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Best Yoga for Fibromyalgia

The best way to get relief from the chronic pain of fibromyalgia is to try a variety of approaches. One to put at the top of your list is yoga.

Think yoga is too strenuous? Think again. While some types of yoga, such as Bikram, Ashtanga and Vinyasa may indeed put too much pressure on your muscoskeletal system, there are many types of yoga. Several, listed below, are especially well-suited for those with health conditions like fibromyalgia.

Yoga gives relief from pain in many ways. One of them is that it gets your body moving and heart pumping and exercise has been proven to help relieve pain. "Exercise releases endorphins, neurotransmitters which are the body’s natural painkillers," says Dawn Marcus, a neurologist at the University of Pittsburgh and author of The Women's Fibromyalgia Tool Kit. "Exercise tends to decrease a whole variety of very common fibromyalgia symptoms, such as pain, sleep disturbance, low mood and fatigue." One recent study shows that fibro fog, problems with attention, memory and concentration, also improve with exercise.

Stress is a pain trigger, but yoga is a potent stress-reliever. Difficult events in our lives—whether emotional, mental or physical—cause real physical changes in the body. Among these are changes in blood flow and a release of the stress hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol. "Stress takes a system teetering on the edge and knocks it over," says Dr. Marcus. Doing yoga, with its breathing, relaxation and meditation techniques that calm mind and body, reduces the anxiety and tension that cause pain.

Good posture, another aim of the practice of yoga, also can reduce pain. Studies have shown that assuming an expansive, powerful position boosts testosterone, which helps with pain tolerance and decreases cortisol, a stress hormone and pain trigger. Standing tall also makes you feel more powerful and in control of your pain. Here are three types of yoga that are easier on the body and more relaxing than strenuous.

Restorative Yoga. In this type of yoga, props like bolsters and blankets are used to support the body and promote surrender into total relaxation. Because of the support, you can hold poses for longer—up to 20 minutes, "One belief of yoga is that whatever your eyes look at is where you send your energy," says Jessica Klein, owner of Starseed Yoga in Montclair, New Jersey. "When you hold poses longer with eyes closed you are more focused on the meditative aspects of yoga and bringing your energy inward." She recommends restorative yoga as a gentle way to try out the practice of yoga if you have never done it before.

The postures are adapted from traditional seated yoga poses but are designed to help relieve the effects of chronic stress. Each sequence is designed to move the spine in all directions to facilitate deep release in connective tissue and calm the nervous system.

Adaptive Yoga. If you are a little bit older, unfamiliar with yoga and/or have a more significant disability, Klein recommends starting in adaptive yoga. Like restorative yoga, poses are held for long periods of time and there is more focus on breathing and meditation than with traditional yoga. But in this type of yoga poses are modified for those with disabilities or health conditions. In addition to fibromyalgia, adaptive yoga classes may have students with multiple sclerosis, a sports injury, Parkinson’s disease, stroke or arthritis. One benefit of adaptive yoga is that several members of the group are usually doing something differently, along with the help of the instructor. In this environment, you are less likely to feel self-conscious if you can't do something.

Yin Yoga. This is another slow-paced style of yoga with postures that, as with restorative and adaptive yoga, are held for long periods of time. But in Yin Yoga, there is more movement than in adaptive or restorative yoga. "Yin yoga is more suited to younger, more active students who may be familiar with yoga," says Klein. Yin Yoga poses apply moderate stress to the connective tissue—the tendons, fascia and ligaments—with the aim of increasing circulation in the joints and improving flexibility. Yin Yoga poses are designed to improve the flow of chi, the subtle energy said in Chinese medicine to run through the meridian pathways of the body. Improved flow of chi is hypothesized to improve organ health, immunity and emotional well-being.