Uncategorized · yoga

Yoga for Pain and Anxiety – My Story

The idea to write this post was given to me by my fellow Twitter and blogging buddy, Ness who suggested it’d be a good idea to share my story of yoga and chronic illness.

Lets start at the beginning; roll back about eight or nine years. I was a member of a Virgin Active gym where the local Z-list celebrities were said to go, not that I can say I ever spotted one. Pre-illness days involved lots of running, body pump classes and the genius idea that yoga would be easy, and almost certainly relaxing. I turned up for a two hour session in a room above the pool, it was hot, humid and the mats smelt of sweat and germs. A beautiful zen-like teacher swept in and began her class by singing to us, ahhh perfect. About ten minutes later I was making a ‘basket’ with my hands and someone was pulling my legs into a headstand position. All I remember was somehow managing to drive home and making it as far as the dog’s bed in the hallway and joining him on it. I was in agony for days. For some strange reason I continued to go to those classes until I left the gym. Then I moved to Brighton, got splattered by a bicycle and life was never the same again.

In January of 2015 my wife found a deal on Groupon for a year’s membership to Yoga Download for £18. We’d been chatting about how unfit I felt and how I missed exercise and that I’d like to try yoga again. For £18 I had nothing to lose, so I signed up. The selection of classes on the website was amazing, and I went in hard. 45 minute classes every evening at advanced beginner, because obviously I knew what I was doing from my previous yoga experience, right?!

I now know I should have only practiced the very basic classes and moved into more restorative poses such as child’s pose for the asanas I couldn’t, or shouldn’t, have attempted. My body was sore and I was feeling more tired than ever, yet I had an immense feeling of wellbeing. Despite the classes I attempted being too hard for me the poses and focus on breath had actually done me some good.

At the time I was struggling with my anxiety. After a few years of being stable and knowing where I stood with it, it reared it’s ugly head and as threatening to make my life a complete misery once again. It wasn’t possible to just remove the stresses in my life as one very unhelpful GP suggested, but I inadvertently found that yoga really helped me. The focus on slow, deep breaths, as simply as it may sound, was just what I needed as a chronically worried, anxious, stressed out girl. Yoga Download also has meditations available so I decided to try out a yoga nidra practice.

I’ll be honest, having dabbled in meditation before I was dubious as I really didn’t seem to be able to get the hang of it, but I needed support with my anxiety so I decided to give it a go. As soon as the recording began the soothing voice of the very lovely yoga teacher Celest Pereira had me zoned out and dozing off well before the 25 minute session was up. I still use this recording on a regular basis as it is everything I need to calm me down. From the relaxing body scan, to the counting of breathing and focusing on certain sounds in the environment around me, it really is just perfect. I strongly recommend checking out her website and Youtube channel, while lots of the videos are for the more advanced yogi, she doesn’t forget about us beginners and her videos are just so positive and upbeat you come away feeling pretty damn great!

Anyway, back to yoga. In addition to Yoga Download I started attending classes at my local studio, a five minute walk away. One or two classes a week was such a lovely get away from reality. I explained to the teachers my health problems and they were always so supportive, gathering blankets, bolsters and cushions to support my practice. Ultimately, I couldn’t afford to keep paying for classes, and in the end my health got so bad last year I stopped practicing. Whilst I was gaining physical strength, muscles were reappearing and mentally I felt much better, my body was crying out for relief, a rest and just to relax in some gentle poses instead. Overdoing yoga didn’t cause the downward spiral of my health, but the way I was forcing my body to practice for an hour or two at a time really wasn’t helping.

Fast forward to 2016, I have practiced yoga 5 times per week for the last two weeks. Doesn’t sound like much does it? Well for me it’s one heck of an achievement. I’m going through a pretty tough flare up at the moment but have discovered a more suitable website with lots of very short beginner classes, some less than ten minutes long. Movement For Modern Life seems to be well suited to my abilities. The longest class I have completed is fifteen minutes and the shortest is four. Bedtime yoga has sent me into a deep slumber for the first time in months, meditation classes have calmed me down on painful days and the overall sense of wellbeing it’s given me is such a wonderful feeling to have.

A five minute class is an achievement, I learnt to recognise that the hard way. Five minutes of yoga can leave you feeling chilled out and wonderful if you let it. Don’t push your body, when it’s ready to move forward it’ll let you know, but in the meantime keep it simple, your body will thank you for it in the long run.

Karen xx

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Living the Best Life with Fibromyalgia – A Book Review

Last summer I was contacted by Alisha Nurse. She’d written a short handbook based upon here experiences of living with fibromyalgia and asked if I’d have a read to see what I thought. Well, the months ran away with me in a blur of flare ups, hospital appointments and a few stressful events, and I never got round to reading the book. I never forgot about it though, infact I thought about it quite often. I made it one of my New Years resolutions to read the book, and last night I finished it.

The book isn’t too long, 78 pages on my Kindle Fire, and it’s clear from the beginning it’s written by a fellow sufferer. I instantly found I could relate to the author and this made me want to keep on reading and not put my Kindle down until I was finished. Many books I read on health subjects tend to be patronising, use positive thinking and distraction to make it go away kind of books, but not this one.

Alisha is honest about the ups and downs of life with both fibromyalgia and clinical depression. She begins by telling us about her childhood, family remedies and about her battle in both getting diagnosed and getting the help she really needs. The fact this books touches on her ongoing fight with depression is a good move in my view, lots of people with fibromyalgia have depression or know someone who has it, so it makes it even more informative to read, leaving you feeling closer to Alisha and like you really know her.

My favourite part was the recipe section for her healthy, clean diet, and the fact that it includes so many recipes based on her family history in Trinidad. Ginger tea, garlic tea, fish, burgers, soup, there’s something there for everyone, even fussy old me.

She also details the supplements she takes, some of which I take too, so it’s great to know we have quite a lot in common and I’m heading for the right track. She talks about pacing, getting back to work and meaningful living, all of which is not necessarily new to us, but combined in a great little handbook together like this, is just the thing I personally have needed to re-evaluate where I am with my health and what I can do to improve things without waiting for the help of the NHS on my months long waiting lists.

Ultimately the book details how Alisha has learned to live her life as full as possible, whilst managing the symptoms of her illnesses as best she can. And I think she’s cracked it. It sounds like after much trial, error and a little help from her friends, she back on track, and she knows exactly what she needs to do to keep it that way.

I personally have found the book empowering and, as I said above, it’s made me step back and take a look at how I am dealing with my health, what I can do to improve it and how I can keep it that way.

If you suffer from fibromyalgia I would strongly recommend this book to you. It took me just a couple of short evenings to read, was fibro fog friendly, and is something you can constantly refer back to if needed, if not just for the yummy recipes.

You can find Alisha’s website here and it’s also worth giving her a follow on Twitter if you’re a Twitter gal, or guy, and of course there’s Facebook.

I really hope you all find the book as interesting and useful as I have.

Happy reading!

Karen xx

 

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Spotlight Stationery Box

I never win anything, so when I came across a competition on Twitter to win a monthly stationery box I thought nothing more of it. When I received a message on Twitter to say I was a winner, oh my did I feel lucky. As a lifelong stationery addict, I was about to receive a box full of pen and notebook surprises. And I was not to be disappointed.

Spotlight Stationery run a monthly or bi-monthly subscription box for £25 per box. Whilst this is a little out of my price range at the moment, it’s a great price as a treat for yourself or even a present for a fellow stationery lover (FYI my birthday is in the summer!!). The box is full of high quality goodies, far better than I expected having subscribed to lower priced alternatives in the past.

After reluctantly tearing open the beautiful wrapping and string, I found that the box contains two extremely high quality notepads (A5 and A6 in size), both lined and plain papered. They both come with a little bookmark which I think is a really lovely little touch. It also contains two pencils which my colleagues and I thought were paint brushes on first glance due to their unique design. These are perfect for me as I’ve recently discovered writing in pencil is much less painful for me than when I write in pen, so I’ll be keeping one of these on each on my desks at home and work. There are also some fun little paperclips and a lovely blue pen enclosed this month which writes in a smooth medium blue ink, perfect for birthday cards and letter writing.

What I also love about Spotlight Stationery is that they send a small amount of their profits to a charity called National Star which supports young people with disabilities. Do have a look at their website as their work is both interesting and inspiring.

Spotlight also support young upcoming artists by enclosing their artwork in the boxes, this month in the form of some cute little postcards.

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I absolutely love this box, and I’ll definitely be saving up so I can treat myself to another very soon. I’d definitely recommend it if you need to spruce up your desk area, and revamp your notepad collection. This made for a great start to my week, thanks Spotlight for bringing a smile to my face on this grey chilly Monday.

Karen xx

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Artists Make The Most Interesting Friends

Meet my friend Stuart. We met when we worked for the same company three years ago at a rather boring work’s event and bonded over a love of all things peculiar; he likes lampposts, I like trains. We decided that night we were separated at birth. Despite the fact I can’t even draw stick men, Stuart and I have over the years created ‘Sinister Dinners’, a creation of evil raging meals that are out to kill, ‘Amish Pete’ which was a drawing of our friend that I sent terribly wrong. Then there was the mushroom picture. The less said about that the better! Anyway, meet Stuart:

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Prime Minister Stu.

Stuart, or Professor Mystery as he is also known, is a quite brilliant artist. His own unique style and input of lampposts in most of his work makes for some flippin’ amazing artwork.

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Prof. M at work.
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Showing his work at a recent art exhibition.

When he’s not watching Doctor Who, Stuart can be found in his studio, or sat in a coffee shop, sketchbook in hand. In fact, it’s the one thing he never leaves the house without. He draws in ink ( I heard a rumour his pens cost £18 each!) and is happiest when his hands are black with ink from a long day’s drawing.

As some of your are probably aware, I’m looking to start my own stationery business. As a fellow stationery addict, Stuart has offered to design some artwork for my logos and website. Our first proper ‘meeting’ (tea drinking, discussing trains and clipboards) was last week and five minutes after getting his sketchbook out things were already taking shape.

Check out Stuart’s Facebook page to see lots more of his work here, have a read of his intriguing blog and follow him on Twitter.

Karen xx

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A Blustery Afternoon on Brighton Pier

A rare afternoon out lead to a wet and windy trip to Brighton Pier.

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After filling my face in Harvester (who can resist the endless salad and filled potato skins?!) we headed to the pier for some sea air and arcade fun.

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Seagulls fighting the gusts

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Living a twenty minute walk away from the sea front would lead you to think I’d be there all the time, and if I had my own way I would be. But chronic illness doesn’t allow for that so I make the most of it when I can.

Blustery weather is one of my favourite times to visit the pier. I love the sound of the pebbles rolling in the waves, the sight of waves crashing against the sea and rocks, and dodging the crashing water splashing everything it comes within fifty feet of.

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The West Pier left in ruins in the distance
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The sound of the pebbles crashing in the waves makes me feel so content with life.
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Brighton Marina is almost invisible in the mist of the sea and rain

After an hour on the pier and emptying a two penny machine of Love Hearts for the grand total of £2, I was ready for the dark bus journey home.

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The tourists stay out longer than me

Of course, this afternoon out means it’s compulsory rest with my kitty the following day, but the pain and exhaustion was totally worth it. I had the best afternoon in what feels like forever. I can’t wait for next time!

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Listening to happy music with Trinny

Karen xx

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Achievements in 2015

2015 was a tough year in a number of ways. My health deteriorated from the get go and this prevented me from doing many of the things I had planned. I didn’t get my business started, had to defer my degree, had to give up my voluntary work with FibroAction, I didn’t make it to all of the events, shows and exhibitions I had planned and I didn’t manage to keep up all of the healthy lifestyle changes I made at the beginning of the year.

But enough with the negative! Here’s what was acheived:

  1. I went to the Fibromyalgia Conference, learnt lots and made some wonderful friends.
  2. I learnt gentle basic yoga which I hope to ease back into soon.
  3. I went to The Stationery Show, my first professional event in years, and I did it with confidence!
  4. I managed to hold down my 30 hour per week job despite my health trying to tell me I couldn’t.
  5. I created a (admittedly)  basic website for my business idea. Yep, this technophobe right here!
  6. I had the courage to step down from my voluntary role before it got the better of me and my fatigue.
  7. I finally put enough pressure on my (many) GPs and got referred to pain and fatigue clinics.
  8. I learnt to control my breathing when I’m having an anxiety attack or a particularly bad pain flare.

All of these begin with ‘I’ because I want to remember that it was me who managed to do all of this, and that’s always a positive, right?!

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The list may look a little feeble, but it was a difficult twelve months, and every tiny little thing meant something to me.

What achievements have you had in the past year? Share them with me, and others, in the comments below or over on Twitter.

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I hope last year was successful for you and one to remember, and I hope that this year is brimming with achievements, happiness, good health and positivity.

Karen xx

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Goals for 2016

Social media and the internet are full of resolutions at this time of year, so I thought why not join in.

I’m working on lots of projects at the moment, personal ones and ones for my professional future, both of which interlink with one another.

So here they are, my goals for the coming 12 months and a day (it’s a leap year) of 2016:

  1. Learn to manage my pain and fatigue. It’s not going anywhere, but I know I can do more to learn to live with it.
  2. Read more books. I LOVE reading and can’t remember a time when I didn’t, but last year I only read four books. Shocking!
  3. Attend as many events as my health will allow, I’m already booked onto a networking event, into The Stationery Show and Summer In The City.
  4. Work on setting up my business. This is the big one but I know I can do it.
  5. Reduce and manage my anxiety and worrying using meditation, breathing and gentle basic yoga.
  6. Explore YouTube more. I’m serious latecomer and former YouTube hater, but I’m loving it so much already!

So I know that doesn’t look like much (I’ve just seen Hannah Witton on YouTube set ten resolutions, one of which is to read 50 books) but to me that’s enough. Each one of those is life changing for me in it’s own way. I could make a list five times as long but my body needs rest too, so that’s a priority, hence it being my first goal on the list.

Have you decided on any resolutions or goals this year that are really important to you? Let me know in the comments or over on Twitter.

Karen xx

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Driving Home for Christmas – Travelling with Fibro and Anxiety

Well, travelling by train. I travel the longest part of my journey on Virgin Trains. Sounds relaxing doesn’t it? And it used to be for me. But travelling when you have chronic illnesses isn’t quite so simple.

There’s three things that travel with me wherever, my fibromyalgia, my chronic fatigue and my old enemy, anxiety. They’re at their most evil when taking the four to five hour journey home to visit my parents in Birmingham.

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There’s also lots of walking and buses involved at either end.

The pain of dragging suitcases and heavy bags around, the exhaustion that hits when trying to lift bags onto trains. It can’t be put into words. The anxiety is most likely to hit in the high speed tilting trains so I book well in advance for a cheap first class ticket. This gives me time to relax in a first class lounge first, and a relatively empty carriage with space and room to relax and breathe, as opposed to being wedged onto standing room only carriages further down. First class also means less walking along the platform and staff on board to take care of you if needsbe. Anxiety undoubtedly will rear it’s ugly head at some point in the journey but it’s always for much less time this way.

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It can take days, or even a week to recover from such a journey, by which point it’ll be time to return home.

And so it begins again.

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Listening to music helps keep anxiety at bay

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Let me know how you cope with travelling. Its be great to share help and ideas with fellow chronic illness spoonies here.

Karen xx