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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.”
That evening Scaravelli died. Says Kline, “I never actually met Vanda, but her spirit had touched me in a very profound way.”
Now back in Hawaii, Kline continues her yoga practice and hopes to take teacher training classes in the Scaravelli style. She believes that yoga is responsible for her increasingly good health. Of her trip to Italy, she says, “I answered a distant call and was rewarded with an experience that changed my life.”