Monday, 2 November 2009

Yoga and Lupus: An introduction

Why 'loopies' should be prescribed yoga

Anyone reading this blog may well have picked up on my enthusiasm for yoga, so I thought it was about time I put something into words to explain why I ‘harp on’ about it so much in this blog.

My Mum practiced yoga when I was a little girl so I grew up with it, although in truth I didn’t start practicing regularly myself until my late 20’s, but my awareness and appreciation of it certainly far predates my knowledge and experience of lupus. As I’ve never been an especially sporty type what originally attracted me to yoga is that it is so inclusive: it’s is not the exclusive domain of the fit and gorgeous! What is wonderful is that it’s for anyone and everyone, and can be practiced anywhere and at anytime (or all the time when you really get the hang of it!). I’ve always liked the fact that it doesn’t matter how young or old you are, neither does it matter what your background or personal beliefs are; nor (as I was to discover to my relief) does it matter how ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ you are. Yoga recognises that everyone is unique and different and can be tailored to the individual whatever their situation. And thankfully, unlike many regular exercise classes, I’ve always appreciated that yoga doesn’t embrace a ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy. In fact it’s quite the reverse: it is about listening to the body and working with it.

From the start the general health benefits of yoga were also attractive. On a physical level, amongst other things yoga has the ability to help create a more toned, flexible, and strong body, to improve respiration, energy, and vitality, to help maintain a balanced metabolism, promote cardio and circulatory health and relieve pain. And, with practice, yoga is proven to have a hugely positive effect on emotional and mental health. Regular yoga practice often helps the student start to find an improved ability to relax and handle stressful situations, to focus their energy and attention more effectively, to think more positively, as well as developing greater self awareness and of the world around them. Who could knock all that?

But when lupus made its unwelcome entry into my life, yoga took on a whole new meaning. I eventually learnt that practicing yoga was quite frankly invaluable to the point that now, if I had my way, I would insist that yoga was formally prescribed by doctors along with the necessary medicines to everyone with lupus. This is because in my view there are certain core issues to living with lupus that the fundamental practices and philosophies at the very heart of yoga address. For example:

Individuality: As we know lupus is a very individual disease which is partly what makes it so complex: although the root of the problem may be the same for everyone, the symptoms rarely are and even for the individual the symptoms change and vary greatly day-to-day and over time. This is where the flexibility of yoga comes into its own for us ‘loopies’. As I explained earlier, yoga is flexible so it can be adapted to meet the needs of anyone with lupus regardless of how it is affecting them (or not) at any given time, so they can continue to practice and address the issues affecting them as and when they occur. Throughout my problems with lupus including during some of my more poorly moments, I learnt I could use yoga in some form or another to my benefit.

Energy: Lack of energy is the blight of many a ‘loopy's’ life and is one of the more persistent problems. Working on creating, distributing and maintaining a healthy balance of energy and vitality (or ‘prana’ as it is known in yoga terms) is core to yoga practice and philosophy.

Flexibility and mobility: Arthritic aches and pains and flexibility are another more common lupus symptom. The gentle physical postures of yoga are proven to ease the aches and pains and improve flexibility. In spite of the impression you may have of yoga based on the misleading pictures of contortionist bodies twisted in fancy positions that are bandied around, yoga is not just for acrobats. I am certainly never going to be a bendy type of person, but thanks to yoga at least I have now restored a comfortable and respectable range of movement, my overall flexibility has certainly improved and the joint aches and pains are no longer a permanent feature of my life.

Relaxation: Stress is known to be one of the main triggers of lupus and stress and depression can also be consequences of the disease. Yoga helps us manage these things and when practiced often can help prevent them before they occur. Certainly for me I’ve discovered the equation is simple: less stress = less lupus. ‘Yoga nidra’, is a technique of yogic or 'psychic sleep' which induces deep relaxation and has the potential to help ‘loopies’ chill and manage stress. I recommend the following CD that you can try it at home as a good place to start:

Pain management: Physical pain in various different shapes and forms is a common feature of having lupus and yoga teaches us techniques to manage it. A particular example in my own life that springs to mind is that I find that yoga breathing and relaxation techniques help me cope better with nasty procedures such as lumbar punctures and blood tests there are also a number of yoga postures I use to help relieve particular symptoms such as headaches.

Psychology: Much of Living Well with Lupus is about how we learn to adapt our minds to cope with the complexities of lupus. I, for one, was taken aback by the psychological impact the disease had on me when it got really out of control. Now, whilst yoga is often thought of as a mode of exercise popularised by particular celebrities, it is in fact far more. Yoga is a healing system of theory and practice: not just a set of exercises but an entire philosophy of being with the goal of achieving peace of mind and of body. I understand it as an approach to life that seeks to help the individual find a way to focus on being at one with themselves and the world around them; in lupus terms yoga can help provide a kind of constant impenetrable internal health that exists regardless of the unpredictable antics of the lupus.

Perhaps the best and most succinct explanation of how yoga can help us live a better life with lupus (or indeed without it) comes from B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the world's greatist living yoga masters explains:

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured”

So, I’d strongly advise anyone with lupus to give it a go. What have you got to lose? If you do decide to give it a go, it is worth noting that there are lots of different styles of yoga and classes vary greatly (I’ve been to some that are a bit too ‘out there’ for me to take seriously) but as with everything, tastes vary! So if you don’t like the first class you go to, it is definitely worth trying another. I’d personally recommend looking for either a ‘hatha’ or ‘Iyengar’ class although I reckon that ultimately a lot of it comes down to your opinion of the teacher.

NB The picture at top is me enjoying a spot of yoga practice at the top of a hill in the Peak District this summer!


Poodle Soup said...

Hi Daisy, I have started yoga and love it....its just a time factor with baby running around but have figured out its best to just let him be and join me, hmmm mabey he will grow up to be a yogi too :)
Take care hope all is going well with bubba!

r4 ds said...

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More health care practitioners are starting to include yogic techniques in their approach to healing -- andmore yoga teachers give a therapeutic intention to their teaching. People who have never tried yoga before are startingto consider including Yoga in their treatment plan.
As science begins to document the importance of understanding the interrelation of all existing things, it looks to Yogawith an intrigued eye, for Yoga speaks Unity in every word. As yoga techniques are researched and new data is gathered,it becomes easier for science and the medical establishment to understand and accept the benefits of Yoga Therapy.Yet there is still not one consensual definition of the discipline.
In order to arrive to an adequate definition and tocome up with proper standards for Yoga Therapy, it is crucial at this early stage to properly address some delicateprofessional and ethical issues. At the same time it is important to educatethegeneralpublic about Yoga Therapy'sbenefits and careful use.
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Daisy Seale-Barnes said...

Hey V

I am so delighted to hear of another yoga convert! It's great isn't it?! I hope it works as well for you as it does for me.

I've joined a pregnancy class and the class that comes out just before mine is a post-natal and baby class, so all the babies get to go along too which is very cute (although I'm not sure it can be quite as restful as a regular yoga class!). Am planning to give it a go when the little bundle arrives. Maybe you could see if there is something similar near you.

Keep in touch.

Daisy x

Daisy Seale-Barnes said...

Hi 'r4 ds'

Thanks for your comment.

I am glad you found this article helpful and it is good to hear that yoga is rightly begining to be accepted as a therapy to be included in mainstream treatment. It has certainly helped me a lot and I am also finding it helpful in preparation for giving birth.

Best of luck with your work.


naj said...

hey there.
i have lupus too and i started yoga few weeks ago since the joint pain restrict me from doing my other favourite sports. i find that you are very positive in handling the fact that you have lupus. and you are getting a baby soon! well done to you and all the best for the future. i hope i'll be as strong too to keep up my life. i just turn 21 and has been diagnosed for 8 months.

Stephany Boa said...

oh dear, hang in there, when i was 21 i contracted a disease the NIGHT of my birthday,...and then had to have an operation to fix the problem. now i'm 23 and i have lupus. you're going to be ok, just adjust your life so that you are happy, do what you love to do. i pray you have all the support you need to fulfill all the wonderful things you have been born to do

be strong.

Daisy Seale-Barnes said...

Hi Naj

Thanks for your message and for your encouragement.

It sounds like you are already doing things well to get on top of your lupus, especially as you have only known what you are dealing with for 8 months. Cellcept was the drug that I used that eventually got things more under control (I just feel so sorry that you have to pay for it as I know it's really expensive - as I'm in UK, I'm lucky enough to get all my medicines mainly paid for the NHS - still, it's definitely worth every bit if it works!). This, combined with yoga and taking care of yourself makes the world of difference. Keep on visiting and I'll keep an eye on your blog to see how you are doing.

Wishing you loads of luck.


Daisy Seale-Barnes said...

Hi Stephany

Thanks very much for your support and good, positive advice. It is very kind of you to get in touch.

It sounds as if you have also been through a lot but it is good to hear that your spirit is still strong.

Thanks again.


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maryastell said...

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cerebritis said...

The yoga for me is a great tool to be healthy I do it all the time I really like all the position it make me feel really healthy so I love and I will do it for ever .

Unknown said...

hi daisy , my husband is sffering from lupus from last 10 years. i will suggest him to start yoga. thanks

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HowtoBEaCOOLoldLady said...

thanks for posting this. I am a yoga teacher, about to start teaching someone who has lupus. so it has been really useful information for me as I will be able to help my student better.

Anonymous said...

I'm 32years n I suffer from lupus I got it when I was 22 n it doesn't seem to settle.
I live in Goa India n not too many people know n understand lupus.
I've recently detected a condition called myelopathy. So moving around is difficult my body waist below is weak so I can walk to Long n I can't climb stairs or jump or run or even walk fast .
I don't have controlled over my bladder n I suffer from constipation
My life is getting difficult I still go to work.
DO u think yoga will help me. Plz advise.

Unknown said...

If you are Suffering from joint pain and other disorders which can make your life miserable and uncomfortable.Then you must try to do Yoga as it unites body, mind and spirit with the focus on body posture, breathing and meditation.Yoga can improve the life of the people.

Wonder Woman said...

Thank you for this article. It solidified my interest in yoga as therapy for dealing with my autoimmune disease. I am newly (over the summer) diagnosed with ITP and Lupus and think it would be a great outlet for me for many reasons.

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