Giving healthcare the side-eye

How yoga, meditation and a healthy diet (aka, self-care) can help fix healthcare


I’m going to get on my soapbox for a moment. If you aren’t here for soapbox preaching, then wait for the next post. On a personal level, I discovered recently that yoga and meditation can help with pain, and my ire is up a bit that this isn’t given as an option for treating pain more often. That’s why I’m writing this post.

I started running recently. I run the equivalent of a 5k a few times a week. Sounds impressive, but it’s only 3 miles.

In the beginning, however, I discovered a couple of things. One, I can only run in certain parts of my neighborhood because the sidewalks are too slanted, and it messes up my knee. Hint: If you decide to add running to your workouts/self-care routine, be sure to start out on as flat a surface as possible.

The second discovery was that if you blow out your knee running like I did, yoga and meditation can help with the pain. It seems counterintuitive that physical activity can help an injury, but somehow it does. Or it did for me anyway.

My knee was MESSED UP. I could barely get up and down. I couldn’t take the stairs. Lifting my leg — just lifting it — caused a sharp pain that was almost impossible to tolerate.

Now, I have a low tolerance for pain. I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but this was probably the worst pain I’ve ever had. It may have seemed worse because of my inability to use one leg.

I worried about falling out of my routine of doing yoga and working out every day. It’s so easy to slip into laziness. It just is. I’ve been there and if you slide too far, it’s much more of a challenge to get back in the game. So, I wanted to try to continue doing something while my knee healed.

The very first day, yoga wasn’t happening. I couldn’t do a downward facing dog if my life depended on it. I tried, though, but my knee said otherwise.

The second day, I tried again. I found a class that was gentle and slow. I took my time. I kept my bum knee bent more than usual. Halfway through the routine, though, the pain in my leg was barely noticeable. Certain angles hurt a little, but I was able to move much more than before.

As the day went on, the stiffness came back but not as bad as it was. I meditated that night. I focused on healing my body. I woke the next day. The pain was still there, but less. I got up, stumbled, stiff-legged into my living room and did an hour-long yoga practice.

I was able to walk around with little or no pain for the rest of the day. I’m not sure if it was the stretching of the muscles or rewiring your brain that yoga does that did the trick. The difference was amazing, though.

I had injured my other knee a couple of years before — that time just walking. It was the same sort of injury, though. Same pain, a little swelling, same stiffness. I went to a physical therapist for that one. It was the first knee injury I had experienced.

The recommendation was to ice it, heat it and take this horse pill, as my family likes to call them (in other words a giant friggin’ pill), to help with the pain and inflammation. I took that pill for two days and had to stop. It messed me up. I can’t take most medications for whatever reason. This one made me nauseous, I felt dizzy, and the pain in my knee didn’t stop nor did the swelling go down. It took me a couple of weeks or more to get over that injury following doctor’s orders.

It took me a few days with yoga, meditation and, most importantly, no friggin’ horse pill.

Lesson 1: If you have an injury, try a yoga practice and meditation to reduce your pain.

So, I did a little research on the subject of yoga and pain reduction. Apparently, it’s fairly well known that yoga can help with chronic pain. Here are a few articles:

Now here’s the soapbox part. This is why I’m giving healthcare the side-eye.

If we know yoga can help with pain, why is the healthcare industry so prone to prescribing pain killers? Why do we have an opioid epidemic rather than a yoga explosion?

Having injured both knees similarly and treating each one differently, the healing power of yoga was amazing. The second knee injury — the one healed through yoga — was much worse than the first one in terms of pain. Much worse.

When I tweaked my knee again while running (because it took me a few times to figure out that the slanted sidewalks were the problem), I did yoga and recovered just as quickly.

I also want to mention that meditation helps as well. The pain and the emotions surrounding an injury are triggered in the brain. Meditation can help you control that and help you better determine what is real and what is exaggerated due to the emotional response. This article explains it better than I can.

There is a purpose and place for medicine, surgery and the standard practices of healthcare. I wholeheartedly believe that. I also believe, however, that because doctors are so rushed these days that they take the fastest, easiest route to providing care. They take the route that is tried and tested and passes muster with insurance payers without hassles or questions. And that’s a problem.

Lesson 2: Ask your doctor about alternatives to prescriptions for pain if it’s a minor injury.

The same is true of diet. Patients are diagnosed with diabetes, and they are given medications. That’s not a solution. That’s a crutch. Some folks will always need medication, but some diabetes cases are preventable or even reversible. Providing medications instead of offering preventative care, however, will never fix that.

I was happy to hear this story on NPR about Geisinger Health prescribing healthy food and counseling instead of medications to diabetes patients.

Here’s a funny little fact, too, about eating healthy and diet. Since I lost my job a few weeks back, I’ve cut back on food spending. I’m buying nothing but fruits and veggies. Some fresh and some frozen (no sauces or seasonings added).

I’m eating more fruits and vegetables than ever. I feel perfectly satisfied. I probably have more energy. I add pea protein powder to my smoothies and include beans for protein. I’m eating three meals a day and two snacks (minimum) for $25 or less a week. $25.

It’s the processed foods that raise my food bills. Now that I’ve cut them out completely, I can see that much more easily. Plus, with frozen fruits and veggies, they last for a while. I don’t have to rush through them.

Lesson 3: Nothing new here, but cutting out processed foods can improve your health, but also your bank account.

I tell you all of this because many of us aren’t filthy rich. I’m most certainly not, especially now that I’m unemployed. We can still take care of ourselves and eat right and hopefully not need pain medications if we practice self-care. Yoga, meditation and eating right, in particular, are good first steps and a good foundation for improving your health without the need of a doctor or a prescription.

I’m not sure where healthcare is going, but wherever it’s headed, it’s taking its own sweet time getting there. Through a few self-care regimens, we can potentially improve our health without the healthcare industry providing the solution. My hope is that the healthcare industry will start to look at solutions that incorporate self-care like Geisinger has. Until then, however, an ounce prevention truly is worth more than a cure, and prevention, for the moment, is in our own hands.

Now, I’ll step down off my soapbox. Peace, y’all.

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