5 Reasons I Love Yoga as a Chronic Illness Warrior

If you didn’t know, I have a chronic illness. I have had it since I was 13 and it has completely changed my life and my physical ability.

My chronic illness is a nervous system dysfunction, called POT Syndrome. Basically, my autonomic nervous system (what controls blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, muscular organs, ect), gets to decide when it wants to work and when it doesn’t. It’s not fun and results in a lot of crazy symptoms like nausea, headaches, dizziness, terrible fatigue, and lots of passing out.

In fact, when my heart rate raises even a little, my blood pressure will drop and I get to the floor as quick as I can (no matter where I am) to avoid passing out and causing damage by falling. As you can imagine, that makes exercise nearly impossible.

Any exercise has to be calm and not mess my heart rate up. That’s literally the opposite of the typical workout! But, it was recommended to me that I try yoga, and even with my chronic illness, I LOVE it!

Here’s why:

1. A lot of people find it very difficult to do yoga actually, and here’s why. They either 1. try to force themselves into the poses (ouch!), or, 2. they don’t have the breathing down.

You really have to focus on having a deep, slow, even breath while practicing yoga, or you will feel like you are dying. Holding your breath, panting, or uneven “bursts” will make it 10 times harder than it actually needs to be.

But, when you do get the breathing down, it’s awesome and so very relaxing! Deep breathing actually stimulates your vagus nerve, which relaxes your body and your heart rate. It’s actually calming to my nervous system, and this is why I don’t feel like death while doing yoga. My heart rate is being stabilized by the deep breathing, therefore my body can handle it.

2. The second reason I love yoga even with my chronic illness is because it builds up your muscles with your own body! You don’t need weights or machines or whatever, all you need is your own body and a yoga mat.

I actually am a weakling (shocker? not really). My muscles basically went down to zero while I was on bed rest and in a wheelchair. POT Syndrome is seriously no fun.

But now that I am out of my wheelchair and able to handle my heart rate most of the time, I am starting to focus on gaining strength. I love that, in yoga, my body is building it’s own muscle from itself! It’s very empowering, and it targets so much more at one time than weights can.

3. So even though I love yoga, I still have to heavily modify at the moment for my health. While I am flexible, I am not super strong, and I have to be really careful with any flows. It tends to be a lot of movement at once, and a lot of times that will throw my blood pressure way out of wack and I will end up on the floor again.

But, I just modify. Even when I do modify, I don’t feel like I am “doing nothing.” Take downward facing dog for instance. This pose is very hard for me to be in for longer then a few seconds because my blood pressure hates it. Instead, I will just go for a child’s pose, which is basically the downward facing dog that is completely on the floor. It still stretches out my upper back and arms, and it’s a great resting pose!

So, even when you modify with yoga, you are still getting movement in, and there is a modification like that for basically everything. It’s in no way an “all or nothing” type of thing.

4. My favorite types of yoga are Hatha, Yin, and Restorative Yoga. These are all slow, mindful practices that my body can mostly handle. But, if that’s not your thing, there is all types of yoga!

There is Vinyasa if you like a good flow, Hot Yoga if you want a good sweat, sequenced yoga for detail oriented people. There is literally a type of yoga for everyone!

Also, let’s clear up a myth here. You do not have to be flexible to do yoga. That’s literally the point of it. To get flexible. That’s like saying you can’t take a college class on algebra because you don’t know how to do it. That’s the point of the class. To teach you!

5. Yoga really helps to center and ground me. I feel more connected throughout the day, more calm and relaxed, and more mindful. It’s like checking in with your body to see how it’s doing and give it what it needs.

So if you haven’t given yoga a try yet, or you have been skeptical about it, these are just the reasons why I personally love it for me and my body. Maybe your body needs something different, but I love what it does for me!

If you do practice yoga, tell me what type of yoga is your favorite!