In the year before my diagnosis, I signed up to become certified in restorative yoga and to study yoga therapy. At the time, I had been teaching yoga for about two years and had become increasingly interested in the therapeutic benefits of yoga. I was even part of a team of teachers who taught yoga to women with cancer at a yoga center in New York City and on annual retreats around the country. During these workshops and retreats, I had watched yoga transform women’s lives and bodies as they struggled through chemo and surgeries, or celebrated another year of remission.
My focus then was on how I could become a better teacher and use yoga to help other people experiencing difficulties with their health. I finished the series of workshops in yoga therapy in April of 2007. That August, I began experiencing my own health difficulties, first in the form of a swollen toe, which was quickly followed by full-blown rheumatoid arthritis symptoms all over.
At first, not realizing that something was truly wrong with my body, I tried to keep up with my regular yoga practice, but the golf ball lodged in my toe joint made most standing poses difficult. I switched from taking advanced level classes to intermediate, and then to basics. But when my shoulders and wrists became too swollen and painful to move, the only class I could manage to get through was a restorative class, where most of the poses involved lying down, supported by props, blankets and pillows in order to promote constructive rest. Eventually, as I waited in medical limbo for test results to come back, I quit taking class at all. It was just too hard, physically and emotionally. Instead, as I waited to hear from my doctor, I decided to end each day in a restorative pose at home to help give me peace of mind, give my poor body a break and create a space for myself to confront my feelings about whatever it was that was happening to me.
After my diagnosis, the yoga stopped completely – both teaching and practicing – amid a hurricane of doctor appointments, tests and medications. I no longer even had the energy to set myself up in a restorative pose at home, and I was so depressed and scared that the idea of laying quietly on my mat and contemplating all of the ugly shoes that were surely in my future had about as much appeal as cleaning my bathroom with my toothbrush.
I stuffed my yoga mat in the back of my closet, figuring my yoga days were probably over – or at least over in the way I had known them.
It stayed that way for a long time. Then, my meds started working. With the Enbrel in my system making my joints normal-sized and mobile again, I decided to pull my mat back out and see what I could manage to do. And that is when I realized just how lucky I was that I had all of this yoga know-how on ways to modify and adapt different poses to meet different needs. What a godsend those workshops in restorative yoga and yoga therapy had been! Fate is funny like that.