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Namaste in the Pulmonary Care Unit
Day 1: The Nurse Told Me To Exercise
I was in the hospital for a lung infection and my newly diagnosed medical condition, cystic fibrosis. Simply put, cystic fibrosis is a lung disease where your lungs are clogged up with thick mucous. It is not a disease you can cure but a disease you want to take care of so it doesn't get any worse and further impairs your breathing.
So I spent my 5 days in the hospital in Santa Barbara hooked up to a bagful of antibiotics traveling through my pec tube into my veins and up to my heart. I also had a band of respiratory therapists come in and out of my room attaching me up to a vibrating nebulizer and a tool that pounds my chest like a jackhammer.
I was hooked up to my IV bag 24/7 so I became rather intimate with it and appropriately called her Ivey. But I couldn't just lie in the bed, watch TV and get the treatment. I couldn't just rest and heal. My nurse looked at me with her blue eyes and said, "The doctor wants you to exercise." "Sure," I said, looking at the tubes in my veins and the nebulizer pumping steamy medications deep into my lungs. "Sure, after I'm done my treatments."
The nurse smiled. Her version of exercise in the hospital was to walk up and down the hallways hooked up Ivey, dressed in my hospital gown, my funky pajama bottoms and those hospital socks with the traction on the bottoms. I look pretty spiffy. A regular Rudolf Valentino.
I Started Walking Down the Hall, But....
There's nothing more boring than walking the halls of the hospital, even if the hospital was modernized, had cool pictures and mosaic designs on the walls. It's not what you really call exercise. You can't run or even walk fast with an IV hooked up to you. You can't do any cross-training or even jumping jacks with a hospital gown that shows your back side to the world.
So I walked down to Maternity, past the ICU, browsed the gift shop and shuffled past Cardiology. As I was walking I was looking at non-patients stare at me like I had leprosy or worse. I thought about how demeaning it was to be a patient in the hospital and being labeled sick. Although I was sick, I was not dead. I was in pretty good shape for being in the hospital, having to wear a mask and isolated in a single room. I needed some self respect. I needed to feel better. I needed to do something that would give me the feeling that I was in control of myself or managing an illness in a positive way. I wanted to endure this predicament with dignity.
I had to do some yoga.
What helps you to get through uncomfortable times and moments in your life?
Day 2: Where Can I Sneak Some Yoga in?
I couldn't do yoga in my room. There was too many hospital personnel coming in and out like it was Grand Central Station. I couldn't do it in the hallway. People stare at me as it is; if I was doing Warrior I in the hall, they might redirect me to the Mental Health Unit.
So I walked around the floors with Ivey in tow and found the door that led to a little courtyard on the third floor. It was quiet there and it was just right. It was a typical Santa Barbara day--weather about 75 degrees, copious sunlight and a cloudless blue sky. It was the perfect place to do some gentle yoga and to help me feel better--to help me to endure my health problems.
So I took off my hospital socks and Adidas slip-ons and felt my feet against the concrete floor, imagining I was firmly on my rubber Manduka mat. I instinctively did the mountain pose. Ivey was already in mountain pose. She looked tall and proud. I engaged my legs and grounded my feet to the floor, shoulders falling back, heart to the sky, eyes gazing forward, head balanced between my shoulders, and navel to spine. I could smell the ocean air. I could feel the warmth of the sun. I'm feeling stronger, just like a mountain. I'm feeling relaxed and my breathing is slower. The medication is working. I am getting better. I am getting better, was my mantra.
"I find hope in the darkest of days, and focus on the brightest. I do not judge the universe." Dalai Lama
Day 3: Tree Pose
I'm feeling a little bit stronger today. I still haven't gotten very much sleep on this uncomfortable hospital bed and with the tubes coming out of my arm. I'm afraid to turn over in the bed or else I'll pull the tubes out of my pec tube and they will have to do the procedure over again. I did all my treatments. I ate a good meal. The food was tasty and it was gluten free. I had alot of protein, a chicken breast, some roast beef, red potatoes, and a banana-strawberry smoothie. I'm feeling stronger but a little out of sync, a little out of balance today.
I entered the courtyard. I thought about what I needed from yoga. What asana or yoga pose would be most beneficial today?
I instinctively started in mountain pose and took a few breaths there. Then I moved into modified tree pose. I pulled in my core and stood tall and lifted my right leg and held my foot in the one hand and raised my other arm and balanced on one leg. I focused on some object in front of me.
I felt more balanced, more competent, and my muscles stronger. I changed legs and did the pose on the other side.
Health Benefits from Yoga Poses
Half moon pose
Slows down breathing
Strengthens leg and groin muscles
Calms the brain
Reduces anxiety and stress
Stretches the groin
Foster's balance and coordination
Helps with posture
Day 4: The Half Moon Pose
It's Saturday, I thought. I have one more day and I can go home Monday morning. The doctor says that I am improving and that I need to continue the intravenous antibiotics for ten days after my discharge. I agree because I want to get home. I want to sleep in my bed. I want to eat my cooking. I want to watch baseball with my girlfriend.
I'm feeling stronger and wanting to do a yoga pose a bit more challenging. I walk to the courtyard with the intention of doing the half moon pose. It's a yoga pose that helps me to loosen up my groin and to stretch my muscles and challenge my coordination. I started in Warrior II pose and slowly placed my fingers on the floor a few inches in front of my right foot. I extended my opposite leg and flexed my foot and looked up at my hand into the blue sky. I repeated the pose on the other side.
Day 5: Sitting Meditation
Asana or yoga poses are supposed to prepare you for sitting meditation. It is Sunday, the day before I am to be released from the hospital. I go out in the courtyard and find a comfortable place to sit. I fold my legs in half-lotus position, elongate my spine, shoulders back, sternum moving upwards. I feel grounded in my sitz bones and focus on my wellness. I focus on healing my lungs with each slow breath. Every breath I take I visualize a warm blue mist going through my lungs and healing the portions that need extra attention--those parts of the lungs that are damaged and struggling and fighting to survive. I visualize this healing blue light going into my lungs and coating the trouble areas with its soothing mist.
I open my eyes and mindfully go to my hospital bed.
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need to be endured and endure what cannot be cured." B.K. Iyengar
Day 6: Home at Last
I am home. It only took me five minutes to get home. I am right around the corner from the hospital. I walk in the door and see my Zafu meditation cushion on the floor, just where I left it. I am grateful. I sit down on it and catch my breath. I am very grateful for the staff who had helped me in the hospital--the wonderful nurses and doctors, the nutritionist, the food staff who prepared gluten-free foods, the respiratory staff, the nursing aides, the people who changed my linens, the people who took my vital signs; and most of all, my girlfriend who stayed with me in the hospital room for 5 nights to make sure that I was okay.
I am also very grateful for having a relationship with yoga and yoga being present with me in the most unlikely circumstances. Yoga stood by me. It softened me. It made me open to some uncomfortable positions. It made me stand up tall through everything I encountered. It allowed me to be humble and to accept help from others. It opened up my chest and raised my heart up to the sky. Yoga helped me through five of the most troublesome days of my life and I just want to bring my hands to my chest in prayer, and say...May the light in me touch the light in you, Namaste.