Get inspired by these stories of yoga's power to heal the wounds of grief, physical disability, emotional trauma, and disease.
An oft-debated truism about the nature of pain says that “all suffering is equal.” For many, the notion that starvation or torture and anxiety are on the same plane can feel offensive. According to renowned yoga teacher, Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine, “All suffering is similar. Whether we’re suffering from relationship trauma or low-back pain it wears on our consciousness in a similar way.” Step into any yoga studio around the world and you’ll likely find that many people in the room came to yoga because they needed to heal in some way. Reformed dancers, anxious CEOs, and single moms all join together to breathe in unison and grow through the practice.
The following stories come from people who have used yoga to heal wounds of grief, physical disability, emotional trauma, and disease. As Cruikshank says, “Yoga can’t cure everything, but it can help a lot with the process.” We stand in solidarity with these and other suffering beings, who choose to work toward healing and devote themselves to the process, however uncertain and painful the path may be.
Acacia: “It Used to Bother Me That There Were Some Things I Would Never Do”
I started doing yoga about 10 years ago to help me with my posture. I was born without my left hand from the elbow down, and I had a lot of pain in my back from the lack of balance. As a person with a different body from other people, I never felt quite comfortable in [class environments] where it felt like part of the goal was to be the prettiest. I feel lucky to have a lot of yoga teachers in my family. My practice really started to become more regular and coherent when I traveled in India after high school and started to learn Ashtanga. There was no ego in the room.
Doing yoga with one hand can be tough, and I often need to use props or an alternative pose to get the same stretch if I’m not physically able to do the pose. In the last several years there has been a change in my practice and my approach to it. It used to bother me a lot that there were some things I would never do. I would see pictures of famous yogis in sexy handstands and think that if I couldn’t be that, then I wasn’t really a yogi. That’s when I started learning more about yoga philosophy and coming to understand my practice in relationship to myself, not to others. There are things I can’t do and shouldn’t do; me doing them would just be to say I did or to prove I can, when it’s not really the right way for me to practice. I’ve come to learn that it does not matter what everyone else is doing. I can do a hundred yoga classes, but if I don’t consciously breathe and connect with my center of strength, I’m just working out.
Something I always wanted to do but thought I never would is any kind of inversion arm balance. No crow, no handstand. But last week I did my first forearm stand! It just took 10 years of building core strength, the support of an amazing teacher, and the patience to be okay with where I’m at.
Dayton: “I Never Went to a Yoga Class Until Her Last Year of Life”
What my story is really about is a yoga mat—my wife’s purple yoga mat. When she was 35 she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. She started seeking out ways to conquer the cancer outside of western medicine. After one of her alternative doctors recommended yoga, she started a consistent practice. She’d practice on this purple mat, upon which she etched her name in black magic marker. My wife, Ali, battled cancer for 12 years, never once going into remission. She always told me how much the yoga helped her, but I never went to a class until her last year of life, when I felt an urge to practice. Though I’d always had a prayer practice, I never really believed much int he spiritual elements of the practice, until the very end of Ali’s life. We were sitting in the hospital one day when she told me she was no longer fearful of death. On the day Ali passed away, I went to her mat, at a local studio. I told the yoga teacher, who was a friend of mine, about my loss. At the beginning of class, she told the other yogis in the room about my loss. As class went on, I felt more and more empowered—stronger than ever. After class my teacher helped me realize that the strength I felt was the collective energy of the yogis around me. All my previous doubt around ethereal energy dissipated, and now—I believe it. There really is so much energy that is present when practicing yoga in community.
And now, at age 53, I have strength from my yoga practice I never imagined I would have. There is no pause button on the grieving practice, but now, all this time later, I get on my wife’s purple mat, which has no signs of disintegration. Though the marker of her name is no longer present, I feel her energy on the mat.
See also Why Can’t I Practice Yoga Alone?
Angela: “More Lupus Patients Deserve to Hear Great News Like Mine”
After 18 years of battling lupus (SLE), migraines, and fibromyalgia, I had grown frustrated with living in constant pain. Encouraged by doctors for almost two decades to only do light exercise, I grabbed onto the fear that if I overdid any activity, I would be stuck with a painful flare-up. So I stopped moving, a once-dancing child now frozen into safe positions in hopes of prolonging my life and avoiding further pain.
With the help of dear friends encouraging me to try yoga years ago, I can now ease through painful moments with better focus and awareness and have been cured of what most think is impossible. Yoga continued to be a gentle lifeline, keeping my body flexible even with the loud cracks and pops emanating from my achy joints. It gave me enough strength to break free of my pain cycle one night this January, when I combined a 3 a.m. solo dance fest in my bathroom with a cool-down of long yoga stretches. The hour of intensely pushing through the pain gave me a few hours of relief from my migraine and body pain, and I was hooked. A regular routine of two daily workouts including dance, yoga, and skateboarding now keeps most of my pain under control. If I’m hurting now, the first thing I do is stretch out into Downward Dog, twist my arms into Eagle Pose, or simply ‘rag doll’ it up until my pain level drops and I can move deeper into the poses. Then my inner resolve to feel great kicks in, and I strive for the burn in my muscles, deeper breaths and the soothing fire of my blood pumping. To feel pain-free after working out is such a blessing each time.
Two months ago, my doctor gave me incredible news: I am now cured of lupus! Completely healed! Daily physical activity like yoga combined with a more natural medicine route definitely played a part in this. More lupus patients deserve to hear great news like mine, and to live their lives as completely as they can. With a body that is healed and free from an “incurable” disease death sentence, I’m on my way to fulfilling dreams like sailing around the world with my husband and teaching my sons to surf one day.
For more amazing stories of yogis healing from addiction, cancer, depression, and other life-changing conditions, read on at Sonima.com.
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