Spoon Theory articulates the way that many folks with chronic illnesses have a limited amount of energy, or number of “spoons,” to do everyday things. We may use up our spoons taking a shower and eating breakfast and then not have the spoons to go grocery shopping. Or, on a different day, we may have the energy to go for a walk with a friend but then not have the energy to make dinner. “Spoonies,” then, are in the position of attempting to predict and ration our spoons, weighing our needs for getting by against basic quality of life. Knowing what to nurture and what to sacrifice when there is never enough to go around is daunting and exhausting. How does this relate to yoga?
Folks without disabilities can often do yoga in order to gain energy, with spoonies it’s more complicated. How do we construct a practice with the least likelihood of using up our spoons, leaving us unable to do the other things we need to do? How do we build a practice that will restore, rather than deplete, us? I have found the following 4 questions to be useful for this:
Question 1: What time of day do I need to practice?
If I do yoga shortly after waking up, I carry less tension and it then takes less spoons for me to do everyday tasks. It also keeps me from getting into an anxiety loop about when I will do my practice (and the practice will then help reduce my anxiety loops in general). This is not the case for everyone. Some folks with chronic illnesses find a mid-day practice is what they need to have a gap between the first and later parts of the day to restore their energy. Others find a practice right before bed is most beneficial as it helps to reduce the their sense of depletion from the day and the kind of fatigue that can disrupt their sleep (yep, chronic fatigue can disrupt your sleep). Regardless of the time, I encourage you to choose it deliberately. Spending a lot of energy “about to” get to a practice but not quite getting to it can be a drain for our days, the last thing we need! If you listen to your body and intuition, what would be most beneficial to you?
Question 2: What does my body need in order to practice?
This may sound simple, but it’s so important. Do you need a glass of water? Have one! Do you need to take some meds? Do you need many supportive pillows or even to do your practice from bed? When we are in constant pain, tension is inevitable. I invite you to find a way to find what tension is optional, what discomfort is able to be alleviated and see if there are one or two simple things that could help give you whatever ease is available to you.
Question 3: What release would reduce the spoons I need for everyday tasks?
Tension is draining. My yoga practice is so valuable for helping me release some of the tension I inevitably carry with chronic illness that places additional burdens on my day. If I begin with neck and shoulder rolls, I will carry less of the tension that uses more spoons to get through my day. If I do some extended leg stretches, it will help flush my lymphatic system in my legs and a clogged system that will otherwise leave me with less energy. If I spend time in child’s pose, some of my back tension will release and make my day a tiny bit easier. What will support your release?
Question 4: What would nourish my energy rather than deplete it?
Yoga is a spiritual practice as well as a physical practice. Rather than a yoga practice that is about getting into difficult poses, building strength in long-held standing asana, or a flow that will work up a sweat… spoonies may have times where we need to think strategically about how tension release can build capacity. I encourage chronic yogis to begin and end their practice with pranayama (breathing) exercises that help to draw in energy and focus on healing capacities within your body.
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