This is a post I initially wrote after talking about the different alternative medicines and their content. I never ended up posting it because I had the baby and promptly forgot I wrote it. But without further ado, here is a post that focuses a bit more on the physical aspects of one of those holistic practices; yoga.
Though I love exercising, I am no stranger to avoiding heavy aerobically-intense exercise because of the nasty skin side effects that occur during a flare (the flushing sensations, the heating skin, the sweating/wetness in flexor surfaces, the rashes, and the insatiable itching). One of the times I got the best reprieve from my flares and related skin symptoms was February of 2016 when I was doing a 200-hour yoga teacher training. I took anywhere from 1-3 classes, 5-7 days of the week in rooms with high temperatures and lots of humidity. As I breathed through new poses and slowly worked my muscles and focused on breathing and meditation, I felt stronger and better day by day. I won’t say my eczema went away because it didn’t, but the movements and concentration on my breathing did help my skin improve a lot, and in February no less (usually the winter months are worse for my skin). At the same time, practicing that much yoga naturally made me want to eat cleaner because I felt heavy if I tried to practice after eating unhealthy foods (so at the time I tried out the Whole 30 Diet).
As I tried to recover from the particular cold, damp prolonged and lingering last bit of the Northeast winter weather, I decided I wanted to make use of my teacher training and research the best exercises to promote blood flow, skin healing, and stress reduction. My goal? To help my own skin maintenance (and the skin of anyone else who wishes to try this routine). So first I’ll give a brief explanation of some the theories behind how yoga can help eczema. Then later in the post I’ll show a few poses that have been said to be most beneficial to add to a yoga practice (and mostly ones that a beginner could do) to help the skin.
From my teacher training I learned that in yoga, there are 7 major chakras, or energy cluster points, that line up with the spinal column where nadis, or channels intersect. These channels carry prana or our life force energy. Of the 7 chakras, each corresponding to a respective spot on our spinal column, the 3rd chakra, Manipura is said to be unbalanced when we see skin conditions like eczema. Manipura is located in the solar plexus and corresponds to physical body parts such as the detox organs (liver, spleen, etc). When this chakra is unbalanced, as in it is underactive, people may feel a lack of control or a tendency to withdrawal from social situations. Poses said to help invigorate this chakra include core strengthening poses such as those that entail isometric contractions, and breathing focus. This can include poses that entail twists (because they engage the core muscles to be able to do the poses well, and are said to help with detoxing).
So first off, does yoga truly help eczema? Well, some studies have show that it helps reduce inflammation after moderate to strenuous exercise. Others indicate it helps with the glycation process (mentioned in my post about sugar’s effects on eczema), by increasing the muscles’ glucose uptake, and therefore reducing blood sugar levels.
Yoga also entails a lot of focus on breathing (which can be beneficial for both getting you to distract your mind away from the itch and improving circulation of O2). It also often includes a meditative component, and meditation has also been seen to help eczema. It can be useful for reducing stress levels and improving sleep as well.
In general all of those effects would help alleviate a lot of the issues that eczema comes with, and personally I got more into yoga because it was one activity that didn’t induce worser flares for me. Plus getting a good night’s sleep is huge, since we do so much healing when we are catching some z’s.
Here is my take on poses for eczema, though most of these poses are somewhat “general” because they are known to help symptoms of eczema (such as inflammation, bad circulation, stress), aka they benefit the skin generally. Then again, there is no “cure” for eczema in isolation, so getting up and moving and in this case doing yoga will most likely help with eczema too.
Below are specific poses I found listed on various websites that were said to help the skin (with photos of me demonstrating! Note: I won’t demo the twists as I am over 8 months pregnant at the moment).
Livestrong.com suggests a lot of inversions (or poses with the head below the heart) including:
- Legs Up a Wall (beginner friendly. I only stayed here for a few seconds to take this picture before getting off my back because it’s not the most comfortable when 38 weeks pregnant).
- Camel Pose (can be modified to be more beginner friendly. Note: keeping your hips pushing forward so they are lined over your knees. Also note that I am not reaching for my ankles because I am too pregnant to keep good form attempting that so I’m just reaching my arms downwards).
- Wheel (needs a level of back/hip flexor mobility… wouldn’t suggest it for pure beginners and I will update myself doing it when eventually).
From healthline.com we have asanas for beginners to yoga with the intent to decrease stress (in this case for psoriasis, but stress is stress):
- Child’s Pose (my big toes are touching and my knees are out wide as the mat, and I am sinking my hips down and back while reaching my arms forward. Though I am limited to how far I can stretch downwards by the baby).
- Salutation Seal (never knew it was called this, but essentially you sit cross-legged, keep your back nice and tall, and bring your hands to your chest like you are praying).
And lastly, a few from HolisticVanity who brings up poses to help with inflammation:
- Seated Twist (again I’ll get around to adding this photo)
- Revolved Chair (ditto this one)
- Warrior 1 (note that my lower back has a lot of curvature here, which is not ideal. The baby is pulled me forward and it’s hard to compensate, but generally you want to reduce some of that low back curving to make sure you are setting yourself up for the best alignment to continue the safest practice).
- Chair (note: I have my feet hips width distance apart to accommodate the baby, but normally the feet are together will a little space between the heels. Also I need to relax my shoulders down more and pull my ribs in to have better form, but my ribs are also flared out because I’m 38 weeks pregnant!!).
Beri K. Breathing to younger skin: ‘reversing the molecular mechanism of skin aging with yoga’. Future Sci OA. 2016 June; 2(2): FS0112.
NEA. “Can Mediation Help Ease Eczema Itch?” National Eczema Association, https://nationaleczema.org/meditation-ease-eczemas-itch/. Accessed 30 Jul 2018.
Vijayaraghava A, Doreswamy V, Narasipur OS, Kunnavil R, Srinivasamurthy N. Effect of Yoga Practice on Levels of Inflammatory Markers after Moderate and Strenuous Exercise. J Clin Diagn Res. 2015 Jun;9(6):CC08-CC12.
Woodyard C. Exploring the therapeutic effects of yoga and its ability to increase quality of life. Int J Yoga. 2011 Jul-Dec;4(2):49-54.
Ziel, Erica. “The 5 Best Yoga Poses for Pregnancy and 4 to Avoid.” Livestrong, https://www.livestrong.com/article/332706-yoga-poses-avoid-during-pregnancy/. Accessed 30 Jul 2018.