December 24, 2013

Healing Chronic Pain Through Yoga. ~ Tessa Torgeson

My little gangly self with a mind like a bouncy ball could not grasp sitting still, my legs wanted to run and run.

I was introduced to yoga when I was a 4th grader. A man with skin like a raisin, head swathed in a scarf, wearing spandex shorts came to my gym class to teach “yoga.” I concealed giggles to be polite when he put on a “relaxation tape” with running waterfalls that evoked the sounds of urination in my childish ways.

When I was 19 I had constant, severe pain and extreme fevers. I could not open doors or grasp a steering wheel or open a can. I sat in my cinder-block dorm room with my winter coat, snow pants and boots on with the thermostat cranked at 99 degrees.

I became emaciated at 115 pounds for my 5 foot 9 inch frame.

I kept going to the doctor.

“Mono,” they said.

“Drink plenty of fluids and get rest,” they said.

They diagnosed me with a “virus of unknown origin.”

“Here, take some antibiotics,” they said.

Anyone who has grappled with chronic pain can understand the hopelessness, the frustrations and the feeling of shaking your fist at the sky wanting answers and better yet, relief.

After months of going to the ER, walk-in clinics and others, finally a family physician diagnosed my pain.

“Rheumatoid arthritis,” they said. A disease in which your immune system goes to war with itself; attacking healthy tissues.

My fingers and wrists were sausage-like rolls. My elbows and knees tender and raw, inflamed hips and knees that made sitting and walking difficult if not impossible. Even the joint in the back of my throat was inflamed, making my voice a constant raspy moan.

Others with chronic pain issues can empathize with the loss that is your body’s once nimble capabilities.

I was a runner aspiring for marathons. I took solace in the punctuation of my feet hitting the pavement, the rhythm and freedom of treading the silent streets.

It was devastating to me that I could not exercise.

Luckily, my rheumatologist was the finest, most compassionate doctor I have had the pleasure of knowing in my life. He had soft brown eyes, a thick Indian accent, and a way of putting my mom and me at ease despite my debilitating illness.

“You are one of the youngest patients I have seen with such a severe case of full blown adult rheumatoid arthritis. You would be wheelchair bound if it weren’t for modern medicines.”

Enter the barrage or modern medicines, the artillery against my disease.

Methotrexate is an immune suppressant that works because it weakens your over-active immune system. Unfortunately, this makes you prone to infections, colds, and flu. My body improved but not enough. Soon I added injections of cortisone, a brand new medication called Humiera that I injected into my bony thighs and Prednisone steroids.

I realized that I could feel sorry for myself or be happy I did not lose limbs or organs, or worse. My rheumatologist suggested yoga as a gentle exercise for my joints and one that could also provide pain relief.

Thus, my love affair began.

I had been a gymnastics and dance dropout due to my lack of flexibility and long appendages and torso that made touching my toes and splits feel nearly impossible. Yet I felt compelled to be patient, to work through the pain, find tenderness and heal this new, old body of mine. I tried different classes in my city: Ashtanga, Kundilini, Hot Yoga, Hatha.

Thanks to my medication regimen, lactose-free diet and yoga, my rheumatoid arthritis went into a deep slumber doctors call remission.

I do yoga a few times a week. I rarely need to take the anxiety medication I once used three times a day or to help me sleep. The tightness in my chest is fading, replaced by wholeness.

I love yoga and am proud to have done 108 sun salutations recently as a gratitude celebration.

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Assistant Editor: Alicia Wozniak / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: elephant journal media archives

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