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Finding (and Missing) My “True Sanctuary”

Though my migraines have been better in the last couple months — except for last week, when I accidentally halved my dose of magnesium — I’ve been feeling kind of blah. Not depressed, but not motivated or energetic either. This, I’ve discovered, has in large part been because I haven’t been able to practice yoga, which generally boosts my health and my mood. Beyond providing exercise, yoga occupies the all-important third space for this migraineur.

Migraine didn’t keep me away this time, at least not directly. Instead, I developed joint pain as a result of my sedentary life. After a year of taking only gentle yoga classes, I moved to all-levels classes. I felt like I’d developed some stamina and was ready to start building some muscle. I expected a lot of muscle aches — the good, I-can-tell-I’ve-been-working-out kind of soreness. It never came even though I was going all-out in class. It turns out that my natural flexibility (which hasn’t waned) was working against me. My muscles aren’t strong enough to support me when I’m splayed out in a pose, so my joints took the brunt of my workouts. I kept going to classes for awhile, thinking I’d work through it. Nope. So I tried only gentle classes, but the pain persisted. I had no choice but to stop and heal.

I bought an ancient treadmill so I could exercise without leaving the house. I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t mind exercising on a treadmill, but “exercise” and “yoga” are not synonymous experiences for me. Walking on a treadmill and listening to podcasts is fine; yoga classes are a time of (almost) pure enjoyment for me. I’d rather follow my bliss. Engaging in a third space, which is a meaningful activity outside of work or home, can reduce stress and social isolation. In A Third Space for Migraine Patients, headache specialist William Young writes:

I think that finding a good third space can be very hard for a person with bad migraine, but that finding something is truly important. I think it works best when it requires interacting with people outside of work or home and consumes someone in such a way that it becomes very hard to focus on pain.  I don’t think it needs that much time, and if an hour a week is all you can find, that is fine, if you have found a true sanctuary. Find something, try it on and if it doesn’t fit, keep trying until you find something meaningful. Fight for one tiny, special activity that takes you away from the places in your life that the pain resides. Keeping a seed of contented normalcy somewhere in one’s world is critical, and provides hope in the darkest times.

I will spare you the poetic waxing. Suffice it to say that classes provide me with much pleasure, which I have missed. While I don’t talk to a lot of people at the studio (how outgoing I am depends on how migrainey I am), I appreciate seeing different people than my friends and family. The studio I go to has a strong community feeling and I like the support implicit in that. People notice when I’m gone and ask how I am when I return.

I have described yoga as a lifeline before. Until this forced hiatus, I didn’t know how true that was. I’ve been back for a few gentle classes and have felt great emotionally and migraine-wise afterward. My joints were OK with one class, but they are complaining a bit after classes on consecutive days. Next week I will get suggestions from a physical therapist/pilates instructor/massage therapist for improving muscle tone and protecting my joints.

The work required to regain muscle strength is daunting, especially knowing that migraine will continue to interrupt my attempts to exercise. I fear that I will never come out ahead. At which point I have to remind myself to be mindful of the present moment, not lost in the past or anticipating the future. One step — whether forward or back — at a time.

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Yoga, Migraine, Latte, Whole Foods, Couch

Other than oversleeping (was dreaming I was at a Dave Matthews Band show) and not realizing I’d have to scrape snow off my car, the morning started out well. I was only a couple minutes late to yoga and was really looking forward to the class. The migraine didn’t appear until class began. As it grew steadily over five minutes, I knew I wouldn’t last. Nearly in tears, I packed up to leave. I asked my teacher for the hug I sorely needed, which helped a bit.

I was early enough in the migraine for caffeine to help, so I got a latte next door to the yoga studio and headed to my car. When the music started in the car, I had to turn it off — that almost never happens. I sat in silence, wondering if I could make it to Whole Foods. No, probably not. I went anyway.

I was in a daze, but the pain had lessened. Although it took five minutes to find my misplaced cart (I’m not exaggerating), I made it through the store OK. Cook’s Illustrated and Real Simple magazines were my only impulse purchases. (My impulse control is severely impaired when I’m shopping with a migraine. Does that happen to you?)

Now I’m on the couch. The active part of my day is over, but it isn’t all bad. Reading isn’t make my migraine worse, so I’m grateful for the magazines. I’ll get to listen to my current audiobook, On the Road. I have leftover cherry cobbler. I have a backlog of Ugly Betty episodes. It could be better, but I’m not unhappy.

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A Joyous Return to Yoga

Last week I went to my first yoga class in more than a year. It was amazing.

My body felt better. My mind felt better. My head even felt a little better. At home, my practice is always half-hearted and rushed. It is more about getting through what I need to do. What I’ve always loved about yoga is focusing on the good my body can do instead of how my health drags me down. I feel strong and whole. I haven’t found that in my home practice, but I felt it in class.

Maybe because I felt safe with the teacher walking me through everything I had to do. I pushed myself, but gently. My neck and shoulders, already loosened up after a massage on Monday, felt better than they have in a year. Seriously.

Having only a few good hours most days, usually in the morning, has kept me from class. If I devote that time to class, then I don’t get anything else done. Tuesday I went to class, then had a great rest of the day. More energy and strength followed. I got my good hours and then some.

Maybe it was a fluke, but Monday and Tuesday were great days. I felt good physically and mentally. I’d like to attribute it to massage and yoga. Or maybe it was the return to exercise, as not exercising contributes to headaches. (Although I doubt one day made much difference!)

In any case, I’ve planned a new routine. Such plans aren’t usually successful for me, but I think I can do this. Massage at 9:30 a.m. Monday and yoga in that time slot on Tuesday and Thursday.

Just like that I swung from despair to hopefulness. I’m trying to temper my excitement, but it is hard. Not only did I do something I love last week, I think it actually helped my head. *fingers crossed*

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Tai Chi and Yoga for Pain Management in Neurology Now

Tai chi is one of the therapies that I’m definitely going to try. Neurology Now’s article describing how tai chi and yoga invokes the mind-body connection to relieve pain cemented my decision. Physical benefits aside, releasing tension and teaching mindfulness are the most powerful effects of tai chi and yoga, according to the article.

Mindfulness is nothing more than paying calm, moment-by-moment attention to what you are thinking and feeling. Ideal for cultivating greater awareness of the connection between mind and body, mindfulness has been shown to positively effect a range of autonomic physiological processes, such as lowering blood pressure and reducing overall arousal and emotional reactivity.

Yoga and tai chi combine the stress-reducing effects of mindfulness with low-impact movement, which is especially helpful for people who have chronic pain or physical limitations that make them relatively sedentary.

I’m captivated by the stillness of tai chi and am looking forward to trying something new. Seattle studio Embrace the Moon, which began as a program in a medical setting of tai chi for pain reduction, starts a new schedule next week. I’ll be there.

Embrace the Moon’s overview and description of tai chi styles is (relatively) concise and easy to understand. I’m finally understanding more about this discipline, which totally confuses me.

Neurology Now is an excellent free patient education magazine published by the American Academy of Neurology. You’ve probably seen it in your neurologist’s office. You can sign up for a free subscription to the magazine or read it online. I love getting it in the mail — I actually remember to read it.

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Trying New Treatments: A Long, Long List

Physical therapy, craniosacral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback, hypnotherapy, tai chi, pilates, meditation, chiropractic. While my migraines were too bad to keep appointments this fall, I kept a running list of the new treatments and therapies I’d like to try.

I have fantasies of doing nothing else than jumping in and trying all these therapies at once. They’d have to add up to more than 40 hours a week. Reality quickly usurps the fantasy: No blog, no decent meals, no organizing and downsizing. You know, all the other activities of my life.

Prioritizing treatments is more challenging than it seems.

  • My massage therapist’s physical therapist has aborted her migraines and his techniques are different than I’ve had in the past. No question I’m seeing him as soon as possible..
  • I tried a bit of craniosacral last year and the results were promising, so that’s in.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, biofeedback and hypnotherapy have common threads. With my depression, cognitive behavioral therapy is the natural starting point. I expect that biofeedback and hypnotherapy will flow from that.
  • Tai chi, pilates and meditation also have similarities. I want to exercise more and learn to be mentally quiet. Pilates is more about relieving pain in my lower back, but tai chi is the perfect fit.
  • Chiropractic is last on my list. Last year’s attempt was a
    bust
    , but I’m planning to see a different chiropractor, whose approach
    is quite different than the one I saw last spring. Still, having not
    been effective in the past, I’m in no rush to try it.

Choosing one from each group leaves me with physical therapy, craniosacral, cognitive behavioral therapy and tai chi. Is that still too much? Combined with myofascial release and a yoga home practice, which are having good results, I’m afraid I’m overdoing it.

In fact, I know I am. This “narrowed” list would require appointments four days a week plus three tai chi classes. Ha! Like that’s possible. But they all seem absolutely necessary.

I’m stuck. What do you recommend?