The Conflict of Self-Care: Always Listen to Your Body By Katy, Wife, Writer, and Yoga Instructor • April 18, 2017
During the 15 years since I established my yoga practice, I have learned how to pace myself, challenge myself, push my boundaries and back off when I need to.
I know that as a result of a relapse that occurred early on, I have a deficit in my left leg. Balancing on that one side is often beyond my control no matter how deeply I am breathing and no matter how hard I concentrate on that one point of focus ahead of me. Sometimes I need to keep my right toes on the ground to provide support. Maybe I move to the wall to help find some steadiness. And when it comes to doing yoga with relapsing MS, my healthcare provider helps me figure out what my limits are, so I can keep challenging myself while being smart about it.
My practice has been my greatest lesson in wisdom. It began as a rehabilitation of sorts, my only option when I was experiencing a flare-up that made taking walks or going to the gym just out of my reach. Over time, I came to know poses better in my muscles and bones. I learned how to arrange my body in space and time to achieve each posture to the best of my ability. I also came to a place of compassion for myself, of respect for my determination to move through my practice with grace.
I relied on my 15 years of ballet experience to provide muscle memory and guidance as I learned new poses. And over the years, I developed the strength and endurance to move from restorative classes to a more rigorous power yoga practice. I like to blend my schedule with both types of movement, and I’ve learned how to modify poses to help my body feel safe, supported, and nourished.
But every now and then, I hear a nagging voice in my head during class when other practitioners are standing on their hands and the teacher is promising the class that, “If you just breathe through it, practice, before you know it, you will be able to achieve this pose, too!”
As a yoga teacher myself, I know that this type of encouragement is to be taken with a lump of salt. And I get annoyed when I hear this type of careless guidance that tries to conveniently group each practitioner into a one-size-fits-all paper doll pattern of people, uniform beings without unique body types, genetic makeups and challenges to overcome.
I know that each individual practice must be tailored to meet the needs of the practitioner and that I must listen closely to my body to find versions of poses that are most appropriate for me. But every now and then, I feel compelled to shout out, “I promise, I’m not lazy! I’m trying just as hard as you are. You can’t see the struggle, but it is very real!”
I have embraced the art of making my modifications look as beautiful as possible and practice my yoga with awareness, dignity, and gratefulness that I am able to move at all. And every now and then I will hear a compliment after class from someone who doesn’t know I have relapsing MS, confirmation that I am doing pretty well. I shouldn’t need to hear those words to feel some validation, but I’m human. Compliments are comforting.
Similarly, words of concern can be a little disheartening. A couple of weeks ago, I was taking a morning power yoga class, and I thought I was doing pretty well. After class, though, someone came up to me and said, “You feeling okay today? I noticed you were taking it easy.”
The comment was, of course, kind-hearted. Yet I flinched a bit when I heard it. Anyone living with chronic disease treasures those moments when we can focus on things other than our condition. And these flecks of time are often fleeting, interrupted by persistent symptoms or even the compassionate words of a friend.
When we are reminded of our respective conditions—and everyone has something—remembering to take care of ourselves is critical. We can do that by slowing down with joy, listening to our bodies, and making accommodations accordingly. When we are in that rhythm, we find strength and balance. We must be okay with where we are.
- LIVING WITH RELAPSING MS
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