In 2009, after battling uveitis for 8 months and almost losing my vision, I was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease ankylosing spondylitis (AS). A rheumatologist did genetic testing and found that I was positive for the genetic marker HLA B27. I was not showing signs of AS radiographically yet, so this helped to determine the treatment course, which was heavy steroids, anti-inflammatories, and methotrexate. I was on this course for 10 years, and my vision improved and pretty much restored. However, the pain and joint issues with AS were just beginning.
The major surgeries began in 2009. The first serious issues were in my neck, and I have had two major surgeries on my spine through what is called ACDF (anterior cervical discectomy with fusion). Since the entry point was through the front of my spine (my neck), my vocal cords and tracheae were moved. My vocal cords have never recovered fully. I used to love to sing and felt some confidence in my singing ability. However, after those surgeries, one in 2009 and the second in 2013, I frequently lose my voice if I talk too long or throughout the day. I have also had a laminectomy from L4 to S1 in my lumbar spine and a complete fusion at C1-C3 during the COVID crisis in 2020. I have also had two surgeries on my right hip in 2015 and 2017.
After my initial diagnosis, my doctors advised me to stop running. They warned me that I would experience periods of pain and extreme fatigue, and I would rely on immunosuppressants, anti-inflammatories, and pain medications for the rest of my life. Suddenly, my life changed. I gave up running, an exercise I enjoyed and formed a community around. At age fifty-two, I had to retire from a rewarding job that I loved and excelled at. I was deeply depressed for over a year.
Once I found yoga two years ago, my journey changed radically. I began taking classes at the Corner Mat, a yoga studio near the university where I’m a doctoral student. I started slowly and now take classes three to four times a week. The yoga studio and its owner, Debbie Gant, provide a safe space to practice several different types of yoga, such as hot yoga, restorative yoga, yin yoga, and yoga flow. Each has unique benefits for the mind and body.
Yoga has become not only a lasting and solid pain relief method, but it has also become a place where I can allow my mind to enjoy peace, calm, and sweet memories that I take with me all day. I was in a yoga class the other day and near the end, we rest in what is known as savasana. I had my eyes closed, and a song came on that my dad, who passed when I was twenty-four, used to sing to me. I was transported back to such a sweet memory that I cried. I deeply cherish this mental connection I’ve gained from my consistent yoga practice.
I’ve also enjoyed spreading the word about the benefits of yoga. Last summer, I wrote an article for the Muncie Journal about how consistent yoga practice has eased my chronic pain. Shortly after that article was released, Sherman Burdette from Fox 59 Morning News in Indianapolis, Indiana featured my story, the Corner Mat studio, and Debbie Gant, in one of his segments. In addition, my professor Dr. John Anderson who gave the original article assignment to me published an op-ed on LinkedIn. What an amazing opportunity it has been to share this with others who may be struggling not knowing where to turn for chronic pain relief outside of pharmaceuticals.
The connection I feel to the community I have found at the yoga studio is also a huge part of my journey now. There is genuine compassion for each other and grace for the differences in our abilities and journeys. I feel closer to my faith and all the amazing opportunities I have in my life. Sharing the healing of mind, body, and spirit gives me so much joy that I believe holistic pain relief through yoga will be my dissertation topic. We shall see…