A little under a year ago I was as broken as broken could be. Sitting at home with nothing to do but write a survival blog with great ideas was good and all, but I wasn’t getting out into the world and facing my problems and pain. I worked only part time, mostly due to my health. Many years ago I was the victim of a blunt force trauma through service, and I also suffered many scars from surgery to repair my organs and abdomen. Gastrointestinal problems manifested, I lost a gallbladder, then a kidney, some of my intestinal tract and a lot of dignity..
I developed lower intestinal crohn’s disease, and unresponsive anemia. The treatment being, frequent blood transfusions and IV iron. I was on three different anti-depressants, a medicine for anxiety or PTSD another for sleep, and steroids for inflammation. One for blood pressure and one for ulcers. I didn’t think for one second that yoga could fix all of those problems, but it did..
Back track to October 2012, while getting onto the highway to take my daughter and her friend to a haunted carnival I was hit from behind by a man going about 45 in a 25 getting onto the highway. Traffic stopped, I stopped. He didn’t. My seat belt cut into the IV port in my arm for treatment and my back ached really bad, turned out my coxis bone was completely out of alignment. I went to the ER and saw a chiropractor for well over 9 months with no real positive improvement. My husband kept telling me I needed to stretch, that I needed to go find a yoga class, he had been saying it for years, but for some reason I never wanted to listen. Then around my daughters 12th birthday I was so tired of sleeping all day and being in constant chronic pain, I googled yoga. I looked up the different styles and I couldn’t come to a conclusion, about one being better than the other. Then an ad popped up for Groupon and Bikram yoga in Westboro MA. I don’t remember what the groupon was, 30 days for 30 dollars maybe? The price was right but it was a bit far away, I still decided it would be worth it to try it.
So on July 11, 2013 I went to my first Bikram yoga class. Oh my god what had I gotten myself into? At 105 degrees and 50% humidity to me initially, it was like Saudi Arabia, Death Valley, Africa hot, it smelled funny, I was breathing like an angry boar through my mouth. I refused to listen to the teacher. I think, I probably fled the room a half-dozen times, I scowled at the teacher in her perky leggings. I guzzled water, I prayed to god that it would end quickly, but it didn’t.. 60 minutes went by and holy crap we’re not done yet? How much more of this abuse is left? I have a meatball grinder after this with my name on it. Just focus on some god damn meatballs and you can survive this..
I cried the whole way home, a cathartic cleansing cry. I couldn’t stop, it was like a waterfall, after a dam that had been broken. I sucked at living life, I couldn’t even get through a simple yoga class without bitching and pissing and moaning. I didn’t go back for 6 days. I sat at home brooding about that groupon and decided that I didn’t give it a proper chance, that I was being wasteful, whatever, something told me that I needed to go back and try harder.
On day six I came back and mid way through class, I cried on my mat in dead body pose facing the wrong direction, I was unknowingly being disrespectful. Not about the crying, no not at all, its okay to cry. It’s great to cry in yoga, because you need it. You need to get something out, I learned later that it’s common, and even ok to cry in yoga, your flexing not only your muscles but your nervous system, it effectively cleanses your mind whether you know it or not. The disrespectful was putting your feet towards the instructor, in some Indian cultures where this yoga’s origin is, you don’t put your feet in their direction, they’re dirty, they’re your feet. Makes sense right? Well after that second class I felt better, actually pretty good, then the next day I came back and tried harder and I felt even better.
So now I decide that its worth it to make an investment in some yoga gear. I bop on down to Barnes and Noble where they actually have a decent selection of yoga crap, mats, various doo dads and socks. Socks?!? Hmm I thought, “it’s really hard to get traction and grab yourself doing this.” “Maybe if I buy these cool grippy yoga socks I can get better at this.” Nope. Oh my god you should have seen the look on my instructors face when I came in sporting those dignity stealers. She looked at them and said, “You going to take those off? Right?” “You don’t need them, if you want to get better at this yoga and get stronger you have to learn to grab yourself, sweat and all, and hang on.” I argued, “But they really help me?” The next day another completely different instructor said the same thing about the socks. I only wore them three times in total, and then ditched them. I figured there is a right way and a wrong way to do things, you need to check your luggage and your ego, whatever is festering in your core, at the door and freaking listen to what they have to say, they are helping you get better.
So then after attending a total of about four classes a week for two weeks, I would have to say that 50% of my back pain was gone and I knew that I wanted more. I googled Bikram Yoga, and read and read from everything about the man, to the sequences and their benefits. I came across an article in Oprah magazine, about one of her interns, that decided to do a 90 day challenge. Now most challenges are 30 to 60 days, but a 90 day challenge is what Bikram said in his own words would create the most change, and oh my god did I need a change. I read how this intern went for 60 days (Sort of abandoning the last 30 days), and it was hard, but she lost weight and felt great, I read of other challenges as well, I thought I could do better and make it the full 90, it sounded like it was totally worth it, and it was. I gave my yoga instructors my sob story and they took me in and supported me, because trust me if you make a commitment to 90 days of Bikram yoga, you’re going to need a lot of help, and a lot of support. On days I couldn’t get to the studio I practiced in a hot bathroom, using a space heater and shower steam. Being led with an old CD version of the Bikram script read by the man himself, in between the postures he sings and hums, it’s sort of charming to hear the man who designed the posture sequence, lead you through the practice, alone in the john..
After 90 days, the pain was gone, the medications as described above were gone, I didn’t need them. I wasn’t depressed or having anxiety attacks, my blood pressure regulated and the back spasms completely stopped. I lost 45 pounds and I kid you not I grew an inch. My whole life I was yelled at to stand up straight, and suddenly after 3 months I was. By the end of October a year from the accident, I was comfortable practicing about 4 to 5 days a week, taking a break every three days to give my body a day of rest. Everything was going great, I began to work more often as a lifeguard for fitness center swimming pools, I was becoming more active and getting out there. Then one morning in November, I woke up and my scar tissue changed from pink to a dark purple and actually seemed to take on a different shape. By the end of the week the loose skin from my weight loss became infected, and I had a low grade fever of 99.7 that wouldn’t go away. The scar tissue festered and I was referred to a surgeon. He recommended a scar revision and skin removal. It took awhile for insurance approval and to get into the ER, I had the low grade fever for well over two months. I kept going to yoga though, and I can’t explain it but my fever would go down for the time I was in the hot room and then come back later in the evening.
Eventually, the first week of January, I went in for my surgery. Call it bad luck, Murphy’s law whatever. Everything that can go wrong, did go wrong. The surgeon accidentally nicked an artery during the surgery and when they got me up to walk, I began to bleed internally. This began a spiral. I lost three pints of blood in under 15 minutes. I was still awake when they were intubating me for the second surgery to repair the bleed. I was flat on my back on bed rest when I contracted pneumonia, while coughing they gave me transfusions. Then eventually, sent me home but I wasn’t healing. Two weeks later still coughing the wound opened up and became necrotic. My 4 weeks away from my yoga became 9 weeks, after two more surgeries to fix the necrosis and IV iron. I was just visualizing the yoga in my head because going back seemed even more challenging and far away. Then at one of my final appointments came the epiphany, the surgeon plainly stated, “Your scar tissue just simply wanted out.” Then it hit me! In class they teach that whether you recognize it or not, old injuries affect you. Bikram yoga works through the tourniquet effect of compression and release. As you practice yoga, circulation reaches these parts of your body and works like a pressure washer to clean out scar tissue and damage that has been done, restoring your body to it’s natural state. So for me everything toxic came to the surface and then as soon my body was satisfied it was out, it began to heal, then my stomach and swelling flattened out, the pain diminished and I was cleared to go back. I would however like to be clear about my surgery, this wasn’t a tummy tuck, I didn’t need one. My stomach was flat and firm to begin with, it simply had a ton of scar tissue and skin over it, and it was the yoga that made it flat, there was no need to perform any muscle tightening, it was all the yoga. It seemed like forever, but I came back to class slowly in mid March easing into the postures using pregnancy modifications. In less than three weeks, I was almost completely back to my normal practice. Now its even better, or at least I have been told. Currently I have an active job as a lifeguard instructor, and I could never do this physically demanding job, if not for the yoga.
Words of thanks.. I don’t have enough. This has become my lifestyle, my medicine, therapy, inside and out. The scars from the surgeries during this winter are almost gone, they are pink fading to white, and its only the end of June. It’s almost been a year since I began going to Bikram yoga, and someday I hope to become a teacher. The tuition is pretty steep at well over $15K to become an instructor, but hopefully if I keep my focus and get better, maybe someday I can obtain a scholarship or a door will open.
After all of the round about prattle I took to get here, the point I would really like to impress is, that you just can’t quit on life. It’s not over, you can heal yourself. Just get out there and do something, anything. Even if Bikram is not for you, no yoga is bad yoga. Get out there and stretch and make yourself better. Don’t rely 100% on allopathic medicine, it won’t make you better. It just masks symptoms and lines the pockets of big pharma, who honestly don’t give a hoot whether we live or die. On this journey (so cheesy I know) I have discovered that Yoga is a path to self-realization, seriously! Our potential is limitless. We are 100% responsible for our bodies and doing what is best for them. Acceptance of this is liberating and can bring health and calm to your life.
It did for me at least..
- Amy Wexler
Bugsy watches half moon pose backbend.
Sr. Bikram teacher Terry Warburton helps me into Standing Separate Leg Stretching Pose Dandayamana-Bibhaktapada-Paschimotthanasana (Sanskrit)