Monday, June 24, 2019

Learning to live, part II.


When I left off last time, it was February. I had just decided to attend yoga classes at a gym near my home. I was excited, but also nervous. I hadn't been very physically active in the months leading up to my mental health "detour," mostly due to the chronic pain I experienced pretty constantly. I worried I would be judged for my lack of flexibility and strength. I had done yoga previously and knew how demanding it can be. I hoped the teacher and other yogis in the class wouldn't be too hard on me.

Well, I couldn't have been more wrong in my assumptions -- the teacher, Leilani, was SO kind and understanding. We spoke outside the classroom as we waited for a Zumba class to finish up. She asked me was about what I hoped to get out of yoga and why I was there. I told her about my mental health struggles and the somewhat recent loss of my mother. She said that mental health was one of the biggest reasons she got into yoga herself, and I found that very reassuring.

People of all ages, skill levels and genders attended the class. Leilani emphasized that each student had permission to back out of any stretch or pose that felt uncomfortable, and that we could modify our experience for our own needs as she guided the class. I immediately felt like I could just enjoy myself and not worry about what other people were thinking. This would be a personal experience for each of us, free of criticism.

The first class was such a beautiful, healing time for me. I watched myself perform poses I didn't think I could and felt my confidence and self-love grow as the class progressed.

The end of most yoga sessions includes savasana, or corpse pose. This is where you lay on your back on the mat with your eyes closed, in total stillness, for several minutes at minimum. Stillness has always been difficult for me as I suffer from anxiety. But as I lay there on my mat in the dark room, I let go of everything I had been holding onto, all the stress, the worry, the sadness, the anger, the self-loathing. I felt total peace wash over me. I hadn't felt this in so long, it brought me to tears.

After such an impactful experience, I knew I would be coming back regularly.

Prior to class one of those first times, I overheard Leilani and another class member talking about the massage therapist and fascial stretch therapist who worked at the gym and how incredible they were. I had tried massage for my chronic pain issues, but it never seemed like enough and it only improved my symptoms for a day or so. I didn't know anything about fascial stretch therapy, but their discussion led me to look into it. I took a card on my way out.

Later in the week, I visited the therapist's web site, Superior Strengthening Systems, and read what it said about fascial stretch therapy (also called myofascial release). This type of therapy had been recommended to me by several people previously, but having been burned by alternative treatments and medicine so many times, I never bothered to look into it. But here it was, and it seemed to be exactly what I needed. And if not, what did I have to lose? I made an appointment for an hour-long fascial stretch session.

That session changed my entire life.

I met with Ian Lawson, the fascial stretch therapist. We talked about my symptoms, how long I'd had them, what kind of activities made them worse, etc. After the evaluation, he had me lay face-down on a massage table and began to work on the fascia in my upper back where I experience most of my pain. The best way to describe it was like the part of a massage that you want more of, that "hurts so good" feeling that seems to melt away the tension. Ian directed me to breathe low and deep and to relax into the pressure. He also worked on my shoulder joint, gently loosening it as the fascia released. It was difficult at first, but as the session progressed, I felt the pain dissipate.

When I left an hour later, I couldn't believe how amazing I felt. I came in at a pain level 8 and left at a 2. I was in complete disbelief -- I had found the answer to a problem that plagued me for almost eight years, a problem no other doctors or therapists could explain.

Since that day, I have been seeing Ian weekly for stretch therapy. The pain has drastically decreased. On days when it comes back, it is manageable and I know how to stop it before it gets out of control. Ian also located other areas of tight fascia and low mobility in my hips, which has contributed to my upper back and shoulder issues. Ian taught me some resistance exercises to activate and build the muscles that will prevent my pain from returning. I am now at the point where I can reduce the frequency of my sessions, and my symptoms are completely manageable.

This therapy, coupled with yoga 2-3 times a week, has all but eliminated the acute, debilitating pain that prevented me from having a normal life before. I no longer wake up wanting to go back to sleep to escape the pain. I do not have to rely on pain medication to get through the day or to sleep at night.

So, I'd found a real solution to my physical pain! But, I was still dealing with anxiety and depression. As I continued talking to my counselor, I learned a lot about myself and was confronted with some things I'd need to drastically change in order to heal my mind.

I'll talk more about this journey in Part III.

1 comment:

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