Today on Alive in the Fire, a guest post about overcoming hesitation to jump start your fitness routine.Read More
I live with Chronic Lyme, which is really tough condition! For me it looks like some combination of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and chemical sensitivities.
My capacities vary widely: sometimes I can cycle and hike, sometimes I need help getting to the bathroom and back or getting covers over my feet (and just about anything in between).
Having a yoga practice through this means that I cannot strive to a next level or even know, in the morning, what kind of practice I can do in the evening. It means that I have to see what movement is going to support my body and its healing in the moment of my practice: is it an active standing practice, is it a slow practice that allows gravity to release pain and stiffness, or it is simply using a bolster to support the opening of my breath and release of tension?
Being present with what supports where I actually am in my body on a given day supports my ability to connect to my chronic illness warrior self and finding the capacity for self-love.
Connecting with other people with chronic illnesses is a huge source of strength for me. This January I ran an eight-week program called Living Chronically, a group for people living with a chronic condition—pain, disability, illness. When living with chronic pain, it’s easy to become isolated and easier still to then feel as if we’re doing something wrong and judge ourselves for not accomplishing everything we would if health issues were not a barrier.
When spending time with other folks with chronic illnesses and exploring our relationships to aspects of ourselves as whole people—spirituality, sexuality, community—I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by the inner strength and badassedness of the people around me. This community reminds me to hold myself in this light as well. When I’m in too much pain to live my life as I wish, when I have to cancel activities I was looking forward to, I am reminded that I share the struggle with kickass friends.
Our pain is not our fault; our fortitude is to our credit.
This sense of shared struggle is part of why I have my blog, the Chronic Yogi: On Being a Chronic Illness Healing Badass. I have had folks contact me to let me know that because of a post on relationships and chronic illness someone has been able to revision what they bring to a partnership as someone with disabilities, or that a post on triggers has helped a person stop blaming themselves for changes in friendship networks that they have experienced since getting sick. This feedback inspires me to keep working to shift cultures in which people with chronic illnesses often end up isolated from community. Pretty badass.
What has shaped your journey to this point in your life?
There are so many things. Being a survivor, I’ve had to work to develop a sense of connection to myself and sense of safety inside my own skin. My yoga practice has been a huge part of this! Being queer has been so valuable to this work. It has given me access to vibrant counter-cultures that celebrate a wide range of having a body—fat bodies, hairy bodies—and different ways of communicating around intimacy and sexuality that does not make assumptions about what works for everyone.
Having Chronic Lyme has been such a challenge to this work! Since the condition is not recognized by the CDC and treatment is not covered, I have had to spend a lot of time and energy living with intense pain and distress while facing not being believed by health care professionals. This has brought up so much hard history and been such a source of struggle. Holding a PhD in Gender Studies has helped me to be able to research, push back, and continue to seek adequate care and treatment for my health as well as advocating for and supporting others with Chronic Lyme (or those with conditions such as Fibromyalgia, MS, Chronic Fatigue, Chemical Sensitivities and other illnesses that often have symptoms that are the result of un-diagnosed Lyme disease).
What practices help you stay grounded and help you rejuvenate?
Being in nonstop pain is freaking rough. It takes so much energy to keep getting through the day and keep striving to get well. It’s easy to focus on my body as a problem to be solved. My yoga practice helps me to make a space where I can experience a sense of home in my body. I write more about this here and here.
I have been trying to develop a practice of cultivating small, everyday pleasures. Finding moments to go to the ocean and watch the waves, appreciate eating raspberries off the vine, or sit and have tea with a friend. These moments, however small, can rejuvenate my energy and commitment to working through pain.
What would you tell a woman who needs help tapping in to her inner strength?
I think many women, in many circumstances, need to hear, “This is not your fault” and, “You are not alone.”
So often women are made responsible for circumstances they did not choose—from bring abused to getting a chronic illness—and are asked to examine how their own actions caused their pain. To women facing this, I want to stress, “This is not your fault.” You can and will heal but this is not your fault. You did not cause the pain you are in and you do not to be worn down through examining what you could have done differently to avoid it.
When we feel we are to blame, it is easy to feel alone in our pain and struggle. We believe our struggle to be separate from the cultural conditions that make it possible for our pain to play out the way it does. But you are not alone. There are others who face the pain you face and whose struggles are similar to yours. You are not alone.
Where will you go from here? Any badass plans for 2016?
I will continue to develop the Chronic Yogi as a blog through this year. Often folks living with chronic pain, illness, and disabilities face mental fog that makes long reading too laborious. I am committed to writing the Chronic Yogi blog in short, accessibly written pieces. Over time, I plan to publish a Chronic Yogi book, keeping the commitment to accessible writing and chapter breakdowns.
I first started Living Chronically as part of my work as a UU Director of Lifelong Learning. When talking with people in the role of a director, I learned that many folks with disabilities and pain talked about not being “as much” a part of the community due to limited energy or not being able to contribute to committee work or the financial life of the organization as much as they would like.
Living Chronically was different from a support group in a medical context. It was led by and for those with chronic illness, with the goal of facilitating as sense of belonging and membership in a larger community, rather than with the goal of imparting new skills or beliefs. This year I will also be applying for grants to further develop the Living Chronically series, piloting the format in a variety of community settings. This project will also lead to publishing a curriculum and facilitation guide to support different communities forming their own groups… which would support larger networks of badasses!
But hey! We don’t have to be on a peaceful yoga retreat to practice. Because even surrounded by the constant hustle in which we live in, we all still have to take a shower, right?...I sure hope so :) We all still have to eat, sleep, get dressed, and go about our day. So, why not fit in some yoga during the activities we do each day?
These simple poses can help you create awareness, soften any muscles in your body that are tight, and help you keep a positive attitude.
Here are the five activities that can help you fit asana in, even during your busiest days:
1. Practice yoga while taking a shower
I will share a brief personal story for this one. Before bringing yoga into my life, I used to find it hard to wash my feet. I had to balance leaning against the wall and grab my foot trying not to slip and fall. Until one day it occurred to me: Why don’t I try it in a Standing Forward Bend? Voila! Now I can easily reach my feet and wash in between the toes in Uttanasana without worrying about the slippery floor. Then, a Halfway Lift is ideal to wash the legs, and whenever I feel adventurous, I even try the Reverse Prayers Pose to reach my back with the sponge. I encourage you to do the same. Just pay attention to your breath or the water will run down your nose.
Even if writing is not one of your main duties, I’m pretty sure almost everyone sends an email, writes a memo or just types on a laptop at least once a day. How about doing it while sitting in a Lotus Pose or a Hero’s Pose? Just put a flat surface on your lap to hold your notebook, laptop or whatever you’re using to write, and feel like a hero in your Virasana.
Also, if you’re on a chair behind a desk and are too shy to sit on the floor in the middle of the office, you can try to grab one ankle and bring it over the opposite thigh (something like a Figure Four but sitting down). Send the chest forward a little bit and feel the juices flowing in your hips and hammies without the shame of your coworkers staring at you.
Since you are such a busy person, you may not have the time to read a good novel. However, there might be some boring reports waiting to be read. Motivate yourself with a Sphinx Pose! Grab those papers, lie on your stomach and put them in front of you. Enjoy the backbend and you’ll be done with the task way faster.
How about dressing up in a fun yoga-ish way? You can put on a t-shirt while transitioning from Warrior I to Warrior II, both arms would escape through the holes at the same time avoiding the usual struggle. You could adjust your shoes practicing Triangle Pose; and if you feel brave enough, you could even try to put on your pants in a Headstand... gravity will do most of the work.
This one is easy. At one point you will have to sleep no matter how big of a workaholic you are. Therefore, go to bed in Shavasana, relax your body, focus on your breath and let your body move deeper until you fall asleep. You’ll wake up feeling fresh, energized and with no back or neck pain.
Now, those who claim not to have time for yoga have run out of excuses. And even if you do have time for your regular practice, these poses are fun to do and will help remind you to carry your practice with you no matter where you are.
Alberto Güitrón is a Community Manager at BookYogaRetreats.com. He is a committed yoga practitioner who still can’t touch the ground with his heels in Downward Dog. One day he’ll do it and he will probably write a story bragging about it.
For more awesome yoga routines and inspiring blog posts, visit Yoga by Candace. Here are a few of my favorite posts:
Have you ever thought about creating a sacred space at home where you can practice yoga or meditate?
I’ve always had the goal of clearing a spot where I can do my home practice.
No matter if your home is spacious or small, creating an at-home yoga space is a great thing to do. I’ve even seen beautiful little backyard areas and corners in the garage transformed into custom, calm ‘studios!’
Here are some tips from Dane O’Leary at the Modernize.net team about how to create a yoga space at home.
How to Create a Yoga Space at Home
Not only is yoga helpful in becoming physically healthy, but it's also great for your soul.
Many people invest in gym memberships and expensive classes in order to master the art of yoga under the impression that having a yoga studio at home is too expensive or requires too much space to be realistic. However, just about anyone can have a yoga studio at home. Here’s how you can create a home yoga studio where you can balance body, mind and spirit.
Less is More
When it comes to a yoga studio, you don’t need much in the way of furniture and décor. In fact, most experts and yoga instructors will tell you that less is more. In your minimalist yoga studio, the most essential thing is just to have the space to practice.
Ideally, your at-home studio space will have a door you can close, so that you separate yourself from the rest of your home (and any kids or pets that want to join you!).
However, not everyone has the space available to designate a room for just yoga. A home office or spare bedroom — rooms that aren’t frequently occupied or are only occupied by you — are great for doubling as an at-home yoga studio.
To inspire serenity and tranquility, your yoga studio should feature calm, muted cool colors and warm cream colors. The color palette shouldn’t draw attention, but rather recede into the background. Lighting is also important. Installing a dimmer so that you have full control of your studio’s light would be optimal. Lamps with a three-way switch also give you more control over the amount of light.
Accessorize your yoga studio with things that will remind you of yoga and of your intent to improve your body and mind. Candles create a calming, serene environment and come in a variety of calming fragrances such as lavender, lemon, and jasmine. It might be a good idea to invest in a sound machine or an iPod dock you can use to play calming music. Potted plants are also soothing and therapeutic, lending themselves to the mood of your sanctuary.
Flea markets and yard sales are great places to find other treasures for your yoga studio. A trunk would be useful for storing your yoga supplies and a bookshelf or wall shelves would house candles, books, and inspirational items. You might consider hanging some posters, pictures, or artwork on the walls, but make sure they embody tranquility; things like ocean and beach scenes, Impressionist and abstract art are great for an at-home yoga studio.
Finish on the Floor
Professionals say that the floor of your yoga studio is perhaps the most important feature of your at-home yoga studio. Most recommend hardwood floors since they don’t get as cold as tile and other types of floors, they give a little while you move while being firm enough for support, and they won’t hurt your knees. Carpets are too soft and are poor for stability, but would be a good second choice.
Every yoga enthusiast needs a good yoga mat, perhaps more than one if you plan to ever have companions join you in your yoga studio. Large pillows and cushions also make for great floor seating as well.
Head to Modernize.com for more home ideas and inspiration.
Thanks, Dane, for these awesome ideas!
Photos via Unsplash.
PS How to create a space for hot yoga at home.
My experience meditating started out many years ago, sometime during the 1990s. I had been attending some yoga classes on and off when I first became interested in the subject of meditation. Since I lived in a small, rural community, my best resources were books. I read books on mindfulness meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn and Sharon Salzberg. I practiced the suggested meditations and did this for a while, but was not consistent with my practice. This was a pattern that would continue on and off for a number of years as I just didn’t know how to fit a meditation practice into my life.
In 2004, I went through a 200 hour teacher training program and started my journey as a yoga teacher which continued with me finishing up the 500 hour yoga teacher training in 2007. It was during the advanced part of my teacher training that I was introduced to some more meditation techniques. I then met a Buddhist minister who taught me some guided meditations. This seemed to keep my interest a bit longer than my previous experience but still my meditation practice was rather erratic.
Then in the year 2009 I found myself at a crossroads in my life. I was really struggling and my life continued to spiral downwards. Actually, this was a continuation of a pattern that started years before, only I was not aware of just how confused and lost I had become.
The following quote pretty much sums it all up:
“In the middle of the journey of our life
I found myself within a dark woods
Where the straight way was lost.” ~ Dante Alighieri
I then began searching for some type of retreat I could go to that would not only detox me on a physical level but on an emotional level, as well. Also, something that would reconnect me with my spiritual roots and help me rediscover my authentic self. I took to the Internet and did several searches. The one place that caught my eye was the Chopra Center for Well Being in Carlsbad, CA. They had a program called Perfect Health and there was an option of doing a 10 day program. I thought, “Why not?”
I signed up for the program that started end of August and ran into September. Little did I know at the time how transformational this part of my journey would be.
I arrived at the Chopra Center for Well Being and the very first part of the program was learning a meditation technique called Primordial Sound Meditation. My teacher was a man by the name of Davidji and everything he said about his own exploration of different types of meditation immediately resonated with me. I thought finally, a meditation technique that I can stick with and apply in my daily life. He took all the mystery and myths out of what a meditation practice is. That 10 day program released so many toxins out of me physically and emotionally. I really struggled on an emotional level, something that took me by complete surprise. The Perfect Health program is an Ayurvedic program called Panchakarma. The following information is taken from the Chopra Center for Well Being website describing this program:
“Several times each year, we offer a 10-day Perfect Health program that includes panchakarma, an elegant Ayurvedic cleansing process that releases accumulated toxins and stress from the mind-body system. You will receive daily panchakarma therapies and massage treatments tailored to your unique mind-body constitution. Your healing arts master will select specific essential oils and natural herbs to purify and nurture you at the deepest cellular level.”
I spent a lot of my time crying and releasing deep emotional wounds, essentially I was a basket case all 10 days. I am so grateful for Dr. Valencia Porter who took time to talk to me one on one as I struggled with so many overwhelming emotions. The Ayurvedic treatments were very nurturing and I felt I was in a safe space to just allow the whole process to unfold in the most advantageous way. There was a small group of us going through this program who really bonded during this time and I will be forever grateful for their support. But essentially it was up to me to do all the necessary inner work.
What really struck me was how much the meditation became the biggest gift I took away with me from this program. I immediately signed up for Seduction of Spirit, the signature meditation program of the Chopra Center. This was going to be held in August of 2010 in Sedona, AZ. In the meantime, I continued practicing my meditation on a regular basis.
Since some of the benefits that we take out of meditation include reduced stress, making more conscious choices, being less reactive, more compassionate, less judgmental, to name a few, I was hopeful that my life would now turn around. Well, it did, just not in a way I had expected.
Looking back it seems that my pattern was to prove to everyone that I was unlovable, not good enough, didn’t deserve people in my life who treated me well, and the list goes on, but this is essentially how I felt. So, I hit rock bottom in 2010 and found myself in the underworld trying to find my way back into the light. Also, during this time I had a serious lower back injury that laid me up for about eight weeks which I felt was a culmination of my feelings of inadequacy and lack of self love. At the time it was hard for me to understand how this could happen after integrating a regular meditation practice into my life. But now I see that my meditation practice actually allowed me to be aware of what I was doing, something that had not happened before. In the midst of the chaos a light bulb went off and I finally gained insights that my behavior was completely out of sync and counter to my authentic self. This was a time of self-discovery and the life long pattern was finally broken.
As I continue on my meditation journey, I have discovered more and more synchronicities in my life and I am learning to be more self loving and self forgiving. As I heal and become more loving and compassionate towards myself, I am then able to spread more love and compassion out into the world. The healing of our world really does start with our own inner healing and connection to our authentic self.
My meditation practice also has helped me to develop a sense of gratitude and inner peace. I am truly grateful for all the many teachers who have come into my life, the ones who had my best interest at heart and even those who didn’t. In fact the latter were probably my best teachers and taught me the life lessons that I needed the most in order to become who I am today. My meditation practice is an ongoing journey and every day I approach it with no particular expectations, just allowing it to unfold and trusting the process. This is also what I take out of my practice into my everyday life.
My practice is what keeps me grounded and allows be to connect to the highest aspect of myself. In the moments of stillness between thoughts is where I find my deepest insights, my authentic self, inner wisdom and inner peace. I am forever grateful.
What style do you practice?
I feel free and challenged all at the same time. I used to not believe that yoga was a serious workout until I gave it a go myself. But I always prepare myself for a great challenge every time I step on my mat.
You never know what progress you will achieve or what setbacks will come your way. That’s one of the thing I love about practicing yoga.
Share about an experience you had on your mat that you’ll never forget.
Yoga, despite its popularity and generally accepted health benefits, isn't something people always think of when considering ways to slow the clock on aging. Surprisingly, it turns out that it may actually be a beneficial weapon in the fight against time.
Even if you’re not in your senior years quite yet, or aging isn't the first thing on your mind, taking steps to stay healthy and feel young can benefit everybody, and starting early is always better than starting late.
Men and women are born with the same amount of flexibility, but as they age, that flexibility decreases. While the decline typically occurs faster in men than women, adults over the age of 35 are generally much less flexible than they were in their 20s.
Yoga, which puts the body in a variety of unique positions, helps improve flexibility in a way that isn't overly uncomfortable or painful. Over time, doing the poses can make it easier for you to do daily tasks. This can help you tremendously as you age, as many injuries for adults and seniors come from doing everyday activities.
Like flexibility, joint strength tends to diminish with age. Yoga is beneficial for building or restoring some of that joint strength, however, as many types of yoga incorporate poses that require you to support your body weight. In that way, yoga is much like strength training, which also helps improve joint strength.
Of course, the positions you use that require you to support your body weight also aid in building muscle. More muscle mass also helps reduce injuries and keep your body weight down.
Aging adults tend to have more sleep problems than younger ones. Not getting enough sleep can result in serious health problems and more rapid aging.
Doing yoga regularly can help you improve your quality of sleep since the asana practice combines both exercise and relaxation techniques – two things we know are essential or a well-regulated sleep schedule.
If you have trouble sleeping at night and it’s causing problems in your daily life or making you feel run-down, taking a few yoga classes could go a long ways toward curing your problem.
Luckily those are two things that yoga can provide for you, making it an almost ideal anti-aging activity.
While not everyone has the luxury of a spare room to devote to meditation, those who do should consider outfitting that extra room to be as relaxing as possible. If you do, that space can become your own meditation room. It could be as simple or as complex and decorative as you want it to be.
Here are a few things you can do to make your quiet space into a full-tilt meditation room:
1. Scented candles and oils — You might prefer incense, candles, or aromatherapy, but whatever method you use, just make sure that you keep a calming scent in the air of your meditation room. Having it smell different than the rest of the house will help to set it apart and make it a more exclusive place, so that when you go into that room, you immediately feel more relaxed and peaceful.
2. MP3 or Music Player — An iHome or some kind of music player for playing soothing sounds or white noise is essential for your meditation room. It’s one of the only electronic items (aside from lights) that you’ll need. Try and get something small that won’t overpower the room and distract from the decor.
3. Calming decor — You’ll want a soft color for the walls; perhaps a soft off-white or a cool shade of green. Try to incorporate some live plants as well, since they’re always great for adding a calming element to a room and giving off oxygen. Decorations should be soothing and subtle, and as non-distracting as possible. When decorating a meditation room, it’s best to stay on the minimalist side of things so that you don’t risk making the room too “loud.” One thing that can really make the decor of a meditation room come alive is a water wall. It doesn’t have to be big, but even a small one with the sound of running water can make a room incredibly relaxing. If you’re going to invest in your own relaxation, a water wall will have some good returns.
4. Minimal furniture — You only need one piece of furniture to sit on, and many people just prefer a small pillow in the middle of the room. If you want to incorporate more furniture, that’s fine, but you don’t really need to, and anything more than a side table or two, and perhaps a small couch if you’re not a fan of the pillow, will probably be too much. Again, go for a minimalist approach here.
However you design your room, you want to make sure it’s distinguished and set apart from the rest of your house, both in appearance and in the way it feels. If your goal is to keep things minimal, you won’t have to spend a lot of money. Get the decorations you want and do what you need to do to make the room a place of quietness and tranquility. If you do that, your home meditation sessions should see a significant benefit.