We all have experienced common bouts of fatigue as a normal response to over-exertion, emotional stress, boredom, or lack of sleep.This common experience of low energy and/or motivation can usually be alleviated through proper rest, exercise, stress reduction and nutrition. Yoga is an especially effective treatment for fatigue as it combines movement, rest and stress reduction with the cultivation of prana (life force energy) and the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and renew response).
The remedy for some cases of fatigue can be quite obvious, while other types of fatigue will require much more self-observation and self-inquiry to find the proper mode of treatment. Yoga is an optimal healing modality for fatigue not only because it addresses the physical, emotional and energetic causes of fatigue, but also because it fosters and facilitates the self-observation and self-inquiry required to understand the roots of this disharmony.
While the physical causes of fatigue are the most obvious, they are also the least common. A lack of sleep will certainly cause fatigue, and while getting more sleep is the obvious solution, yoga can also help. Yoga is not a substitute for sleep, but yoga’s calming and regulating effects can help you get a longer and deeper night’s rest. A deep sense of rest can also be experienced from extended holdings of restorative poses, such as child, supine bound angle, knee down twist, and shavasana. Physical over-exertion can deplete the body’s energy and cause muscle fatigue. Gentle yoga poses will help to regulate, nourish and replenish the energy and muscles of the body. The restorative poses mentioned above will also provide rest and renewal to these centers. The poor circulation of blood, oxygen and nutrients can also create fatigue. Yoga’s whole body movements and stretches increase the flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients through the body, helping the cells of the body to access the proper materials for producing energy. Flowing movements and sequences, such as the sun salutations, as well as inversions will be the most effective in improving circulation. A nutritionally poor diet can also be the blame of physical fatigue. A yogic diet of simple, fresh, and organic foods will allow the body to easily digest and assimilate all of the proper nutrients that the body needs to produce energy. Overeating should be avoided as this can overtax the digestive system, reducing its ability to assimilate nutrients, making one feel heavy and sluggish.
Emotional and Energetic Causes
While yoga has a strong effect on the physical body, it has an even stronger effect at regulating the emotions and subtle energies of the body. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) excessive emotions are seen to adversely affect the organ systems responsible for the creation and regulation of prana or qi. In TCM, the Kidneys are seen as the foundation of all of the energy of the body and act like batteries to store prana for future use. Fear is said to constrain the energy of the Kidneys, causing them to dysfunction and for their energy reserves to become drained. The Chinese believe the Spleen is responsible for converting the food we eat into energy for the body to use. Excessive worry and over thinking weaken the Spleen’s ability to transform nutrients to produce abundant prana, resulting in fatigue. The Lungs also play a role in producing prana in the body. The Lungs transform the air we breathe into prana and also help circulate this prana in the chest. When excessive sadness or melancholy is present, this function of the Lungs is depressed and this may manifest as fatigue in the body. The Liver in TCM is responsible for the free flow of energy through the entire body. Excessive anger, frustration and irritation all cause the Liver to constrict and stagnate the flow of prana, which in turn can lead to fatigue.
The meditative and mindfulness practices of yoga are excellent tools to bring awareness to our emotional states and to experience and process them completely. Yoga poses can be used to target the Kidney, Spleen and Lung areas to encourage the release of held emotions and to tonify and regulate these organ energy centers. As the Kidneys are located in the low back, back bending poses are the best to activate the Kidneys and to tonify their prana. Low back bending poses such as Bridge, Cobra, Boat and Bow will be the best targeted for this area. As the Liver and Spleen are located on the sides of the abdomen, side bends and twists will activate these energy centers. Both the meridians of the Liver and Spleen travel down the insides of the legs, so hip opening poses like Pigeon, Bound Angle and Seated Angle will also activate these organ systems. Physical movement helps the Liver in moving the energy through the body, so vinyasa based sequences like the sun salutations will be beneficial as well. To activate and tonify the Lungs, use chest opening upper back bending poses such as fish, camel, sphinx and crab.
When working with the emotional and subtle bodies, it is important to keep the focus rooted inside the body on the sensations that arise while holding these poses. If sensations arise that have an emotional component to them, it is important to fully express and release the emotion, and to not repress any feelings if they arise.
Pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) are a very direct method to cultivate prana and energize the body. With a multitude of these techniques, there is a coresponding range of energetic effects for these practices: Dirga pranayama is a very gentle and easy pranayama to learn and use, while Kapalabhati and Bastrika are much more powerful and intense. Pranayama is considered a powerful yogic practice, so be cautious in your exploration and move carefully through the exercises, noting their effects on your energy levels. While Pranayama may be used with any of the physical or emotional causes of fatigue, it will not be very effective unless the root causes of fatigue are reduced or eliminated.
All regular exercise will reduce fatigue, but yoga has the unique ability to provide exercise that is multi-dimensional in nature: effecting the body, mind, energy and emotions. Yoga also allows the practitioner to moderate the level of activity based on his/her current state of energy to avoid further exhausting or depleting one’s energy. While fatigue is often a normal response to daily life stressors, it can also be a nonspecific sign of a more serious psychological or physical disorder. If your fatigue is not relieved by the above methods please seek a further evaluation from a qualified medical professional.
A complete lists of Yoga Poses for Fatigue is available in our Premium Membership website’s Yoga Therapy section.