Practicing Yoga While Sick

Can I practice when I’m sick?

It’s a question we get at the studio often. As with most yoga-related questions, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer.

First and foremost, if you have something contagious, please stay home and keep it to yourself. We once had a student undergoing treatment for a persistent MRSA infection practicing at the studio for four months without telling us.

Lucky for all who were practicing at that time, our sweat contains powerful antiseptic peptides in dermcidin. The best feature of dermcidin is that it attacks the microbes’ cell walls, not something to which a microbe can develop resistance.

Can you guess how many students have contracted MRSA at our studio? You’re right. None. The sweat-effect is amazing and powerful. With that said, the chance of transferring a few microbes on the door handle as you leave just isn’t worth the risk.

As a general rule, we say, “From the neck up, come to class. From the neck down, stay home.”

If your symptoms are sneezing, post-nasal drip, cough, even a head ache, you should be okay to take class. If your symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, fever, body aches, and chills, you’re probably better off in bed. Or at your doc’s office.

Why you should practice.

  • Circulation: The “miracle cure” of yoga lies in it’s direct stimulation of the circulatory system. Through tourniquet-like compression and release of tissues in the body, we encourage and improve the movement of blood through the body, helping the human body’s systems to do their jobs better. Chronic stress and lack of movement can limit circulation to “non-essential” systems like the digestive, immune, endocrine, and reproductive systems. Yoga helps to restore circulation to better-than-normal levels. This improves your ability to heal.
  • Lymph: One of our most important components of the immune system doesn’t have it’s own pumping mechanism. Our lymph nodes circulate lymph and white blood cells, filter invading microbes and mutant cells, and remove edema from the body. This powerful system only works if you move your body. Through postures that flex and extend the trunk and the hips, we directly palpate the lymph nodes and facilitate the movement of lymph throughout out the body. The great news is that this movement doesn’t need to be intense or strenuous to get the desired effect. Gentle movement is enough to produce benefits.
  • Breathing: Breathing exercises also have positive effect on the lymph nodes. Simple abdominal breaths where the belly rises and falls can move four times more lymph than chest breathing. Most common colds and flus also include symptoms that restrict the breathing or allow mucus to settle in the chest. The deep and rhythmic breathing practiced in a yoga class can help to keep the bronchi clear. Don’t be surprised if breathing exercises make you cough. It’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Decongesting: Chronic congestion can lead to ear or sinus infection. Postures that invert the head can help to drain the sinuses and eustachian tubes. Many students find postures like Rabbit or Separate-leg stretching cause a sense of clearing. For students with an active sinus infection, theses poses might be torture. The moist, humid air of a hot yoga class is the only place many students recovering from a cold or the flu can actually breathe for a few minutes a day.
  • Mood: Being ill, especially chronic illness, can do a number on your mood and outlook. Yoga has been shown to improve levels of the “happy hormones” like dopamine, GABA, serotonin, and oxytocin in practitioners. A preliminary study at Mass General in Boston shows a direct negative correlation between numbers of classes taken and reduction in depression symptoms. Not only will your hormones get a boost, you’ll get out of the house and be around a community of healthy people who can offer you emotional support and even a few laughs during your recovery.

Why you should stay home.

While we appreciate the concept of sharing-is-caring, when it comes to disease, we don’t buy it. If you have something contagious, please don’t share it with your yoga friends. Just like in school, if you’ve vomited in the last 24 hours, stay home and wash your hands a lot. Meningitis, MRSA, lice, TB, flu, strep, and stomach bugs are just a few of the highly contagious diseases you should enforce a self-quarantine over.

Next, we get into the questions. Are you a chronically over-scheduled person? Are you over-worked, under-slept, and over-trained? For some of us, the most compassionate thing we can do for self-care is to stay home, make a cup of tea, and binge watch Shameless on Netflix.

What about chronic illness and fatigue?

You sweet, suffering yogi. You have all of my compassion. I know how difficult it is to suffer day-after-day with no end in sight. Living with chronic disease and adapting your life to this “new normal” while simultaneous searching for answers and cures is exhausting physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In my experience both as a teacher of students with chronic illness and as a patient suffering from chronic fatigue, I don’t think you can afford to cut yoga out of your self-care routine just because it makes you tired and is hard.

At the request of my doctor, I cut yoga out of my life for one week during my recovery. I rested, ate well, walked, and took my supplements. Each day, I felt worse than the last. It was a wonderful wake-up call for me. When I returned to class, I didn’t feel good or strong. I wasn’t even able to string more than two poses together in a row. After class, I didn’t get the yoga high I was used to, but I didn’t feel as terrible as when I didn’t have yoga in my life.

Practicing yoga with a chronic illness requires a radical shift in how you view yourself and your practice. Yoga is a healing modality. Yoga has the ability to support your body, your mind, and your healing. It also has the power to deplete and exhaust you. The difference is in how you approach your practice.

The beauty of yoga is that you can tailor each class to your exact abilities on that day.

The first phase in my healing was the mental shift. It took a long time and a lot of work to ignore the voice in my head who said, “It doesn’t matter how you feel. Keep going.” That powerful voice of perseverance that had helped me through so many challenging times in my life, was now destroying my health. If I pushed too hard in class, I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the day. I’d get shaky and my teeth ached.

I learned to treat yoga as a “get to” (not a “have to”) and class-after-class struggled to let go of my long-held view of myself as someone who is strong, tough, and steady. I learned to use yoga as my therapy and to tread gently with my tenuous health and strength.

I heard from many specialists, loved ones, teachers, and friends during my recovery that maybe I should stop practicing Hot Yoga. I heard that Bikram Yoga was too Yang, too Pitta, too much internal fire. People told me it was a depleting practice.

Trying not to be pig-headed, I tried heeding their advice, but my experience did not match their hypotheses (which, I must add, were based on conjecture, not science). Luckily for me, at the same time I was suffering from Post-Viral Syndrome and heart damage, I also had two students with serious illnesses practicing by my side. One woman suffered from Chronic Fatigue linked to Chronic Lyme and another woman suffered from Adrenal Fatigue after major life stressors and breast cancer treatment.

We were all told the same things. Each of our doctors told us to stop practicing Hot Yoga. As each of us tried limiting our practice or cutting it out all together, we each returned to the hot room feeling no better and looking for answers. Not-practicing didn’t heal any of us. It didn’t calm our inner fire. It didn’t balance our Yang and promote healing. It just took away our yoga. I took strength from those women, my compadres in suffering, to continue on the path that felt right for me despite the unfounded advice of our physicians.

A good first step for yogis with chronic disease, chronic fatigue, lyme, adrenal fatigue and the like is to start by practicing only one set of each posture. For Type-A yogis, this will not be easy, so you’ll need to solicit help from your teachers. My teacher (husband) used to stop the class until I sat down. That was the kind of loving-firmness I needed to take my health seriously. It only took holding back the class twice for me to self-regulate.

When you reflect back on all of the “reasons to practice” when you’re sick above, they’re all aspects of healing that you need during chronic illness. You simply must be more gentle, kind, and less demanding of yourself. There is no way to bully your way through chronic illness.

You can use yoga as a tool in your compassionate healing.

Sara Toe Street

 

 

Sara Curry is the owner of a Bikram Yoga studio in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She has been teaching yoga since 2003 after her recovery from herniated discs ignited a desire to share the healing power of yoga with others. She is also Vice President of Seacoast Area Teachers of Yoga in Action, a local non-profit making yoga accessible to at-risk and high-needs populations on the Seacoast of NH and ME.

Advertisements

BBL Gets a Makeover!

In 2012, we started a program at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth called Bikram’s Biggest Loser. This program was motivated by my older sister’s inspiring story. Read it here.

In a nutshell, my sister, Gina, found her way to the yoga on a regular basis nine years after taking her first class and hating it/herself. She battled self-hatred and obesity most of her life and found love and respect for herself on her yoga mat.

In the world of yoga, fat people are greatly underrepresented. Did you notice I said fat? I said it on purpose. “Overweight” implies that there’s “right” weight and, frankly, I’m done with that dogma.

While more than a third of Americans are categorized as “obese“, the percentage of practicing yoga students who fit those characteristics hover near the single digits. I wanted to change that.

Around the country, “Fat Yoga” studios have opened catering to obese yogis. Studios added “Curvy Yoga” or “Yoga for Round Bodies” and that never sat well with me. At our studio, we never differentiated between kids and adults. We don’t offer special classes for athletes or the elderly. Why would we exclude people from our regular schedule based on their weight?

How would it serve anyone to isolate fat people to a single class once a week?

A beautiful thing happens when all yogis practice together. It promotes the understanding that we are all the same on the deepest levels. I wanted something different for BYP. I wanted inclusion.

I wanted people to know that BYP was a safe place to practice yoga for anyone. I wanted students who had a BMI over 30 to know they wouldn’t be the only fat person in the room. I wanted to spread the word that my teachers knew how help people get into poses if there were big breasts or big bellies in the way, or how to approach a pose if thick thighs made the traditional execution impossible. I wanted people to understand that no matter who you are and what struggles you face, we were not going to judge you.

We modeled the program, at first, after the popular TV show The Biggest Loser. Not for the rapid (and reportedly dangerous) weight loss, but for the trainers’ intense belief in the participants’ abilities to achieve that which they did not yet believe in themselves. On TBL people’s ideas of themselves as quitters and losers transformed to that of achievers and athletes. We saw that happen in our students every day at yoga.

We knew the tantalizing draw of weight loss would bring in lots of clients. We were featured on the morning news and 43 people registered for our first challenge. Nationally, most people report that they try their first yoga class for either weight loss or fitness goals.

And people did lose weight. A lot of it. Our first winner lost 71 pounds and cut his cholesterol in half. One woman dropped eight dress sizes, four inches off her thighs. In five years, participants have lost nearly a collective ton of weight.

Some people didn’t lose weight. Not a pound. A few students even gained weight, but something else important was happening. People’s lives were changing. They were standing up for themselves at work. They were lowering dosages of blood pressure medication or going off anxiety meds. BBL participants found community, made friends, and felt a part of something. They rallied each other when they wanted to quit. They quieted that evil critic in their own heads. They learned to look in the mirror with pride, not shame.

I have a secret to share. I never cared if anyone lost any weight.  

I only cared that people found health and wellness and happiness. I knew that the potential for weight loss would draw people to the program because that is the song of our culture. Lose weight and be worth something! My vision was that if I could get them to show up, people would learn to love and respect themselves on the mat and the rest would fall away.

My vision came true. It worked.

Everything I thought the program could be, it was and even more. Last year, we added the Fueled and Fit program with nutritionist Erin Holt. Erin’s life goal is to get everyone in the world to stop dieting forever and learn to eat and listen to their bodies so they can fuel themselves and feel good. She strives to help people heal their convoluted relationships with food.

With Erin’s work, the program dug even further into our deep-seated beliefs about food, body image, and self-worth. Last year’s program pushed us to make a big change in how we structure and name the program to better represent the power and efficacy of dedicating three months of your life to healing your self and setting your life on a new path for good.

Last season, we had optional EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) sessions with Cheri Keirstead. This year, we’ll offer these tapping sessions as a criteria of the challenge. EFT is a psychological acupressure tool that allows you to practice calming your limbic system while simultaneously talking through issues and thought patterns that underlie your biggest challenges. Some participants worried that the tapping was a little too woo-woo-weirdo for them, but the folks who actually attended the sessions saw amazing results. Hey, sometimes the crazy hippie stuff works.

In this blog post, Erin Holt addresses the intersection between woo-woo weirdo and science. Tapping works because you calm unconscious stress responses to emotionally-charged thoughts and memories while allowing yourself to put words to your feelings. Studies clearly show a naming emotions reduces neurological and biochemical response to them.

We made the choice to model the program after our successful Sober Yogis program as a challenge, no longer a competition. The challenge is to commit to yourself for 90 days. To dig deep into the parts of your life that are holding you back. To look at food as your fuel, not your enemy. To stop dieting forever. To heal your body and your mind. To gain control of chronic illness. To let go of patterns that no longer serve you. To create habits that will drive the rest of your life.

Participants who meet the requirements of the challenge win a month of unlimited yoga at their host studio. There’s no longer a BBL winner. With our new program, we all win. The goal is to take three months of your life to make changes to the way you move, eat, and think that will lay the groundwork for how you live the rest of your life.

We won’t be taking weights or body measurements. Instead, we’ll measure depression and anxiety scales, and social-connectedness.

This new format allows us to expand our reach with this program from obesity to a myriad of challenges like: PTSD, disordered eating, chronic illness, debilitating injury, depression, anxiety, self-hatred, trauma, addiction, anger management, stress-reduction, body dysmorphia and more.

It is with great pleasure that our team introduces to you the new and improved Commit to 90 program.

Commit-to-90-logo-FINAL_03

Visit our website for more information and details on the challenge rules and resources.

We look forward to welcoming you to this supportive community,

Sara, Jaylon, Emily, Erin, Cherie and all of the teachers at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth and Epping

BBL 3.0 Yeah

 

Do You Love Me?

Originally posted as Thought for the Day on Yoga Teacher Journal. This post has been edited by the author.

Since I was 10 years old, I have been aware that my body was bigger than others my age. I hated my body. I hated it mostly because it made me different in a bad way. It made me feel awkward, outstanding; like a freak. It brought me unwanted and anxiety-ridden attention. I never felt like a cute little girl, a pretty girl, a beautiful girl. It meant I did not deserve to be a cheerleader, go to a pool party, or buy a princess dress to wear to my senior prom.

I have tried to change my body for three decades.

My initiation into the world of poor body image was on my twelfth birthday. I got my first gym membership to Gloria Stevens. It was given to me with good intentions, but, for godssakes, my 60-year old grandmother met her best friend there daily for a light workout and the latest gossip in her tights and body suit.

Like most people with an eating disorder or distorted body image, I tried every gym, pill, and diet to make myself a better person, a person other people would accept. With each failed attempt, I gained more weight and less self esteem. Because of my obesity, I have always avoided mirrors, cameras, and large groups of people. This self-hatred had me diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder, depression, and binge eating disorder by the time I was 25. I reluctantly maintained these diagnoses for 15 more years.

In 2004, I took my first yoga class at Bikram Yoga Portsmouth, my little sister’s new studio. I tapped out at Full Locust, over two-thirds of the way through the class. I didn’t know this was an accomplishment for someone who hadn’t exercised in years. All I saw in the mirror was a fat loser. What I didn’t know at the time was that I had planted a seed of hope in myself by taking that class.

It took me years to attempt another class. I was ready for change. Somewhere deep inside, I knew this yoga could help facilitate that change.

My first three months of practicing yoga regularly I was my enemy. Every single class for 90 minutes, five days a week, I criticized my body.

“You are too fat to do yoga.”

“You are not good enough for yoga. Look at your fat stomach. Look at your fat arms. No wonder you can’t put your head to your knee in any of the compression postures. How dare you practice in the front row when you can’t even grab your foot in Standing Head to Knee? Who the hell do you think you are? You disgust me. You disgust others. You should be ashamed of yourself.”

For months, I dragged myself to class wishing every single second of every single class that it was over.

I swore at the teacher in my head. I hated the teacher. I hated the yoga. I hated myself.

I hated every thing about my life. I cried. I cried during class because I hated the yoga. I cried because I knew I would have to do the yoga for the rest of my life. I cried because I felt sorry for myself. I cried some more. I just wanted it to get easier. Why wasn’t getting easier? I quit hard things. This was harder than anything I had ever done.

With every drop of sweat, I wanted to quit.

After about 100 classes, in pure exhaustion, the light bulb went on. If this was the hardest thing I had ever done, wouldn’t that mean that life outside this hot room would get easier if I continued the yoga? It started to sink in. I do not know how, but I just kept doing the yoga. The yoga changed me. It changed everything in my life. Like a flower growing out of concrete, my hatred turned into love. Maybe I could do this yoga.

The yoga started to fix my hamstrings, cure my panic, and alleviate my depression. My plantar fasciitis disappeared. The one motivation that kept me going to class was that this was my answer. I had faith in the yoga. I began to embrace the struggles and the change came. Even each of those moments of hating yoga, hating myself, hating the teacher and the postures, for the first time in my life this was exactly where I belonged. Even being the biggest person in the room, I belonged there. For the first time, I could see myself and I liked what I saw. For the first time, I experienced peace.

Yoga is my home. It is where I feel normal. It is where I fit in, not just with the other students, but with myself. My face, my body, and my postures are exactly where they are supposed to be. I have achieved marriage between my body, mind, and spirit. The yoga allows me to maintain that marriage, to maintain self love, which ultimately pours over into the rest of my life. Finding the time and money to live the yoga life is so much easier than trying to maintain my sadness, depression, and negativity.

Today when I look in the mirror and ask myself do you love me? The answer is always a resounding, “Yes. At last Gina, YES!”

Gina HeadshotGina Ceppetelli is a Quality Analyst for RCM and avid yogi who lives in Southern Maine with her son, Khalil.

Teacher Spotlight!- NICK

“I am passionate about opening up the yoga community to queer and trans people. I want everyone to have access to this life-changing yoga. Creating safe space is really important to me.”Spotlight- Nick

The May “Haps”

Hello, Fellow Yogis!

As Friday comes to a close, and the month of May wraps up, we wanted to take a moment to reflect back on the great month that we’ve had.  We started off strong with a great Cinco De Mayo celebration and “First Friday” music class featuring some of the music industries biggest “Divos”  (Cough Cough MJ, KANYE, BEIBER, BOWIE, JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE)

— To those of you wondering what the **** a “Divo” is ..we will leave you with this spot-on definition from UrbanDictionary- LOL

Screen Shot 2017-05-26 at 4.28.56 PM

With some Cinco decor hanging and good vibes flowing you could definitely say there was a”party in the hot room”  18221993_10154649979442615_7946714306779506266_n.jpg

Another awesome perk of May was getting another Posture of the month!! Woot-Woot! There is nothing better than having a whole month to grow and focus on a different posture.

MAY P-O-M

Head to Knee with Stretching Pose.png

Head to Knee with Stretching Pose has some great benefits to keep you looking and feeling great 🙂

Here are a few:

  • Helps balance blood sugar levels
  • Improves kidney function
  • Improves digestion
  • Improves the flexibility of sciatic nerves, ankles, and hip joints
  • Strengthens and firms back, abdomen and arms
  • Reduces symptoms of asthma
  • Deep hamstring stretch

We also had a great back bending clinic this month with former BYP teacher, Louise Giordani aka “Weezy”

The clinic gave students some great techniques and expanded on

  • How to recognize places of spinal mobility and restrictions
  • How to maximize the range of motion in your total spine

Now that our backs are feeling amazing~ we can’t wait to dive into next month’s posture **SPOILER ALERT** it’s the Spine twisting pose!!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As I take a sip from my water bottle I’m reminded that this month we have new water at the studio and guess what?? We are pretty stoked! Not only is Tourmaline great tasting bottled water, but it’s the only gravity-fed water bottling facility and to top it off the company creates no boreholes in the aquifer, taking only water that naturally bubbles up from the spring— How cool is that!

Want to learn more about the company?? Check it out here:  http://tourmalinespring.com/#home

Well hey… that’s the May “Haps”  Take a look below for a sneak preview into June 🙂

  • First Friday Music Class- QUEER CULTURE
    • Donation class to help fund Portsmouth Pride
      • June 2nd @ 4:30
  • Portsmouth Pride Parade
  • #WHYYOGA starts in June! Tell us why you practice yoga for the chance to win an amazing basket of goodies! Just #whyyoga on your Instagram and Facebook to get your raffle tickets.
  • Don’t forget with the summer schedule starting May 27th that Barkan classes are moved to Tues/ Thurs- Come check it out and try something different. Already love Barkan?? AWESOME now your Saturdays are free to come try out the advanced class.