3 Lessons About Coping With Lyme Disease (That I Learned From Yoga)
I began my practice roughly 10 years ago, when a friend coerced me into trying a rigorous hot yoga class. I remember spending most of it wondering if they dimmed the lights or if I needed to take child's pose to refrain from passing out. At that time, I never would have imagined that yoga would eventually become an integral part of my journey to heal from a chronic illness. Here are three lessons the practice has taught me that I'm using to cope with Lyme disease:
1. It taught me to get comfortable in uncomfortable situations.
Yoga teaches us to find comfort in the discomfort. Sending breath into areas of tightness in our bodies allows us to find ease in each pose, surrendering to a deeper opening. We find growth in our yoga practice when we harness our energy and apply it to areas of need.
During some of my roughest patches with Lyme, my entire body seizes, and I feel as if my insides are engulfed in flames. In those moments, I keep coming back to the idea of finding comfort in the discomfort and using my breath to alleviate pain. Anxiety and stress are natural responses when our bodies feel uncomfortable, but the growth and healing come when you release these emotions and surrender into something softer.
2. It allowed me to find compassion and let go of expectation.
In Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga, he talks about the Yamas and Niyamas—essentially a yogic code of ethics. One of the Niyamas we practice in yoga is Svadhyaya, or self-study without judgment. In yoga, we observe our practice mindfully and notice where things are off-balance with compassion. For instance, perhaps today is not your day for standing tree pose. No matter how hard you try, your balance is off and you don't dare lift your leg for fear you'll knock over the entire row in front of you (not that I know from experience). Instead of filling the mind with negative self-talk, you can take a mental note and move on without judgment.
Nonjudgment and compassion have become crucial elements of my healing journey. Some days I feel empowered and optimistic about progressing while others I feel despondent and hopeless. One of the greatest things I learned from the idea of Svadhyaya is how to find compassion for my physical body either way. This allows me to spend less time dwelling on the negative aspects of Lyme disease and instead appreciate my body wholeheartedly.
3. It proved that healing is a practice.
The most profound lesson I learned from my yoga practice was just that: Healing is a practice. In yoga, we refer to our time spent as a practice because it is something we work on every day. A practice includes moments of glory (nailing handstand) contrasted with moments we would rather forget (face planting in crow pose...ouch!). Lyme (or any illness, for that matter) is similar: Some days have moments of glory, and the next can be spent up to your eyeballs in Epsom salt and essential oils trying to ease the pain.
It was only when I started to think of healing as a practice that I was able to truly release any expectations associated with recovery. Experiencing each day for what it was, good or bad, without expectations or judgment, has been beyond liberating.
Through a series of basic movements on a 24-by-68-inch space, I learned lessons that have supported me during the most difficult times of my life. And for that, I'm forever grateful.
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