Arthritis and Bikram Yoga
Name – Andy
Age – 66
Location – Oxford UK
Diagnosis – Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriatic Arthritis and Osteoarthritis.
Life as I Know It.
Prior to my recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, I had lived for many years as a vegetarian.
Through most of my adult life I have done walking, swimming, badminton, mainly as a social activity.
Never any yoga of any sort.
I just never considered yoga, that is, until my arthritis became really bad. I’ve had arthritis for over 40 years, and throughout that time it was relatively stable. My first symptoms back when I was 23, started after I went cycling one spring morning.
When I came back from the ride, I remember thinking, “my legs are very stiff”.
I thought perhaps I had done something stupid on the bike. So, I rested up for the rest of the day.
By the next morning, I had to be taken in an ambulance to the hospital where they initially diagnosed me with osteoarthritis, (later revised that to psoriatic arthropathy.) Although aged only 23, I was told that most of my joints were similar to that of a 55-year-old with osteoarthritis, and that was the cause of the misdiagnosis.
For part of my recovery plan over the coming months they put me on gold injections, which did not seem to provide much benefit and eventually they were stopped. Also, concentrated support from a physiotherapist whilst in hospital enabled me to return fairly normal life at home and at work.
And as I have said, after this I was relatively stable for the next 40 years although I did use some medication, strong anti-inflammatory tablets taken as needed.
Now we come forward about 40 years to May 2015 when things went badly wrong.
My daughter had died in 2011, and then in 2015 my son got married. In my mind, everything came to a head, and I don’t think I could deal with the stress. And so, at my son’s wedding party I decided I would not speak, my wife delivered the speech that we had planned.
After that, my health rapidly went further downhill until November 2015, I was in so much pain that I could not walk more than a few metres. For example, to walk the distance from my bedroom to my bathroom it would take me 10 minutes of agony which is a normal journey of 10 seconds.
Thus, I was soon retired by my employer on grounds of ill health.
Life was certainly getting worse.
This included modifying our home with various arthritis aids to help me live day to day.
I have difficulty with bathing, even having to call paramedics to help me get out of the bath one day.
That was my last bath! We also obtained a wheelchair, which I objected to, but clearly, I needed it more and more.
The Start of The Recovery – Diet and Medication
Riddled with pain, my daily life was spent at home in front of the TV, binge watching Netflix.
One thing I found on Netflix was the amazing documentary ‘Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.’
This inspired me to think diet might play a role in recovery. As recommended, I tried juicing green vegetables and did get some small benefit but not a serious improvement.
Similarly, I went gluten free and that began provided some further minor relief.
From these early experiments I concluded I was onto something. I had the direction but not a solution.
Inside my body, C-reactive protein was spiralling out of control and my doctor recommended powerful drugs to control the disease. Thus, he put me on methotrexate. I objected, having read about its potential side effects. (One common side effect which didn’t affect me was hair loss. Another side effect is fatigue which I did suffer badly from.) After a month my doctor increased the medication aggressively, with further increases planned.
My opinion is that I don’t think that methotrexate ever really helped me. The common argument for the drug is that it stabilizes the illness such that further joint damage is reduced. And certainly that argument was made by my doctor.
However, I rejected further increases. That was because I had from my solution: dietary changes.
In early 2016, I found the Paddison Programme which is a comprehensive self-educating solution focused on rheumatoid arthritis. I started this programme around Easter. From the very first moment my health began to improve.
Let me restate that, my health began to really improve, reliably and steadily. The pain seemed to reduce almost daily. The improvements were small, indeed very small. But small changes added up – and they kept on coming. Consequently, the inflammation similarly began to reduce. But I did have a lot of inflammation, considering at one point my legs looked like tree trunks!
Progress wasn’t perfect. I did have a slow down at around six months in September 2016 the improvements stopped. After discussion and reviewing the Paddison Programme guidelines more closely I stopped all oils and any high fat foods such as avocado and nuts- and my progress began again. And thus by October 2016 I was able to walk reasonably well- albeit short distances.
Experiencing Bikram Yoga
Now as part of recovery from rheumatoid arthritis, the Paddison Programme very strongly recommends Bikram yoga to anyone who can do it. Since I had never done any yoga, I was very reticent. Indeed, I thought, “yoga is not for me!”.
With consistently good reports from others going down a similar pathway, however, I went to my first Bikram yoga class October 18, 2016.
That first class is firmly attached in my mind. Here I was almost a cripple walking into a room full of relatively healthy inflexible people who were able to do yoga with ease. For myself I could hardly do anything, so much so that I was even provided a stool to sit on in the class.
To get to the floor poses, I would first sit on the stool and two people would gently help me down from the stool onto the floor! At the end of class people would lift me up and back onto the stool.
If there was no one to lift me, I would have been stuck on the floor forever! I used this stool for the first four months. After four months, I found a way to get up unaided. It took me 15 minutes and it wasn’t a pretty sight- but I did it! In the following weeks thus 15 minutes dropped and dropped.
Tiny Improvements, Day by Day
This style of yoga and the consistent improvements it brought suited me. I set about doing Bikram yoga four or five days every week and have stuck with that regimen ever since. I get small, even tiny improvements to my body.
But these small changes are affecting the whole body and they add up.
A feature of Bikram yoga is you do exactly the same poses in the same sequence. Thus, I was able to perceive those small improvements, bit by bit. This feedback system provided me with tremendous motivation.
Further motivation came from actual reduction in joint pain. There is no question that the joints benefit from Bikram yoga. Pushing joints close to the pain- time and time again, day in day out- really does help, as if by magic, remove that pain forever!
In all, Bikram yoga has been fundamental in rebuilding my body. I mean, I couldn’t even walk before I started practising. I couldn’t even lift my legs to do balancing poses at all. Also I couldn’t lift my arms above shoulder height.
So there was, and is, a lot of rebuilding to do. There are lots of things that my body still needs to correct.
I’m really very diligent in doing the postures absolutely as correctly as possible, because I know that is the way I will get the best improvement without causing inadvertent damage.
Also, motivation comes from knowing that either I go forward with yoga in my diet, or I will inevitably go downwards. There is very little, if any, middle ground, so yoga is my physical discipline that helps me improve. In my mind I’m saying things like, “I want to be better, everyday”.
I really don’t think I’m a special person. Anyone could do both the diet and Bikram yoga.
That said- something in the way that my mind is wired means that I am quite aware of my own body. But Bikram yoga has taught me to be much more self-aware.
One important thing about Bikram yoga is the highly skilled teachers. My experience is they keep a very close eye on you, especially if they know you have got some kind of physical or mental challenge. They will make sure you don’t damage yourself, say by stretching too far.
For example, you don’t want to end up with back strain because you’ve not paid attention on how to bend over safely or didn’t deal with some aspects of a particular body weakness.
I have searched across the Internet for further help and advice on Bikram yoga for people with arthritis, but I haven’t found much out there. I say this because the standard Bikram instructions are not always appropriate for people who have really severe physical challenges like myself.
Some poses I am still in the first phase, so instructions on how to move to further stages are not much help. This is another reason why having great teachers you can rely on is very important.
A lot of people who don’t do hot yoga actually frightened of the heat. In my case, I didn’t really find the heater problem. I have found, though, that breathing by the nose helps people deal with the heat.
Also it was probably about six months before I worked up the courage to not bring any water into the studio. For some people, their water bottle seems like a crutch. They are told that if they get hot they should drink water. I wasn’t any different, so initially I probably spent half the class drinking! Now generally I don’t have any need for water in class- instead, I hydrate very well before and after class but rarely during.
One notable change in recent months is my breathing. I just suddenly found one day that my breathing became In Sync with the poses. It was a beautiful feeling. It has helped me to go in and out of poses with more graceful stop
From that day onwards I said to myself, if I can’t do the purses completely the least I can do is to try to be graceful!
The almost daily yoga has also helped me deal with small arthritic reactions. It is my understanding that almost all arthritic reactions are caused by the food you eat. Although I try to avoid them, sometimes they are eaten accidentally .
Now I know I can get rid of that pain using yoga, by going into the postures, approaching the point of discomfort, and then holding it there.
The mix of my yoga practise and the whole food plant-based diets are complementary and support each other. Both provide small improvements. The plant-based diet without oils is therefore very high in water which helps with hydration in the studio!
By January 2017, in discussion with both doctor and rheumatologist, we would decide I would step down my medication over a six month period to phase it out and so, July 2017 was my last methotrexate tablet.
When I started to reduce the drugs in 2017, I actually began feeling healthier immediately. After the last tablet things only got better. I would encourage anyone with arthritis to do either or both the Paddison Programme and Bikram yoga. If done in a determined way, at the very least it should help people reduce the amount of drugs taken.
I’m not completely healed. But I have my solution. I have my journey.
There is no endpoint – just continual improvements. And I cannot recommend this pathway highly enough.
( You can follow Andy’s updates on Facebook just search for his tag #yogalog )
Bibliography – Hope for Autoimmune Disease (by Ann Chrapkiewicz)