Last week I went to a yoga class with a plank sequence that went on twenty minutes. While the rest of the class did low plank, high plank, side plank, and one-legged plank, I was in child’s pose. There were at least two people in the class over seventy-five who seemed to have no problem with the planks. At first I was embarrassed being folded up in a little ball while the others we’re sweating through their gym clothes, but then I remembered—my challenge was just in getting there.
When I walk into a yoga studio there is no indication from my outward appearance I’ll be the one in child’s pose half the class. I’m average weight and usually one of the youngest. The reason I struggle is because, in addition to Lyme, I have an autoimmune condition called SAPHO Syndrome. It’s a type of reactive arthritis that attacks my muscles, joints, and bones. Over time, this extremely rare illness caused fusion in my lumbar spine and sacral joints. I also have fusion in my clavicle, limiting the range of motion in my shoulder. I’m lucky if I can just touch a block in forward fold. SAPHO also causes chronic pain. In spite of my physical limitations, I will never stop going to yoga. For me, the positives far outweigh the negatives.
I fell in love with yoga, when I bought a DVD called Yoga Conditioning for Weight Loss to get in shape for my wedding 10 years ago, but it was only after I became ill that I truly understood the benefits of regular practice. When I’m in yoga class, I am at peace. My sympathetic nervous system, or “fight or flight” reflex shuts down and puts me in the healing state of “rest and digest.” It’s the only type of exercise I feel comfortable doing with my condition, because I don’t have to worry that it will put a strain on my already taxed immune system.
Yoga also helps me maintain the range of motion I still have, and hopefully will help me gain some back. Due to my unstable spine, my hamstrings overcompensate and become extremely tight. With regular practice I’m able to inch the tiniest bit closer to touching my toes. In addition to adding flexibility, the stretches ease and prevent pain.
Like many people with Lyme and related autoimmune disorders I also have chronic fatigue, which means most days I don’t have the energy to go to yoga and after I finish class, I’m exhausted. I usually only make it to one or two classes a week. It takes a lot of motivation to get myself to go, but when I’m done I feel so accomplished--exhausted--but accomplished. I used to worry that the teacher or other students would think I was lazy or not trying, but through yoga I’ve learned to listen to myself. Now, I don’t worry about what other people think, and simply do what my body tells me it needs.
For other people with limitations who have been considering yoga, I encourage you to try it. There are chair, gentle, restorative, and slow flow classes at most gyms and studios. These classes are designed for beginners or those of us who need to take it easy. You can slowly work your way up to the next level. For those of you who are intimidated by a group class, private sessions may be an option. There are also certified yoga therapists, who meet individually with clients and use yoga poses and breathing techniques to treat emotional and physical ailments.
It’s also important to note that using pose modifications and props help you get the most out of your practice. Don’t be ashamed to use a block or a strap—even the most experienced yogis use them to deepen poses. When I reach my limit, I simply go into child’s pose and rest. Make sure you communicate your physical restrictions with the instructor before class.
At the end of each class when I bow to the teacher and my classmates and say, “namaste,” in my head I always say my preferred English translation, “the divine in me blesses and honors the divine in you.” We’re all sacred beings, and no one in any yoga class is better than anyone else based on ability or flexibility. What’s important is showing up and listening to your body. Remember, honoring yourself is the honoring the divine.
"Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is what you learn on the way down." - Jigar Gor
I've heard the fall is tough on Lyme patients and this fall has not been an exception for me. So far it's been full of symptom flares and new symptoms as the weather fluctuates and allergens abound.
It has me feeling a little more blue than usual. For awhile, I thought things were improving and then I have another set back. A doctor recently asked me when the last time I felt healthy was and I honestly didn't have an answer. That question was the inspiration for this article.
You can read it in full on the Global Lyme Alliance website:
I've Been Sick So Long I Can't Remember What It Feels Like to Be Healthy
How long have you been sick? When was the last time you felt healthy?
"At the end of the day all you need is hope and strength. Hope that it will get better, and strength to hold on until it does." - Unknown
When I see people I haven't seen in awhile our conversation has a way of revolving around my illness. I don't do it intentionally. My friends and family are curious about my progress and healing from my illness takes up a lot of time and brain space. My fellow blogger and writer Susan Pogorzelski posted "10 Things About Me Not Related to My Illness" on her Instagram and I thought it was a great idea. I think it's something we should all think about. I did a similar post called 25 Things You Didn’t Know About Me, which was more fun facts, but this will be more about who I am as a person.
10 Things About Me Not Related to My Illness:
1. I recently watched Minimalism: a Documentary About the Important Things and now my husband and I are planning to downsize our living space and get rid of most of our things. I also plan to read the book Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Millburn, one of the men featured in the documentary, to further my understanding of minimalism.
2. It's been a lifelong dream of mine to go whale watching, and I finally fulfilled that dream when we went on a cruise in Alaska in July/August of 2017. During the cruise we saw whale spouts or tails almost every day. Then, when we were in Juneau we went on a whale watching tour and saw tons of humpback whales and even an orca. We were so lucky to see a double breach (although I only saw the second whale). It was amazing, because whales don't usually breach in Alaska.
I plan to get a humpback whale tattoo for the next Ink to End Lyme event to represent rising up from under the water and strength.
3. Podcasts are my new obsession. I listen while I'm getting ready in the morning, commuting to work, and while doing chores. My favorites include: Lyme Ninja Radio, The School of Greatness, Beautiful Writers Podcast, Pod Save America, 2 Dope Queens, Gleeman & The Geek (Minnesota Twins podcast), The Art History Babes, You Must Remember This, and The Social Work Podcast. Maybe I'll start one of my own one day.
6. I love the water and anything that has to do with water. The ocean, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and even fountains. We visited Niagara Falls this past summer and it was breathtaking.
4. I grew up in Minneapolis and it's still one of my favorite places. I go back about three times a year and always love driving along the river and seeing how things have changed since the last time I was there. The friendliest and most down to earth people live in Minnesota. I'd move there if it wasn't so cold.
5. Chai tea lattes are my biggest weakness, so I bribe myself with them. If I go to a yoga class, I allow myself one small chai tea latte (with alternative milk of course). At home, I brew a cup of decaf chai tea and then add hemp milk.
6. I love taking our dog, Scooter, on walks around our neighborhood in Chicago. The truth is he actually walks me, because he knows where he wants to go and leads me there. He's stubborn, but incredibly loving. Sometimes I dress him up and he hates it.
7. I don't have any children and I'm not currently planning to have any. I have a niece and nephew whom I adore and are good for a kid fix when I need one.
8. My lucky number is four and my lucky symbol is the four-leaf clover, even though clover is considered a weed in Ireland. The reason is because I was born on June 14th.
9. I'm a true Gemini--full of contradictions and a personality pulled in opposite directions. Gemini's are known communicators and I love to communicate through speaking and writing. We're naturally inquisitive and ambitious, but also easily bored and overly opinionated.
10. My favorite thing to do is travel and my goal is to see the world. The next destinations I want to visit are Hawaii, London, Italy, and Australia.
Please consider doing this exercise. It helped me remember that my illness does not define me. I decide what defines me. I would be happy to create a blog post for you about your ten things. Just reach out through my contact page with your list and a few pictures.
"Identity cannot be formed or fabricated, but emerges from within when one has the courage to let go." - Doug Cooper
I'm Kerry and I was diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease in 2016. This is a positive space for those of us coping with Lyme disease and other invisible illnesses.