The Healing Powers of Yoga

Barb Cooper

Barb Cooper

I tell everyone who asks that yoga has been a healing miracle for me.

In 2007, I had reconstructive foot surgery. Something – no one knows quite what – went wrong during the surgery and I was left in increasingly excruciating, chronic pain, eventually unable to leave the couch, for more than three years. It was awful. I’m on the other side of that pain now and it’s hard to describe exactly how terrible it was. Let me just say that I was so desperate for relief that I looked into elective amputation, among other things. (It turns out that we don’t do elective amputation in this country. I’m pretty glad of that now, but at the time I was distraught.)

It’s not that my doctors weren’t trying to find something to give me relief. I had so many steroid shots that I developed a bleeding hole in my retina. “I’m afraid this may just be as a good as it gets,” said my podiatrist as he handed me a form to submit for a handicapped parking permit. On it, he had checked the box for “permanent disability.”

And then, I’m still not sure why, I got off the couch and made my way to a Dharma I class taught at the martial arts studio where my daughter took taekwondo. It seems an unlikely setting for a miracle, but that’s exactly what it was. It wasn’t just that the physical asana practice allowed me to regain the suppleness in my foot that was necessary in order to walk without pain. It was also that, for the first time in my life, I had found something that allowed me to live in my body, in my brain, and in my spirit all at the same time.

Some changes in my life were immediate. As soon as I began to have stretches of time without pain, I began to notice and eliminate anything that took the edge off of my joy. So I stopped drinking alcohol and weaned off of the lobotomizing anti-depressants I was taking. I grew stronger. I lost weight. Eventually, I needed harder and more yoga classes than I could find at the martial arts studio, so my teacher took me to HIS local yoga teacher, who was also trained by Sri Dharma Mittra. (This one act epitomizes the generosity and love I have found pervasive in the yogis I have met who are associated with Sri Dharma Mittra.) At the new studio, I found my current practice. I stopped eating meat and then became a vegan, and eventually went through the Life of a Yogi 200-Hour teacher training at the Dharma Yoga Center in New York City. I’m now finishing up my requirements to be certified as a teacher, because I’m pretty sure that when you are given a miracle, you’re supposed to share it.

Yoga has transformed my life in ways I never thought possible. It has not only healed me physically, but it has given me a new way of being in the world.

I’m not the only one. Recently, the International Journal of Yoga published a paper compiling research on the therapeutic benefits of yoga on various conditions, both mental and physical.

“Therapeutic yoga is defined as the application of yoga postures and practice to the treatment of health conditions and involves instruction in yogic practices and teachings to prevent, reduce, or alleviate structural, physiological, emotional and spiritual pain, suffering or limitations. Results from this study show that yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life.”

In another article published in Yoga Journal, medical editor Timothy McCall, MD, compiled 38 ways that yoga can positively affect one’s health, concluding:

“This is one of the great lessons of yoga: Everything is connected—your hipbone to your anklebone, you to your community, your community to the world. This interconnection is vital to understanding yoga. This holistic system simultaneously taps into many mechanisms that have additive and even multiplicative effects. This synergy may be the most important way of all that yoga heals.”

Studies providing scientific evidence of the healing power of yoga have been around for decades, but our Western culture has been slow to embrace them.

“There’s a common perception in the minds of conventional scientists: Yoga is either trivialized as something for cosmetic purposes to slim your butt, or it’s perceived as a goofy, New Agey, ‘out there’ kind of practice,” says Sat Bir Khalsa, assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School. “If you can find a pill that fixes something, that’s golden. Everybody wants that. What’s not sexy is the stuff that makes the most sense—lifestyle research. And yoga is really all about changing your lifestyle.” Although progress is being made, he says, it is slow. Of the 46,000 large projects currently funded by the National Institutes of Health, fewer than 10 involve yoga.

While Western science isn’t rushing to prove the healing benefits of yoga, yoga practitioners are reaching out for the information on their own. A significant number of the attendees at the recent Life of a Yogi 200-Hour teacher training weren’t there in order to become teachers – many were already certified in other styles and had been teaching for years – but instead, had enrolled in the program to deepen their own practices and to understand the lifestyle and yogic rituals of Sri Dharma Mittra. Sri Dharma is a very humble, gentle man with an essence of something much larger, of a purpose bigger than he is. Inner peace is his default way of being in the world. People gravitate to that naturally as an antidote to their current frenetic lifestyles.

I see it in the Dharma I classes that I am teaching, too. People are finding their way to yoga almost instinctively, a number of them hoping that they will find healing for their physical issues, and an even greater number seeking respite from the increasingly chaotic and stressful world in which we live. The lack of inner turmoil and ego, and the connectedness to a deeply spiritual practice, are things that attract seekers of a different way of life to the traditions of Dharma Yoga.

As for me, yoga healed my body and continues to heal my spirit. Which, in the end, may be the true miracle in my life.

Credit: This article has been written by Barb Cooper. She is a 48-year-old mother of two girls, and a writer by nature and training. She completed the Dharma Yoga Life of a Yogi Teacher Training program with Sri Dharma Mittra in February 2013, and received her certification in June. She then moved back to Texas, Austin and opened her own yoga studio in August. She is currently teaching, and helping people with physical challenges/limitations develop their own yoga practices. She is healthier, and happier, than at any other time in her life. This article was first published in the Dharma Yoga website. You can find the original here. It has been reposted with permission.

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Yoga Is Really Empowering!

Robert’s journey into yoga started a year after he hit the low point of his life with his depression. Soon he found that the pills they gave him “kept him alive” but with no real will to live. He gained 2-3 pounds every month. Then his sister introduced him to yoga and everything changed. He now says, “It literally saved my life!”

The transformation has been astonishing in a period of less than 9 months. He has lost more than 50 pounds. His acid reflux is gone and he no longer has to sleep in his recliner. And best of all he usually finds himself in an “inexplicably good mood!”

Please watch and share this so that others may benefit from this story.

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Yoga Saved Me. More Than Once!

Rebecca Butler

Rebecca Butler

I started practicing yoga right after graduating from college. I was in Austin working at an advertising agency next door to the global headquarters of Whole Foods, where they were offering classes upstairs. I had no idea what to expect. I figured it would be granola and easy. I was shocked when I broke a sweat.

A few years later, I was a runner. My knees were killing me though, so a friend, who was very fit, suggested that I join her at Bikram yoga. I went. I loved it. The end. I hung up my running shoes and never looked back. Within a yearʼs time, I was modeling for Lake Austin Spa, busting out dancerʼs pose at the waterʼs edge during sunrise.

Iʼd always had really bad female problems – debilitating cramps, extreme moodiness during PMS, and an irregular cycle. I started noticing that after every class, I would be miserable with cramps. So I went to the doctor. They did a sonogram and discovered I had uterine fibroids. The doctor removed them. It was a surprisingly complicated surgery. During this time, my marriage was suffering. My husband was a little bit older and he wanted to have children. I was on the fence about children, but we had tried a couple of times to no avail. After surgery, because of the extent of dissection required to remove the fibroids, the doctor said, “Letʼs not discuss fertility until you are ready to really give it a go.”

And then, 9/11. Ok, up until this point, I had been partying – i.e. cocaine, marijuana, and booze galore, mixed with live music. And this had been going on for quite some time since, um, basically high school. See, I grew up in a household with a paranoid schizophrenic sibling hell bent on killing me and not a single parent, or adult for that matter, who wanted to help me as that meant admitting that something was wrong with our seemingly perfect family. So my solution was: act perfect, be perfect, look perfect, make perfect grades, make boys happy, girls mad, and ‘who cares what you want cause youʼre their only hope.’

Drugs made all of this not feel so horrible. So did yoga. But in different ways, although I wasnʼt yet conscious of the difference. However, I did make this comparison often to my friends. Iʼd be standing in line at some concert, chewing my lips off on x, and my friends would ask me why I liked yoga so much. Iʼd say, “Cause itʼs the closest feeling there is to this right here (meaning the drug high) and smile a 1,000 megawatt smile.”

As 9/11 approached, I began an affair with my and my husbandʼs mutual best friend. This was not something I was proud of, but it was part of my spree of self-destruction that was necessary for evolution. The result of said affair: getting divorced, fired, and pregnant.

In early 2002, I was in a new apartment, working at a new job, and starting to build a new life – one that had depth and meaning. I realized that my pregnancy was a swift kick in the rear, from the Universe, to get it together. I became instantly sober. Up until this point, I had been living my life to make others happy. Becoming pregnant was my chance to do something to make me happy. Once I became pregnant, I realized how much I actually wanted this baby and I realized how much I had been partying to numb the pain of not being able to do something perfectly for once.

During my pregnancy, I practiced prenatal yoga the entire time. I was single, working in corporate America, and pregnant. I was working alongside beautiful married women. We would enter a conference room together. They would be barraged with questions about their pregnancy; I would be ignored. This blew my mind and severely hurt my pride.

Yoga to the rescue!

On my mat, I could shed my tears. On my mat, I could connect to my baby and feel the serene happiness that I knew was in store for us, even if my father had begrudgingly asked me, “Who do you think you are? Madonna?!“ upon realizing that I was proceeding with my pregnancy, even single. On my mat, I was free of fear, free of sorrow, and full of love.

For six more years, I toiled away in my career. For six more years, I paid the bills and hired a sitter several times a week so that I could go to yoga. For six more years, I dreamed of quitting my job and becoming a yoga teacher. Then one summer, I went raw. My raw diet combined with my yoga practice yielded some revelations… Namely:

1. What I wanted in life did matter. And what I wanted was to be closer to my family so that I could both give help to my beautiful mother, who was suffering from ALS (unbeknownst to us), and receive help from my family, as single motherʼs often need. What I didn’t yet realize was that I also wanted to be closer to the Divine, and this was the first step.

2. I wanted to teach yoga instead of selling my soul to line someone else’s pockets; I wanted to stop pimping myself out in an effort to control the power of the outside world. Little did I know, I was being called to wake up; I was being called by my soul to create a life of passion and dedicate myself to a vocation rather than a career.

3. I actually could make this change. It was not as impossible as I’d led myself to believe. All of those fears that I had allowed to trap me were exactly that – fears. I vowed to myself that I did not want to live a life based on fear, but rather, one of love.

And that is where yoga has led me- to a life of love. Iʼm now remarried with a ten-year old boy and a one-year old baby girl. I teach yoga for a living and I write with passion daily.

Credits: This is written by Rebecca Butler and has been posted with permission. She is a yoga teacher, writter, and blogger. You can find her here.

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I Connect To Myself Through Yoga!

This short video of Priya’s journey into yoga provides us with some insights. It shows the transformative power of yoga in action when it talks about, “How you see the world, changes how the way the world sees you.”

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Being In Chronic Pain Wears You Out!

Linda has had alignment issues since she was a five year old. She has been in chronic pain most of her life and has been on Ibuprofen. At one stage things got so bad that she needed hip surgery. She soon became overweight and unable to sleep. She was diagnosed with sleep apnea. Luckily she began using the breathing machine and this helped her get well rested. She also worked to reduce her weight and these two steps allowed her to get rid of sleep apnea. Till now she had been relying on physiotherapy but she began doing yoga on a friend’s suggestion. This has led to her complete transformation! Her chronic pain has largely disappeared and she finds that she can now walk without dragging her feet! She has stopped taking Ibuprofen. Earlier she had imagined meeting her grandchildren in a wheelchair, now she no longer entertains such thoughts.

This is a great story to share. There are many who suffer as a result of chronic pain due to alignment issues. This video should inspire them to try yoga.

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