Santosha – To be content with what is
My sister in law and I have registered for a yoga class once a week for 10 weeks taught by one of my favorite people. I have known this instructor for at least 10 years – I first hired him as an instructor teaching yoga and fitness classes for our Recreation programs, somewhere along the way, he became my friend. When I say that he is one of my favorite people, I mean that wholeheartedly. He is always positive, he is peaceful, he has a great sense of humor and he understands my medical issues. I can go for months without seeing him and when I eventually do, it’s just like we had coffee last week. I am sure he is like that with everybody he knows because that’s just the kind of guy he is. You know the kind of people I’m talking about – the people that make you feel important when you talk to them, those are the kind of people that I like to surround myself with and they are few and far between – when you do find them, make sure THEY know that they are important to you. I’m lucky to have a family like that as well as multiple friends like that – I am blessed. Anyway, I am thankful that he supports my efforts to get my health on track and wants me to be functioning to the best of my capability whatever that may be.
I have a little dilemma though…..I feel a bit guilty taking the class. Why do we feel guilty when we are doing things for ourselves? For example – I am feeling extremely guilty for not being out every day helping my husband to build our shop. Even though he has no expectations of me helping out because let’s be real, I’m really not much help anyway but I am a good grunt or hander of tools. I mean, I want to do more but my body has a few different ideas about what I need and what I need can change hourly! MS is a funny disease that way – it is very unpredictable and your body experiences different things regularly related to the disease. My husband knows this and is 100% supportive and knows I will do what I can, when I can. HE IS THE BEST, thank you sweetheart!
-Back to the yoga class –
I came from a fitness background so I am aware of body mechanics and I know the benefits of physical activity but exercise is still tough for me on a lot of days and I’ll be honest, sometimes I have a hard time just getting the energy together to get out of the house, I don’t know why (except for laziness), but once I do I usually enjoy it. The theory of yoga contradicts what I learned as a fitness instructor in the 80’s (fitness has come a LONG way since then and I now know better). I’ve learned that in yoga, they say you shouldn’t be in pain. So as I strained to figure out a difficult pose I hear the words “if you’re in pain, your body is telling you not to go that far.” If you’re anything like me, you then want to tell the poor, patient instructor to f*** right off because I absolutely should be in pain because I’m ridiculously out of shape, and haven’t they ever heard of no pain, no gain?
I’ve dabbled in yoga over the years since my MS diagnosis, not ever taking it very seriously. Mainly I was looking for a way to stretch and strengthen my body but particularly my legs which feel as if they have 50 pound weights tied to them every single day, which is super annoying because there is a lot of stuff that I want to do that requires my LEGS and they don’t always cooperate with me.
I’ve taken yoga classes with 2 other women who are amazing, each with their own way of teaching. One of them brought a word to each class, which was a practice that I loved. That is where I have adopted Santosha in my life – to be content with what is. The word was something to focus on during class, kind of like a Mantra when meditating. It was something to bring you back to the present, which was really beneficial for me, because I tend to wander. I also sometimes take in a Friday evening class down at a beautiful Spa that is on the ocean about 2 minutes away from my house (The Kingfisher Oceanside Spa, http://www.kingfisherspa.com/ check it out!). The Kingfisher knows how to do things right for relaxation – especially their Hydropath, woah Nellie, it is to die for! Their yoga studio is in a cozy little bungalow with a beautiful fireplace and cozy lighting. I like to go with one of my friends so we can catch up in the hot tub and pool before kicking off the weekend in this relaxing yoga class. The class we like to attend is all about relaxation, hence the name – Relaxation Yoga. In this class, you don’t even stand up, that’s how chill it is and I get the opportunity to catch up with my friend and see the yoga instructor who I have known for 18+ years and I am privileged to call her my friend.
But in this particular class with my sister in law, Lordy did I sweat the first day and we weren’t really doing too much. Maybe my body was in shock, I don’t know but I intend to persevere anyway. Prior to my MS diagnosis, I was fairly flexible, so it has been a real hit to my confidence that I am slowly losing my flexibility due to muscle spasticity, however I am happy to say that it’s not all gone and hopefully it will continue to improve as I go along. Just when I know that my body is in the absolute wrong position for one of the poses, along comes the instructor to talk me through where I should be or uses a light touch to move my shoulders to where they need to be to get the maximum value out of the pose. What I do know, is that stretching feels good and I am confident that I am doing the best for my body that I can possibly do. Whether that means golfing, napping, taking a yoga class or just hanging with family, I now give myself permission to do these things and I’m working on not feeling guilty for doing them.
I don’t always feel the ground firmly under my feet, what I mean by that is there are times when I don’t have the feeling in my feet / toes to determine if the ground is uneven or slippery so when we are asked to connect our feet to the ground it’s hard when you can’t feel it, but yoga is helping me to visualize what the ground should feel like. I want to feel safe on my feet. I want to have control in my body, even if that is only during my yoga practice. Multiple Sclerosis doesn’t make me feel safe and it definitely doesn’t make me feel like I am in control over my body, but for an hour a day (or whenever I do some yoga), I can have control. This may sound hokey but yoga helps me to feel grounded. Daily, I spend a lot of time with what I call out of body experiences where my hands feel like they are floating off somewhere other than on my arms or other sensory issues (tingling, numbness, pain, etc). I also have painful stabbing electrical shocks running through my body (particularly in my fingers) every single day. This nerve pain takes my breath away and I never know when it is coming and I never know where it is going to hit, I just know that it will come, when I least expect it or want it to. And while these things still happen during my yoga practice, I am in the right frame of mind to breathe through it and refocus on what I am in the class to do. Speaking of Yoga breathing – it is difficult with the MS hug, which is something kind of new for me. What is the MS hug you ask? The MS hug is a collection of symptoms caused by spasms in the intercostal muscles (the muscles located between your ribs), making it difficult for me to take a big breath from my tummy up into my chest. I am working on it though and I hope this hug will eventually pass, because it’s not a hug that I enjoy!
He tells us if our mind wanders, to acknowledge it and bring yourself back to the present. I’m assuming this means that you shouldn’t be making your mental grocery list, thinking about your Christmas to do’s, worrying about what you said to Joe Blow last week or heaven forbid, planning out your next blog post. I’ve gotta work on this. He has told us to “let these thoughts have their moment” before releasing them from our present. I appreciated the advice to acknowledge the past because the past is what has led me to where I am today and allow it to live before letting it go, rather than shoving it somewhere in our mind where it will eventually resurface its ugly head, usually at a terrible time.
Braving a look around at my first class, I thought that I’m one of the youngest people in the room and I had the audacity to think to myself, “I’m in way better shape then all these guys.” What the hell was I thinking? Half an hour later, I’ve lost what seems like half my body weight in sweat, have stumbled three times, and feel like crying but I’m not hydrated enough to make a tear and I am humbled by everyone else’s strength and ability to show up and do what they need to do for themselves. If you happen to be like me and have a chronic illness or if you exercise once a year, then it might be difficult for you to begin too..…but don’t let that stop you! No one made me feel like an outsider if I was in the wrong pose or couldn’t hold it long enough. One of the things I appreciate about the class is that it’s focused on the fact that you are exactly where you need to be. So, if you can’t hit the pose he’s teaching or you have to do an easier version, it’s all good. I’ve come to learn that it does not matter what everyone else is doing, I have realized that I just need to show up and let my body do what it needs to do.
I know that this yoga class is a safe place for me. Safe for me to fumble around, safe for me if I can only hold a pose for 1 minute instead of 3. A safe place where I am encouraged to go at my own pace and only take a pose as far as I am comfortable doing it. It has helped me learn to be kinder to myself, listening to my body and respecting its messages, whatever they may be. Yoga is bringing me into my own body, making me aware of my breathing and leaving me calm and alert, feeling able to face whatever is in front of me. I am becoming more and more tolerant of myself and I leave filled with gratitude, more relaxed, and more accepting of the present moment. I leave class with a positive outlook – when I feel good, I am more prepared to navigate life’s inevitable challenges, whatever they may be.
“As you think, so shall you be.” – Dr Wayne Dyer