How Yoga Saved My Life
"What happened to you? Here, come, let's sit on my bed. You can put your feet up and have some tea," she instructed, and I followed this barefooted figure dressed in white down a hall.
I don't recall exactly what was said in the hour or so we sat on her bed. I do remember the way she expressed no pity for me, and I was grateful, because the pity I felt from others made me feel hopeless, as if my very essence as a person had been reduced. It was as if she expected me to get well, it was just a matter of me choosing to do it. She told me she wanted me to take her yoga class the following day. I looked at her like she was crazy.
"People in wheelchairs can do Kundalini Yoga," she assured me. "Even if you only do three minutes, those three minutes will help you. We always say, 'Begin where you are.'"
When I returned to the car, I gripped the steering wheel and cried. I felt like a wanderer caught in a storm who had just found shelter and, now safe, could admit how terrified she had been.
For my first yoga class I positioned myself at the back of the room, crutches against the wall. Someone helped me sit on the floor, my bad leg stretched out in front. To begin we put our hands together in anjali mudra (prayer position), thumbs pressed to the center of the chest, and closed our eyes. I listened to the others as Gurmukh led them in the chant, Ong Na Mo Guru Dev Na Mo, which she said meant we were bowing to the great infinite wisdom found inside ourselves. It struck me that I had not prayed with my hands together since I was a child. It felt good.
While I couldn't manage most of the class, I could do some of it, especially the breathing exercises and mudras that had us hold our arms in certain positions. We inhaled the word sat, exhaled the word nam, which together mean, "Truth is my identity." In that class I experienced a sensation that was not unlike falling in love.
From then on, I was there at least three days a week, sometimes four. I would have lived there if I could. I threw myself into this alien world, following all the advice given to me: I took cold showers each morning before meditating for half an hour; I ate a largely organic, vegetarian diet; I saw a Sikh chiropractor and an acupuncturist and took supplements to support my immune system. Most of all, I did yoga every day, even if it was just a simple spinal flex. In class when others were in asanas I could not do, Gurmukh told me to hold the posture in my mind, mentally going through it.
"If your yoga teacher told you to eat peanut butter and stand on your head, would you do it?" my ex-husband joked, echoing the sentiment of other friends and family who weren't quite sure how to take my lifestyle shift.
The answer was yes, of course I would take any of her advice, for one simple reason: I was feeling better. I was able to bend my kneewhich had been traumatized by the surgery to insert the titanium rodand actually sit cross-legged in Sukhasana (Easy Pose). I was needing my crutches less and less, so much better was my balance. And in my regular medical checkups, my doctor was noticing a change: My wound was looking healthy, there were no signs of infection, and there was substantially less swelling in the leg than anticipated. I had movement in my toes and was even beginning to rotate and flex the foot. But what I was feeling on the inside was even more profound. To say that I felt calmer and more optimistic is one way to put it, but it was more than that. It was almost as if something inside me had been frozen, and I was feeling it melting.
Subscribe to YJ
Join Yoga Journal's Benefits Plus
Liability insurance and benefits to support
teachers and studios.