The first time I ever experienced yoga was in high school. I'll always remember the day there was a note on the locker room door saying, "YOGA: Don't dress & bring a pencil.” Our teacher was instructing us not to change into our gym clothes, but my friends and I joked about how we were having “naked yoga!”
From then on, “naked yoga” was the thought I had in my head every time someone would say “yoga.” It wasn't until I graduated college and was in physical therapy for sciatica (which I've now realized was my psoriatic arthritis), that I started taking yoga seriously. Soon enough my physical therapy visits ran out and my therapist recommended I continue with yoga classes. I started going a few times a week and really enjoyed it. But eventually, my hip pain subsided and work took over. Yoga became less of a priority.
Discovering a passion
A few years later, I was working in Chattanooga, TN, and my friend and I needed to find a mental escape from our work. We found a cute little yoga studio who had $5 community classes, conveniently located to a favorite dinner spot of ours. We started going once a week and I began to fall in love. Yoga was so relaxing_._ I remember wanting to get certified and teach yoga, and it was during that time in Chattanooga that I knew yoga would become something incorporated into my life forever.
My friend and I had a nice thing going for about a year, but then I went out on disability and did NOTHING. I laid in bed for months and months, gained weight, was depressed, so inflamed, and in so much pain. I longed for the days where I could go to that cute little yoga studio and flow through a Sun Salutation. It was during an appointment with my pain doctor that I brought this up and he asked me why I hadn’t tried chair yoga.** Chair yoga - a new alternative**
Chair yoga?! I had never heard of chair yoga before. So I began looking online, trying to find out what the heck it was. I soon found out that chair yoga is exactly what the name implies. Yoga in a chair.
It's great for those of us who can't get down on our mat because of mobility issues and who want the movement and benefits of yoga, but can't have a "regular" practice.
After searching, I found some videos online and began doing YouTube classes on my own. To my surprise, I realized there were a lot of things I could do - I just had to learn how to modify the postures. I started out in my chair, then eventually moved to just seated postures on mat. As time went on, I began to incorporate standing poses, balancing poses and soon was able to flow through a whole class.
It took time, and it definitely was a journey, but let me tell you one thing. ANYTHING you do helps.
More than just a class
When I started my yoga teacher training, I was on crutches. I had been on crutches for almost 3 years, at that point, and I would crutch in and out of the studio. I remember people thinking I was crazy! But, to me, it just felt like the right thing to do.
My instructor always said, “Most people come to yoga for the physical aspect, but stay for all the other benefits.” It's so true. I started going because of physical therapy, but over time I found it helped balance out my body, mind and emotions, and even helped my inflammation.
Why is yoga important for psoriatic disease?
Inflammation is the root of psoriatic disease - and really all chronic conditions. When our bodies are in a constant battle mode, they don't have the ability to focus on healing. But, when you balance out your nervous system, you can allow your body to shift into a healing mode. Not to mention, yoga is therapeutic on a mental and physical level.
_Physically, _ yoga gets your body and joints moving. It also helps get your blood circulating, aids in your detoxification process and helps keep your lymphatic system pumping. All of these processes are vital - especially when you’re dealing with psoriatic disease! Yoga is also a low impact exercise. Therefore, if you do have mobility issues, you don’t have to worry about overdoing it or jarring your sore and inflamed joints.
Mentally, yoga draws us inwards. In doing so, we’re better equipped to deal with our emotions, our surroundings and all the stressors of life (which include dealing with a chronic condition!). I definitely credit yoga for helping me to shift from a victim mentality to one of empowerment.
Is it beneficial for psoriasis too?
You may be thinking, “Ok. I get that it can be beneficial for those with psoriatic arthritis, but what about psoriasis?”
My answer? It absolutely will have the same benefits. Both chronic conditions need it equally as much. Balancing your nervous system, getting your inflammation in check, increasing your detoxification and lymphatic systems efficiency - these are all benefits that are essential for ALL psoriatic disease.
Where should I take classes?
For the longest time I only did yoga at home. Why? Because there was no way I could have kept up in a class. When you search online, you can find anything these days! There are also a TON of sites which offer great yoga classes in the comforts of your own home. Want resources on creating a home practice? I have a post about that very subject on my blog - check it out!
I felt comfortable doing a practice at my home, but there are other ways that you can learn as well. Yoga instructors offer one on one sessions to help tailor your practice to your needs. This is a fantastic way to learn modifications and ease into your practice. There are many yoga instructors who would even be willing to come to your house. Search your area and find out what's best for you!
There are some great videos online, but we all learn in different ways. You have to choose what’s best for you.
Some helpful tips
As you begin your yoga journey, I’d like to leave you with a few tips to have in the back of your mind.
There is no perfect practice. Even if you're sitting on your mat breathing, you're doing yoga! When I first started back into yoga, I couldn't even do child's pose (which is a resting pose). I used to think, “how the heck am I supposed to do yoga if I can’t even do the resting pose?” But for a good 6 months, I just didn’t incorporate that posture into my practice. And guess what? No yoga police yelled at me, and I still received the benefits of practicing and I thoroughly enjoyed it!
Listen to your body. This can be a hard thing for people because we tend to tune our body out. But, I urge you to start to** connect with yourself.** Your breath, how you're feeling, where you’re holding tension in your body. Build up a picture of what your body is telling you. Our bodies give us symptoms just like our car dashboard gives us indicators! All we need to do is stop and listen.
Start slow and work your way up. Do 5 minutes of breath work or stretching, then increase it to 10, and so on. Don't overwhelm yourself. Yoga may seem boring or too slow, but it's because we're taking the time to listen and to get in tune with our mind body and soul.
Whenever I was at my lowest low, in the midst of my biggest flare, I could have never imagined even completing a normal yoga class - let alone teaching 2 classes a week like I do now! But I’m the perfect testimonial to show you that if you start slow, and work your way up, yoga can truly become an essential part of your treatment plan with psoriatic disease.