I’d like to come to you with a clean slate, so I have a confession to make: I was in over my head, and I stole something. The crime was committed at hot yoga. It was my first class — of any kind — in two years.
I’d convinced myself that I didn’t want to sacrifice time with my toddler daughter to take a class, but I was also harboring fears about how my psoriatic arthritis would stand up to the yoga mat. My diagnosis came right after my daughter was born; she was my excuse.
I avoided the mat until, one day, I was sucked back in by a very alluring Groupon.
I was hopeful that the heat would loosen up the stiffened joints in my hands and feet. (My hairdresser says it helps her friend with RA!) I’d done hot yoga for years prior to my dry spell, and I was determined to jump back in where I’d left off.
I was in denial.
My hands would not flatten on my mat for floor poses. In a comically sad moment, during an exercise that encouraged us to “fight” off our negative thoughts, I couldn’t form fists. The heat prickled my psoriatic skin.
I compared myself to the strong men and women who sweated beside me. I was that strong and sweaty once. I wanted to be there again — when I didn’t worry about joint pain or inflammation or degenerative disease. So I pushed through it. In retrospect, my rationale is clear. If I could get through that one class, I’d be okay. I could regain a bit of my pre-disease self. I would be in control.
Solace came for a spell in savasana, or corpse pose. Then I began to assess the damage I’d done in an hour and a half of pushing myself too far. My joints were hyper-inflamed and throbbing. My shoulder burned. I was emotionally depleted.
The instructor, a muscular man with a New Age streak, weaved across the room, laying cool towels on our necks that smelled of orange. A nice touch. He also placed a square affirmation card, black with yellow font, at the top of our mats. He encouraged us to read them before we said our final “om,” and he would collect them after class. Mine read: “You are healing a little more each day. Do not rush the process.”
At long last, 2018, we come to the aforementioned theft.
It was wholly premeditated. I read the card, tucked it under my thigh and, after saying my “om,” I rolled it up into my yoga mat. I felt a rush from the crime. I got to my car and, hungrily, I read it again and again.
“You are healing a little more each day. Do not rush the process.”
The silly little “Letters from the Universe” card saved me from myself that morning. I stood it up in a crevice in my dashboard as a reminder to give myself a break. To cool it with the Type A urgency. To be the tortoise.
I know, I know: I should’ve just asked to keep the card. I should’ve told the instructor how good it made me feel — how it gave me hope in the face of a chronic disease. But that would’ve meant I had to not only accept my limitations, but admit them out loud, to someone else. I’d had enough transformation for one day.
I’ve decided that in my next class at this savior studio — a PsA-friendly slow flow, no doubt — I’ll be upfront with my instructor about my joint pain and I’ll ask for modifications. And, after class, I’ll admit my crime, I swear it. I’ll return the card so someone else can feel free.
That’s where you come in, 2018. I’m not feeding your insatiable appetite for splashy, ambitious New Year’s resolutions. I’m not making any big commitments. Instead, I’ll take this clean slate and I’ll go easy. I’ll give myself a break. I’ll do my best. And if I can be okay with that, you can too.
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Casey Nilsson writes about psoriasis and autoimmune diseases for HealthCentral. Casey is an award-winning magazine writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. She’s a 2017 Association of Health Care Journalists fellow and her story on unfair labor conditions for people with disabilities was a finalist for the 2016 City and Regional Magazine Association Awards. Follow her on Twitter @casey_nilsson.