How Iyengar Yoga Helped Me Heal My Chronic Low Back Pain

Sandi Kaplan


It was October 12th, 2009 at 6:30 a.m. I was lying on a stretcher in an ambulance on the way to the ER. It was not quite the way I had expected my morning to go (the ambulance driver reminded me this is most often the case for people who end up in an ambulance)!

I had gotten up bright and early and was in the gym by 5:30 a.m. I was doing the workout that I had been doing four times a week for the previous nine months. But this time, when I was done stretching on the floor and tried to stand up, my legs would not hold me. And the pain in my lower back was excruciating.

I had some back pain with both of my pregnancies but nothing like this kind of agony. An MRI revealed that the disc between L5 and S1 had herniated, and I was sent home with lots of pain meds and a directive to rest until I was able to move. Two weeks of almost all bed rest followed. I then slowly began to increase my activity with the help of a physical therapist.

As I read available information on lower back pain, I felt quite discouraged. Chronic low back pain—defined as pain that lasts more than three months—is notoriously difficult to treat. Despite my considerable core muscle strength, I felt as though I was just waiting for another episode of back pain to arrive.

So I was thrilled to read a recent study which was funded by the National Institute of Health. Researchers at West Virginia University enrolled 90 adults with chronic low back pain to participate in a year-long trial comparing the effects of Iyengar yoga therapy with those of standard medical care. Continue reading

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Yoga Helped Manage my Asthma

Picture of Janet Doolin

Janet Doolin


In 1995, I almost died from an asthma episode that landed me in the emergency room. Denial can be a formidable enemy. I was in complete denial about having a serious asthma condition. In 1992, I had been seen by a asthma specialist and he had prescribed two inhalers for me which I always seemed to conveniently “forget” to carry with me. I ended up with very unstable asthma and frequently had to miss work and miss out on physical activities because of shortness of breath. My doctor saw me immediately following my emergency room incident, and he said “Janet, along with taking medication every day, you are restricted to two physical activities that I will allow you to do – either swimming or yoga.”

I chose yoga and fifteen years later, I have never looked back!

So, in 1995, I stated my yoga journey. My health club had just started offering yoga classes so I signed up and was pleased with the immediate relief I found with just two one-hour yoga classes per week. It was a miracle to me. I continued to take classes every week and after two years, my yoga teacher asked me to sub for her when she was out on maternity leave. I then decided I wanted to become a Certified Yoga Teacher.

In the year 2000, I received my yoga teacher certification. Since then, I have found that I love teaching yoga to seniors. One of my students was 100 years old and she was able to participate in a gentle senior yoga class I offered at an assisted living facility in Denver. What an inspiration she was to me! I continue to teach and now find that I want to teach seniors full-time as my special calling.

You can find Janet Doolin at www.yogaforboomersandseniors.com. She would love to hear from you and share more of her yoga story with you. If you are interested she can also help you with your journey into yoga.

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I have witnessed miracle after miracle every week!

Picture of leaf depicting life and renewal
What an unexpected gift the yoga of recovery has been. Almost 2 years ago, I attended a weekend intensive out of curiosity and had no idea how this would bring such a profound healing into my life. At the time, I had 13 years of recovery under my belt and had been doing yoga off and on again for a few years. I was content in my life but thankfully, I was not complacent. Showing up for this weekend opened me up to places within me that I didn’t even know existed. Some were painful, ugly and scary and some were grace-filled, magnificent and nourishing. All of these wondrous experiences have served me well and I have kept showing up, trusting that shifts would occur, more would be revealed, and barriers that I am not even conscious of will dissolve.

I can remember when Nikki led us in a partnering practice where she had us stand as we would normally stand. We picked up our partners and our partners picked us up. Standing as we would normally stand, it was easy to pick each other up. Then, she led us through rooting into Mountain Pose, inviting us to draw from the energy of Gaia, to plug into the earth, to grow roots that extended throughout the earth. Then, we tried to pick up our partners and our partners tried to pick us up but this wasn’t possible. All of us were astonished – truly in disbelief at the miracle that happened when we physically tapped into a power greater than ourselves. I wept because I fully understood with every fiber of my being what embodiment is and the difference between intellectually knowing the concept “we root to rise” and embodying this truth. I along with many in our group have shared time and again how we remember to come back to this space and hold our center in the midst of life’s chaos, understanding that alone in our limitations, we will easily be knocked over and overwhelmed but tapping into this limitless power, we are held in a strength greater than the mind can fathom.

I have witnessed miracle after miracle every week! I have seen people with various addictions come for the first time – most have never been on the mat and most have never checked in to see how they are feeling in their bodies. Many enter closed off out of nervousness and vulnerability, skeptical of this hokey thing called yoga, yet they show up. Something brings them to the yoga of recovery and it is a privilege to watch them experience healing that they cannot express in language. They are moved to tears from places unknown and they hug Nikki in gratitude for this healing. Nikki takes no credit, she simply reminds them that they did the work and to keep showing up. They leave the studio more alive in their bodies with new energy that cleanses and restores them.

We don’t have to study yoga or fully understand the yoga principles to benefit. All we must do is show up on the mat, where we are in that moment – cynical, hopeful, defeated, pissed off, tired, content – and begin to breathe and move. The weekly gatherings that I now attend are truly sacred time in a sacred space, and even when I am traveling, I consciously connect with this beloved community.

This is an essay written by a participant of the Y12SR program by CITYOGA, the yoga program of a 12 step recovery, offered to those recovering from substance abuse. The name of the participant has been kept anonymous.

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Jayshree tripled her income due to microloan

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Jayshree


Jayashree lives in the suburbs of Bangalore and is married and the mother of two children. We visited her at her humble dirt floor one room home for the first time in 2007. We were touched by her warm smile and most generous hospitality, serving us hot tea and cookies.

Jayashree was born into a very poor family in Bangalore. When she was a child, her family’s financial situation became so severe that she had to drop out of school and work at a garment factory. She toiled throughout her childhood and after she got married at fifteen, her meager earnings had to support her ailing in-laws. She had two children. Her husband’s rickshaw business was not enough to pay her sons’ education or secure food for the family.

In 2007, Jayashree learned from her neighbors about Grameen Koota’s microfinance program and applied for her first loan. She was granted a first loan of 7,000 rupees ($175), and immediately bought her husband’s auto rickshaw. Owning their own rickshaw business increased their income significantly.

Jayashree was able to pay back her entire loan in one year and became eligible for her second loan in 2008. Having proven her diligence, her second loan amount doubled to 15,000 rupees ($375). This time, she bought a sewing machine and started stitching bags. The family’s earnings have now tripled and she is earning 150 rupees ($3.75) a day. In addition, she opened a small shop next to her house to sell her products which is earning her an additional 100 rupees ($2.50) a day.

She is sending her elder son to a medical school. Her son dreams of becoming a doctor and thanks his mother’s business for providing his education, their own home and daily food.

This post is extracted with permission from the original article published by LA Yoga magazine here.

To participate in a Yoga practice where the proceeds support Yoga Gives Back and help directly transform someone’s life in India either sponsor a donation yoga class or participate in one.

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25 Dollars can make a fundamental change in someone’s life!

 Picture of Kayoko Mitsumatsu

Kayoko Mitsumatsu


When I was growing up in Japan, which is a very middle-class society, I had never experienced or seen any real poverty, especially growing up in Tokyo in 1960s and 1970s, when Japan’s post-war economic miracle was taking place. Then, I had a chance to live in Brazil in the late 1970s, where as a teenager, I saw the divide between poverty and wealth, the reality of the real slums, kids on the streets begging every time you stopped the car at the traffic light, all very much like India. Social injustice hit me very hard and I chose to enter into documentary filmmaking.

As a middle age woman, feeling my life being so enriched by the practice of yoga, I felt a strong need to use all my resources to help others. I learned a lot about Dr. Muhammad Yunus’ revolutionary micro financing while working on a documentary about Social Entrepreneurship featuring Kiva.org. I was struck by the incredible impact which micro financing could bring to alleviate generations of poverty. And 25 dollars can make a fundamental difference on somebody’s life in India. As a happy and healthy yoga practitioner, I realized that I could contribute a little to India’s poverty issues. I hope to invite everyone who benefits from Yoga to join in our campaign by giving back and making some difference together.

Kayoko Mitsumatsu, co-founder of Yoga Gives Back, is a documentary filmmaker whose films deal with social justice issues, including First They Killed My Father: a memoir of a Cambodia’s Killing Fields’ survivor.

Please see this video to see how microcredit is transforming lives. For more insight into Yoga Gives Back please read this article.

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