Am I Doing It Right? || How to Start Yoga for Chronic Illness

I find that many chronic illness warriors are also chronic overachievers, over-doers, and perfectionists who are much too hard on themselves. Sometimes the fear of doing something wrong is paralyzing, keeping us from even trying at all. If I can’t do it perfectly, what’s the point of doing it? This type of all-or-nothing thinking blocks creativity and robs us of experiences that have the potential to bring us a lot of joy.

I’ve found that the best way to overcome this roadblock is just to START. Whatever it is I want to do, I just start doing it. I give myself permission to make mistakes and learn as I go. Expecting myself to be perfect at doing something without having any prior experience is a totally ridiculous expectation. I wouldn’t expect that of someone else, so why would I hold myself to that standard?

My yoga practice has helped me to relax my expetations of perfection and enjoy the journey. We call it a practice for a reason. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to be strong or flexible. You don’t even have to own a yoga mat. If you can breathe, you can practice yoga, so stop waiting for the timing to be perfect. Stop waiting for your body to be “perfect.” Come as you are, and keep the following tips in mind as you get started.

LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS

Yoga is most popularly represented on social media by slim, healthy women who always seem to be handstanding on beaches or bending themselves into impressive pretzels. Meanwhile Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, and Vinyasa Yoga are quickly growing in popularity as ways to exercise and de-stress. These are amazing practices in their own right, but these physically-intense styles are not the only way to practice yoga. There are more gentle styles of yoga that may be more accessible and appropriate for people who are living with physical limitations, and these practices can still give you the results you desire.

I encourage you to let go of what you’ve been taught to believe your yoga practice should look like. Your yoga practice should look like YOU. You don’t have to be handstanding #everydamnday in order to be practicing “real yoga.” Anything done with mindful attention to how you feel in the present moment is yoga. This means that literally ANYTHING can become a yogic practice. You can practice yoga in bed or on the couch, while you’re washing the dishes, while you’re waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. This practice should conform to fit you and your life, not the other way around.

START SLOW AND LISTEN TO YOUR BODY

Many of us living with chronic illness are prone to post-exertional malaise, so our goal in practicing yoga is to find a balance of activity and rest so that we can stretch and strengthen the body without unintentionally triggering a flare up of symptoms. This means paying very close attention to your body’s signals. Are you holding your breath in a pose? Are you clenching your jaw? Are you feeling sharp pain? Are you suddenly feeling drained of energy? These are signs that you may need to back out of the pose and take rest.

Those of us in modern society tend to be very disconnected from our bodies, so it may take time for you to be able to read your body and understand what it needs. You may need to start out extra slow so you can get used to how your body feels and find out what it does and doesn’t like. Starting with just five minutes of yoga each day or maybe even just one pose each day can help you ease into a daily yoga practice.

USE PROPS

Using support doesn’t make you any less of a yogi. On the contrary, I think it proves that you are a conscious being who honors their physical vessel with care. That sort of awareness and understanding is at the core of yoga.

Props can include walls, chairs, couches, pillows, bolsters, blocks, straps, scarves, and anything else you can use to make your practice more accessible. Using props helps us achieve safe pose alignment and can suddenly transform a challenging, uncomfortable pose into total bliss.

BE CONSISTENT

When you look at the schedule of most yoga studios, you will see that most of the classes run 60-90 minutes. This can be wonderful, like a calm oasis amidst the busyness of life, but for someone living with chronic illness, this time length can be overwhelming and exhausting. It is much better to do a little bit of yoga every day than to go to yoga class for an hour once a week. Over time, you may be able to work your way up to a longer practice, but for now, devote a little time each day.

For some people, it can help to practice yoga at the same time each day so it becomes a part of their routine. For me, it helps if I schedule the time for myself. I write it down as part of my to-do list so that I remember to make it a priority every day. After awhile, I think you’ll notice yourself craving your yoga practice each day. I know I do!

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Yoga is a journey. Our bodies are different every day and even moment to moment, so don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t do as much today as you did yesterday or the day before. Do your best to experience the present moment without judgment or concern. As long as you stay committed to your practice, everything will work itself out.

Don’t worry. You’re doing it right.

Ready to get started? Enter your email address below to get free yoga classes for chronic illness warriors!


Movement Meditation to Inspire Gratitude

Sometimes I forget things. Important things. I don’t mean forgetting appointments or important phone numbers. I mean really important things. Life things. Existential things. And I don’t think I can blame it on the brain fog. I think it is human nature for us to forget, and our lives are really just a constant practice of remembering. Remembering to come back to the simple things: our breath, our connection to the earth, our connection to each other. In the midst of life’s struggles, in the midst of debilitating chronic illness, it is easy to forget that life is beautiful, your life has a purpose, and there is so much to be grateful for.

 

If you’re struggling to remember this truth, you are not alone. I find that this movement meditation practice helps me to reconnect to my internal source of abundance and gratitude, and I hope it will do the same for you. If you would like to explore more ways to incorporate gratitude into your life and your yoga practice, please check out my friend Kelly’s yoga challenge. This challenge runs July 24-30th and is open to all levels.

 

 

Daily Yoga Poses for Scoliosis

 

Living with scoliosis (a curvature in the spine) means living with a spine that is perpetually out of alignment, and this can cause pain for some of us because the muscles become tight and overworked in places where they shouldn’t be. Our yoga practice can help us to lengthen the spine and relieve muscle tension while also building strength in the muscles that support healthy posture.

My most popular class to date is my Yoga for Scoliosis practice, and I often receive emails and comments from students asking me what yoga poses they should do every day for scoliosis. Today’s ten minute practice is the answer to this question! These are poses that I do personally to alleviate the pain I have as a result of scoliosis, and I’d recommend doing them at least a few times a week.

 

 

8 Ways to Heal Hypothyroidism + Hashimoto’s Naturally

I had been dreading this diagnosis. Living with Addison’s disease, I knew it was only a matter of time before my immune system began attacking other parts of my endocrine system, yet I continued to live in denial. I ignored overt symptoms of illness, pushing through muscle aches and fatigue, cutting my hair short to accommodate for hair loss, and blaming my deodorant for the excessive sweating. I didn’t want to have hypothyroidism. I didn’t want to have to take more medication. I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t control what was happening to my body.

In February, my doctor diagnosed me with hypothyroidism, initially believing there was no autoimmune activity, but when I went to have my numbers retested a couple weeks ago, we saw an increase in my thyroid antibodies. This confirmed the diagnosis I had been dreading: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (autoimmune hypothyroidism). On the other side of diagnosis, it doesn’t seem quite so scary. Now that my illness has a name, I can take action to treat it.

 

 

NATUROPATHIC VS. ALLOPATHIC TREATMENTS FOR HYPOTHYROIDISM

Awhile back I made a video talking about how I like to take a holistic approach to my health, incorporating both allopathic and naturopathic medicine into my treatment protocol. I believe that both schools of thought have something to offer, and I’m fortunate to have a doctor who feels the same way.

When my doctor diagnosed me with hypothyroidism, we tried a desiccated thyroid medication that unfortunately did not work out for me. The side-effects far outweighed the potential benefits in my case. Because of this experience, I decided to take a naturopathic route for this condition to see if I could heal my thyroid without pharmaceuticals.

And I am happy to report that the natural treatments I have been doing the past three months have indeed been working! It’s a slow progress, but we are seeing a gradual improvement in my numbers. My TSH is back in the normal range, and my free T4 is increasing. This slow progress is to be expected with naturopathic medicine since it is a more gentle treatment option that supports the body’s ability to heal, whereas the pharmaceuticals for hypothyroidism simply replace the body’s hormones. Modern medicine is (in most cases) a much quicker fix than naturopathic medicine, but sometimes a quick fix can be what a person needs. Unfortunately there isn’t one easy right answer for all patients, and sometimes we have to do some experimenting to find what’s going to be a good fit for us.

YOU HAVE OTHER OPTIONS

Over the past few months, I have incorporated several natural treatments into my daily regimen. I’m sharing these with you today because I want you to know that if you’re also living with hypothyroidism and you’re feeling frustrated with your current treatment protocol, you do have other options. There are ways to heal your thyroid naturally. Just make sure you talk to your doctor before you decide to incorporate any of these natural thyroid supplements.

 

 

BLADDERWRACK

Bladderwrack is a seaweed and supports healthy metabolism. It is naturally rich in Iodine, which is an important nutrient for healthy thyroid function. There is some controversy as to whether or not patients with hypothyroidism, especially Hashimoto’s, should take iodine, but most studies agree that when taken in conjunction with selenium, it is safe, since selenium prevents iodine toxicity in the body.

SELENIUM

Taking selenium will prevent iodine toxicity in the body. You can supplement selenium if you’d like, but I prefer to get mine from food sources. I make sure to eat plenty of Portobello mushrooms, brown rice, or Brazil nuts on a daily basis to make sure I get the daily recommendation.

GUGGUL

This is an herb that supports the body’s conversion of T4 hormone to T3 so that you can maintain a healthy balance of both of these forms of thyroid hormone. This herb also supports healthy cholesterol levels and has lots of other wonderful benefits too. This is why I love herbs so much – one herb will always have several uses and benefits.

ZINC

Zinc is an important mineral that supports the production of thyroid hormones. As an added perk, it also supports clear skin. To my great frustration, I pretty much always have acne as a result of all the hormone imbalances I’m dealing with. So if you’re hypothyroid and dealing with acne, just know that you’re not alone and it’s not your fault and Zinc might be able to help you.

L-TYROSINE

I have not started taking this supplement just yet. My doctor instructed me to add one supplement at a time so that I can monitor how each one affects me, but I plan to add this one in the next week or so. L-tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid found in a variety of foods, but it can also be found in supplement form. This amino acid supports healthy thyroid function because the body combines L-tyrosine with iodine to create thyroid hormone.

ESSENTIAL OILS

I created an essential oil blend of clove, peppermint, spearmint, and orange essential oils to support my thyroid. I roll this onto my neck once daily, and you can get the recipe for it here.

PLANT-BASED + GLUTEN-FREE DIET

Eating a healthy diet is so important, not only for weight management, but for overall wellbeing. It is also important for thyroid patients to avoid inflammatory foods like gluten and dairy, especially if you have Hashimoto’s, because these foods can aggravate the autoimmune nature of this disease.

I personally follow a whole-foods, plant-based vegan diet, and this does wonders for my digestion and energy. I know going vegan may seem like a huge change to make, but you don’t have to change everything over night. Taking small steps in the right direction over a period of time is a better, more gentle choice for your body anyway. I would say to just start by adding in more fruits and veggies at each meal. Eliminate dairy and gluten, and see how you feel. One step at a time.

STRESS MANAGEMENT

Stress plays a huge role in our thyroid health, and our health in general because stress affects hormone levels. I would encourage you to take some time for introspection and identify what in your life is causing you unnecessary stress. Maybe it’s a job with an unsupportive boss. Or a family member who doesn’t believe you when you say you don’t feel well. It’s okay to say no to things and people that cause you stress.

I’d also encourage you to try out some of my gentle yoga and meditation classes to help you relax. I even have one specifically for Hypothyroidism.

YOUR WELLBEING IS WORTH IT

Treating hypothyroidism with these natural supplements is much more complex (and I’ll admit, expensive) than the allopathic remedy of taking one pill every morning. But to me, it’s worth it if I can restore my body’s natural ability to produce thyroid hormones while also reducing my body’s autoimmune response.

However you decide to treat your hypothyroidism, I fully support you. Taking medication does not make you a failure. Although we are living with the same diagnosis, we are all unique and require individualized treatment plans. It can take some time and experimenting to find what works best. The way my body responds to treatment may be different than how yours responds. You are the only one who knows what it’s like to live inside your body. Please honor your body’s innate wisdom and choose the path that is right for YOU.

 

 

5 Minute Floor Yoga Stretch

 

Todays video is a 5 minute floor yoga practice to quickly relieve muscle tension and quiet the mind. These are gentle, easy yoga poses that can be practiced any time of day, and they can be done in bed if desired.