When I made my first attempts at yoga, I weighed around 290 pounds. I was disabled, and I was in pain. All the time. I’d bought a book, and I’d watch a DVD, but pretty much every pose was eye-wateringly uncomfortable.
So, I’d put the DVD on in the privacy of my own bedroom, and I’d give it a shot. And usually, after about 10 minutes, I’d have to sit down and give up. But somehow, something kept drawing me back to yoga, despite the fact that it really didn’t seem designed for someone like me - so I’d end up doing mountain pose and a half-hearted forward fold over and over again, because at that point, it was all I could do.
For me, taking the time to just breathe and focus was the most important thing - and it’s been an essential part of my recovery and eventual journey to fitness. Now, I can walk - I can run, in fact - and I’ve lost over 120 pounds. My story isn’t anywhere near as amazing as that of the heroic Arthur Boorman, a personal hero of mine - but the principles of yoga, on and off the mat, have played a huge part in changing my world, inside and out.
When you’re in pain, it can become all-consuming, and it can make you miserable. It’s easy to find yourself consumed by it, unable to think of anything other than the constant, gnawing discomfort and a desperate way out. That’s why opiates are prescribed for pain relief - because they work not by getting rid of the pain itself, but by blocking your psychological response to it. The pain is still there, but the relief comes from the fact that you no longer care about it. That’s why they’re so addictive.
But you don’t need opiates to improve your emotional and psychological attitude about pain. You can change your attitude by simply clearing your mind of fear, of self-doubt, and - crucially - of pain itself. Through focusing on your breathing, and your mind, you can make a world of difference for your wellbeing, no matter what size or weight you are, or what disabilities you may have.
Here’s how to start:
Focus on your body
When you’ve got an injury or a disability, it’s easy to find yourself focusing all your thoughts and energy on that area of your body.
Take that awareness elsewhere in your body. Start from your fingertips. How do they feel? Then work your way back - through your arms, your shoulders, your neck, your lungs, your stomach - focus on the way each part of you is improved by just breathing. Whether you’re moving or still, in a pose or simply just sitting, shifting your focus from what hurts to what feels good can make a huge difference on your outlook.
Focus on your mind
When you find an area that hurts - let it go. Think of it like letting go of a red balloon into a blue sky - just release your grip on it, and watch it rise up and away, until you can’t see it any more. In doing this, you’re identifying and acknowledging the pain without dwelling on it, and you’re releasing that negative emotional bond that you have with it. It’s still a part of you, but no longer tied to everything you do.
Focus on your whole self
Freeing yourself of pain and finding your way to wellness requires you make changes across the whole scope of your life.
Breathing, thinking, doing, being... In all these things, mindfulness is key. If you’re fully aware of your whole self, you’ll be in a better position to face your fears - of pain, of discomfort, of your limitations - and become a person that isn’t defined by any of these things.
And then, you can go back to being who you were before the pain; you can go back to being yourself.