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! 

 

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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.

A celebration breakfast

I’ve just been to the shoulder physio and am having a celebratory breakfast as I’ve said my goodbyes. My shoulder has been niggly and there’s still some joint instability, but it is as good as it’s going to get. I’m cleared for swimming but was told to pace myself, not to swim every day and to make sure my stroke is deep. She’s given me the name of a swimming coach so I’ll probably get a couple of lessons to correct my stroke. I’ve been told pain in the 2-3 range is ok, pain during/after swimming is ok but if the joint is sore the next day I’m to do less.

Because of my hypermobility it’s very important I exercise and maintain strength in my muscles to protect my joints. Swimming is a very safe exercise and given my track record of injury that is where I’m starting! I also asked the physio about the yoga because many people are telling me that yoga is not good for hypermobile people. She told me it’s fine as long as I never melt into a position, I must be ready to jump out of a posture in 1second. It’s become very clear to me that when I return to yoga I’ll need to do it with a beginners mind. That will be a journey in itself.

So I’m sitting in a cafe (on a cushion for my hip), enjoying the sunshine and feeling a sense of optimism about the future. The hip recovery is going well and I’ve got two more weeks off work to focus 100% on my rehabilitation. I’m so pleased I’m able to use some of that time swimming and am able to put my shoulder issues behind me.

Two injuries down (ankle and shoulder)… just my hip to go! Life is good.

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Ligamentous Laxity

The other day when finding out that I’d torn a ligament in my shoulder I asked my physiotherapist “What is with my joints?” “Why do I keep getting hurt so easily?”.  She said its because my ligaments are too lax.  I’ve had a few treatment providers tell me over the years that my ligaments are lax and/or my joints are very loose and I’ve never really understood what that meant until recently.

The biggest and most important piece of information I’ve learnt from talking to my physiotherapist is that to avoid injury I MUST exercise and stay strong.  Usually the ligaments hold the bones together and create stability in the joint.  Because my ligaments are lax, my muscles have to do the work for them. The reason why I’ve had so many issues this year is because I’ve been unable to exercise due to the hip pain, my rehabilitation programme ended and I wasn’t able to keep pushing through the pain by myself.  So I’ve lost a lot of strength and now my body is starting to fall apart!

I didn’t realise I had this problem until this year and it has been a big “ah ha” moment for me.  I understand now that yoga came too easily to me, I was doing things in my first month of yoga that take some people years of practice to achieve (I didn’t know this until speaking to my teacher earlier this year).  I understand that why the list of injuries from childhood to adulthood so very long; I’ve injured ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and wrists.  I also understand that my feet aren’t flat, the ligaments just don’t hold them up when I’m standing up.

But having lax ligaments has got to have some advantages:

  • I’ve got great range of movement (ROM) in my hip where most people with FAI and associated joint deterioration struggle with loosing ROM and get very stiff.  Not me.  I’ve lost some ROM, but I’d say its probably still better than the average.
  • I’ve not had to do any stretching as part of my physiotherapy and rehabilitation programme.
  • When I sprain my ankles the bone can hit the ground and my ligaments won’t tear.
  • Yoga can be easy.  This is a double edged advantage though as stretching is not good for people with lax ligaments (with the exception of hamstrings apparently).  When I return to the mat I will have to be very careful to practice strength over flexibility.  I’ll also have to learn how to use muscles better and to stop before my end range.
  • I was very good at the limbo when I was a kid.  And I can win that drinking game where you pick up a coin with your mouth without putting your hands/knees on the floor.
  • Sitting on the floor is very comfortable. And I can lie on my tummy (on the floor) and watch TV easily.

OK… I know I’m clutching at straws, it is not really an ideal situation but it is very manageable.  My plan is to get through this hip surgery and then focus on the return to exercise.  I’ll go back to yoga however it will be a practice that focuses on strength over flexibility.  I’ll also return to the gym, hopefully get back into boxing and spin classes.

Here are some photos of things I don’t think I’ll be doing again in any hurry:

 

Hip Bursitis (aka Lumpy)

When I was in India I started getting a new “defect” in the hip. A lump of swelling and burning pain down the side of my hip/thigh. Ice and rest helped, eventually we worked out the motion of cat/cow (yoga postures) was aggravating it. But while things have improved somewhat, ever since then my new symptom Lumpy has been hanging around. I ice my hip regularly and that’s really the only thing that helps with the swelling. My physio sent me off for an ultrasound and the results came back today, I’ve got Bursitis, swelling of the bursa on my hip. Unfortunately the treatment is anti-inflammatories and rest from aggravating activities (ie, sport). I’m not doing enough activity because of the FAI to warrant resting and I’m allergic to anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs). This leaves me with ice which I’m already using. I’ve got an appointment to see my surgeon on Thursday to discuss my operation, so I will ask him what the options are for the bursitis. My physio mentioned a cortisone injection is a possibility and he might be able to do it when he sees me. But in the meantime… Ice.

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Yoga yoga everywhere

Yoga yoga everywhere… I’m kind of over it! I’m staying in a different part of Mysore this year and it’s where all the yoga schools are, consequently where all the yoga students are. Mysore attracts a certain type of yoga student and the high number of students in one suburb (at least 1,000) creates a slightly weird vibe. Almost all of the conversations around me seem to be yoga centric, there are a few weirdos around and a lot of people who take their yoga oooh so seriously. I much preferred the location of where my school used to be, it was in a quiet suburb with a much smaller number of yoga students who were laid back and happy to integrate into the relaxed local lifestyle. But, alas, things change and I need to adapt accordingly. I think next time I’ll get a place with a kitchen so I don’t have to eat out all the time. That will make a big difference.

In hip related news, the ice calmed down that flare up nicely and I’m back to normal levels of pain, I still can’t lie on my left side but the swelling has reduced significantly. Phew.

Yoga wise… I had a wee hissy fit the other day, cried for the first time in ages but am feeling a lot better now. Being here in Mysore and unable to do my old yoga practice is like salt in the wounds… it is painful but also healing. I’ve got less than 2weeks left, so I need to focus my energy on staying positive, looking forward (not in the past) and getting the most out of my time here. Now that I’ve shed my tears and dropped some of the angry feelings my yoga practice is improving. Go figure! It’s starting to look a lot less like physiotherapy and more like a yoga asana practice. Yay.

Here is a photo of a pranic coffee (nuts, almond milk, banana and coffee) and the pool. Life here is pretty good.

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