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How Yoga Helped Me Make Friends With My Chronic Illness

Shawnee Thornton
Written by Shawnee Thornton

I know, this sounds a bit odd, and it’s not the message we're used to hearing.

When you're diagnosed with a chronic illness, you hear messages like, “You’re going to beat IT,” “You’re stronger than IT,” and, “You’re just going to have to fight IT.”

The IT, your illness, becomes the enemy, the destroyer of your life’s dreams, the one that gets in the way of your happiness.

The moment you are diagnosed with a chronic illness, you go through the phases of grief. Denial, isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. What if we not only accepted our illness, but embraced it as if it were our friend, our ally?

Several years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Having always been an active person, I began to experience extreme lethargy, numbness and tingling in my legs, popping joints, rapid heartbeat and several other symptoms. When I was finally diagnosed, I felt relieved at first, but then it settled in that I had an illness that will never go away. Essentially, my immune system was attacking my thyroid and my doctor told me that eventually my thyroid would be gone.

I went through a phase where I felt sorry for myself. I didn’t want to accept that I wouldn’t feel as much energy and would have to live with the side effects of my illness. In a way, I was letting my illness DEFINE me.

It was not until I began to practice yoga that my feelings toward my illness began to shift. I found that practicing yoga helped me feel better. I felt energized from my yoga practice and found that a consistent practice decreased the side effects of my illness. Along with the physical shifts, I began to feel a shift in my relationship with my illness — yes, I said RELATIONSHIP.

We subconsciously develop a relationship with our illness. IT becomes this entity in our lives that we more often than not despise, hate, fight against. There was a point in my practice that I decided to make friends with my illness. Yes, I said FRIENDS. I decided that rather than fighting my chronic illness, we would become allies. We would work together to create a more peaceful, balanced, and healthy life together. I decided to be in attuned to my illness. To be aware of the subtle cues in my body, to respond to those cues in a nurturing way and to treat my illness with kindness and compassion. After all, we are going to have to live together for the rest of our lives.

I have learned in my practice of yoga that resistance creates suffering. Living with anger, resentment, and negative feelings towards our illness only creates more suffering. Through my ability to let go of resistance and by acknowledging my illness as part of me, my illness no longer defines me. Instead, it has become my ally, my FRIEND that will help me be in tune with my physical body and will share my life experiences, through sickness and in health.

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