Yoga: one of those trendy fitness phenomena that doesn’t seem to be going away.
That was all I really associated with the word “yoga” prior to the past few months. I had some brushes with it in the past—attending a few one-off classes with friends prior to the onset of my illness in 2014, and even volunteering once for a local Wanderlust festival—yet somehow it never caught my attention in any meaningful way. When I used to think of fitness, things like soccer, weight training or biking would come to mind; I suppose yoga just didn’t seem “flashy” enough, nor did it fit my narrow idea of what I expected to get out of an hour of physical activity.
But after becoming more familiar with the ideas of mindfulness and incorporating short meditations into my daily routine, the desire to take a closer look at yoga recently resurfaced. The final push came from noticing how many people attribute a part of their mental wellbeing to having a regular yoga practice, and having the activity suggested directly to me by supportive voices responding to my post A Glimpse Into My Anxiety (including my sweet blogging friend Inhale Light!).
With a renewed appetite to improve my mental health, now is as good of a time as any to check the yoga box off my to-do list, I thought.
It’s one thing to have the desire to do something, but it’s another thing altogether (especially with anxiety) to go through each of the small steps required to actually execute on that desire. So I consider myself fortunate that the local gym of which I’m a member has an array of free drop-in classes, removing the need to find a yoga studio and pay additional fees.
So What’s It Been Like So far?
Better than I expected.
I only started yoga 3 weeks ago, but it’s a practice I am incredibly grateful for and one I will most likely stick with for the foreseeable future. In the time since, I’ve tried hatha yoga, flow yoga, yoga pilates fusion, and yin/yang yoga, enjoying them to varying degrees but finding reward in all of them. Excuse me for being naive, but who knew there were so many different styles! I’ve also found that the nature of the individual leading the class has significant bearing on the experience.
While I have yet to settle into a particular class, yin/yang yoga has so far edged the rest. Yin poses are held for longer periods of time than in other styles of yoga, which in my experience has helped to stretch my body more deeply and to feel relaxed. I didn’t think I’d enjoy the slower pace, but it has a meditative quality that integrates wonderfully with the physical movement component (we’re hitting two birds with one stone here!). The yang element—with more dynamic, challenging poses—is a great counterbalance that keeps the practice feeling like a true workout.
Yoga, in general, has made me more aware of the limited range of movement my body has (not that it’s particularly inadequate; it’s just nothing to be excited about). It’s humbling to see how much further than me that some people can bend their bodies, and it’s ignited an internal desire to become more flexible.
The Mindset Shift
So far, the biggest benefit I’ve enjoyed has been the awakened sense of interconnectedness I have between my mind and body. I didn’t actually realize how disconnected they were previously; I’m not really sure how to explain this, but I suppose you could say that my body had become a foreign place to me.
This is especially true after dealing with chronic illness for the past 3 and a half years, much of that time with an unclear grasp of what exactly is wrong (and to this day, still going through a demystification process). After awhile you start to operate from the place of “my body is failing me,” at the darkest of times feeling like it’s waging a war against you.
Yoga has helped me to confront this unhelpful mentality head on. Rather than regarding my body as a liability—prone to inhibiting my actions with its fatigue, inflammation, and general misbehaviour—I have started to reframe the narrative to one that considers my body my friend (as cheesy as that may sound). It’s not simply choosing to be unwell; all things considered, it’s in fact doing the best that it can to remedy the dysfunctional processes going on inside of me and to keep me alive.
The significance of that mindset shift cannot be overstated, especially for those battling chronic illness and battling the mental toll it has on your psyche.
For that reason, I can wholeheartedly say that I am grateful for having yoga in my life. With other forms of physical activity I would say that the natural focus is on something external: shooting the soccer ball and scoring, increasing the weight lifted, peddling a greater distance. But with yoga, the natural focus is turned inward towards yourself and your body. Both on the mat and off, I am now more mindful of how my body moves and appreciative of the dynamic processes it takes care of.
By learning to be grateful for my body, it’s become easier to swallow the reality of living with chronic illness.
- Yoga has been a wonderful addition to the arsenal of tools I am using to recover from chronic illness, especially on a mental level. It has helped me to see my body as my friend rather than my enemy, a mindset shift that has alleviated some of the mental burden of living with chronic illness.
- If you’re on the fence about yoga, I encourage you to jump over! Just try it with an open mind. Don’t expect the same type of physical reward you might feel from straining your body with a sport like soccer or a workout with weights. Yoga provides you with an opportunity to develop mindfulness and appreciation for your body.
- There are many different types of yoga, as well as different types of teachers. I would recommend trying out a number of classes to find one that best engages your mind and body depending on your individual preferences.
To my fellow bloggers with a yoga practice: do you have any perspectives you’d like to share with a newbie like me? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! And for anyone else, feel free to let me know what your thoughts are on yoga, recovering from chronic illness, or anything else you’d like to share (even if it’s just a simple hello) 🙂