Rhonda once visited with me in the clinic a couple of times every month with lumbar pain. She was active physically, and stressed, so she needed some maintenance work. She took a six-month hiatus from care before I saw her the next time. She was a different person. She was relaxed, de-stressed, flexible, happy, and about 40 pounds lighter. What had Rhonda done to create such a metamorphosis? She had found a yoga/Pilates class, and she continued her stretching at home. She looks 20 years younger than her stated age.
I have become a big fan of yoga as a treatment modality. I have seen people who are physically, emotionally, and spiritually stressed respond positively to guided stretching, relaxation, and recreational escape from a competitive existence that, upon analysis, helps you understand the expression "dog-eat-dog."
Michelle Lane, LMT, RYT tells me that the people in her class gain strength, flexibility, peace of mind, and even sleep better. It is amazing that with simple stretching and breathing, we can have such tremendous impact on blood pressure, circulatory problems, stress, and mood with this nondrug option. This is a great way to help people with chronic pain syndromes, such as fibromyalgia, some types of arthritis, chronic headaches, and injuries to the spine and extremities.
In the clinic, I am using an infrared sauna to address chronic pain from many of these same sources. Infrared light penetrates deeply into tissues, warming, increasing circulation, and reducing pain. When Michelle teaches her yoga classes, she is teaching "hot yoga," in which the room is heated from 90° to 105° using infrared heaters. This is helpful on many fronts, as warm bodies are more flexible, and have better circulation and higher metabolism. I use the same principle in the clinic when I use the sauna as a pretreatment for adjustment.
There are contraindications to this approach, including diabetes, some cardiovascular or respiratory diseases, or an inability to tolerate heat. If you go to a hot yoga class, remember to dress lightly because you will be sweating, and drink a lot of water before you go.
I have referred people to yoga classes for many reasons. Sometimes I have sources of chronic pain that I cannot fix, such as scoliosis, congenital anomalies, or advanced arthritis. There are cases in which pain control is tied to maximizing motion to keep muscles strong and toned, joints flexible, and balance optimal. Obviously, a nondrug option is superior to anything in the pharmacy.
There are people that I would recommend for yoga classes just for stress control. When you are doing yoga, you are on the mat, making and taking time for yourself. You can relax in the warmth and low light, putting the stress of the day behind you and concentrating on your own health. I am reminded of the words of King David: "Be still, and know that I am God." Most of us will be fine with the second part of that command, but we will not be able to accomplish the first part without help.
Last week I saw Sherry, who was maximally stressed with issues at work and at home. She was the hub around which everyone in both her home and workplace revolved. She was also a caretaker for grandchildren so that a daughter could work. No one would ask an employee to work as hard as she did (except for the Marines), and she was doing far more than anyone should ask of themselves. I told her that I believe she could be facing some rough times. Many people who take on this much stress with no outlet or time for themselves find their end point in depression or anxiety conditions. I implored Sherry to take some time for herself, to develop her hobbies and interests, and to try a yoga class. I hope that Sherry will reflect on her situation and make some positive choices. Unfortunately, she is admirably noble when it comes to her family, and she is likely to view taking time to care for herself as being selfish.
Rhonda and Sherry have much in common with the demands placed on them by others as well as the demands they place on themselves. There are stark differences, however, in how they handle stress. For all of our wonderful technology, pharmacology, and modern wonders, sometimes our health boils down to the choices we make.