The last week has been more than a little challenging physically, and it has me thinking about the ways in which chronic pain, being a yogi, and attempting a raw food diet interact. As with most thing (oh, that middle path), there are challenges and benefits to yoga and raw foodism for individuals with chronic pain. In this post, I consider my own experiences and link to some research and information about these connections.
Being an individual with a chronic pain condition makes yoga more of a challenge, in some ways, but also provides immense opportunities for benefit. When I do yoga on a regular basis, I find that my pain levels are lower. I believe this is due to multiple factors. First, having stretched and warmed my body regularly, it seems like I am not fighting with my muscles along with other things (i.e. my hamstrings tend to get ridiculously tight in an effort to manage the surrounding joint issues). Second, when we exercise in ways that release endorphins, it causes a reduction in pain. Finally, yoga makes me feel more peaceful, overall. When I’m peaceful, I am better able to just notice pain instead of becoming totally enmeshed in it. That makes it much easier to cope with. Though I do see these benefits for my pain level, and research supports them, I do find that sometimes it is hard to maintain my practice in the face of chronic pain. For me, morning and late day are the worst times for pain. Coincidentally, they are also the times I am most likely to be able to attend a yoga class or practice at home. This means that sometimes I don’t go, because I hurt and I simply cannot make it. Pain also prevents me from going as deeply into poses as I want. I have previously admitted that I do have a competitive nature, even though I understand that I should not in yoga, and feeling that I’m “doing it poorly” can be enough to suck away some of my joy in the practice if I’m not careful. Finally, when I am already in pain, I can’t always tell where my edge is. If I’m not hurting much, I know exactly when to stop moving into a pose because of the level of discomfort. But, in a flare, as this week, everything hurts and every position hurts. So, it’s difficult to tell when it’s “too much” pain and I have sometimes overextended and then paid for it later.
The raw food diet, for me, similarly presents opportunities and challenges in relation to chronic pain issues. I started this eating plan with the hopes that it would make a large difference in my inflammatory response and thus would significantly improve my health. That has not yet happened (though my digestion is certainly better), but I’m still hoping that it will. So, I’m “planning” on that benefit. A second positive of the raw food diet for pain is that some foods are believed to reduce pain/inflammation (like leafy greens, pineapple, some spices) while others are thought to encourage it (like artificial sweeteners, nitrates). While these benefits are not to be dismissed, I have also found it a challenge to manage pain and raw foodism. When I’m having a difficult time, I have found that it has an impact on my metabolism, blood sugar, energy level, etc. And, I tend to not want to eat large quantities. With cooked food, it is relatively easy to increase or maintain adequate intake even when eating a lower quantity. With raw food, I have found this more difficult. Consequently, I am not only experiencing the weakness of the medical issue, but also feeling weak simply because I haven’t taken in sufficient calories to support my body. I continue to hope that, as I become more accustomed to eating raw, this will decrease.
So, what is the upshot for me? I know that I will continue to do yoga, and I think that I will continue with a high raw diet. But, while doing so, I think I need to pay better attention to the pain that my body is experiencing, and not overwhelm the body with the plans of the mind, nor expect that a pain free life is the ultimate goal. I think that both yoga and a mindful raw diet might help me do this, if I practice. As B.K.S. Iyengar has said:
Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.
For more reading about these issues, see: