According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, there are more than 80 autoimmune diseases and more than 23.5 million Americans are affected by them. Unfortunately for me, I am one who stands among that crowd. I not only have one autoimmune disease, but two – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Crohn’s Disease. Nowadays most people have heard of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, a condition that affects the thyroid and causes hypothyroidism. The lesser known and more agonizing of the two is Crohn’s Disease.
If you don’t know, an autoimmune disease is when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells of the body. With Crohn’s Disease, the gastrointestinal tract, anywhere from mouth to anus, is attacked and affected. It belongs to a group of conditions known as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), not to be confused with IBS, irritable bowel syndrome. In my opinion to list the most common symptoms of IBD feels like it minimizes the pain and anguish that accompanies them, but they are:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Bloody and/or mucousy stool
- Rectal bleeding
- Persistent diarrhea
- Urgent and frequent bowel movements (for me up it was up to a dozen times a day!)
As with many autoimmune diseases, no one really knows what causes Crohn’s Disease. Recent research suggests that there’s a hereditary component, that genetics are involved, and/or environmental factors contribute to the development of it. And while diet and stress may aggravate the disease, the consensus is they do not cause it.
For me, it was a perfect storm. I was diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2012. It had been one of the most challenging and stressful years of my life. I had completed my 200 hour yoga teacher training and started teaching one class a week. It was all new and a little overwhelming to me. That same year I was dealing with a heart wrenching familial situation. Lastly, I had slipped and fallen on our hardwood floors, subluxating my tailbone. Unbeknownst to me, the ibuprofen I was taking for pain added to my demise. All of this together was more than my body could bear. It broke down in a way that forced me to give it the attention it needed. The body will do that. I’ve learned this the hard way. The body will whisper to you. But if you don’t listen, speak or understand its language, or heed its requests, it may begin to shout at you or worse, shut down.
In reflecting over the past five years, I realized how much Yoga Tune Up® has helped me deal with this chronic and sometimes debilitating disease. It was by chance that I met Jill Miller and experienced Yoga Tune Up® for the very first time at a Yoga Journal conference. I was amazed by the hamstring release I received after massaging the sole of my feet on an original therapy ball. After that I was hooked. I wanted to learn more, but because of my Crohn’s, it would be a year and half before I could.
That’s when I attended the Therapy Ball Practitioner Teacher training, now known as The Roll Model® Method. Although all of the anatomical and movement terms seemed like greek to me, this was where I was given a more in-depth introduction to my body’s anatomy than my yoga teacher training provided. This was the beginning of learning to speak my body’s language. Here is where I started to sketch out my own EmbodyMap: to define the inner landscape of my body through keen self-perception. I poked, palpated, and defined the bones and muscles of my body in a way I never had before. I mapped and navigated my muscles with the help of the original and plus size balls. They became the microscope I needed to “see inside” for the very first time. I dove deep into my tissues, swimming into unknown territory. I was encouraged to really listen and tune in to my body, be mindful, and differentiate “good” pain from “bad.”
That weekend I was taught the importance of self-care. I was given time to really experience the down-regulation effect it offers. I was also taught what it meant and why it is good for me to tap into my parasympathetic system – the rest, digest, restore, recuperate and more system in my body. Yes! This is where healing takes place! I was invited and given the opportunity to get to know my body in a new and unique way. Without realizing it then, I was given a self-care toolbox to help me navigate the effects of having autoimmunity. To this day, one of my favorite de-stressing techniques is one that I learned then – rolling out the neck with the OGs on a block. True bliss!
Come back next week to read how attending other Yoga Tune Up® trainings and immersions has broadened my self-care toolkit and deepened the lines of my EmbodyMap, which help me to cope with the pain, fatigue, self-doubt, and more that comes with having a chronic disease.