Counting My Blessings: Healthful Practices
While the holidays can be wonderful, all the holiday cheer can also highlight the aspects of our lives that make it hard to feel cheerful. RA can bring out the Grinch in me, so inspired by the Whos down in Whoville who sing in spite of their loss, I am challenging myself to think about all that I can be grateful for. This series will spotlight the elements that make life with RA easier for me to bear.
I’ll go ahead and out myself: I don’t always do all the things that I know will help me feel better. There are times when I just can’t seem to summon up the energy, justify the expense, or (most often) make the time. However, there are some things that are natural, safe, and are indeed beneficial for me, and I’m so glad they’re available.
Yoga. This systematic way of breathing, moving, and meditating has infused cultures around the world and through the ages, and I can understand its popularity, especially in modern day America. Yoga not only stretches and strengthens parts of the human body that beginners might have never previously known even existed, it promotes a state of present-mindedness that is becoming more and more rare in our go-go-go society.
I have practiced yoga for 12 years, at times only allowing a few days between sessions, and at other times letting months go by without practice. During the times when I practice yoga regularly, I definitely notice an improvement in my RA, with a decrease in pain and inflammation and an increase in energy. Along with this vigor comes confidence and a sense of well-being. Yoga does require time and some money (I rarely have the self-discipline to practice regularly at home), but when I create the space in my budget and hectic schedule to get to a yoga class, I am always grateful to be there.
Massage. A good massage from a practitioner who really understands the human body can leave me feeling as if I’m actually walking on air. I have a happy, floating feeling, as if my body doesn’t have to fully support its own weight. Having used a number of massage therapists, I can attest that they are not all equal. Massages from some merely feel “nice,” and from others may feel relaxing. Yet, my massage therapist of choice produces that dreamy, happy-with-the-world feeling each time I decide to treat myself to an hour on her table. She truly understands how the various systems of the body interact and impact one another, and she knows what each part of my body requires, giving some areas more pressure and stimulation that others (and never applying too much pressure, thus avoiding any joint tenderness or pain). I always have an all-is-right-with-the-world feeling after a massage from her.
Acupuncture. Initially I was hesitant to try acupuncture. I wouldn’t consider myself as a person who has a “problem” with needles, but I don’t think I’m alone in not loving the feeling of a needle entering my skin. Therefore, the idea of lying still with multiple needles stuck in my body for an extended period of time wasn’t something I was exactly eager to try. Yet desperation will lead us to all sorts of experiments, and acupuncture ended up being one that was worth it. Quite different from my expectations, during most sessions I don’t even feel the needles being inserted. They are tiny: far smaller than the needles used in medical offices or packaged with RA biologic drugs. Therefore my skin often doesn’t even register they are there. Aside from a very few pressure points, most of the time there is no discomfort whatsoever, and a calm, peaceful feeling is predominant. Lying on the table is actually incredibly relaxing, and gives me a light floating feeling akin to that from a great massage. When I have had persistent flares lasting for weeks or months, keeping regular acupuncture appointments has been a component of my treatment plan that has helped me get back to stability.
Hot baths. Oh how I love the penetrating heat of a hot bath on my joints. Before becoming a parent, during periods of persistent joint pain I took hot baths on a daily basis, sometimes even sitting so long that I’d drain some of the cooled water for a fresh, hot refill. Hot water is so soothing on my achy bones, and loosens and relaxes the muscles surrounding them. I get an all-over sense of calm and peace in the warm water. Now that we have small kids, it’s harder to take this “me time,” but when I really need it my husband will cover parenting duties solo so that I can have an hour in the tub with the door locked, and it always brings some level of bliss.