Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Healing Power of Yoga

I wanted to share with you a letter that came from a colleague of mine. Lindsay is a Kripalu Yoga teacher from Ontario, Canada. She recently suffered a serious injury, and she has written a moving account of how she is using her yoga to help move through the trauma. Her letter below describes how she is living her yoga beyond the mat and tapping into its immense power to heal. Here's her account of her healing journey:

Hello my dear yogis,

I wanted to reach out to you all and share a story that I hope will inspire you and remind you about the importance of yoga in our lives. I have been putting off writing this until I had more information and until I was able to come to terms with the fact that “I am where I am” and  “It is what it is”. Two of my favourite mantras.

Last Sunday night I was rushed to the hospital after the bottom of a hot water bottle gave out and spilled boiling water over my leg, hip, thigh and groin area. I have a combination of second and third degree burns that are extremely painful and will take some time to heal. By far the most excruciating pain I have ever experienced. I just screamed and screamed until I got to the hospital and was put on morphine. It felt like my leg was boiling and bubbling and felt like it was going to melt off, it looked like melted plastic was poured over it and within minutes it was all blistered. The human body is SO amazing though how it just knows what to do to respond and protect.

I am unable to walk or move unassisted and I have been back and forth from the hospital every day so that the doctors can monitor the burn and change the dressing. It is pretty bad. The good news is that they say I should heal nicely with minimal scarring or nerve damage but the bad news is that they told me “no yoga” for a few months.

When I heard “no yoga” I was devastated! The thought of not being able to practice yoga or teach yoga for months was just heartbreaking. Immediately my inner drama queen came out to react to those words “No Yoga!” Gasp! (Throws forearm to forehead)  But then I took a deep breath and realized how ridiculous that statement was. “No yoga”, hah! Yeah sure…

I have been practicing yoga every day since the accident against the doctors orders.

If it weren’t for deep Dirgha and Ujjayi breathing I probably wouldn’t have made it to the hospital without hyperventilating and passing out from the intense pain and shock. My Pranayama practice is not only what helped me stay relaxed and calm when I was trying to explain to the doctors and nurses what happened that night but it has been helping me with managing my pain on a daily basis as I use my breath to channel healing energy in my body and remain relaxed, calm, centered and present.  With every exhalation I try my best to let go of what happened, accept what is and just be in the here and now.

It isn’t easy staying positive when something like this happens. Especially when I am unable to move, I'm stuck on the couch and have lots of time to replay the scene over and over in my head. I cannot stop looking at the pictures I took of my wound either, it is as if I want to go back and re-live that horrible event. Why?!?! I do not recognize my own leg... I just stare at the pictures and ask myself "WHAT IS IT!?!?!"( lol ), doing Samyama* meditation on a wound like that is by far the most interesting and amazing thing, after all, I am the most interesting and amazing person I have ever met. ;)

 It is very easy to sink into a space of depression and have “pity parties” for myself every day. And since I do not want to be the only one at my pity party I try to invite all my family and friends! Trust me, I have been there this week! But when I stop, breathe and take the seat of the witness consciousness and just observe myself from a place of love and compassion and understanding and non-judgment, I give myself permission to fully feel every emotion that arises and be fully present with all of it (thank you Kripalu yoga!). I allow myself to feel sad or sorry for a little while, and then I allow myself to feel joy and gratitude. There is so much to be grateful for. I am surrounded by friends and family, love and support, flowers and cards and can just feel the love all around me.

 As I surf through this experience and ride the waves of emotion I know that this experience, just like this life, is going to be full of ups and downs and these ups and downs always have a lesson and a bigger divine reason. 

If you have ever been to my class before you most likely have heard me talking about yoga being like life. There will be situations or times in life that are hard, painful, unpleasant and challenging, and there will be times in life that are joyful, pleasant, easy and fun.  Just like in an asana class there will be postures that are easy to be in and sustain and postures that are really challenging. It is all about how you choose respond to the situation that will determine whether or not you will suffer through the experience or grow from the experience. I choose to learn and grow. What a beautiful opportunity for me to practice yoga off the mat. After all, life IS our yoga mat.

My meditation and pranayama practice has helped me stay positive this week and will continue to help me stay positive through the healing process.

I am not positive 100% of the time, I am human, but for the most part practicing meditation has helped me calm my mind, clear away the clutter, the drama and the stories that want to build up. It is helping me dive inward so I can become aware of what my body is telling me and really take care of myself so I can heal.  The pain medication the doctors gave me has been making me extremely nauseous so deciding whether or not I want to feel the pain or be sick are not fun choices to make.  When I get quiet and listen to my body, I learn that Nadi Shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) helps to relieve feelings of nausea and that visualizing healing white light moving through my body, especially around my leg makes my skin feel like it is healing and brings me peace. Meditations on gratitude remind me that I am surrounded by love and support and that I already have everything that I need. In this moment I am exactly where I need to be and I trust the process. I am okay.

So no, I am not doing downward dog or cobra pose, and I am definitely not sweating in a power flow class but I am absolutely practicing yoga.  When I try to do something as simple as putting on my slippers or sitting down on the couch, it might take me 10 minutes to do, I explore micro-movements, the use of props and posture variations until I settle into a position that is comfortable for me. I am practicing yoga. I am taking my time and breathing as I carefully explore movement. There is absolutely no space for ego or self-judgment,  as this is a very personal practice. I am re-learning how my body moves, I am discovering my limitations and my strengths.  I am being SO curious about who I am because the body I am living in now is not the same body that taught the power vinyasa class last Sunday morning before the accident.  I have had experiences, trauma and emotional turbulence that have imprinted me. Changed me. How interesting! Let me explore that.

I walk with a limp and need a cane to get around. I have trouble sitting down and standing up on my own and basic self care routines take me 5 times as long as they once did. I feel excruciating pain every time my leg is touched or my bandages are changed and I am going to need to practice patience as I take time to heal.

I will not be able to physically teach yoga classes for a while and I will not be getting into downward dog pose any time soon but I am practicing yoga off the mat and through this beautiful practice of connecting mind and body I will heal.

Although I am in a lot of pain, I am staying positive and trusting the healing process. I just have to be patient. I know that there is definitely a reason this happened and a massive universal message being sent. I think I am getting it.  I have been blessed with this beautiful opportunity to practice all that I preach and teach and I am really understanding what it means to embody the yogic lifestyle and mindset. Aside from the physical limb* of yoga, having an actual "limb" out of commission has me exploring the practice of yoga on levels that I have not yet found words to describe. After years of exploring my body and developing my self awareness, it as if everything I knew has been wiped away and I am rediscovering myself on whole new levels. Before last Sunday I used to challenge myself physically all the time, but now I am being challenged mentally, emotionally and spiritually and from this experience I know that I will be a better yoga teacher and a stronger person.

Love and light,

*samyama: joining together the practices of concentration, meditation, and absorption,  focusing unwavering attention on an object or quality of being.

*a reference to Patajali’s 8 limbs of yoga, which include codes of conduct, postures, breathing exercises, and meditative practices.

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