How Yoga Alleviated My Stress and Body Pain

women practicing yoga, in "warrior one" asana

Although I was always active: I walked, played tennis, roller skated, biked, hiked and loved sports. I considered myself a Type A exerciser. I had to sweat and get out of breath to consider that I had really worked out. During those many years, I also had chronic pain in my hips. The pain would shift from side to side, and sometimes my lower back was also painful. Even though I was hurting, much of the time I “pushed through” the pain, and went out and exercised anyway. Sometimes it made me worse, and other times, I felt a bit better. It was really confusing.

My doctor had me take X-rays, MRIs, and other tests. He informed me that I had spinal stenosis, bursitis, and the beginning of arthritis. He told me that he would sign documentation that would allow me to “go on disability for the rest of my life”.  I was horrified! However, I refused to accept disability. I did physical therapy, learned exercises to strengthen my back. Slowly, the pain receded slightly, but never went away.

I noticed that my back and hip pain sometimes went away, and other times it was really uncomfortable. I tried to figure out what was going on in my life that changed how I was feeling. Was it the weather (sometimes), was it worse after exercising (sometimes), how did lack of exercise effect the pain? How was the pain when I was stressed?

BINGO: No matter what the pain was caused by, my anger and frustration at my body made it worse. I was worrying about how I would be able to go with this pain in my life as I got older. I felt sorry for myself, and concerned that my children would inherit “my bad back and hip pain”. I worried about all the things I would be unable to do because of pain.

Then I decided to take a Yoga class. Everyone was talking about how wonderful they felt after class. It was hard to believe that this ancient practice would work better and longer than a Vicodin.

When I began, I learned that Yoga was not a competitive sport. The instructor told us never to compare our ability to anyone else’s; only observe how your body feels in a particular asana (position). I discovered that Yoga was not just a body exercise; it was a practice of mindful attention. You put everything else out of your mind, and just be there in the room, listening to relaxing music, the instructions about the position, and how your body feels. AND, if it hurts, you stop doing it, and get into a relaxing position.

Many Type A exercisers like I was, those who feel like they have to beat their body into submission, may be resistant to Yoga. Slow intentional movement may not feel like exercise. But the harder you work, the more you push your body, the more you need the balance that Yoga brings into your life.

Yoga is stress relief. It relieves stress in your body, and stress in your mind and emotions. I cannot encourage you strongly enough to go to a Hatha, or Yin Yoga type of class (a slow movement class for beginners). And if you are a Type A exerciser, make sure you don’t go for the Power Yoga classes, except on occasion. The balance to your usual active lifestyle is what will provide you with the best stress relief.

Every night when I get into bed, and don’t have to think about which hip hurts less to find comfort, I am grateful (another great stress reliever) that I found yoga. And the nights when I do have pain; I get out of bed for ten minutes, do a few cat/cow stretches, and legs up the wall, focusing on releasing the tension that is holding tight in my lower back. When I get back into bed, I’m better; and I remind myself; tomorrow is another day to help myself get better. I’m not going to be handicapped in pain as long as I continue to practice.

Try it for yourself. You’ll see that it works for you too!