I still remember the day I sat in my then-rheumatologist’s office more than a decade ago, fatigued and broken, seeking yet another treatment, desperate for solutions. Seemingly helpless in the fight against insomnia, suffering from daily migraines, brain fog and digestion problems and saddled with excruciating pain, numbness and pins-and-needles sensation of misbehaving nerves, I was so physically fatigued that it was hard to even walk to the mailbox some days. Though we’d tried a couple of medications, physical therapy and trigger point injections, we’d exhausted this doctor’s toolbox of treatment (which naturally didn’t include yoga or tai chi, at the time).
“I don’t know what more can be done,” he said. “I can’t see you getting much better than you are now.”
This essay, Dr. F., is dedicated to you
After hearing this from a “trusted” medical professional, some patients might have sunk into a whirling pit of despair and sorrow. I’d already been there, done that and had the scars to prove it. This time, I was angry and defiant—I would not let this autoimmune disorder get the best of me for any longer. I would do everything in my power to regain my health.
Around this time, my mother and I discovered an incredible TV series called Namaste, starring the well-known Canadian yoga teacher Kate Potter. With breathtaking scenery and dynamic sequences, I looked forward to every “class” I could take with Potter and he fellow practitioners. The former athlete in me thrived on the challenges of new poses, and even if I kept tipping over, I would try again and again until I was strong and steady in an asana.
There were some days when I was in too much pain or too fatigued to do yoga. There were other days when I couldn’t get through an entire class, needing to take frequent breaks. And there were times when I repeated classes with reruns because they felt so delicious to my body.
During that time, I felt strong and pro-active, knowing I was using my body in a healing way, even when there were physical repercussions later for overdoing it. It was also fun to have my mother joining me in the classes. Unfortunately, the show stopped running—and I think the channel shortly went off-air.
A Return to Yoga
It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I seriously returned to yoga. By this time, I had learned to manage pain and sleep, but I was dealing with the baffling neurological phenomena of a movement disorder, dystonia. During episodes of dystonia, I was very much not in control of my body, and it left me feeling frustrated and impotent. On the mat, I discovered my true self again.
While struggling immensely with balance and endurance at first, continued practice paid off, and I found myself in the wonderful world of IG Yoga. Here, numerous yoga challenges were posted on Instagram, inviting people to participate. Unsurprisingly, I jumped right, constantly challenging my body to form new poses or improve old ones.
Over the past couple years, photos turned into video sequences, friends and random strangers turned into more than 700 dedicated followers and my yoga inspirations turned into contemporaries. I won two IG Yoga challenges, and I was pleasantly surprised to turn up in Anacostia Yogi’s Top Ten Inspirational Instagram Yoginis.
While all this was flattering and it felt good to be appreciated for my dedicated practice, my mind was always focused on the mantra—if I keep showing up to the mat, I will heal. I also loved having tangible evidence of my progression physically—how my balance improved, how my flexibility increased, how my endurance and strength grew, and how my spirit and confidence lifted.
I’ve come a long way, baby.
Life, not love, was my battlefield, and I was gradually having more days where I was winning instead of losing. What also encouraged me through some of the tough days and weeks was how many people told me I inspired them with my journey, when I felt like all I was doing was surviving and thriving as best as I could. Then friends asked if I was teaching, and followers asked my advice for beginning, or maintaining, their own practice.
The Call to Teach Healing Through Yoga
Ever the educator, the seed was planted that I was called not to just teach people about nutrition and lifestyle changes as a certified health coach. I was also called to teach the practices—yoga, tai chi, qigong, etc.—that would help others heal their own bodies and minds as with me.
Two months shy of a year ago, I began my journey to become trained to teach yoga. Despite major relapses, I kept showing up on the mat. I kept striving to learn and improve. I started studying how others taught students how to get into and work within the poses. Even when I was unable to leave the house, I took online classes and courses.
I have to admit I had my doubts: Who says I’m good enough to teach? How am I going to have the endurance to teach an hour-long yoga class? How will I find (and keep) clients? What if I start teaching and relapse?
While I tried to find answers to these questions, I kept plugging away. My practice continued to improve. My knowledge expanded, thanks to a diverse slew of sources.The flame of passion continued to grow. I honestly faced and challenged what Steven Pressfield, in The War of Art, calls Resistance , and finally my dream seemed within reach.
The Beginning of a Dream Come True
This past Thursday, I passed the certification as a sports yoga instructor! I still find it hard to fully grasp. I supposed that will come when I start with my brand-new clients and class. I will teach one-on-one and small group, personalized yoga sessions (in-person and remotely), as well as group classes.
I’m also finishing up my 200-Hr Yoga Teacher Training, which will be followed by Restorative Yoga Teacher Training. Never stop learning and growing. Never run out of tools to help others (and myself).
I told my friends:
Those of you who know my journey can appreciate that this means so much more to me than just a piece of paper. Your support through all this has sustained and energized me!
Thank you all for reading. And I look forward to hopefully teaching (and learning from) some of you in the near future!
You can learn more about my healing journey by typing “dystonia” and/or “lupus” in the search engine to the right of the page.
Renée Canada of The Mind-Body Shift can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 860-468-9588 for more information about individualized yoga sessions and group classes.