I live with a chronic condition, psoriatic arthritis. This condition plagues both my skin with scaly patches of dry skin and every joint in my body.
Some days it’s my hip, some my knee, others my wrist. I am sure there are ways to track it, but to me, for now, it’s just a matter of waking up and figuring out what hurts.
There is some level of physical pain associated with every day. Some more than others. Some days just getting out of bed for my morning pee is too much, much less getting through my entire day as a teacher assistant in an upper elementary Montessori classroom.
But I do it. Every day. Yoga helps.
I used to practice for 90 minutes a day: sweaty, flowy practices; sweet and savory yin practices; the occasional hot yoga class. Sometimes more than once a day.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I’d turn on Hozier’s album and practice through every song. I developed a sort of yoga routine for each track. Cherry Wine was always saved for savasana.
When she was born, I battled through postpartum depression and my (still undiagnosed) illness flared up. Yoga connected me with the parts of myself I thought were lost forever.
My body ached, my joints were slowly wearing away, and I couldn’t figure out where all the pain in my body was coming from. I didn’t have a diagnosis, and it would be a year before I got one. Because most of my pain was centered around my hips and back, I chalked it up to the pregnancy and an epidural they had to do twice.
With no answers available, I just kept practicing. Even if I didn’t understand how or why, I knew yoga helped. I knew it was healing me.
Now, my daughter is four, and while I meditate, journal and do a variety of self-care practices regularly, my yoga practice has fallen to the way side. I can feel the loss coursing through every vein, pulsating in every joint in my body.
When I do practice, I don’t flow in the same way. My movements are forced: more akin to the Tin Man from “The Wizard of Oz” than a free-flowing yogi.
Last summer, I listened to Rachel’s podcast with Lara Heimann about movement as medicine. Many of Rachel’s podcasts have touched my soul, but this one especially so. It connected me with the fact that my body needs to move even if –especially if– it is incredibly sore.
We were in the middle of packing and moving, and I remember just sitting down amongst my piles and piles of boxes and being like “oh shit.”
When I sleep, my body goes completely rigid. It is as if I am afraid to move at all in case I move the “wrong” way and awaken some kind of slumbering pain.
Now, on nights the pain keeps me up, I remember what Lara said in that podcast.
Your body needs to move.
I will sometimes envision myself going through a whole flow: sun salutations to warriors, pigeons, butterfly, ooey-gooey back twists and a dreamy savasana. Whatever it is that seems like it might help. I close my eyes and immerse myself with how it would feel to move in this way.
In the mornings, my tense body remembers the dream flow. This is enough to guide me to my mat. Some days, though, my back pain is so intense I can barely manage a full forward fold. But I breathe in and move.
Exhale and create space.
Getting as deep as my body will allow.
Moving back when sharp pain arises.
I feel the pain start to melt away as I connect to my body and move intuitively through whatever postures feel the most healing to my aching bones. Sometimes they are silly movements that can hardly be counted as poses, but they create space in my body where I have been tense. Places where my muscles have been glued to my bones in fear of moving the wrong way and sparking on a full-on flare up.
A flare up can look like not getting out of bed for days, being unable to walk, being sick with flu-like symptoms. Sometimes it is being in so much pain you’d rather give birth again.
My practice is often only 10 or 15 minutes in the morning these days, but it is enough to remind me that I am a yoga girl. That my body can do beautiful things, despite all the pain.
Movement is medicine, and yoga has healed me in ways I never thought possible.