• Petra

How Yoga Has Become My Best Friend When Managing Life With Fibromyalgia (part 2)

Updated: May 20

7 Tools to Incorporate Into Your Daily Routine When Pain Strikes


In the first part of this post that you can find here I have spoken about my high-speed life before fibromyalgia and the runup to what ended up burnout, job loss and chronic diagnosis. We have also looked into the first three tools from my yogic toolbox that I use to manage daily symptoms as well as to progress on the path of healing in long term. They are available for you, too, regardless your ability or familiarity with yoga.


Did you have a chance to try out the simple practice tips introducing you to breath-work, constructive relaxation and self-inquiry? What have you experienced? If you need more time to explore or incorporate the first three practices, do not rush trying those I will introduce to you today. They are complimentary, but they can wait. Everything has its time. If you are intrigued, however, and crave for more tips, stick with me. Today we will explore abhyanga (ayurvedic self-massage), mantra chanting, meditation and asana (postural) practice. Let us dive in!


Abhyanga has really changed my days when it comes to pain relief. It is such a lovely ritual of connecting and caring for your own body.

ABHYANGA (ayurvedic self-massage)


I first learnt about abhyanga in my yoga teacher training from Dr. Rohil who taught us Ayurveda and it has really changed my days when it comes to pain relief. It is also such a lovely ritual of connecting and caring for your own body. Everyone will benefit from abhyanga, but it is particularly helpful for those with vata imbalance[1]. That is anyone with anxiety, rheumatoid arthritis, dry and cracking joints, fibromyalgia, insomnia and excess gas just to name a few ailments.


You can massage yourself daily with warm cold-pressed sesame oil. Apply it from the extremities to the center of the body using long strokes along long bones and circular movement on and around joints. The quality and type of oil is important as different kind has different properties. Sesame oil[2]

is tri-doshic, supported by any type of person according to Ayurveda, very nutritious and grounding. Ideal abhyanga massage lasts around 15 to 20 minutes.


Skip abhyanga during your period, when you are ill, inflamed, swollen or if you have rash or eczema. Your body will tell you that it does not wish to be touched or massaged, listen to it carefully.


PRACTICE TIP: If you cannot find time for a 20 minute self-massage, try this few minute short version that you can do in the evening before bed to improve your sleep. We will use sesame oil, and you can warm it up in hot bath, if you have cold feet. Apply on your feet and massage them thoroughly one by one both on top, bottom, run through your toes, do not skip the heel and give some love to your ankles too. Wear cotton socks afterwards not to destroy your sheets.


BONUS: Using the excess oil on your hands massage your fingers, palms, tops of hands and wrists too.

 

MANTRA CHANTING


There are entire books and trainings on mantra chanting, so squeezing it all into one or two paragraphs just does not make the justice. I absolutely adore chanting mantras for its calming effect on the mind and we start and finish every yoga class with chanting. Just like abhyanga, mantra chanting is a rescue for those with vata imbalance. On days when your mind is all over the place, dynamic physical practice will probably leave you even more disturbed. At the same time, sitting quietly in meditation may seem plain impossible. This is where chanting comes in and saves the day.


Sound has a profound healing effect on our mind and body. When we chant, we create vibrations, our mind has something to focus on and we breathe differently.

Sound has a profound healing effect on our mind and body. When we chant, we create vibrations, our mind has something to focus on and we breathe differently. Our inhales are full and exhales are looong. Chanting mantras in Sanskrit is supposedly affecting us on psychic level, too. Apparently, the Sanskrit language was designed so that we are tapping on various acupressure points in our mouth with our tongue helping ourselves to acupressure massage just like you would on on feet and hands.


PRACTICE TIP: Find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed or feeling shy. Sit down on the ground or a chair with your spine straight. Close your eyes, feel the ground under your legs and seat, take a few breaths. Inhale and start chanting O-H-M. Do this at least three times. Stay for a few more breaths in silence and observe how you feel.


Do not hesitate to chant longer, repeating ohms. You can also play with the pitch and observe where the sound vibrates in your body. Deeper tones tend to vibrate further down the spine. Higher tones are more alive in the head.

 

MEDITATION


Oh, this is a big one. Meditation can be daunting. Where do I start? How do I “do” it? What am I (not) supposed to feel? Why my mind just does not get quiet? With so many meditation techniques it canfeel hard to figure out where to start. But meditation is fairly simple (although not necessarily easy) and you can start right away.

Awareness of your thoughts is very important step towards greater control of your mind and towards re-wiring and re-programming of your brain.

Why would you want to meditate? We often think that the purpose of meditation is to keep our mind clear of thoughts, perhaps see some colours or other psychic visions, maybe get enlightened… The truth is lot simpler than that. The purpose of meditation is to sit in silence and observe our thoughts without any judgement. Almost like a third person witnessing the traffic in your head. When you become aware of what kind of thoughts are running through your head, you will have the power to organize them. You cannot control the arising of thoughts, but you can decide if you let them stay, if you play with them (by reacting to them), you send them away for good or come back to them later. This is a great achievement. Remember, thinking is your nature, you cannot stop thoughts from happening, but you can choose how much you occupy yourself with them, how you react. This will give you great freedom in life. With regular (daily) practice, this ability will extend from your practice time to all aspects of your life.


PRACTICE TIP: Find a quiet spot where you will not be disturbed. Sit down on the ground or a chair with your spine straight. If sitting is not accessible, lie down. (If you fall asleep, do not be frustrated, you probably needed it.) If you have limited time, do not hesitate to set an alarm. Five minutes will do. Close your eyes and connect with your body and with the ground (or chair or bed). Connect with your breath and observe its natural flow. After a short moment, bring your awareness to your mind. Observe all the thoughts that pop up. Do not try to push them away, do not react to them. Just observe like an independent witness. When your time is up, spend a moment focusing on your breath, notice how you feel after this practice session. Slowly open your eyes and take few more breaths is silence before you go on with your day.


BONUS: You can journal about your meditation experience and any thoughts, emotions and feelings that you find worth journaling about.


Awareness of your thoughts is very important step towards greater control of your mind and towards re-wiring and re-programming of your brain. Together with self-inquiry, it is a very powerful combo that goes hand in hand. Eventually you will be able to experience short moments of thoughtlessness or moments with very few thoughts. Such silence is healing. Feel free to explore other meditation techniques. There are many free resources online and you can always reach out to me.

 

ASANA (poses)


I have not even realized the length of this post and I still want to talk to you about asana practice – yoga poses. Let me make it brief and dedicate a separate post to this topic.

When done thoughtfully, asana practice has tremendous benefits for our health and therapeutic effect for those of us with chronic illness.

I guess we all agree movement is important for our physical and mental health. Although yoga may seem therapeutical, there are schools and types of yoga that are too dynamic or demanding even for able-bodied people. Rather than trying to balance on one arm or twist into pretzels, let us explore more intuitive practices that do not introduce further stress to the body. Pain is not always gain, quite the opposite. Pain is the defense system of your body trying to tell you there is a problem and you need to back off. Always listen to your body and do not compete with others or allow your teacher to push you into shapes you do not want to do. It is your practice and your body after all.


When done thoughtfully, asana practice has tremendous benefits for our health and therapeutic effect for those of us with chronic illness. Do not shy off from your yoga mat and ask for guidance from an experienced teacher, if you are not sure where to start. You will feel lot better and experience less pain and stiffness from the start.


PRACTICE TIP: Lie down on your back on your yoga mat or on a carpet and allow yourself to explore movement in your body. There is no need to follow any prescription or particular shapes. Just lift your leg(s) up and see how you can gently stretch, do some circles, wiggle around, roll from side to side and back and forth, see what feels good and how different shapes feel. Building awareness in your body is the best start.


If you’re anything like me and you would just helplessly lie there not sure what to do with your limbs, join me for one of my regular online live classes. I teach two dynamic and two gentle classes each week including a 30 min soft and accessible session suitable for beginners and spoonies alike. This is on Wednesdays at lunchtime. You can find the schedule and book a class here. I will meet you right in your living room.




Phew, this got longer than expected. If you are still with me, thank you for reading. If you read this post in two parts – good idea! I hope found it useful, inspiring, motivating.


I would love to hear about your experiments and experience with the practice tips. Let me know how it went for you in comments or get in touch with me through the Contact section or on social media. And perhaps we will get to share a practice together over Zoom, too.


Yours in Yoga, Petra


 

[1] Vata is one of the three doshas, energetic characteristics. Balance of these three doshas is crucial for good health. Each of us has a significant doshas that rules our behavious and tendencies. We are constantly striving to bring these three into balance. When one or more become too strong or too weak, illness comes to our life. Any book about Ayurveda will explain the three doshas in its first chapters. The best authors on Ayurveda are Robert. Svoboda, Vasant Lad or David Frawley.


[2] Do not use toasted sesame oil that you find in your kitchen. You will smell funny and the experience will be everything but enjoyable. Use cold-pressed oil in bio quality.

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