16 Incredible Stories of Healing through Yoga

By Shira Atkins for Awaken.

Through the process of devoting themselves to practice, these humble and strong women and men have found a healing journey that has radically shifted their lives…

An oft-debated truism about the nature of pain says that “all suffering is equal.” For many, the notion that starvation or torture and anxiety are on the same plane can feel offensive. According to renowned yoga teacher, Tiffany Cruikshank, founder of Yoga Medicine® and Yoga Medicine® Online, “All suffering is similar. Whether we’re suffering from relationship trauma or low-back pain it wears on our consciousness in a similar way.” Step into any yoga studio around the world and you’ll likely find that many people in the room came to yoga because they needed to heal in some way. Reformed dancers, anxious CEOs, and single moms all join together to breathe in unison and grow through the practice.

But why is yoga so healing? Cruikshank says, “When we feel pain we feel separated from our self and from our own body; we feel disconnected. In yoga, we’re uncovering what exists inside of us and we learn to see that what’s there is already whole and complete.” The identification with wholeness and completion that yoga heralds is not only a result of connection to breath and movement of the body, but it dates back to Vedic philosophy and the foundations of yoga. The ancient Sanskrit mantra “Sohum,” or “I am that,” is the affirmation that the individual self can identify with the essence of the universe. The yoga practice brings us closer to this notion and thereby rewires our own perceptions of pain: “It’s about patterns and reworking them,” Cruikshank says. (Yoga isn’t the only healing activity. Learn more how diversifying your workout is good for your overall health.)The following stories come from people who have used yoga to heal wounds of grief, physical disability, emotional trauma, and disease. As Cruikshank says, “Yoga can’t cure everything, but it can help a lot with the process.” We stand in solidarity with these and other suffering beings, who choose to work toward healing and devote themselves to the process, however uncertain and painful the path may be.

Corrine – “I Now Can Say That Yoga Saved My Life”


Photo by Nousha Salimi

I don’t really see my story as being so inspirational—I just never thought of myself like that. I was always a very fit person; I was on my spin bike every morning and my yoga mat shortly thereafter. Yoga for me was purely fitness at first—I liked the mantras and mudras, but I didn’t really understand them. For me it was just about the physicality—and then I got sick. I don’t think anyone ever expects to hear the words “you have cancer.” When cancer came knocking it pounded down the doors and my whole world changed. I remember after three big surgeries and right before chemotherapy, my teacher then, KK Clivio, would come and help me breathe, and that got me through the following surgeries. I remember the first time she got me into Pigeon with many, many props, I finally let it go and just cried. And she just kept saying “Breathe. All you have to do is breathe. We’re gonna get you through this.” I remember so many people telling me I had to fight, but you don’t relax and you don’t release and you don’t breathe when you fight, and then I finally realized I just had to show up. I just had to show up every week and sit in that chemo chair and let the medication do what it needed to do. I now can say that yoga saved my life.

I had multiple surgeries and I’m still working through cancer. I have no feeling whatsoever under my left armpit down to my elbow, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that my practice is not going to look like everyone else’s, and I’m not going to be able to handstand without support. And that’s okay, because support is what gets everybody through; we all need help. It’s my yoga practice and my community at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in New York City that helped me find the true meaning of family and support, and how important it is to let go and just breathe. I just keep showing up, and I keep praying for myself, for my friends who I’ve lost to breast cancer, and for all who struggle with this terrible and cruel condition.

Acacia – “It Used to Bother Me That There Were Some Things I Would Never Do”

Photo by Sophia Emigh

Photo by Sophia Emigh

I started doing yoga about 10 years ago to help me with my posture. I was born without my left hand from the elbow down, and I had a lot of pain in my back from the lack of balance. As a person with a different body from other people, I never felt quite comfortable in [class environments] where it felt like part of the goal was to be the prettiest. I feel lucky to have a lot of yoga teachers in my family. My practice really started to become more regular and coherent when I traveled in India after high school and started to learn Ashtanga. There was no ego in the room.

Doing yoga with one hand can be tough, and I often need to use props or an alternative pose to get the same stretch if I’m not physically able to do the pose. In the last several years there has been a change in my practice and my approach to it. It used to bother me a lot that there were some things I would never do. I would see pictures of famous yogis in sexy handstands and think that if I couldn’t be that, then I wasn’t really a yogi. That’s when I started learning more about yoga philosophy and coming to understand my practice in relationship to myself, not to others. There are things I can’t do and shouldn’t do; me doing them would just be to say I did or to prove I can, when it’s not really the right way for me to practice. I’ve come to learn that it does not matter what everyone else is doing. I can do a hundred yoga classes, but if I don’t consciously breathe and connect with my center of strength, I’m just working out.

Something I always wanted to do but thought I never would is any kind of inversion arm balance. No crow, no handstand. But last week I did my first forearm stand! It just took 10 years of building core strength, the support of an amazing teacher, and the patience to be okay with where I’m at.

Dayton – “I Never Went to a Yoga Class Until Her Last Year of Life”

Photo by Nousha Salimi

Photo by Nousha Salimi

What my story is really about is a yoga mat—my wife’s purple yoga mat. When she was 35 she was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. She started seeking out ways to conquer the cancer outside of western medicine. After one of her alternative doctors recommended yoga, she started a consistent practice. She’d practice on this purple mat, upon which she etched her name in black magic marker. My wife, Ali, battled cancer for 12 years, never once going into remission. She always told me how much the yoga helped her, but I never went to a class until her last year of life, when I felt an urge to practice. Though I’d always had a prayer practice, I never really believed much in the spiritual elements of the practice, until the very end of Ali’s life. We were sitting in the hospital one day when she told me she was no longer fearful of death. On the day Ali passed away, I went to her mat, at a local studio. I told the yoga teacher, who was a friend of mine, about my loss. At the beginning of class, she told the other yogis in the room about my loss. As class went on, I felt more and more empowered—stronger than ever. After class my teacher helped me realize that the strength I felt was the collective energy of the yogis around me. All my previous doubt around ethereal energy dissipated, and now—I believe it. There really is so much energy that is present when practicing yoga in community.

And now, at age 53, I have strength from my yoga practice I never imagined I would have. There is no pause button on the grieving practice, but now, all this time later, I get on my wife’s purple mat, which has no signs of disintegration. Though the marker of her name is no longer present, I feel her energy on the mat.


Click here to read the other incredible stories and full article.

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