Tears of sadness on the yoga mat

I’ve been getting progressively worse since leaving Mysore. Better in some ways, but worse in others. I’ve been pushing the limits and exploring my “edge” so that has resulted in more pain. But I’ve amazed myself with what I can do. I’ve walked for hours at a time, swam in the sea for 45mins several times and cycled to the market and back. These are all things I’ve not been able to do in years without a major flare up. 

But since returning to Thailand my sleep routine has changed, I’m not eating as well, I’ve been spending more time on the computer and in front of the TV. Bangkok is noisier, brighter and more stressful than Mysore. I’ve been playing with a 3yr old, lifting her and carrying her at times. This brings me joy but it’s physically challenging. I’ve also noticed my stress levels have been increasing as I worry about money, moving to a new country and finding a job. I am also avoiding the yoga mat.

It’s pretty easy to work out why some of my old symptoms are coming back. My joints hurt, the central sensitisation is worse and my feet are burning. Luckily I know what I need to do to resolve the situation and address the downwards spiral. The first step is address the sleep hygiene, have a massage (sort out over tight  muscles) and face the music on my yoga mat. 

The yoga mat is a funny place, before the chronic pain it used to be a place of retreat, relaxation, fun, community and physical challenge. I always loved it as it was a diversion from my busy life and a space to unwind. Now it’s a place where I check in with myself, and feel the effects of my lifestyle and whatever is going on with my health. There’s no running away from the pain on my yoga mat and this is the direct opposite to my old favourite pain management tool of distracting myself from pain. No wonder I’ve been avoiding my yoga mat! 

As much as I don’t like to feel the pain, yoga usually does make things better even if it hurts a lot to get started and it’s difficult to keep going. But I’m not enjoying yoga these days as it’s painful and lonely. Even when I was practicing in a class environment in Mysore, I was the girl in the corner doing something completely different to everyone else. I’ve not done a yoga class in years and I can’t wait to go back to classes to feel part of a yoga community again.

Today after a short yoga practice (aborted because pain levels were too high), I did a Yoga Nidra for 30min to calm my nervous system and reduce the central sensitisation. Suddenly I started to cry, I felt overwhelmed by sadness as I realised I’ve come to a point where I need to accept that managing pain is still a big part of my life. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s forcing me to live a much healthier, more mindful and balanced life. Many people live a life in chronic pain, I’m not alone in this. But it’s up to me to decide how I handle the situation moving forward. I could choose to go down the path of endless medical appointments, treatments and sitting on the sideline because I can’t do things. Or, I can live my life like a “normal person” and intergrate wellness and preventive measures into my lifestyle to avoid getting so bad I get sucked into doctors appointments and needed treatments to get better. 

I’m a big believer of “everything happens for a reason” – perhaps pain is the best way my body knows of how to push me into a healthy lifestyle! 

 

Will I ever be ok? 

As I near the end of my 4 months of yoga therapy, I’m starting to wonder… Will I ever be ok? It’s been a long 4 months of 90min yoga therapy sessions 5-6x a week that has been specifically designed to meet my needs. While everyone else is doing advanced yoga, I’m very much back to basics. It’s so frustrating and a little dull. I’m not even allowed to join the class to do the sun salutations. It’s very humbling to go from having a strong practice to this. While I have significantly improved, I’m still having pain in multiple joints and am struggling somewhat to progress. I’m at the stage where I’m wondering “Will I ever be OK?”.  This hip injury has been such a long, painful and tedious journey.

These days hip itself is actually ok (mostly), it’s my ankle, shoulder, neck and wrists that are causing grief and stopping me from progressing with the yoga. I am seriously questioning if yoga is for me but I’m not quite ready to give up. Before surgery I tried a few yoga classes and it always destabilised my pelvis and significantly increased the hip pain. The problem with the classes was that it was hatha style, and I never knew what I was getting until I was in the class. Some classes were better than others. Theoretically now my hip has been fixed and I’ve got a lot more strength, I should be ok but my other joints are playing up. I’m a little fearful of making things worse because of the hypermobility. Some people say yoga is ok and helpful, others say it’s a terrible idea. My instinct is that the right kind of yoga will support my health and joints moving forward, it’s just a case of taking it slowly and not pushing myself. I need to find the right teacher to help me find my way.  I am having doubts that my teacher in India is the best person to help me find my way. This is disappointing as I’ve considered myself a student of his since 2008, he was my first ever yoga teacher and to some degree has had a big impact on my life. My yoga practice changed me in so many ways.

Because of these doubts I’ve been reading up on hyper-mobility and I learnt that it takes 6-12 months of exercise 5x a week to build up the necessasary muscle tone to support hyper-mobile joints.  Muscle tone is different to muscle strength, muscle tone is how your muscles feel when at rest… a few months ago mine were soft and pudgy. I’m starting to get some muscle tone but I’m really only 3-4months in, so really need to keep up with the exercise despite the pain. Hopefully once I have muscle tone back the joints will be less painful. When I was active (before the hip problems) I had minimal joint pain, and I’ve had a physio tell me it’s very very important to exercise regularly for the rest of my life.  I know exercise is very important and while the next 6 months might hurt a little, I need to keep working on it. It’s just a case of working out the best approach.

Soon I’ll no longer be under the guidance of my yoga teacher, the training wheels are coming off and I really do need to trust that “it WILL be ok”.  I can do this, I’ve already come so far. I think I’ll probably continue with my yoga sequence, modify it a little to make it more enjoyable and hopefully less painful. My instinct and experience is that my joints like to move, I think starting with basic sun salutations is best for me. I’ll seek my teachers opinion first, then experiment with it. I think I’ll also do less yoga and more swimming/cycling. I’ll be going to Bangkok where I’ll have access to a pool and exercycle so I’ll make the most of that.  Hopefully after a few more months I’ll be ready to try a beginners yoga course and can take it from there.  When I go back to yoga classes in the west I think it’s very important to start with a beginners mind and make sure my technique is sound. I believe that a strong foundation of strength and knowledge will set the scene for an enjoyable, balancing and safe asana practice. I really hope so.

It will be ok. 

I am ok. 

It is ok. 

I will continue to be ok. 

It’s going to be ok. 

I will be ok.

Expectations, a recipe for disappointment

Latest update from India. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. I’m feeling a bit disappointed, for some reason I thought if I stayed here long enough I’d get a piece of my “old life” back. I think this was a mistake, there is no going back and I’ll never be the person I was before CRPS & my hip problems. I’m a lot healthier though, I’m sleeping better and I can walk. Surely that’s enough? I can’t believe that being able to walk is an accomplishment after 4 months of yoga therapy. But I’m feeling I can leave my crutches behind and that’s a HUGE deal! Something to be very happy and proud of, so why do I feel sad? 

I guess I’m on the slow and steady path, my instinct is telling me to get back in the pool as my body is actually quite sore and I’m not enjoying the yoga anymore. I feel sad to leave Mysore as I don’t know if I’ll come back, things are different here – but everything changes and evolves, this is life. One door closes and another opens. I don’t feel I fit in with all these super-yogis, I look at them doing the crazy stuff I used to do and wonder… what’s the point? Why do I want this? Prana Vashya is a beautiful practice, but it’s been out of reach for a long time… I think it’s time to just let it go.

I need to start writing again!

Ok, I think its time to start writing again. The blog has been quietly ignored for a few months now for a variety of reasons. Mostly because sitting is still an issue for me after my surgery and computer work isn’t the best thing for me. Also because I’ve been so busy, busy with recovery from my hip surgery and busy with life.

At the moment I’m in India and 5 weeks into my yoga therapy course.   I left New Zealand mid October and travelled to Thailand to spend time with my family. After a few weeks in Bangkok I flew to Kolkata and did some travelling with a good friend of mine, this was a challenge on crutches but more about that later! After a week I then made my way to Mysore in Sothern India where I plan to stay for the next few months doing a yoga therapy course. This will be my 5th trip to Mysore to study yoga with my teacher Vinay Kumar (Pranavashya Yoga). My goal for this trip is to get my strength back, wean off my medications and find a way to return to a physical yoga practice.

Since arriving in Mysore I’ve managed to wean off my crutches completely (finally) and have significantly reduced my medications. My strength and range of movement is improving and I’m walking short distances without a limp. I still get some pain and swelling, but its manageable as long as I limit my activities and rest between my classes. The yoga sequence I am doing is designed for me so it doesn’t flare up the pain, my teacher is excellent and clearly knows what he is doing. I feel like I’m in good hands.

My days are quite long here, not because they are full of activity, quite the opposite in fact! At this stage I’m only allowed to attend one yoga class and have been instructed to rest well between. Because I’m still not able to sit in a chair without flaring up the pain my projects are on hold for now. This means I’ve got a lot of time to read and think. The thinking is why I think I need to start writing again!

I hope that writing will help me process what I’m feeling 4 months after surgery as I step on the threshold to a seemingly normal life without severe chronic pain. My accident was in 2009, I had my first surgery in 2010, major CRPS episodes in 2011 & 2012 and my second surgery in 2014 – I’ve forgotten what a normal life without pain is like, the transition from being a patient to a person is more challenging than you’d expect.

My month of yoga therapy comes to an end

My month of yoga therapy in Mysore is over. It’s not been easy and it didn’t end up being the magic cure I’d hoped it would be, but it was hugely beneficial. I feel like my battery has been recharged, I’ve met some lovely people, I’ve got a tan, I’m sleeping better and am physically much stronger now. I can feel muscles waking up all over my body which is great. My pain levels haven’t shifted much, which is disappointing, but given the amount of physical activity I’ve done it’s not bad at all. I had a few flare ups along the way but I managed these and they didn’t affect my holiday (or the yoga) too much.

I’ve now got a simple yoga practice I can do at home for one month and then I’ll need to start working with a yoga teacher at home. My home practice is a continuation of the strengthening sequence I did in Mysore, it’s going to be a challenge to find the time but I HAVE to do it! I’ve seen and felt the improvements from one month, so that will spur me on to do a second month. I’ve come this far, can’t give up. Walking is still an issue so my other goal is to swim 2-3 times a week. This will help with my cardio fitness, the weight loss and justify my gym membership. If I don’t start using that gym, the membership has to go.

What’s next… Well, a few days on a beach in Thailand to finish the tan and eat seafood. After that it’s back to reality and back to work. I’ve got 2 weeks left of my rehab program with the physiotherapist and an appointment with my surgeon. I’ll get a second opinion on whatever he says and then will make a decision. I’ll either have the surgery (if it’s recommended) or I’ll put the question about surgery behind me and get on with living my life with chronic pain. Both paths are a bit shitty but at least I can see a way through this mess. I’m looking forward to putting the seemingly endless medical appointments behind me and getting on with living my life.

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New moon, new attitude

After battling with myself (and in a way, my teacher) for almost 4 weeks it came to a head. I stayed after class and had a good discussion with my teacher, we both said our piece and cleared the air. I feel a bit bad because I don’t think it’s the Indian way to challenge your teacher, but I was respectful and the conversation really needed to happen. I highly respect my teacher, he introduced yoga to my life and has taught me so much over the years. So after our talk I decided “new moon, new attitude”and have been going to class with a much more positive attitude, accepting that “boring-asana” is what I need right now. Since then, there have been no more tears on the mat and I’m feeling so much lighter. It is a shame I wasted so much time being angry and frustrated with myself. Oh well, such is life with chronic pain.

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Yoga Therapy: End of week 4 – reflections

Another week has past and I’m getting close to ending my stay in Mysore. I’m going to extend the course by a few more days and finish up next Thursday. Then on Friday I’ll travel back to Bangkok to see my family before returning to New Zealand.

This week has brought tears of frustration, a little bit of anger, confusion, a discussion with my teacher and finally the calm after the storm. I’ve come to accept where I am with my yoga and my rehabilitation. I still hate “boring-asana” and a few of the rehabilitative exercises I have to do, but I’m enjoying some of the more challenging postures. I’m also pleased to report I’m getting some muscles in my arms, back and feet. I’m sure the rest of me is being strengthened too.

With only a handful of days left I am wondering what my home practice will look like. I suspect it will be very similar to what I’m doing now and am preparing myself for that. What will be, will be. I’m trying to remember that hard lesson I had about expectations and try to keep mine fairly low. My teacher knows his stuff and I need to follow through with the home practice he gives me or I’ll never be able to return to Mysore again!

Health wise I’ve noticed a few small changes this week. The hip pain itself is still there and doesn’t feel like it’s changed much, sitting is still the worst and standing and walking aren’t easy either. The new swelling I had for a good 10 days has resolved itself thankfully which means sleeping is a little easier. I have noticed my pelvis feels less tilted and I’m much stronger in my feet. The nerve pain in my thigh has reduced somewhat, but the hip joint has started clicking again. The other piece of good news is that I’ve slept the last few nights without medication.

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