After an autoimmune disease diagnosis, we often receive a lot of recommendations for lifestyle and stress management tools that can complement the care we receive inside a doctor's office.
We're often suggested to do things like:
... Just to name a few.
While these are generally great suggestions, those handing out these recommendations might not also explain what to do if and when these tools don't actually work for us.
You see, someone suffering from Split Health Stress may find it really hard to adopt a whole food diet like Paleo or the Autoimmune Protocol. And someone experiencing exercise intolerance probably won't feel better after something like power yoga.
Because here's the thing we don't necessarily realize when we pick up a smoothie from the market or walk into a local studio ready to hit the mat: (1) The goal of these "natural treatments" is to reduce stress and (2) stress is cumulative.
Meaning, it's massively important that whatever tool you're using (such as diet or exercise) doesn't inadvertently add more stress to your plate.
Ok, so maybe this isn't entirely surprising. Maybe you're ready to hide in a pillow fort (and throw a few of those pillows at me while you're at it) because everyone is bringing up this 6-letter "S" word.
I promise that I won't give you anything else to do or recommend any other ways to reduce the stress in your life. (At least in this post, ha!) But I will encourage you to make sure that whatever you're already doing is actually working. Meaning, make sure that any dietary changes or yoga practices aren't accidentally stressing you out more.
It's not enough to hop on Google, search "yoga" and start practicing whatever style pops into your browser first. Just like it's not enough to read one dietary success story and decide that's the only and best way for you to reach your goals.
We need to make sure that whatever tool we choose to help us feel better is actually doing what it's intended to do. In the case of autoimmune disease management, we likely want to optimize the body's chance for healing by eliciting the body's natural healing response. In other words, we want to turn on the parasympathetic nervous system because that's where the magic happens!
To figure out which style of yoga will help do that, we first need to consider the amount of stress already in our lives as a whole. We need to look at the amount of stress placed on the body from illness (or recovery) plus the amount of stress on the body from daily life plus the amount of stress placed on the body from big life transitions or difficult seasons plus the amount of stress placed on the body from things like lifestyle, diet, responsibilities and work.
And when you add it all up that can be a lot of stress, right?
Well, here's the kicker.
Exercise is a stress, too. Physical activity in the right dose is designed to help us better navigate and cope with both the requirements of daily life and stressful situations. However, the amount and intensity of the activity, the recovery between activities, the current condition of our bodies, and the amount of exertion already present in our lives will ultimately help determine whether a particular practice will help us feel better or worse.
(Here's an article that dives deeper into exercise and autoimmune disease, if you're curious.)
The most important thing to remember is that we're all unique and your body really does know best. Under the supervision of your doctor, try out the different styles that interest you and choose whichever feels best. (Because doing something you don't like or doing something you feel you "have" to do can come with its own stressed state, too.)
Here are some questions to ask yourself as you explore:
If there's a lot of "exertion" already present in your life, you probably don't want to take a class described as "rigorous", "physically demanding" or "intense". You probably do want to take classes described as "gentle", "relaxing" or "supportive".
If there are styles that turn you off or feel like something you have to force yourself to do, look instead to the styles that are easier to get behind, seem more fun, or that feel accessible for where you are right now.
If you're trying to physically heal your body and feel better, look towards the classes that mentally stretch your limits, perhaps by asking you to spend more time turning inward or sitting still, and less time asking your body to "perform".
As you ask yourself these questions and research the different styles of yoga, you might be led to one style or another. Trust yourself!
When I started practicing yoga regularly last year, I had just moved from Texas to MD, moved into a new home, started some new projects at work, and wanted to get off medication... all within the same year. So, when I took my exertion inventory, I felt like a lot of areas of my life required that "go, push, do" energy.
Meaning, moving boxes, unpacking boxes, and checking off all the to-dos that go along with moving states was a temporary stressor that needed to be accomplished and complete. If I also wanted to attempt a reduction in medication, I knew I would need to reduce stress in a different area. As I had been practicing Crossfit before the move, and experiencing a LOT of symptoms of overtraining, I decided to tweak my workout routine. Specifically, I took a break from intense training and incorporated more restorative movement like walks with my dog and, as you can probably guess, restorative yoga.
(Read more about restorative yoga and why I love it so much!)
In fact, restorative yoga has been one of the two most important tweaks I've made over the last year and my 30 minute daily practice has quickly turned into one of the best parts of my day. I'd love to know: What style of yoga has helped YOU manage your autoimmune disease?