I have been asked a few times since last writing about how one deals with chronic illness. While not seemingly yoga related... what isn’t yoga related? Finding not only peace but perfection amongst wherever our minds and bodies may be is a cornerstone of a yoga practice.
Here are some (six) ways I’ve found to befriend chronic illness:
Community is key.
Letting people hold you can be scary. Asking for help can be scary. Communicating with friends and family about what is going on and asking for their support is scary. But all are wonderful practices. I’ve found that being really honest with friends about my health, asking them to help me navigate my limitations has helped me heal much better than I would have on my own. Having a supportive partner (be it romantic or friend) who cares fully about my health is also awesome.
Where to start? Share your story with someone who does not know. Scary things = important things.
Online communities are cool too.
Chronic illness can make you feel really isolated from those around you. Not being able to go out, stay up, get down “like you used to” can be frustrating. Shared experience rules. The world is big and there are others like you. Find them, bond, and maybe like me you’ll realize you don’t have it so bad after all. Also a great place to share tips, inspire each other, and find your own mojo amidst the mix.
Where to start? Try Facebook groups. If you don’t Facebook, I hear Google helps you find things too.
You are what you eat.
So many of my symptoms are correlated with my diet. It was hard to admit. But if you can get quiet enough inside of yourself to not listen to craving after craving, you can begin to hear what it is your body really needs. Does it really need another coffee at 3pm or does it need a nap? Does it really want more dark chocolate, or just a glass of water? This comes down to meditation for me. Am I that attached to the foods I eat? I meditate to arrive at a place inside of myself that does not need any particular type of food. This is the place of nourishment. The place I eat in order to nourish myself.
Each time I eat, I imagine I am eating health. It’s not so much about what I don’t eat, but what I do eat and how wonderfully nourishing those foods are. In this way, a change in diet does not feel like a sacrifice but rather an affirmation of my health. Meditation also cultivates an honest witness inside of myself. Am I sick or did what I eat make my body not feel well? Those are two totally different things to me now that help me to not feel so powerless in the face of illness.
Where to start? This podcast on Mindfulness and Food from the Be Here Now Network
Make friends with disease.
Hello (insert disease of choice). Welcome. Let’s get to know each other. Let us not be enemies but learn the intricacies of each other. You like to spread inside of me when I am tired. I don’t feel your presence as much when I go for walks each morning. You really like caffeine.
This is the hardest one for me, for sure. It is an infinite work in progress, and may be so my whole life. Since life can be long, what else is there to do but befriend dis-ease? Observing myself, my diet, my behaviors throughout the day, and their subsequent impact upon the presence of my new friend, I do not feel so blindsided by illness. I can almost see it coming, as I can sometimes feel when a longtime friend is going to call me on the phone.
Easier said than done. Maybe. But each one of these points above are preceded and followed by meditation. There is plenty written, plenty recorded, and even plenty preached about meditation, so I shan't attempt here. All I will say is that meditation helps bring me to a place where I am able to watch my life unfold without so much attachment to the outcome.
It brings me from a place of “Oh shit” to “Oh wow”. Oh wow, look at the effect of that food on my body. Oh wow, look at that stress weaving its way into my body. Oh wow, this illness eats up stress like I do cookie dough ice cream. Things slowly shift from a place of feeling powerless and confused in the face of illness to feeling more equanimous and content in the friendship of illness. Eventually, I am starting to realize I am not ill at all, but simply alive.
You see it written on shirts, Instagram handles, Coachella hashtags … but seriously. Love yourself! We often falter between the lines of pompous self-inflation in the age of selfie and true self love. What does loving yourself look like? Do you really love yourself? Whatever the answer is, awesome. That’s okay and that’s great, because that’s where you are.
I had an energetic physical therapist ask me this about a year ago. She was using muscle testing to gauge the truth of my responses (how? I do not know.), and had me crying admitting that I only 70% loved myself. It was a liberating moment for me because I got an honest picture of where I was at. From that moment I changed a lot of things that brought me into more and more love with myself. And of course when you love yourself, it overflows into love for others and the self-inflated importance of the selfie age slips into dust.
Ram Dass once told me to love myself first. I pass that to you here.
Where to start? Loving-Kindness Metta Meditations are super powerful. I like this one by Mirabai Bush.
Let me know if you’d like any more resources. There are infinite out there, but your own experience is probably the best one.