Have you ever been bed bound? Truly bed bound? I mean, barely able or not able to move your body? Perhaps you can relate to a time you experienced a severe case of influenza or broke a limb that required a hospital stay with the limb in a traction swing. Perhaps you know exactly what I mean. My definition of “bed bound” is “not able to physically get out of bed on your own or it takes a day’s worth of energy to drag yourself to the bathroom and back to bed.”
I myself recently experienced yet another episode of being bed bound. I’ve been managing a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis for almost 20 years, just a bit less than I’ve been a certified yoga instructor. Last year I switched the disease modifying drug I was on for over five years because I could no longer endure the debilitating side effects of the every 4-week infusion schedule. This new drug is only given two times a year! However, the side effects, for me, are still debilitating, but in a different way and last an entire month. I felt like I was hit by a truck, which in turn dropped a dead elephant on top of my body—kind of like a really bad flu. The fatigue is overwhelming.
Now Y.O.G.A.: Where to start, when you don’t know where to start? Every BODY can ‘do’ yoga. Most people just don’t believe they can, for any number of reasons, even though they have heard of the many documented benefits. Yoga is a practice, not a destination. What you experience one day or one hour, may be completely different the next. It may even change moment to moment.
Yoga is definitely available to me on my ‘good’ days. Yoga is also accessible on my worst days. Observing my body, mind and spirit without judgment can be challenging. When I allow myself that experience, though, I know I tend to feel better, even if it is temporary. So, I am offering the following yoga instruction to every BODY, whether you are bed bound or not.
When I am bed bound, there is always one asana or physical yoga pose that is available to me or any BODY: Savasana, usually the final relaxation at the end of a yoga practice. Here are some instructions:
1. Lying on your back, or however you must arrange your body to be as comfortable as possible, become aware of the alignment of your physical structure. Living in an uncomfortable or painful body is the last place anyone wants to be. I am asking you to gently observe your body. I am also asking you not to judge these observations, just notice them.
2. If movement is unavailable to you, please try to visualize and imagine your body moving.
3. Observe your feet. Are they warm or cold? Are you able to feel them? Are you able to move them? Which parts of your feet are touching the bed or the sheet? Are there socks, shoes, or even a boot touching your foot/feet? If it is available to you or someone can assist you, move your feet hip-distance apart. Lengthen through your calves by extending your heels away from you. Now relax your feet. Notice if they stay in that position or perhaps fall out to each side. Notice how they feel now.
4. Observe your ankles, calves, shins, and your knees (the front, sides and even the space behind your knees). Try to lift your knees. Notice your heels pressing down and the muscles you engage in your legs with even the slightest effort. A pillow or bolster placed under your knees may feel good and relieve tension in your low back.
5. Next, observe your pelvis. Notice if you are holding any tension in your buttocks. Notice how it feels on your mattress. I know that extended periods in bed can cause pressure sores or points. Just be aware of how it feels, again with no judgment. Can you engage your gluteus muscles and then allow them to relax?
6. Breathe all the way down into your belly, if you can. See it rise and then fall as you exhale. If it’s available to you, place one or both hands lightly on your belly. Allow your belly to be soft. Now try to slip a hand under your low back while one hand stays on your belly. If your arm/hand doesn’t move that way today, just bring your awareness there and/or see if you can feel your low back pushing into the mattress when your belly breath is full. Notice if it changes when you exhale. Does your belly button pull in slightly to your spine?
7. Check back in with your hips and all the way down to your feet. Has anything changed? Do you feel grounded or slightly sinking into your bed as you consciously relax the lower half of your body
8. Now, try to place one or both hands on the lower part of your ribs. If this is painful or uncomfortable, again just bring your awareness there and observe. Can you see and/or feel your ribs expanding on your inhale? Maybe even feeling them pressing against the bed? Our ribs are designed to move as the lungs fill and deflate. Try giving a gentle squeeze at the bottom of your next exhale. Notice if you might have created just a bit more space as your next inhale fills your lungs and pushes the ribs outward. Rest.
9. Take a moment to experience your heart beating. Try to take a breath focused into your heart. As you exhale, allow your shoulders to soften. Are your shoulder blades all the way underneath your chest? If it’s available, turn your palms up. This will encourage the downward movement of the shoulder blades. Bring your awareness back to your beating heart.
10. Allow your arms to be heavy. Feel into the center of your palms. Feel the space around your fingers.
11. Observe your throat, the base of your throat in the front, the sides, and back of your neck. Swallow. Feel the movement that occurs. Soften your jaw. Allow a little bit of space between your teeth and lips. Feel your tongue in your mouth. Can you let the base relax down and the tip of your tongue float up?
12. Next, feel the cool air coming into your nostrils as you inhale and the slightly warmer air as you exhale through your nose. Observe the length of your breath. Observe how shallow or deep your next breath is. There is no right or wrong way to breathe. There is nothing to do.
13. Observe your forehead. Can you relax the skin above your eyebrows? Can you allow your scalp and even your hair to relax? Notice what the back of your head is touching.
14. Scan your body from your toes, up through your legs, hips, belly, chest, arms, neck, and head. Observe how it feels now. Observe your breath. No judgment, just notice.
15. Now close your eyes and be present with your body. Stay as little or long as you like.
I know that I have regained function in my body through my yoga practice. Will you? I cannot say. Will you perhaps find a bit of ease in your body, mind, or spirit? That has been my experience. Will it be yours? Again, I don’t know. Is it worth a try? You tell me!
This article is an edited excerpt from a blog post Bed Bound Yoga by Cherie Hotchkiss at Your Own Gentle Approach.
Cheri Hotchkiss has been a certified yoga instructor for almost 20 years, teaching all levels and various styles of yoga to people of all ages and abilities. She is also in the 18th year of her fight with MS. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body's central nervous system. Symptoms vary widely depending on the amount of damage and the nerves affected during that particular event. There is no cure at this time. This is one of the reason why she developed 'Your Own Gentle Approach™'.
This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.
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