• Embracing the Body Experiencing Invisible Disability Through Yoga

    Yoga helped the light in me never go out. And without the path of yoga letting my soul speak to me, guiding my way forward, I would not be here, writing to you.


    Two years ago, my brain was dying. Misdiagnosed and undiagnosed seven years after a fall, I was living in a pre-dementia state at forty, heading towards being placed in a long-term care facility for severely disabled adults within one-two years. But I didn’t know any of this.

    I still looked normal on the outside. It was impossible for people to understand what I was going through and it was impossible for me to understand what I was going through.

    Living in such a state of ill-health and not knowing why drastically changed my relationship to my body. Only aware it was letting me down, I developed a punishing and harsh way of relating to my body, often wishing I could magically step into another, stronger body while on this earth.

    But even as I wanted to disown my body, I never stopped trying to heal. I always knew something was wrong.

    And I was right. As a Canadian, I followed my truth to America, spent every last cent I had, and finally got a proper diagnosis.

    My brain was in very ill health, as a result of an incomplete cervical spinal cord injury. My cervical vertebrae were out of place causing a whole host of issues, including decreased blood flow to my brain, the blockage of flow of cerebrospinal fluid causing brain toxicity, and systemic issues from pressure on my brain stem.

    Seven years to get to an answer.

    Most of the time now, I am astounded at the strength and resilience I had to keep going, following my truth, seeking my answer.

    What helped me not give up? What helped me listen to my truth, even when I was very sick and had no reason to believe it was true and even when doctors disagreed and wanted to walk me down the path of long-term, very heavy duty pharmaceutical treatment plans because the only thing they knew to say about my invisible illness was…it must be a mental health condition?

    Yoga.

    Processing my experience one breath, one small movement, one mindful moment at a time.

    Yoga helped the light in me never go out. And without the path of yoga letting my soul speak to me, guiding my way forward, I would not be here, writing to you.

    But here I am! I am two years into my healing journey. I still have to use my time on the mat to draw on those resources of strength and resilience. I was living with a spinal cord injury for many years and it is taking considerable time and effort to heal. I have much cognitive function restored but there are still setbacks and there is no end date to my healing.

    Yoga continues to show me the way of patience and compassion. Over the years, it helped me peel away layers, drop false identities, and develop a fervent search for truth in all situations.

    I have also found yoga to be a form of titration through this experience of invisible illness, a way of bringing the disowned parts of my body back on board, softly and slowly over time, little bit by little bit.

    For me, the physical movements of gentle yoga were the doorway in while the body sensing component of yoga nidra supported me to feel my body again. And beyond just feeling it, to embrace it, to love it, to enjoy it even.

    What I have learned, fully and completely, is that this body is spectacular. It never stops working for me, it’s always sending me messages about how to take care of it.

    And it is crying out to be loved, so today I offer it this love letter:

    Dear Body,

    We’ve been through a lot, haven’t we?

    You’re still here, and I’m so thankful. Thank you for holding on through the darkness. Thank you for fighting, fighting, fighting. Thank you for breathing and allowing me to be in the world. Thank you for working with my soul to help me find the answer. Thank you for not giving up on me, even when I didn’t want you.

    I’m sorry for the times I wanted you to go away. I’m sorry for punishing you, hating you, disrespecting you, degrading you. I’m sorry I ever had one bad thought about you.

    I’m sorry I didn’t see the truth for so long. I know now – you’re amazing and strong and you’re there for me. You’re with
    me.

    We’re in this together and we’ll do this together. I’m so grateful to have the best partner on this journey with so much more goodness ahead of us.

    I bow to the power of your wisdom that is beyond comprehension and I will listen to your messages, I promise.

    Love,
    Angie

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body
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    By Angie Davis

    Angie Davis has emerged from a nine-year journey through invisible injury and illness with an unshakeable
    belief that yoga can help relieve suffering in the world and is powerful for helping those who’ve experienced grief, loss, trauma, injury, and illness find their way back home to self-love. Angie is the founder of Gentle Yoga International and is transforming pain to power by turning the story of being a P.T.S.D., moderate-severe brain injury, and cervical spinal cord injury survivor into purpose as an inclusive and accessible yoga and meditation teacher, entrepreneur, writer, speaker, and brain injury and mental health advocate. Angie is a contributing author to Anxiety Warrior Volume II and a Trauma Sensitive Yoga Teacher, having trained through the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute. She is also a Level 2 iRest® Yoga Nidra Teacher, accredited by the iRest Institute in California. Angie passionately teaches this research-based, complementary therapy that has been proven helpful for P.T.S.D., anxiety, sleep difficulties, and other issues. She is also trained in Mental Health Sensitivity, Mental Health First Aid, and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. Visit her online at gentleyogainternational.com

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  • Customizing Poses Opens Yoga to Everyone

    Having physical challenges doesn’t mean traditional yoga poses are out of reach. Accessible/Adaptive Yoga Teachers like myself strive to make any pose possible. We see poses with new eyes and try to give students tools for a whole-body experience in their practice.

    Adapting and customizing yoga poses are so important when it comes to body acceptance and diversity. It breaks down barriers to yoga and helps students feel supported and included.

    I’ll never forget the first time I experienced an adaptive/accessible handstand in my practice. I was training to become an Opening Yoga Instructor (OYI) at Mind Body Solutions (MBS) in Minnesota. Since becoming a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT 200), Yoga For All Teacher, and certified Accessible Yoga Teacher, I’ve attended many trainings that discuss traditional handstand. Yet, I never fully experienced the benefits of this pose firsthand because I have a spinal cord injury; therefore, practicing traditional handstand is ill-advised. Thankfully, Mind Body Solutions offers an adaptive approach that opens yoga to everyone.

    To get into MBS’s adaptive handstand, place the short end of the mat facing the wall and lie down on the mat. You’ll want to make sure to leave enough room for arms to extend and touch the wall behind you. Use bolsters and towels for head, neck, and back support. Once props are in place, lift your gaze and arms above and behind the head while placing hands flat on the wall behind you- this mimics the position of hands on the floor in traditional handstand.

    When I attempted the pose, I was exhilarated. Even though I was lying on my back on a mat, it felt like I was standing upright in traditional handstand. A zip of energy traveled up my legs, arms, and head. I felt alive and connected to my body in a new way. When I released my arms, tears welled up in my eyes. I felt the transformative power of yoga and a deep sense of calm in that moment. I’ll never forget it. It was life-changing.

    Having physical challenges doesn’t mean traditional yoga poses are out of reach. Accessible/Adaptive Yoga Teachers like myself strive to make any pose possible. We see poses with new eyes and try to give students tools for a whole-body experience in their practice. We do this by slowing down movement and guiding students to explore and listen to their bodies. For me, the end goal is not how the pose looks, it’s more about the sensation that occurs in mind, body, and spirit.

    So, the next time you approach a yoga pose, consider slowing down movement and feeling deeply into sensation. You might be surprised how one small adjustment can open yoga in new ways.

    If we agree that yoga can be a vehicle for body acceptance and diversity, opening yoga by adapting and customizing poses empowers students on and off the mat.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition intended as a deep dive into yoga & body
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    By Mary Higgs

    Mary Higgs, MA, is a respected writer, online educator, speaker, mindfulness coach, and disability advocate. Developing a passion for mindfulness and becoming an Adaptive and Accessible Yoga Teacher transformed Mary’s life in unexpected ways. She loves sharing her message that transformation comes from within. She has published pieces in Yoga International, Devata Active, Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and Mind Body Solutions All-Humanity Newsletter. As a RYT, OYI, and certified Yoga for All and Accessible Yoga Teacher, Mary teaches people to explore and trust their inner wisdom, so they can live more authentically. Visit her online at YogiAble.com.

    Sign up for an Omstars membership to take your yoga practice to the next level.

    Click here to start your 14-day free trial today!