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What does the yoga class consist of?

The yoga classes are specially designed for those with ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and are more gentle than a normal yoga class. Most of the class is done lying down. There is a little sitting but no standing.

A typical class with Linda may consist of:

  • initial relaxation
  • breathing
  • breathing and stretching (with arm movements)
  • some passive loosening such as ankle and wrist rotations, neck movements, a few gentle movements/postures lying down (pauses between them)
  • a short period of sitting for e.g. a posture or a short meditation or a breathing exercise
  • a long relaxation

The content of the class varies week by week. We do have other teachers who sometimes take the class and they all have slightly different teaching styles which gives the class plenty of variety.

Would I have to do all of the postures?

All of the movements/postures are optional, so please feel free to opt out of anything you don't want to do. Nobody will mind. Linda advises that participants only do half of what they think they can do. The class is mixed ability, so if you are more severely affected please don't try and keep up with a neighbour who is mildly affected.

If you are well enough to travel to the yoga and lie on the floor for an hour and a half but are too unwell to do any physical movements, or you are unsure about how much you can do, please feel welcome to come and just do the relaxation and breathing (these often take up nearly half of the time) and not partake in any physical movements or postures. Even doing relaxation and breathing and nothing else can have benefits such as calming the central nervous system, reducing lactic acid levels and be energizing.

If you do opt out of some of the postures, while the rest of the class are doing them, you can either:

  • Shut off completely and have a doze
  • Relax and visualise the postures. Research on yoga students with MS found improvements in those who visualized postures.
  • Relax and focus on your breath.
  • Watch what the others are doing (you can sit on a chair if you like).

How does the yoga for ME/CFS class differ from a normal hatha yoga class?

The yoga for ME/CFS class differs from a normal hatha yoga class in the following ways:

  • There are a lot more relaxation and breathing exercises which involve no movement (often nearly half of the class).
  • Most of the class is done lying down. There is a little sitting, but there is no standing.
  • More gentle variations of some of the postures are performed. Some of the standing postures are modified so they can be done lying down. For example 'The Tree' and the 'Sideways Bend' are performed lying down.
  • There are longer pauses between the different movements/postures.
    The participants and the teachers understand the needs of those with ME and CFS and that overexertion can trigger malaise and worsen fatigue.

How well are the people who attend the classes?

Most of the people who attend are moderately affected and are unable to work, although there are some who are more severely affected and some who are more mildly affected. It is a mixed ability class.

The more severely affected members don't usually do all the movements/postures. For example, we have some members who attend the classes who can move around their house and potter a little, but only leave their houses occasionally and need help with things like cooking, housework, shopping, transport - they usually opt out of some of the physical movements/postures.

Sometimes we have people who are well enough to travel to the yoga and lie on the floor and be in a room with other folk, but who don't want to do any movements or postures - they just partake in the breathing and relaxation.

Very severely affected people who are bedridden do not attend the class. The class is not suitable for people who are very severely affected.

Does it matter if I can't come every week?

Not at all. The classes are not continuous. You can come as often or as little as you like. If you want to come every week that's great, but if you only want to come once every few weeks or months we'd still be very pleased to see you.

Is it OK to sit rather than lie down during the class?

Most of the class is usually done lying down, but if you find it uncomfortable lying on the floor you can sit in a chair or wheelchair. If you want to sit for the whole duration of the class, there will be no problem with you joining in the relaxations and breathing exercises which involve no movement for any of our classes. However, if, in addition to this, you wish to be taught some gentle movements or postures while sitting, this will depend on the teacher. One of our teachers is very happy teaching some movements to someone sitting in a chair while teaching everyone else lying down at the same time. Please feel free to phone us and discuss this.

If you are only able to lie on the floor if you have a lot of padding and support, please bring this with you. Some people like to lie on something like a sleeping bag on top of their mat to give extra comfort.

I am sensitive to chemicals, noise and/or strong light and am concerned this may be a problem?

We have at least one member with both multiple chemical sensitivities and ME who attends the classes regularly and she hasn't had a problem tolerating the environment. The hall is not cleaned on a Friday before the class and we have not experienced the smell of strong cleaning materials or disenfectants. So far we have never had any member attending the class wearing strong perfumes.

As some of the participants are noise sensitive we ask the teachers not to play background music. The hall is in a quiet setting and is not next to the road.

The hall is a light room, but if necessary the curtains can be drawn to reduce the light. We don't tend to use artificial lights.

What about practising yoga relaxations at home?

With regard to relaxations, Linda suggests people could start with 1–3 relaxations a day and slowly build up to a number that is right for them. Some people may want to start by practising conscious relaxation for just 5–10 minutes at a time ( a more realistically achievable goal for some folk) and then gradually build up to a longer period (remembering that after only 5 minutes positive changes may start taking place). She says the most important thing is to begin to be more self aware so one can recognise that the body needs to rest and care enough to act immediately on the signal for rest.

One of our regular members has 2 long relaxation and 1 meditation sessions scheduled into her daily routine, as she finds the relaxations far more beneficial than the equivalent amount of time sleeping or resting in bed. Sometimes she does additional short relaxations according to how she feels. Someone with ME who attended the Yoga for Health Foundation said she was advised to do a relaxation or meditation 4 times a day. Someone who attended the National ME Centre in Essex was advised to do 30 minute relaxation tapes about 6 times a day between activities as part of a pacing program.

A review of yoga relaxation and guided visualisation tapes can be found on the Information page of the website.

What about practising yoga sessions at home?

With regard to yoga sessions, Linda advises little and often is best, but says people should be careful not to overexert themselves and only do half of what they think they can do. She suggests, for those well enough, starting off with small amounts such as 3–5 minutes of postures and 3–5 minutes of breathing a day and then just gradually increasing the amount. The body will send more signals daily as it feels the benefits and this makes the effort to practise easier. Breathing exercises can be done at a different time of day to postures, Linda usually practises her breathing at a different time. Again, the most important thing is self awareness and listening to the body, balancing gentleness with self discipline.

Linda says, in addition to being well enough to practise, the main problems for anyone doing home practice are (a) having the self discipline to practise, (b) sustaining the concentration to practise and (c) loving oneself enough to do practice. Some people prefer to use guided tapes for home practice as they find it easier and it requires less self discipline.

A review of yoga books and tapes can be found on the Information page of the website.

Please feel free to talk to the teachers at the class about what would be best for you to practise at home.

Sheffield Yoga for ME/CFS, March 2004

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