When I walk into the doctor’s office, it has routinely felt like drawing a wild card. There are, of course, fairly confident hypotheses I could make based on my relationship to my body, past visits, online health forums and, for the most part, by simply assessing how I feel day-to-day.
I had been experiencing utter exhaustion, cognitive fogginess and prolonged muscular pain for months. But as someone who rarely stops “doing,” I wrote it off as working, exercising and processing really passionately. Perhaps I just needed a bath and a sleepy Sunday…
Unfortunately, more months had passed and the pain remained. I left the doctor’s office that trip with a pamphlet for fibromyalgia.
I didn’t really know what to make of it at first. This chronic pain hadn’t really been anything new. When a flare up — or surge of intense pain — overwhelmed my entire body, I would be disabled for a few hours if not the rest of that day. But, I really thought this was just how most people lived.
And I was wrong.
Leaving behind that classically stale Clorox smell, I crossed over the overworked sliding doors into Houston’s blistering heat. Whether I was sweating from panic or the sun, the answer may never come to this summer-time Houstonian.
Now drenched, I found myself and at the foot of two options: keep doing what I’m doing or change.
The next two weeks, I read everything from symptoms to current medical practices to alternative healing modalities. Anything that had sustainably supported a life free from chronic pain, I was trying. I made this first step by harnessing the power of the possibly bleak but wildly inspiring question: what do I have to lose?
I have been mediating for years. Embodying a meditative practice was not foreign to me or my daily routine and, to be completely transparent, I scoffed when encouraged to develop this skill. However, by slowly validating and then releasing my ego’s desire to know everything, I was able to begin making space for a new mindfulness relationship to bloom.
It was as if I had suddenly awoke to the inspiration that there’s intention behind every moment of stillness and breath. I felt like a child exploring the range and complexity of existing in this body. This was the power of starting anew; I chose to become a student again.
Now, when a flare up starts humming in background or I notice a tsunami of pain encroaching, I pause and find somewhere quiet. I lay down, sit or settle my body into the position most comfortable for that particular moment — and I breathe.
Acknowledging I cannot control the pain, I allow the air to consume my lungs and direct my focus to the area most tense. I consciously inhale into this area and, as the exhale follows, I visualize that space relaxing, untangling or melting into softness.
For an added bonus, I occasionally throw in affirmations as my body begins to relax. Sometimes that’s five minutes in, sometimes that’s 20, either way these affirmations can be whatever you need them to be.
If you’re looking for extra guidance (as I know I did), here are some of my favorites to get the wheels churning and the ball rolling:
I am safe in my body now.
I am enough for whatever the day brings.
My present is full of love and compassion.
I have wonderful friends who care so much for me.
My body is exactly as it needs to be.
My mental and physical health grow stronger every day.
I naturally gravitate abundance and am deeply supported by life.
Go to the gym. Take a barre class. Run a 5k. Join CrossFit. Hike a mountain. Enroll in spin. The exorbitant array of exercise options is enough to make anyone stay on their couch, paralyzed by indecision. Most would encourage the conditioned phrase, just do it!
However, with chronic pain, you’re placed in a frustrating but ultimately nurturing bind. Your body does not physically allow you to just pick one and move through the motions. It demands to be listened to.
Each day I must ask myself, what kind of movement would feel the absolute best for me and my body right now? Whatever arises, I pursue. Often I find that I gravitate towards similar activities throughout the week — and other times the most aligned activity is doing nothing at all. I call this practice intentional movement.
Holistically, dance and yoga have been the most healing. Each encourages the activation of your parasympathetic nervous system while strengthening your mind-body connection and prefrontal cortex. In other words, each are strategically designed to reduce stress levels and cultivate empowering presence — essential for reducing symptoms of chronic pain.
And the best part? When I grant myself the compassion and acceptance to do and receive exactly what I need, my body likes and regularly chooses these two activities without force, punishment or shame.
I also want to stress that you do not need chronic pain to enjoy this freedom. For me, it’s simply what motivated this relationship to begin.
The last and equally valuable component to managing chronic pain has been curating a supportive community. Whether that is your family, online support group or Wednesday night book club, having people to see and validate what you are going through makes a world of difference.
For me, my Houston yoga studio is my home. It’s the intersection of all three of these pivotal components and there is always someone to provide positive support. I walk in and am met with such kindness and hope. Beyond the mindfulness and intentional movement, there is truly nothing more encouraging than the light of people who believe in you.
If you want to take this step, here are a few classes to dip your toe into for physical, mental and emotional relief from chronic pain.
As straightforward as it gets, chronic pain sucks. It’s overwhelming, depressing, isolating and garners little to no empathy from the general public. That being said, it has also presented a divinely-inspired opportunity for me to care for myself better than I ever considered to practice.
It has forced me to take sole responsibility for the direction of my life. I am the maker and decider of the journey ahead. It has brought me to the ledge and forced me to ask, what kind of life do you want to create?
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Urban Fit Yoga posts relevant, inspiring, and nourishing tools to support you along your healing journey. We believe that the benefits of yoga can extend far off your mat and we want to help!