East Meets West: How Alternative Therapies Complement & Help my Sjogren's Journey
As a Reiki Master practitioner and a student of yoga for 25 years, I have personally benefited from complementary modalities over the years -- long before my Sjogren's diagnosis (a serious, complex systemic autoimmune disease).
Before I launch into how I have personally experienced positive benefits from complementary therapies, remember that you have full autonomy over your body. What works for me may not appeal to you, and/or work for your body's specific needs and your symptoms.
Listen and pay attention to the signs and messages your body sends you. Do not push your body to the point of extreme pain, or allow any practitioner to tell you what you should do with your body. You know your body the best!
As a Sjogren's patient, I deal with a myriad of complex systemic issues and also have severe spinal stenosis so I deal with physical limitations. In the past, I hiked long distances but I can still enjoy outdoor walks in nature albeit my walking mileage is reduced. I am also a former dance fitness instructor so dancing and movement have always brought me great joy in my life.
While I also take prescription medication for Sjogren's and see multiple Western healthcare specialists, I also listen to what my body needs outside the parameters of Western-based medicine. I see a Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncturist and I have found pain relief and ease of my symptoms through regular acupuncture sessions.
If acupuncture sounds too invasive or you dislike the thought of needles (although acupuncture needles are small and painless), there are other modalities such as gentle massage, Reiki (which can either be done hands-on or hands off), Bowen therapy, craniosacral therapy, EFT/tapping, myofascial release, aromatherapy, sound healing, and yoga nidra.
Reiki is a non-invasive healing modality. Studies show that reiki can help reduce stress and anxiety, and ease pain and help relieve symptoms related to chronic illness. Like acupuncture and massage, it is recommended to have Reiki sessions done on a regular basis.
While I personally tout the benefits of yin yoga to stretch my connective tissue and lubricate joints, I understand that yoga is not an option for some patients based on their limited mobility.
While other yoga styles focus on the muscles (Yan style of practice), yin yoga is a passive practice that holds yoga poses/stretches between 3 to 5 minutes. Chair yoga is another option if you are unable to sit or lie down on the floor.
Last year I added qigong to my daily self-care routine. Qigong is a gentle movement practice rooted in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It coordinates breathwork and meditation as you move through a series of slow-paced body postures and flowing movements. Qigong is very relaxing and as someone who deals with bouts of anxiety, it helps ground me and release tension and stress.
If interested in exploring alternative therapy modalities, along with Western medical care, I encourage you to be curious and ask yourself what sounds or feels good to your body.
Discuss with your doctors before starting a new movement practice such as yoga or quigong. Vet practitioners and research them online. Make sure they are certified and licensed practitioners. Read their client testimonials and reviews. Ideally, they should have experience working with clients who have a chronic illness.
There is no "one-size-fits-all" when it comes to exploring non-Western complementary therapies. If one doesn't work out for you, try out a different modality or practitioners. Look into community-based acupuncture centers which usually offer lower rates or research your insurance plan to find out if acupuncture is covered (some plans sometimes cover massage therapy).
Self-care is not selfish and dealing with a chronic illness can drain us not only physically but emotionally and mentally. I have personally benefited from looking outside Western medicine to help ease my physical pain and bring me comfort and peace throughout my chronic illness journey. I encourage you to find what works for you and remember you are not alone in your journey.