Does Yoga Help Cope With Lupus?
How many times have you heard someone saying: Have you tried Yoga? – it might help with your pain.
Because of that, I decided to write about the Eight Limbs of Yoga and how it can help us reconnect with ourselves and the divine. Above everything, it may allow us – lupies, to achieve a better quality of life.
The word Yoga can be interpreted as bind, yolk, or join. Yoga unifies to polarities Ha and Tha (Hatha) to provide a complete equilibrium of the alternating and dualistic forces of creation.
“But how can we join anything that has never been separated?” [Rama Vernon]
Since being brought to the Western World, Yoga has been misunderstood by many of us. People often focus on achieving the perfect yoga poses while breathing.
Social media can make Yoga seem intimidating for people with auto-immune conditions, including lupus. We see many folks doing crazy pretzel poses that seem impossible to achieve; mostly, we experience multiple flare-up, therefore, discouraging.
Yoga is beyond a perfect asana or pose. It is working-in more than it is a workout. It is about breathing and remembering the oneness that already is – the role of our bodies in understanding our minds. It is organized in eight parts, known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Each one should be considered while practicing it to achieve a state of peace and blissful mind.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga: Yamas, Nyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
The first one is called Yamas, which are simply observant of our hearts and minds to make sure we move on the right path. One is practicing Yoga when the intention is right, and it is about personal ethics. It’s about spiritual discipline. The first Yama is called Ahimsa.
In many classes, we hear the yoga teacher asking us to think about our purpose for the practice and focus on it. This intention should align with harmony and peace within the self, create love towards others, not harm others or ourselves, or heal our hearts and minds. If we do not do that, we just move our bodies but do not practice Yoga.
Yoga begins with a powerful philosophy: I am taking a stand in my life that says that I will not harm other beings, I won’t hurt myself and other beings, either by thoughts, words, or actions; and I’m going to send loving-kindness to all creatures in all realms.
The Yamas are recommendations for ways of living consciously; to being mindful of behaviors and actions. To practice self-control in words, thoughts, and choices.
The Niyamas come right after the Yamas and work in pairs with it. It is about personal disciplines such as daily practice and self-awareness to become a better version of oneself. To improve ourselves, we must understand where we are today and how we interact with others. Without honestly and clearly seeing who we are, how can we become improve?
Yamas and Niyamas enable us to define the mindset and efforts in the right direction before starting the poses or Asanas, which is the third limb of Yoga.
There is a reason why the Asanas come in third place – because it is not the most important one! Imagine we haven’t set our soul in the proper intention before practice nor a purpose for the spiritual practice of inward reflection. Then, Yoga becomes a body exercise to build muscle, strength, or flexibility.
When I do Yoga, I usually ask myself: where is my mind as I move through the poses? Am I really practicing Yoga? Am I looking within or comparing myself with others? Are there cues my body is giving me? Do I need to un-do anything inside me? What is this practice teaching me?
My yoga professor ( Ann Wagoner) is a lovely being. She has been showing me a different way to reflect on the full extent of Yoga. It’s not about the perfect asanas but also about how I am breathing within the pose, which takes us to the 4th limb, which is Pranayama, or breath control.
The 4th limb is Pranayama. Prana is the air we breathe, the universe’s infinite power and energy. Without this magical energy, no one can survive.
To be healthy is critical to keep breathing regularly and well, with long inhalations and exhalations. We always want to have a slow, peaceful, controlled breath, not just during a yoga practice. Pranayama practices can help us accomplish that – it’s like exercising the lungs. This way, we find calmness, live longer and control the mind.
If you are used to practicing Yoga, you may notice that usually, the Pranayama exercises start while sitting or standing, while not moving the whole body.
Before practice, we set our intention ( Yama and Nyama ) and then spend our energy out through Asanas while keeping our breath subtle and regular during practice ( Pranayama ). How often have you heard your Yoga teacher remind the students to breathe?
Pratyahara is the 5th limb of Yoga, and it’s about the withdrawal of the senses. The eyes control the mind. That means learning to block any distractions around us and turn off the monkey mind. That’s why the Yoga teachers often ask us to focus on breathing while doing poses otherwise, we fall. Our Drishti is your looking point, and we should be looking within, not out.
As we concentrate on one given thing, we disregard all others. Your Drishti or your looking point – focusing the eyes helps to focus the mind. We can find withdrawal in many situations when we are deep into it – it can be reading, walking, or studying. The clock stops for us when we are immersed in it, and we lose the sense of time. This sense of withdrawal helps prepare you for the next limb, Dharana.
Dharana is about concentration. Focusing is an incredible tool in many things in life, whether finding your purpose, your dream job, playing with your kids, or meditating. As we can remove distractions, we can concentrate, be in the moment and be 100% present. We can learn to deep dive into any task by exercising the mind using Dharana during Yoga.
Being able to concentrate is hard. We have so many distractions around us. Modern life brings a toll on everyone’s spirits. That’s why taking care of our mental health is so important these days.
Dhyana is one of the ultimate goals of practicing Yoga. It is about meditation and being back to oneness with the infinite, which we can call God.
As I said before, Yoga is so much more than finding the perfect pretzel pose. Yoga is a meditation pathway, a re-connection to whom we were when we were created.
So one could practice Yoga or not. Maybe they have never done any asana or attended a yoga class – but they can sit in meditation. So, one can say they are a yogi, too.
The final and 8th limb of Yoga is about the total union with the infinite, or divine. Samadhi, or bliss, happens when we feel oneness with God. The ultimate goal.
No worries, suffering, monkey mind, confusion, or doubt. It’s about freedom from all the pain life may bring us.
Yoga is a work-in, not a work-out.
Lupus and Yoga Practice
Hopefully, after understanding Yoga is not about perfect pretzel poses, you may be interested in giving it a try, why not?
The first step is to listen to our body before each practice – what does it need? Where is it stiff?
We, lupies, have fragile bones, joints, and nerves and need to respect our limits. Remember, with lupus, each day is a different one. Today you may not be able to do things you did in the past and vice-versa. Talk to your doctor, if you are not comfortable trying.
I created a few tips and asana suggestions for a routine that hopefully can help you get started.
Remember to stay warm and do Yoga at a slow, smooth pace, using gentle movements and breathing as you move. Use books and blankets to support you if you don’t have blocks. Do not exhaust yourself! The purpose is to fill your mind with serenity and nurture the body. If you do not have much energy, Restorative Yoga can help soothe anxiety and release some of the tension on the joints without much moving.
- Find a quiet place, a comfortable position – either sitting or standing. Be present!
- Start with making your intention for the practice. Make it short, simple, and sweet; maybe something like “I find inner peace at all times.”
- Start breathing ( Pranayama ). You can choose the style. My suggestion is to breathe normally through the nose, making the exhale longer than the inhale. For example, count to 4 when inhaling and 6 when exhaling. Repeat 10 times.
- Asana suggestions, but remember – if it hurts, stop. Respect your limit.
- Start with Cat / Cow pose to lose and warm the entire spine and the wrist joints. Open the palms of the hands as much as possible. You can also do the Cat / Cow pose while sitting in the case being on your knees is uncomfortable.
- Mountain pose, to help ground you. Feel the ground beneath you through the balls of your feet and the heels. Balance your weight, left and right. Imagine the earth’s energy coming to your body through your feet. Breathe.
- Forward bend pose for a good stretch on the back of the legs. Use blocks if you need them, we want a gentle stretch.
- Chair and twist chair poses to help release some of the toxins.
- Warrior I and II to warm up. Remember to breathe and find stability as you move.
- Triangle pose to elongate the side of the body. Focus on lengthening the breath.
- Child pose to relax. Breathe at least 5 times and enjoy it. Go back as many times as needed.
- Wrap up with Savasana to absorb all the benefits of the practice and enjoy the relaxation.
You can find on YouTube various examples of Yoga practice. One of my favorites, which was mentioned in a previous blog is Yoga with Adriene; she is excellent. Start practicing for a few minutes and continue to increase slowly. No need to rush. Do not compare yourself with others.
So, What Now?
Yoga is part of my ‘desired or to-be’ lifestyle. As I evolve my practice to all eight limbs of Yoga, I find improvement in sleep and my relationship with myself and everyone around me. Above all, respecting and accepting my body’s limitations while listening to what it needs.
My goal is to develop the power to find peace and serenity anytime, regardless of the situation or pain level I am in. I want my calmness to come from my inner self, not what is happening around me.
While driving, I pay attention to my breathing or my Pranayama. I don’t need to do an alternate nostril or do a lion’s breathing. I just make sure I have steady and fulfilling breathing.
As I talk to my husband or play with my kids, I exercise the withdrawal of senses or Pratyahara – I am giving them my full and undivided attention.
I am studying Ayurveda for my YTT 200H class this year while practicing concentration or Dharana.
See, I don’t need to be doing any Asana for that, but this is all Yoga. Yoga is a lifestyle that can increase one’s quality of life.
I hope you get inspired to try Yoga wherever you are. It has been doing wonders for me – mentally, emotionally, and physically. Any auto-immune disease can take a toll on someone’s life. It’s scary; it brings uncertainty and pain. Yoga can help.
Yoga is for everyone and every body.
Slowly learning to control my breath and mind, Yoga has helped me better navigate during flare-ups, which usually cause stress and body pain.
The Asanas stretches help me nurture my joints and connective tissues, decreasing my pain level, the frequency of the flare-ups, and improving mobility.
There is no miracle. One day at a time, little by little, but improvement does happen with discipline and focus.
Shanti. Shanti. Shanti. [ Peace. Peace. Peace. ]