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What Hatha Yoga has taught me about pain

Discussion in 'General Discussion Subforum' started by Ellen, Nov 22, 2014.

  1. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    I've shared previously that I started doing a type of Hatha Yoga back in July called Bikram Yoga. (Bikram Yoga, also known as Hot Yoga, is a type of Hatha Yoga consisting of 26 poses and 2 breathing exercises done in a 90 minute session in a room heated to 105 degrees.) I picked yoga as an exercise routine because it is truly a mindbody exercise, and I specifically picked Bikram Yoga because it is a considered a very challenging form of yoga. When I first heard about Bikram Yoga (pre-TMS knowledge), I immediately told myself that I would never be able to do it. It was just too hard. So when I got to a place in my TMS recovery where I wanted to challenge myself physically, and also wanted to change my image of myself--starting Bikram Yoga seemed like the logical choice for an exercise routine. I signed up at my local Hot Yoga studio and took the plunge. And though I was consistently the worst student in class (which was good for keeping my ego in line), I've stuck with it.

    Then, at the end of August I moved away for a temporary work assignment in Japan and didn't have access to a Bikram Hot Yoga studio. But I found a recording of Bikram, himself, leading a class, and continued to do this form of yoga in my room on my yoga mat. I found that Bikram is quite a character and has a very different style of leading a class then I was exposed to in my American yoga studio, though the instructions on how to perform the poses are exactly the same. The difference is that Bikram talks quite a bit about pain and suffering throughout the instruction. He starts out the session with "Welcome to Bikram's torture chamber! 90 minutes to kill yourself!" And before one back bending posture, he states "Trust me, your back is going to hurt like hell." My American teachers never said anything about pain or suffering. Listening to Bikram a few times, it finally occurred to me, It's supposed to hurt. I had thought I was feeling pain doing the postures because I was out of shape, I was getting old, I had some structural problems (sound familiar?), I had TMS, etc. But now I realized that it was normal to feel pain while doing this form of yoga.

    I struggled along and noticed some minimal progress in doing the poses. Then I read Bikram's book, and in it someone stated that they had struggled through the postures until they finally realized that the key was to relax while holding the pose. So I started to experiment with this. First I noticed how I typically did the postures, which, when I felt the pain, went like this: recoil=>tense=>resist. And my thought process was This is terrible. When will it be over? Please let it be over. So I tried changing this dynamic to: breathe=>relax=>accept; and my thought process to This moment is the only one there is. Relax. Breathe. Explore.

    This completely changed my experience of doing yoga, and my progress improved significantly after these revelations. I can now do postures I never thought possible. Still, there are a few poses that I can hardly begin, which just means that there are many more opportunities for growth ahead of me. They say yoga is endless in that there is always something new to learn while exploring a posture.

    Prior to this I understood intellectually that the key to dealing with pain was relaxation and acceptance. But the experience of repeatedly and deliberately creating pain by pushing my body into a challenging position, holding it, and then coping with that pain, has given me the true mindbody experience of what was previously only a cognitive understanding. And practicing this new skill over and over is gradually giving me the confidence that I can cope successfully with any pain that comes my way, on or off the yoga mat, whether physical or emotional. All I have to do is remind myself, This is the only moment there is, and breathe=>relax=>accept.

    Last edited: Nov 22, 2014
    MJH724, zclesa, Durga and 12 others like this.
  2. labrador

    labrador New Member

    Ellen - you are so right. I have found exactly the same when I am doing yoga and tai chi. Before I used to do it in a stressed pushing myself way. Acceptance is the key - it's the remembering that's the difficult bit!

    Ellen likes this.
  3. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    Hi, Labrador. Love the photo of your darling dog. My Annie is a black Lab and a total joy to me.

    I agree with Ellen and the others, you too, that it's great for the body, mind, and spirit to do
    what you fear or think you can't do. Live in the present moment and breathe deeply.

    I just got a copy of Eckhart Tolle's highly praised book, THE POWER OF NOW,
    about the benefits of living in the present, and am going to start reading it today.
    A Thanksgiving present to myself. I need help living in the present moment and look
    forward to this showing me how.
  4. labrador

    labrador New Member

    Thanks Walt - she's my parents dog. I would love a lab of my own but I work full time so wouldn't be able to look after one properly. Annie is gorgeous too...
  5. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    I hope you get to spend some time with your parents' dog. We need them and they need us.

    I just read the article I include below about yoga being helpful in achieving good health

    Southfield, Michigan (CNN) -- For 12 years, Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg worked at a camp for children battling cancer.

    He often witnessed the pain and discomfort many of them endured while undergoing medical procedures.

    "It's really indescribable, what it's like ... to watch a child go through so much pain," said Goldberg, who served as the director of Camp Simcha in New York. "The child looks at you for help and then you end up having to hold them down."

    One day, he tried to soothe a young camper who was screaming in pain during treatment. Goldberg, a black belt in Choi Kwang-Do, offered to teach the 5-year-old boy some of the craft.

    Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg's nonprofit, Kids Kicking Cancer, has helped more than 5,000 children and their families.

    "In martial arts, you learn that pain is a message that you don't have to listen to," he said. "That lesson is so unbelievably effective."

    Goldberg taught the boy some breathing techniques. When the nurse removed the needle after chemotherapy, he said the boy had hardly noticed.

    Goldberg realized he was on to something.

    "When we are able to breathe through pain and imagine the pain lowering," he said, "the brain has an amazing capacity to put us into a different place."

    In 1999, Goldberg founded Kids Kicking Cancer. The program provides free martial arts classes focused on breathing techniques and meditation for children battling serious illnesses.

    "When children get a diagnosis like cancer or any major disease, they lose any sense of feeling that they're controlling their lives. They're prodded and poked and touched, and they're often so afraid," Goldberg said. "We teach kids how to control their pain and make them feel powerful."

    A personal journey

    Goldberg knows what many of the children's families are going through.

    His first child, Sara, was diagnosed with leukemia a week before her first birthday. Yet he was struck by his daughter's positive spirit during the emotional time.

    In martial arts, you learn that pain is a message that you don't have to listen to. That lesson is so unbelievably effective.
    Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg

    "She was such an incredible little soul," Goldberg said. "After very painful treatments, she would give the doctors a kiss and thank them."

    In 1981, after putting up a strong fight, Sara passed away at age 2.

    "She is our inspiration in everything that we do," Goldberg said.

    Through classes and one-on-one support, Kids Kicking Cancer has helped more than 5,000 children and their families.

    "We use martial arts as a platform for meditation, for relaxation, to allow children to gain these tools and to really face down so much of the fear and the anger and the junk that accompanies pain," Goldberg said.

    The group provides individual support during hospitalizations and medical procedures. It also offers transportation to and from classes, as well as counseling.

    Power. Peace. Purpose.

    Haley Wallace joined Kids Kicking Cancer after she was diagnosed with cancer last year. The 9-year-old used to run for the door when doctors attempted to administer her treatment.

    Top 10 Hero: Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg

    CNN Heroes: Kids Kicking Cancer

    Through Goldberg's program, Haley learned to control her fear and pain.

    "The way I breathe in the light is, I think of all the happy thoughts. And then the way I breathe out the darkness is I think of the bad thoughts and blow them away," said Haley, who recently completed chemotherapy. "I do have the power to make the pain go away."

    The program encourages children to teach what they have learned to other youths and adults experiencing sickness, pain or stress. Goldberg believes that when the children teach the breathing technique to others, the children find purpose in their lives.

    "When they demonstrate (that) you can bring in the light and let out the darkness -- the pain, fear and anger -- it changes people," he said.

    For Goldberg, instilling that sense of purpose is especially important for children at the end of their lives.

    Before terminally-ill children pass away, his group gives black belts to them, organizing ceremonies with their family and friends. The ceremonies are sometimes held in big auditoriums filled with hundreds of people, or they may take place in small ICU rooms with immediate family crowded together.

    "When we give children this black belt, we embroider the child's name on one side and the words 'master teacher' on the other, because they really are teaching the world," Goldberg said.

    The organization began in Michigan and has since expanded its programs to New York, Los Angeles and Florida and internationally to Italy, Israel and Canada.

    "I am so humbled by these children when they are able to face down big stuff, and you could see that light on their face," Goldberg said. "I feel like their souls are shining."

    Want to get involved? Check out the Kids Kicking Cancer website at www.kidskickingcancer.org and see how to help.
    North Star and Ellen like this.
  6. Boston Redsox

    Boston Redsox Well Known Member

    Walt you are going to enjoy that book…I know I did.
  7. Mala

    Mala Well known member

    Great post Ellen!

    If you are ever in my part of the world (HK) do let me know. It would great to meet you!

    North Star and Ellen like this.
  8. Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021)

    Walt Oleksy (RIP 2021) Beloved Grand Eagle

    I wish we all lived on the same block,
    but in a way, we do.

    We have come close because of being part of the TMSwiki community helping each other.

    Blessings to you all.
    Durga, North Star, Ellen and 2 others like this.
  9. Colly

    Colly Beloved Grand Eagle

    What a wonderful post Ellen. You're a blessing to us on this forum. You should write a book - I love your writing:)
    North Star and Ellen like this.
  10. gailnyc

    gailnyc Well known member

    Wonderful post, Ellen. I, too, have struggled with the transition from intellectually understanding how to deal with pain, to actually putting it into practice. You also seem to suggest that learning to cope with TMS has allowed you to do things that you weren't able to do before, which I find a very positive, hopeful message.
    North Star likes this.
  11. IrishSceptic

    IrishSceptic Podcast Visionary

    Biker am Yoga is very uncomfortable! Sweating like a Chicken in a Foxhole whilst contorting into all sorts of shapes. The heat really allows deep stretching though.
    Colly likes this.
  12. Ellen

    Ellen Beloved Grand Eagle

    Yes, but it's great when it's finally over :)
    IrishSceptic and Colly like this.
  13. Ollin

    Ollin Peer Supporter

    To each their own... I like my yoga DURING the practice. I tried Bikram too, and while flexibility and balance didn't challenge me (I practiced hatha for many years before), it was the mental-emotional challenge of the teachers' boot-camp attitude that made me reconsider. It's not the heat - I've done yoga in tropics and loved it. But I couldn't take the externally imposed pace and commands. I need to be gentle with myself and I will resist when others don't treat me the same way. Over the years of practice with various teachers, and by myself, I realized that hatha can be a meditation. That's when it works best for me, it relaxes and empowers, and the physical postures flow naturally, and I get attuned to my body, its needs and possibilities. It feels great, makes me want to do more, go a bit further, and that's how I progress. I guess we're all different and there's as many paths to healing as individuals.
    Whatever yoga style you like, I think it's an important ability to find your growth zone, where discomfort occurs without pain. You get there through cautious awareness of where and how your body is in any given moment, combined with mental state of feeling safe while trusting the process.
    Last edited: Apr 26, 2015
    zclesa and Mala like this.
  14. jlm

    jlm Peer Supporter

    I can't do hot yoga because of heart issues that are not TMS. I love my Restorative Yoga, though the instructor has upped the difficulty of the poses. He says he needs to challenge us. I told him last week what doesn't kill me makes me stronger so I must be getting stronger. I have two of Gary Kraftsow's Viniyoga DVDs, which is restorative yoga (I think) for home use. Grokker has some good videos online, too. My instructor is male, but not boot camp, thank goodness. Young, former martial arts and thinks everyone should be able to lift their own body weight, :eek:, but it is working out. Anything I can do to keep my body moving and then deeply relax in the same hour has to good to short circuit TMS.
  15. rabbit

    rabbit Peer Supporter

    Hoping the yoga folks can provide some guidance on this. I too like yoga. It's been a while because I stopped when I "injured" my back/leg/whatever. I haven't gone back yet, despite the TMS progress, for a number of reasons [some TMSy some not] but am doing Pilates-like work, which I am finding I like even more (for strengthening at least and it will compliment the yoga too). My question is this: in both yoga and pilates there is explanation of the "correct" positioning and tweaks for how to do something, the way to move, what to do, alignment etc. The yoga teacher will say "do x to protect your knee, dont let your knee go over your toes" "do it this way if your lower back bothers you" etc etc. I am having a hard time trying to fit this kind of stuff in with my TMS knowledge. Perhaps I am hearing these things the wrong way? I THINK I understand the idea that one should exercise for the sake of exercising not curing or preventing future pain - but to be in good shape, to be strong, to relax. It seems though focusing on how the "correct" way to do something is, or what not to do or what to do if a particular body part hurts or seems "not in proper alignment" is just a breeding ground for TMS thinking! Or, put another way, someone with TMS will turn it into that.... Would would love to hear if this came up for you and how you dealt with it. I cant imagine that anyone would say Yoga or Pilates is a bad thing for anyone, especially those with TMS....
  16. Ollin

    Ollin Peer Supporter

    Excellent question, rabbit. What I found learning under various teachers, there is often no consensus among yoga teachers on what is the correct way to do certain posture. It's important though to distinguish those movements or alignments which can lead to injury (there are biomechanical/anatomic limits to what we can do with our bodies, some of these can be shifted for those highly advanced, but there always will be limits), from those that simply make the posture inefficient (i.e. don't stretch or strengthen certain regions which given teacher or yoga style believes "should" be targetted). And here we come to individual differences, because, no matter if one has TMS, postural imbalance or prior injury, or none of those, everyone's body is different and can benefit differently from the practice.

    My take on this is - do what works for you. I know that if my teacher/trainer insists on me doing things certain way while I feel this isn't right for me - the very frustration gives me TMS pain. Ending up in more pain after a practice is certainly not a way to go. As you practice for a while, you develop this self-awareness and awareness of your body which in itself is the main benefit. Knowing your body, giving it attention and treating it with respect is not contrary to TMS progress. By all means, be open-minded and discuss with the trainer why they tell you something is *the correct way* and is it really the absolute truth for everybody, but don't let the practice drive you nuts or anxious by having to conform to something your mind-body doesn't resonate with. You may need to move on and find something that suits you better, and there's plenty of variety out there.
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2015
  17. Durga

    Durga Peer Supporter

    Thank you for this post, Ellen! Made my day!
    Ellen likes this.

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