ME Association Website Survey: Why we’re asking about Yoga and ME/CFS | 01 October 2018

October 1, 2018


Dr Charles Shepherd, Hon. Medical Adviser, ME Association.

We recently featured a news item that included mention of yoga for ME/CFS on the ME Association Facebook page.

This resulted in a very lively discussion as to whether yoga could be helpful for people with the disease or if it might be harmful. There were strong opinions expressed on both sides of the debate.

You can locate the website survey half-way down the homepage of our website

At the ME Association we receive occasional reports from people with mild or sometimes moderate ME/CFS who have found yoga helpful for coping with day-to-day life or for relief from mental and/or physical symptoms.

But this is normally linked to having a yoga teacher who understands ME/CFS and can modify the type of yoga being practised to take account of individual capability.

We haven’t received many adverse reports in recent years.

However, yoga clearly has the potential to make people worse or cause a relapse if it does not take account of the physical limitations associated with ME/CFS.

The ME Association does not recommend or endorse yoga as a management option for ME/CFS. But we would not want to dissuade anyone from trying it if they had considered the possible risks and had found a teacher who knew about ME/CFS and was willing to adapt their approach.

In 2010 we published a major report about management of ME/CFS which was based on the responses from 4,217 people.

When we asked about the therapies people had tried (page 8 of the report):

  • 812 responded with their experience of yoga,
  • A total of 39% felt it had helped improve symptoms, while 28% felt it made symptoms worse or much worse. 33% recorded no change in symptoms.
  • 2137 people responded with their experience of Pacing,
  • A total of 71% felt this approach had helped improve symptoms, while only 5% felt it made symptoms worse. 24% reported no change in symptoms.

The ME Association continues to recommend Pacing as our preferred approach to management, believing it to be the most safe, flexible, and effective option for managing within the limitations imposed by your illness.

We do of course recognise that any form of activity, even gentle stretching, might be beyond the ability of some people with M.E. and should be carefully considered before being incorporated into a general management plan.

Yoga techniques and approaches do vary greatly:

  • Some people find gentle stretches while seated to be helpful in aiding relaxation, movement or flexibility.
  • Or it is the time they can apply to yoga that is felt to be beneficial – for meditation and as a period in which they can more effectively ‘switch off' and relax.
  • For others, more strenuous yoga techniques and a longer and more frequent period of activity may be possible.

But we need to caution that any new activities will at best require a period of readjustment and possible discomfort, and at worst could lead to aggravated periods of post-exertional malaise (PEM) and/or a possible relapse.

Yoga is a very general term and can mean different things to different people. As with much else, there is no ‘one size fits all' here; so please don’t be pressured into thinking that yoga is a panacea.

Likewise, it may prove the case that some aspects of yoga can be built into your management plan, and successfully utilised to help relaxation or to relieve symptoms.

In addition to completing the ME Association website survey, please share your experiences or thoughts about yoga in the section below, or on our Facebook page.

Image credit: 123RF Stock Photo/Alena Ozerova

You can locate the website survey half-way down the homepage of our website


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