Archive for the ‘Fibromyalgia and Yoga’ Category

Working with the seniors in Ridgewood, we try different movements determined by their needs. There are constant adaptations as the limitations and requirements change. Three upper body exercises from our repertoire have been added to www.mahasriyoga.com/asana/upperbody.html. They may be helpful to the readers of this blog and the website. Gentle movements, like these, can be excellent for warm-ups. These exercises could also be good for fibromyalgia.

Shoulder See-Saw

This movement can be done sitting, standing, or lying down. In addition to loosening the stiffness in shoulders, the neck muscles also get a gentle stretch. There is movement in the upper chest and upper back as well. All these areas are connected and pain in one part may cause residual pain in the others. So it is helpful to work gently on the entire area.

Arm Swings

These can be done sitting or standing. The movements continue to work more deeply in the areas of the body detailed above.


This movement is best done sitting down. In addition to working on the entire upper body, it is also helpful to in toning or massaging the abdominal organs and for peristalsis.

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A pilot study conducted in New Jersey tested the safety and feasibility of modified chair-yoga on functional outcome among elderly at risk for falls. Eligible participants, over 65, were from an assisted living community. All had a fall in the past six months. The staff identified them as having an increased fear of falling and therefore an increased risk of falls.

The authors conclude that yoga is a “feasible and safe intervention for elderly seniors who may be at risk in their ninth and tenth decades of life.” However, more research with extended programs is needed.

The study published in the International Journal of Yoga, Volume 5, Issue 2, 2012, pages 146-150, states:

“Falls are among the most common problems affecting older adults. At least 50% of those over 80 fall annually. The goal of this pilot study was to assess the safety and feasibility of structured yoga in an elderly population with fall risk…A chair-based yoga program was provided twice a week for 8 weeks.”

Table 1: Yoga class structure and componentsTable 1: Yoga class structure and components

Sedentary life style, a lack of physical activity, is a significant factor in loss of balance and increased risk of falls. Participating in safe physical activities that increase confidence in mobility will likely decrease fear of falling and improve balance, thereby reducing the risk of falling.


Galantino ML, Green L, DeCesari JA, MacKain NA, Rinaldi SM, Stevens ME, Wurst VR, Marsico R, Nell M, Mao JJ. Safety and feasibility of modified chair-yoga on functional outcome among elderly at risk for falls. Int J Yoga [serial online] 2012 [cited 2012 Oct 1];5:146-50. Available from: http://www.ijoy.org.in/text.asp?2012/5/2/146/98242

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The September 6, 2011 issue of Harvard Healthbeat states that “as researchers have learned more about how the brain works, and how the nervous system interacts with other parts of the body, they have discovered that pain shares some biological mechanisms with anxiety and depression.”

The confluence of anxiety, depression, and pain is specially noted in fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, low back pain, headaches, and nerve pain. Psychiatric disorders contribute not only to pain intensity but also to increased risk of disability.

Treatments suggested include cognitive behavioral therapy, relaxation (including yoga and meditation), hypnosis, exercise, and medications.

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York University of Canada announced on July 27, 2011, that in a study their researchers found that practicing hatha yoga reduced the physical and psychological symptoms of pain in women suffering from fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia is believed to predominantly affect women. It is characterized by chronic pain and fatigue; common symptoms include muscle stiffness, sleep disturbances, gastrointestinal discomfort, anxiety and depression.

The study looked at the effects of yoga on cortisol levels in women with fibromyalgia. According to the university press release, previous research had found that women with fibromyalgia have lower-than-average cortisol levels, which contribute to pain, fatigue and stress sensitivity. According to the study, participants’ saliva revealed elevated levels of total cortisol following a program of 75 minutes of hatha yoga twice weekly over the course of eight weeks.

“Ideally, our cortisol levels peak about 30-40 minutes after we get up in the morning and decline throughout the day until we’re ready to go to sleep. The secretion of the hormone, cortisol, is dysregulated in women with fibromyalgia,”  said the study’s lead author, Kathryn Curtis, a PhD student in York’s Department of Psychology, Faculty of Health.

The press release states that cortisol, a steroid hormone, is produced and released by the adrenal gland and functions as a component of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in response to stress.

“Hatha yoga promotes physical relaxation by decreasing activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which lowers heart rate and increases breath volume. We believe this in turn has a positive effect on the HPA axis,” said Curtis.

Participants completed questionnaires to determine pain intensity pre- and post-study; they reported significant reductions in pain and associated symptoms, as well as psychological benefits. They felt less helpless, were more accepting of their condition, and were less likely to “catastrophize” over current or future symptoms.

“We saw their levels of mindfulness increase – they were better able to detach from their psychological experience of pain,” Curtis says.“Yoga promotes this concept – that we are not our bodies, our experiences, or our pain. This is extremely useful in the management of pain,” she says. “Moreover, our findings strongly suggest that psychological changes in turn affect our experience of physical pain.”

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For people who are unrestricted in their movements, the following combination of dynamic and passive may be helpful for anxiety and stress:

Asana: surya namaskar (sun salutations), shavasana (corpse), vipareeta karni (inverted pose) or sarvangasana (shoulder stand), shavasana, matsyasana (fish), bhujangasana (cobra), ardha shalabhasana (half locust), shalabhasana (locust), dhanurasana (bow), ardha matsyendra (half spinal twist), janu sirshasana (head- to-knee), paschimottanasana (west-facing or back-stretching), balasana is also known as shashankhasana (child/hare) or yoga mudra (scaling pose or psychic pose), shavasana, done in this order

Pranayamabreath awareness, deepening body awareness, whole body breath, belly breath or abdominal breath, full yogic breath, bhramari (buzzing bee or bumble bee breath), bhastrika (bellows breath), kapalbhati (skull shining breath), sama vritti (equal inhalation and exhalation breath), and nadi shodhana (alternate nostril breath)

Meditation: candle flame trataka, all the Yoga Nidras on the website www.mahasriyoga.com.

Seniors and those with health issues should be fine with the breathing practices from the website. Refer to the simple movements described  on www.mahasriyoga.com/asana for a sample class to relieve stress and anxiety. Bhastrika, kapalbhati, sama vritti, and nadi shodhana should be done under supervision, if at all, and after consultation with medical doctors.

The next blog will be on yoga dont’s and do’s for depression.

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