From the very beginning of my journey with chronic pain, I was sure of one thing: I was willing to think outside the box when it came to treatment strategies. As I began to figure out, appointment after frustrating appointment, this was a complicated situation so the solution to getting my life back would likely also be complex. Many doctors tried just throwing pills at me, maybe in hopes of shutting me up or maybe because they honestly thought that was the only way to help, but I hated this solution. My fear with this strategy is that the medications were only masking the solution rather than actually trying to treat/address the underlying issues. I also hated the awful side effects. Many of the medications make you feel like a zombie all day every day. Other medicines, particularly the pain meds, made me incredibly dizzy and nauseous. Neither of these side effects were worth the amount of relief the medications were actually providing. So I made a choice to look into alternative therapies to help manage my symptoms.
I’ve already talked about how I use massage therapy for pain management but even before this I tried yoga. As a former dancer, I was no stranger to yoga and my sister in New York who is a yoga instructor encouraged me to take up yoga for pain relief. The exercise of course has the benefits of increasing pain tolerance levels, but I was particularly drawn to yoga for its focus on both the mind and body. Regarding the physical benefits, I knew that yoga would provide me a way to not only stretch my ridiculously tight muscles, helping to relieve tension on my joints, but it would also assist in strengthening them. Regarding the mental benefits, yoga is a proven method to promote stress relief and deep relaxation. I was also hoping yoga would help increase my self-awareness allowing me to pinpoint problem areas and be better able to express where my pain was originating to my doctors.
Initially, I opted to pay the rather lofty fees for individualized yoga therapy. To be honest, when I first made the decision to try yoga for pain management I was afraid. My pain had prevented me from being active for many years, and I didn’t fully believe I could be active again. I was terrified of trying a large class and injuring myself because I wasn’t aware of how to modify the pose for my ability level. Not surprisingly, I couldn’t afford to keep up with these sessions, but I knew I was on to something that could help me. I felt my muscles slowly loosening up with each session. For at least a few hours, sometimes even for a day, I noticed that my pain levels were decreased. I won’t lie it was frustrating that the progress was slow, and the relief wasn’t long lasting, but then I remembered it had taken a some time for my muscles to get to the state they were in, I couldn’t realistically expect them to improve overnight.
Sadly, I let life get in the way of my path towards healing. It got in the way for good 2-3 years. My life is still plenty hectic, but my doctor reminded me that there are many ways to tackle my treatment and yoga should be one of them. He also shares my philosophy of trying to minimize the number of medicines I need to take. I knew he was right about starting yoga back up but let’s face it yoga can get expensive as can gym fees. It just so happens that around this time, I received a flyer in the mail from my local YMCA. The membership pricing was affordable, and there were plenty of yoga classes for me to choose from. So I went for it and have been going to yoga once a week for almost two months now.
Expectation vs. Reality
I’m not going to lie my yoga practice is far from pretty. I’ve fallen over several times, and I have to do many, many modifications. My muscles doth protest occassionally, but I just take my time and do what I can. I can already feel my back loosening up. Before my first yoga class (this time around) I could barely touch beyond my knees during a forward fold. Now, I can almost reach my ankles! I can also feel my core getting stronger, which I suspect may be why I am having less intense muscle spasms in my back as of late. I’ve also seen improvement in my archery form after starting yoga. Yoga is also helping me have some much-needed de-stressing once a week. Sure the exercises can be a bit strenuous, or at least for my spoonie body, but I always leave the class incredibly relaxed yet alert.
Truthfully, it is not all sunshine and rainbows. There has been some increased pain, particularly in the hours after a workout session, following the introduction of exercise back into my life. Usually, I’ll feel great for a few hours after class (got to love those endorphins) but towards the end of the night, I’ll notice some additional aches and pains. These are not really any worse than my typical fibro aches and pains, but they are more targeted. In particular, my knees feel the achiest probably because of how incredibly tight my IT band and other muscles surrounding it are. My doctor assures me that this is not unusual and that I may even notice a slight increase in pain levels before I feel the full benefits of the exercise (increased pain tolerance, better flexibility, etc.).
My progress may be slow, especially since I have only been able to fit one yoga session in a week, but I am noticing little differences here and there. I’m sure over time those small differences will add up to reveal some big improvements. I just got to stay focused on my goal/intention and remember that slow and steady wins the race.