Yoga: My Affirmation Of Health And Life
It’s helpful to realize that this body that we have, this very body that’s sitting here right now in this room, this very body that perhaps aches, and this mind that we have at this very moment, are exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, and fully alive.
– Ani Pema Chödrön, from The Wisdom Of No Escape
Everyday I think about the healthier me. I miss her. A lot. I was strong and capable and relentless. In those days, I would throw a pair of 25 lb dumbbells around like they were nothing. I would go on two hour power walks three times a week, effortlessly covering eight miles or more. I was in the pool on the days in between. And while feeling healthy was the most important thing, I have to admit I did enjoy slipping into my size 4 jeans and strutting my stuff.
But things happen. Things that you would never expect.
I understand all too well the scary grip chronic illness can have on your life. And while I have my theories, I really don’t know for sure how I got here. But I’m here. There are many days when I can’t lift my head from my pillow, let alone get my body moving and out of bed. And sometimes I need my husband’s assistance getting down the hallway to the bathroom. Not nearly as dignified as my life used to be. I am very lucky, more than words can ever express. He has taken the “in sickness and in health” thing seriously.
The past few months have been particularly bad. While exercise is important to my feeling better, I have had to adopt a very slow pace. My extreme days are over. On a good week (and I emphasize good), I can manage three very slow 30-minute walking workouts at home on my treadmill. And when I say slow, I mean slow. No 12, or 15 minute mile. It’s more like 20. And absolutely no hills.
I certainly can’t exercise two days in a row. It just hurts too much to do it, and I have to allow time for adequate rest. And on my days off, when I’m feeling well enough, those are my days for yoga.
It isn’t without challenges. I am by no stretch of the imagination a yogi contortionist who can twist and turn her body in crazy ways. Actually, I used to be, and the hard part is accepting that. My yoga practice doesn’t really feel like a practice anymore, in the true sense of the word. I lack that necessary level of intensity. I don’t always have the energy to handle a continuously flowing sequence of poses (asanas), such as Sun Salutation, even for a few minutes. My difficulty lies in overall pain throughout my body, but especially in my arms, and not being strong enough to go from Plank to Push Up Pose and then on to Upward Facing Dog (cobra pose). There is always modification of the movements, but even the ongoing flow of so-called easier poses can be too much for me. For this reason I often rely on solitary poses, taking my time between each one with no specific sequence in mind. While I may not be enjoying the full benefit that a flowing sequence can provide, I know it is doing something positive and good for me.
I am drawn to strengthening poses. But the poses I enjoy most are the ones that center my emotions and grant me an inner peace. With chronic illness, negative emotions are a strong adversary. Any advantage over them is empowering.
Two variations of Warrior 1:
I rely on standing poses to feel strong, and I practice Warrior 1 most often. I feel the power in my legs and in my spine, almost as if it emanates from the pose itself. Just as it looks, it makes me feel grounded, centered and balanced. It is amazing what just thirty seconds can accomplish, holding this position on each leg. Warrior 2 is simply engaging the same stance, but turning the back foot out to involve different muscles.
I count on back bend poses too. Bow Pose is not difficult for me. It awakens my body, and after maintaining the pose for as little as ten seconds I feel incredibly revitalized. It engages my spine, opens my chest, I am energized and I can practically feel the stimulation of my nervous system. Any healthy stimulation like this is crucial for me and so many others who are afflicted with chronic pain. Bridge Pose is also a favorite of mine, I can feel my thigh muscles and lower back working when I hold it. This pose also opens the chest like Bow Pose does (one of my problem tension areas) and the front of the pelvis. For us ladies with fibromyalgia and other types of chronic pain, we can often experience a “congested” sensation in the pelvis. Bridge Pose can help with this. I know it makes me feel better.
I often practice King Pigeon pose, though I am only able to perform one variation of it. King Pigeon opens the hips and spine effectively, with intensity of the variation depending on the depth of the back bend. I hold a lot of pain in my hips, and while this pose may not be comfortable for everyone, I get so much out of it. It does involve one leg extended back, and the other folded in front of the pelvis.
All inverted poses make me feel as if my circulatory system is coming alive. And just as the description suggests, they literally give me a different perspective. They can shift my mood from agitated to calm, or defeated to empowered, in a matter of seconds. This is what they are meant to do. I regularly practice Downward Facing Dog and its variation with one leg up, switching my grounded leg for an equal amount of time. Downward Dog elongates my spine, and engages my arms and shoulders. This is important for me, because that is where I carry most of my tension and pain. When I complete the one leg variation, the asymmetric nature of the pose challenges me and engages my brain, making me focus on proper alignment.
Different variations of King Pigeon Pose:
I also regularly practice Shoulder Stand. Proper support of your head, neck and shoulders is important with this pose and care is needed, but the benefits are amazing. With Shoulder Stand, I am able to see my body hovering above. This settles me. I am reminded of how amazing my body is and my gratitude for it, despite its limitations.
Downward Facing Dog Variations:
And Shoulder Stand, probably my favorite:
My restorative pose of choice is Child’s Pose, though my inverted poses can also have a restorative effect on me, depending on my state of mind. It is all about release and letting go. Child’s Pose can be a good resting point between more challenging poses, but since I rarely perform intense and flowing sequences I save it for last.
I really do miss my old physical strength more than anything. I don’t really care about not being able to slip into those skin-tight Cavallis anymore. Yes, my weight has crept up, but just a bit. The biggest change is how soft I am all over. I really am conflicted, feeling at odds with my body from time to time. I am slow on my path to acceptance, but I am getting there.
One single pose, no matter which one, can make me feel strong. Capable. All powerful. And for someone like me, to harness that feeling for even a moment, it is a victory. The defeated feeling just melts away. And I am reminded of my potential for better health and capturing that intensity again.
I am not a beginner. Over the years I have taken yoga classes and received expert instruction. If you are interested but completely new to yoga, first get guidance from an experienced instructor before practicing on your own. Learning proper alignment, techniques and your body’s own capabilities will be for the betterment of your home practice and good health.
Recommended reading: Moving Toward Balance: 8 Weeks Of Yoga With Rodney Yee by Rodney Yee & Nina Zolotow
King Pigeon Photo (woman dressed in white) Source: http://redflower345.hubpages.com
All other asana photos Source: http://blog.gaiam.com/