Having POTS sucks.
There, I said what everybody who has POTS thinks every single day.
For years I didn’t realise that I do have some control over what goes on with my body. You see, when you have dysautonomia – a malfunctioning autonomic nervous system – it’s hard to feel like you’re in control of anything. Yoga helped me take back control and helped me make those POTS flare ups a little less common.
If you’re a POTSie looking to take back some control, you should consider trying yoga. Yoga has been wildly helpful and transformative for me.
I used to be disabled. My POTS was so bad some days I could barely get out of bed. I could barely function. Every single day I had complications. I couldn’t walk up stairs. I couldn’t exercise even a little bit. I couldn’t sleep through the night. I would get chest pain out of nowhere. I would suddenly get dizzy and fall over. I would black out. There was a while I had to take my showers seated just so I didn’t pass out in the shower.
About 4 years ago when my health was somewhat stable, but by no means good, my roomate in California purchased Tim Ferriss’ then-new book The Four Hour Body. I began reading it, fascinated with Tim’s quest into biohacking (I didn’t even know biohacking was a thing). I was inspired by Tim’s self-experiments to make his body more efficient, and over the past few years, I have used similar methods to figure out how to improve my health, my body, and my overall wellness.
I track everything because what can be tracked can be changed. I have found what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. What has worked consistently more than anything else is yoga.
A yoga teacher mentioned trying yoga when they learned about my health problems, but I dismissed it. I thought it would be too hard and cause too many heart problems for me. But what I didn’t realise is yoga can be adjusted. You can do yoga at your own pace. You do not have to go at a vigerous pace (and if you are in a yoga class with a teacher who doesn’t acknowledge everybody has their own limitations, I suggest you find a different class).
1. Acknowledge Your Limits.
The first thing you need to be aware of (but you probably already know) is that everything takes longer for us POTSies, and you have to go at your own pace and listen to your body. What might take a “normal” person one month can take us three. Don’t push it, and don’t rush it, or you’ll have a flare up. When you’re at the edge of your comfort zone, stop. Don’t push yourself to the point of injury because you think this is how it’s “supposed to be.” As a POTSie you will feel injuries more severely the next day, and the pain can trigger a flare up.
2. Invest in a good yoga mat.
If you don’t have a yoga mat, you should get one. It doesn’t have to be an expensive one, but it’s helpful not to have to rely on carpeting. Carpeting is no fun on the knees, lemme tell you! Also, carpeting can cause dangerous slipping.
Your yoga mat will become your best friend. Your yoga mat will support you. Your yoga mat will help you without judgment or concern. Your yoga mat will be there for you. Make sure the mat you get isn’t poorly made or too slippery. I found the mainstream yoga mats that are so common on the market were both too thin and too slippery for me.
I use the Manduka eKo Mat. It is made of all natural rubber, and is not slippery at all. It doesn’t slide around on the carpet, and I don’t slide around on it when I’m doing yoga. (Get 10% off a Manduka mat with the code 42YOGIS at Manduka.com)
The Manduka eKo may not be the right mat for you, and that’s OK. There’s a lot to consider when picking out your perfect yoga mat. Here are some tips.
3. Start slow.
To start, you should set aside an afternoon when you don’t have anything planned in the evening. Until you’ve done yoga a few times and started to feel your body differently, you won’t know for sure if you’ll have a flare or not. My first two times I had flares, but then I realised I was pushing myself too hard. It’s important to remember that yoga is a practice, not a perfection. Go at your own pace, and you will find what works for you.
4. Start on the ground.
If you’re new to yoga, I’d suggest you start sitting on your mat. Until you are used to the movements while also breathing in a controlled manner standing poses could be dangerous, and flows could be horrendous – especially if you are prone to synscope. After you get comfortable with seated poses and poses where you have a good, strong base under you, then you can move into standing poses and flows. This video from expert yoga teacher Andrew Wrenn is a great place to start for Seated Poses. I’ll save standing poses and flows for another article.
5. Control your breath.
When you start exploring pranayama exercises as a POTSie, you may feel light headed or dizzy. This is normal, and it is nothing to be alarmed by. But, this is why it’s important to do your pranayama when you’re seated on your mat and are not at risk of injury. It has taken me a long time to do pranayama exercises. The secret is to start slowly.
Thanks to pranayama, I can calm myself down mentally. I can refocus my mind if my mind is wandering, and I can slow my heart rate.
Alternate Nostril Breathing with Gigi Yogini on Yoga Journal
Pranayama with Francesca
Dirgha Three Part Breath with Larissa Hall Carlson (my favourite!)
Ujjayi Breath with Andre
6. Start meditating.
Meditation is a great way to find clarity, balance, and sanity in your day. I like to do visual meditations where I visualize my body being filled with health and positive energy. As I exhale, I imagine I am breathing out the pain, discomfort, and anxiety that comes with having POTS.
Training the Mind
Healing Mantra for Rest and Recovery
5 Minute Miracle Guided Meditation
Reclaim Your Power
10 Minute Guided Meditation
Easy Daily Meditation Practice
Welcome Yourself Meditation
These 6 tips can help you start to take back a little control, and hopefully, find some peace and sanity. Please let me know if you have any questions! You can tweet me at @42Yogis or @YsmayWalsh, or just comment on this post.