Chronic Illness

What My Yoga Teacher Taught Me About Managing Chronic Illness

You can't go through life giving 100% all of the time. All warriors need a break.

As everyone rose to their firm-footed warrior poses, I dropped down into the coziness of a child’s pose. There, I curled into a sweating, sighing mass for several breaths as the others gracefully swayed through the morning flow. 

At the start of the yoga class, we were encouraged to think deeply about the difference between could and should. Although I could do warrior pose, I turned my listening skills inward. My body said I should rest. 

All warriors need a break, I told myself.

As my hips sunk deeper, I told my digestive system that it could take a rest too. My gastroparesis was flaring and I wanted so desperately for my sluggish stomach muscles to spring into action, easing the nausea and pain in my chest. 

At the start of the yoga class, we were encouraged to think deeply about the difference between could and should.

Just breathe, I told myself.

In the stillness, I felt the familiar joint aches and sudden rush of heat and fatigue wash over my body. My rheumatoid arthritis was starting to flare too.

I should continue to relax, I told myself.

In that moment my thoughts bounced back and forth wildly between what I could and should do. I could rejoin class and push through the common discomfort. Or, I could honor my body’s subtle signals and seek respite.

It’s my daily reminder, I told myself.

Managing the maze of chronic illness forces me to think strategically, accept the occasional dead end and carefully plan my actions before making too many twists and turns.

My health makes me more self-aware, I told myself.

The yoga teacher explained we can’t live our lives giving 100 percent day-in and day-out. That’s a recipe for burnout. Sometimes we need to be at 70 percent, or 80 percent, so we can conserve energy for moments of optimal focus and presence.

I’m learning a lesson here, I told myself.

The yoga teacher explained we can’t live our lives giving 100 percent day-in and day-out. That’s a recipe for burnout.

Then I rose. I carefully positioned myself on my seat with my legs outstretched. I followed along and mirrored the arm movements from the floor. When the class moved into tree pose, I moved into the reclined expression with one leg bent, nestling my foot into my thigh.

I’m still doing tree pose, I told myself.

As I navigated yet another yoga class with my amended abilities, I smiled. I did what I should do to manage my body’s request for gentle movement. I could still gain the benefits of stretching and breathing.

You got this, I told myself.