Rheumatism - Beginning of my Journey
Thank you for your interest in my yoga blog. My name is Maria, I am 30 years old and I am from Germany. This blog is going to be about my journey with yoga. In this first post I briefly summarize the beginning of my journey, how I started to suffer from rheumatism, how yoga changed my life and I also include some practices that helped me. The practices are underlined and cursive.
It was not easy to write about this. For a very long time I tried to hide the situation I was in. But as I started to share a little bit of my story I realized how many people are also affected by rheumatism or facing other challenging situations trying to find their way. We are shoulder to shoulder. So I decided to share my story, I hope it helps somebody in some way.
How rheumatism affected my life
The worst thing in your life can turn out to be the best thing that could happen to you.
I was always very active, I studied romanic languages, I loved travelling, did a lot of sports like Capoeira and worked in many different jobs during my years at university. When the rheumatic pain started 8 years ago, I didn´t know what it was. I started to have pain attacks in my shoulders and my lower back, but I just kept on doing everything I was doing, trying to ignore it by taking pain killers. Suddenly the pain became so severe that I could not ignore it anymore. I remember clearly one night when I was overwhelmed by the pain and a doctor injected me cortisone and did a blood test. The blood test showed a high level of inflammation in my body. Then a very long and exhausting history of doctor visits started. A clear diagnosis was never possible, so I kept on taking pain killers, but I got more and more restricted regarding all parts of my life. I couldn´t do sports anymore, I couldn´t travel anymore. Additionally my body added various other diseases, insomnia, fatigue, depression etc.
I tried to be as strong as possible and I did my best not to show to the outer world how I felt inside. But I was suffering from more and more pain and I couldn´t stop the constant worries and thoughts.
I started to work in a big company. My life got more and more divided and I was playing more and more roles. But looking from the outside I had achieved everything I was working hard for my whole life, regarding career and social life. But I started to realize that I was not happy at all with what I thought I had to achieve. My depression got worse. At the same time my left hand became very painful. It was treated like a typewriter´s cramp. But after some time, my hand suddenly inflated, got red and blue, stiff and hair grew on it. I went to some other doctors, then the clear diagnosis: rheumatism, CRPS, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. Additionally I suffered from more attacks regarding my shoulders. Then doctors told me that the pain in my back and my shoulders would be a different kind of rheumatism, called Ankylosis Spondylitis. I got cortisone, different painkillers, basis medication, pills to sleep and antidepressant.
I was not functioning anymore, I could not do anything what the society or I was expecting me to do, I felt useless, worthless. I couldn´t even clean my apartment, go to the supermarket, hold a spoon. I would not have been able to survive in this time without my wonderful family and very few, but true friends. I lost the ability to move freely, I lost my job soon, I lost my relationship, I lost many friends. And I was full of fear of never getting better again. I lost everything but I could also feel that I actually wanted and needed to drop some of these things. I realized that I felt trapped in my life and that I had to change my life and what was more important that I wanted to change my life. I started to reflect what made me feel bad and then I started to let it go. I let go of some things, some persons, some unhealthy living patterns. It was very hard to realize some of these things. And realizing and actually changing were two completely different things, as most of the time we already know deep inside what we would have to change to feel happier, we just don´t do it because it is a very uncomfortable process to step out of old patterns. What I basically did was to start to listen to myself. I started to investigate what I really wanted, who I was, as I lost myself completely on the way. I spent a lot of time in nature, I did things I liked since always, like reading and I also tried out new things, like drawing. I tried to give myself some freedom and also tried to explore. And yoga came back to me and created space for all this, created space for healing.
I took this photo later in India, but it reminds me of how I felt at this time of my life. I felt like standing in an empty hallway, where the door at my back, my old life, was already closed and I could see another door, but the door was not open yet and I was not sure either if I can reach this door. I felt like being nowhere for a long time.
My first yoga steps + practices for meditation and pranayama
Yoga played a role in my life since I was 14, but since a longer time I didn´t practice, as I “had no time”. Caught in the fast-paced life. But as my life was changing I started to think about what I actually want to do in my life and yoga was definitely a part of it, still not knowing how important it would actually become to me. I started to integrate some pranayama and meditations, laying or sitting, whatever was possible at the moment. As pranayama (breathing exercises), I started with diaphragmatic breathing which is very soothing.
You can do
this sitting or laying, whatever is comfortable for you. Bring one hand to your
belly and the other hand to your chest. Then start breathing into your belly
and observe that just the hand on your belly moves. Observe how the breath
enters into your nostrils and comes out from your nostrils. Just observe the
process of breathing without influencing the breath. Feel that the breath
automatically slows down and feel calmness spreading over your body and mind.
You can do this breathing for 10 minutes or however long it feels comfortable.
For more detailed explanations you can watch Rolf Soviks video to practice this
very simple and effective Pranayama. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q82YnmL0Kr8
I was hospitalized in a health clinic specialized in rheumatology for 3 weeks. This was a big step, there I could experience to swim again for a little while, as the medication was helping me. Another important point was for me a walking meditation method a psychologist explained to me during this program.
Walk slowly at your pace and with awareness. First look at 5 things and name them in your head, then hear 5 different sounds and then feel 5 different things. After this look at 4 things, hear 4 things, feel 4 things etc. till you reach 0. For example : see a leaf of a tree, a stone, a bird, a dog, a fence, hear a car, the wind, people talking, the stones under your shoes, your breath and feel the fabric of your clothes on your skin, the movement of your feet, the wind touching your skin, the warmth of the sun, one finger touching your other finger and so on.
This practice brings you in the present. It is also very easy but very effective. We worry a lot, and when we worry we are either in the past or in the future. But if we are in the present we are just there. We are just in the here and now.
In the beginning I was not able to do many asanas (physical exercises of yoga). But gradually I integrated some joint movements and I did asanas with variations according to my limitations, which were a lot. I felt frustration as I was not able to do asanas “properly”. But there is no right or wrong performing asanas and it is not about looking good or achieving certain fancy poses. It is normal that we tend to want to achieve, as we grew up in an achievement oriented society, that´s why it is very important to remember that it is about ourselves, about feeling good what we are doing. And we are often so rigid and unloving with ourselves. One day I was asked: “Would you treat a friend of you like you treat yourself?” And I started thinking. I would not at all. So I tried to respect my limitations and to accept them, to accept me. And yoga is so much more than just asanas, in the western world we tend to underestimate the power of meditations and pranayama, as the focus is on the physical aspect, on the asanas, but meditations and pranayama are so extremely powerful.
Due to my daily little self-customized yoga practice I felt very soon improvement on the physical and the psychological level. Thinking and reflecting became easier. I could feel already how important and good it was that yoga came back into my life and that it would help me even further.
My decision to go to India
Another thing I realized reflecting was, that I needed to travel again. When I was with just one little bag at the health clinic I felt how much I was missing travelling and having less things, I missed to feel this freedom. I decided to combine the wish to travel and yoga to go to India. I wanted to do a yoga teacher training since a long time but I never did it, because I was always worried about adding something important to my curriculum. But I could feel clearly that I had to let go of this as well.
Actually going to India did not really feel like a choice I made, there was just no other way. I lost already everything and I could not live my life anymore like this, everything that happened was too painful. I surrendered. And with surrendering I do not mean giving up or what we sometimes associate with the word surrender. With surrender I mean, I surrendered to the moment, I accepted. We tend to force and want to control everything. But we can not. By surrendering I could see my way.
Of course, I was full of fear of increasing the pain with my decision to go to India. We are all full of fear and guilt. Fear of taking a wrong decision. Fear of failing. And so much more fears, each of us with own personal fears. Like my fear of pain. But I had nothing to lose. I was already living in pain. Yes, there was the possibility of even more pain. But the life with the pain which was already there was not possible for me to live. And guilt, guilt of not doing what society expects us to do. We feel the need to fit in, to achieve the things we are supposed to achieve. Career, money etc. And as we live in an achievement oriented society it's sometimes not even that somebody tells us directly what we should do, but we have already internalized all this and we put so much pressure on ourselves and the only person that stands in our way are we, ourselves. If we let go the fear and the guilt we can create the space to find ourselves. And if we do not step out of our comfort zone, growth can not happen.
My next post is going to be about my travel to India where I did my first yoga teacher training and my visit to Thailand. Other contents that will follow will be my other teacher trainings and my ayurvedic panchakarma treatment in India during which I could stop my medication for rheumatism and many other themes.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post. Feel free to comment and share this post and to share your own experiences. Have a wonderful day.