I began my yoga practice roughly 10 years ago when a friend coerced me into trying a rigorous hot yoga class. You know, the type of yoga class you sweat nearly half your body mass in a dark, crowded room. I vividly remember my first hot yoga class spending most of the time wondering if they dimmed the lights or if I needed to take child's pose to refrain from passing out. Fast-forward seven years later and I would have never imagined how this sweaty yet special place on my mat would become an integral part in healing from Lyme disease.
Here are three ways that my yoga practice has helped me deal with this chronic illness.
Getting comfortable in uncomfortable situations
Yoga teaches us to find comfort in the discomfort. Sending breath into areas of tightness in our bodies allow for 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.
This particular practice traveled off my mat and became a sense of sanctuary for me during some of my weakest times battling Lyme. When my entire body seized and it felt as if the inside of my body was engulfed in flames, I came back to the idea of finding comfort in the discomfort, sending my breath to alleviate any areas of pain. I also found other means of comfort to help soothe my body like massages and Epsom salt baths. Anxiety and stress are natural responses for our bodies during uncomfortable situations; however, the growth and healing comes when you control those emotions and surrender into something more blissful.
Finding compassion and letting go
In Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga he talks about the Yamas and Niyamas, or essentially a code of ethics to help guide you on your life's journey. One of the Niyamas we practice in yoga is Svadhyaya, or self-study without judgment. In yoga, we observe compassion, being mindful of our practice, noticing where things are off balance then releasing it without attachment. For instance, perhaps today is not your day for standing tree pose. No matter how hard you try, your balance is off and you do not dare lift your leg for fear you will trigger the human domino effect, knocking over the entire row in front of you (not like I know from experience). Instead of filling the mind with negative self-talk, rather, take a mental note and move on without judgment.
Practicing nonjudgment and compassion became an everyday part of my healing journey. Some days I felt empowered and optimistic about progressing while others were the complete opposite, feeling despondent and hopeless. One of the greatest things I learned from the idea of Svadhyaya was how to find compassion for my physical body in the present moment. I would take a mental inventory of my body, noticing the good and bad, and then let it go, loving my body unconditionally. The result was an improved sense of self as I spent less time dwelling on the negative aspects of Lyme disease and instead appreciated my body wholeheartedly.
Healing is a practice, not a process.
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 on the mat dancing through our asanas 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!). Regardless, we refer to yoga as a practice, something we are consistently polishing and working toward improvement.
Healing is a practice, not a process. A process infers some sort of set time frame and that certain milestones must be accomplished along the way. This idea conditions us for failure and discouragement because healing is nothing like a process. There are no definite milestones, and healing is anything but a steady lapse of time.
Healing from Lyme (or any illness, for that matter) is similar to yoga. Some days you experience your moments of glory; the next day you are up to your eyeballs in Epsom salt and essential oils trying to ease the pain. Milestones occur on their own time, which makes healing more of a practice, something you work toward every day, instead of a process.
It was when I shifted my idea of healing toward a practice that I was truly able to release any expectations associated with recovery. I was no longer tied to a process and the liberation of experiencing each day for what it was, good or bad, without expectations or judgment, helped advance my healing practice.
Through a series of basic movements on a 24-inch-by-68-inch space, I learned lessons that have supported me during the most difficult times of my life. Finding comfort in the discomfort, sending love to the areas of my body that needed it the most, and releasing expectations without judgment were all profound teachings from yoga that carried over to my healing practice.