How to Practice Yoga With a Chronic Illness

I’m not a yoga teacher, I have no qualifications other than practising yoga and having a chronic illness. So please always talk to your doctor and a professional yoga teacher before starting your practice!

 

I have been practicing yoga for over two years. Before that, occasional games on the Wii Fit and reading Eat Pray Love was as close as I got to meditation or a vinyasa flow. Nowadays, I practice yoga in many different ways and I would say that it was a big turning point in both taking control of my illness and changing my mind set for the future.

For anyone who doesn’t know, yoga is a physical and spiritual practice that is thousands  of years old. Yoga incorporates mindfulness – living in the moment, not judging others or yourself – physical asanas, or poses which are designed to stretch the body, build strength and prepare the body for sitting in meditation for extended periods of time.

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With yoga, you can choose to take part in all elements, including chanting ‘om’ and the philosophy behind yoga, or you can choose to just take on parts of the practice, asanas, meditation, deep breathing.

For me, my yoga practice changes with my health, but it barely ever goes away all together.

In this post I am going to talk about my yoga practice when I am well (ish), having a flare up or when I am really unwell. Hopefully these different sections will help you wherever you’re at.

Otherwise I would highly recommend checking out Yoga With Adriene through her website or YouTube channel. Also Rachel Brathen or Yoga Girl on her website and Instagram for more information. They are fully trained yoga teachers with many videos, podcasts and articles to tell you more than I can.

 

Yoga When I’m Well

Well for me, this means not being exhausted or in pain, still needing to eat well and allow myself time to rest. It means feeling well in mind and spirit, more positive and able to consider the future.

For my yoga, it means attending a class at least once a week and doing an online video every day. For yoga class I go to a gentle vinyasa class midweek and I might also try and get to an evening yin class and a weekend workshop usually lasting two hours. I make the most of feeling well by fitting more physical yoga into my week. I will also try to meditate for ten to twenty minutes each day and journal about my days, the things I’m thankful for, the things I’m worried about and the the goals I’m setting myself for the next few days.

 

Yoga When I’m Having a Flare Up

Flare up is a funny term, but for me it means when I’m feeling unwell but not at my worst. My joints will be sore, I might not be sleeping, my appetite might not be fantastic, I may be having dizzy spells and my mood will be low. Usually at this time I struggle not to worry about the future. I’ll worry about become more unwell, but I’ll also worry about bigger more irrational things.

For my yoga, I will try to keep things consistent with twenty minutes a day vinyasa and additional ten minutes breath work. I might not make it to class, or I might try to get to a class once a fortnight. I’ll keep with my journal and might listen to podcasts or meditation videos more to make up for not being able to make it to classes. At these sorts of times, it’s about keeping my stress levels down so I don’t become more unwell and not worrying about the strengthening practice of physical yoga.

 

Yoga When I’m Really Unwell

Really unwell for me can mean being completely exhausted, barely able to get out of bed and do the normal things like shower and get dressed, struggling even to eat. It can mean being sick, hospital trips, infections and lots of muscle and joint pain. Luckily, this happens a lot less than it did when I was a teenager, but I still have coping mechanisms there for if it does happen. Yoga is just as important during these times, if not more important.

I rely on the video, Mediation for Anxiety by Yoga with Adriene to help me sleep most nights and will try to mediate during the day as well. I will use some gentle stretches such as cat-cow, cobblers pose and legs up the wall to help with any joint pain before bed. I won’t even think about making it to a class as booking into one and not making it will feel disheartening.

This is also when I like to read about yoga, to feel as though I am not losing touch with the practice altogether. Yoga Girl, Eat Pray Love, books about mindfulness and travel are all the types of books I like to read when I am really unwell. I also keep a journal of my worries and create a list of things I can do while I’m unwell – reading certain books, films I want to watch.

Then I create a list of things I’m going to do when I’m well – a particular walk I love, a yoga class I want to get back to, a place I want to visit. I focus more on meditation but try just ten minutes of gentle stretching before bed on an evening and try to walk, even if just round the block, once a day. It’s really important to get some fresh air and when I was really unwell as a teenager I would often sit outside wrapped up in fleeces and blankets for a while to get some air and some sun. It might not seem yogic, but taking the time to breathe deeply in the fresh air, is yoga in my opinion.

 

 

Do you practice yoga? Has it helped with your health problems? Let me know in the comments below and share any of your favourite places to go for yoga inspiration.

 

Speak soon,

Hannah

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