I started attending a local therapeutic yoga class in Bathgate upon advice from the NHS pain management clinic. I see the class as part of a holistic approach to managing my pain, and it has had a positive impact on my daily life. Today I’m talking to my yoga teacher, Bijam.
Bijam, I was recommended to join your class by a previous yoga teacher and good friend who felt that I would benefit from your teachings. Can you take a moment to explain the term, therapeutic yoga.
Therapeutic simply means healing. I plan my therapeutic class for the needs of individuals with physical health needs who might find it difficult to attain certain asanas (postures). The restorative aspect of moving and breathing with awareness enhances the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, which, combined with the deep rest of Yoga Nidra at the end of a class, helps relieve pain.
I attended a remedial teacher training in 2012 and some of the things I learned have been invaluable, such as the realisation that some aids, such as walking sticks, can actually cause problems. The course gave me the confidence to adapt postures.
Do you believe yoga is accessible to everyone?
I do, yes, but with modifications of course. Why should a struggling body or mind separate you from the beauty of yoga as a life support system? I believe passionately that yoga ought to be, and must be, accessible for everybody.
Having spoken to many people who live with long term conditions, both in physical and mental health, I completely understand how difficult it can be to join in any new exercise classes. Is there anything you’d like to say to encourage people to join a local yoga class.
It's hard because some people think it is only an exercise system. It's not. That said, if somebody begins yoga because they want to want to get the body moving, in my experience the philosophy and understanding of the mind element of yoga clicks later.
I was surprised, and pleased, that the therapists at the pain management clinic placed such a large emphasis on the link between physical and mental health. Can you tell me how you view the link between physical and mental?
Yoga philosophy sees mind and body as one - they're not separate. Yes, they can be in different states, but they can be viewed as two sides of the same coin.
We all live extremely busy lives these days. Is it really possible to build Yoga into our daily lives?
I find it's better to do a short time every day rather than to leave it all to the weekend. And if a long session is too much, break it up. For example, I mentally chant my mantras each morning on the walk to collect the paper, then I come in and do the rest of my practice, choosing from the rich menu of asanas (postures), pranayama (breath work), and meditation.
There's always room for improvement. What I could improve on is to establish a practice before I go to bed, but I find I'm always tired by the end of the day.
I’m curious to know more about the impact Yoga has had on your own life. Can you tell us a little more.
In the beginning it was curiosity that attracted me. In my 20s I found a yoga class but then I became too busy working and bringing up kids. I started again in 1995 and established a daily practice. I know I feel better if I do regular practice. Yoga has enabled me to keep calm. It has become my life support system.
Bijam runs a variety of Yoga classes in Edinburgh and West Lothian, including a wheelchair class in Livingston, and a Healthy Lower Backs course. Check out the class times here.
Further information on the Yoga for Healthy Lower Backs course can be found here.
Wee Sally Therapeutic Massage Clinic is a locally owned business which serves Bathgate and the surrounding West Lothian area. I use regular massage along with exercise, yoga and mindfulness to manage my own pain. I still take daily prescribed pain medication but, in consultation with my GP, I’m gradually reducing the dose of this medication. This holistic approach to managing my pain allows me to live a full and busy life alongside my pain rather than suffering within it. Today I’m talking to Sally Chamness, the owner of the massage clinic.
Sally, the first thing that attracted me to your company was the phrase ‘therapeutic massage’ within the name. Can you take a moment to explain the difference between a massage that I might receive on a spa day compared to the massage I get with yourselves?
When I first opened the clinic in Bathgate, I worked on my own and the skills and work that I preferred to do at that time is what some would consider “functional”. My specialties focused on pain relief and pain management, as well as improving people's stress levels and ability to move freely. Using stretching techniques and movement we try to help our clients improve their day to day lives. This can sometimes feel uncomfortable, although we try to stay within a clients pain threshold. The word 'Therapeutic' creates the image of something more than relaxation, and hopefully helps describe the work that clients can expect from us.
It didn’t take me long before I began to recognise that there was a strong link between my physical and mental health. I noticed that when my anxiety increased so did my level of pain. I’m sure this is something you are well aware of and I wondered if this link impacts on the work you do?
Two years ago I was attending a pain management course at the Astley Ainslie Hospital in Edinburgh. Over the course of ten weeks, I learned a variety of strategies for helping me cope with living with pain. Now, two years on, I'd like to share some of the techniques which I continue to use. But please remember we are all unique, and if you're struggling with pain or anxiety it's important you find the strategies that work for you. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to be interviewing people who have helped me get to where I am now, including a massage therapist and my yoga teacher.
I open the envelope with curiosity and, interestingly, a level of anxiety. Have I set myself targets? What if I'm failing to meet these targets?
I take the letter from the envelope, relieved to see there are no bullet points, no targets, and no list of must-dos. Instead I begin by telling myself how proud I am of what I've achieved over the course so far. That's a surprise.
And now I remember one of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome at the beginning of the course. The expectations I set myself were ridiculously high. I was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a teacher and, like so many other people, I was my own enemy. Until I started attending the pain management clinic I put my own health at the bottom of my list of priorities. This feels like a perfectly normal thing to do, but if we're not careful our own health may suffer and then how can we care for those around us?
In the letter I remind myself that it's okay to accept help from family and friends:
They support you because they love you and want to help you in the same way that you love and care for them - no guilt necessary!
By the time I get to the end of my letter, tears are running down my face. I'm reminded of how difficult living daily with chronic pain was, and how every day it was a battle to put on a smile and face the world. But I hope you notice the past tense in these sentences. Yes, my body still experiences pain and anxiety, but I'm managing to live alongside my pain these days rather than inside it. As I tell myself:
It's not a quick fix or a race; you're in it for the long haul.
My letter finishes with some words of wisdom that I hope anyone reading this can try today:
Be gentle with yourself xx
Two years ago I was involved in an accident at work that left me in extreme pain and, because the accident involved young children, I suffered from panic attacks and constant anxiety. I was at an absolute low.
The pain didn't subside as I expected, and I was left struggling with everyday activities, and this was having a devastating impact on my family life. I was aware of the strong link between mental health and physical health and knew I needed a holistic approach that would attack the pain from all angles, not simply using medication. So I joined a ten week pain management course run at the Astley Ainslie in Edinburgh where I met a group of caring staff who understood and spoke openly about how pain impacts on work, relationships and mental health. I cried when I heard other people's stories and for the first time I didn't feel alone. The course changed my life and by using the range of strategies taught, I now live alongside my pain rather than inside it.
Emma Mooney is a writer of Scottish contemporary fiction and is the author of A Beautiful Game. and Wings to Fly.