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Negative Coping Mechanisms and Chronic Pain

“I feel the real me is being taken over by my pain and fatigue every single day.”

Unknown

I was recently asked by the amazing site entitled http://www.themighty.com to write about past negative coping mechanisms I used to deal with chronic pain and when I knew my coping techniques had gone too far and what I did to change my behaviors.  My life began falling apart due to chronic pain around the age of twenty.  I had spent five plus years searching for a cure, having many surgeries, being on multitudes of medications, and having my hope for a cure destroyed on a weekly basis for five years and I was done.  I could no longer juggle going to college, trying to receive good grades, spending three out of seven days of the week in the offices of doctors and trying to make and keep friends.   I dropped out of college and completely gave up on myself and my health.  I drove from New Jersey to Colorado where I had a couple friends and who were kind enough to let me stay with them until I figured out what I was going to do with my life.  Truth be told, I didn’t believe I had a chance at life and was just trying to get by and not think about pain.  I hung out with people who enjoyed drinking and loved the college scene.  My friends were drinking to be social and have fun during their years in college while I was drinking to numb chronic pain.  I still had yet to be told I had chronic pain as this was not a term used widely as it is now.  All I knew is that I had a terrible bike accident that nearly killed me and I was left with pain that was invisible to everyone, except myself.

I had never been prescribed pain medication and taking Advil had the same effectiveness to alleviating pain as eating Tic Tac’s all day would.  So, I took drinking with friends to the next level.  Being in a college town that was known for its partying made self medicating my invisible illness quite easy.  I fit in.  We were always able to think of an excuse to drink: Taco Tuesdays, Wine Wednesdays, Thirsty  Thursdays, then the weekend was an obvious excuse to party: TGIF!   Most of my friends were in college full time as I had been prior to dropping out and fleeing New Jersey.   They had extra reasons to celebrate and drink with everyone: doing well on an exam, the end of mid-terms, and the breaks we all know and love.  I felt awful celebrating with them when I was doing nothing with my life.  I loved school and had had so many dreams that I truly believed were stolen from me because of chronic pain.  The more I hated myself, the more I drank and ate.  Within six months I gained about thirty pounds.  I ate all day and drank all night.  Having a hangover was easier than dealing with chronic pain.  My friends understood hangovers but did not understand how in the world I had this pain when I looked perfectly healthy on the outside.  Hangovers were amazing compared to dealing with my invisible illness.

I started to get more and more depressed and hopeless.  Drinking was no longer fun; it was a means to an end.  I only drank to numb the physical pain I felt.  My tolerance went up and I needed to drink more to get the same pain relief.  Instead of laughing and having fun with my friends I always ended up sitting on our deck or on mattress crying into the bottle of red wine that I had grown to hate.  Each day and night seemed to get worse until one day I woke up very late in the morning and all I could smell was stale red wine.  I looked beyond my mattress and saw red wine stains covering the carpet.  I started to cry like I had never cried before.  I knew I had hit my rock bottom and it was either drink myself to death or find a way to manage chronic pain that I had not found in the many years I had dealt with this invisible illness.  As I cried on that mattress surrounded by red wine stains my good friend researched places that specialized in chronic pain.  He looked up every hospital and Pain Center in America and finally stumbled upon the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.   Two days later, we were in my car driving from Boulder, Colorado to Rochester Minnesota.  A few weeks later my life changed forever as I entered the Pain Rehab Center at the Mayo Clinic where I spent a month learning how to manage pain naturally.

The following year was tough as I spent that year solely focusing on my health and practicing everything I had learned at the Mayo Clinic.  I never thought about numbing my pain with anything and the thought of red wine made me want to vomit.  I have been using the tools I learned at the Mayo Clinic since I was twenty two years old.  After my year of focusing on my health I entered college in Denver, Colorado and got my degree in Social Work.  I loved learning about how to help people, especially people with an invisible illness.  I am thirty five now and it has not always been a smooth ride in my journey with chronic pain.  There have been bumps, curves, and some U Turns along the way but nothing can compare to my days and nights of numbing my chronic pain with alcohol.  My lifestyle is not conventional and I live a structured life that incorporates ways to manage pain with positive coping mechanisms.   If I can find a way to live a life with chronic pain without the need to numb the pain, anyone can.  One day you will believe me….maybe not today but one day.

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Managing Life’s Stress Along with Chronic Pain

“Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”

Marlon Brando

This picture was taken just last week in the beautiful town of Lake George, NY.  My family and I went on a week long vacation that was so fun, peaceful, and unique it was difficult to drive back to reality this past Sunday.  My little mini me and I shed some tears as we drove away from our log cabin on the lake and onto the New Jersey Turnpike.  Vacations are always amazing but I find myself managing my chronic pain so much better when away from the every day hustle and bustle of real life.  When I pack for vacation, I make sure to include my “chronic pain management kit” which includes: yoga dvd’s, books, healthy food, CD’s for meditation, and my journal.  I am able to follow my routine for managing chronic pain naturally while on vacation and then some.   I am able to find endless, healthy distractions while away with the people I love.  It takes me a few days to adjust to the ‘real world’ once I return from a week away in what I call paradise.   I spend a week forgetting the stresses and issues I have at home and am able to surrender to the here and now for those seven blissful days.  We returned from our trip Sunday afternoon and the excitement of being home helped me forget my longing for that log cabin and pool.  I was busy unpacking, doing laundry, sorting through mail, and cleaning a home that had been alone for a week.  I went to bed tired and not feeling ready to wake up and face Monday in the non-vacation world.

Monday turned out to be a day from hell.  It started out just like any ordinary Monday: I exercised, got my daughter ready for the day, and left the house for errands and work.  I do not need to go into detail of what exactly transpired this past Monday but I now see how things really do happen all at once.   While I was at work,  I was anxiously waiting for a phone call that would either give me great news or not so great news.  I received the phone call around noon and it was not so great news. I was sad and shed a couple tears and got back to focusing on what I needed to be doing at that moment.  Five minutes later my phone rang again and it was a call from a close family member with really bad news that affects the people I love the most.  A couple hours later my phone rang one more time for even more difficult news.  I felt like I had to do something to fix the problems that I was faced with immediately.  Instead I called my dad and told him everything that had just happened and he shared the above quote with me: “Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”  I realized that if I went into fight or flight mode than nothing good was going to happen and I was not only going to get myself into a huge mess, my little girl was going to be very upset and confused.

Logically I know that everything always works out but I struggle in the moments of bad news or life stressors.  I have two modes: catastrophic mode or fix the problem immediately at whatever cost mode.   Neither mode is constructive and both modes are very detrimental to my pain levels.  I forget how much stress/anxiety affects my chronic pain.  It does not matter how well I follow my routine for managing chronic pain when I am a crying, anxious mess.  I end up paying for my negative emotions physically once late afternoon/nighttime hits.  I exhaust myself to the point of extreme physical pain that I am no longer worrying about anything because I am only focused on pain.

People in my life forget that I have chronic pain which is not their fault.  I have had this invisible illness for twenty years.  Most of the people in my current life were not a part of my life when I was drowning in my fight against chronic pain.  They did not see the twenty one year old Jessica who spent her days in doctors offices and her nights drinking with her friends to the point of crying alone wishing she could either kill herself or chronic pain.  People in my life now see a person who states she has chronic pain but manages it naturally and has a good handle on her invisible illness.  I rarely if ever talk about pain as this is a very important tool for me in my management of chronic pain.  The more I talk about pain the more I think about pain.  The more I think about pain, the worse pain becomes.  A life with chronic pain can be very difficult even for myself at times.  I have come to a great point in my journey with pain but life stressors impact my pain levels more than I would like.

A lot of you are drowning in pain right now and feel that your pain will be forever and have no idea how you are going to make it through today much less the rest of your life.  You want to fix the pain right now, numb the pain right now, and you are either in catastrophic mode or need to fix this immediately mode.  My dad has always given me very sound, zen advice.  I urge you all to think about the quote that helped me these past few days: “Just because they say action does not mean you have to do anything.”

 

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Healing Through Time

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“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes?  But when you look back everything is different?”

C.S. Lewis

The best day of my life was the day I brought this angel into our world:  February 2nd, 2012.  I am sure so many parents feel that way about the days they brought their children into this world however I never thought I would be able to physically or mentally be able to be a mother because of chronic pain.  For years I lived in constant fear that my invisible illness had stolen all of my dreams and desires.  I battled my chronic pain demons to the point of self destruction.  During my darkest hours of pain I dropped out of college and gave up on any life I had hope for.  I began to mourn the loss of the Jessica I believed was gone.  I mourned all the losses I thought had been ripped out of my heart without any reason except incurable, non stop, excruciating physical pain.  Yes, I had dreams to do well in college and become a teacher or a counselor.  I had dreams of becoming a writer and sharing my stories.  However, my biggest dream in the world was to be a mother.  The thought that chronic pain had stolen any chance of my biggest dream coming true was too much to bear and I did hit my rock bottom in my relentless battle with chronic pain.

Fast forward a couple years to when I first heard the words: chronic pain and acceptance and I was taught how to manage my invisible illness naturally and my dreams slowly began to come to fruition.  Despite chronic pain I graduated college and received my degree in social work.  I spent many amazing, unforgettable years practicing social work in the medical field.  I was healthy.  Chronic pain was no longer controlling my life and I was finally in charge.  I was no longer battling my invisible illness or allowing the illness to take away my dreams.  My biggest dream came true when this little girl entered my life and I became my favorite word in the world: mother.

I keep a one liner journal that I have shared with my readers at times and will continue to do so when special days arise.  Each day I write one to three lines of what stood out most for me that specific day whether the day was difficult or amazing I write it down.  I never thought that taking a few minutes a day to write down three sentences would alter my view on my life to the point it has.  For ten years chronic pain controlled every moment of every day of my life and honestly came close to taking my life.  I lived in catastrophic mode realizing like in the movie: “Groundhogs Day” I would wake up every day and be in a state of pain with no relief and no cure.  Despite having control over my invisible illness I still have difficult moments and at times a whole day with pain and have a difficult time distracting myself from my physical struggle.  I am also human and chronic pain is not the only difficult thing that has happened in my life and I will continue to face the challenges life brings us all.  I am able to look back on my one liner journal every day and see just how much can change in a day…a week…a year.  This journal reminds me that no matter what, I can never give up and that all my hopes and dreams will come true no matter what my current situation or current mood is.  I want to share with you my journal one-liner entries are for February 2nd.

February 2nd

2011: I had a D & C/miscarriage.  We lost the baby boy that was inside of me.  I cannot get off the couch and just don’t want to be alive.  I have worked so hard to get to where I am and had my dream inside me and the doctor ripped it out of me.  I’ll never be the same.

2012:  Our daughter, Kayci was born!   I am a MOMMY!  Kayci was born at 7:41pm.  The same doctor that did my D &C last year delivered my daughter!  Six pushes!  I have never been so happy.  This was the greatest moment of my life.

2013: Kayci turns one!  Birthday party of the century!  My mom was amazing and got a pony to come to our house 🙂 She did so much to help celebrate my angel’s first year and sadly missed the party because she was in the hospital.

2014: Kayci turns two!!! Had an amazing birthday with our family and loved ones.  I had two glasses of wine and was literally hungover from just that.  What happened to me?  When chronic pain was terrible two glasses of wine would have been like juice!  I am such a different person!  Exercised and did yoga nidra to feel healthy again!

2015: Although it has been a difficult few months I refused to allow my recent struggle to ruin Kayci’s third birthday!  Decorated house to surprise her and spent quality time with my now three year old.

2016:  Kayci awoke at 4:45 am because she was so excited to turn four!  She loved finding the small gifts hid around our home.  I took her to Build a Bear to start a birthday tradition.  I was in tears of happiness watching her joy as she built her own bear.  She is the best kid ever!

2017: I cannot believe Kayci is five!  It is bittersweet for me, where is the time going?  Decorated house and exercised with my now five year old.  I took Kayci to Build a Bear to keep the tradition going.  She did not remember last year so it was all new to her again.  I had tears of happiness again.  We had pizza and cake at home and she was so happy she refused to go to sleep.

I share this with you because everything does change and although you may feel hopeless with your personal invisible illness or crisis at the moment you must remember that everything does get better with time.  I have things in my life that I wish were happening now and I have multiple struggles in my life that I wish were better this second.  However, I know all my dreams and desires will come true especially when I see days like the one above.  I cannot lose faith or hope and neither can any of you. You may feel sad, hopeless and defeated today but you truly do not know what is in store with you and this time next year everything may be totally different.  I will not give up hope and neither should any of you!

 

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A New Year: Be Present

“Healing comes from gathering wisdom from past actions and letting go of the pain that the education taught you.”

Carolyn Myss

I have heard from multitudes of people that the year 2016 has been if not difficult, disastrous.  As I heal and enter into my next phase of working to bring another angel into this world, I realize that for me the year 2016 has come with many ups and many downs.  I have had some of the greatest moments in my life and honestly some of my worst.  I am truly trying to find the lessons that both the difficult times and amazing times have taught me.  With that said, I am going to share with you my New Year’s Resolutions.  I will also write down my very personal News Years resolutions that I do not want to share with the entire world, yes there are some things I do keep to myself and my close friends and loved ones.   However, I do want to share some of  my resolutions for all my readers to read in the hopes that some of you can relate to certain changes.  I know it is not yet Christmas but I feel that we can and should write down and think about resolutions many more times than just on a drunk filled holiday we call New Years.  So, here is what I have been thinking about regarding change, lessons, and things I would like to work on today and tomorrow and for my upcoming year as well.

  1. I am what one would call an over thinker, a worry wart, and a person who logically knows things work out but find it very difficult to turn my brain to belief instead of worry.  I do not know what came first: anxiety or chronic pain.  I believe I have had anxiety since I was a very small person and following my bike accident and subsequent chronic pain this anxiety only intensified.  Anxiety and chronic pain can become a vicious cycle.  Anxiety increases pain and pain increases anxiety.  I am going to truly work on changing my thoughts.  Once I begin thinking something that worries to me to no end such as the troubles we have faced having another child, I go into catastrophic mode and start thinking months, years into the future wondering what will happen, when it will happen, how it will happen, and then the what if’s come in which are much more daunting than the what’s.  What if’s are two words that I am cognitively going to start deleting from my conscious mind and my vocabulary.  I need to keep remembering and plan to write this down where I can see it every day this: “Everything I have ever dreamed of happening but have been caught in fear that it will not happen always ends up happening just not how I planned.”  I am going to practice following my dreams but not forcing my dreams.  I need to allow things to come into my life with open arms instead of worrying that my dreams will not come to fruition.  Like the saying goes: worrying is like paying interest on a debt you will probably never owe.
  2. Comparison is so called the thief of joy and I find myself comparing myself and my life with other’s which is not only illogical but causes me sadness.  As far as I have come in my journey with chronic pain, I still find myself almost annoyed when I see someone in acute pain (pain that will only lasts hours or at most days.)  People with chronic pain would be thrilled to have acute pain however, my reality is chronic pain and comparing myself to other people’s lives steals my inner peace and joy.  I should be applauding myself for how far I have come and what I great life I have despite my invisible illness.  There are many other things I find myself wishing I had instead of being grateful for what I have in this space and time.  Social media has a huge influence on societies personal views on their own lives.  As people look on sites such as Facebook and Instagram they only see the happy moments in a person’s life.  No one posts pictures of the hard times and the sad/difficult moments in their daily lives only the great ones, myself included.  We need to remember this if we are on social media sites.  Many of us would be better off taking time away from the internet if it is bringing sadness and/or distraught feelings.  If something does not make you happy, do not look at it.  We all need to stop comparing our lives to other’s lives whom we think have it all because I promise you if you lived in their shoes for a week you would probably miss your own life a lot.
  3. I have started practicing yoga more and have lessened the amount of cardio I do for both chronic pain and anxiety.  For about two weeks now I have practiced a solid hour yoga session each morning and see how much yoga truly touches body, mind, and spirit.  It is not only the poses and exercises I love, it is the words coming from the instructors voice.  I learn a lot of lessons both consciously and sub-consciously as I move through each pose. I love exercise as a result of chronic pain.  It truly helps me a ton and I love cardio more than any other form of exercise.  However, I am trying to work on my inner self more than my outer self.  I never imagined yoga would teach me so much.  I truly believe our school systems should incorporate some sort of yoga into our student’s daily life.
  4. I need to chill out.  I become so consumed with fear of the future and thoughts from my past that I forget to live in the present moment.  I used to tell my patients: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift and that is why it is called the present.” It is so easy to say aloud or even write down: live more presently but it is one of the most difficult things to do.  For example, when you are taking a shower in the morning are you thinking about how great your hair smells in the wraths of shampoo or are you thinking about what you have to do next?  We are rarely fully present and we miss out on so much of life’s blessings and joys because we are always thinking forward.  I have found that if I focus on my breath and calm myself down when I start getting anxious about the future (even if the future thought is ten minutes ahead of me) I can bring myself back to the present time.  My dad asked me for Christmas what I wanted and the one thing that stuck out was a very awesome day planner.  Right now I have like four different ones I use instead of just one go to planner.  I find that if I write down exactly what needs to be done each day I can let go of the thoughts of the future because they are already written down.
  5. Finally I need to tap into my faith.  I need to surrender my dreams to the Universe and allow what is going to come into my life to come without worry or grief.  I need to believe, surrender, and let go.  What if we spend all this time worrying and planning our future when the Universe already has it mapped out for us?  If that is the case then we are all carrying around fifty pound weights for no reason.  I plan to truly take one day at a time and some days will be difficult and some days will be amazing but there is some joy in every day.  One of the last presents I gave my Grandmother before she passed was a magnet that says: “We do not remember days, we remember moments.”  I think in this coming year we all need to cultivate more faith into our lives and let go and be lead towards our divine plan.

 

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Planning a Life Around Pain

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“Understanding the challenges you face with your illness and then planning a life despite them, may be one of the bravest decisions you will ever make.”

Unknown

The ups and downs and spins and twirls never truly end when you live with an invisible illness such as, chronic pain.  It took me ten very long, painful, heartbreaking, gut wrenching years of my life to come to a point of acceptance of my invisible illness.  It was not until then that my dreams slowly but surely began to come true.   However, I have to plan my life around chronic pain.  Now, this is not such a terrible thing and with a lot of dedication can be done and one can make the life they desire no matter what illness he or she has.  A month ago I was given the greatest news of my life since the birth of our healthy daughter, Kayci.  I am sure many of you who know me can guess what that news is but I am still waiting to share it with the world.  With this amazing, life changing, news that I have worked towards for two years now has come with some changes in my daily life and how I manage pain naturally.

When I set my mind to something, I do not give up.   That is one of the biggest blessings I received from a diagnosis of chronic pain.  I know that if I am strong enough to manage chronic pain naturally and live a life I am for the most part happy with, I can do anything.  I have to want something so badly that  I do not go a day without thinking about it to put in the effort, faith, and work it takes to make what I want come to fruition.  It may sound silly to some but one of my biggest and most beneficial tools to managing chronic pain naturally is exercise.   Exercise not only helps my pain levels but my anxiety as well.  In order to keep my dream safe, I have been told by my amazing doctors that I  should not work out for now as I just got over being on bed rest.  It has now been over a month since I have been allowed to exercise and it has taken a toll on me.  However, I keep reminding myself of one of the greatest quotes I have ever heard: “At times you must give up what you want now for what you want the most.”  It has been an adjustment but I just have to plan my life differently for now just as I have done with my management of chronic pain.  I have had to find different things to do in the morning when for thirteen years I have gotten up and worked out right away to keep my brain to going straight to pain and to get my body moving.  I started a gratitude journal six weeks ago where I write down five things I am grateful for each morning.  I have had more five am snuggles with my beautiful daughter and spent very real time with her just talking as the sun comes up.  I am trying hard to practice more yoga nidra and meditation.  I am finding other ways for the time being to manage chronic pain and re-arrange my schedule to keep my dream safe and sound.

Whether or not you have an invisible illness, there are going to be times when life does not go as plan and random road blocks are going to stand in the way of what you desire.  You have to keep going and find different routes and avenues to take to get to where you want to go, to make your dreams come true.  “At times you must give up what you want now, for what you want the most.”  I have used that quote in my management with chronic pain when pain is so difficult I have a small desire to go back to pain medication and I use it for other life changes that arise in my life.  I believe in all of you and all of your dreams.

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Yoga and Chronic Pain

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“Yoga is not about touching your toes, it is what you learn on the way down.”

Jigar Gor

Yoga has become such a huge part of the world we live in today.  There are yoga studios everywhere, yoga magazines, and more yoga DVD’s than I can even begin to count.  Many people have this idea that yoga is this vigorous exercise that requires one to be extremely flexible.  I used to believe the same thing.  The thought of exercising scared me enough, I could not imagine doing  the yoga poses I saw on the covers of magazines or the stretches I saw on the television.  Many people do practice yoga to get the ‘yoga body’ so to speak, however many people like myself utlilize yoga because it truly is a way of life.  I learn more from what the instructors say either in a class or on a DVD than I do in yoga positions such as downward facing dog.

There is a huge correlation between chronic pain and anxiety.  I have had anxiety since I was a little girl but that anxiety only intensified once I fell off of my bike and ended up with chronic pain.  ANYONE can practice yoga.  There are so many benefits, its a no brainer that we all (chronic pain or not) should be practicing this form of ‘exercise.’  Here are a few of the benefits I have found through practicing yoga.  I only started utilizing yoga in my daily life after I made the decision to manage pain naturally and accepted my invisible illness that I no longer look for a cure for.

  1. Stretching: part of my routine for managing pain is stretching in the morning.  Yoga kills two birds with one stone.  I have yoga DVDs that are solely based on morning stretches and morning affirmations.  I am not only stretching my body, which we all need to do if we have chronic pain but I am hearing the affirmations I will use throughout the day that will have a positive impact on my mood/anxiety/chronic pain.
  2. Self Esteem: People with chronic pain often times have a very low self esteem.  Anyone reading this with chronic pain knows what I am talking about.  My self esteem was so low due to chronic pain years ago that I literally hated myself and there is nothing more detrimental or life threatening than self hatred.  Yoga teaches us that we need to focus on ourselves and our health.  Yoga does not teach us to look awesome in a bikini but teaches us that the more we feel good on the inside the better we will look on the outside.  Do you ever just see certain people and the first thing you notice is their smile and genuine happiness?  There are many times I notice these attributes on a person before I even glance at the color of their hair.  People radiate light and energy and I have found that yoga has helped me focus more on the inside of myself than the outside.
  3. Friendships:  Some of the greatest people I have ever met have been in a yoga class.  I met one of my dearest friends in a yoga class two years before my daughter was born and we remain friends.  I find most (not all) people in yoga classes are the most non-judge mental, empathetic, good hearted people I know.  One has to find the right yoga studio and class that fits in with their own personality and self.  I think every yoga studio should have a sign outside that says: “Non judgement zone” because I have never felt judged or looked at differently at any yoga studio to date.  I remember going to my first class many years ago and I was beyond scared.  I am/was one of the most un-flexible people in the world and was frightened people would make fun of me.  Quite the contrary: I was welcomed with open arms and literally felt love and positive energy radiate from the classroom.  One class and I was hooked.
  4. Flexibility:  Sure, yoga is a form of exercise that stretches our muscles and over time we are able to surrender into poses we once thought to be impossible.  However, I am speaking of the flexibility of the mind.  The teachings of yoga have truly changed the way I think about the world and more importantly myself.  Yoga has helped me see myself differently and in a good way.  I have never regretted practicing yoga and seem to learn something different from each class or video.
  5. There are thousands of videos of yoga for pain relief.  There is chair yoga if one wants to start very easily.  Yoga comes in every shape, size, and form because it is more for the mind than for the body.  Our thoughts become things and the more we listen to positivity and words of wisdom, the less our minds are brought to pain.  It is the mind body connection.

 

I am a very up-beat, anxious, high energy person and it takes a lot for me to slow down.  I was very fired up this morning and my mind really wanted to do a cardio/weight lifting exercise routine but I listened to my body and intuition and ended up practicing yoga for stress relief.  That is why I ended up sharing this post with my readers.  Yoga helps me to slow down and remember what is important.  It is an added bonus that without even realizing it, yoga does help my pain levels.  As my dad always says: “Ya cannot lose what you don’t have.”   Give it a shot.

 

 

 

 

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