Wednesday, September 21, 2011

IV Meds Dragging me Down

I have been off my IV medications (therapy for my Lyme disease) for almost half a year, and starting back up on them has been no fun. They usual make one feel very exhausted and lethargic, which doesn't help me when doing yoga. I noticed that when I had practice on Monday with Barbara, I felt tired and heavy, and when I lifted my arms and legs, I became very lightheaded and even more fatigued. I tried to combat this by taking more breaks in between each sequence, or even little mini breaks in the middle of a series (ie: leg lifts, ankle twists, that sort of thing). I had been progressing so well up until this week, but now I feel like I have taken a few steps backwards. It's frustrating for me because I know without the meds I might be able to do more, but I am trying to focus on the things I can do in practice, rather than the things that might be more difficult. Taking breaks involves very deep, calming breaths, and I try to empty my mind of all thoughts, which leaves me feeling very centered and ready for more. Usually after practicing I would feel energized and rather calm (because of the meditation), but I have been feeling so wiped out afterwards. I noticed the same thing this afternoon, when Michelle was working with me. We learned a few new hand mudras, focusing on mudras for restful sleep, and twists, which are great for detoxing (and give the whole upper body such a release!). We made little videos of us practicing, which hopefully I can upload soon! Michelle filmed another chair yoga mini-class, which I have added a link to!

In my home practice (which has been less frequent since starting the meds, because of my lack of energy), I try to take things slowly and let my body set the pace, and say when it needs breaks. This is as it should be, and perhaps maybe this is what this lack of energy will teach me; that my body and mind, when they work together, can find a perfect solution to a problem that I feel is somewhat outside of my control.

Meditation is something that anyone can practice, no matter how fatigued. So I have been focusing on the meditation and hand mudras. Calming the body and mind can help both heal faster, and there is the science now to prove it! There is nothing like relaxation though. It's just so...relaxing! I'm getting very good at clearing my mind at will, and separating my mind from body (something I have always been good at, and use as a pain-coping strategy). So here's to taking 10, and just being!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Evening Lotus

Michelle mentioned that developing a nightly routine of both pose practice (asana), breathing (pranayama) and meditation (yoga nidra for sleep) might help with my insomnia. I have been using Michelle yoga nidra recording nightly (or actually several times a night) and it has really helped. It is really frustrating when you can't sleep, and try as I might not to focus on the fact that I am not sleeping, it occasional rears its ugly head in the back of my mind. Emptying my mind of all thought and just existing really helps me fight pain and calm my body. I sometimes notice that I am very tense while sleeping, my arms wrapped tightly around pillows, my face screwed up in pain. This is where the nidra really helps, by focusing on a small part of my body at a time and thinking about that part of the body relaxing. By shining the 'light of your mind' on a tense area of the body, your mind can calm this part of the body down, and piece by piece relax you.

I am working on editing an audio recording of our practice during class. Michelle explains the actions so clearly that it is possible to follow along without seeing anything. Its very relaxing just hearing a voice and not having to watch a video, especially if you are trying to reduce your exposure to blue light before bed.

Last night, as I was just a little way into my practice, working on mostly breathing exercises and hand mudras, I realized I could be sitting in half lotus for this. My joints are very swollen and painful, still and uncomfortable (although yoga is helping loosen them up!), so I decided to just go for half lotus. I found it incredibly easy and comfortable to sit that way, shocking myself. I thought, boy, if half lotus is this easy, I bet I could sit in full lotus (Padmasana), even though the last time I sat in full lotus was maybe 3-4 years ago. A month ago, before I started yoga, I would never have been able to even attempt a half lotus, and never would have dreamed of sitting in full! After just a few weeks of almost daily yoga practice, in relative comfort I could sit in full lotus! It was quite a stretch, and I couldn't hold it for a long period (I think because my joints are so swollen), but this is a fantastic start. I was just so proud of myself that I asked Mum to take my picture, even though I was in my clashing pajamas :P. As I was lying on my bed and lounging, I was able to sit in full lotus while on my back, which was a wonderful stretch. I suppose everything is possible with practice and dedication...a very exciting lesson for life.

first full lotus in 4 years!

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Eight Limbs of Yoga Explained

When I was thinking up a name for my new blog, I tried to focus on 3 things;

-the topic of writing
-the overall mood of practicing yoga
-a phrase to get to the heart of the matter

I didn't want to color the title with any sort of judgement or suggestion of a limitation, but instead stumbled across the truth of the matter. I saw this as using the 8 limbs or path to yoga in a chair, and being numerically "punny" along the way! The number eight is often associated with infinity, and with the incarnation of matter and the entirety of the universe. Humans have 8 chakras or centers of spiritual power, if you include the star or soul chakra.

The eight limbs of yoga were first described in Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, dating 2nd century BCE, although some indologists argue it was compiled over a long period, from 100 BCE and 500 CE. The eight limbs of yoga, or parts that make up the practice of yoga are:

(5 external aids to Yoga)
1. Yama-> ethical code of conduct (five abstentions), including non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-covetousness, non-possessiveness 
2. Niyama-> religious observances & practice (five observances)
3. Āsana-> discipline of the mind and body, mind & body connecting through posture/poses
4. Pranayama-> breath control, breathing to connect mind & body
5. Pratyahara-> withdrawing of the external senses to achieve internal consciousness
(3 internal aids to yoga)
6. Dharana-> focus, single-mindedness
7. Dhyana-> meditation
8. Samādhi-> blissful awareness of the "absolute" (supreme soul), superconsciousness

These might sound a little airy-fairy on paper, as it is hard to put such feelings into words, but in practice they feel very concrete and important. Obviously I don't understand them all yet, as I have just started yoga and have only done a bit of practice. I have been doing a bit of research about yoga in general (as I love to do for any new subject).

Last week Michelle gave me "How to be a Yogi" book, by Swami Abhedananda, an in-depth look at the steps to becoming a true yogi. The book was taken from a series of lectures and published in '55. She brought it back from India, where it costs a dollar. The writer is clearly quite spiritual, so you've got to take the things he says with a grain of salt. He seems like a pretty cool hard-core yogi tho!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Getting to this Place

I have been in a wheelchair for 3 years. I kept thinking I would make a miraculous turn around in a few months, and laughed when I picked up my disability sticker, which was good for 3 years. 2011 seemed like a very long way off, and surely, surely, I thought to myself, I would never be sitting down then? I suppose life never turns out how we planned, and that's okay. I know one day I will be walking, and have decided to take life one day at a time, the only way it comes.

It happened so quickly. At the end of January '08, I was climbing up mountains in the snow and running around. The beginning of February brought a month of bronchitis/pneumonia, from which I never really recovered. I dragged myself from doctors office to doctors office,and  walking slower and slower through the coordinators, getting up with more effort. The hours I spent at school were becoming shorter by the day, until by the end of April, I had to admit out loud that I couldn't do this anymore. That I had to become a full-time patient. I didn't realize that would be the end of my life as I had known it, that ever careful plan would drift away, and that it would be years until I could look back on my life and take in all that had happened. I still thought I suffered from something easily fixable, and that the wheelchair was very temporary, until I started treatment for whatever I had. We even borrowed a wheelchair from the Red Cross (although it was more than a year before we ever returned it).

Eventually we decided that the stubborn Canadian doctors could never face the fact that I suffered from Lyme disease. I feel certain that their inaction would have killed me, or condemned me to the life of a vegetable. Around this time, I began to forget more and more things, until, after a very high fever, I could no longer remember anything short-term. Still, I remember nothing that has happened since June 2008, although I always pepper my family and friends for questions about my life, and write extensive notes.

Our first stop was several doctors Seattle, one who's information and training was limited, which put my life in danger. The other ended up preserving my life, and making it possible for my family to travel to California, to see another doctor. I was very ill, nearly out of my mind with the pain and terrible herxing (violent reaction caused by the die-off of Lyme bacteria). Torture. It was finally decided that I needed to be seen by someone with the most experience, a pediatrician in New Haven, CT, with decades of success treating the sickest kids. We ended up living in CT for 9 months while I was in treatment, a combination of supplements, oral antibiotics and daily IV's. But this is not the place to get into this journey in depth. I write a blog about my struggles and triumphs with Lyme disease and co-infections, called Bite Me. My goal has always been to inspire I am home now, still ill and still in treatment, but I would like to focus this blog on looking forward, on becoming well.

Around mid-July, we traveled to California so I could have the controversial Liberation therapy, which unblocks jugular veins in your neck, returning blood-flow to your body and brain. The procedure was designed for MS patients, but a handful of Lymies have also had great luck with it, which makes sense as MS and Lyme share many similar symptoms; some could argue that MS is just misdiagnosed Lyme disease, but that discussion is for another time. Immediately after then procedure, I noticed the pressure in my head, like a constant head-cold, was gone. As I was getting dressed to leave a few hours later, I noticed that I could feel my legs, something I hadn't even realized I hadn't been feeling for years. It is easier to walk when you know what your legs are doing, and easier to think when the pressure is lifted.

When we got back home, Mum and I were discussing what I can do now that strength is hesitantly returning to my legs. I am an avid spinner (hand-spinning yarn, like the miller's daughter in Rumpelstiltskin), and since the procedure, I noticed I can spin faster and longer, which translates into more delicious yarn sooner! In a stroke of inspiration I suggested I might be able to do chair yoga. Even saying those words out loud was a big deal for me, as usually I spend all my standing time transferring chair to nearby chair. I had taken a leap, and with those words spilling from my lips, I felt a rush of a little something people like to call 'hope'. But when you are feeling hope from the inside, it feels much more wonderful than any word you could put in print, than any phrase you could turn with ease, or any image you could conjure with a magic wand or brush.

I began my search for chair yoga teachers. Victoria isn't that small a city, but we are known as the capital of the 'newly weds, the nearly dead's, and the flower beds'. I found a few people who used to teach chair yoga, or offered it for seniors, but neither of these options worked out. I stumbled across a note offering a chair yoga teaching certificate, which happened 2+ years ago. I thought it would be asking for too much that years later, Michelle still taught chair yoga. Fingers crossed, I emailed her, explaining my health situation, and my eagerness to give yoga a try. To my intense happiness, Michelle was also excited to find someone who wanted yoga therapy, and immediately agreed to teach me. It was a series of unlikely coincidences that just might put me back on my feet.

I committed to 3 months, even before we met. I am one of those people that once I put my mind to something, I achieve the goal. I put all of myself into my aspirations, no matter how ridiculous they sound to outsiders. You just have to visualize yourself completing the task effortlessly, and calmly, and miraculously it happens. The first step to overcoming any obstacle is to tell yourself that you can do anything.

When I told my family that I wanted to graduate high school with the rest of my year, after missing a year and a half of school due to sever illness, I know they wanted to support me, but found this idea unrealistic, although they were kind enough not to doubt me aloud. I had 9 months to complete 12 courses, the minimum I would need to graduate. I graduated with honors in June, 2010, and attended my schools prom in style!

So I am going to set myself some loose goals that I hope to achieve through yoga therapy. The way Lyme disease, Babesia and Bartonella have lay siege to my body is very complicated. I can't force my body to heal of course, but am hoping that yoga will help me improve in all areas, particularly my sleep issues, walking difficulty (ataxia), pain and extreme sensitivity, chest pain, shortness of breath, anxiety, and bridge the disconnect between my mind and body. Even a very small improvement in some of these areas would be wonderful! Michelle herself started down her yoga journey to cure her insomnia, at age 9. Her story is pretty inspiring, and her attitude and positivity uplifting. I am so grateful to be working with the lovely Barb, Michelle, and Tessa 3 times a week. The journey to health has begun. Take a deep breath...are you ready to join me?