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The Effects of Yoga on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Yoga is a spiritual tradition that began in India about 5,000 years ago. Historically, followers of Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism have practiced and preached the many benefits of this ancient form of meditation. The word itself means “union” in Sanskrit, with the belief that practicing this way of life leads to a person’s union with his or her true nature. Over time, however, the word yoga is now more commonly associated with fitness than wellness, conjuring images of poses, exercises, studios, and even a stage to perform coordinated movements on “the mat.”

As the practice is carried over to modern times, the benefits of yoga did not escape the notice of the health experts, healers, and research institutions that are always in search for answers why this method works for some and not for others. This is especially true for patients of myalgic encephalomyelitis or chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), where some studies have gone against the grain to help patients by testing the obvious enemy of fatigue—exercise through yoga.

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?


ME/CFS is a condition characterized by debilitating pain, persistent fatigue, and a general failure to be in touch with your natural rhythms. Symptoms of ME/CFS can be range from mild to severe and include an increase in fatigue, pain, flu-like manifestation, and cognitive dysfunction, among others. Patients with extreme cases have even been known to feel pain as they sit up in bed. The primary symptom, however, is post-exertional malaise, which is an irregular and extreme reaction to small amounts of exercise.

How Yoga Helps Address CFS


When presented with the promised benefits of yoga—including the loosening of muscles, joints, and connective tissues, as well as improving strength and balance—the pursuit of relief for ME/CFS patients through this practice becomes an unorthodox choice. In a typical yoga session, people pose in multiple positions. Some poses may even push the limits of balance and strength, while other forms of yoga focus on either breathing, mindfulness exercises, or cardiovascular exercise. Yoga for ME/CFS patients often seems counter-intuitive, but it offers an alternative remedy when done correctly.

The list of cautions is long for using this ancient practice as an alternative therapy. Patients must pay special attention to the energy spent moving and changing position between poses that may trigger post-exertional malaise. They must also avoid orthostatic intolerance (OI) as it can cause dizziness during exercises that require balance.

More Research Studies on Yoga’s Effect on CFS


Given these concerns, this particular approach to yoga helps people with ME/CFS who are not among the most severely ill. While research on yoga for ME/CFS is limited, the good news is that it appears to be a positive start. The medical community warns that every case of this condition may differ from one patient to another. A ME/CFS patient who undergoes yoga must pay attention to the signals of his or her body and be sensitive to their threshold for pain.

After all, ME/CFS is just one of the conditions that seek answers in yoga. Research on yoga for other conditions have shown that it may lessen fatigue, but this may not yet be applicable to the special considerations of ME/CFS. A research on yoga for fibromyalgia, which is extremely similar to ME/CFS, suggested that yoga may help ease the stress hormone cortisol in people with fibromyalgia. Both fibromyalgia and ME/CFS often feature abnormal cortisol function. Another study showed improvement of physical and psychological symptoms in fibromyalgia as well as several other neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, epilepsy, and stroke.

In the bigger picture, there is hope in finding the extent of promise that yoga or something similar may bring to patients. If a careful regimen of yoga were specifically created for ME/CFS patients, it would be possible to improve symptoms without triggering post-exertional malaise. Such a thing is sure to be extremely valuable.

Given all these hits and turns, some doctors recommend yoga and some people report success with it. In the end, it's up to the patient and his or her health-care team to determine whether the practice is something worth trying.

Wrapped Up


There are a lot of options when it comes to doing yoga, whether taking classes, training with a personal instructor, following classes online, or even practicing with a partner. It is recommended, however, for novice yoga practitioners to attend classes or obtain videos that they can use to benefit from the instructor's knowledge. Professional help is a must to avoid triggering post-exertional malaise.

It doesn’t matter if this is done in one’s own home, in studios, clinics, on the beachfront, or elsewhere. No matter the location, it's best to proceed very slowly with just a single pose or two a day. If the regimen is working out and easing out the pain, you can then increase the time spent doing yoga. Instead of making sessions longer, another option is to try adding a second session per day. In the end, you should get to know your body and figure out what it responds to best.

Transformation Health are experts in natural medicine and holistic therapy. If you're looking for a naturopath in Brisbane then why not contact us, we're here to help!



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