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When I was younger, I wondered why children my age were taking road trips with their families to vacation spots, when the only road trips I took with my parents were to different doctors. As time went on, I began to wonder why I couldn’t run like the other children in gym class. I wondered why nobody else around me seemed to sympathize with me when I explained that I just didn’t feel good today, even when I looked fine on the outside. It took a year of different tests, scans, and diagnoses, some false, to finally reach a conclusion at age 10: I had rheumatoid arthritis.
I have spent half of my life feeling defeated by this disease. The summer before my diagnosis, I spent on my living room couch because I was too fatigued to even speak. The only visitor I had was the at-home nurse who administered my weekly dose of medication via the PICC (Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) line that ran through my body. I picked out new knee braces more often than I went shopping for new clothes.
I’ve spent a lot of time suffering from this disease, And, I’ve spent just as much time running away from it. I would avoid my parents when they told me it was time for my weekly injection of medication. I avoided telling my friends, because nobody seemed to really understand. “Isn’t arthritis for old people?” Rheumatoid arthritis socially isolated me from having the normal life I desperately desired growing up. Throughout high school, it made me feel depressed, anxious, and completely helpless.
It wasn’t until I reached my sophomore year of college when I discovered that I didn’t have to be a victim of this chronic disease. That’s when I discovered yoga.
The first time I stepped on a yoga mat was unlike any other. On this particular morning, I woke up with a tightness in my chest, a raging headache, and overwhelming anxiety. Unfortunately, this was an inevitable outcome of dealing with a controlling, progressive disease; to me, this was my “normal.” I desperately wanted to work through the pain I was feeling, but going for a run always left me too worn out. Laying around never helped either.
I decided to search online for a “yoga for anxiety” video, and I was immediately led to a plethora of different classes and instructors. I chose one and as I did the different breathing exercises and gentle poses, I was soon relieved of my mental and physical pain. It was a miracle how at ease I felt afterward. I decided that I would try a different video the next day. Soon, my favorite part of the day was looking for a new yoga video and examining the positive change that was the result of practicing. Slowly, the heaviness in my body was being lifted. Slowly, I was gaining back my control.
I’ll admit that practicing yoga while at college isn’t easy. For the life of me, I can’t even keep a plant alive for more than two weeks; how do I expect to keep myself balanced while being a student? It’s hard for me to let go during a meditation session when there are five different subjects of homework stacked on my desk. And my roommate has walked in on me numerous times in the middle of Warrior II pose. I’ve even encountered instances when I roll out my mat, only to roll it back up again within minutes because I just didn’t have the energy to practice that day.
Nonetheless, I still return to my daily yoga practice because, for a moment in time, I feel freedom from rheumatoid arthritis. Despite the complicating factors that stand in the way of the ideal, perfect yoga practice, I wouldn’t trade how I practice for the world; yoga isn’t meant to be perfect.
My yoga journey in college has taught me to be grateful for everything—from the small practice space between the beds in my room to even the loud music that may try to interfere with my mind while I lay in Savasana, reminding me to keep returning to my breath despite distractions. Most importantly, yoga has given me the gift of finding myself, something that many other college students yearn to do. I turn to it when I need creative inspiration for my writing, when I need to sit a bit straighter and just breathe during my classes, and I return to it when I’m having a bad day and just need to acknowledge it on my mat and let it go. Through yoga, I continue to discover new things about myself, and I am truly grateful for the never-ending journey it holds for me.
I’m 20 years old now and beginning my junior year in college, following my dream to become a writer. Ten years ago, I would have never pictured this life. I was trapped inside the mind of a girl who feared the power her body had over her. I saw no hope for the future. Today, I feel no evil in the relationship between my body and my disease. Because of yoga, I am finally at peace.