I have a confession: despite having experienced incredible life-changing improvements in my health during my 5 year journey since going paleo, I still suffer from a lot of health problems.
Part of me wants to portray myself to you as a kind of superwoman on this site -- someone who has all the answers, feels great all the time, and that you can look up to and be inspired by. But you know what? That doesn't feel right. I don't want to be a phony. Sometimes, nothing feels better than knowing you are not alone in your current struggle. That's why I feel it is important to be more up front about what I'm facing right now.
It's hard to publicly admit to having severe, puzzling, embarrassing health problems. But, in my years of seeking answers to improve my health and quality of life, some of the best and most helpful things I've read in books or online were the real, raw, honest stories about someone else's struggle. Because I could identify with them.
You can't identify with a superhero because superheros aren't real.
The other bloggers that you follow that have stories too good to be true? Well, they are too good to be true. Nobody is a superhero. We've all got struggles. Health is not a destination, it is a journey. And I'm ready to be more vulnerable and honest with you about what I'm dealing with in my current journey.
I'm still sick. I have made truly tremendous strides and accomplishments over these last 5 years, I am much healthier than I have ever been, but I am still far from being a totally normal, truly healthy 31 year old woman. (The biggest accomplishment was ridding myself of IBS and food intolerances - I can eat all the foods now without negative consequences. That's worth celebrating!)
I will tell you the ugly truth: most days I find it hard to get out of bed. I wake up feeling like I have a hangover, but I don't drink. My mind is cloudy, sluggish for at least an hour after getting out of bed. I have incredibly low energy and stamina. I'm often plagued with a racing mind, anxiety, a sense of impending doom. I have some chronic aches and pains in specific joints. I've gained back some of the weight I originally lost. In the last year, I've had some new hidradenitis suppurativa boils come up (pea sized or smaller instead of golf ball sized at least). I have trouble getting to sleep at night. Sometimes I get this cramp in my lower abdomen early in the morning that's so bad I double over in pain, lose my breath, and nearly pass out.
Western Medicine or Traditional Chinese Medicine?
I've chosen to seek only the help of traditional Chinese Medicine doctors currently. I am fairly certain that if I were to see a Western MD and have thorough (expensive) testing done that I would receive some kind of scary diagnosis, possibly autoimmune. And MDs are particularly good at painting bleak and hopeless pictures for patients with chronic diseases like Crohn's, Lyme, Lupus, etc. This is the right choice for me, but it's not the right choice for everyone. Please, never delay seeking medical attention when it is needed.
The nocebo effect is a very real thing. It is the opposite of the placebo effect, meaning that if you believe you are doing something that will harm you, or believe that you are ill, your body will act as though it has been harmed or is ill. The most striking example of this I've ever heard was of a study participant in a blinded antidepressant trial (meaning participants were assigned either the real drug or a placebo sugar pill but they had no way of knowing which they received). This participant attempted suicide with the pills he was assigned, which were actually the placebo pills, yet his blood pressure crashed life-threateningly low. He believed he would die by taking the sugar pills because he believed they were the drug, and his body believed him!
I am not interested in getting any kind of concrete Western diagnosis right now because I do not want my mind to fall prey to the nocebo effect. However, that does not mean I am ignoring my health. No, in fact, I am under rigorous care from an incredible Chinese Medicine doctor. And I am comfortable with my decision to avoid Western medicine because I notice immediate improvement after my acupuncture treatments.
Chinese Medicine speaks about the body and illness in a way that is almost poetic, and here is how he described my case: if my good health is a lake, right now the water is low, murky, stagnant, and there are numerous holes at the bottom causing water to continue to leak out. He is working with acupuncture, electro-acupuncture, and traditional herbs to flush out the old, stagnant water, plug the holes, and fill the lake back to the brim with clean, fresh water.
I will take that analogy any day over what a Western doctor would tell me! It's taken a LOT of work for me to be able to accept not knowing the nitty gritty medical details of my body. I am a scientist, a curious mind, and I have always been obsessed with understanding the minutiae. But right now I need to let go and calm my mind, rather than fill it up with details about whatever Western diagnosis (diagnoses?) I would have right now.
I also do not want to have a specific illness to identify with. Once your illness becomes part of your identity, it can be incredibly hard to disconnect from it and allow yourself to get better. I've been through this once before in my life with depression. I was a depressive. It was my depression. And it wasn't until I could let go of that identity as a depressive that I finally rose up out of my pit of despair and darkness. (That's a story for another blog post!)
How Yoga is Helping Me Heal
A huge part of my healing presently includes yoga practice. My new doctor has actually forbidden me to practice Qigong until further notice. It is a very powerful art and requires close supervision from a qualified professional. He himself is a Qigong and Tai Chi master, but he recognizes that my body and mind are not strong enough for it right now. I've had some incredible healing thanks to qigong over these last 3.5 years, but in the last year I've had more bad experiences than good with it, leading me to halting practice on my own.
I've replaced it with yoga, which is something I have done for over 15 years as a way to cope with stress, relax, and meditate. I am so grateful that I picked it up so early in my life - in high school! While my peers were letting off steam with drugs and alcohol, I was locked in my room doing yoga sometimes for hours at a time. (At least until I got to college in New Orleans...)
Yoga is particularly helpful for me right now to quiet my overactive, worried mind. In the West, doctors compartmentalize the body and mind from each other and treat them separately. In traditional Eastern medicine, like Chinese Medicine, they are considered together. What happens in the mind affects the body, and vice versa. Emotions can become "stuck" and lead to illness. Think about how stress can manifest itself physically in your body. We've all experienced "butterflies in the stomach" when nervous about something. Or how about an aching pain in your chest spurred on by grief or sadness? Feeling dizzy when you are overstimulated? That nagging shoulder or neck pain that crops up in times of high stress? These are examples of emotions manifesting themselves physically.
Yoga is gentle, safe, and incredibly effective at promoting wellness. Qigong can also be incredibly effective, but it actually be life threatening when practiced incorrectly. Any Qigong instructor worth his salt will tell you this, as will most acupuncturists. I expect to resume my practice again at some point in the future, but I will need to be in a much better place physically, emotionally, and energetically (did I really just write that last word?? Oh how far I have come!)
Yoga has been shown in the scientific literature to provide pain relief, promote emotional well being, reduce anxiety and depression, and help with cardiovascular conditions, autoimmune and immune problems, low back pain, inflammation, bowel diseases, and so much more.
This is a great recent article that sums up current science on the health benefits of yoga, so instead of rehashing it here I encourage you to read it for details: http://www.elsevier.com/connect/the-science-of-yoga-what-new-research-reveals
Starting a Regular Yoga Practice
There are several books that I've used repeatedly over the years (links at the end of the article). I used to be one of those scary flexible yoginis who could do the full on scorpion pose with my feet touching my head. After becoming obese, I lost that strength and flexibility, but I've been working to regain it. However, I've been getting discouraged with myself recently and feeling shame for not being able to do the things I could easily do when I was 17. I know, I know!
Then I heard about Tera from Real Fit Yoga and her course titled "Yoga For Healing". Right away I knew this was exactly what I needed right now. She graciously provided me access for review purposes, and words cannot express how grateful I am for that! I have already had some incredible emotional releases thanks to the practices I've done. I can already tell I am getting stronger, too!
It’s easy to find yoga, it’s not as easy to find yoga specifically for those on a healing journey. So much of the popular yoga out there emphasizes power, intensity, and sculpting.
Yoga for Healing is a holistic practice that addresses the mind, body and the soul. Your body will be allowed to build strength gently while working to heal your nervous system and mental space.
In short...with Yoga for Healing you will: build strength, enhance joint movement, gain flexibility AND relax, modify and take things at your pace.
I whole heartedly recommend this course for anyone looking to have a gentle, rewarding, and relaxing way to get physical activity into their life. It's also incredible for helping you cope with anxiety and stress and to get in the habit of letting your mind be calm and at ease.
This course is priced at $97. Before you balk, think about it: I've paid that much for 4 in-person classes before. And, seriously, I've never been to a class like this. Even beginner's classes can be overwhelming and frustrating for those of us dealing with chronic health problems who have low stamina. I love that Tera gives options for many postures that range from ultra gentle to challenging. You are welcome to challenge yourself only as much as you are able to at the time. I'm looking forward to repeating these videos over time to see my progress in these postures.
Tera's coaching throughout the videos is wonderful - she is truly helping me learn to love myself, accept myself for who I am today, be OK that I cannot do all the things I used to be able to do, and celebrate the accomplishments I do make each and every day. Most importantly, she's helping me realize that I have permission to take time for myself to work to heal myself.
You can check out Yoga For Healing here: http://thecuriouscoconut.com/yoga-for-healing
And here are a couple of insights from my practice, taken from my Instagram account:
My journal today after #yoga practice - I'm doing the Yoga For Healing course by @terabucasas, and here are my insights from today's practice, which focused on building a strong foundation (feet and legs): 🔹I do not have to suffer to build strength 🔹Exercise does not need to be strenuous to be beneficial 🔹I am already stronger than I realize 🔹It is OK, safe, and *necessary* for me to relax and nourish myself ## In the #paleo community there is such an emphasis on #crossfit and intense workouts and heavy lifting. I've tried that approach in my 5 years on this journey and it does NOT work for my body. Not at all. And if I'm going to be vulnerable and honest, I've felt some serious shame as a result. It's like, if you're going to be a REAL paleo follower you've gotta be able to do this kind of exercise. It's not true! And for many of us dealing with chronic issues, adrenal or thyroid problems, autoimmunity, chronic fatigue, etc. doing workouts that are too intense can cause major health setbacks. ## We all need to MOVE though, but it doesn't have to be sprints. It doesn't have to be at a crossfit gym. It can be something holistic and gentle like yoga. I'm so glad to have found Tera's program because it is exactly what I need right now. I need reassurance that this approach to fitness is safe and good and that its ok for me to be where I am today and that I shouldn't feel guilt or shame because I can't do a pull up or run a mile right now. It's ok that there's no way I could complete a WOD right now. It's ok to take a gentle approach that doesn't push me too hard. ## Check out Tera's program here, or click the link in my profile! ➡️ http://thecuriouscoconut.com/yoga-for-healing #yogaforhealing #yogamonth #naturalhealth #namaste #relax
Today's video in Yoga For Healing focused on the hips and pelvis. Tera warned me at the beginning of the practice that it could cause the release of emotions. Why yes, yes it did. She made me cry! But they were good, cathartic, cleansing tears that left me feeling empowered and stronger. ## I felt myself dispeling a lot of shame today in these deep stretches. Opening up the hips can leave you feeling incredibly vulnerable. But, Tera is right that allowing yourself to feel that vulnerability is what brings healing. ## What emotions do you store in your hips? You may have no idea until you work to open them, stretch them, and strengthen them. ## I've dealt with shame and feelings of being "not enough" my entire life and I've been working really hard these last few years to overcome those feelings and really claim my place in the world as a strong, capable, woman. I feel like I made a huge leap in progress with that today thanks to my practice and thanks to Tera's coaching. ## Something else I struggle with chronically is feeling that it is OK to take time to myself, for myself, and that it is OK to let my guard down and have a calm, quiet mind. It helps me to hear that during my yoga practices with Tera in her course. ## If you're ready for some incredibly powerful yoga, check out Tera's program http://thecuriouscoconut.com/yoga-for-healing or click the link in my profile. You are worth it!
Video 3 of #Yoga for #Healing (click the link in my profile to access it) focused on banishing #shame and feelings of not being enough and replacing those toxic feelings with #love and acceptance for yourself. This was paired with gentle, yet extremely effective, core strengthening. Because, after all, if you don't have a strong and stable core, you won't have a strong and stable life. // This one hit me hard on the emotional front. I cried big cathartic tears yet again. Not because Tera (@terabucasas) is mean - she is a total sweetheart and I adore her! It is because I feel so safe with her guiding me that I am able to let myself be truly vulnerable and honest and LET GO of the bad emotions that do not serve me. // In the West, doctors do not put much stock in emotions becoming "stuck" and leading to health problems. But in the East, the traditional healers do not try to separate body from mind, emotional from physical. It's all connected and goes back and forth. I am so grateful that I have been able to free myself from these toxic emotions thanks to the practices I've had with Tera's course. // Yoga For Healing is an online guided course complete with 7 videos 40-60 min long, journals, exercise sheets with modifications, and focus sheets to set your intention with each practice. It's done in a way to help you feel absolutely nothing but love and acceptance for yourself, no matter where you are on your healing journey. You can take it incredibly easy with this series and work your way up to doing more over time. I've watched a LOT of yoga videos and been to a lot of classes in my 15 years of practice and this is by far one of the best teachers I've encountered, especially given my current health struggles. See it here: http://thecuriouscoconut.com/yoga-for-healing You are worth it!
Ready to start your own yoga practice?
My favorite yoga books:
These are affiliate links to books that I have literally been toting around for almost two decades. These are my favorite books on the market, if you prefer to learn that way vs videos or classes!