“The best thing you can do is stay in bed, mostly, and forget about any future plans.”
This was the very matter-of-fact advice I received from my doctor at the age of 21. A recent blood test had shown that something was very wrong with my liver, and while my doctor could not say what had caused it, he did confidently tell me that I had only seven years to live.
My life did not end after seven years, but the constant monitoring of my liver filled it with enormous stress and worry.
One day, I was soaking in the hot springs on Orcas Island and noticed a very fit looking older man. My friend actually knew him and told me that he had once been a very sickly person before he had started to practice yoga just a few years earlier. “Maybe this would be something for you, too,” she said.
Seeing the radiant health of an older man really lit up my curiosity - and I took the plunge into a daily yoga practice. It was incredible. After each class I felt like my body had gone through a washing machine and been cleansed from the inside out. Physically and mentally I felt stronger and more grounded than I had in a long time. The weight of stress and worries had been lifted.
I am so glad I started this practice when I did. Not long after, one of my routine check-ups revealed a dark spot on my liver. A tumor.
I remember the many times after that, when I stepped onto my mat feeling ill from the chemotherapy but immensely grateful to be able to practice. Yoga always calmed me down and refocused me on what mattered right now: to take each day as it came.
With more complications and harsh treatments, there were long stretches when I wasn’t able to get to class. But once I was through, I returned to the mat and began rebuilding my strength in preparation for the next step: a liver transplant. The operation was one of the fastest ever completed, and I recovered remarkably quickly.
Of course, yoga alone could not have healed me - but I am absolutely sure that my yoga practice mentally and physically prepared me for both the challenging medical procedures, and for the recovery.
After this experience, I developed YogaLiveLink (www.yogalivelink.com), an online platform bringing live, private yoga therapy sessions to people recovering from cancer treatment. Sometimes we simply cannot get to the studio or the class offered by our local hospital. I want people to still have access to yoga during those times because I know how much it has helped me.
Over the past years, several solid scientific studies have been published that confirm what I and many other cancer patients have found in our practice: There are strong indications that yoga and yoga therapy decrease the side effects of cancer treatment, such as pain, fatigue, and depression, and I have no doubt we will find many more insights, both personal and scientific, into the healing capacity of yoga. It makes me excited for the future, despite the advice I received when I was 21.