Chronic Fatigue can hit like a train. Symptoms may include severe fatigue, weakness, headaches, muscle pain, insomnia and impaired memory/concentration. Diagnosis is a difficult and lengthy process of elimination. Those in the medical profession can’t say for sure what cause of Chronic Fatigue is, so they do what they can to treat the symptoms.
Over the years many sufferers have tried numerous conventional and alternative therapies, and come to the conclusion that yoga can ease symptoms, relieve their fatigue, increase their energy reserves and ultimately restore their health. Around ten years ago, Arthur Hartz and Suzanne Bentler launched a 2-year study of various treatments for 155 patients with Chronic Fatigue. Their conclusion cited yoga as being beneficial: “Certain alternative therapies for unexplained chronic fatigue, especially yoga, deserve testing in randomised controlled trials”. You can read more about the study here: Prospective observational study of treatments for unexplained chronic fatigue
Then, in 2014, another paper was published on a randomised controlled trial involving people who’s CF did not improve following at least 6 months of conventional treatment. This study concluded yoga was “feasible and successful at relieving the fatigue and pain of CF”.
You can read more about this study here: yoga improves the fatigue and pain of patients with chronic fatigue syndrome
For CF sufferers the yoga sequence should be short, the poses should be practised gently and initially they should be restricted to:
(A) Supported forward bends – these quieten the mind and ease overstimulation by turning the organs of perception (eyes, ears, etc) inwards
(B) Supported inversions – these provide support for all the body’s systems, especially immune and endocrine (which addresses various hormonal issues like adrenal fatigue). Inversions give the heart a rest, as it’s easier to pump blood to the brain when you’re upside down! Many supported inversions facilitate the opening and broadening of the chest, soften the abdomen and encourage deeper breathing. There’s a deep sense of well-being in a supported inversion.
Standing poses are avoided – not least because CF sufferers often experience dizziness, vertigo and palpitations when standing.
But how does yoga help?
Often, (but not not always) CF sufferers are out of touch with their bodies, they may have done too much, too fast for too long and their bodies have literally made them stop. Yoga helps us find a more natural pace, one that is sustainable. It brings about a balance to the body’s systems, indeed the word yoga means union/unified. Rigorous exercise agitates an inflamed, over-sensitised body, whereas a gentle yoga practise with soothing, restorative poses improves circulation and oxygen flow without over-tiring the body. Supported inversions allow the whole system to relax, improving sufferers sleep and easing muscle pain. For CF sufferer, sometimes simply laying in a soothing, supported position, with the chest open, focusing on the breath is all that is manageable, and yet it helps – both mentally and physically. Chronic, long-term fatigue can lead to stooped shoulders and a sagging spine – which compress the chest and restrict the diaphragm. Breathing then becomes shallow. Restorative poses practised with lots of support (blankets, bolsters, etc) help to lower anxiety, whilst paying close attention to your breath encourages you to turn your attention inward, helping stop the mind from reacting and calms the fight or flight response.
Learning to be still is a gift. Yoga helps us to remember that life flows through us even when we are not moving, it can ease feelings of helplessness and disconnection as you actively take charge of your health.
Ancient yoga texts teach us to become aware of our body, our breath. To increase our sensitivity and truly listen to what our bodies are telling us. Then we can respond appropriately.
We are made to move. We are not designed to sit still for long periods of time. Technology makes us switch off from our finely tuned bodies, it desensitizes us, anaesthetises us. Many of us are guilty of simply accepting being tired all the time, how busy we are, how little sleep we’ve had, as if to justify our existence! But we’ve got to stop. We’ve got to slow down, to say no, to MAKE time.
I don’t know who came up with it, but this quote is genius: ‘We are human beings, not human doings’.
The old addage, ‘You don’t know what you have til it’s gone’ is never more true than when it comes to our health.
Don’t wait until you are really poorly. Look after yourself. Prioritise yourself. And if you are poorly, perhaps some gentle, restorative yoga with an experienced, well-qualified yoga teacher can help.