As I prepare to serve Y.O.G.A. for Youth (Your Own Greatness Affirmed) by teaching yoga to middle school boys this semester I try to put myself in their shoes. I know most of these boys will enter class knowing little to nothing about yoga and many of them may even think it’s a little weird. Some may not even want to participate at all. That prompts a memory of my initial resistance to yoga way back in 1981.
After surviving my first debilitating attack of Crohn’s Disease and subsequent hospitalization, someone recommended yoga to me. There was class nearby so I thought, “What the heck. I’ll give it a try.” So, skinny from Crohn’s weight loss and jacked up on doctor-prescribed steroids I trotted of to my first yoga class.
During my first bout of the disease my left big toe was completely paralyzed. I would often stub it when I walked barefoot. During my first yoga class, the teacher, an elderly be-turbaned Indian man named Baram, mentioned that paralysis of the big toe related to digestive disease. Being kind enough not to single me out, his point made a strong impression on me. At the end of class, his pretty young assistant, Lakshmi, commented, “Oh, you’ll have to do yoga for the rest of your life to stay well.”
Being the reactive rebel I so stubbornly played in my late 20s, I thought to myself, “Like hell I will.” I never returned to that class and completely ruled out any role for yoga in my recovery from Crohn’s Disease. Of course, I got sick again and again. My next disease episode forced me to withdraw from the University of California at San Diego just as the fall semester began. Not only did I lose any confidence that I’d be able to pursue an education, I settled into a depressive funk of hopelessness that I’d ever be able to pursue developing my full human potential.
Fourteen years later, complaining of chronic back pain, a friend lent me a yoga book he thought might help. I began using the book by myself daily. After two weeks the back pains had vanished. I knew I’d found something important so I kept practicing.
I took teacher training ten years later and began to teach. Even though I’d made progress in my practice, I still hadn’t realized the profound power of yoga to transform my life. After two more bouts of Crohn’s in the early 2000s and several episodes of depression later on in the decade that required medication, I knew that I had to put up or shut up about my yoga practice. Either this practice could help me cope with my dis-eases or not.
I quit the antidepressant medication cold turkey (not something I advise) and devoted myself to daily asana, pranayama and meditation. The combination of these three limbs of yoga relieved the chronic stress and subsequent depression. Consistent practice bathed my brain with a balanced flow of neurotransmitters that I learned to summon at will. It’s been nearly ten years since my last Crohn’s episode. I can say with confidence that I have developed the proper yogic self-care skills not just adequate to keeping myself well, but also to fully enable me to continue my quest towards a life of complete fulfillment and service.
Though I stubbornly spent years wandering in the wilderness of poor health, I have fulfilled Lakshmi’s prophecy that I would have to practice yoga for the rest of my life. Rather than a sentence, yoga has served to liberate me from physical as well as mental illness.
A yoga teacher of mine, Krishna Kaur Khalsa, relayed a quote to our Yoga for Youth training class recently. It went something like this: “One who seeks the greatest freedom must develop the greatest discipline.” This statement is also a constant thread in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. We get out of something what we put into it. It’s the universal law of cause and effect. We reap what we sow.
With gratitude I bow to all the saints and yogis who have come before us to show us the way of yoga (union). This practice will not only heal, but will catapult its practitioners into the lives they long to live.
Blessing to all of you as you blaze your own trail to freedom with the boundless practice of yoga.
Namaste and Sat Nam!