I have been practicing yoga for nearly three years and I am far from an expert on the subject. My knowledge is only about my own practice and my personal experience. But what I do know is that yoga has helped me massively over the years and I am now committed to a daily yoga practice and I’m certain that yoga will be part of my life forever!
Having a chronic illness definitely changed the way that I experienced yoga, particularly in the early days but even now that my health has greatly improved, I believe having a chronic illness can bring a unique perspective to a regular yoga practice. Here are four things I’ve learned about yoga and illness:
1) There is always Childs Pose
I often joke with one of my yoga teachers about there always being Childs Pose and that it’s my favourite posture. It’s really important when starting to practice yoga to feel able to return to child’s pose during a class and take a moment to breathe and pause. Having started yoga at a time when I was experiencing chronic pain and was very unfit, even in beginners classes I often had to return to Childs pose and this need has removed any embarrassment about doing so in classes today.
2) No one is watching and no one knows what my body can and can’t do
I think that many exercise classes can open us up to comparing our bodies and our abilities to others. This is definitely something that has put me off trying group exercise in the past.
Yoga doesn’t have space for comparison (despite what social media might suggest) and as a lot of the practice involves our eyes being closed no one is watching anyway. And something yoga has taught me is that there are always variations to make poses accessible and no one else knows what your body has been through so they’re not wondering why you aren’t flexible or as fit as you would like to be, they are focused on their own breath and their own movements.
3) Movement is part of being well
I don’t like the idea that diet and exercise can fix everything. They definitely help and for everyone it’s an important foundation to lay, but an important caveat is that if you have health problems you need medication and that is fine. I take quite a lot of medication but as my health has improved I have taken my diet and exercise seriously to increase my strength and wellbeing as much as I can for myself.
Yoga really fits into this, both for physical and mental wellbeing. I step onto the mat as much as possible and if I feel myself getting stressed or feel myself getting achy, I turn to yoga. I also love walking and try to spend as much time moving each day as possible. I really do believe that movement is medicine – for the body and for the mind.
4) Whatever our bodies can do, is amazing
The first time I really appreciated my body and it’s abilities was on a yoga mat. In fact I’m pretty sure it was a Slow Flow Vinyasa class when I managed to reach back with one hand and catch my foot in a mermaid pose variation.
My happiness had nothing to do with ego. It was simply appreciation of being able to get on the mat and having a body able to move. Whether your practice is meditation based, whether you are sitting in a chair or if you manage a sun salutation each morning to start the day, it is all amazing and a long period of illness has helped me to appreciate this even more.