It’s the proverbial chicken and egg question. Yoga and gentle movement is recommended for fibromyalgia. But one of the common symptoms is chronic, widespread pain. So either you hurt too much to want to move, or you wonder if you should move if you’re in pain. The question becomes: can you do yoga when you’re in pain?

There are not easy answers, and anyone who pushes yoga as a “cure” for fibromyalgia is not telling you the entire story.

There are several ways to look at this. First, pain is the body’s way of signalling something is wrong. Full stop. Medical providers like to tell you that pain is “all in your head”, but studies show that there are actual physiological changes in the brain with chronic pain. What I mean by this is that it’s important not to push through your pain. Too often when we do this, we cause additional harm and in fibromyalgia, this leads to flares.

On the other side, gentle stretching and movement can help release tension in muscles and ease pain. So the important thing is to know when to move and when to not move.

There’s one more thing I’d like to mention and that is the reminder that yoga is more than the asanas. Being mindful, focusing on your breath, or meditation are all part of yoga. The alternative would be to choose poses that you can do such as corpse pose or standing poses like Warrior I and II. I find the standing poses without bending are often beneficial when I’m hurting and easing between them often helps me to focus on the muscles and interplay of joints and movement to be in the moment while gaining the benefits of gentle stretching.

The important point is that if your body hurts, or your pain gets worse, please stop whatever you’re doing. Pushing it, “because everyone says yoga helps”, is counterproductive to finding wellness and mindfulness. And any medical professional who tells you to “get out there and just try” may not be acting with your best interests in mind. There are times when movement helps; however, there are also times when it doesn’t.

The vital answer is that you can move when you’re in pain. We have fibromyalgia and many of us do this on a daily basis. But listen to your body. Trust your instincts. And on some days, you simply may wish to sit and be aware of the sensations in your body, because that, too, is yoga.