Not only is this blog about cats, but I do like to share things that touch my heart.
I met a woman recently, through work, at a cancer function through the hospital to be exact, she was a guest with her husband and we had Valerie Harper as a guest speaker - yes, RHODA! :) She survived brain cancer! This woman and I struck up a quick conversation as I was at the registration desk checking them in, don't ask me how we got started on cats... but she took interest in what I do, because of her love for cats, and animals in general. We exchanged numbers and went on our merry way. After about a week, she reached out to me to say hello, and she sent me some information in hopes that we might be able to get a some help for the cats on the streets, as it has been done in another location. I will share with you the link she sent me.
I, in turn, wrote her asking if she could help me out because with my full time job, going out and doing what I do each day, I have little time to do things that people suggest. She wrote me back and I am sharing with you a paragraph she wrote (for a medical journal) about what her challenges were and how YOGA was what saved her. And here I think I have too much on my plate. Shame on me. I love this woman already. WHAT A SURVIVOR. I hope you will take the time to read it. Very inspirational! I will delete her name due to anonymity.
Recently I was asked in what way has your Yoga practice benefited you? What has it taught you? What can you share that may help another that is pained by arthritis. Pull up a seat, please sit down...this is going to take a while.
Right now I am looking at a blank piece of paper in front of me and I realize in order for anyone to understand the story, the path that I've been on I need to start of course from the beginning. I want to make this part brief because what has happened to me does not have as much importance as how I turned it around, how you, how anyone can turn it around and make profound steps and differences in your health and how you feel, every single day.
Looking back to September 2002 I finally received a diagnosis for a disease that was symptomatic for more than 2 1/2 years before accidentally being found. For those 2 1/2 years my doctor told me I was in perfect health irregardless of what I was experiencing. As disturbing as the diagnosis was it was also a relief - to finally have an answer. I had cancer. After multiple tests and tattooing it was decided I had later stage colorectal cancer. Radiation was administered to both hips and the sacral area 5 days a week in addition to the PICC line that was placed for around the clock chemotherapy 5 days a week for several weeks. From there it was on to my first surgery. Six different procedures were performed that day and I was to go in many more times through the years for further surgeries, ten more times to be exact. But before these other surgeries came along I was to go through another 4 months of chemotherapy. I trusted the whole time - I trusted I was in good hands, I trusted I would be well when it was all done, I trusted things were as they should be. What I did not realize until after the fact was that mistakes were made and that my life was going to change drastically. It would never be the same again. Every day was going to challenge me on the most fundamental levels...from eating, to drinking a glass of water, to walking, to sitting, climbing stairs, or even trying to leave the house for any length of time. After my second operation to reverse the colostomy my intestines were not functioning properly. I was in the bathroom literally around the clock, day after day after day. I really believed it would be temporary as I healed. Severe radiation damage - proctitis, enteritis, motility disorder, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, radiation colitis - radiation induced disease. I could no longer digest or assimilate what I ate...In addition I was experiencing severe pain in my joints, my hips, my spine, shooting electrical currents up my legs all night long and feet that couldn't stay still, my muscles cramping in both legs and feet - I could barely place them on the floor in the morning they hurt so bad. The pain was unbearable but I bore it...and I was determined it would be temporary and this too I would over come. After each radiation treatment I would come home and it hurt to lie on either side - my hips throbbed. I remember coming home from one particular treatment and lying down on my bed and all of a sudden my feet and legs were flailing all over the place - I had virtually no control of what was going on in my lower extremities and I was completely horrified at what I was witnessing and the realization that I could not stop it. Of course each and every doctor appointment I would fill out my health questionnaire and relay what was happening and it always fell on deaf ears. One of my doctor's told me it fell on deaf ears because they were not the ones that had to live with it and what had happened to me was overwhelming - he suggested not telling new doctor's everything because it was just too much. I had one oncologist as he looked at the questionnaire they provided tell me he was only concerned if the cancer was there - it didn't matter that what I was experiencing stemmed from the very treatments that they had prescribed. Another oncologist two years later told me they gave me too much radiation and chemotherapy for my system - that they were over aggressive. At this point that statement was not news to me. As time rolled on bit by bit I learned the extent of the damages from my treatments. Besides the debilitating damages to my intestines it was recommended having my colon removed due to the radiation damages. Thankfully I declined believing that if my large intestine was damaged, surely my small intestine was as well. Years later this was confirmed. I had damages from head to toe - my hearing was affected, cataracts both eyes, my gums, pericardial effusion, costochondritis, lungs, spinal cord injury (the small nerves that run along the spine got radiated) Tarlov cyst in my sacral canal, osteopenia in the hips, photopenia in the sacrum...auto-immune diseases abounded - at one point it was questioned if I now had Auto-Immune Phenomenon in addition to everything else. Raynaud's - my feet and hands would turn an embarrassing shade of gray black, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, bilateral peripheral neuropathy....Lung cancer and surgery to remove two wedges from my upper left lobe in 2013 and currently numerous precancerous nodules on both lungs. I'll stop here I just wanted to paint the picture and give you an idea what I was dealing with 24/7, day after day after day. Year after year. After year...and still am. Every day.
I started my Yoga practice many years before the diagnosis for cancer or rheumatoid arthritis, osteopenia, photopenia any of these challenges that I was now facing. Between each surgery I continued my teacher training. I kept at it. I walked, I did Yoga daily and it helped. It helped. It relieved the pain. It relieved my mind. It lightened my heart. It helped me to persevere, to be tenacious. It allowed me to move and to find my mobility and range of motion again after each and every surgery. I found if I was faithful to my practice that it would be faithful to me. It never lets me down. I always feel better after being on the mat. I chose to work at this rather than taking medications. I'm not saying this is the road that you must take - I chose, I didn't want to put anything else in my body that I didn't feel would resolve the issue - I did not want to just mask it. I wanted to feel good, clear headed. I wanted to be normal again. Whatever that was. My neurologist at one point said he didn't know how I was functioning - I told him how powerful Yoga and walking are. He said I recommend daily for the rest of your life for the pain - duragesic patch, ketamine, methadone and morphine. I stepped up my practice. Made all the difference. When I miss a day my body knows and tells me...if I miss a couple of days my body gets louder...I try not to miss any days - even if for only 30 minutes - time to settle my mind, time to unkink all the kinks, to lengthen and strengthen my limbs and my spine. As you lengthen you allow better blood flow to your sore, stiff and or swollen area's - you open things up so they can "breathe" again - so you can breathe again. So your blood can flow properly to the pained and constricted area's. It does not matter how fully you can come into a pose, what matter's is that you are doing it at all. Consistency pays off handsomely.
I've learned falling down didn't mean failure but it was a gift to find what could help me to get back up again...a gift because I could share this with someone else, I could help another with what I've learned. Life is not about what we get but what we give and how. We all contribute to the collective whole. No matter how hard the fall or how hard the steps if you focus and keep putting one foot in front of the other, take a look around and take in the full view as you go, each and every step is and will get easier. Our illness does not define us or who we are. We define us, we choose who we are, who we want to be and how we want to be.
You see Yoga does not just help the body to maintain strength, structure, the foundation of the whole, while increasing its mobility and range of motion - anything of the physical realm...or physiologically helping our organs to function better - more efficiently the way they were meant to. A consistent Yoga practice helps in opening our minds, our views, how we handle things because you see everything that you learn on the mat as you attempt to still your mind and open your body you naturally bring into your life off the mat as well. It's a part of you. While you are on the mat you are learning to accept yourself and embrace your self where you are. It goes beyond patience, there is a forbearance. When I don't push there's no struggle...only ease...on and off the mat.
We all have so much potential inside of ourselves just waiting to be nurtured and released...which has the ability to enrich and gift countless other's...oh yes, we are all connected. It's a chain reaction - every single gesture, word, tone...it reverberates and touches and affects might I dare say hundreds, maybe more, thousands? Yes. Your reactions and actions have that power. You learn on the mat that gentle is strong, strong is gentle. That silence has a rhythm, a tone, and is indeed musical in and of itself. That movement exists and unfolds in the stillness...as it lets go and uncoils.
We choose. Every day we decide when we open our eyes, right then and there how our day is going to unfold. That's right. We have a choice. Whatever we tell ourselves is exactly right and will be just that - it gets internalized into our very fiber and is reflected through us - our day will go exactly as perceived. We have a choice as to what we think, how we feel and how we choose to live. Our minds are so eager to grasp anything we feed them. It's important to nurture and nourish our minds in the same way that we do our bodies. Each and every thing we focus on we MAGNIFY. It's true, simple fact...here comes that "c" word again. Choice. Choose to believe that each and every thing that you do is going to help you in one way or another. And don't stop at one thing or two or three or a hundred. Keep going. Build that toolbox up, build your body, your mind, your spirit up. When they are all working in unison, together they can unknot, soothe, strengthen and empower you to put another foot forward. There is a difference between quality of life and quantity and if you are willing to put forth the effort consistently you can change not only the quality of your life but you can also lengthen the quantity. I have found personally with the myriad of issues that I face on a daily basis that it is not just one simple thing that is the magic antidote but each and every thing that I do coming together to make a whole. I try to consciously live every day. Being aware of my actions, my reactions, each and every effort - each and every opportunity I have to make a difference for myself, for other's and sadly when I notice I missed an opportunity. Effort, you have to put some forth if you want a better quality of life...of the physical, of the mental, of the soul. Yes, this too is learned on the mat. There are many days where it is hard to even move or the continuing exhaustion that hits you like a train - just drawing my next breath can be an effort...that's ok - not every day's practice is going to be consistent or like the days before. Our body's change with every breath...healthy or not...they are not static and things do shift. So we learn to accept this truth and many other's...hopefully with a grace that has been cultivated on and off the mat. I choose to see the good, each little improvement...and not focus on the aches and pains. I choose to not spend my time this way, live my life this way. I don't want to miss all the wonderful things because I've been too busy looking at the wrong things...and the days when I'm in agonizing pain...I thank God...because I know regardless of what my body is experiencing, goodness and beauty existed in this day and with every breath I create a new moment, a new day and reality if I so choose. Choose wisely, visualize with thought where you want to be and how you want to be. Then step forward.
On the mat you learn the art and benefit of fine tuning visualization. Envisioning the muscles, the joints, your very insides in movement...that visualization helped me to listen to my body better, to understand how it moves, where movement starts - what felt good, what wasn't quite right, how subtle changes had great impact, how things came together and worked in unison if we let them. Yoga helped me to quiet the chatter in my head so I could better hear what my body was telling me and yes, to hear other's - what was and wasn't being said. Hips are throbbing in pain...hmm, when I put a block in-between my upper thighs and rotate my muscles inward and grip that block using my thigh muscles I encourage my muscles to come together to form a strong girdle of support and align my spine.. I lengthen instantaneously, my foundation becomes stronger and stable. Amazing. The pain goes away when I incorporate this move for a couple days whenever I get the chance...and when it reappears I grab my block. I gently strengthen and encourage my body to rise up and be what it can be. I work with my abilities, not my disabilities.
To live is not a spectator sport. If you want to have some sort of quality in your life, in your health you have to work at it - you have to put forth a certain degree of effort. "Like attracts like, like creates like." On the mat we learn that pushing lays the foundation for everything to stop and freeze up - that our muscle spindles will put on the breaks preventing us from going too far, too soon, too fast...that actually pushing creates resistance. You learn grace in letting go, stepping back, humility in accepting where and who you are...and when you let go and release your grip you will find you will not only go further in a pose and in life but tensions tend to diminish as well. You learn on the mat to release what serves you no purpose and to cultivate that which does. You learn during your practice how to hold gently without constricting and how to let go lovingly...we all, each one of us has something to offer, to teach, to help, to encourage another. Each and every thing we do and say has the capacity to build and strengthen or harm and weaken.
Hope. Hope leaves room for doubt. Trust. Trust expects the best. Action ensures it. Hope serves a purpose but don't get stuck in hope - remember it is nothing more than a stepping stone to something more, nothing more. Hoping isn't going to improve any persons current challenges or health. Yes, I know, sacraligious to say almost - everybody touts "hope", have "hope" things will get better, have hope things will change. Hope is great but, no, it does not have the capacity to make the changes or encourage a beneficial difference to your swollen and or stiff and aching joints. Trust that you can make a difference with your effort. Believe. Know that you can. And then do it. I learned to trust the process, to be happy and content where I stood. That no matter how bad things were or seemed that there was a mirror image of what was good, great, glorious. "G" words, gotta love them. That on the flipside of extreme torturous pain there was my breath that could bring calm and iron out the tight, swollen or spasmed muscles and joints that were gripping me - unfolding my body so it could take that God giving oxygen in to nourish and heal - to move, to circulate, to soothe. My breath, Pranayama, unobstructing the breath, could bring calm and restore my vision and my focus so I could see where to place my foot next, to see that I could. That everywhere I stood was something to encourage me to go further, to see the beauty that existed everywhere. Everywhere. I learned valuable information through my pain. The pain follows me daily. Always varying in intensity from one moment or day to the next. I tried to stop it. I learned that I couldn't always entirely - I have indentations where the muscles used to be on the sides and backs of my thighs. Due to the spinal cord injury the muscles wasted, atrophied regardless of what I was doing... in spite of this and the inevitable weakness - there are times I can't feel my feet making contact on the ground or my legs that come above them, feelings of disembodiment, limbs like lead and of course balance issues to give further challenge. We can't control everything but we certainly can make a difference. We have the ability to make change even if only in our minds.
My first Yoga teacher training I learned to be bold - to strip away the trepidation of taking on such a big, lengthy and intense training with all of the damages I was being challenged with. They were very long days hoping to make it to the bathroom in time, every time. When I could not eat but a nibble or drink a sip until I got home to eat - and then I would be up all night in agony in the bathroom, and then on to class with no sleep only to do the same thing over and over and over again. I tried then and I continue to try now to function with all of these challenges - juggling them every single day. During my first training I began to question and doubt myself. How can I teach other's when my body could no longer move the way it used to? How could I teach other's when I could not physically do every pose? I thought long and hard on this conundrum and I realized it's not just the body or the pose - it's the mind you bring to the practice. I had a lot to share, I had experiences that could help other's. I learned that one teacher is never enough for anyone. I learned how to modify what and how I did things to accommodate what other's may perceive as a failing. There is no such thing as failing, not when you are trying. My pain is my gift to everyone else around me. I learned different ways to move to accommodate my hurts. I learned that certain hurts made you hold your body in different ways. I learned that we are, we really are stronger than we know...and we are enough as we are.
People can't see the pain, illness, disease or the mountains you climb to get to the height you are at...that's ok. One foot in front of the other. Our thoughts are like seeds that grow...our minds take root and are like sponges, the soil that absorbs these thoughts...and beliefs...
My affirmation...my nutrition for my mind...
I not only think I can...
I know I can.
I not only think I can...
I know I can.
Meet yourself where you are...
strengthen your foundation...
and then begin to build your way up and beyond...
strengthen your foundation...
and then begin to build your way up and beyond...
See you at the top.
The Arthritis Foundation and Dr. Steffany Moonaz October 27th 2015 Copyright 2015 Karen Armstrong E-RYT, LVCYT All Rights Reserved
Have a great day.