Yoga For Autoimmune Disease
Like most people who start out on their autoimmune journey, when I first began mine, I was desperately searching for relief. Not only relief for the debilitating, recurring, unexplained and unpredictable symptoms, but from myself.
Like most people with autoimmune disease, before the flares made it more difficult to function, I was driven, determined, motivated and most importantly capable of excelling at anything I put my mind to. I wasn’t going to let anyone tell me what I could not do and I wasn’t going to let anything slow the path AND timeline that I set to reach my goals.
Little did I know that this determination would turn into my detriment when lack of sleep, chronic stress and the inability to slow down and calm both my body and my brain would be the catalyst that set fire to my chronic illness. What I have learned on this journey for myself and by working with others is that if you feel as though you don’t have time to slow down, then you are at the stage where if you don’t slow down, your body and mind will do it for you. Once you get to that point, you have done more damage to your health than you’re even aware of.
For this and for so many other reasons, yoga has become a saving grace when it comes to managing autoimmune flares and helping to prevent them in the first place. However, there are often times misconceptions about what yoga really is and how it truly benefits both the body and the mind.
As you continue to read, you will gain clarity on what yoga is, how it can benefit you on your autoimmune journey and how you can easily start incorporating the practice into your routine immediately.
What is Yoga?
Yoga is a disciplined Hindu exercise routine that focuses on breathing, posture, and mindfulness. The practice of yoga was initially founded in ancient India and is a part of Hindu religious practices. It has grown in popularity and is now practiced by a large population of people searching for health and mental peace.
The main goal of practicing yoga is to attain “moksha,” which means “liberation.” According to many yoga gurus, there are five main goals or elements of yoga. These five main elements are:
- Being disciplined toward attaining a goal
- Controlling your body movements
- Controlling your mind
- Connecting with your spiritual self
- Attaining the highest level of self-awareness
All five of these elements are beneficial to those living with an autoimmune disease because the autoimmune journey can feel like a never-ending fight.
This fight, subjects you to chronic pain, chronic inflammation, brain fog, depression, feelings of loneliness and abandonment all while going through exhausting states of remission and relapses throughout the journey.
It has been proven that yoga is an excellent method to transform the body and mind.
Yoga provides tons of additional benefits to the body, health and mind of those living with autoimmune disease. Here are just a few of them.
- Yoga Nourishes the Nervous System
Practicing yoga is proven to nourish the nervous system which can aid in reducing chronic pain. Yoga broadens the horizons of the mind, and it nourishes your mental well-being in the process. It is extremely important for anyone suffering from autoimmune disease to have a healthy state of mind and body.
- Yoga Optimizes Immunity
When you have an autoimmune disease, it is tough to optimize immunity. Studies show yoga helps to optimize immunity and strengthen the body. I have found that when I practice yoga regularly, my resilience is greatly improved.
- Yoga Balances Hormones
Practicing yoga also helps maintain healthy hormone balance. And not just sex hormones either! Yoga supports the whole endocrine system. In fact, each of the 7 chakras of yoga are associated with an endocrine system gland. I suggest practicing yoga for 10 minutes in the morning and/or evening to start, to help support healthy hormone balance.
- Yoga Changes Your Mindset
It is important to maintain a healthy mindset in order to cope with the challenges of autoimmune disease. Yoga is considered an effective medium to encourage a positive mindset. Yoga will also help you “befriend” your body. When our health fails, it’s common to feel like the body is betraying you. The word yoga means “to unite”. So, if you are feeling disconnected from your body, give yoga a try.
- Yoga Improves Flexibility
Yoga can help make you more flexible and agile, especially with regular practice yoga. This flexibility can help prevent injuries or strain and help relieve muscle and nerve pain.
- Yoga Helps Build Muscle Strength
With regular practice, yoga can also help build muscle strength and tone. This strengthening of our muscles can also help protect us against pain and other diseases.
- Yoga Regulates the Circulation of Your Blood Flow
Regular yoga practice can help improve the circulation of your blood flow, especially in your feet and hands. This prevents your body from swelling or becoming inflamed. A healthy and regulated flow of blood in your body encourages overall better health. It also helps provide oxygen to your lungs and regulate the transfer of oxygen to your tissues by boosting the level of red blood cells and hemoglobin in your body. All of this can help reduce your risk of stroke and other forms of heart diseases and illnesses.
- Yoga Lowers Stress Levels
The problem with stress goes far beyond mental and emotional effects; new studies have implicated stress not only as a factor in autoimmune flare-ups but as a potential trigger for the development of some autoimmune conditions. Yoga brings you mental peace by helping you manage your stress levels through deep breathing exercises and practiced mindfulness.
- Yoga Helps in Regulating Cortisol
If you don’t control your stress properly, it can turn into chronic stress. Chronic stress stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that controls the “fight-or-flight” response. When the sympathetic nervous system is activated, it puts us in a constant state of high alertThis effect is due to an increase in cortisol. Cortisol is the chemical controller of far more than you could perceive digestion and hunger, sleeping and waking, blood pressure and physical activity, as well as stress levels.
Excess cortisol can alter your thyroid, adrenals and trigger an autoimmune flare. Yoga can help lower your cortisol levels, helping to regulate the functioning of your thyroid and adrenal glands. A healthy thyroid and healthy adrenal glands can help you in losing weight and maintaining overall health, something that is harder to do when you have an autoimmune disease.
To restore balance to your body, you need to engage the other part of the autonomic nervous system, the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is our “Rest & Digest” nervous system. If you have been trying to restore your body to wellness with little results – this is likely the missing piece. Even if you think that yoga is not your thing, or you just don’t know how to get started, or if you’re at a place in your autoimmune journey where too much physical activity is not conducive to your healing, you can start incorporating a simple practice called YOGA REST, that can activate the body’s healing response.
WHAT IS YOGA REST?
Yoga Rest is called Savasana. Savasana is considered one of the most advanced poses in yoga. You won’t believe what you have to do! Ready for it? You need to lie down with your back against your yoga mat. Even though you are lying down, which doesn’t seem like work, this practice can be a challenge.
It takes courage, to go beyond ego, and touch the deeper spaces of the heart, mind, and spirit while lying in stillness. Trust the process – you don’t need to work or make something happen. You only need to show up and be willing.
If you fall asleep, that is okay. However, Savasana is most beneficial while conscious. There is profound healing to be found when you are awake but in complete rest. But no pressure, you can work up to it.
The Benefits of Yoga Rest
- Activates the parasympathetic nervous system
- Takes the pressure off from needing to “do” more or “be” more
- Breaks holding patterns of tension in the body
- Balances stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline
- Unwinds the body
- Stillness supports the energetic body
- Increases melatonin
- Deeply healing
- Increases body awareness
- Releasing – helps us let go!
- Releases tension in the body and shows us where we are holding tension
You can practice yoga rest any time of day that works for you. The key is to do it! Set yourself up with lots of pillows, blankets, or cushions to make yourself super comfortable. Stay in the posture for 10 minutes. Set your phone timer (be sure to use a gentle, low alarm that is not startling). If your mind starts to wonder, connect with your breath. You can play some soft music on your phone. You can rest in silence, or you can listen to a guided meditation. There is no right or wrong way – do what feels right to you. The only way to do it wrong – is not to do it.
Are you currently incorporating yoga into your life on a regular basis? Will you begin to after reading this article?
HEAL GOOD. FEEL GOOD. DO GOOD.