We are dedicated to making yoga accessible to everyone. To address the needs for those who experience arthritis and other kinds of chronic pain, we are hosting a second session of Yoga for Arthritis and Chronic Pain with Nitika Achalam, one of PYR’s Board Members and one of our newest Ambassadors.
Nitika has experienced chronic pain throughout her life. Despite her pain, she has been able sustain a healthy lifestyle and experienced healing through yoga. Not only has Nitika found yoga to be a powerful way to enhance her quality of life, but she is able to share these tools with others. Nitika has her RYT-500 hr, been teaching yoga for over 16 years and has a background in Yoga for Arthritis. Hear what she has to say about yoga and chronic pain and the ways it can enhance your quality of life. We hope you leave with some tools that are useful to you!
How and when did you first begin practicing yoga?
From a young age I was learning principles that would support me in developing a yoga practice as an adult. I remember rolling around on the floor and making animal shapes with my body in the first grade. It all seemed like play and exploration at the time, but I later realized that I was mirroring what my mom had learned in her yoga classes and own personal study.
How has yoga impacted your life?
Yoga extends beyond the mat and impacts my life by providing core tenets to support daily living. The study of the science is the basis by which I choose to live. In times of stress or pain the most fundamental thing I ask is if my thoughts will help me to: Do Good and Be Good? Will my actions assist me to Serve All and Love All?
What is chronic pain?
Chronic Pain is a physical limitation, which causes damage and disrupts a person’s quality of life. In my personal experience and that of people I’ve worked with, chronic pain makes it challenging to carry out simple daily tasks, earn a living, and even maintain healthy physical movement.
How has chronic pain impacted your life?
Both of my parents suffer from Arthritis, as do many family members. I’ve watched them navigate life with these aches and pains as they struggle to keep going. I’ve been involved in car accidents and sports injuries, which have resulted in severe lower back pain and limited range of motion in some joints. In addition, I’ve suffered from Endometriosis all of my life. Until recently, I’ve kept from telling many people about what I experience for a number of reasons. Sometimes I’ve refrained from sharing because I have not wanted to appear weak, out of wanting to feel like “normal” people my age, and wondering how effective of a health care professional can I be if I can’t manage my own health. People don’t understand unless they deal with something similar, others tend to downplay my reality by saying “it could always be worse”.
Chronic Pain has kept me from social engagements and away from work for extended periods of time. In the past, I’d kept the truth about my chronic pain a secret from employers. Holding those secrets led to a loss of work, which in turn led to isolation and depression. Being honest with myself and then with others about how I feel is far more beneficial. It’s ok for me to feel poorly, it’s ok to listen to my body and back off, it’s ok to say no to social engagements or accepting more work than I can reasonably handle, it’s okay to be honest that I am not perfect.
What methods have you tried for coping with chronic pain?
Like so many others, I’ve tried prescription medications to help relieve severe symptoms of pain. While the meds can help, I’ve found that they are not always the complete answer. Yoga for Arthritis (YFA) has been a big help to me and many of my clients by imparting physical and psychological benefits. Through the research of Dr. Steffany Moonaz, creator of YFA, we know that yoga is a safe and effective way for patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis to discover freedom of movement and empowerment. These principles extend to those suffering from other types of chronic pain as well.
The food and drink I choose to put in my body plays a big role in overall health so I stay away from things that trigger. The conditions I experience personally are not curable but they are manageable. I’ve found that even when we are doing “all the right things” our bodies have flair ups and at times feel out of control. Yoga has helped tremendously with managing expectations around having a perfect life at all times. I am now able to find a source of strength in the adversity and use it to assist others in experiencing life beyond pain.
What changes did you notice when you first started practicing Yoga for Arthritis?
When I met Dr. Steffany Moonaz, the creator of Yoga for Arthritis, my understanding of empathy in supporting those living with chronic disease was redefined. People of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds suffer in very similar ways. The yoga community creates a space, free from shame and judgment, to unify all people as we share our experiences and learn how to adapt to the ever-changing demands of our lives.
Did you ever find it challenging to be in yoga classes while dealing with chronic pain?
Yes it can be a challenge to attend “regular” yoga classes at times. Most teachers ask if anyone is working through an injury, but I’ve had many clients feel nervous about disclosing their ailments or health status in a room full of “able-bodied” yogis. Some clients express embarrassment about the lack of support around modifications or adaptations so that they too can participate fully in a yoga class. Transitioning from pose to pose swiftly and feeling the need to keep up a certain pace can be a source of discomfort. The purpose of this 8-week series is to address these concerns and more. We explore topics on how to build a home practice appropriate for all ranges of motion and levels of pain as well as how to safely attend general focus group classes.
Has yoga helped ease your chronic pain?
Yoga has had life changing impact on minds and bodies for thousands of years. The 8-week series I will be teaching addresses chronic pain physically and mentally. The physical stretches of the program are a great relief for tension and assist in building strength, stamina, and flexibility. The breathing and guided meditation practices are effective in stress relief and for the psychological trials of living with pain. I’ve learned that it may not be possible to feel 100% relief from pain at all times but I can use the tools in my yoga kit to shift my perception and attitude in dealing with it.
What is one thing you recommend to someone experiencing chronic pain?
Often times it may seem impossible to even get out of the bed when dealing with Arthritis and Chronic Pain flare ups, much less think about manipulating those parts of the body in any way. The breath is a tool that we all can use no matter the level of pain.
Begin by exhaling slowly and deeply, followed by a long, slow inhalation.
Use the exhale to soften the tension around the joints.
Use the inhale to replace that feeling with a sense of ease.
Breathing in a deliberate way has the power to transform our feelings around a sensation and offers relief by reducing stress. Almost as importantly as breath is seeking out things that make you smile. I like comedy, plants, and creating things from found objects. Even pasting on an artificial smile can be a springboard to real happiness.
What is one of your favorite yoga postures for chronic pain?
It’s tough to make a general statement about what works for all people with chronic pain since that looks different for everyone. A pose that feels good for one person’s neck may hurt another’s back or knees.
My favorite pose is one that does not cause any strain or pain. YFA advocates the use of props to support the physical body to execute poses with ease. Yoga for Arthritis supports practitioners in finding as much comfort as possible in a pose and shifting the focus away from the symptoms to an easeful peaceful experience. My personal favorite relaxation pose is laying on my back with a cushion under my hips while resting my legs up the wall. Then drawing a blanket across my torso and arms. After 10 minutes of deep breathing in this position my back feels a lot less pressure.