Yoga Therapy: A holistic approach to relieving chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)Mar 18, 2023
“Imagine coming down with a flu, then having to run a marathon through treacle, then being forced to take an exam for three hours and then after all this, staying up the whole night without rest.”
Do these symptoms sound familiar?
- Profound tiredness that gets worse when you engage in physical or mental activity
- Light sensitivity
- Muscle and joint pain
- Loss of focus
- Mood swings, notably towards depression
- Body heat, sweating
- Fullness and bloating after a small meal
- Loss of appetite
- IBS (diarrhoea, etc.)
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Causes
These are some of the hallmarks of chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that western medicine has not identified a cause for, or a confirmed way of testing for. About 500,000 Canadians life with the condition, many of whom are born female who have relatives with the condition and/or a history of childhood physical/emotional trauma. It usually manifests when they're in their 30s or up to their 50s, and most cases remain undiagnosed.
When it is diagnosed, it is treated with a combination of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), graded exercise therapy (GET) and activity management, antidepressants and muscle relaxants. In addition, lifestyle changes, supplements and increased sleep, rest and relaxation and suggested.
According to ayurvedic medicine, chronic fatigue syndrome is seen as an autoimmune condition with a range of causes including:
- low agni and weak liver. Agni is defined as cellular intelligence, which infuses each cell, tissue and system and allows nutrition into the cell and helps remove waste. Impaired agni is the root cause of disease
- A build up of digestive and metabolic āma (sepsis) in the cells
- genetic causes
- physical trauma or viral exposure
- lifestyle factors including stress and hormonal imbalance
In the ayurvedic perspective, chronic fatigue syndrome begins when imbalanced agni allows waste products in the cells to stagnate. As these waste products eventually move into the gastrointestinal tract, and from there into different dhatus or tissues like muscles, bones, and fat, the cells lose their tejas or ability to function, prana or ability to communicate intelligently, ojas or energy.
When cellular intelligence and communication are affected these cells cannot receive or respond to signals from healthy cells. This causes healthy cells to signal the immune system to destroy the non-responsive cell.
This results in fatigue that manifests through a complex web of conditions including psychological and physiological distress, inflammation and systemic
dysregulation which are often the result of the persistent need to “gain energy to
How does a yoga therapist approach chronic fatigue syndrome?
I approach our work to relieve your chronic fatigue syndrome in the following steps:
- Assessment: In addition to assessing your range of motion, we will assess a number of quality of life markers to help determine immediate and long term changes that might be feasible
- Goal review: We will explore your short, medium and long term goals for the practice we will design together, as well as how much time you can commit to it
- Practice design to improve oxygenation and blood circulation through better breathing, reduced nervous and muscle tension, improved sleep, lymphatic function, immunity, digestion and elimination which includes trying tools in a morning or evening practice including:
- Prāṇāyāma or mindful breathing
- Dharana or a focused meditation
- Asana or accessible therapeutic movement
- Sound through chanting or humming
- Once pain has been relieved, and energy begins to return, we will review the practice and add strengthening components to prevent future pain by improving posture and muscle tone.
- Practice testing, where you do your homework by trying to do the practice on a daily basis. We check in regularly to adapt it to suit your life as situations change.
Through your practice you are encouraged to start slowly and begin with a guided breath work practice to calm and centre yourself. As you move through your movement practice, you are encouraged to keep your focus on your breath by relaxing into the movement instead of pushing into it. This will help keep both your breath and movement calm, fluid and centring to balance the nervous.
While it might be tempting, please do not pushing hard because this can cause muscle soreness and illness flares. Instead use props and eye pillow for relaxation and stillness, and explore dimming the lights and lowering the temperature in the space where you practice to help maintain a comfortable environment.
Learn more about these five steps to relieving pain and improving your quality of life. They will help you reconnect with your body, breath and mind so you can achieve your goals and feel your best.
Feel more energized, focused and mindful.
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