Hello dear friends!
I count myself as one of the lucky ones- someone who had a relatively established yoga practice prior to becoming ill, or at least had some exposure to this ancient healing art. And while many people still believe that “yoga” means $100 pants and 100-degree heat and sweat and pain, none of these things are actually prerequisites to practicing. The truth is that anyone can do it, and it’s incredibly beneficial on any healing journey- whether that’s ME/CFS or something else like cancer, diabetes, or PTSD.
For me personally, yoga has been my one true saving grace- the salve that made bad days a bit brighter and turned "meh" days into good ones. But I had to learn to let go a lot of my expectations and my insistence on returning to my pre-illness practice; there were days when I pushed myself too hard with a vinyasa flow class, and it only ended up creating more suffering. Especially after my relapse, I had to “settle” for only a few minutes of yoga per day, sometimes from the couch, and there were definitely no sun salutations for a long while. Even these days, years since that time, I still have times when I simply can’t go hard (this is a relative term, of course). Since I mainly practice at home, either on my own or with YogaGlo or Yoga With Adriene, I’ve come to rely on a steady handful of poses that I know can set me right regardless.
So when you have those days when you’re not feeling so good, give these five poses a try. They've truly been instrumental in my healing, and I hope you find some relief in them as well. You don’t need a mat or fancy spandex to feel better- just an intention to take care of yourself.
1. Child’s Pose (wide-legged variation)
There isn’t a day of mine that can’t be made better by doing this pose- even for just a few breaths. It helps re-frame my mood, escape the environmental stimulation overload, and get the breath down into my lower lungs. If you're feeling frazzled and find yourself snapping at your family, find a dimly lit and quiet room and sink into this posture- even a few breaths here can stem the tide of irritation.
If you don’t have a yoga mat, no problem! Carpeted floors are great, as are blankets thrown down over the hardwood. Turn off the TV, close your eyes, and savor this one for several minutes. If you're feeling discomfort in this pose, try incorporating a pillow or two for supported child's pose, or simply tuck one under your forehead.
2. Legs Up The Wall Pose
This one is often called the “master healing pose” and perhaps it’s true- it can help reverse your blood flow and quiet a racing mind. Some devout yogis recommend doing this pose every single day for health and longevity. For me, it’s a great way to cool down when my nerves feel frazzled or I can’t get to sleep. It’s also awesome for those of us with POTS- it pulls the blood back up to our heads without straining the heart.
Extra bonus: this can easily be done in bed- I regularly slip my feet up the wall while nestled in the covers and propped up with a pillow or two. If you are feeling especially fatigued, it may help to belt the legs together for an even deeper muscular release.
3. Standing Forward Fold
Seems pretty simple right? It’s essentially just bending over at the waist, isn’t it? But the real challenge with this pose is in just letting go. Especially for those of us who deal with daily pain, dizziness, or any psychological trauma, learning to give in to this pose can take some time.
Forward folds have always been a panacea of sorts for me and my individual array of symptoms- there’s something just so soothing about them. Perhaps it’s the wonderful “turning in and tuning out” aspect, where the world fades into the background and the focus is brought solely inwards, that makes them so magical.
Don’t worry if you can’t touch the floor or even straighten your legs all the way. You can forward fold onto almost anything you have around- a chair, a coffee table, yoga blocks, the edge of your bed. The healing doesn’t happen at a certain flexibility threshold, it happens when you decide to give in to the relaxation.
4. Seated Forward Fold
Continuing with the healing power of forward folds, this pose looks just like the one above, but feels completely different. The seated version is great for stretching out the lower back and hamstrings, both of which can get tight and cranky after sitting on couches and beds for long periods of time.
This pose lends itself well to using props, and I almost always do: I place a folded blanket under my butt, and a block between my knees to rest my forehead on. Some days if I’m feeling especially tight and tired, I will make a giant loop with my yoga strap around my lower back all the way around my feet. This keeps me in the pose even when I need ultimate muscle relaxation. You can also tuck a pillow or bolster (or two) between your legs and torso for a more restorative/propped up version.
5. Relaxed Pigeon Pose
First, a caveat: many people find this pose to be challenging and I know I am in the minority group of individuals who absolutely love it. So, I urge you to just give it a try- first with props and then without, and listen to how your body responds. For me, this pose is a wonderful deep hip opener which seems to help counteract all the hours I spend sitting on the couch or lying in bed.
Don’t be surprised if some emotions come up during this posture- it is said that we hold a lot of our fear and grief deep in our hips- and for those of us with chronic health issues, that can be a lot of stuff! But don’t resist it if you feel yourself tearing up- it’s merely your body’s way of releasing some built up gunk. Now, that’s not to say that every pigeon pose will set off the waterworks, but occasionally it might. It’s only happened to me a couple of times over the years, but each time was an incredibly enlightening experience.
If you can’t bring your head to the ground, bring in a pillow, bolster, or blocks to rest on. It’s important that you let yourself just drape over your front leg and sink in deeply.
What yoga poses have you found to be instrumental in your healing journey?
As usual, my friend...
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~