Keeping it simple, we all have a sympathetic nervous system which activates by way of a fight or flight response. This is what helps to protect us when in danger. When activated, it increases pupillary response (better to see you with), heightens reactivity to stimuli (better to hear you with), slows gut transit (no time for that when you’re on the run), among other things. Then there’s the parasympathetic nervous system whose job is to play peacekeeper, calming the system and bring everything back to normal. These two parts of the nervous system work in harmony to help the body maintain balance and homeostasis. Have you ever heard that a little stress is good? Yeah... for me, not so much. My Autonomic Nervous System gets super confused. The smallest, non-threatening stressors like heat, standing, eating too much, driving fast, multiple noises occurring at once (like 2 conversations or the TV on with the dryer running at the same time) etc. can trigger my fight or flight response and since my parasympathetic nervous system sucks and doesn’t do its job well, it leads to an uncomfortable experience (ie. blurry vision, dizziness, light headedness, anxiety, feeling like I’m going to pass out, etc).
So yeah, it’s kind of hard to teach and practice yoga when you get winded easily and feel like passing out all the time. It’s also hard to find time to practice when out of commission for a week for infusions every 4 weeks, then there’s keeping up with work, the 3+ hours a day commuting to/from work, making sure I get to multiple doctors appts, and importantly there is getting enough rest/sleep during what little down time there is left. Oh, and there’s trying to be a good partner and girlfriend through all of this. Overwhelmed, and with not enough hours in a day, I’ve been pretty intolerable lately. There simply isn’t enough time for anything, including yoga. However, lately I’ve considered reframing this... there’s not enough time to feel poorly and all the more reason to reprioritize and take care of me.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about self care and the priorities I place on the time spent living my life. I’ve been wanting to get back into the practice and to get my body back to the level of strength I had a few years ago as I know it would help me to feel better in the long run. There’s so much data to support the physiologic benefits of meditation, breath work and exercise. So today, even though I was exhausted and wanted to come straight home after work, I made the decision to go to a studio and get back on my mat! Yay!!!
I was in pain from the very start... it’s hard to believe how difficult some of the most basic asanas feel after being out of practice for so long. I also have zero muscle mass left. In time, right!? I also couldn’t breathe... something I thought I totally had covered. Nope. I had to keep reminding myself to breathe!? And as much as I don’t like heated yoga, for a number of reasons (one being because you don’t have as much biofeedback and are at more risk for injuring yourself if you don’t have a skilled instructor... but also because heat is a huge trigger for me), I’ve recently been listening to Dr. Rhonda Patrick and have become quite interested in the concept and research behind “hyperthermic conditioning” or deliberately acclimating to heat, independent of working out. “Heat acclimation, through sauna use, (and likely any other non-aerobic activity that increases core body temperature) can promote physiological adaptations that result in increased endurance, easier acquisition of muscle mass, and a general increased capacity for stress tolerance... the positive effects of heat acclimation on the brain, include the growth of new brain cells, improvement in focus, learning and memory, and ameliorating depression and anxiety. In addition, modulation of core temperature might even be largely responsible for “runner’s high” via an interaction between the dynorphin/beta-endorphin opioid systems.” Cool, right!? So while there is some conflicting data over whether heated yoga actually increases core body temperature, perhaps acclimating to heat through yoga might lessen my Autonomic symptoms as well as my facial pain? Worth a shot, right!?
Anyway, while I thought I was going to faint and my heart rate was easily around 130 beats per minute the entire hour, I went at my own pace and made it through the entire class. I am thrilled to be back on the mat and am feeling optimistic. Whatever is holding you back, there is a way to overcome. Remember that everyone is dealing with something, so be kind to others and importantly, be kind to yourself. We’re all doing our best. Make time for those things that really matter, including loving yourself. Oh, and remember to breathe. Namaste 🙏🏻