how yoga heals: yin yoga and ulcerative colitis

I believe that all yoga is healing if applied in the right manner. No one called Krishnamacharya a “yoga therapist” and you were surely not able to become certified as one back in his day. When I took my first two courses of study at the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, we listened every day to the stories of private students about how the particular style of yoga that is taught at KYM is a healing path. I have experienced my own healing at KYM with the private yoga therapy that was prescribed for me, certain asanas that I still do.

My work with private students is a mixed bag, but I always use what I learned, and continue to learn, at KYM. I have heard that style of yoga called “old ladies yoga” because it is a slow, deliberate practice, breath-based and heart centered. Some believe that “the kind of yoga he [Desikachar] espouses is becoming, like the polar bear, something of an endangered species.” I can tell you that I met more than few astangis at KYM, some of whom studied directly with Jois in Mysore, who came to KYM to heal their bodies. They told me that the yoga practiced at KYM was like a light bulb going off over their head. As for myself, after my first month-long intensive in 2005, my practice and my teaching changed forever.

So I am never surprised when my students tell me their stories of healing. Below is a story written by one of my students who is only 22 and no longer has a large intestine. I felt that a yin yoga practice would be extremely beneficial for her condition and my intuition was right-on — as I said, I believe all yoga is healing if applied correctly, it does not matter what the style is. I asked her to write her story so that others can read about the true power of yoga. However, please remember that yoga is not one size fits all — your body is different from this student’s, so your mileage may vary…;)

This is why I teach, and I am blessed to have students like this. I couldn’t get a better Christmas present than that.

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“For the past seven years I have been dealing with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disorder of the large intestine. During these years I have been hospitalized and medicated to keep my symptoms under control. Since the doctors could not find a medication or therapy that would be sustainable for my treatment over the long term a full colectomy, the removal of the large intestine, was performed on me in May of 2008. After some complications, I had my second surgery in July of 2008 and was considered “cured.” I was doing well until May of 2009 when I developed autoimmune pancreatitis. Twice in two months I was hospitalized for this condition, the doctors supplied me with pancreatic enzymes to take whenever I ate. Because I developed another autoimmune disorder, I decided that it was time for a change in my lifestyle and mindset, time to learn how to deal with the stress that life brings. For me, that step was to start taking a yoga class.

It was the last semester of my associates degree and I needed one more P.E. credit and since yoga was an option, my counselor and I decided that it would be a great class for me to take. This was not a decision based on physical fitness, it was a decision based on a need for a new mindset. So, I bought my textbook, leafed through it, and went to my first day of yoga. I walked in exhausted, nauseous, and in pain from my latest autoimmune disorder of my pancreas. That class we went over the syllabus and did some breath work. Before class ended, Linda announced that if you had any physical conditions, to stay and talk with her after class, little did I know that the conversation we would have would end up being my cure.

So I stayed afterward, waiting for the people with bad backs and knees to let Linda know about their issues that could affect the different poses that we might be doing in class. I explained to Linda what I had been through and that my surgery scars bothered me when doing core work because of scar tissue issues I had. We delved into my ailments, and she had a thought. Linda explained a little to me about what yin yoga is and that she had a class that I could join. She thought that yin might be more beneficial to my issues than only doing the regular yoga. I was on a mission for change in my life and yin sounded like the idea that might help me.

The next Wednesday night I went to Linda’s house for my first yin yoga class. When I arrived I was terribly nauseous, so badly that I almost did not go that night. Linda decided to do a stress practice that focused on the stomach meridians. By the time I left that yin class, my nausea had dropped by about 80%. It was absolutely incredible to leave feeling as I was, I hadn’t had that lack of nausea for about 4 months. I was excited, but nervous that this might be a temporary fix and not long term. I left open minded and with anticipation for the next class. Reading my yoga text and taking that class simultaneously with my yin class was another benefit of the last 5 months. It was interesting to see how I felt if I missed a yin class one week, but still had my regular yoga class.

After a month of doing yoga, especially the yin, my symptoms had improved so much that I was able to stop taking my pancreatic enzymes. Also, I started to do my own yin practice on a daily basis. Everyday, whenever I could fit it in morning or evening, I do a full hero [supta virasana] for 10 to 20 minutes, then child’s pose for 5 to 10 minutes, and the downward facing dog for 10 to 12 breaths. This daily practice has given me days, and now months, free of nausea and pain. Accepting the realization that reality is reality and it is always changing and out of my control along with watching my breath, which has brought my mindfulness to a better level, has truly been a life-changing process and I can’t wait to continue on this journey. [emphasis supplied.]

From my first yin classes where I could feel my insides unwinding, to now where I can still feel my meridians winding out, I am 100% positive that yin has benefited my health in ways that I would have never imagined. I love doing my yoga practices, but my daily yin practices, focus on breath work, and the realization of what reality is, has been the most beneficial milestone is my life thus far. I am always looking forward to my yoga time and what I learn from it, and encourage anyone with autoimmune disorders to give it a chance, because such a simple thing can be so life-changing.”

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3 thoughts on “how yoga heals: yin yoga and ulcerative colitis

  1. This is very interesting and inspiring. My husband has ulceritive colitis and anything I can learn to help him is a gift. Thank you for sharing.

  2. I'm going to pass this along to a friend with ulcerative colitis. Thanks for sharing it and for inspiring me as a current teacher training student!

    I've mentioned before that I do love me some Ashtanga, and I have to wonder whether it's the Ashtanga practice or the ego of the practitioner that caused body injury. I'm not saying it is or isn't, I wouldn't know, only that most Ashtangis tend to be type-A personalities, and I know I have to constantly remind myself to drop the ego in anything I do, especially if it's remotely physical.

    I had no interest in yoga until I tried Ashtanga, but now that I'm here, I'm open to learning about other yoga practices. This is a truly inspirational story.

  3. thanks for sharing. I have colitis as well. I would like to try yin yoga, but since it's not that popular, it hasn't made it's way out to my small town. (Using a DVD just isn't the same as a good teacher.)

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