A Year of Yoga
When I left work two years ago to focus on my health, I made it a priority to exercise. I worked with a personal trainer to help me transition from spending days on end in bed to being able to in the neighborhood. I “Crunched My Way Through the Zoo” and this year I began “Running Through the Zoo“. I was ready to expand my exercise routine.
So one year ago, I began my yoga journey. The practice was not new to me. In healthier days I did Bikram Yoga (also known as hot yoga). I do not suggest hot yoga for Migraineurs due to the 105 degree room and class length of 90 minutes. Serious dehydration can occur under these circumstances, which only feeds the Migraine beast. After reading studies showing how yoga can help chronic pain patients, I know I needed to get back to traditional yoga.
My body had changed dramatically since the last time I did anything resembling yoga. I got dizzy very easily. I worried about my stamina to stay in class for an hour. I also knew that pushing myself too hard during exercise could anger the Migraine monster. Before the first class, I introduced myself to the instructor and told her of my issues and concerns. In the most caring and comfortable way, she told me she would offer modifications on harder poses and encouraged me to take breaks in child’s pose when necessary.
While the instructor gave me a no-judgment, safe space to start my practice, I of course judged myself. I was mad that bending over and coming up too quickly made me see stars. I was mad that I struggled to stay in boat pose because my core strength wasn’t there. But I was proud that I had made it through the entire class without leaving (which I thought of doing multiple times). That sense of accomplishment at the end of class was what kept me going back.
I soon realized that no one else was judging me and I had to let it go in order to progress. Slowly my legs got stronger in chair pose. I felt in control in Warrior II. My balance got better doing Tree Stand. Over time, yoga taught me about body awareness and discipline. If I just squared my hips, the pose would be easier. Or if I was mindful to keep my shoulders down I would reap the benefits of a relaxing practice. I learned to listen to my body. Some days I could do the entire class with no rest while other times I needed to modify or take a break. It’s about being present in the moment and doing what your body needs.
I’ve been able to take what I’ve learned in class off the mat and into my day as well. When endless days of Migraines hit, I don’t have the strength to drive to class, let alone participate. So I do yoga at home. It’s amazing what 5 minutes of simple stretching can do to help your body calm down during an attack. I tend to curl up into a ball in bed, which aggrevates my neck and shoulders. Some simple seated yoga poses help me to open up, release tension and force me to focus on what my body is trying to tell me. When traveling, my go-to move to prevent or alleviate the Migraine that tends to hide in my suitcase, is to stretch and breath wherever I am- in a car, on a plane, before going to dinner and most definitely in a hospital bed.
I’ve discovered that having this inner strength I’ve developed through yoga practice pushes me to want to heal faster. I take the time to work through the Migraine, but I’m not in bed as long as I was before. I need less time on the massage table because I have learned how to manage my neck muscles before it gets to a critical point.
I could go on forever about how much I love yoga. And you might read this and think it’s a bunch of crap. That’s ok. I’m not saying that yoga has cured my Chronic Migraines or that I don’t need to use abortives anymore. I believe that managing this disease takes a mix of medication and natural or alternative methods. For me, yoga is another tool in my kit to fight my headaches. I still need to take preventatives and I’m still searching for other ways modern science can help me.
I encourage you to start, continue or go back to yoga in this new year. To help you, below are some links to amazing online classes that I personally use. They range from a 5-minute tutorial on how to correctly do a certain pose to a 20-minute sequence to an hour-long class. There’s also a link for chair yoga if you need to start smaller. Let me know if yoga helps you!