By Bridie Walsh
Most of us opt into yoga for fun and general health; for Vicki Gordon it’s a lifeline. Yoga is helping her beat the unbearable pain of fibromyalgia.
“Fibromyalgia is an inflammatory disease in the body where the joints [can be] inflamed,” Gordon explains. “It can be very painful. It disturbs sleep, waking many times a night. Then you’re fatigued.”
It’s been 13 years since Gordon was diagnosed with the central nervous system disorder and, to combat its effects, Gordon has implemented a daily yoga practice.
So effective has it been that she sometimes forgets she even suffers this debilitating illness.
How it began
The extreme back pain Gordon experienced following the birth of her sixth child became so excruciating that she had to resort to regular cortisone injections to alleviate pain. Her physiotherapist first recognised her symptoms and suggested she visit a rheumatologist who diagnosed fibromyalgia. Both the remedial pain management technique, Feldenkrais, and yoga were recommended as treatments to manage symptoms.
“When I first got the diagnosis I was really depressed about it. It’s not something you could name and cure with a few tablets,” Gordon laments. “I had to basically learn how to deal with it and live with it.”
She started Feldenkrais, a treatment that creates new neural pathways in the brain that addresses how the neurons trigger pain. But it took an entire year before she followed the rheumatologist’s advice to start yoga simply because Gordon didn’t realise she needed both. After all, she was regularly going to the gym and maintaining a healthy fitness regime. Even then, Gordon struggled with getting started with regular yoga practice.
“Yoga in the beginning was very challenging for me. Especially Savasana [corpse pose]. I couldn’t sit still, my mind kept ticking over.”
Gordon would leave a class early to avoid the Savasana. “But now I just love it,” she says.
Benefits of yoga
Managing everyday life is a daily struggle for most of us. As a mother of six and a clinical psychologist for the Children’s Court Clinic in the area of child protection, Gordon is not unfamiliar with stress.
Gordon is adamant about the benefits of yoga for overall wellbeing: “I’m 52 and I feel great. I never did gymnastics as a kid, now I’m doing headstands and handstands. I feel really fit and healthy. I get all my exercise from yoga. When I travel I always take my mat and straps.”
Despite a hectic life she has seen improvements, physically and mentally, since introducing regular yoga practice.
It has proven effective for managing stress and physical pain, she says. She dropped the Feldenkrais after a year and continued yoga.
Starting a daily practice
In the beginning, Gordon started practising once a week at a local yoga centre. Now she practices almost every day.
She has designated a special space in her home, setting up a corner with ropes on the walls which she uses for the more difficult balancing postures and to get a deeper stretch.
Although she prefers morning sessions, sometimes her schedule gets too busy so she will do a yoga session in the evening before bed. It calms her and readies her for sleep.
Today, Gordon can’t imagine living without the sense of “calm” and “serenity” yoga leaves her with.
“I only started Iyengar after a year of doing yoga,” she says. Although she has dabbled in other forms of yoga, including Japanese Oki, Iyengar suited her specific needs: building strength, fitness, eliminating pain and providing relaxation.
Digestive issues arising from a childhood operation, a prolapsed uterus, and a hernia, were other health issues Gordon had when she began yoga. Each health issue caused a physical limitation which she thought would prevent her from doing some poses. However teachers were always able to provide her with modifications so she could continue.
According to Gordon, the training and knowledge of Iyengar instructors was invaluable and it’s the reason she stuck with it. They were able to adapt to her unique issues. It meant that she could do yoga at a level that worked for her.
“I rarely have back pain, if I do it’s usually because I haven’t been on top of my yoga,” Gordon explains. It’s a remarkable claim for someone living with fibromyalgia.
“I love yoga. I’m absolutely addicted,” Gordon enthuses. “My whole wellbeing I attribute to yoga. It’s a gift.”
Bridie walsh is a freelance journalist
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