, acceptance and coping. One study published in 2011 suggested that yoga increased the stress-hormone cortisol, which is often disordered in people with this condition.
While yoga hasn't been studied for ME/CFS, many experts and the CDC recommend it as part of a treatment regimen. Some yoga experts claim yoga gives the body more energy than it takes, thus making it ideal for fatigue-related conditions. ME/CFS, like FMS, does involve cortisol dysregulation.
Getting Started With Yoga
When starting yoga, as when starting any exercise routine, you should first check with your doctor to make sure it's safe for you. Once you've got the official okay, it's best to proceed very slowly. Try one or two simple poses a day and pay close attention to how they make you feel. Once you're sure it's not exacerbating symptoms, you can start slowly adding more.
TIP: To counter the post-exertional malaise of ME/CFS, instead of adding more poses to a single session, add a second session to your day. By working in short bursts with long periods of rest in between, you may find you're able to do more without triggering malaise.
Because you'll be starting so slowly, you'll probably want to either do it on your own or with a personal instructor. If you're doing a self-guided program, be sure you fully understand the poses before trying them, and be sure to start with simple ones that have you lying on the floor. A video or a book with good pictures can help.
As you add upright poses, keep in mind that many people with FMS and ME/CFS are prone to dizziness, especially upon standing. If you focus mainly on positions that are lying down, sitting, or standing in a very stable position, you should be able to keep this from being a problem and avoid fall-related injury.
To help get you started, here's information from Ann Pizer, About.com's Guide to Yoga:
More on Exercise for Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Getting Started: Exercise with Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- Warm-water exercise
- Tai Chi
2006 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All rights reserved. "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Treating the Most Disruptive Symptoms First."
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2007 Dec;13(10):1107-13. All rights reserved. "Effects of yoga and the addition of Tui Na in patients with fibromyalgia."
Journal of Pain Research. 2011 July;2011(4):189-201. All rights reserved. An eight-week yoga intervention is associated with improvements in pain, psychological functioning and mindfulness, and changes in cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia.