Bikram YogaWhen I started doing yoga in 2002, the world was just recently past 9/11 and the economy was troubled. My body was always achy from lifting weights and doing cardio at the gym. My heart AND my body hurt. I needed to make a change.

So I decided to trade some yoga for the gym a couple of days a week. After a few months of yoga at home on my own, I found Bikram Yoga. It was the toughest workout I’d ever experienced. And it was the most peaceful time in my day—because if I thought about anything else (my stressful life!) besides yoga, I would fall over.

I felt like I was getting one giant detox every time I went to class. All that sweat pouring off me had to be releasing something! And I felt like class was able to help me release all the stresses of my busy corporate job too. I think what yoga teaches me is that even when I have a crazy busy life, I can use my body’s natural detoxification functions anytime.

One of these functions is our skin’s process of sweating. I knew that something from the inside was coming out through sweat. But was it just water, sodium, chloride and potassium? Or was it some of the toxins I’d ingested over the last week or the last twenty years? I chose to believe it’s BOTH! I also had heard that sweating is part of a process that encourages our body to release endorphins—nature’s painkillers.

Today detox is everywhere—someone I know is always doing some type of detox or cleanse. I try not to get too caught up in why to detox, but to just focus on the potential future benefits and the positive aspects of making changes. And I know yoga will always play a part in my own detoxification process.

About six years into my yoga practice (and after I’d given up the gym altogether), I discovered an entirely different reason to get into the Bikram Yoga studio. I had left my corporate career, and opened a solo massage therapy practice, which was thriving. And then with no warning my hands started experiencing pain and swelling. This was a huge scare because my hands are my tools—I can’t do my job if they don’t work properly! I began by trying to solve the pain and swelling on my own, using massage and holistic techniques. However, my typical solutions didn’t help and I progressed to getting medical advice and blood tests a few months later. And then 3 days before my 45th birthday I was officially diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis.

In all the stress of discovering the problem and getting a clear diagnosis, yoga was an amazing constant for me. It was a place to stay in touch with the good in my body, and not focus on the scary, pain-related parts. Whether it was the sweating, the postures or the community, the hot yoga room was a wonderful place to detox the fear and negativity I was feeling about my body.

Just 18 months after my diagnosis my rheumatologist declared my RA in remission. The combined experience of Bikram Yoga and living with chronic pain and illness has also helped me understand how critical the mental and emotional aspects of detoxification can be.

When you have health struggles, and stand in front of a yoga studio mirror for a few 90-minute sessions each week everything you feel about yourself comes up to the surface. I learned that a 90-minute class was a time to LOVE my body and myself. It didn’t start out that way—there were many classes where my every thought was anger at my body. The angry feelings were about what it looked like and what it could (or couldn’t) do during that class. So there I was trying to detox myself physically, while TOXIFYING my heart and soul with criticisms. I had to learn to stop that habit!

And now I know that maintaining a regular negativity detox practice is critical to my holistic pain relief plan. I am grateful that being on my yoga mat in a hot yoga room as given me the chance to reframe my feelings about my body, my illness and my pain. When the days come where I feel limited I choose to focus on and remember what I CAN do instead of what I can’t. Every moment I am up and moving around is a privilege, because I know people whose pain immobilizes them and makes them 100% dependent on others. So what do I GET to do today? Instead of what CAN’T I do!

The only thing I can’t do is forget how much GETTING to do yoga has meant in my life!