These yogis have used their yoga practice to help them battle life-long illnesses and fight cancer.
1. Andrea Clary
“2018 was the most challenging year of my life thus far. I received news that would change my life forever. A diagnosis that hit me like a ton of bricks and would alter my life course. I went from bike riding, teaching yoga, and working full time as mental health professional, to being confined to a hospital room. My body now felt as though it was no longer my own, but a landscape for science and medicine. I endured several rounds of chemo, invasive procedures, and rapid changes in my physical and mental state. I was stripped of my physical strength, my weight, my hair, my practice and many other things I clung to. Suddenly, I had to choose whether to live fully and fight, or give in. I made up in my mind I wasn’t here to give up. I was here to triumph. I held on to this idea through every moment I experienced fear, pain and sorrow. I would say out loud, “This will not be my life.” I was faced with learning how to spiritually grow through stillness in the midst of an experience testing every fiber of my being. In that stillness, I began to discover myself. I discovered grace. A word that was beautifully appointed by my closest friend in my darkest time.
Yoga isn’t just helping me heal, it’s helping me live. It aided me in fortifying my mind, body and spirit. It helped me understand a new concept of strength, helping me soar over each medical hurdle I faced. I claimed remission and 8 months later, here I am in remission, cancer FREE. Continued healing in my navigation of this second life is a process I work towards through yoga and an evolving spiritual practice. With each day there may be a new challenge and it may thwart you. Keep going anyway. Personal growth is not linear. There may be loops, triggers, setbacks or repeated patterns, but each is designed to help you learn and propel you further. You are more than a diagnosis. You are a soul having experiences bringing you to and through circumstances contributing to growth. You are a source of light made to shine brighter than your wildest dreams. Believe in this, believe in yourself and believe you are uniquely crafted to inspire!”
2. Adria Moss
“Hi, my name is Adria and I define warrior. I very well could’ve gave up 13 years ago after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I very well could’ve thrown in the towel 6 years ago after my surgery left me on life support. I could’ve stopped when I couldn’t work and couldn’t afford my car payment anymore. I could’ve given up when I filed bankruptcy alone without a lawyer at 21 because I couldn’t afford to pay my medical bills. I could’ve given up when I suffered from depression and suicide ideation. I could’ve given up at the sight of my own body, now scarred by the trauma. I could’ve not shared this with you but for what? I could’ve done a lot of other things besides get up time and time again. And honestly, my story is very undefined. You see the beauty, you see the healed scar, you see the good and I’m glad. Pain should indeed polish you. But just know that this lotus comes from the mud. And I wouldn’t change a thing. Favored. Highly blessed. And motivated to change the way we view one another. Every one is fighting a battle unseen, don’t you ever forget it. I will continue to be uplifted and shine the light that was so graciously given to me. This is warriorism, undefined. Don’t run from the pain, run towards it.”
3. Yulady Saluti
Today is my Cancerversary. 7 years ago I opened my eyes from surgery and saw my husband [husband’s] face. Instead of the smile I was expecting I noticed a tear rolling down his cheek. Instinctively I asked him “how did the surgery go?” As soon as he spoke I understood where his beautiful smile had gone. “Honey, you have cancer” were his words. When he spoke the words they seemed to hang in the air for a while. Then the words started to settle. Out of the air the words drifted and took a seat right in the center of my chest. We had been through so many problems with my health already. We held each other and cried. It was one of those cry’s that leaves you heaving for breath. Why me?! Why now?! My mind raced. Finally, after what seemed like forever, we started to take slow deep breaths together. Syncing our breath made it feel like we were one. Cancer had no chance at that point. Together we can do anything. Whatever Cancer wanted it could have. It couldn’t take “us” away from each other no matter what it took from me.”
4. Jessica DiLorenzo
“A lot can happen in 3 years if you put your heart to it. 3 years of intense emotional and physical healing. 3 years of loving wholeheartedly. 3 years of making peace with new pieces of me. 3 years of receiving guidance and support in so many forms. 3 years of developing skills for deep listening. 3 years of trusting my intuition, of forgetting and remembering. I’m just far away from it now that sometimes I forget it ever happened. Those are the best days. This week I did a lot of reflecting on the struggles and the growth, knowledge, and appreciation for EVERYTHING that came after. Thank you to the teachers (especially the little tiny ones) who guided me straight back to my heart when I started to stray. Presence is everything, and working with children and their teachers/mamas demands it of me. What an honour to serve in aprofession that gives students and teachers voice and freedom to express knowledge, feelings, and creativity in so many forms. This is a great life. I’m thankful to be here with all of you. #3yearsfreeofcancer”
5. Ash “Breast Cancer Yogi”
“When I found out I had breast cancer, I was afraid I’d never achieve my goal of doing a handstand. But I realized it was my LIMITING BELIEFS that were keeping me from even trying:
➣ “I’ll never have the range of motion I did before my mastectomy”
➣ “I’ll never have the strength I did before my mastectomy”
➣ “I will be too sick to train as hard as I want to”
➣ “I am diseased”
➣ “My athletic life is over”
➣ “I might as well give up”
Then I saw people like @paige_previvor hitting the gym after her mastectomy. @katiemarvinney running the Boston Marathon after chemo. These inspiring women were living their lives and crushing their goals–and I wanted to be one of them.
So I replaced my limiting beliefs with positive ones, and just like that… my life overflowed with potential.
➣ “I’ll work within my new limits, but I’ll keep pushing to expand them”
➣ “I can get stronger than I ever was before”
➣ “I will accept off days for what they are, and bounce back with a vengeance”
➣ “I have been given a new chance at life”
➣ “My new athletic life is just beginning”
➣ “I will never give up
Follow @yogajournal on Instagram to see a weekly spotlight of inspiring yogis in our community.
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How to Use Ayurvedic Psychology to Help You Through Trauma
Find bliss through ayurvedic psychology (not two-day shipping or instagram likes.)
Ancient sages understood that the true path to bliss is the journey inward. That way, established in who you are, you can take aim at your duties and desires from an embodied space of pure intentions. Connected to this place, you are secure, purposeful, and joyful. From the significant stuff, like starting a new relationship, to seemingly frivolous acts like ordering another pair of sneakers, you are conscious of, and clear on, what you add to your proverbial (and literal) cart—and why.
However, because of trauma, injury, or day-to-day stress, it’s all too easy to detach from this center. In Ayurveda, the 5,000-year-old sister science of yoga, the word for feeling separate—from one’s self, from others, from the universe’s unlimited source of love—is called prajnaparadha, or “mistake of the intellect,” which is also deemed a root cause of disease. We often lose touch with our inner worlds, where we find true contentment, says John Douillard, Ayurvedic expert and founder of LifeSpa, a Boulder-based wellness clinic and online shop. We trade in our bliss for superficial pursuits instead.
As a result, we compensate by lacing the body and mind with ego—so physique, wit, or career end up defining us; material consumption (two-day shipping) and instant gratification (Instagram story views) are the only activities that spark a pulse of feeling at all.
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“The pendulum in our lifetime has swung in the direction of reward chemistry and being satisfied in a temporary way by some type of sensory stimulation,” says Douillard. “Of course, what goes up must come down. Overstimulation leads to a crash, which results in a deep state of exhaustion and discontent. Then your brain chemistry craves that reward high all over again, since it’s become so addicted and accustomed to the feeling of stimulation.” And so the cycle goes.
Unfortunately, this downward spiral is all too common. According to the World Health Organization, depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide, while 1 in 13 people suffer from anxiety. On the whole, an overzealous desire for more contributes to maya, the “illusion” of reality.
“Everyone is focused externally, seeking or grasping for pleasure, status, and fame,” says Larissa Hall Carlson, an Ayurvedic practitioner and mindfulness teacher. “None of this gives lasting satisfaction or contentment.”
See also 1 in 5 Adults Live with Mental Illness. These Yogis Are Breaking the Stigma
What Is Ayurvedic Psychology?
A vast collection of ancient Indian texts called the Vedas (meaning “knowledge”) outlined spiritual wisdom and rituals, including yoga. Ayurvedic psychology is a modern label for the holistic strategies it provided to dissolve these illusions and addictions, and help lead you back to the joy and bliss at your center.
“The whole point is to stop being distracted by your mind and stop needing to be loved, approved, and appreciated by everyone else,” says Douillard. “It’s about actually taking a risk to be the love, versus need the love, and allowing the delicate petals of your flower to open in order to let out something real, authentic, and permanent.”
This was a common theme in canonized Indian literature, albeit in a vastly different setting, according to Douillard. In the Bhagavad Gita—the iconic story of a warrior, Arjuna, paralyzed on a battlefield because he doesn’t want to face his friends and family in combat—Lord Vishnu materializes as Arjuna’s chariot driver and their conversation unfolds into timeless guidance for self-actualization: confront duty, and abandon attachment to the outcome. “Of course, the battlefield is a metaphor for what’s happening in our minds—fighting against our illusions,” says Douillard.
See also Yoga Transformed Me After Depression
Similarly, Dhanurveda (Bow Knowledge) is a Vedic text that is sometimes considered literally as a military science. In fact, it is a spiritual archery that calls on us to adopt a state of restful awareness, says Douillard, which he describes as being both the eye of the storm and the winds of the storm.
“If you’ve got that bow string pulled back, you’re moving it around, and you release the arrow, you have no idea where it’s going to land, which is dangerous,” says Douillard. “But if you pull back that bow from that inner place of composure and calm, in heightened awareness, you take transformational action when you shoot the bow. You take your true self into your actions throughout your day, and that is a permanent experience of satisfaction that is owned by you.”
See also 5 Ways to Radically Love Yourself Today
The Three Maha Gunas
Training yourself to operate from the eye of the storm first requires an awareness of your current state of being. You can start with an understanding of the three maha gunas, or “great qualities”—tamas (inertia, heavy, dark), rajas (dynamic, agitated), and sattva (pure, balanced).
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The gunas exist in all matter on earth and in everything you experience, including food, entertainment, the weather, and your thoughts. To get a deeper sense of them, consider how they may play out in water. A pond, opaque, stagnant, and thick with algae, is tamasic. Choppy rapids, relentlessly plowing down a river, are rajasic. A calm bay that produces a mirrored surface is sattvic.
“The maha gunas are not good or bad. They can be in a supportive state or they can be in an excess or a deficient state,” says Carlson. “The path is very much about clearing out the excess rajas and tamas that keep us stuck in patterns, so we can get to the truth and move through our lives from a place of interconnectedness.”
The Five Koshas
There is a road map to the bliss and love at the core of who you are. The five koshas are sheaths that encircle your soul like nesting dolls: annamaya kosha (physical body); pranamaya kosha (life force body); manomaya kosha (mental body); vijnanamaya kosha (wisdom body); and anandamaya kosha (bliss body).
The journey inward is a deep exploration and purification of each layer, which ultimately allows you to access your true self. But first, you must recognize your tendencies and eliminate imbalances of tamas and rajas in your outer layers.
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“In the physical body, tamas can show up as feeling grounded and steady. Because it’s an inert, heavy energy, it helps us stay asleep and keeps us still on a meditation cushion,” says Carlson. “However, too much tamas shows up as heaviness and lack of physical motivation.”
On the other hand, rajas in the physical body helps us pop out of bed and head out for a hike; in excess, it ramps up the system, leading to clumsiness and restlessness. “We want to get to a balanced state, so we feel grounded and steady and also energized and active in our lives,” says Carlson.
See also 6 Poses to Open Your Energy Channels & Boost Prana Flow
This similar balancing act takes place in the remaining outer koshas. “When there’s too much tamas in the life force body, there isn’t enough of a sense of pep or aliveness flowing through the energetic channels, so people feel sluggish,” says Carlson. On the flip side, extra rajas results in jittery, uncontained energy—crashing into quiet gatherings like a tsunami.
Finally, in the mental body, too much tamas looks like mental dullness or an inability to process information. “The mind won’t be interested or curious. Instead, it’ll feel dull and intellectually blah, getting stuck watching reruns or having the same conversations,” says Carlson. The mind spinning with a surplus of rajas, however, jumps from topic to topic, unable to focus or complete tasks.
See also 12 Yin Yoga Poses to Awaken Dormant Energy and Recharge Your Practice
“In Ayurveda, there are different treatment protocols. One approach is to, rather than worrying about rajas and tamas, focus on boosting sattva,” says Carlson. “The other approach to working with the maha gunas is to counter excess tamas with a little bit of rajas or to reduce excess rajas with a little bit of tamas.”
Once you balance your outer koshas by using food, lifestyle modifications, and yoga practice (such as the sequence on the following pages) you can begin to propel prana (life force) not only throughout your physical body but into your mental body as well to create a heightened state of consciousness.
“Once you have an awareness of the behavioral patterns that aren’t serving you,” says Douillard, “you can take transformational action based on your real, true self, which lies on the other side of the great barrier sheath, the vijnanamaya and anandamaya koshas—wisdom and bliss.”
See also 5 Practices Energy Healers Use to Clear Themselves
Want to disrupt patterns and find bliss? Join John and Larissa’s six-week online course, Ayurveda 201. Learn more: yogajournal.com/ayurveda201.
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