My yoga teacher recently said something in a class that changed the way I think about pain and illness. As we were holding an intense pose, she said, Identify with the breath, not with the intensity or the pain. Stay with the breath. I tried this, and realized that when I identified with the breath, focusing on the rise and fall of my chest, I actually could stretch the pose much deeper than I had originally thought. I tried it on each pose for the rest of the class with the same result.

This mentality is also very applicable to chronic disease, especially autoimmunity. There is a huge emotional component to autoimmune disease—I mean, very literally, our body is the proximate cause of the disease itself. We are literally attacking ourselves. How can we not identify with the disease? How can we not pull ourselves into the cycle of the disease and get lost in it? Isn’t it easy to blame ourselves for the disease, in every way?

By identifying with the breath, we can stop identifying with the pain and the disease itself. Identify with the breath. The breath represents our life force—everything that gives us passion. It’s about following our dreams and staying true to our soul. So many autoimmune warriors have found healing by finding their true passions and I am 1000% certain this is not a coincidence. Find your true self and breathe life into it. Identify with who you truly are. Be fearless in exploring who you wish to become.

It is so easy to identify with the pain, the disease, the intensity. On our worst days, it is all we can do to take the medicine we need to take, cook the food we need to eat, and make it through our responsibilities without losing energy. From a practical standpoint, we often have to give up things we like to do to prioritize health. It can seem like we are identifying with the disease when we do this. When we lose our Brunch-and-Mimosas-on-Sunday traditions, our mountain-biking-extreme-training routines and our staying-out-late-with-the-girls routines, it feels like we are giving up who we are.

We aren’t though. We are shaping a new us. The core aspects of our souls haven’t changed, we are just listening harder to what powers us truly from within. Maybe we don’t go out on Sundays for Brunch anymore, but we make our own paleo waffles and invite friends over to share them. Maybe we don’t work out as hard as we used to, but we find joy in regularly practicing yoga, which we didn’t have time for before.

It’s hard to make changes and it’s easy to hold onto the disease and the pain when we are. It becomes a security blanket of sorts (I could go on and on about that, but that’s for another post!). However, even in the midst of change, identify with the breath, not with the pain (the disease, the intensity, the symptoms). In what ways do you notice you identify with the disease, rather than with the breath? Have you ever tried letting go of your identification with the disease? If so, what was the result? If not, what’s holding you back?