Scottish Charity Number SCO20590
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My work as a Yoga teacher brings all kinds of people to my door, from super fit professional
sports people to those with injuries and chronic illnesses. Of the latter I've taught
a few with ME., and have gained some insights into possible ways of improving their
health and wellbeing. When I've been able to work with a student in a one-
Initially I've found students with ME, have very little energy, along with pain and poor sleep. The people I've taught have had very restricted breathing patterns and chronic muscle tension, I've worked with the strong possibility that these factors were contributing to their pain and exhaustion. So my first endeavours have been to work with their breath seeing how natural breathing can be supported. The student described below was one such person.
Julie was a young woman who had been suffering from M.E for four years when she first
arrived for a Yoga session. She subsequently came for weekly one-
I soon realised from my hands-
During the first few sessions our focus was On breathing, a few gentle lying down
poses and the restorative pose Viparita Karani. Initially the breath awareness exercise
involved Julie focusing on her breath in a supine position. I asked her to lie down
and bring her hands to four different areas in turn -
When I felt I had developed a rapport between us, including her trust in me. I placed
my own hands on these areas, aiming in this way to bring greater focus. Another way
in which I endeavoured to bring Julie’s focus to her natural breathing was to place
a pile of eye pillow’s on her abdomen -
Many people have little understanding of the anatomy of their bodies, and this included Julie, So one of the ways in which I helped her to breathe more freely was to begin by showing her anatomical pictures, then she was able to see how much space her lungs take up in her body and the size of the big ‘parachute like' diaphragm. After looking at the pictures, I asked her to locate the diaphragm in her body by feeling along the underside of the lowest ribs. In a sitting position, I suggested she visualise the movement of the diaphragm up and down, using the image of billowing parachute Then I asked her to feel how her lungs take up space in her rib cage all the way up to behind her collar bones and down to the lowest ribs where the diaphragm 'attaches'.
Many of Julie’s sessions included the restorative pose Viparita Karani. I considered
a theory that people suffering from ME. are stuck in a state of alarm -
I placed my hands over Julie’s adrenals, asked her to breathe into the area and to visualise the adrenals sitting like ‘little hats’ on top of her kidneys. I focused my own attention through visualisation and sensing through the layers. I asked her to imagine energy radiating out from her adrenals to the peripheries of her body and when she was well enough, to move into a Starfish Shalabhasana, i.e. with arms and legs apart.
As Julie gained a little more energy, gentle exercises lying down on the floor became part of her sessions. Usually I preceded these with some ‘jiggling’ of her arms and legs to help relieve chronic muscle tension. This technique also gave me a little information as to how she was on that day.
In Figure 5 I'm holding Lisa’s hand and Supporting her upper anm with, my other hand. I'm making gentle movements up and down, and in and out of the joint, to, encourage Synovial fluid to move more readily around the joint and the muscles of her arm and shoulder to relax.
The floor exercises included 'Rising Bridge' which helped to create fluid movement
through Julie’s spine. I would refer to the presence of her skeletal structure -
Rising Bridge, see Figures 6,7 and 8 -
Another of the floor exercises that Julie practised was Starfish as demonstrated by Lisa in Figures 9 and 10.
Lisa moves first from an extended, supine, position with arms outstretched, to a flexed position on her side. Then she moves into extension again, and so on. She is initiating the movement from her centre, eg opening out from centre into the extended position, drawing in towards centre to the flexed position. NB: This exercise works better and is more pleasant, practised on a blanket on the floor rather than a mat
After a few weeks Julie was able to practise some standing poses. I started with Tadasana the foundation for all other standing poses. Tadasana is another exercise in which I refer to the support of the skeletal system.
I asked Julie to imagine her pelvis as a bowl of water and to tip the bowl of water! forwards and then backwards, noticing which position felt the most habitual. Then I asked her to find the position where her ‘bowl of water’ seemed level and to check out whether this felt natural and familiar, or strange and unfamiliar. We found that Julie was holding her pelvis in a tipped under position (flattening out the natural curve of her spine); this meant that she was using unnecessary effort and tiring her muscles just to stand up! After a little while we found the position where Julie’s bowl of water’ was level. She said it felt effortless, as if her pelvis was ‘floating on top of her thigh bones’. I checked out her alignment by directing force through her bones. To do this I pressed down onto her shoulders, and she felt able to take the weight and more. If I'd found a buckling through her structure then this would have meant that her alignment was still incorrect.
Gradually Julie was able to practise traditional Yoga Asana such as Virabhadrasana I and 2, Trikonasana, Parsvakonasana, Prasarita Padottanasana, Vrksasana, Surya Namaskar.
When they are able to, it is important to encourage students with ME. to get moving, so as to stimulate the flow of lymph. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system which doesn’t seem to function optimally in people suffering from ME.
Julie however would have days when she was very tired or in pain once again, so l
would focus on restorative poses and hands-
Lymph moves inwards from the peripheries of the body and psychologically it is concerned with emotional protection and defence. Energetically the lymphatic system maintains boundaries. When working with Julie I had these principles in mind.
As Julie’s health improved and she was practising more Asana, I sought to balance the inward direction of the lymph work we’d been doing with the outward expression of ‘arterial blood’. The ‘mind’ of arterial blood is warm. passionate and active, Initially we played a game where Julie imagined she was ‘seaweed’ and I was the ‘sea’. I played some music with a fluid quality and she responded to the touch of ‘sea’ in fluid movement, Then I changed the music to a track that had a rhythmic drum beat and a pulsating quality. Instead of prompting her dance with my touch, I started to dance with her. I made eye contact as we mirrored each other, not knowing who was initiating the moves of this dance. Afterwards we laughed and asked each other ‘was it me?’ or ‘was it you?’ At last her eyes were smiling, shining even, we had fun!
After one of those sessions I watched Julie walking down my garden path with a little spring in her step, instead of the painfully slow way in which she had dragged herself along three years before.
Amanda Latchmore teaches classes and private one-
For information: www.harrogateyoga.com or tel: 01423 565796.
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