Here’s What Happened When I Tried Yoga

Introduction

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 pastattending a few one-off classes with friends prior to the onset of my illness in 2014, and even volunteering once for a local Wanderlust festivalyet 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.

yoga mat, mental health

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 elementwith more dynamic, challenging posesis 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 liabilityprone to inhibiting my actions with its fatigue, inflammation, and general misbehaviourI 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.

Final Thoughts

  • 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) 🙂

24 Comments

  1. Raven Van Camp
    May 11, 2018 / 4:11 pm

    I did yoga every day before I got sick, and tried to do it every day in the last 2 years but had to stop due to fainting and chronic fatigue. However! You make me want to try it again, especially yin yoga. Not at all foolish of you to not know about the different types of yoga! I certainly didn’t. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 11, 2018 / 11:59 pm

      Hi Raven, thank you for taking the time to comment! I hadn’t included discussion on the different types of yoga I’ve tried in the first draft of this post, but I’m glad I added that in after hearing from you. I’m sorry you are dealing with those symptoms to the extent that they’ve interfered with your yoga practice, but I hope you will find a yin class that matches the level of intensity that you are comfortable with. Happy to share my thoughts with readers like you 🙂

  2. May 11, 2018 / 4:24 pm

    I appreciate your post. I have been doing yoga for a little over a year and have recently realized how valuable it is to my goals of a more healthy lifestyle. Like you, I enjoy the deep stretching as it makes my body feel more relaxed, which doesn’t happen often. As someone with a chronic illness and anxiety, I have found that an at home practice works best for me. It takes the social pressure off and I am able to focus more on the silence, meditation, and connection. I hope you continue to enjoy the benefits!

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 12:05 am

      It’s wonderful to hear the positive role that yoga plays for you! Thanks for sharing. I certainly understand what you mean about the comfort of having a home practice and I’m glad you’ve found a routine that suits your preferences. For me, going to a class has functioned as a great way to get out of the house and change up my scenery. Thank you for the positive thoughts 🙂

  3. David
    May 11, 2018 / 10:05 pm

    I love your post. Well written and thought out. I too, was naive. I never knew there was so many different forms of yoga until reading your post. I am happy for you, to find such benefits from exercising.

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 12:09 am

      Thanks for checking out my post and for the positive feedback! I appreciate your words and hope you’re having a wonderful day 🙂

  4. May 11, 2018 / 11:35 pm

    So I was thinking about getting into yoga and your post has inspired me more but do you have to go to a class or can you do it at home ?

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 12:21 am

      Awesome to hear that you’re considering yoga! I don’t think attending a class in-person is necessary, however you should have some sort of guidance so that way you get a feel for what you’re doing and don’t overextend your body. I haven’t dug too deeply but there looks to be a lot of good YouTube videos out there of guided meditations that you could throw on your TV/monitor and following along with 🙂

  5. May 12, 2018 / 7:48 am

    Okay thank you I think it would help with relaxing and not being so stressed not sure what a life without stress is tho

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 9:14 am

      I hear you! Start with wherever you’re at and work upwards from there. As far as stress, I think there will always be some level of it that exists in each of our lives however we can work at improving our reactions to it 🙂 Cheers and have a good weekend!

  6. LeLo Hunt
    May 12, 2018 / 10:31 am

    I just started a 30 day yoga challenge on YouTube. I’m so excited about. Keep up the good work.

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 10:53 am

      That’s great to hear! I hope you benefit from it like I have. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  7. May 12, 2018 / 11:16 am

    Your post is exactly what i need! I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and the doctors keep recommending yoga. I had no idea there are so many flavors. I really need to do more research.!

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 12, 2018 / 12:29 pm

      Glad my post could help you out! With some research I think you will find a class suitable for you. I hope you find benefit from it as I do!

  8. May 13, 2018 / 8:10 pm

    Very well written

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 21, 2018 / 12:28 pm

      I appreciate you reading my post and leaving your feedback!

  9. May 14, 2018 / 4:49 pm

    Love this! I started doing yoga about a month ago. I LOVE IT! Took a 1 hr class every Thursday evening, 1 month and it is over. So, I bought a DVD. Having a hard time putting that DVD in.

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 21, 2018 / 12:40 pm

      Good for you for getting your feet wet! I know cost can be prohibitive but if you find that classes are the only thing that actually gets you to make the time for yoga, maybe reconsider trying to sign up for another (if you have Groupon, there are often yoga studios offering discounted rates). Or find a friend that is willing to do the DVD with you. Sometimes you just need that extra incentive. Hope you find your way back to the mat 🙂

  10. May 15, 2018 / 8:18 pm

    How wonderful for you to have such a wonderful experience that it has shifted your view of your body so positively. Cliche aside, it is wonderful that you came out of this learning how to love and appreciate yourself more. As you said before… that cannot be overstated enough.

    I can’t even imagine what it must be like to live with chronic illness, and I cannot imagine what it would do to my own psyche, so props to you for maintaining the way that you are. I’m sure the constant emotional record-keeping you’re maintaining in your blog is only contributing wonders to the mindfulness.

    P.S. I should try yoga.

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      May 21, 2018 / 12:55 pm

      My bad with the late reply (let alone sticking to that blogging schedule! Going to try to double down hard on that this week!). I appreciate your perspective and I’m really happy to be able to share my thoughts with others. If they have a positive impact, then great! Yes, try that yoga 😉 Speaking of chronic illness, if there’s something I hope that relatively healthy people can take away from my writing it’s to take the best darn care of your body as you can even if it’s not currently posing any problems. I’m genuinely very happy for you that you’ve got a beautiful healthy boy and wish ya’ll tons of healthy years into the future together as a family 🙂

      • May 21, 2018 / 1:23 pm

        My bad for the abuse of the word “wonderful” — I was quite tired when I wrote that, so it’s embarrassing to reread my response now.

        And thanks 🙂 I hit a strange breaking point a few years ago when I suffered from a seizure, and I had an emergency surgery on my right eye. It knocked me out of work for 2 months, and I was threatened with the possibility of losing complete sight in my right eye. So many emotions and hypothetical futures surged through my mind. While it sucked, the experience helped put things in greater perspective. (This was also around the same time my wife told me she was pregnant).

        So I love that you’re able to take this intense life experience and extract wisdom of it. Really follows the idiom of making lemonade out of lemons.

        • wherearemypillows
          Author
          May 21, 2018 / 2:09 pm

          To be honest I hadn’t caught the repeated use of the word the first time I read your comment, as the overall message was strong 🙂 . Wow, that would be quite the scare and I’m glad to hear that it didn’t end up as bad as it could have been (with losing complete sight). I bet that experience would certainly stay with you but at least you took something away from it, as sucky as it was. Thank you for the encouragement and feedback 🙂

  11. July 17, 2018 / 3:44 pm

    You are articulate and inspiring. I must get to know your blog better. I may even have to try yoga now! Thank you.

    • wherearemypillows
      Author
      July 18, 2018 / 10:07 am

      Thank you so much for the kind words! I hope you do give it a shot 🙂

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