Yoga for Skin
Yoga for Skin
by Terry M.
Yoga is widely recognized as a practice that will build muscle, increase joint flexibility, improve core strength, relax the overactive mind, and release tension. It does all these things, but did you know it can be good for your skin?
My 57 years of EHK (now known as EI) had made me stiffer, sorer, and more tentative in my daily life as I battled dryness, particularly during the arid winters of Pennsylvania. My body had learned new ways to guard flexural and flat areas when I was sitting, walking, and working in the garden. Too many years of holding my body in this way had led to an inability to stretch my arms fully over my head, hold my shoulders back, stand tall, and walk freely. And it wasn’t clear whether my skin had “shrunk” or whether I was just stiff. This feedback loop of stiffness from my bones, joints, and skin sometimes made it just hurt too much to do anything besides sit at my desk or on the couch, and I was having a lot of aching in my body nearly all the time. I was moving and feeling like an old woman and knew I had to do something about it.
I decided to try classes from highly respected Iyengar yoga teachers at a local studio. Iyengar yoga is practiced with a series of thoughtful and shortly-held poses, or “asanas,” in a climate-controlled room on a padded mat, and also uses props such as bricks, straps, and blankets. On the first day, I quickly found that my flexibility was poor, and that even standing up straight in the “mountain pose” was painful. And the poses hurt my skin, too, because of rubbing, pressure, and moving.
But I survived, and I will tell you how you, too, can do it. I’m beginning my fourth year as a yoga practitioner, and have learned a lot about how a skin condition can influence a yoga practice, the challenges it presents, and some tricks for feeling good in class.
First of all, choose a “gentle” class level. Bathe and lather up generously with your favorite lotion or cream right before you go to class. Wear close-fitting stretchy clothes that minimize rubbing, such as snug soft yoga pants and a top where you can go braless. Avoid clothing with seams that rub your skin and all but the softest and coolest fabrics. Make sure the studio is not too hot: ask your teacher if you can have a fan on you, or even bring your own. Buy your own extra thick yoga mat from an online supplier like www.huggermugger.com; this extra padding can make all the difference to scaly sore hips, shoulders, and knees. Most importantly, I take 2 or 3 ibuprofen at least an hour before class and make sure I have eaten a hearty snack like peanut butter, an egg, or cheese. Explain your limitations to your teacher, especially which poses hurt you. He or she will help you find an alternative to the painful asanas, or help you work with additional padding. After a couple of years of tinkering with what worked for me, I enjoy nearly every class and do nearly every pose.
I’d never liked sports before because I would get too hot and uncomfortable, and my physical activities for many years were limited to walking and gardening. But because yoga is climate-controlled, moves slowly, improves core strength and flexibility, reduces body aches and pains, and lowers mental stress, it could be helpful for some people with chronic skin conditions. My skin is more supple (because it has now stretched!) and I can remember that wonderful childhood flexibility. Even better, the rest of my body has benefited too and I feel stronger and less achy. You should see me in Shoulder Stand and Head Stand! If you need any information, help, or encouragement, feel free to contact me through the FIRST office.
FIRST Member Sacha hosted a FIRST to Know event discussing yoga and ichthyosis. You can view it here.
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This information is provided as a service to patients and parents of patients who have ichthyosis. It is not intended to supplement appropriate medical care, but instead to complement that care with guidance in practical issues facing patients and parents. Neither FIRST, its Board of Directors, Medical & Scientific Advisory Board, Board of Medical Editors, nor Foundation staff and officials endorse any treatments or products reported here. All issues pertaining to the care of patients with ichthyosis should be discussed with a dermatologist experienced in the treatment of their skin disorder.