Last updated: March 20, 2020

With care and attention, people with fibromyalgia can benefit from Yin Yoga.

This concern is pretty straightforward:

Anyone with fibromyalgia should avoid Yin Yoga because it will make his or her condition and pain worse.

 

Before replying to this concern, let’s define what fibromyalgia is. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals.”[1]

We don’t know the cause of fibromyalgia, but we do know what can make the symptoms worse: stress and physical or emotional trauma. The pain may be made worse due to sensitization in the brain to nerve signals: the more the brain experiences pain, the more sensitive it is to pain. This can lead to an over-reaction to even slight pain signals coming from the body, thus amplifying the signal.

Treatments may include drugs and anti-depressants but can also include physiotherapies, including massage and yoga. Again, according to the Mayo Clinic, “At first, exercise may increase your pain. But doing it regularly often decreases symptoms. Appropriate exercises may include walking, swimming, biking and water aerobics. A physical therapist can help you develop a home exercise program. Stretching, good posture and relaxation exercises also are helpful.”[2]

So, one key is to reduce stress (which can include yoga and meditation or mindfulness), move and stretch the body (which again can include yoga) and go gently and slowly (which is the recipe for Yin Yoga). Indeed, a 2018 study compared the effectiveness of stretching versus resistance (strength) training and found “Muscle stretching exercise was the most effective modality in improving quality of life, especially with regard to physical functioning and pain, and resistance training was the most effective modality in reducing depression.”[3] An earlier study in 2013 looked at several modalities including yoga, t’ai chi, qigong and a variety of other exercises therapies and found each one to have some positive benefits with no adverse reactions.[4] A 2011 study incorporated yoga and meditation over 8 weeks and “found significant improvement in the overall health status of the participants and in symptoms of stiffness, anxiety, and depression.”[5] A 2010 study found that a weekly led-class combined with at-home practice over 8 weeks “showed significantly greater improvements on standardized measures of [fibromyalgia] symptoms and functioning, including pain, fatigue, and mood, and in pain catastrophizing, acceptance, and other coping strategies.”[6] The practices in this study were based on the Kripalu tradition and incorporated mindfulness training.

 

While there have been no specific studies of Yin Yoga related to fibromyalgia, Yin Yoga has been specifically recommended for patients with fibromyalgia by the Pain Doctor website[7] and Sharecare.com.[8] However, as with all specific conditions, everyone’s experience is unique. Fibromyalgia is not one thing but a constellation of problems. What works for one person may not work for another. Whether Yin Yoga can help you, if you suffer with fibromyalgia, is something you will have to investigate personally. There does not seem to be any a priori reason to not try it, but check with your health care team, let them know what you plan to do, and practice with both awareness and intention.

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[1] Mayo Clinic, “Fibromyalgia.”

[2] Ibid.

[3] A. Assumpção et al., “Muscle stretching exercises and resistance training in fibromyalgia: which is better? A three-arm randomized controlled trial,” European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine 54.5 (October 2018): 663–670.

[4] See Scott David Mist et al., “Complementary and alternative exercise for fibromyalgia: a meta-analysis,” Journal of Pain Research 6 (2013): 247–260.

[5] J. Hennard, “A protocol and pilot study for managing fibromyalgia with yoga and meditation,” International Journal of Yoga Therapy 21 (2011): 109–21.

[6] J.W. Carson et al., “A pilot randomized controlled trial of the Yoga of Awareness program in the management of fibromyalgia,” Pain 151.2 (November 2010): 530–539.

[7] See their page “3 Amazing Benefits of Yoga for Fibromyalgia Pain.”

[8] See their page “Best Yoga for Fibromyalgia.”