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When Crohn’s Disease and Anxiety Meet in Yoga Class

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Over the years, I have become fairly vigilant when it comes to avoiding the plague. I can hear a productive cough a mile away. Waiters that constantly touch their hair and face send shivers up my spine. I use the self-checkout because it is one less person touching my stuff and I will shoo away any well-intentioned employee that starts bagging for me. Why the fuss?

I take the immune-suppressive drug azathioprine to control Crohn’s disease. As a result, my immune system (that hates my guts, literally) is essentially turned off. While I have enjoyed remission for the past eight years, I have also been living with the fact that I am more susceptible to illness. A “little sniffle” has the potential to lay me out for a week or more. While I realize I can’t stop every little bug from entering my life, I do my best. And let me tell you, staying on high alert can be frustrating and tiring.

Cooking, writing, and walking have been great for reducing my anxiety and re-energizing my spirit. I have also tried yoga. I struggle though because I dislike group fitness (plague potential) and my home practice usually results in me laying on the floor while my mind wanders off, which leads to self-loathing for “doing it wrong.” Either way, I let anxiety win.

Last week I gave the studio another shot and I am thankful for the epiphany generating experience! Here’s the play-by-play:

I arrive 15 minutes early, just one other guy in the room, fabulous! Ten minutes go by and boom – there are 10 of us packed in the boutique sized studio, almost mat to mat. (I need a two-mat buffer at least!)

The instructor tells us to welcome ourselves into the space and find our comfortable seat. As I attempt this seemingly simple task, I realize I smell feet. As I try to convince myself that they are not my feet I smell, I hear sniffling. I look around and spy The Norovirus Queen beside me has a neat stack of used tissues on the corner of her mat. Then the man across from me starts to forcefully exhale; I hear, feel and smell, his warm breath. I think he had tuna for lunch. My first inclination is to bolt, grab my gear and get the hell out of there. I think I left my comfortable seat in my car.

I scold myself, “That’s not a very yoga-like attitude Kelly Ann; we are one are we not?” So I stay. Still, I can’t get the infernal sniffling noises out of my head; I can’t un-see the neat stack of booger rags. Down the rabbit hole I go! How often does the studio clean the floor, the yoga blocks, and the blankets? Is everyone is up to date on their shots? And when was the last time any of them washed their hands? Did she just say Happy Baby?! Good lord, not a pose for a Crohnie!

Finally Savasana time arrives and as I laid still in the darkness, my intestines start to gurgle like a flushing toilet. I visualize myself sick in bed for the next week; my chest tightens. So much for relieving anxiety!

I laugh about it now but there just has to be a lesson here, right? As I’ve been working out how to put this story to paper, I recalled a passage from the book “The Tao of Pooh” by Benjamin Hoff.

“Things Are As They Are”

When you know and respect your own Inner Nature, you know where you belong. You also know where you don’t belong. And yet, many people violate this simple principle every day of their lives and try to fit square pegs into round holes.

Ah the irony! Close contact makes me anxious and fearful of getting sick so I avoid it, yet I will purposefully subject myself to close contact in a yoga class because, well… it’s yoga.

After realizing the folly in my behavior, I now appreciate that all things aren’t for all people and that’s OK. I have decided to stop forcing myself into conducts that don’t fit for me. Bottom line: my desire is to reduce my stress and anxiety, preferably in a plague-free environment. I think it is safe to say that yoga classes in the studio do not fit those criteria. I will continue to embrace cooking, writing, and walking as they are amazing activities that truly bring me joy. I am thankful I can do them. And instead of viewing lying on the floor while my mind wanders as failed yoga, I can reframe the situation and see it as a delightful session of daydreaming and I’m OK with that, too.

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Thinkstock image by: fizkes

Originally published: February 21, 2017
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