Updated: Sep 10, 2020
Yoga almost wrecked my body. Actually, it did for a few years. Then the global pandemic began and the yoga studios closed. After 4 months of no classes and only a gentle home practice, my body has much less pain and I am sleeping better. I’m sharing my story to help others avoid the pain I experienced.
I love yoga and I love the yoga community. It has some of the kindest, most lovely people I have had the pleasure of knowing. Yoga is not bad. But doing the wrong type of yoga and pushing your body beyond it’s limits is detrimental to your health. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that is exactly what I did.
I have fibromyalgia. If you don’t know, fibromyalgia is a chronic muscle pain condition. It also has bonus symptoms of fatigue, sleep and mood problems. These symptoms feed on each other and create a self perpetuating cycle. You also have a lot of muscle imbalances. So yoga helps that, right? Yes, when done correctly and in moderation. The problem occurs when you get into a competitive mindset and think that you need to do more, go deeper, press further. That’s what happened to me.
I started yoga about 20 years ago as a way to deal with the chronic pain, and it did help. The problem with fibromyalgia is that when you feel good, you tend to overdo. You realize too late that you have pressed your body way beyond it’s abilities. I am very body aware, but I would still make this mistake, and I always paid for it. Big time. I am stubborn and I hate feeling limited. But yoga teaches you to stay within your limits. So what changed? About 4 years ago, I started doing hot yoga.
I’m not saying that hot yoga is bad. But it did have an element of competition, and the hot room made it easy to over-stretch. I got quite good in the standard hot class. The initial endorphin rush was incredible, but it left me feeling depleted and dehydrated. My favorite was the “warm and gentle” class. It wasn’t as intense as the hot class and focused on mostly floor work with nice long stretches. It felt good and I loved the class. Except…I started having low back and left hip pain. The pain was chronic, and nothing relieved it long term. The more yoga I did, the worse it got. It pains me to say that, but it is the truth.
Meanwhile, I had stopped walking (for exercise) due to a bone spur on my right big toe. So, I wasn’t getting cardio or strengthening except in yoga. My core was weak. I was attempting poses that my body couldn’t support. Not without props, and we weren’t allowed to use those in hot classes.
The problem with the right foot caused me to roll my foot outward when I walked, which caused my left hip to compensate, which created numerous body imbalances. Yoga exacerbated these imbalances. I was, in effect, reinforcing them. Had I realized this, I would have switched to a different class. But I didn’t, and the more yoga I did, the worse my back pain became. Meanwhile, my right foot and leg got worse too, because…you know…imbalances.
So, how did I finally sort this out after years of pain? I visited many providers, and they all helped me on my journey. But two providers finally shifted my pain pattern permanently.
My PT sent my to a PTA who specializes in feet issues. She had an amazing grasp of the problem. She fitted me with a heel lift in my right shoe and inserts in both shoes. Both of these were inexpensive, over the counter products. Huge, and immediate difference! I was walking level again!
My chiropractor filled in the final pieces to the puzzle. He offered affordable care, so I was able to see him on a weekly basis. Really important when you don’t have health insurance.
The first thing he did was fix my right ankle. It was completely locked due to the way I had been walking. I mean it didn’t move or rotate at all! That was a relatively quick fix.
My back issues required weekly adjustments. My left SI joint and L5 kept coming out of place. Occasionally the right SI would go out too, because..imbalances. It was so bad that at times I couldn’t roll over in bed. The muscles had gotten weak and overstretched due to…you guessed it…yoga.
Slowly, I was able to start walking again. I gradually began to build up strength in my low back, legs, and feet again. It was a long and painful process. Walking a half mile was a painful and slow process. I would occasionally do too much, have a setback, and have to start again. It has taken 8 months of chiropractic care, but I am finally at a place of not being in constant pain. It took years for the imbalances to develop. The chiropractor told me from the start that the solution would take time as well. I’m at a maintenance stage now, but I will probably need chiropractic care at least once a month for a long time.
Be Gentle with Yourself
I still do gentle yoga. Basic stretches and restorative. No more triangle, warrior, or plank for me. Definitely no forward folds. Backbends? Not so much. Sphinx or baby cobra, but no camel pose. Twists? I have to be very careful. No seated twists where you crank your spine at the hip. That will pop my back out of place. Downward dog is okay. Pigeon is good if I’m careful. But mostly hamstring and quad stretches. Child’s pose, knee to chest. Little bridge…okay, still more of a pelvic tilt right now. Upper body stuff is good since I’m on the computer all day. And I’m working on strengthening my core. But I will never push my body the way I used to 6 months ago.
Yoga is great if you stay within your limits. But be aware that you can surpass those limits and not realize until you have injured yourself. Especially if you are doing hot yoga. It is very easy to over-stretch in a hot room. That is the hard truth I discovered. If you have imbalances, yoga can actually make them worse. So enjoy your time on the mat. But be mindful and stay within your limits. It’s not a competition. It’s a practice.