Yoga tips for those with challenged nervous systems

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUpdate Nov 2015:  I still do yoga in little bits throughout the day mostly. It’s rare that I do a whole hour or more session…simply because that isn’t what my body needs…listening to that is true yoga but studio yoga classes aren’t really set up for those of us who need to do it that way. This is why I’ve always done most of my practice at home, as well as out and about. I do yoga all over the place, actually. Quick standing yoga stretches can be done almost anywhere as long as you don’t mind people looking at you oddly on occasion. If you do, finding a restroom for a quick stretch is good. 

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Because of global and broad hypersensitivity (caused by the psych drug injury) sometimes two minutes of yoga is exactly the right amount. Sometimes two minutes of yoga right now, five minutes a hour from now and ten minutes before bed is just right. This makes taking classes difficult sometimes and impossible other times. There are many occasions during which more than a few minutes of yoga can put my nervous system into overdrive. Learning just the right amount has been critical.

Listening to the body is very important. Even yoga done when the nervous system isn’t up for it can be counter-productive. Healing from this injury requires nurturing the autonomic nervous system in ways few people trained to teach yoga understand. That said, I’ve found many teachers who are more than happy to trust that I know what my body needs. Find those teachers and work with them if you need a teacher. A good yoga instructor will know to trust your sense of your own body.

I did most of my initial rehabilitation (from having been bedridden) at home on my own where I could listen to my body and do only what I could handle. So that meant, at first, just raising a leg in the air while still in bed and rotating my ankle. I did that with my arms as well. Slowly, slowly I got out of bed. I used a lot of youtube yoga videos. They’re free and there are 100s available to choose from. I always listened to my body and started and stopped videos a lot and just learned poses one by one etc. I had a lot of time on my hands. There was no rush.

What I discovered as I improved is that with this nervous system injury even now, when I perhaps can walk for 40 minutes in the woods or dance for an hour (those capacities do vary as well), that yoga, somehow, because of how it tends deeply to the nervous system is really powerful and I need to be additionally careful with it…so yeah, often LESS is more. This is critically important to understand for those with serious nervous system injuries like those with protracted psych drug withdrawal syndromes. On those days I don’t go without yoga, but I do a very minimal routine to stretch and remain mobile.

Restorative yoga (the kind where the entire hour class is only 3 or 4 poses laying down) is different in that it’s often easier to tolerate. These days for me it’s almost always a wonderful treat. Early on however even restorative yoga was far too much simply because being still for too long was impossible in that the chaos in my body was totally impossible to sit with for that long. I used to practice meditation in those days a couple of minutes at a time, so laying down for an hour in a class wasn’t therapeutic in the least…in fact it was re-traumatizing at that time.

Now though with other kinds of yoga, it’s not about chaos in the body that makes me need to stop…it’s literally about the nervous system getting overstimulated and if I don’t pay attention I end up regretting it later with days stuck at home again. I’m not sure the language I’m using is clear…but I suspect folks who have this sort of injury will know what I’m saying. Mostly I want to talk about trusting oneself with exercise in general and not overdoing it. I get email sometimes from folks who are dealing with psychiatric drug withdrawal syndrome who assume yoga is safe and they go to a class and get really messed up. This can happen with any style of yoga when we’re very sensitive…even the gentle sorts. Starting really slowly and gently is very important so that you get to know what your body can handle.

Bottom line for everyone, regardless of injury or state of well-being, listening to the body and deeply honoring it’s limits is important when practicing yoga.

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See also: Healing trauma links

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About Monica Cassani

Author/Editor Beyond Meds: Everything Matters