When I was first introduced to yoga I was really quite ill. It was about 1990 and I suffered from what the doctors described as idiopathic congestive cardiomyopathy. The idiopathic part simply meant that they did not know the cause though they suspected it was viral.
However; I knew that it was ultimately due to years of alcohol and drug abuse. I had stopped using all intoxicants a year or so before but was still left with a heart and lungs that had been severely compromised. At one point I was encouraged to go on Stanford’s waiting list for a heart and lung transplant. I declined that offer because, even before learning about yoga, I felt that there had to be a better (and less radical) choice.
While the substance abuse had definitely stolen my physical well being it had also left me with a lack of physical awareness. My body and mind had lost many of the connections that provide a sense of balance and spatial awareness. This loss of proprioception made me clumsy and uncoordinated…out of touch with my own physical self and my surroundings. But my condition extended far beyond the bounds of my body. And the problems with my heart were far vaster than the enlarged muscle in my chest. I suffered from a deep lack of spiritual proprioception. I had grown out of touch with my own Self and out of balance with the universe.
The Universe Had a Plan
As if out of the blue a friend asked if I would go with him to a yoga class. I had no idea what to expect though I do remember being shocked at the miserable condition my body was in. The teacher led us in something called Even Count Breathing. Everyone else in the class was able to inhale, hold and exhale to counts of 6 or 8 and then to 12. I on the other hand was working hard to stretch my breath out to counts of 2! Standing Mountain Pose was difficult because my ankles were swollen. Child’s Pose was simply impossible because I could not breathe. Plank pose was nearly out of the question since I had lost so much upper body strength. I had to lean on the wall in order to even think of Tree Pose without falling over. And gentle, relaxing Corpse Pose was a challenge because my head had to be elevated or else my lungs began to fill with liquid. And the negative internal dialogue, the endless stream of self-recriminations in my mind was truly classic!
But when that yoga class was done, I felt a little more alert, a little more relaxed and a little bit more alive! And I knew then that there was hope for me after all.
So what brought you to yoga? What was your first yoga class like? What do you remember? Share your memories and insights with me by commenting on this blog in the comments below.
Doug Andrews, E-RYT 500, is the founder and co-director of the Ananda Yoga and Meditation Center in Scotts Valley, California. In addition to his work with Ananda, Doug also teaches yoga to adults and teens at the Camp Recovery Center in Scott Valley.