I've been asked twice in the past week about the things that have made the biggest difference in how I feel. One ask was from a friend who has shared a lot of conversations with me about autoimmune disease, chronic illness, and health -- and the other was a question from a mentor of mine.
In both situations, I was sharing an update on life: talking about my health, how I felt, and passing along the exciting news: I'm off medication for the first time in 9 years and feeling really, really good. (When I say good, I mean both physically good but also good about the decision to taper off medication under the supervision of my doctors.)
As I was sharing the news about this new relationship with health, both my friend and mentor asked what I thought made the biggest difference. What's helped me manage and even alleviate my autoimmune symptoms?
This is what I said.
What's helped me feel better:
It's interesting to have landed here because when I was diagnosed with Takayasu's Arteritis over 15 years ago, I never would have guessed that the "energy of health" or a restorative yoga practice could have such a big difference in the management of my symptoms.
(I thought it would only and ever be diet. Read more about my health journey here.)
And truth be told, I never would have expected to be someone who could actually reap the rewards of practices like these.
After all, I was always the athlete... and the math geek.
I was the one who thought that exercise only counted when I was also sweating. The one who thought working out was about going harder, faster, longer... and pushing myself more than I did the day before. It was about one more rep. One longer hold. One higher level.
And if I *didn't* workout harder? If I *didn't* do a longer set than yesterday? If I *didn't* put more weight on the bar than I did before? If I *didn't* work up a sweat or raise my heart rate?
Well, then it *didn't* count, right?
You see, I grew up swimming competitively. It was the two-a-day workouts, up before the sun, feel like you need a nap after practice kind of competitively.
But that wasn't all. I also had high expectations of myself. Both in the pool and outside of it. I wanted good grades. I wanted the good job. I wanted to do things right and never disappoint. I had to hit my "potential". (You know, that ever elusive potential we all feel so compelled to meet.)
So, when I say that I never would have expected to be someone who used (and actually loved) restorative yoga... so much so that it's the ONLY formal activity I currently practice (I also informally walk my pup and play outside)... I mean that I wouldn't have expected to be someone who loves this type of movement OR someone who combines it with "thought work" in order to see amazing results.
I wouldn't have expected to become so massively fascinated by the way in which we can cultivate a wellness identity (and can learn to shed the illness identity that so many of us adopt when diagnosed). I wouldn't have thought I would be in support of using my thoughts, beliefs and corresponding energy to call in more of what I really want in my life: health.
Now, please don't get me wrong here. It's NOT about "just thinking positively". This conversation of health energy -- or wellness identity or health mentality -- is so much more nuanced and, frankly, more powerful than that. It's also not something often taught. Meaning, when someone says "just think positive", they're not talking about what I'm talking about here.
But what's even more important to make clear is that there's a very appropriate (and a very inappropriate) time to bring up the energy of health as a possible lifestyle or stress management practice that can complement the work happening inside a doctor's office. (Cause we should always be hanging around with medical professions we trust and be working under their supervision.)
For example, that time is NOT when someone is experiencing grief.
In fact, I'm pretty sure if anyone had told me to "use my thoughts and beliefs and corresponding energy to heal and feel better" when I was experiencing an episode of grief... when I was curled up in a ball on my bed... when I had just told my husband that I'm not so sure I would fight if another test result came back unfavorably... when I had nothing left to give and couldn't keep experiencing the same disappointment over and over again... when I was so infinitely tired of never ever doing anything good enough to actually and finally feel better....
Well, I probably would have uttered two little words together that started with F and ended with you.
Because grief is a hidden stressor that can be contraindicative to the energy of health as a tool for healing. (Just like dietary changes can be contraindicative to Split Health Stress or exercise can be contraindicative to Excess Exertion.)
And that's all the "energy of health" is. Just like restorative yoga, and diet, and meditation... it's just ONE tool.
(Think you might be experiencing grief? Take the hidden stressors quiz to find out why this is really, really normal and why we need to FEEL before we can "fight".)
Learning about and using the energy of health to feel better is not only surprising because I went through a lot of stages along the way in which I was 0% interested in ANY suggestions... let alone one about MY thoughts and MY beliefs. (I mean, I was doing enough already, ok!) But it's also surprising because I was a math major in college. Which means, equations, numbers, data... THIS was my jam. Not words, mindset, thoughts, beliefs.
All this to say that when this friend and mentor asked about the biggest differences in my health... when they asked about what helped not only manage my autoimmune symptoms but also alleviate them...
It was SUPER uncomfortable to acknowledge that restorative yoga (a practice in which you're basically hanging out totally and completely supported in the most passive of poses) + the energy of health (a practice of adopting a wellness identity that attracts the health you want through thought, belief, and aligned action) are those keys.
It's uncomfortable to admit but it's also really important. The reason being that we don't often hear about many different ways to heal ourselves and feel better.
For example, I don't know about you but I truly thought food was the gold standard for a long time. That it was the only and best natural healing tool out there. And with my background of both an autoimmune disease and an eating disorder, I had a HARD time using food as a tool that could actually help me feel as good as I wanted to feel.
So, what is restorative yoga? How can it help us heal?
Restorative yoga is essentially the opposite of the workouts I mentioned above (the ones I used to love). In restorative yoga, the goal is to rest, nourish, and move the the body into mostly passive poses in which you are completely supported. We're not trying to rev up the heart rate, push our muscles, or work up a sweat. It's quite the opposite actually. We're often encouraged to have a blanket nearby or to wear extra clothing because the body cools down as we relax.
Aka, you don't want to be shivering, but also don't exactly expect to be sweating.
Learn more about restorative yoga (and how it can help you heal) here!
Generally, restorative yoga is a practice that's great for someone who...
I list this last one because I've learned that it's incredibly helpful to untangle exercise from weight, moral obligation, or unhealthy beliefs so that we can start moving the body for health purposes (and not for weight).
In fact, untangling exercise from weight is one of the main reasons I'm able to practice restorative yoga on a daily basis. It's why I was able to let go of the need for anything more intense in this season of my life AND reap the rewards of that choice.
Because more often than not, the way we exercise to shape our bodies is going to be different than the way we exercise to heal our bodies.
If I didn't believe it was safe to pull back from intense exercise and practice more restorative yoga, then I would have a really hard time not only getting on my mat in the first place but also letting this new practice help me get where I want to go: toward health.
You see, simply put, our beliefs help influence our reality. The brain seeks out and searches for evidence to support what we think and believe to be true.
So not only does it need to be safe to practice restorative yoga (I can't think it's going to lead to weight gain and have decided that weight gain would be "bad"), but I also need to be open to this practice improving how I feel.
I want to begin expecting to feel better so that I slowly train my brain to see the ways in which my body does feel better.
Of course, you always want to speak with your doctor before trying any new exercise practice or making new lifestyle changes. However, generally speaking, restorative yoga is an accessible practice that helps the body restore and repair and ultimately heal.
If you're ready to try restorative yoga from the comfort of your own home, I would love, love, love to have you join me inside The Wellness Boulevard! It is truly my absolute favorite place to hang out online. If you want to learn more about what I mean when I say "the energy of health" or "hidden stressors" that can mess with our efforts to get well, take a look at this blog post here.
Long story short, I've never felt so nourished as when I start my mornings with 30 minutes of journaling (on those thoughts and beliefs and the energy of health!) followed up with 30-45 minutes of restorative yoga. I'd love to know: What helps YOU feel the most nourished?