Category: Yoga

Living with Arthritis Pain

Living with Arthritis Pain

As a yoga instructor for twenty some years, not too many people would know I have suffered from severe arthritic pain for the past seven years. At one point about four years ago, when I got out of bed in the morning, I would be hunched over like an feeble old man and in tremendous pain. Walking hurt. My back and hip took almost an hour to feel pliable enough to function normally throughout my day. Can you imagine what it felt like to teach yoga in that condition? Yet, I did, because I thought yoga would make me feel better. Most of the time, it made it worse, because I neglected the problem.

Initially, when the pain first started to come on, I went to see an orthopod. When he entered the office, the first task he asked me to do after I described my pain was to reach down and try to touch my toes. I bent over and my palms hit the floor. He said, “Get out of my office.” And he wasn’t kidding.

“But,” I said, “you don’t understand. I’m in great pain when I do this. I used to be able to do more and now it feels as if all of my muscles are seizing up.”

He pointed to the door and I left in dismay. It took me about four more years and many more worsening moment of pain before I would try to see another doctor. This time I went to my primary care physician at Vanderbilt. The regimen was Tramadol for the pain and inflammation. This helped considerably. In fact, just being able to handle the pain of living with arthritis is half of the problem. Still, I could tell that my body was fighting me at every step forward.

I have to say, this was a hard thing to admit as a yoga teacher and practitioner of the healing arts. I was also a vegetarian for a long time. Almost everything I ate and did for my spiritual and physical body seemed like the best thing I could possibly do. Yet, genetically, my father and mother and sisters were all plagued with the same disease. I thought I could stop it from affecting me, but I couldn’t. When the migraines compounded my problem, there was nothing I could do but try my best to find a cure.

There is a method of body healing called “Active Muscle Release,” which I was introduced to by the Titans on-field practitioner, Preston Wakefield. This technique finds the problem joints, presses into the muscles and then activates the joints and muscles with particular movements. It just so happened that my nephew Mark Guandolo was also studying this technique. He sent me a few videos of some exercises I could do with a fitness ball and a round cylinder similar to the long noodles children use to float in swimming pool, but wider, harder and shorter.

What I discovered was that my IT band was so tight that none of the muscles in my hips and back and iliopsoas could relax. So, we would roll on the side and front of the leg on this cylinder. When we would come to a place where it was painful, the practitioner would move my leg. It got to where I could do this on my own. I did it every night, along with about six different exercises. For the migraines I began a prophylactic medicine called Topomax, which almost completely got rid of the migraines.

My entire exercise process took about fifteen minutes a night. Along with this, I also began acupuncture at 7 Directions Acupuncture in Edgehill and also at East Nashville Acupuncture in East Nashville. These two places are community acupuncture facilities which charge a minimal 15-20 dollars per visit. So, I would go one to two times a week.

After about six months, I can tell you that there have been times that I have actually felt as if I have no arthritis. It does flair up when it rains or when the seasons are changing, but nothing like it used to.  I have taught this method to private clients as well, with great success.

I still take the Tramadol every day for the low grade pain. But the exercises keep me mobile and active like I remember feeling when I was 20 and 30.

If you’re having trouble with joint pain, leg pain, back pain, or hip pain caused by arthritis, there is hope!

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Shaking the Blues Away

Shaking the Blues Away

I went to the acupuncturist today. He asked me what was going on. I said, “You tell me.”

After checking my pulse on both wrists, he said, “What are you anxious about?”

I replied, “Absolutely nothing. I couldn’t be more carefree today.” And I was being completely honest. But what my body was saying may not have been what my mind was saying. In fact, he said that my blood pressure was way up.

You know your body is always speaking to you. In fact, there are psychological tools that can help you identify what you’re feeling by listening to the problems in your body, not your mind.

For instance, you have a neck and shoulder ache that is giving you a migraine. You may feel as if psychologically your world is ok, but your body is communicating something completely different. What is correct, your mind or your body?

In the case of the shoulder and neck pain, you may be experiencing that you are taking on too much responsibility and your head can’t hold all the information it needs to shoulder it. This is a case where your body might be giving you some insight to a problem that is hiding and may be revealed soon if you don’t listen and take heed.

Holistic medicine is a look at the entire picture of the body and mind and spirit. In this discovery, you must try to find a mixture of psychology, practical medicine, exercise or stretches (like yoga) and spirituality, including visualization. So, to accomplish healing in a holistic way, you have to integrate body, mind and spirit. Yes?

How does one do that? The title of my blog today is “Shake the blues away.” In the title we are using action to move a psychological problem through the body. I believe that dance was the cure here in the song. Do you remember a time when you were at college? The weekend was coming, classes were ending, and you had one thing on your mind— a stiff drink and dancing till way past midnight. But do you remember why you wanted that experience?

I do. It was because you could get lost in the music and release all the tensions of school and studying. For three hours you played like a kid and literally shook the anxiety away from your body. We sweated and laughed. The room looked as if it were spinning. Nothing mattered. Our young minds were taking time to heal in a young way.

Today, that probably wouldn’t work for me. I’m way too sensory defensive for that much sound and too many people to make me feel comfortable. I would be more apt to find a calm water feature with amazing flowers bursting into blood, and a hypnotherapy session on my mp3 player taking me to a far off heavenly place to get my peace. I guess this is the difference between 20 and 50. And I’m way okay with that.

There is no recommended daily amount of listening to what your body and mind and spirit need to move forward and be at peace. You have to decide for yourself what you need. For me, it’s about 12 hours a day of peace. I want to be at peace, healing, laughing or making love—one of those four at all times. To do that, I have to be in constant communication with my mind, body and spirit. And that, my friends, takes practice, daily practice.

My practice is yoga in the morning. Writing after that (reflecting). Getting together with friends and clients for either work or play and using my body and mind as a channel for spirit to communicate love and compassion and joy. I then spend time with family. Eat good food. And at the end of the day, take more time to reflect and meditate. I begin and end the day with connection to my highest self and to God. And when I find that I am out of touch with my emotions during the day, I retreat until and discover why.

When you find true peace, my friends, there is not other place to be. Peace is home. There is not much that can shake a person who has found true peace in his or her heart. So, the key to a long life with great health is to find this special gift from God.

Start now! If you need some help, you know whom to call.

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