Your body is your greatest teacher.
In my almost 35 years on this planet, this body of mine has helped me, supported me and served me every single day. There are times when I have been so grateful for all she does for me, times when I beat up on her constantly, as well as times when I have felt completely betrayed and abandoned by her.
Since I started practising Yoga there have been periods of my life where I was practising 7 times a week, feeling so proud of myself and my body, feeling strong and capable and unstoppable. There were also times in illness and injury where I had gained weight, couldn’t practice at all and was so hard on this magnificent body of mine.
In 2016, I was in the happiest place I could have ever imagined. I was dating a magnificent man, I had a job I enjoyed and I was teaching Yoga 4 or 5 times a week as well as lecturing on the current teacher training. My Yoga practice was strong, my body was healthy and most importantly I had a loving and supportive Satsang, or Yoga community. My heart was so full-up being able to practice Yoga with my teachers, teach Yoga to incredibly receptive students and deepen my own practice all at the same time. As a community we were learning together, growing together and supporting each other on this most inspiring path.
Then, one afternoon, Nick and I were throwing a ball to each other in the park while walking our dogs. He threw the ball, I jumped my highest and as I landed I heard 5 or 6 little pops and after a second of shock the screaming pain raced through my whole body and I collapsed to the floor. I had torn all the ligaments in my ankle and had cracked one of the bones.
I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t drive but most heartbreaking for me, I could no longer teach or practice Yoga.
If you suffer from anxiety, you may have experienced that with pain there can also be huge anxiousness and panic attacks. So, for the next few weeks, I was house-bound, steadily gaining weight, constantly anxious and slipping deeper and deeper into an awful depression. Along with all this, I was not practising Yoga which is my coping mechanism and my way to process and deal with all my emotional stuff. In the space of a few weeks, I had gone from the happiest I’d ever been to the most miserable I had ever been.
About 6 months after I broke my ankle I was also diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and prescribed chemo drugs for the rest of my life. Not only could I not practice Yoga asana but now my body was fighting itself and betraying me. I couldn’t trust her anymore when, in the past, she used to be my greatest strength and biggest supporter. I was horribly depressed, having panic attacks every other day and in so much pain I couldn’t open the taps at home or even a packet of chips. I basically slept and cried and took painkillers. That was my life.
I had refused to take the chemo drugs and steroids and was adamant that I would find a holistic and healthy way around this diagnosis. I found an amazing human to help me on this journey. Heidi Du Preez is a medical and nutritional scientist. She is the smartest human I’ve ever met and the kindest, most caring person I can imagine. She was the perfect person to help me heal my body and restore my faith in myself again. Heidi introduced me to system-supporting supplements and put me on an elimination diet which cut all processed foods out of my diet. No sugar, wheat, gluten or alcohol as well as anything that could contain moulds like mushrooms and nuts. She insisted on only eating whole foods and eating a variety of foods. When I was diagnosed I had been vegan for 8 years and Heidi kept coming back to this. I was vegan for ethical reasons. Ahimsa in the Yoga Sutras means non-violence and I was committed to putting a stop to any and all violence in my life. I feel so much and I love animals so much that I chose not to contribute to their suffering, to the best of my ability.
At one stage I was in so much pain that I could not drive to work, so Heidi suggested we have a DNA test and see exactly what was going on with me. We found some very interesting results. My body is not great at methylation, which is super complex but, put simply, my body does not break down protein into amino acid. So, being on a vegan diet, my body was unable to get the amino acids out of the food I was eating. We also found that I am highly gluten intolerant. Once I cut out gluten and added ethically sourced chicken and fish to my diet, then the pain in my hands and other joints went away completely. It was such a difficult decision for me to reintroduce animal products into my diet but if I am unable to function I cannot help, support or serve others and that, to me, is a wasted life.
It took a good couple of years to sort my health, my body, my mind and my life out but every step of the way I had the teachings and philosophy of Yoga guiding me back to myself. In this period, I started my journey with self-love. I started to listen to what my body needed and gave her what she needed instead of what I wanted. Eventually, I was able to get back on my mat and back into teaching. It was a slow process. My body felt foreign to me, I had about 20kg’s extra that I didn’t have before, I had weaknesses in my body that I didn’t recognise. I had to relearn my body, my limits, where and when to push myself and where and when to love myself. Every time I step on my mat, I learn something new about my body (which changes every day) and about myself (who evolves every moment). I learn to accept myself, to love myself and to acknowledge that where I am right now is exactly where I need to be and there is always, always a lesson to be learned.
Through this amazing, frustrating, life-changing journey, I have really learned to love and appreciate this magnificent body of mine. Whether I am feeling strong and capable and healthy or if I’m feeling heavy and slow and stagnant, she always has my best interests at heart and she knows exactly the lessons she needs to offer. Our bodies also know exactly what to do to heal themselves, if we only give them the space, attention and acknowledgement that they so desperately need from us.
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