• Petra

How Yoga Has Become My Best Friend When Managing Life With Fibromyalgia (1/2)

Updated: May 20

7 Tools to Incorporate Into Your Daily Routine When Pain Strikes


Up until three years ago, I lived fast and ambitious life. I worked in a great high achieving job, I exercised daily, spent weekends practicing dance, I travelled a lot for work and leisure, I started teaching dynamic asana. I remember not spending more than 3-4 consecutive days at home over a 6 month period while still working full time back in 2018. That year, my body was already giving me very loud signals that this is not the way to go.


That year, my body was already giving me very loud signals that this is not the way to go.

I hit the wall and burned-out exactly two years ago. I successfully finished a huge project at work, took a week off to recover from months of negotiations and sleepless nights and when it was time to return back to the office my body went on strike. I felt pain all over my body, my skin was hypersensitive and even a soft hug would make me cringe in pain. I was exhausted, constantly on verge of tears, striking pain and panic attacks keeping me up night after night. My mind was racing. A few months later I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and I have never returned back to my job.


My “pain specialist” did not offer any solution but very strong painkillers with side effects I really did not want to experience.

I have always been interested in healthy lifestyle and holistic healing. Living fast most of my life, I got tired of looking for shortcuts that made things worse in long term. My “pain specialist” did not offer any solution but very strong painkillers with side effects I really did not want to experience, and so I embarked on a mission so familiar to me – I would figure it out myself. [1] There I was with tears in my eyes, mess in my head and pain all over my tired body, ready to find a way that works with the problem itself and does not just suppress the symptoms. I dove into nutrition, fascia therapy, anatomy, psychology, neuroplasticity, Chinese medicine, herbal treatments, and of course and mainly – into yoga.


I have learnt to understand how pain works, where it comes from and how it links between the body and the brain. I have been working through flare ups, acute local pains, insomnia and I have been trying to address the underlying wound – my own mind – all at the same time. It is as complex as it sounds and I am nowhere near being pain-free. But guess what?


I no longer suffer from panic attacks. I can recognize a wave of anxiety and I know how to address it before it takes over me. I have lot more nights of sleep than of insomnia per week. Sometimes, I even go a full week sleeping all night long. I know how to move, stretch and strengthen my body to address some of my pain, some days even most of it, and without introducing further stress. I have simple practices at hand to lift up brain fog and bring clarity to mind on many days. I no longer fight the days when I am too tired and in pain and I just rest and relax peacefully, without guilt. I am better at damage control, pacing and taking breaks which allows me to get stuff done without hitting the wall. I still get upset and desperate, but I am able to acknowledge these emotions and choose if I give in to them or not.

I no longer fight the days when I am too tired and in pain and I just rest and relax peacefully, without guilt.

Although it’s not a panacea, yoga has given me a rich toolbox to dive in for any day-to-day emergency as well as continuous slow healing. Over the two years, my pain levels have been fluctuating but my mindset in the daily functioning and the overall quality of life has improved tremendously. Living according to my heart’s desire has become non-negotiable - as much as the current pandemic allows.


I invite you to read through the first three of seven tools with open mind and allow yourself several days to try the simple but powerful tips. These are subtle practices, accessible, simple but not always easy. Be patient with the process and enjoy it with curiosity.


PRANAYAMA (BREATH WORK)


When I burnt out I discovered that I was holding my breath most of the time. Yoga has taught me breathing practices that calm down the nervous system, bring it into balance and become more aware of my breath as I go through my day. This allows me to re-connect with my breath during regular mundane activities, and by breathing fully I send signals to my nervous system that everything is fine and it can relax.


TIP: Set a timer to ring once per hour. When you hear its tone, take a pause, close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Then get back to your activity staying mindful of your breath. I enjoy Plum Village's app with mindfulness bell timer for this activity.

 

CONSTRUCTIVE RELAXATION


I am an over-achiever and doing nothing was indeed something I had to learn. My Italian boyfriend’s understanding of “dolce far niente” helped a lot. It took me a while, but now, when I find myself getting nervous that I am not getting stuff done because of fatigue, brain fog or pain, I simply put everything aside and take a true break without any devices or activity.


TIP: Lie down on your back on the floor, preferably on a carpet or a blanket. Keep yourself warm and comfortable. Put your legs up a couch, bed or chair, knees bent and cover yourself with a blanket to stay warm. Close your eyes, connect with your breath and let go. Relax for 10-30 mins. This position is highly restorative. Even if you fall asleep (allow yourself to do so), you will wake up after 10-20 minutes, because your body will want to change position. It is the perfect restoring power-nap position (I used to do this in my office, too).

 

SELF-STUDY AND SELF-INQUIRY


Svadhyaya, self-study, is an important element of yoga philosophy and of living by the yogic principles. I find it to be the most important tool on the path of healing and pain management. How can we choose the right tools, transform and grow, if we do not know ourselves and our bodies? Through observations of our reactions and mind stories during our asana, breathing and meditation practice, we become aware of our behavioral patterns, reactions, wounds, harmful self-talk and stories we repeat in our minds. Little by little, with growing awareness through witnessing, we become able to spot these patterns as they happen outside of the laboratory of our yoga mat and in real life, in situations that are emotionally charged. We can start working on changing those patterns, rewiring our brain and step out of harmful habits. My philosophy teacher once said, “yoga is neuroplasticity” and I cannot agree more.


TIP: Sit down (or lie down if sitting is difficult) with your spine straight in a quiet place. Set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes and turn your devices into flight mode. You can close your eyes, if it feels safe. Concentrate on your breath, and allow your thoughts to show up. Observe what is happening in your mind. Is it still? Is it full of thoughts? What are the thoughts about? Who are you talking to in your mind and how? Take time to stay with your thoughts, allow them to come and go as they please, witness them without reaction or criticism. Then come back to your breath and try to stay present for a moment in the peaceful quietness, taking a break from all the thinking. Do not worry, if quiet mind seems miles away. Even a few seconds count. It is a practice, not a competition.

 

Is this all? Certainly not. Is it enough? Oh yes.


Start with these first three practices and see how they feel in your body, mind and heart. They are simple and accessible, but may not feel that easy at first. Do not give up and keep coming to your breath and to yourself. You can choose just one of these to practice first. It will go a long way, if done regularly.

I will soon be back with the second part of this article and I will invite you to explore movement, chanting, abhyanga (self-massage) and meditation including easy to follow steps of how to incorporate them into your daily practice.


If you enjoyed this article, I’ll be happy to read your thoughts in the comments section. Do not hesitate to share with anyone in your circle, who may benefit.


Thank you for reading.

Yours,

Petra

 

[1] That said, I am not against medicaments. There are tons of illnesses and symptoms out there and sometimes meds is the best if not the only way to get onto the healing journey.

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