Here’s my newest column for the Pain News Network!
One of the most popular remedies that pain management doctors like to recommend for patients is yoga. Not only has yoga created a revolution in the fitness and apparel worlds, but it also is touted as a great way for chronic pain patients to exercise.
This generally leaves us patients in a strange spiral of “I hurt too much to work out” and then feeling worse because we aren’t moving.
Physical activity is necessary in whatever form we can manage. I have several instructional DVDs, but only a few of them are actually tailored to people with illness and pain. I decided to go hunting for the Big Kahuna.
My search was not in vain: I discovered Kayla Kurin, creator of Aroga Yoga. “Aroga,” which I thought was just a great rhyme, actually means “healthy, well, or free from disease.” Ms. Kurin is a yoga teacher based in London who focuses exclusively on chronic pain and illness, as she uses it to manage her own chronic fatigue syndrome.
“I had tried some naturopathic remedies and supplements, but didn’t find any relief from them,” she said. “For many years I was on strong sleep medication that helped me get some semblance of a night’s sleep and get through the day, but I became resistant to all of the medications and eventually stopped those as well.”
It was around then that she decided to try yoga, as she wandered into a bookstore and saw an instructional DVD for sale.
“This was a huge turning point for me,” she said. “Once I started feeling better from yoga and meditation, I made a lot of dietary and lifestyle changes that helped me heal.”
Ms. Kurin has now been practicing for eight years and teaching for almost two, focusing on vinyasa flow and restorative methods with Yoga London. She relies on her own chronic illness in order to find the most effective poses for others, as even though yoga therapy is beginning to get more popular, there is currently only limited information about it. She has had to combine several schools and theories — mostly vinyasa flow, restorative yoga, and iyengar — to create her own chronic pain/illness program.
It didn’t take long for her to realize that yoga was beneficial, as she left her first session feeling “very relaxed, but also alert. It was a unique feeling and led me to believe that there might be something behind this whole yoga trend.”
Even then, it took about two to three months of regular practice before she could see lasting effects. There were days she was too exhausted to get on the mat, and when asked how she managed to keep a daily practice, she said at first she could only make herself do five minutes. Five minutes would turn into ten, and so on. As she said, “I think that for both yoga and meditation, the longer you practice consistently, the more results you will see.”
She recommends that patients start with a few different types of yoga to see what works best, such as restorative, iyengar, and gentle hatha classes. “For example, some people with CFS swear by hot yoga; others found it was much too intense,” she said.
Even patients who are bed-bound or recovering from severe injuries can find a way to participate in their recovery. Ms. Kurin encourages them to first check with their doctors before even trying deep breathing exercises or a bed yoga program.
Every class is adaptable. In the chronic pain/illness yoga program, the first few classes are entirely sitting or prone positions. They can be done from a bed or chair, the latter of which Ms. Kurin is going to implement into future online courses.
“For example, if a patient is not able to stand or has trouble switching positions, we can work together to make adjustments to the class so it works for them,” she says.
Her online chronic illness class runs for six weeks with hour-long videos and costs about $100. It focuses on breathing exercises and relaxation techniques to lessen pain and stress, improve sleep, and increase energy. Students of any level will find benefits. While each chronic pain/illness series shares the same core lessons, there are enough tweaks that even repeat students will learn something new (as I am sure I will, since I took the previous class and adored it; my only complaints were technical in nature, as the microphone hookup had some reverb in the first two sessions).
While online videos don’t offer the immediate feedback from teachers that a live class does, Ms. Kurin likes this format because nobody has to miss a class because of pain or illness. Everything is at the individual student’s pace.
“If a student is struggling with any of the poses, I can make them a video showing them adjustments for their body,” Ms. Kurin said. She is planning live workshops for later this year, having just taught one on sleep and creativity in Greece; her next idea is a chronic pain workshop in Edinburgh, Scotland. She also wants to offer live classes over Skype, which excites me to no end.
I loved the flexibility of the class, how I didn’t have to push myself through sessions when I felt physically terrible. Instead of feeling like exercise, it felt like a day at the spa for my battered body. Ms. Kurin understands her students on a fundamental level; she knows that there are just some days you can’t do it.
But five minutes a day… We can handle that!
The Takeaway: Aroga Yoga, Yoga for Chronic Illness.
For £65 (or $100.38), you get six one-hour videos of yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises; one-on-one unlimited email support for the duration of the course and three months afterward; and two group chat sessions. The next course begins October 19 and ends November 30, and students have lifetime access to the videos.
I will be taking the course again. I hope to “see” you there!