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I have never been into running. Or walking. Or really any kind of exercise. Maybe it was because I was more of an art nerd. Or maybe it was because of the boys in 7th grade who yelled “Run Forrest, run!” when I passed by in gym. Either way, I didn’t go out of my way to join any sports teams, so as an adult, I struggled with how to form healthy exercise habits.
When I became a mom, I went on daily walks with my kids. I wanted them to get outside every day and enjoyed showing them birds and squirrels and bugs along the way. We’d walk the neighborhood with a brown bag, gathering sticks and leaves and acorns. We’d go on scavenger hunts and bike rides to the nearby park so they could play. This was the most active I’d been in years.
But then my Lyme troubles began and I could no longer walk around the block without being completely exhausted and out for the rest of the day. In the summer, swimming was a great way to relieve the pain, but more intense flare-ups and exhaustion caused me to slowly fade these habits out as well. I was too tired to leave the house and too sore to lift my kids in and out of the car. So I slept. And slept and slept. And my body and mind started crumbling into mush and I had no motivation to do anything.
My doctor recommended I do at least three days a week of gentle exercise to get started. Exercise told my body to produce things that it wasn’t making on its own. It was a way to train my body to remember how to use my pituitary gland and regulate my adrenal glands.
So I tried yoga. When I first looked into yoga years before, I used poses in books and copied them, but that kind of ruined my flow and focus. Then video podcasts became a thing and I tried those routines out for awhile. I even took yoga at the gym, but I could never seem to stick to a steady routine.
Years later, Apps came out and I discovered Down Dog. It was simple to access, easy to follow, and came with background music, yoga levels, times and variations you could set.
Once I got sick and really committed to doing it regularly, I started realizing the connection to my yoga practice with my pain, mood and energy levels.
PANIC OR PLAN?
Since chronic Lyme is incurable, I knew another flare up was just around the corner. But I seemed almost in remission last summer, so I used the time since then to come up with a strategy on how to deal with another bad flare up just in case.
Yoga was first on the list. Soon after, meditation joined, along with slowing down, simplifying, writing, epsom salt baths, sauna, ice and heat, funny shows, books, and playing with my kids.
In the past, every flare up was a panic attack.
“How long will this last? Why can’t I get rid of this? Is something else wrong? How will I take care of the kids? Can we get our nanny back? Am I dying this time?????”
You know, the same drill I’d been running in my head for the past four years.
But this time around it came to a halt.
As soon as I heard the voices of fear start up, I said NOPE.
I had a great run–eight whole months with no major setbacks–but now here I am, limping around the house and exhausted from doing small tasks. So I had to make a decision. Panic or plan? I had spent those past months arming myself with a handful of tools on how to deal with this very moment.
My biggest worry was my mind. Lyme does weird things to your brain. So I got out my toolbox and started with daily meditation and yoga. Intentional ways to take time out of the day to focus my mind on what was true. Not what was feared.
Even today, I replay words of positivity and gratitude during my morning meditation using the Headspace app, and during my yoga practice using Down Dog.
I’m continuing other habits from my toolbox like getting up early and following my morning and evening routines. I also schedule time to play a game with the kids and take some time to sit outside each day.
And you know what? This is the happiest I have ever been during a flare up. Seriously. I have my eyes set on the goal this time. It doesn’t mean I don’t have negative thoughts or worries, just that I’ve been able to refocus and stay positive pretty consistently. I’m in a routine of doing yoga once or twice a day now.
Yoga and meditation have taught me how to deal with scary thoughts and keep moving. While positive thoughts alone won’t heal you from a disease, I am a firm believer that you can’t heal without them.
WHY DO YOGA?
LET’S GET STARTED WITH A BASIC GUIDE TO YOGA:
Usually you start in a seated position and take a few deep breaths to begin your practice. The benefit of the breath is using it intentionally while you move. Use slow, steady breaths, in sync with how your body is moving. When getting into position, inhale. When getting out of position, exhale. Use it to get deeper into a pose.
The basic routine for movement in yoga is:
- Warm ups to loosen your body
- Standing poses for stability
- Mat work to strengthen core and balance
- Cool down as a relaxation practice
You shouldn’t be in any pose that causes pain or discomfort or makes your breathing out of sync with your body. It should be a very focused, calm exercise as you are mindful of how your body is responding and what it needs in that moment. Do a body scan several times throughout your practice to release any tension you may be feeling.
These poses are done seated on your mat, or on your belly and back. The cool-down part of your practice is something you’ll look forward to because it focuses on relaxing your body before meditation.
I personally meditate using Headspace once I’m laying down and done with yoga, but here are a few ideas to try:
- Repeat a mantra such as “In this moment I am already healthy” or “I choose to be happy”
- Take a few breaths and ask your body, “What do you need?” This may reveal that you need to slow down today, get some fresh air or social interaction.
Here are the resources I’ve used to personalize my workout:
- Down Dog App (great for getting started now!)
- Headspace App (guided meditation)
- Yoga for Pain Relief (info on how pain works in the body and benefits from yoga)
- Yoga Cures (great glossary of visual poses in the back)
- Everyday Yoga (large selection of color photo poses)
Whether or not you choose to add yoga to your list, remember to make your list! What are the ways that help you deal with pain and stress? Write your list down and add to it often so that you can find peace during a difficult situation.
If you want, you can use my pain relief chart as a starting point:
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You’ve got this!