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How to Start Yoga as a Spoonie

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At the beginning of the new year, so many people feel inspired to start a daily yoga practice. For most people, this means buying a yoga mat and some stretchy pants, and then turning on a yoga DVD or heading to the local studio. Sounds simple enough, right?

But for spoonies with chronic symptoms, it’s a bit more complicated. For a lot of us, the act of getting dressed and driving to the studio would be totally exhausting, let alone having to practice an hour of sun salutations and standing poses after getting there! Phew! Because of this, many of us might turn to YouTube. There are a handful of yoga practices labeled for fatigue or chronic pain, but I have found that most of them are taught by able-bodied teachers who don’t really know what it’s like to live with chronic health concerns that impact mobility. Through no fault of their own, they are simply not able to offer the kind of physical or emotional support that is needed.

Because of these obstacles, many spoonies feel overwhelmed and even fearful when thinking about starting a yoga practice…

“What if I do the pose wrong?”

“What if I sit on the floor and then can’t get back up?”

“What if I can’t keep up with the rest of the class?”

“What if it triggers a flare-up or post-exertional malaise?”

“What if it makes the pain worse?”

These are all legitimate concerns, but with some adjustments in mindset and in practice, spoonies can make yoga an accessible, safe and enjoyable activity. As a yoga teacher living with multiple chronic illnesses myself, I have learned a few tricks…

1. Start Slow

Eckhart Tolle once said that one conscious breath in and out is a meditation, and the same principle can apply to our physical yoga practice. Even taking just five deep breaths in one yoga pose can be a complete yoga practice. Starting with a little bit of yoga each day will allow you to really get to know your body, to learn what it does and doesn’t like. It will also help to prevent the dreaded post-exertional malaise. You may even find that certain yoga poses help to reenergize you. Overtime you will be able to increase the duration of your practice if you desire to do so.

2. Use Yoga Props

When I first began practicing yoga, I thought it would mean I was less of a yogi if I had to use props, but I discovered that the opposite is true. Utilizing props in your yoga practice can help you to practice safe alignment, relax more fully, and in some cases, challenge yourself to go deeper into a pose. Using props in your yoga practice is actually a sign that you are truly listening to and honoring your body. This kind of synergy is the ultimate purpose of yoga.

Some of my favorite props to use are a yoga block and yoga bolster, and I use them for most of my practices. They’re pretty inexpensive, and they last a long time if you take care of them. Some other props to try would be a chair, yoga blanket, yoga strap, and cervical pillows. I also consider the bed to be a yoga prop. You can do full yoga practices seated in a chair or in bed, and these supported practices can be incredibly beneficial and rewarding.

3. Release Your Expectations

Resist the urge to compare yourself to the yogis on Instagram. The hand-standing beach babe yogis we see all over Instagram make practicing yoga look so dreamy and effortless and…totally unattainable for most of us. We need to realize that these people are not just yogis, but they are also athletes. They train and condition their bodies – their healthy and abled-bodies – with so much discipline and persistence. No one jumps on their yoga mat and performs a flawless handstand on the first try, and contrary to popular belief, the handstand is not the ultimate goal of yoga anyway.

All this to say that we are all unique. Our bodies, our bone structures, our physiologies are all unique. Although we can all practice the same alignment cues, a pose may look different on one person than it does on another person simply because their bones and connective tissues are arranged differently. Heck, the way you personally look in a pose might be different from day to day. And this is OK! It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how it feels in your body.

Release your expectations of what your yoga practice should look like. This is your journey, and your yoga practice should look like you. Although the poses are an important and beneficial aspect of our yoga practice, they are not the only thing that matters. I always tell people that if they can breathe, they can practice yoga. This is because yoga is an ancient, sacred practice that involves breathing exercises, meditation practices and healthy lifestyle habits in addition to the poses. Even if the physical practice of yoga is not appropriate for you right now, you can still practice conscious breathing and meditation. You can still be a yogi.

Whatever you are capable of doing is worth doing, and it is enough. You are enough.

Follow this journey on Sleepy Santosha.

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Originally published: January 4, 2018
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