When I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome in January of 2014, it came as a huge relief. After
struggling with chronic illness for years without a name for what I was experiencing, getting a diagnosis provided a sense of closure. But even though I finally knew what was wrong with me, I still wasn’t able to do the types of things that I’d hoped for myself in life – I couldn’t work (except from home), I couldn’t go to grad school, and I rarely felt well enough to go out socially.
With so little going my way, I was willing to try anything that might help me feel better. I experimented with acupuncture, elimination diets, fresh-squeezed ginger shots – and yoga. Because I wasn’t up for much else, I started taking yin and restorative classes to get my body moving in some small way. And before I knew it, my health started to improve.
When I first started practicing yoga, I kept coming back because it provided immediate relief from the pain I was experiencing in my muscles and joints. It also helped me feel more energetic, which made a big difference in other areas of my life. Over time, I stuck with it because it made me better able to manage stress and cope with the challenges life threw my way.
Eventually, when I started to feel better, it wasn’t just that I was doing yoga – I was also eating better, sleeping better, and seeing a specialist for my condition. But at this challenging time in my life, yoga helped me feel more at-ease in my body, which gave me the courage to continue making positive changes. And because I was taking “easier" classes that emphasized breathing, relaxation, and meditation, I also experienced a positive shift in my mood.
Beyond the physical benefits, taking restorative and yin-style classes has taught me to participate more fully in my life, even when I’m not feeling well or can’t do something “perfectly." In yoga, I’ve learned that I can modify poses to make any class work for me. In life more generally, I’ve learned that I can be more accommodating of my body’s needs. If I need to be asleep by 9 pm to feel well enough to work the next morning, that’s okay. If I want to go out socially – even when I don’t feel well enough to put on makeup or do my hair – that’s okay too. Ultimately, yoga has helped find ways to “modify” my life to make it work for me.
Now, for the past two years, I’ve been able to hold a job that I’ve enjoyed. Next week, I’ll be going back to school to start my master’s degree. I don’t feel well all of the time (or even most of the time), but I feel well enough to do things that seemed impossible two years ago. More importantly, I’ve learned to be more accepting of a life that isn't what I expected.
So, I’m not saying that yoga is a cure-all, a panacea, or any kind of universal remedy – but it’s made a
huge difference in my life, and I’m grateful for each of the instructors who have helped me get to where I am today. If you’re struggling with chronic illness and looking for a way to improve your quality of life, try a yoga class! You might not feel like it at first, but if you stick with it, I think you’ll find that it’s absolutely worth the effort