The Hardest Yoga

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Oh, hey. Just casually slipping into blog world after a five-month hiatus. I found there were times I wanted to write and share what was going on with me the past few months, but I couldn’t find the resources to do so. I mean, I’m fortunate enough to have a computer and internet access, but I couldn’t manage to find the energy or clarity to write much of anything.

Chronic illness steals a lot of things. It steals your energy. It steals your mood and perspective. It steals your comfort. It steals your sense of security. It steals your ability to focus and access your own faculties. And, through these means, it can steal your sense of self, too.

The cognitive symptoms that come with Hashimoto’s, fibromyalgia, and gut issues have been some of the most frustrating for me. I’ve identified as a writer since I learned how to form words—it’s my most natural method of communication, creation, and even processing my own thoughts and emotions. When I was a child, my mind and imagination served as my playground, and it was only through writing that I could pull my ideas out of my head and make them, in some sense, real. But experiencing brain fog makes my playground a difficult place to navigate. The symptom is aptly named: it feels very much like a thick layer of fog has settled into the entire landscape of my mind and obscured everything in it.

Not that writing is usually easy. It never is, save for those rare and mysterious moments when the magic writing angel possesses you and allows the words to flow freely from your fingertips (it’s a weird feeling—like the words aren’t coming from you, but through you). But this cognitive slowdown that occurs with many chronic illnesses can make it feel impossible. Obviously it’s not entirely impossible for me—I am forming sentences that I believe are somewhere near the realm of coherence—but the process I’m undergoing to get these words out of me is slower and more painstaking than it otherwise would be.

So, basically, it’s writer’s constipation. I guess the brain and the gut are connected in more than one way.

But I’ve got to eliminate this f&*%ing thing, even if it comes out a mangled shitty mess, so here I am.

And this is what it’s come to. Making gross poop metaphors.

Honestly though, when you have any sort of gut issues, gross becomes your new normal. Before you know it, you’re discussing your BMs with other poop-challenged friends like you’re talking about the weather. Partly poopy today with storms on the forecast for tomorrow—thanks, Miralax.

But, uh. I digress.

The last few months have been rough for me. And of course I say that from my sweet little cloud of privilege, where rough doesn’t mean I’ve lost my food, water, shelter, or rights (though the big guys in the state and federal governments are working really hard to change that) but rather that I’ve just been really symptomatic. And I fell into a depression sometime in the winter (I have the election and inauguration to thank for serving as a catalyst for that), cut way back on my physical yoga practice due to a back and hip issue as well as widespread joint and muscle pain, and struggled with sensitivities to…pretty much everything. Grass? Allergic. Trees? Allergic. Mold? Allergic. Absolutely nothing? Allergic. Seriously—I have such a buildup of histamines in my body that I can have an allergic reaction to air or water or my own existence. And I’m intolerant to so many foods that if I were to avoid them all, I’d probably be on a lettuce-only diet (but steamed lettuce because my poor gut can’t handle too many raw vegetables).

I’m used to depression and sensitivity, though. I wasn’t used to that amount of pain, or limiting my asana practice to this degree. I had been experiencing similar but lesser symptoms like this in my body for a long time, but I used that ol’ push-through-it method that most humans keep in their repertoire to avoid facing inconvenient truths. This is, of course, very un-yogic of me—although it’s not that I wasn’t being mindful of what was happening, it’s just that I wasn’t sure what was going on or what to do about it. And I’m still not. Complex problems never have simple answers. Or maybe they do, but they’re sure as hell not easy to arrive at, especially with the cognitive slowdown going on. Or perhaps it’s more that we know the basic solution but not how to get there; the mountaintop peaking through the fog in the distance. The solution to gut problems? Heal the gut. No freaking duh. But then as we approach the base of the mountain, there’s about 100 different paths, and a thousand different guidebooks, and no real guarantee of ever reaching the top.

Anyway, the asana practice. Fortunately, the widespread joint and muscle pain has improved after stopping a medication that was causing it to flare worse than it ever had (of course, the downside is that I still have the issue it was meant to be treating). My principle for most movement has been to Try & Modify, if I get can get past the anxiety of potentially hurting myself/going out of the house/seeing other humans/etc. I go for walks with an SI belt to give my back and pelvis extra support, and that’s been pretty successful. I do physical therapy exercises, and I think those help as long as I don’t overdo it. But asana has been a trickier beast. Sometimes my modifications backfire. It’s even possible that some of the modifications I had in place for my practice previously have contributed to the imbalances I’m now experiencing. These issues are complex, as validated by several physical therapists who, when asked what exactly my diagnosis was, said something along the lines of, “Uh, well, you’ve got a lot of things going on…”

So on I go, seeking solutions.

It isn’t lost on me that what I’m going through is yoga in some brutal sense. Many of the Buddhist masters (yoga isn’t necessarily Buddhist but many of the philosophies are similar) were/are enthusiastic about pain, depression, and suffering in a way that would maybe seem a little sick and creepy if not for the context: they see them as tools for transformation, as ideal conditions for the awakening of the higher Self. Which honestly makes the ego-driven part of myself want to flip them the bird over and over again, for the span of roughly five lifetimes, but another part of me, the calmer, wiser Jeana that recognizes that she is both infinitely small and infinitely big, both separate and connected, both perfect and imperfect, sees some truth in the idea.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss flowing without feeling tweaks in my wrists or worrying about whether my hip will hurt later or getting exhausted after two sun salutations. And sometimes it just feels better to hold space for feeling shitty about that rather than trying to contort my emotions into something positive. Yes, I know that’s the real practice and that’s where the opportunity lies and everyone’s practice is different from day to day and challenges are why we practice in the first place and it’s not really about the poses, and those can all be helpful reminders, but sometimes I just want to grieve that my body isn’t up to doing the movements that make me feel the most alive. Sure, it could change, but in the present moment, that’s the situation. And I’m tired of “seeing the bright side” always being the go-to when sometimes we just need to stomp our feet and scream swear words and throw temper tantrums. Sometimes we just need some wildness.

Much love to you.

A New Year

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Well, there’s no time like the beginning of a new year to get back to blogging. As someone wise must have said, once. Maybe.

2016 was a rough year for many people, one that started off on a bit of a bumpy road but then abandoned the road all together to careen down an unpredictable slope. And here we are, taking a deep breath in the opening days of 2017 and trying to figure out where the hell we are now.

The message I’ve been hearing a lot lately has been, “Be positive! A lot of good things have happened this year!” What about the places that did take refugees, what about the improved economy, what about the Ebola vaccine, what about the people who are coming together to reject hate, what about love and hope?

The thing about that sentiment is that it’s well-intentioned and not exactly wrong, but it also fails to give space to the people who need to grieve.

I do think it’s important not to dismiss the positives and the silver linings. As human beings, we’re wired with a negative bias, which has helped us survive as a species (especially in the days we needed to run away from bears regularly) but also tends to impede our general sense of peace and happiness. In general, it seems like a good idea for us to try to focus on the good to balance this tendency.

But sometimes optimism, especially if we’re hellbent on “MUST FEEL POSITIVE ALL THE TIME NO MATTER WHAT,” can become harmful. If we’re so determined to be positive that we deprive ourselves and others of our right to feel negative emotions, that’s not actually optimism so much as it is numbing out and trying to escape discomfort.

We cannot repress the darkness until it gives way to light. The nature of our reality is that we have both darkness and light, and that we cannot have one without the other (what would be one without the other to compare it to?).

No matter how you’re feeling personally about the state of things in the world, there’s no denying that many people are feeling a lot of pain and uncertainty right now. We will do better to honor that as it is than to try to gaslight it into oblivion. We all feel what we feel, and telling ourselves or other people to feel differently will only compound the pain.

When I was at my most depressed, the most effective tool for me was not to pretend like everything was fine but to try to accept everything as it was. And still, when I’m in pain, whether it’s emotional, physical, or in some kind of metaphysical realm I don’t even understand, it is infinitely more helpful for me to say to myself, “Ok, I’m in pain. This is what is happening. I’m in pain, and I’m going to breathe now,” than “EVERYTHING IS FINE. I’m being overdramatic. I shouldn’t feel this way.”

Of course, it’s easier said than done to reject our constant cultural messaging and reverse years of habitual self-blaming, but in my experience, it’s rewarding work even if dramatically imperfect—which, of course, it must be.

On a personal level, 2016 was…complicated. A lot of good things happened for me: I finished my yoga teacher training, I worked on adapting a healing lifestyle, I deepened some relationships, I swam in the ocean and soaked up the California sun, I experienced a lot of shifts in perspective. Healing is not linear and so it sometimes it can be hard to assess if you’ve made progress or just spun around in a circle, but I do think I did some good healing in 2016. My yoga practice has become much deeper than just asana.

But I also lost a beautiful, badass friend; the election sent me into a depression; I underwent a fair share of autoimmune flare-ups; I continued to have issues with an old injury; I struggled to work consistently.

And the positives, while I’m very grateful for them, weren’t without their shadow sides. Healing sounds like such a pleasant venture, as though we can simply open our hearts and our minds to a stream of rainbows and butterflies that fill us with everlasting joy. The truth is that healing is painful. There are the glimpses of the rainbows and butterflies, yes, and more importantly, I have discovered that there is a sense of deep peace that I feel when I’m engaged in this work. But it’s also raw and uncomfortable and uncertain and frustrating and HARD. In order to address your pain, it must first come to the surface, and that can be intense and obviously unpleasant. And all of this is lifelong work–a constant cycle of surfacing and releasing.

There’s a concept in the Bhagavad Gita: you have the right to your work but not to the fruit of your work. Initially that can be such a frustrating idea that it makes you want to give the middle finger to Krishna and disengage from everything, to put down your metaphorical bow and arrows and refuse to fight your battle. We’ve all done that to some degree at certain points in our lives, though, and most of us can probably agree it’s not an acceptable alternative. We can trick ourselves into feeling comfortable and maybe even happy for a while, but the sense of disconnection and misalignment end up feeling more painful than turning around and facing our demons.

So here we are in 2017, with plenty of work to be done and plenty of demons to face, but the stubborn determination of the human spirit and the ability to love are still in tact.

I don’t know why we are here or if there really is some cosmic purpose to all of this, but I do know we are here together. Whether or not everything is as it should be, perhaps everything is as it must be. Let’s grieve and let’s love and let’s do the work we need to do, whatever that looks like for us as individuals (and it’s different for everyone). We are here, and we are whole.

I Have Love for This

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Howdy, y’all. Now that I’m back in Texas, I figured I’d start off with a Texan greeting.

We’ve been back for nearly a month now. Honestly, I half expected (or maybe just wished) that I would jump right into things with renewed energy and perspective, but it hasn’t quite worked out that way.

In retrospect, my time in California was a little intense. Not in the sense that I was busy-busy all the time (though my travel schedule got a little crazy the second half of the summer), but in the sense that I was doing some in-depth work on my health and dealing with some big stuff.

So many of my experiences this summer either landed on the high range of the spectrum, or the low. Intense joy and intense pain.

I swam in the ocean, hugged family members and old friends (some of whom I hadn’t seen for years), embraced forgiveness, traveled with my partner, breathed the sweet California air, attended the wedding of two good friends, witnessed the beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge on a rare sunny day with my dear cousin, spent time with my grandparents, cuddled with my cats, explored the Nevada wilderness with my dad, listened to nothing but the sound of the wind moving through the pines with my mom, celebrated the new life that one of my very good friends recently brought into the world, made progress with my health, and experienced an increase in my overall energy.

I also dealt with flare-ups, had times when I felt aimless and alone and hopeless, questioned my entire life, doubted myself and my abilities, went through a month of AIP only to end up with unexplained stomach cramps every single day. I grieved my inability to do more work and the lack of “normalcy” I’ve felt since I was a small child.

And, most significantly, I lost someone–a good friend who was a tremendous inspiration to me and many other people. She died in August. This loss is something I’m still trying to process, and I will be for some time. I can only hope to live with a fraction of the passion, authenticity, and ferocity that she did.

So–since rolling back into Austin, I’ve struggled to readjust. Before the summer, I was feeling a little lost in life. How can I do work helps support me financially but doesn’t contribute to constant flare-ups or you know, crush my soul? How can I figure out what it is I need to do to support myself and get myself on a path to optimal health without driving myself insane (thereby defeating the purpose)? How can I cultivate my passions and chase after goals while remaining realistic about my limitations and making space and time for self-care? How can I connect, even when I’m feeling isolated? How can I create a perspective that is positive and loving but not in denial about the shadow side of life?

And surprise–I still have all of these questions. They’re big, and they all tie into the existential strife all humans experience and have experienced since we gained sentience. What am I doing here?

But I have uncovered a couple of ideas that have helped me deal with this anxiety-ridden struggle. One is that answers come from stillness. While intellectual inquiries might benefit from constant obsessive analysis, the emotion-based and philosophical mindf**k questions that can never really be answered to complete satisfaction (at least in the way that some other questions can be) require some silence and surrender. When I can release my white-knuckle grip just a little and focus instead on my breath or a physical sensation or the sounds I’m hearing, I feel a little closer to “the answers.” I use quotation marks there because of course there are no answers in the sense that maybe if we meditate a lot, the universe will call us up and leave us some detailed instruction with how to proceed. That’s not a thing that happens. But I do think that even attempting to be still within the chaos of our minds can get us somewhere, even if it’s just to a sense of acceptance of the fact that we just don’t know much of anything.

The other idea that’s been lending me some comfort is a mantra (a word or phrase that is repeated in meditation or just when you feel like your brain is going to explode). I had been reflecting on the concept of bringing love into all situations, which is a philosophy I like but have had trouble fully connecting to it. Perhaps if I were deeper into the stages of my personal evolution, I would be able to say yes, I love my autoimmune disease, I love my struggles, I love all my existential dread, I love my grief, I love my depression. But when I try to say them now, it just doesn’t feel right. “I love this” is a phrase I reserve for light-up unicorn slippers and paleo Samoa cheesecake. I just can’t feel ok about applying it to things that feel painful. And it can also feel like I’m trying to blast the icks away with a happy Care Bear beam of light instead of letting them have their place. Dwelling on the negative does me no favors, but neither does giving it no recognition at all.

But then I thought: what if instead of saying “I love this,” I say “I have love for this”? Instead of feeling the pressure to enthusiastically embrace struggle, maybe instead I can just recognize that somewhere in me, I have appreciation for the hard lessons, compassion for the struggles of both myself and others, and a sense of connection to everyone and everything–even when I don’t feel like I do.

It’s so simple it’s almost silly, but it helps.

I have love for this.

Have you ever “tweaked” a mantra or an idea to make it work for you? What phrases help you with your meditation practice, or simply getting through the day?

My AIP Experience

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I completed 30 days of the paleo autoimmune protocol a couple weeks ago. I embarked on this plan to see if it might help with my autoimmune and chronic illness symptoms. It didn’t go quite as I had hoped: By the end of my AIP month, I was experiencing daily stomach cramps. My digestion worsened instead of improved. I had to reduce my vegetable intake (even cooked and mashed carrots were bothering me) for a bit and add some easy-to-digest items into my diet, namely white rice. Feeling bitter and defeated (and rebellious, as usual), I also started eating a lot of sugary things. This isn’t the first time I’ve experienced worse gut symptoms as a result of eating healthy food (only to find them improved when I added junkie things back in), and I felt deeply frustrated.

Now that I’ve had time to rest, digest (literally and figuratively), and get some advice, I believe that it was mainly my increased fiber intake that was causing issues for me on AIP, perhaps in addition to some FODMAPs. It’s very possible I have a bacterial overgrowth or imbalance going on it that ol’ gut o’ mine, and I’m working on figuring that out. In any case, though, my digestive system just doesn’t work super well, and I think I unintentionally overloaded it with fiber, etc. during my AIP venture. I was so focused on making food that fit the protocol and tasted good, I didn’t think about the possibility that things like coconut and sweet potatoes could cause issues.

So now I’m transitioning to a new plan that will be paleo-ish (the “ish” part is white rice, potatoes, and possibly oats) with lots of cooked vegetables (will hopefully include more raw veg as I continue), low sugar, low FODMAP, and simple meals that focus on an ideal ratio of protein-fat-carbs.

Initially I didn’t think AIP had helped me much, but once I went off of it, I noticed that some of my symptoms—such as joint aches/pains and anxiety—worsened. Of course I wish I had reintroduced properly (I was anxious to get the stomach aches to stop, so I didn’t follow the reintro guidelines at all), but in no way do I feel that my month-long efforts were a waste. I’m still coming out of it with a better sense of what works for me and what doesn’t, and I do feel that eating AIP contributed to my healing.

Bodies are complex, and everyone is different. Things that work for some people might not work for others. I knew these concepts when I began AIP, but with this experience I feel I’ve gained a deeper understanding of them.

Because of my individual imbalances, body chemistry, etc, I have trouble tolerating FODMAPs, fermented food, all fruit, and other fibrous foods. And on the flip side, I seem to do fine with white rice and potatoes, which are usually on the paleo no-no list.

Perhaps that will change one day (I do hope to enjoy some kind of fruit again eventually!), but for now, that’s the way it is for me.

I may try AIP again someday if it seems right, perhaps even a modified version that includes non-AIP foods that work for me personally and excludes the AIP foods that don’t. This is all a part of a lifelong wellness journey and thusly requires patience and self-compassion.

If you’re thinking about trying AIP for autoimmune or other chronic illness, I would say go for it–with a few conditions. Those are:

1) You’re in a place mentally where you feel like you can handle the restrictiveness of the plan. If you think you might need to transition slowly, consider something like this SAD to AIP program.

2) You’re willing and able to put in the time and effort it takes to make your food (going out to eat is exceedingly difficult on the elimination phase). AIP takes some planning and a good amount of work, and you don’t want to add more stress to your life by trying to do something you’re not ready for yet. Reducing stress is a part of the lifestyle component of AIP, and it’s just as important as what you eat.

3) You’re keeping in mind that you are your own individual, and if AIP doesn’t work well for you, it will still have given you the opportunity to learn more about what might work and not work for your body (this is certainly advice that I needed when I was despairing about my worsened gut symptoms!). My improved symptoms told me that some aspects of the plan really worked for me, while my worsened symptoms revealed more about what’s going on in my gut and what I might need to eat to help address those issues.

Wherever you are, it’s always possible to take steps toward eating in a way that nourishes you. It could be going AIP, or it could just be adding a few more vegetables into your diet. Your wellness journey may be different from anyone else’s, but you’re not alone!

The Yoga of Struggling

IMG_6385Hi, blogosphere. I haven’t seen you in a while. I fully intended to keep you updated on my journey with the autoimmune protocol, but once I was immersed in it, I found it difficult to put my experience into words. It also did not go as well as I had hoped.

After 30 days of AIP, I’ve seen some potential improvements, but I’ve also experienced a worsening of gut symptoms. At this point, I need to transition off of strict elimination and add some foods back in. Unfortunately I can’t reintroduce everything as slowly as I’d like to at this point, but I still feel that I’ve gained some valuable information from this experience. Of course I wanted everything to feel better, and it’s deeply disappointing that I’m having these struggles–but the fact that I am points me in a direction. And I’ll keep moving.

Because of this experience, I’ve been giving a thought of thought to struggle and strife and and all the messiness that comes with being human. I go through times when I feel isolated and “why meeee?” but the truth is that struggle is an integral part of life.

All people endure their own versions of struggle. And the funny, perhaps also tragic, thing is that we actually seek it out. We engage in work and relationships and activities that challenge us and sometimes lead us to heartbreak and suffering. Even someone with all the privelege, health, and good fortune in the world suffers in some way, and that person will likely work to make sure of that.

Yes, we actually dedicate a lot of effort toward engaging in struggle.

Let’s look at yoga as an example so I can live up to the words sitting at the top of the page. Yoga has a reputation as an express train to Bliss Town, as though every practice moves us effortlessly into nirvana. But the practice of yoga is really a struggle. It’s hard–all of it. Making shapes with your body and continuing to breathe is hard work. Sitting still and surrending to the present moment is hard work. Focusing all of your attention on your breath is hard work. Chanting a mantra 108 times is hard work. Even lying on the floor with the intention of reaching complete relaxation is hard work! Sometimes I look at this practice from a distanced perspective and think, “Why do I love torturing myself?”

Yes, it can feel amazing. And that’s part of why we do it. But most yoga practictioners will tell you they have plenty of days when their practice feels like shit. When they just can’t let go or touch their toes or turn down the volume on their mind chatter, and they walk away from their mats feeling angry, sad, defeated.

But we come back. Because there is value in anger, in sadness, in failure. We may not be aware of it all the time, but we practice as much to experience these as much as we practice to experience bliss. Because light and darkness are in everything, including us. We seek out the experiences that will bring us closer to both sides of ourselves. Of humanity. Of the universe.

It is through this perspective that I can find some spark of meaning and connection among all the confusion and pain involved in chronic illness. Not that I would say “Oh, my body chose to attack itself for a cosmic reason.” It’s more complex than that. It’s not so much that I believe everything happens for a reason, it’s that everything just happens and I think there is some meaning in how we engage with that. That whole “we are the universe experiencing itself” philosophy that your yogi and stoner friends like to talk about. Perhaps we can use our struggles to serve our dharma, our path–even if they were not struggles we chose at all. Even if they are struggles that were unjustly thrown at us. Maybe, in some sense, all struggle is yoga.

It helps me to think so, and to know I’m not alone in this. Not in chronic illness, and certainly not in the strange and painful and beautiful experience of being human.

Hello California + AIP Day 1

IMG_6832We made it to California about two weeks ago! I meant to update much sooner, but you know, life. After our road trip here I experienced a pretty big autoimmune flare, which brought on tons of fatigue, some joint pain, muscle aches, the works. But we’re here, and I love feeling the California air and being back on the west coast for a while.

I’ve been going to a yoga studio about 20 minutes from our rental. I haven’t been as much as I’d like due to said flare, but I’ve liked the classes I’ve had there so far. One teacher evening played the accordion and chanted to begin and end class–I’ve been to a lot of yoga classes but that was a pretty cool first!

IMG_6737Yesterday my boyfriend and I drove over to Santa Cruz and hit the beach to celebrate our anniversary. The ocean soothes my soul like nothing else, and we were fortunate to get a perfectly sunny day yesterday. Sun, sand, and sea are definitely included in my version of a healing lifestyle!

Today I’ve been feeling flare-y again and took it pretty easy. It’s also my first official day of the autoimmune protocol, the elimination diet I’ll be following for 30+ days. It’s pretty clear that avoiding most sweet stuff is going to be my biggest challenge (er, besides trying organ meats–that’s something that’s going to have to come later). I’ve been transitioning to AIP slowly, and the little non-AIP treats are the last thing to go. I’m going easy on fruit in addition to the hefty list of other avoidances, which makes it even tougher. Dark chocolate used to be my go-to for helping with sugar cravings–one or two squares after dinner helped a lot–but alas, it’s not AIP since cocoa comes from a seed. So it’s out for now, but there’s hope for it during the reintroduction phase.

This protocol is a huge challenge for me. Of course I’ll never feel 100% ready for it, but I do feel readier than I ever thought I would. A year ago a nutritionist asked me to give up gluten, soy, and dairy for 10 days, and I thought that sounded impossible. But I tried it, and then I kept going. It was messy and imperfect and I had a lot of cheats, but I began to feel a little bit better. Better enough to make me curious and lead me to reexamine my relationship with food. I had always avoided learning about anything more restrictive than what I was already doing, but one day, my mind opened. I saw clearly that what I wanted more than anything was to feel vibrant. As someone with a pretty animated personality, I have been more than a little heartbroken to feel depressed, fatigued, achy, and flat. I am enough, andIMG_6742
I am whole, but when I don’t feel well I feel disconnected from myself. It doesn’t make sense that I wouldn’t do what is in my power to try to help my body. Even just making the effort makes me feel reconnected.

AIP is not a cure-all. I don’t know if it’ll work for me or not. But it gives me hope. Hope that perhaps I can find the right components for an eating plan and a lifestyle that will nourish and support me.

We Are Already Whole

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We humans have this tendency to feel like we are lacking in some way. Not smart enough, perhaps. Not attractive enough. Not rich enough. Not thin/muscular/curvy/whatever enough.

Just not enough.

We tell ourselves the story that if we can only achieve our goals, we will be happy. If we only lose weight or become healthier or eat only organic vegetables or climb a mountain or publish a novel—then, and only then, will we be enough.

And yet when we achieve one of these goals, we often find we’ve only circled back around to the same place. That place where we feel that we need something or someone in order to be complete.

When I was in my early 20s, I lost 50 pounds. I had reached what had seemed like an impossible goal, but afterward I still struggled with the feeling that it wasn’t enough. I began thinking I needed to set a new goal. 5 more pounds. 10 more pounds, maybe.

I ended up gaining my weight back and then some after developing mysterious stomach issues (which I can now connect to my autoimmune condition). In a way, I’m grateful for that despite the pain it caused me. It pulled me out of a dangerous pattern, one that far too many women, and people in general, find themselves in.

But this kind of thinking doesn’t just occur with weight loss. It’s everywhere. It’s pervasive in our culture, where people have figured out the best way to sell you something is to convince you that you won’t be whole without it.

We are a society of people who live in the future. We live our daily lives with a picture in our heads of how things could be when our dreams come true. We convince ourselves that if we just work hard enough, we’ll get there—to that magical utopia where true happiness awaits.

The other day, as I was browsing through a message board for people with autoimmune disease, I saw the following statement: “I am ready to be whole.” And it broke my heart. It broke my heart because I saw not just myself in it, not just autoimmune warriors, but the entirety of humanity. Because so many of us wait to be whole. We work our asses off every day in the hope of achieving this mythic Wholeness.

If I can just lose the weight. If I can just buy a house. If I can just do handstand. If I can just feel better.

Then I will be whole.

We need to stop this. Right fucking now.

Because we are already whole.

You. You at your computer or your phone. With your messy kitchen, or your high antibody levels, or your achy joints, or your angry mind: You Are Already Whole.

Wholeness is not something you need to earn.

Wholeness is not something you must work for.

You already have it. Right now.

You do not have to do a damn thing.

I know it can provoke some fear to consider this concept. It can bring up questions and confusion. But…what if I want to be healthier? What if I want to work hard to achieve my goals?

I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with having goals and working toward them–if you want them for the right reasons.

Do you want to do a handstand because you want to confront your fear or connect with your sense of playfulness, or because you feel like it makes you more worthy in some way?

This is always the crucial question to ask ourselves: where is my desire to do ____ coming from? If you want something because you feel like you’re lacking without it, chances are that nothing will fulfill that desire for you. You could get that thing ten times over and still be left feeling like you’re incomplete.

Make goals, absolutely. Just know that you do not need to achieve them in order to be whole.

There are always things we want to change. Always. And that’s ok. We can want things for the future while still living in the present. We can work toward something while still being with what is.

We might find more of ourselves in the process than in the end goal.

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Related reading:

Embarking on AIP

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Nourishment also comes in the form of sunshine and asana.

On my last post I teased that I would soon share more information about the dietary plan I’m planning to try this summer, and then proceeded to leave you all hanging for 10 days.

Sorry about that. I hope it hasn’t been quite as bad as having to wait a whole year for Game of Thrones to continue.

Anyway—here it is. This summer I’m going to be trying the Autoimmune Protocol, often abbreviated AIP. This plan involves eliminating the same foods as the paleo diet/lifestyle but takes it a step further to include things like nightshades, nuts, and eggs—common allergens and triggers for inflammation. More importantly, it focuses on consuming foods that are dense in nutrients and making lifestyle choices that support health and healing.

The AIP functions as an elimination diet. The idea is that after you see an improvement in symptoms, you begin to add some foods back into your diet, one by one, to gauge your body’s reaction and hone in on food sensitivities.

Many people with autoimmune conditions have found major improvement in their symptoms with AIP, and some have even gotten to a point of remission. This does not mean they cured their disease—we don’t have a cure for autoimmune conditions—but they have seen dramatic improvements in their symptoms, their energy levels, and their blood work.

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Healthy food that is also delicious does exist. Who knew?

I have been afraid to share this, because of course anything to do with health and nutrition is controversial. Here’s my take on things: I don’t know the best way for humans to eat. It seems to me nobody really does yet. All I can do is try to eat the foods that seem to nourish me the most and avoid the ones that seem to do harm.

And I have a pretty big motivation to do so.

I wrote on my last post (cryptically) that my desire to live as vibrantly as I can has conquered all else. Autoimmune disease sucks. There is no more appropriate word to describe it: it sucks away your energy, your perspective, your motivation, your health. It’s basically a dementor from Harry Potter.

And I’m trying to figure out how to conjure my Patronus. This just got super nerdy, but bear with me.

There is a ton of criticism out there about paleo and AIP, as well as any lifestyle or way of eating. I understand. The first time I heard about paleo, I thought the concept was ridiculous. And I very much resisted changing anything about my diet up until one year ago, when I had an explosion of autoimmune symptoms and sought out a nutritionist with the hope that eating certain foods might be a helpful supplement to my treatment. It has taken me this full year to even consider doing something like AIP. It has been no easy task to work through my preconceptions about food, as well as societal norms and personal attachments—if you had told me a year and a half ago to stop eating pizza (and instead eat FISH and VEGETABLES, for God’s sake), I would have wanted to punch you. But I felt motivated enough to try, and I began to notice a definite difference in my symptoms when I was eating certain foods vs. others.

Here are my intentions in embarking upon this AIP lifestyle:

  • I will endeavor to live in a way that nourishes me.
  • I will work to heal myself in the ways that I can.
  • I will know that although I am working to improve my health, I am whole and I am enough as I am right now. Always.
  • I will forgive myself for mistakes.
  • I will choose foods from the most responsible sources as much as possible. No factory-farmed meat.
  • I will enjoy eating delicious meals. As I’ve discovered in the past year, healthy food does not have to be boring.
  • I will regard this experience like I do my yoga: a practice that helps me know myself better.
  • I will remain open but also skeptical of dogma.

And what I intend not to do:

  • I will not become orthorexic and obsess about food to an unhealthy point. Clearly that would be counterproductive.
  • I will not think of foods as “clean” or “dirty.” There are foods that are more beneficial for me as an individual, and there are foods that are less beneficial.
  • I will not judge other people for their food and/or lifestyle choices. We are all individuals on our own paths, and what works for someone might be detrimental to someone else.

I don’t have an exact start date yet, but it will likely be around mid-May. In the meantime, I’ve been trying AIP recipes and getting used to the idea of eliminating grains, tomatoes, nuts, etc. I’m also not forgetting about general lifestyle choices, which include my yoga and meditation practice and doing things that bring me joy.

I realize this is probably not what anyone expects to read on a yoga blog. I may or may not change the name of the blog at some point, but for now I’m going to let it ride with the excuse that it’s all yoga.

See you soon.

Certified Yoga Instructor

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I’M DONE WITH YOGA TEACHER TRAINING! I finished the last of my two hundred hours on Tuesday, I will have my fancy official certificate soon.

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of teaching my first class as a certified instructor. I led an hour of slow flow to a small group of fellow autoimmune warriors, which was a perfect way to begin my teaching.

I’ve been experiencing a lot of shifts in my life, and I’m soon to embark on a new adventure: my boyfriend and I will be spending the summer in California, where I will be focusing on my health and following a dietary plan that will require a pretty big lifestyle change. I’ve reached a point where my desire to live as vibrantly as I can has conquered all else. I will share more about that soon!

Yoga and Chronic Illness: Making Peace with the Monster

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I’m sick, and I hate talking about it.

How’s that for an opening line?

But honestly, I don’t know how else to start. I have felt for a long time that this is something I need to write about and I need to share, but I haven’t known how. So I’m beginning by just putting it out there: I have a chronic illness(es), and I like to try to avoid the topic because it sucks and it’s scary and, well, just FEAR. FEAR in big, bold letters and flashing lights. And since I’ve committed myself to choosing love over fear and all of that good hippie stuff, I’m here. Writing. In between bouts of hiding in the corner and quivering.

It has also been difficult to keep this blog updated when I have this self-imposed restriction. How do I talk about my life without talking about this part of it?

My illness is like a little monster that follows me around. Sometimes it’s a well-behaved monster, trotting along beside me on its leash. Sometimes it’s a raging nightmare that claws into my body like a frightened cat and refuses to let go. Regardless of whatever state it happens to be in, my monster is always a presence in my life. It might be silent or it might be screaming; in any case, it’s there.

I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s about a year ago, though I’ve had symptoms for much longer. I have a number of chronic symptoms, some of which are related and some of which may or may not be related. I could have other illnesses that just haven’t yet shown up on a blood test. As a doctor once told me, autoimmune diseases tend to run in packs. If you’re prone to one, you’re prone to all of them. As I understand it with my limited medical knowledge, my immune system essentially has paranoid personality disorder. It thinks everything is out to get it. It looks at my thyroid, at its own family member, and says, “I don’t trust you, buddy” and sends its little soldiers out to attack. And if it’ll do that to my thyroid, it’s likely it will do it to other parts of the body as well.

Why am I talking about this on my yoga blog? Because, to me, yoga is about a lot more than making shapes. Because, in order to make my life yoga (make your life yoga rather than making yoga your life–a concept that Christina Sell discusses beautifully), I must look at the fears and the discomforts and sorrows in my life and tell them: I see you. I accept you. You’re here, and I’m scared or angry or devastated or whatever, but I’m not checking out. I’m staying, and I’m breathing.

This is what we do in yoga. We practice meditation not necessarily to quiet the mind, but to open the dams on the river of human experience, to let the thoughts and emotions and bodily sensations and memories and whatever else just flow. Instead of attempting to hold them back, we release them and then observe what happens, realizing that we do not need to be swept into their currents.

We practice asana not necessarily to experience everlasting joy, but to work through a series of challenges and obstacles that mirror the experience of living. We breathe and we move and we see what comes up. And as any yogi will tell you, it’s different every day. Sometimes you feel light on your feet and flowing through poses feels like a magical fairy dance; other times you feel like your body is made of lead. The practice is about showing up and meeting yourself wherever you are.

And that’s why–for me–yoga has everything to do with dealing with chronic illness. Because learning to live with my little monster means showing up and being what what is. It means being able to notice fatigue or pain or weird symptoms in my body and hold space for them. It means staying present whether I’m feeling awesome or awful on any given day.

Not that this magically just happens. It’s a practice. It’s all a practice. Everything we’re trying to do here. It’s not like having some understanding of these concepts means we just do it and now everything is fine. It means struggling and flailing and falling and then getting up again. And again, and again.

And, since writing is the practice through which I gain a better understanding of any other practice, I am here. Breathing and writing and being.

And telling fear: I see you. I accept you. But you’re not in charge.