“If we practice yoga long enough, the practice changes to suit our needs. It’s important to acknowledge that the practice isn’t meant to be one practice for everybody. The beautiful thing about yoga is that there are so many different approaches. As we go through our life cycles, hopefully we are able to find a practice that suits us.” – Tiffany Cruikshank founder of Yoga Medicine
When it comes to exercise in general, it can be a daunting task to people living with an illness. It can be a scary undertaking for anyone who has not done it in awhile. Throughout my journey through living with MS for the last almost 20 years, I have tried a lot of different forms of exercise. Swimming, walking, dance, pilates. I have given just about everything a try. However, having a disease that continues to reduce my physical abilities over time, it can be frustrating and demoralizing to try to do activities that I could do last year, but to find out that I no longer can. This happened last year to me. I had gotten over the fact that I could no longer ride a 2-wheel bike many years ago. My balance is not even somewhat adequate to stay upright on a bike anymore. So after giving up for a year, I went out and bought myself a 3-wheel bike. I had a blast on it for 3 years. I forgot how much I missed the wind in my hair as I went down a steep hill. However, last year when I went to get on my bike, I discovered that my legs no longer had the strength to be able to use the bike. What a punch to the chest that felt like. I could no longer take my bike to the MS walk. I would have to use my scooter.
Over time, I began to be less willing to try new physical things because of the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore. I used to be a dancer when I was younger, and I felt a sense of betrayal in my body that was not allowing me to take part in exercise anymore. I stopped swimming even though I am a great swimmer, because although I am fine in the water, I had to get there. After a number of hurtful and embarrassing falls on the deck of the pool, I decided that was out for me as well. My world of activity seemed to be getting smaller and smaller. That was a problem for many reasons but the most important one is how being sedentary affected my anxiety level. I believe all humans have an inherent need to have some level of physical activity. When I have been inactive for awhile, I feel a surge of energy that has nowhere to go. It is just stored up in my body and comes out in crazy anxiety that leaves me quite debilitated at times. I needed to find an answer to this problem.
A friend of mine mentioned to me last month that a new yoga studio had opened in my community. She said she had tried it and really liked the teachers and that they seemed to be very adept at providing adaptations for people with limitations. I instantly got a knot in my stomach. What if I couldn’t do yoga anymore? I didn’t want to be faced with something else that I could no longer do. I had taken a yoga class for 5 years sometime back. I loved the class and felt strong while I took it. My teacher ended up moving to Mexico and the new teacher and I didnt work out so I quit. What I had loved about yoga before was that I always left class feeling more able than before I had arrived. I hadn’t felt that way since I stopped. Exercise of any kind always left me frustrated and feeling more disabled than before I had began. I waited about 3 weeks and then said I would go to a class with my friend. It was scary to walk in to the studio that was new to me with my cane and explain my limitations to the teacher before class began. She was so kind and gave me a ton of alternatives in class that might work better for me and others. I had so missed the peaceful feeling of just having me and my mat. I’m not going to lie, the first class was tough. When I went home that night I had a talk with myself. I could do about half of the poses and I had really done nothing for years. I had to give it time. Every time I went to class, I began to feel more comfortable in my own abilities and slowly but surely it became easier. When I first started, I had a hard time getting off the floor. Now, although it is certainly not the most graceful accent, I can get up on the first try. What I love the most about yoga classes, are the kind of people who attend. The teachers and other students are so kind. They help me put my equipment away and are so inviting and accepting. Yoga is not a one size fits all practice. There is some onus on me to assess how my body is feeling in class. If I am really tired or sore, or if my feet are really numb, I just do less. Sometimes I just sit on the mat for half the class and focus on my breath if that is what my body needs. And that is OK. No one judges me. I am probably the most judgemental on myself if I cannot do something. But, I am becoming kinder to myself from being in a room with supportive people. I am proud of myself for continuing to go. If my ability lessens, so be it. I can still go and soak up the peace in the room.
Another thing I love about yoga is its meditative quality. Although I do meditate everyday, there are also other activities I have found that take me to the same place. The place where my analytical mind turns off. My mind stops racing and I am totally in the present moment. I can find that when I paint. I find it when I quilt or work in my garden. Now I am welcomed in to that ethereal space when I go to yoga.
Give it a try. You never know if it will let you find some bliss in your life.
Much love and namaste,