by Devi Lakhiani as told to Arvind How Yoga helped a woman combat and overcome the immobility and pain of rheumatoid arthritis.
Her movements are slow, deliberate and seem effortless. Her eyes have a sparkle in them and her ringing melodious voice is testimony to her powerhouse personality.
The Ordeal I was in the tenth standard, the last year of school. While I was appearing for my preliminary exams, I had an attack of shooting pain on my right shoulder. My mother massaged it with a balm, the pain subsided and I got through my exams. In the vacation before the final exams, I got an attack again, this time on the left shoulder. I was taken to a general physician, who over-reacted by prescribing cortisone. The pain disappeared and I continued my exam preparation.
However, the medication caused extensive damage. It caused the pain to spread to all joints in the body and threw me completely in the clutches of rheumatoid arthritis, as it was later diagnosed to be. The pain was unbearable. I suffered for the next seven months until a physiotherapist came home to work on me. My family changed my treatment from allopathic medicines to homeopathy. My cortisone medication was stopped. That proved fatal; the medication should have been gradually reduced, even though it was causing side-effects like skin eruptions. I couldn't move and was immobile with pain. I had to be helped even to get up or lie down.
I couldn't appear for my board exams that year. The physiotherapy helped me; I learnt to move and walk again. Another doctor prescribed some mild medicines. The next year I appeared for my final exams - all the while suffering acute pain and immobility.
I joined college but could not complete it as the pain had me in its grip for the next three years. I traveled as far as to London and Czechoslovakia looking for help, but there was none available for rheumatoid arthritis. In London, I was consuming seven to eight aspirins a day. There came a point when I couldn't take the medicines any more. The stomach lining was damaged as no medicine was prescribed to protect it from the effects of aspirin. It was a catch-22 situation. If I didn't take the medicine I was immobile with pain and if I took the medicine, I could damage my body. I was in a state where I was ready to try anything.
Saving Grace At that desperate moment, I was given the Sindhi translation of a German book on yoga, Forever Young, Forever Healthy by Indira Devi, who had learnt yoga in India. My father used to read the book to me. I religiously followed it. I immediately took to the kriya of fasting for three days, having only distilled water, lime and honey and taking enema. Medication was gradually reduced. The three white poisons:sugar, salt and white flour (maida), were banished from my diet. For the next four months, I followed a light vegetarian diet and practiced asanas mentioned in the book. After four months, I undertook the detoxifying fast again before resuming a solid diet.
The Yoga Institute Stronger and more mobile now, I arrived at The Yoga Institute, Santacruz. Here I did the 21-day yoga course. I felt alive and good. Walking the short distance from the Institute to the station was a milestone for me. When the Institute announced a 15-day intensive camp for yoga teachers. I approached Dr Jayadeva Yogendra, the head of the Institute, for permission to participate. He refused. 'This camp is not meant for patients, only teachers may attend,' he said. When I replied, 'I may look like a patient but I won't behave like one. I will not get in anyone's way,' he graciously allowed me to join the class.
Special food was arranged for me on Dr Jayadeva's instructions. The 15 days that I spent at the institute changed me. The routine we followed became a habit; getting up at 5:30 in the morning, going for the asana session, having satvic food. I loved every moment of the class.
The Teachers and Lessons Shri Yogendraji, founder of The Yoga Institute and Dr Jayadeva, used to take the classes. I learnt new techniques to handle emotions. I learnt discipline. Positive living became a way of life, through constant awareness. The lessons are useful even today.
Dr Jayadeva has been a big influence in my life. He uses a very simple approach. If he asked you, 'Do you do your practice?' and you came up with a lame excuse, he would say, 'It's clear you can't do your practice, so let's get to the basics. Are you content all the time? If not, find out what is the reason for the discontentment.' Mental balance and contentment is what he emphasizes. If either is missing, it makes you weak.
With this understanding you will stay strong no matter what life throws at you. I strongly believe that I would rather make that dead which is trying to make me dead. My yoga practices come first; no one can come in the way. Faith in the Higher Power gives a huge amount of strength. Asanas, pranayamas, along with the practice of concepts like love, humility, compassion, friendliness, acceptance, empathy and forgiveness make life a heaven on earth and hasten the healing process. The chemistry of your body changes for the better when you practice yoga.
Here and Now I was a highly emotional person once and I have worked on myself. Earlier, I would get too involved; today I am detached. I lead a physically, emotionally, mentally and morally healthy life. I am off medication. I take care of the house and my 93-year-old mother. I do my practice regularly. This includes forward-bending asanas, along with yastikasana, pawanmuktasana, bhujangasana, paschimmottanasana, yogmudra, sarvangasana, dhanurasana, kapalbhati and the nine techniques of pranayama taught by Shri Yogendraji. Every session ends with the relaxation techniques.
My diet consists primarily of fresh fruits and vegetables. Acupressure helps me manage my pain which sometimes shoots up when I am stressed, as it did, when I was chairperson of my housing society. It subsided when I resigned! I keep watch over my thoughts at all times and find great power in prayer. For the past 33 years, I have been giving singing classes at The Yoga Institute in the 7-day camps. I owe my new life to yoga.
Contact: The Yoga Institute, Ph: (022)26110506/26122185, www.yogainsititute.org
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