I would like to share my experience of living with a chronic pain condition in the hope it might give some assistance and insight to others in a similar situation.
I am a yoga teacher and as such you might expect me to be flexible and strong, and in reality I don’t do too badly. I say this with a sense of achievement as I also have Rheumatoid Arthritis, an auto immune disease of the joints and connective tissue.
5 years ago I was a corporate career woman. I had fantastic jobs in the city and the swagger to match. I was always busy rushing from meeting to meeting being super important and I played as hard as I worked.
Like many people, I fully expected my lifestyle to remain unchanged for the foreseeable future, and like many people I was mistaken.
In 2012, I developed RA and to be honest I was knocked sideways with the impact of being in continuous pain. It was inescapable. It was the first thing I felt in the morning and (assuming sleep didn’t allude me altogether) it was my last waking thought. It filled my head all day and every day and it had started to redefine me as a person.
I was afraid of the future and incredibly sad over the past I had lost.
I was eventually prescribed drugs to manage my condition and in some respects the side effects of them were as bad as the RA itself. Methotrexate, a chemotherapy drug, made me sick, tired and initially didn’t even reduce the pain. Aside from all this I found myself in a maze of well-meaning advice and I really didn’t know which way to turn.
It was 2013 when I decided to train to be a yoga teacher and at this point my pain was around an 8/10 most days. I had listened to health professionals who advised that increasing the amount of exercise I did daily would help. I researched the advice, and yes it made perfect sense. The more you flex and compress a joint the more the connective tissue is stimulated, stiffness is reduced and the joint degradation slows down.
The issue I had was that the pain I felt whilst moving increased my anxiety and bought my reality into sharp focus; and aside from anything else it hurt a lot. I found myself surrounded by people that were stronger and more able than myself and as a result I would leave classes feeling awful.
My yoga teacher training taught me to move and breathe daily in a way that supported both my mind and my body.
This is where you might expect me to say that yoga cured my RA? Unfortunately not, but yoga and meditation have been significant in providing me with a toolkit to cope with my condition and I am pleased to say that, today, my RA is largely under control.
What did I learn?
How has this shaped my teaching?
Firstly let me say how grateful I am to have the opportunity to teach yoga. It is truly an honour, but not only that, my teaching schedule ensures that I move my body everyday and as a result I really reap the benefit.
My objective, as a teacher , is that everyone who comes to my class feels relaxed and does what they can. After all, just leaning into our objectives yields great results and in my experience the most impressive yogi in the room is very often the one who turns up despite life’s challenges.
I really want to support everyone in developing their own yoga practise but I am especially keen to assist those that feel they can’t do yoga because … and this is because you can, you don’t need to be strong, bendy or beautiful in lycra in order to benefit from yoga. So if you can’t come to my classes find a teacher or a class somewhere that suits your learning style.
In summary RA is a pain, literally. However, with the benefit of hindsight, RA has given me far more than it has taken. The mental strength I have developed easily outstrips the physical strength I have lost. In addition to this I feel that my perspective on life is softer and more empathetic.
Overall I am a happier, more content person than I was back in 2011 so I guess it was actually a gift.
Please get in touch if you would like any further information relating to how you can use yoga and meditation to help you cope with pain or chronic illness.
Until next time.