Exercising for Pain Relief. Please, go read this fantastic blog post. The thing that really struck me about this post was the repeated notes about not being judgmental. I have always struggled with that, even before I had CRPS. But then again, with the health troubles I had as a kid, I was never as athletic as my peers, and I always felt like the exercise we did in school, for me, primarily served to display how I was inferior to the other kids.
Exercising while in pain is especially difficult. It is counter-intuitive to use parts of our body that are very painful, and it’s also the ONLY way to keep CRPS from getting worse. The few types of exercise I tend to enjoy, if I’m to be completely honest with myself, are the few that I don’t feel terrible at: swimming, dance, martial arts, and (originally)hatha yoga.
With yoga, the joke was on me: I have super-loose joints that allow me to get into poses I have no business in! This gumby-body actually makes yoga extremely difficult for me to do safely. Of course, I had no idea when I did my first yoga class–I felt awesome, because I didn’t have to try to be able to touch my toes or whatever–I could just hang from my bones off of my tendons almost without using any muscles whatsoever.
That is not the right way to do yoga. I was unknowingly setting myself up for injury, and it was sheer luck that I never gave myself an injury through yoga. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I had a teacher who was able to explain to me what I was doing and how to start to use my muscles to protect my joints. Suddenly, I was not good at yoga anymore. It was like going back to pre-school; I was discovering ways to use my body I had never considered before. I was actually understanding my body for the first time in my life.
Now, when I stretch, I can feel when I’m stretching a muscle (helpful) or pulling on a joint (harmful). I’ve been taught how to activate the muscles in my limbs to protect my shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles. I still don’t always remember–I’m working against 30 years of self-training. But when everything comes together, and my arms and legs push with stability and strength against my yoga mat, that is one of the best feelings in the world. I don’t take poses as far as I used to–and I get more out of them. I am so grateful to my first yoga teacher, Andrea, and my next, Beverly, for helping me discover how to use my body in ways that are safe and beneficial.
I think it’s also lucky, in a way, that I didn’t understand this right away. I had the chance to get fond of yoga and begin to work against my natural tendency to judge myself and compare myself to others (not very yogic) while I was able to feel like I had a talent for yoga. I don’t know that I would have been able to stick it out past my early attitude if I had known how far I needed to go. Now, it’s much easier to just enjoy what I am doing and how good for me it is. And I now have plenty of practice rerouting stray thoughts of comparison or judgement towards just working on what is best for me and being grateful for the company and energy of other students willing to work alongside me. Yoga is so much more rewarding (and so much closer to what it is meant to be) this way. I am grateful every day that my winding path brought me here.