Yoga teaches us that when we identify with our “story” (an identity or belief that is developed from our individual ego rather than identifying with our true nature) we are suffering, blinded by illusion. I was originally introduced to this idea by Sudakar Ken McRae and the concept allowed me to move beyond the limiting beliefs of my mind that held me hostage for many years. As a result of that I rarely talk about my experience with chronic illness because I do no longer define myself by that story. Yoga practices (Big Y Yoga) allowed me to use connection to the present moment to overcome the limitations I once experienced in body that therefore impacted my mind. However, I am making an exception to revisit my past experiences and share them with you.
II was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis (UC) when I was 16, unfortunately it was a very severe case. After years of suffering from anemia, pain, malnutrition and frequent hospitalizations I was sent to the Mayo Clinic to have the diseased gut removed at age 29. Unfortunately, the surgery resulted in a confounding number of other complications including obstruction, infection, and poor motility resulting in frequent hospitalizations for about 8 more years. My life at that time was one of severe pain and was limited by this severe illness.
During this time I had two specialist physicians who did their best to care for me and manage the illness. Between the surgeon and the GI doc I presented a very perplexing and unusual post-surgical case that seemed like it had no positive outcome. Finally about 12 years ago things began to shift and my health improved and I have not seen the GI doctor again until this past week. It was during this time of illness that I began to practice yoga when I was able, visiting the Kripalu Center and then becoming a student at alleyCat.
Last week, I returned to see the GI doc for an Upper GI due to some small issues I’ve had recently. I had a different name when I last saw him 15 years ago so he didn’t know it was “me” until he looked at my past records. The last time we met I was very sick, likely in my hospital bed, weak and weighing about 100 pounds. When he came into the clinic room he was shocked and happy to see I am healthy now, if fact he was downright astounded. I laughed and joked that we were in our 30’s the last time we met. He said to me, “If you had asked me back then what you would look like in 2018 (health wise) I would never have imagined you would be so healthy”. We caught up on my medical history and my final surgery 12 years ago. After my procedure (which showed normal results) he asked me what I thought resulted in the change. I paused for a minute and then I told him, “I decided to take the moments I had when I was healthy and live my life in those moments to the fullest that I could. And then the moments I was healthy gradually got longer and longer and I gradually got better.” He looked at me and smiled and said, “And that is a beautiful thing.”
One of the most poignant memories that I have of the intersection of yoga practice and illness is when I had that final surgery 12 years ago. It was quite a complicated situation and a special surgeon was brought in to take on the case, but things did not go well and I was in the step-down ICU for 5 months. Mostly I remember that it was excruciatingly painful and seemed to last a lifetime. When I reached a point that I was coherent my family brought in my CD player and yoga CD’s. I would play them and lying in my hospital bed I do the yoga practice in my mind. It is during those moments of complete absorption that I could experience liberation from both the pain and the physical limitations of my body-mind. I was free, limitless.
This is not my story. In fact, this is the story of no story. For many years the illness haunted me, not in body, but in mind. Fear held me back from living because of the story of what “might” happen. Little by little Ken’s teachings along with my practice trained my mind to live in the moment outside the limitations of my story. Learning to do so changed the course of my life in body, mind and spirit. I am so eternally grateful for the health I regained and for those who contributed to that health.
I’m certainly not saying I healed myself but I wanted to share this because if you had asked me back then I would not have dreamed that I would recover either. I’ve been very down about the pain that I currently deal with. Revisiting this past story is a reminder to live in the moments that I have free of pain in the most present and fullest way possible. Perhaps those moments will grow longer but if they do not, at least I am in the Now to experience each moment, both the suffering and the joy.
Jai Bhagwan my friends. Victory to Light within each of us.