According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health of the National Institutes of Health, studies have suggested possible benefits of yoga for several aspects of wellness, including stress management, mental/emotional health, promoting healthy eating/activity habits, sleep and balance.
Can I meditate my itch away?
I was going to meditate my itch away, imagine my inflammation gone, and breathe my immune system to order. I took an eight-week mindfulness awareness practice course, listened to guided imagery recordings, became a certified yoga teacher, took another eight-week controlled breathing (pranayama) course and added some more yoga certifications.
Listing these makes me chuckle since it already shows the high-strung nature of an atopic dermatitis patient. What can I say? AD patients can be hyper-sensitive and high achieving, just like our over-reacting T-cells. We are also prone to depression and anxiety because the itch and irritation sends signals throughout the central nervous system, affecting the mood. I needed to learn to chill.
Eating mindfully and preventing a leaky gut
To start with, I eat mindfully and consciously. To prevent “leaky skin” and maintain my skin barrier, my gut and I have agreed to build a healthy microbiome together. My balanced diet is vegetable heavy, low in refined sugar and limited in processed foods. Over the years, my gut has taken away my sweet tooth, and I tend to gravitate towards healthier options. Thanks to my tolerance, and I opt for a variety of food groups to satisfy my culinary curiosity.
Yoga as a gateway to mindfulness
I needed to put theory into a regular practice. The structured poses (asana) in yoga were the most accessible, allowing me to get in the flow and focus on my breath and be in the present moment. After establishing a daily yoga practice (if even with a mere few poses), I for 5, 10, and eventually 20 minutes every morning. My best time to keep up this habit is immediately after getting out of bed. Continuity is key in mindfulness training.
Is mindfulness the cure?
After meditating every day for over a year, I started to notice some changes. I am a little less reactive and less irritable. Stress is a major eczema trigger, and my thoughts tend to easily drift into the angry-itchy comfort zone. My mindfulness practice is steering my brain away from the negative circuit, a process known as neuroplasticity. In stressful situations, I remember to breathe deeply and focus on my breath for relative calm to set in.
Mindfulness vs. conventional medicine
But lifestyle choices and mindfulness were not quite sufficient. What took care of the pruritus and inflammation was a systemic treatment under the care of a trusted dermatologist. I maintain a strict moisturizing regimen, use topical ointments as needed, and take an occasional bleach bath. Even with all the breathing and relaxation techniques, I continue to take a low dose of anti-anxiety medication. But the mindfulness awareness practice supplements or even amplifies the integrative medical treatment.
Suggested Yoga Poses
As for yoga, it remains a powerful tool in my toolbox. During the worst of my flares or an intense itch, I immersed myself in a yoga pose for 10 breaths and more, relaxing in the pose, focusing on taking long deep breaths, while feeling the sensation experienced through the stretch.
Here are some poses that have helped me:
Standing Forward Bend: Grounding both your feet at hip width, come to a forward bend, hold both your elbows and dangle your upper body, relaxing your head like a rag doll and breathe slowly, until the acute itch subsides.
Inversions are said to engage the vagus nerve that regulates the autonomic nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic nerves to rest and digest.
Side Stretch on the Floor: Lying flat on your back, arch your body to one side, as you grab both your elbows to open up the underarms and the sides of the body. Repeat the other side.
A side stretch seems to open up the lymphatic system and helps tame inflammation.
Supine Twist: With your arms spread wide into a T-shape, tilt your hips to one side and bring one leg over the other and twist your torso, keeping both shoulders flat on the ground. Repeat on the other side.
This pose relaxes the spine and restores equilibrium to the nervous system.
Bound Angle Forward Fold: In a seated position, bring both soles of your feet to touch each other, forming a diamond shape with your legs, bow into the diamond, breathing through the spleen energy path of the inner thighs as well as your spine.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the spleen meridian (energy path) starts at the tip of the big toe and continues up the inner leg and is said to engage the digestive system, improving the quality of the blood circulation, and create a fluid balance. I have sat still in this pose when I was oozing. This semi inversion engages the vagus nerve to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Kuniko is a seasoned eczema warrior and lives in Tokyo with her husband Mac.