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Pain is chronic, yet he hurts less, thanks to hot yoga

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Updated: January 6, 2013 9:26AM

“Pain dictates my life,” admits Michael Fine.

The 45-year-old Glenview resident has endured excruciating chronic pain since April 14, 2010. On that day, one minute he was driving in his Volvo convertible with the top down to work. The next, a truck traveling 50 mph was hitting his car head-on. Mercifully, he doesn’t remember the crash.

But today, because most of his waking hours are consumed with medically-related appointments, Fine — who refers to himself as a “recovering attorney” — is on disability. And, despite having a personal pain control device installed in his back to disrupt pain signals to his brain, he aches. Badly. Sleep is elusive, and he cannot stand or sit for long periods of time. Weather and stress only make his pain that much worse.

Yet guided by his own intuition, Fine — a former black belt in martial arts — decided he wasn’t going to let the pain rule him. He tried alternative treatments, including flotation therapy, acupuncture and traditional yoga. While they all helped, Fine wanted more. He also wanted to eliminate his reliance on what he calls “evil narcotics.”

Fine took a friend’s advice and pursued Bikram yoga. He hoped it also would ease the struggles he had with off-kilter balance.

Bikram — or hot yoga, as it’s often called — did that and much more, providing Fine with what he calls “the added silver lining” of mental and spiritual balance.

Each week he takes three to five 90-minute yoga classes at Bikram Yoga North Shore in Glenview. The studio, which opened in September, is co-owned by sisters Holly H. McGregor and Heidi Bernover.

Finally, he has some pain relief. Through Bikram and its discipline of 26 postures and two breathing exercises — all practiced in a studio heated to 105 degrees — Fine says he has “a lot less pain for a couple of hours.”

“After a yoga class, my pain level drops appreciably to a 4 or 5. My 24/7 pain usually hovers around 6 or 7,” says Fine, referring to the pain scale in the proverbial medical question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you describe your pain?

Bikram took some getting used to, says Fine, husband of newly-elected State Rep. Laura Fine (D-17th) and father of teen sons Jeremy and Jacob.

“It took me a few times because I was used to more touchy-feely yoga with music, and Bikram has no music,” Fine says. “Instead, you focus on the instructor. And the mirror took some getting used to as I tried to get my balance, especially on my left side. As it turns out, the mirror turns you into yourself — your eyes are open, but they are clouded — you’re almost robotically going through the 26 positions.”

Others have noticed the positive impact Bikram yoga has had on Fine. Dr. Howard K. Weissman is the director/founder of the Chicago Stress Relief Center, Inc., a diversified holistic practice dedicated to traumatic stress recovery. He is Fine’s pain therapist.

“Physically, Michael is so much stronger. His balance has improved, and his mental fortitude has gained more and more momentum,” Weissman says.

Bikram and Fine’s “attitude of gratitude” have improved Fine’s life.

“Having come so close to death, Michael looks at life — being with his wife, his sons, his dogs — as a gift, a real rebirth,” says Weissman. “He has gratitude for being so much more present in his life. He’s not giving away his power to the healer, the doctor, the pain; instead, Michael’s empowering himself, which enables him to live life as fully as he is.”

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