health · Multiple Sclerosis · yoga

Our inner warriors!

I’ve had a difficult week in some ways, with one of my usual MS symptoms being particularly strong: pressure in my head and face, almost feeling like it was going to explode! I always have a certain amount of tightness and pressure in my head and face, but for some reason (and it’s usually not worth trying to figure out the reason why, when it comes to MS!) it was a lot worse. I spoke to the MS nurses, and in the end we agreed to increase one of the drugs I take for neuropathic pain – Pregablin – and if I’m not better by Monday (tomorrow), they will see me in hospital.

Thankfully, I think (hope!) that the intensity is decreasing a little, and it’s feeling more back to ‘normal’ (‘normal’ = quite bad, but manageable). I’ve done more today, and my yoga practice this morning was a little stronger, rather than the yin and restorative practices I’ve been doing for a few days. I included three of the warrior (Virabhadrasana) poses in my practice this morning. I think they were a perfect practice as they have helped me feel stronger in lots of different ways today, so I thought I’d share some of the benefits of the warrior poses. There are specific benefits to each of the warriors, but they also have lots in common. Whenever I’m practising them I feel strong and balanced, and have a sense of being still, with strong foundations, whilst still being ready for whatever life might bring.

All of the warrior poses help us build physical strength (they use so many muscles!) and balance (so a big plus for anyone with MS), as well as mental resilience. They also help to develop mind-body connection, the concept of proprioception (our sense of where different parts of our body are in relation to each other), and  coordination.

 

All pictures from http://www.yogajournal.com

Virabhadrasana 1

  • increases body awareness
  • opens the heart
  • develops inner strength and courage

Virabhadrasana 2

Like Virabhadrasana 1, this pose increases body awareness and alignment. I like how http://www.doyouyoga.com describes Warrior 2: ‘finding ease within effort’. Getting the alignment right allows us to notice where we are holding tension in our bodies, and we can question in which areas of our lives we can relax more, and where we still need to be strong.

Virabhadrasana 3 (Mine was a bit wobbly this morning!)

  • improves physical balance (obviously, if you look at the picture!)
  • teaches us to stay balanced in our emotions and to stay present
  • helps us stay in a challenging pose (or any life challenge) without holding too much tension

How have they helped me today?

Even though I’m feeling a lot better than I was earlier in the week, I still could have easily cancelled today’s plans, but after my yoga practice I felt strong and ready for the day. Here are some of the things I’m pleased I’ve done today (and those of you with MS or a similar illness will understand that these few things take a LOT of energy!) and the reason why they’re important to me:

  • Spanish tuition with the daughter of a friend of mine = mental challenge, thinking in two languages when I often can’t find the right word in English! Using my brain 🙂
  • Making  the most of the good weather and walked further than usual = physical challenge, my legs hurt but I paced myself and had a lovely walk; beautiful views 🙂
  • Some weeding and tidying up in the garden = physical challenge; appreciating nature and the outdoors 🙂
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health

Pet therapy!

I was googling for yoga things earlier and was sidetracked by this article about the benefits of having a pet. So I thought I’d write a quick post about me and me cat!

Those of you know me know how important my cat, George, is to me, and yes, I’m quite happy to accept that I’m a bit of a mad cat woman! This week has been  a strange one with some of my usual symptoms flaring strongly, so I’ve been at home doing not very much. But Dr George has been looking after me, and being curled up with him and a good book is not so bad! I just wish he could put the kettle on sometimes! He’s so content, both when he’s out exploring and when he’s curled up in his basket, or stretched out on the dresser!

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I remember one of the times I was in hospital for treatment, one of the other patients was visited by her dog, it was so nice to see the immediate difference it made to her.

Being at home feeling unwell for a few days, I know that I’d be feeling a lot worse if it wasn’t for George; he often reminds me to just chill out, live in the present, there’s no need to worry (as long as there’s some fish in the fridge!)

Even though I’ve known about the benefits of pets for a long time, the article is still an interesting read. These few lines sum up the main points:

Animals can be some of the best teachers in life, if you simply pay attention to the way they live, love, and interact with the world around them.

They possess an incredibly grounding energy that:

Teaches us how to stay present (they’re rarely worried about the future or tormented by the past)
Provides unconditional love
Heals hearts and souls

Here’s the full article if you’re interested: http://www.chopra.com/articles/4-benefits-of-owning-a-pet#sm.001ga6u6218aqetrtps1kjooxvqp6

 

Diet · health · Multiple Sclerosis

The Overcoming MS Diet

This post is specifically about diet and Multiple Sclerosis, but as the OMS diet focuses on reducing inflammation, it could also be helpful for ‘…other typical Western diseases such as coronary heart disease, asthma and cancer.’

The question of how diet affects MS is in some ways a bit of a minefield as there isn’t just one set of guidelines, and each of the diets offers differing advice. The MS Society has a good overview here of the most well-known: The Swank Diet, The Overcoming MS Diet, The Best Bet Diet (which I hadn’t heard of before today), and The Paleo Diet https://www.mssociety.org.uk/what-is-ms/treatments-and-therapies/diet/special-diets-and-ms

As the MS Society says, ‘at the moment, there isn’t any conclusive evidence to suggest they are effective.’ However, lots of people with MS, myself included, know that what we eat makes a significant difference to how they feel and their overall quality of life.

I agree that following one of these diets in an individual choice. I am not going to stick to one of the diets to the letter, but rather read the advice and think carefully about what works for me and my body.

I am in the process of reading Professor Jelinek’s Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis, and the chapter about food is long and full of research and advice. I liked how it describes the diet as ‘….not just a diet, which implies a temporary change; this is a permanently different way of living – a change for life’ (p124) and I also liked how their description of an ideal diet is based not on any crazy fads, but on a genuinely healthy for all of us. In a nutshell: a plant-based diet with seafood + flaxseed oil (or fish oil) + Vitamin D.

‘Those people with MS in our study reporting healthier habits in relation to fruit and veg and fat were significantly more likely to have a better quality of life. Those who didn’t eat meat and those who didn’t eat dairy had significantly better physical and mental quality of life…’ (p97)

The book also makes the point that by cutting down Omega-6 oils and increasing Omega-3s, we shift the balance away from inflammation. So not only are autoimmune diseases improved, but also other typical Western diseases such as coronary heart disease, asthma and cancer.

I’ve now finished reading the chapter and want to try to make sure I don’t forget it all straight away (I know what my memory can be like!) So like a good student I’ve underlined key things, and have also looked at the OMS website which has lots more information https://overcomingms.org/recovery-program/diet/  Great, but also a bit confusing and overwhelming! This infographic below shows us clearly which foods to eat and which ones to avoid, but I was still a little confused about types of fat and cooking with oils, so in order to help myself remember the most important things, I’ve made a list which I can return to easily. I’ve pasted the list below  (at the end of this post) – my notes are quite basic but hopefully they’ll help me remember key things, and maybe they’ll be useful for someone else too! If you want to know more about any of the aspects of the diet, the OMS website has stacks of information, and also a forum for asking questions and sharing advice https://overcomingms.org/forum/ (again, for me it’s a bit too confusing!)

OMS diet

What changes am I going to make?

I have been following a ‘virtually vegan’ diet since January 1st this year (prompted by the Vegan January initiative which I thought I’d try for a month, and I haven’t wanted to go back since https://veganuary.com/ ). So in some ways I’m already following much of the OMS diet. As I said above, it’s not that I’m going to follow every part of this diet, but it has been helpful to learn more about the research that the OMS diet is based on, and I think there are a few small changes which could benefit my diet:

  • I won’t start eating fish, but I will make sure I increase Omega-3 fats in other ways: hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, walnuts, chia seeds, linseeds
  • Be careful about the quality of oil I use
  • Reduce/eliminate the amount of oil I use when cooking

Do any of you follow the OMS diet or have you tried any of the others? What works best for you? I think diet plays a big part in how I feel, so I’d love to hear any other tips that work for you!

My notes from the food chapter of the latest edition of the OMS book:

Fats

  • Less saturated fat – minimised as much as possible
  • We must substitute saturated fat with enough unsaturated fats, with the balance tipped heavily in favour of Omega-3s over the Omega-6 fatty acids. It’s not ‘no fat, they advise quite a bit of fat, but it is good fat’ (p131)
  • Omega-3s can be plant-based or fish-based
  • Polyunsaturated fats are essential; they help in MS by making cell membranes more fluid and resistant to degeneration
  • We need a good balance of unsaturated oils. Most of the unsaturated oil in the OMS diet comes from nuts and grains.
  • Omega-3s suppress the inflammatory response
  • Monounsaturated fats are essentially neutral for the immune system
  • High omega-6 promotes the inflammatory response
  • Flaxseed oil – should be cold-pressed
  • Avoid refined/human-made fats
  • Coconut oil = high saturated fat
  • ‘olive oil’ = refined; we need to use extra virgin oils

‘A bad fat profile in blood and cell membranes, reflecting a high saturared fat diet, is associated with more rapid progression to disability in MS.’ (P79)

Low saturated fat and high unsaturated fat is optimal for improving blood fat profiles

By cutting down Omega-6 and increasing Omega-3, we shift the balance away from inflammation. So not only are autoimmune diseases improved, but also other typical Western diseases such as coronary heart disease, asthma and cancer.

Cooking with oils

Fats change when heated, so it’s better to add oil after cooking where possible.

  • Steaming = very good (obviously!)
  • Baking: instead of pouring on lots of oil, maybe just brush a little oil onto the food before baking. Most veg and seafood baked at around 180° will cook before the oil is significantly changed, so this is ok. Alternatively, bake with no oil and put some on afterwards
  • Frying with oil is to be avoided. Even stir-fries – use water or soy sauce instead.

However, extra virgin olive oil is relatively stable – eg the Mediterranean diet is very healthy. However, the OMS diet still recommends avoiding cooking with it, and instead adding it afterwards. Think lunch in a Mediterranean café with a small bowl of olive oil with some delicious ciabatta!

 

 

 

health · Multiple Sclerosis · yoga

Not clinging to pain: an example of yoga philosophy helping me live more positively with MS (and stop feeling sorry for myself!)

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Pages and pages have been written about each of the yoga sūtras of Patanjali. I am very much at the beginning of learning about them, and don’t claim to know very much about them, but this is just a few thoughts about one in particular, sūtra 2.8, which has come up in my yoga teaching this week.  I’m going to focus on how I feel it can be applied to my health, but it is something that is relevant to all aspects of our lives.

Alistair Shearer’s translation of sūtra 2.7 and 2.8 are:

2.7 ‘Attachment is clinging to pleasure.’

2.8 ‘Aversion is clinging to pain.’

Of course living with a chronic condition such as multiple sclerosis is challenging in lots of different ways, and it’d be too difficult to try to put them in a list from most to least difficult because every day is different (no two people with MS have exactly the same symptoms so I can only talk about my own experience) One day it’s maybe my legs and numbness, the next it’s the MS hug and shooting pins and needles, or several of the other common MS symptoms (and most days it changes hour to hour!) The fact that it’s never quiet, that there’s always something bubbling and flaring, means that it’s so easy to fixate on those parts of me where the  discomfort and pain are.

So that’s where these two sūtras come in. I’ll talk more about 2.8 in this post, as it reminds me not to ‘cling’ to pain, because when I do, my mind starts a spiel of such things as: why is this happening again, that means I’ll have to cancel plans again, why can’t I just have one day of not being so aware of my illness, this will never change or get better, etc etc etc, ad nauseum (I even bore myself with it sometimes, and end up feeling like the cat in the picture!)

And of course if I let my mind go there is that my physical symptoms get even worse, and I get stuck in a vicious cycle which is hard to break out of.

So I’m trying to remember this particular sūtra, not clinging to or fixating on what doesn’t feel good, not going down that slippery slope with my thoughts, and instead doing something from the list of things that I know helps: yoga, meditation, a short walk (I went out in the rain this morning, as I knew I needed some fresh air), some time outside in the garden, a cup of tea and some time reading, etc etc…..a long list of things that help in lots of different ways.

I find the sūtras fascinating and whilst I still have so much to learn about them, I enjoy seeing how they can be applied to different aspects of life. Of course lots can be said about 2.7 as well, but I’ll save that for another time; after staring at a screen, writing this post, and even thinking, have all taken their toll and I now need to go and do something from my list of things that always help!

There are lots of interpretations and ways to understand the sūtras, and I’d be interested to learn of others for 2.7/2.8. Please comment if you know of any, if this one resonates with you, or if any of the other sūtras are particularly meaningful to you.

 

 

 

 

health · Multiple Sclerosis · yoga · Yoga and health

Yoga on and off the mat

Just thought I’d share a few of the ways in which yoga has helped me today: 

  • My morning practice focusing on hip openers: perfect after a day of lots of sitting around yesterday! The hips are a place where lots of carry tension, and poses including Sucirandhrasana (eye of the needle), Anjaneyasana (low lunge), Ananda Balasana (Happy Baby), Eka Pada Rajakapotanasana (Pigeon) felt soooo good to start my day 🙂

 

  • Making some time to sit and do nothing, simply focusing on my breath and how I’m feeling. This was something we talked about on retreat, and I realised that even though I do make time to sit and be quiet, I often have a book with me, and so my mind is still active. I’m making a point of sitting down quietly, just for a few minutes, and simply tuning into my body, my breath, how different parts of me feel, sounds I can hear (often the birds!). 

 

  • Re-reading The Bhagavad Gita when I was on retreat reminded me of the 3 Gunas, something we covered on my training course and an area of yogic philosophy I’d like to learn more about. The 3 Gunas are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, and are the ‘strands’ which, when intertwined, form the constituents and essential parts of all of nature. All three of the Gunas are always present in all creation, but they can vary in their amounts, and as human beings we have the ‘…unique ability to consciously alter the levels of the Gunas in our bodies and minds’ through our lifestyle practices and thoughts. Some of the words that are used to describe the Gunas:

Sattva: understanding, harmony, balance, joy, ‘beingness’

Rajas: greed, controlling, selfish

Tamas: darkness, sloth, confusion, infatuation, heaviness

Looking at these words, and the others in the picture, it would be easy to desire to be only Sattvic, but it is important to remember that the universe and each of us needs a proportion of each of the Gunas. For example, without Rajas we would lack dynamism.

If you’re interested to know more, this is a good overview: http://www.yogabasics.com/learn/the-3-gunas-of-nature/ 

This morning, I could sense after my yoga and meditation practice that another day on the sofa would potentially lead to too much Tamas, and so even though I’ve still felt MS’s presence quite strongly today, I feel that I have been developing my yoga practice, both on and off the mat, and I feel lighter, more balanced and more content as a result 🙂

 

health · Multiple Sclerosis

Laughter is the best medicine!

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Today’s has been one of those days when low energy levels, quite a lot of pain and a frazzled immune system, have meant that the only option has been to stay in bed or lie on the sofa. Got plenty of food in the house, a couple of good books and a new box set a friend let me borrow, so I’ve been ok, but I was starting to feel a bit fed up that I hadn’t started to feel a bit better. Then I was looking at Facebook (even though I’m trying to look at it less!) and this picture appeared on my newsfeed. It made me laugh out loud and I remembered how much laughter helps. It also reminded me of the laughter yoga that one of the other students on my yoga teacher training course did with us; I need to do this again!

Here are a few all-time favourite comedies which I must keep going back to:

  • I’m sorry I haven’t a clue
  • Just a minute
  • The now show
  • Dead Ringers
  • Victoria Wood

(Yes, I’m a bit of a Radio 4 fan!)

Even just writing this and having a bit of a giggle has helped 🙂 It’d be good to find some new ones too if anyone has any recommendations!

This evening’s mission: stop being a miserable cow!! 😉

Photo thanks to @ladiespassiton

 

 

 

health · Multiple Sclerosis

Too tired :(

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Unlike yesterday when it was right to keep going, this evening I’ve had to give in and cancel plans to go to a friend’s party. (Feeling like the kitten in the picture!) Evenings out aren’t very common for me anymore, and so I’d been looking forward to it, but MS was shouting too loudly, and I just knew I’d end up feeling worse.

Even though I’m disappointed, exhausted and my body feels like I’ve run a marathon and have been out drinking all night, I’m going to try to not let myself get really fed up about things; I know from experience that it only makes things even worse. So whilst it’s not the evening out I’d been expecting, I’ve decided I’m still going to have a good one, enjoying some of the things that always help:

Curling up in PJs with hot chocolate

A good book

Some catch up TV (a good crime drama often helps!)

A soak in the bath 

Hardly rock and roll, but all of these will not only help this evening, but also help me remember that I won’t necessarily feel awful tomorrow as well. I’ve realised before that if I go to bed feeling too sorry for myself, it’s more likely I’ll wake up still feeling rubbish. So instead, I’ll have a good evening, albeit a quieter one than I’d planned, and I’ll remember that tomorrow is another day. It’s also true that not long after I’d made the decision to stay in, I started to feel a little bit better, almost like fighting what my body was saying was making it worse; guess that’s obvious really, as the fighting against symptoms only uses more of the very little energy I have.

What are your strategies for when you’re feeling unwell, when fatigue hits and you have to cancel plans? I’d love to add to my list of things that help!