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Diagnosis: Crohn's Disease

Leia Kline holds yoga responsible for her increasingly good health.

Leia Kline was born with Crohn's disease, an autoimmune disease of the intestines. As a child, she was treated with sulfa drugs, tranquilizers, and cortisone. She suffered all the common side effects of cortisone, including "moon face," stomach ulcers, diabetes, poor eyesight, retarded growth, decayed teeth, loss of bone density, pseudo-arthritis, and a weakened immune system. When Kline was 17, fistulae (abnormal tubelike passages) began to develop in her small intestine, and she underwent a partial resection, which resulted in malabsorption syndrome, chronic diarrhea, and adhesions. Then in 1993 at the age of 43, Kline suffered a severe relapse that persisted for five years. Her symptoms included abdominal distention, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, anemia, and exhaustion. "The pain was quelled only by morphine," Kline remembers. She couldn't eat or drink enough to maintain homeostasis. Due to her inability to break down fats, she developed gallstones and had periodic gallbladder attacks. She also had chronic fatigue syndrome.

"I sought the advice of naturopaths, acupuncturists, herbalists, and holistic physicians; made dietary changes; received intravenous vitamin and mineral therapy; went to the Philippines to see a psychic healer; had bee venom injected into the old surgical wound; and received weekly massages, all to no avail," says Kline. In desperation, she broke her allegiance with alternative medicine and, weighing just 76 pounds, visited the Mayo Clinic. The physicians there declared her condition one of the worst cases of Crohn's disease they had ever seen. They recommended either surgery, which would result in wearing an ileostomy bag, or medical intervention, which consisted of a strong antibiotic and subsequent chemotherapy. She opted for the antibiotic. After five days, she had such severe phlebitis that she was unable to walk. She stopped the medication and returned to her home on the Big Island of Hawaii prepared to die. That's when she rediscovered yoga.

"I began taking Iyengar Yoga classes at Kalani Honua, a retreat center just down the road from my house," she says. "At first I was barely able to finish the 90-minute sessions and had to rest frequently." However, she persevered and began getting stronger, attending classes more often. It was during this period that Kline discovered the book Awakening the Spine by yoga teacher Vanda Scaravelli. Now well enough to travel, Kline decided to visit Tuscany, Italy, where Scaravelli lived, in the hopes of meeting her.

Scaravelli, at this point 92 years old, was no longer teaching, so Kline signed up to attend a workshop with Elizabeth Pauncz, one of Scaravelli's students. When Kline arrived in Italy, she was told that Scaravelli had slipped into a coma. However, it was decided the workshop would go on.

Initially, Kline found the yoga Pauncz was teaching to be "so gentle that it seemed almost insipid," she says. "Fewer poses were executed in the class. Letting go of holding any tension to accomplish the pose was urged. Interaction and discussion by the participants was encouraged. I was feeling resistance and some hesitation to continue on this journey." One afternoon, Pauncz placed her hand on Kline's sacrum, and a metamorphosis occurred. "Suddenly, waves of energy coursed up and down my spine," recalls Kline. "I felt the muscles attached to my spinal column breaking away from the spine and freeing it. It felt like lifetimes of rigidity were being cut away."

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Reader Comments

bpaul

i am never surprised, yet always amazed, at the almost magical benefits of yoga -especially the breathing exercises. this story is so moving. is it possible to connect with leila via emails?

thanks...

Sherri Theos

I am a new owner of a yoga studio here in Dedham Ma., Dedham Dragonfly Yoga. I have a few students who have crohn's disease and I have been looking for some literature on how yoga can help. This article is wonderful and I have printed it so I can hand it out and have it in the studio as reference to the wonders of yoga. I was wondering if there are any specific poses that are beneficial to the crohns sufferer? Thanks so much!

YogaYin

Just a word of caution Heather, be very gentle with postures for the digestive system and avoid lying prone, as this will be too much for you during a flare up (No bow pose!). As Milkana advises, most importantly concentrate on youth breath - particularly exhalation - this will stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system and reduce stress in the body which aggravates Chrohns. Namaste

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