We are surely in it

A sense of connection.

The opportunity to be seen, heard, acknowledged. Understood.

Having some agency, a sense of control over what is happening in your life.

The ability to move around in the world. To get up and down, tend to daily tasks at hand.

Do what brings you joy, pleasure.

Nourishes you.

Touch.

To experience community.

Reliability.

Freedom.

Independence.

I can imagine that many of these bring up some kind of sensation in your body as you read through the list. So many we take for granted.

I have a sense you may be missing a few, maybe a lot of these. Feeling loss or grief.

I know I am.

It’s not gone unnoticed by me that many of these are already experienced by the people I see, those I help to support through my work. It is not uncommon for people who have lived with chronic pain, often for years, to feel this sense of isolation, the loss of freedoms, work, connection with others. Well, there is a lot.

This came up up front and center when the hardest hit in our communities were those living in senior or extended care centers. They were already living in such a manner. Already in it.

Many others living with health concerns, disability, low socioeconomic status, new immigrants to our country have this as a part of their ‘normal life’. Not COVID life.

I don’t have the answers but my hope is that we bring some awareness to these issues, some path forward for the long term. Not just now.

Everyone waiting for things to get back to normal. Talk today of vaccines and yes, one can hardly wait. There is so much on hold at the moment. Much fear, uncertainty. I can feel that. Sense that.

But might we also learn from and change in some way, what is often normal for many.

Think back to when this first began and the heightened state of everyone around you. I can surely remember what it felt like walking through the grocery store as everyone was scrambling for Lysol wipes and toilet tissuse. Nervous systems all on high alert, seeking some sense of security and groundedness.

Perhaps we can begin to imagine what that feels like for so many when these big life events or ‘transitions’ happen. Injury, illness, aging, loss, grief. Can we learn ways to help with that, to sit with that, bring some care and ease to the person in need.

We’re all going to be there at some point.

Something will happen. If not before, we will grow old. We will struggle. Lose independence. Freedom. Ability to do things.

Might we provide for, care for, those who are already ‘in it’.

Who Attends Yoga Classes for Chronic Pain? All kinds.

hearts croppedMost people I talk to wonder how yoga might help with their long-term, persistent or chronic pain. So, I thought I might tell you this week a little about who comes to these classes, what we do and why, or the outcomes experienced.

Let’s begin with who attends.

Most people in these classes (or private 1-to-1 sessions) have never done yoga before.

Classes tend to consist of people who don’t turn up in yoga studios, who probably never thought of doing yoga to help with their pain. After all, most of the marketing and imaging around yoga is out of reach for many people, let alone people who have difficulty or experience pain when they move.

Most, are around mid-life; perhaps 45 or older.

The oldest student who’s attended is 78. Most are about 50 – 65 years old. Once in a while someone younger will attend, perhaps in their 30’s. Currently, my youngest client is 13.

What are some of the conditions, or diagnoses they have?

The most common condition is people with persistent back pain and/or those with fibromyalgia. Most often, those with fibromyalgia have had it 20 to 30 years or more. Others have osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica, other musculoskeletal pain (hips, shoulders, feet, and neck seem to be the most common). Chronic pelvic pain, is another. Or those who are currently going through cancer treatment, or recovering from it.

What are some of the conditions or diagnoses that often accompany persistent pain?

Most often it’s either (or both) anxiety and depression.  Many suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue, sleep issues (insomnia, sleep apnea, etc.), incontinence.

You can see there is such a wide variety and it’s not really ‘yoga’ people coming to these particular classes. Again, from what I know about most, they are people who have tried many other things that haven’t worked for them over the long term or are using yoga as complementary to or integrated with other aspects of their personal comprehensive pain management or treatment plan.

Up next on the blog, we’ll dig into what we do in these classes. I hope you’ll join me.

 

 

Yes, we are connected

skeletons

Though I’ve been focusing on the feet these last few weeks, if you’re having problems with your feet you may also want to make some other connections. Yes, similar to what we’ve been exploring there are things you can do physically that will help. But our feet are connected to our leg bones, our leg bones are connected to our hip joint. Our hips are connected to our spine and further it goes, up the whole body.

We tend to look where pain expresses itself… and think we will find the solution there.

Some people may have knee problems and look to ‘fix’ the knee when really what’s happening (or not happening) is at the hips or at the feet. Or elsewhere.

Imagine you have a cast on your ankle and how it might feel when you walk. How your body might compensate. You may end up with a sore back or shoulder muscles as you try to move as best you can with a stiff, unable to bend, ankle. We’re not usually walking around with a cast on, but many people don’t really use a lot of their ankle flexion for a whole host of reasons. Shoes, patterns of movement, previous injury, etc. Pain may be expressed in your back or shoulders when what’s really going on is down at your feet.

People will often say, “yes but I had an x-ray or ultrasound and they found this (insert condition here) is wrong with my feet”. Yes, I’ve been there too. Diagnosed with chronic plantar fasciitis in both feet, osteoarthritis in both big toes. Basically, I was told to wear rocker shoes, orthotics, and live with it.

Orthotics absolutely serve a purpose in many cases but I’m not sure of any other body part we are willing to cast or brace for a lifetime. We might need a collar brace, but not forever. We may need to wear a special boot to help with a foot injury or after surgery. The point is we work hard, physiotherapists and others work hard with us, to remove these external or artificial supports. Our feet and some orthotics, in my opinion, should be no different.

After my own diagnosis and subsequently learning that our body will most often adapt to what’s asked of it, I figured there must be another way. I have put some effort and focus on my feet in many of the ways shown last month but what was happening in my hips (lack of strength and stability) also played a part.

There are often many pieces to the puzzle of long-term, persistent or chronic pain.

For instance, why was it my feet didn’t always hurt? Why only sometimes? Some days?

Paying close attention I came to notice that when under stress, under too much ‘load’, my pain was likely to arise or increase.  If I was out enjoying myself, not a care in the world, doing something fun or even necessary perhaps, I didn’t seem to have pain. But at other times, it most definitely kicked in.

The biggest a-ha for me now is to realize that structural degeneration or tissue damage is likely to show up for me and everyone else at some point (Note: Brinjijki et al 2014 study as shown in the table below). Particularly by the time you’re my age (56). I need not ‘fear’ this, or fear making things worse, but rather utilize all the things I know I can do, that might help with the pain I sometimes experience in my feet.

  • Strengthening
  • Stretching
  • Keeping my feet soft, supple, agile
  • Adding load, good stress, to keep the bones healthy
  • Wearing appropriate footwear; allowing for space, mobility, flexibility
  • Keeping my overall ‘weight’ in a manageable range
  • Knowing that my levels of stress, fatigue, diet and a range of other factors may also play a part.

degenerative spine issues

In the month of November, we’ll explore our HIPS (Yes, I switched my focus this month from shoulders to hips. We’ll get to shoulders in December). This is where load and/or gravitational forces are primarily distributed through the body so how well we manage this, matters.

Along the way, I’ll throw in a few morsels about chronic pain that might help you make sense of your own personal experience with persistent pain in the hips, or elsewhere.

I hope you’ll join me.

 

The Evolution of a Practice

SimplifyWhen I used to write about yoga for a local magazine, the numbers of Americans practicing yoga was about 20 million. Today, about 6 years later, that number has nearly doubled, edging up towards to 40 million. Globally, the estimate is about 300 million and the number of over 50s practicing yoga has tripled over the last four years.

People often wonder what this thing called yoga actually is. Difficult to answer in just a sentence but to me YOGA is the exploration, awareness, and response that informs how I (might best) relate to the world inside myself and to the larger world around me.

A large part of this doesn’t involve the physical yoga postures or asana practice, but that’s usually where people begin. It is a good way into the wider exploration. Most, practice on a mat and typically in a group class. Certainly, it’s where I began.

Not knowing anything about yoga when starting out, I first practiced Ashtanga yoga and then when I began teaching it was a somewhat modified Vinyasa practice. Both involve strong, physical, almost gymnastic-like movements linked with the breath. Ashtanga, in particular, is meant to be practiced for 1.5hrs each day, 6 days of the week.

My practice today no longer resembles this in the least. Today, my physical yoga practice is interweaved throughout the day, with broader concepts in the background.

  • Most often it does not take place on my mat.
  • Most often it is less than 30 minutes at a time.
  • Most often it’s a response to whatever I feel might best serve me, at any given time.
  • No special place, clothing, or time.

Which I think might be a helpful way to practice for many who don’t have the time, money, or perhaps ability to get to a studio or gym.

What does this practice look like?

Join me over the next few months and we’ll look at little snippets of yoga, movement, breath practices that can be done in a couple of minutes or combined to make your own personal practice. On your own time, in your own space, that fits into whatever your life demands of you.

Most important to me is to teach people what they can do for themselves. Provide agency. The ability for you to have the tools and the freedom to make choices that enhance your wellbeing and your life.

  • In October we’ll focus on the feet.
  • November will be all about the shoulder joint.
  • In December, we’ll get into the hip joint.

I’ve chosen these particular areas to focus on as they tend to be where problems, pains, issues show up for most people I talk and work with.

You can find me talking about this on Facebook, and Instagram, if you want to follow along.

 

What can you do today?

Most of the time I’m not sure where I’m at with my practice.

(I tend to substitute ‘my practice’ at any given time with ‘my life’, to get to the bigger picture).

  • Am I doing enough?
  • What should I be working on?
  • Is there enough time in the day?
  • What comes first?
  • What’s most important?

I used to get, oh, so bogged down in the details. I would be stuck because there were so many areas I needed to work on, I didn’t know where to start.

What I’ve learned over the past 3-4 years in looking at the research, the evidence about movement, manual therapy, yoga, etc. it’s become clear to me it’s not so much what I choose to do

… but that I choose to DO something.

Today I will go for a skate. Hopefully, I will remember to do a few useful stretches / movements before I begin. I know that doing these will be of benefit to me. Particularly in the cold weather and, well, because I’m getting older.

Canal

When I feel the muscles in my back, shoulders, and face tighten from the cold I will try to remember to release some of the tension there. Soften.

I will try to remember that LESS is MORE.

I’ve only been skating once this year, so it probably doesn’t make sense for me to skate the WHOLE canal.

Listen to the whispers that tell me when I’m feeling fatigued.

It is enough.

Sit back down. Unlace my skates. Grab some hot chocolate and call it a day, … well done.

What will you do, today?