Adaptive Yoga: It's What You Make of It



I have been practicing yoga for 11 years and teaching yoga for eight. I was initially drawn to yoga as my primary form of exercise because it isn’t noisy like aerobics classes or fitness clubs, it is not competitive, and I liked the graceful movement. I always felt great after my practice, but in those days I tended to feel great anyway.


I had heard many people talk about how yoga helped their back, helped to relieve stress, helped them sleep better, and on and on. But I didn’t have any of those symptoms. I always felt great before and after my yoga practice. Even as a yoga teacher I was astounded by comments people made about feeling so much better since they began taking yoga classes.


When I became ill with FM/CFS in 2002, I was unable to do yoga the way I always had before. Some of the strengthening poses made my muscles weak and shaky; a physically energetic practice had me feeling weak, tired, and physically uncomfortable for days.


After a couple of years of adapting my personal yoga practice and experiencing the benefits of my adapted practice, I became interested in giving other people with chronic illnesses a chance to experience the benefits of yoga. I participated in a yoga teacher training class with the MS Society and began teaching yoga to people with MS.


When I became involved with an FM/CFS support group, I found a great amount of interest in a yoga class that would support those who had a variety of symptoms and differing levels of physical abilities. So I began an adaptive class for the people in my support group. The class now includes people with FM/CFS, MS, Parkinson’s, rheumatoid arthritis—you get the picture.


For someone with FM who is new to yoga, the most important practices are not the physical exercises (those come later), but learning how to deeply relax the body-mind in spite of the many sensations that you have in your body. The practice I use is Yoga Nidra. Yoga Nidra has many mental, emotional, and physical benefits if it is practiced on a regular basis.


Breathing is the next step in a beneficial yoga practice for someone with FM/CFS. There are yoga breathing exercises (pranayama) that support relaxation, increase energy, heighten mental clarity, and bring peace of mind and a greater sense of well-being.


How about trying this very simple breathing exercise for relaxation:


Sit in a relaxed position with your spine as straight as possible. If you like, close your eyes. Begin breathing in through your nostrils and silently say to yourself, "Breathing in one, breathing in two." Then begin to exhale through your nose for four counts. Keeping your breath and body relaxed, practice for a couple of minutes exhaling for twice as long as you inhale. This simple pranayama actually triggers the body to slow down.


Once we understand how to relax the body-mind and how to breathe properly, then we begin to incorporate yoga poses (asanas) into our practice. In my classes I incorporate Yoga Nidra and pranayama. We often use blankets, balls, chairs, blocks and straps to support ourselves in poses—gaining the maximum benefit while maintaining a body-mind that is content during and after the practice.


We aspire to be always content in our bodies and our minds during our yoga practice. There is no struggling, striving, no competition (even with yourself), no expectation, and no judgment. Each person practices at a pace and level that feels beneficial.


I know it can be a challenge to do any kind of exercise when you don’t feel good. The most likely way to experience the benefit of yoga is to give it a chance to work—perhaps one class a week with a few minutes each day at home for two months. Be honest with yourself about how deep to go into a pose. Many fall into the trap of wanting to please the teacher or keep up with others in the class. Yoga doesn’t work that way. It works when you are in integrity with yourself.


My suggestion is to begin with a teacher who teaches Yoga Nidra (yoga sleep). If you cannot find anyone in your area, there is an excellent tape series with a workbook that you can order by calling (707) 823-5023 or going to The series teaches the principles and the practice of Yoga Nidra as taught by Richard Miller, PhD, a well respected, nationally renowned yogi and yoga teacher.


Once you have gained an understanding of Yoga Nidra and have begun practicing regularly, you may choose to find a yoga teacher who is a knowledgeable teacher of Pranayama (yoga breathing exercises). (Richard Miller also has Pranayama tapes available.) When you feel adept at pranayama then it is time to find a yoga teacher who is familiar with FM/CFS.


Look for a teacher who teaches adaptive classes and is very familiar with FM/CFS, or a teacher who has FM/CFS, or a physical therapist who is familiar with FM/CFS and teaches yoga (it may be easier than you think to find a physical therapist who teaches yoga). Above all, find a teacher you feel safe and comfortable with.


Also look for a small class so you get plenty of personal attention from your teacher. In my experience, most people with FM/CFS who have tried any class that is not adaptive had a very uncomfortable experience.


Here are some of the benefits students have experienced by practicing yoga:

  • More relaxation
  • Greater flexibility/less stiffness
  • Better sleep
  • Easier breathing
  • More energy
  • Better stamina
  • Acceptance
  • A stronger immune system
  • Better coping
  • A greater level of fitness
  • A greater sense of well-being
  • A greater ability to listen to body’s needs
  • Greater physical comfort
  • Pain relief

What you get out of yoga is up to you. If you practice regularly, have patience, have no expectation, are in integrity with yourself, let go of any judgment, and don’t take life too seriously, you will find your personal yoga practice will support you in being more peaceful in your body and mind, and your quality of life will be markedly enhanced.


Before starting your yoga practice, it is always a good idea to check with your health care practitioner.


Shakti Huss is co-founder of the Living Grace Center for Conscious Living, which offers yoga classes, individual yoga instruction, integrative massage therapy, and a variety of classes and workshops teaching techniques for living in integrity and peace with yourself and the world around you. For more information, call (916) 987-9935 or write to Living Grace, PO Box 620763, Orangevale, CA 95662.

Write comment (0 Comments)

More Articles...

  1. Yoga