Yoga is globally considered to be a very helpful tool when it comes to improving overall health. According to research from the University of Calgary, yoga practice can improve physical fitness, cognitive function, and emotional wellbeing for individuals with acute and chronic health conditions. Among chronically ill populations, yoga interventions can also decrease stress, anxiety, and depression.
However, trying a new activity when you have a chronic illness can be a risk as well. Patients with unique needs often worry that they may do something to make things worse or more painful for them. So how can people with chronic conditions begin yoga safely? Here are some tips to keep in mind:
Set your Personal Yoga Goals
We discussed in our post called “What Are Your Goals in Yoga Practice?” how most practitioners feel uncomfortable with defining our goals for yoga progress, but it’s only rational and practical to believe that our investment in the practice will bear fruits. The beauty of yoga is that your goals can be simple, because the practice isn’t tied to ideas of success or failure. It’s easy to find joy in our small achievements. For patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or other chronic conditions, your yoga goals could be to relieve pain, reduce fatigue, improve physical resilience, boost mood, or increase flexibility – even just by a little bit after each session.
Consult with your Physician
When you have a chronic illness, you may not be confident that yoga won’t exacerbate your pain or symptoms. For instance, people with hypermobility disorders like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome might not be suitable for the Yin Yoga style, so it’s important to talk to your physician for peace of mind. Fortunately, you don’t even need to leave home just to check with your doctor if you can do yoga, as you can easily consult with them through modern telehealth platforms. Virtual care solution Wheel demonstrates how much easier it is for physicians and patients to share an access point for primary care, labs and diagnostics, as well as behavioral and mental health services. With all this available information, your doctor can determine whether you’re fit for yoga practice or not. You can also ask your physician if there are any positions you should avoid or adaptations to consider, like doing yoga on a chair instead of the floor if you have multiple sclerosis.
Find the Right Type of Yoga Class
Not all yoga classes are designed to fit the same needs and goals. Some are for more powerful and intense workouts for aerobics or strength building, rather than relaxing and healing the body. Gentle classes are ideal for people with chronic illness; it also helps to research different yoga styles, as these offer variety for poses, breathwork, meditation, and even lifestyle practices. Some options that suit low to moderate activity and energy levels include hatha yoga, restorative yoga, yin yoga, yoga nidra, and restorative flow yoga. It would be helpful to find instructors who have experience working with chronic illness as well. To get a better idea before your start, try to look into additional resources. The yoga app Down Dog, for example, offers HD videos that give viewers customizable options and alternative poses for various needs. You can see how different types of yoga work before signing up for a session.
Evaluate how you feel during a session
A study from the American Osteopathic Association found that mindfulness-based meditation and yoga can greatly improve perceptions of pain, mood and functional capacity among patients with chronic pain and depression, especially when combined with treatments like medication and therapy. Mindfulness and meditation are all about consistent mental effort to check in with oneself and gain perspective, so pay attention during your yoga class. Moreover, evaluate if your yoga practice is in a safe and supportive environment. Is the level of intensity okay for you? Yoga is all about connecting your body and mind to heal — it’s crucial to listen to what your body is trying to say.
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