Experience in Yoga

C. E. F., Gloucester, England

I am not a yoga expert. My knowledge is very limited but my experience so dramatic that I have been asked to write this article. No one could be less eager to discuss their disabilities and ailments publicly than I am, but I reluctantly do so out of sheer gratitude to the person who introduced me to yoga via the teachings of Swami Satyananda. I also hope it might help someone else with similar problems.

My basic trouble is that I was born with a spina bifida, which damaged the nerve controlling the muscles of the feet and the 'plumbing'. Still, the situation could have been very much worse and I have managed to lead a full life punctuated by orthopaedic operations, which have kept me mobile. As I have grown up with these problems I am used to them, but a few years ago I began to feel ill which was rare for me. A fibroid tumour was eventually diagnosed and a hysterectomy performed in December 1976.

Nobody could have looked forward more eagerly to the operation that was to make 'a new woman of me'. To cut a long story short, it didn't. Indeed, it seemed to spark off all sorts of trouble and, when asked, all concerned (i.e. my doctor and three assorted consultants) admitted that they had not before come across a combination of hysterectomy and spina bifida.

The medical profession continued to do its best for me and some problems were solved, but I continued to feel ill. Life became a bore as I dragged myself around, unable to plan ahead, never feeling very well and for days on end I would unaccountably suffer abdominal pains or attacks of what I could only describe as 'internal distress'. Added to this were pressing orthopaedic problems. I've always had backache if I'm on my feet for long, but I was now also getting it while sitting down. Since I do almost everything sitting down, this was a very serious setback indeed. X-rays revealed no deterioration and my orthopaedic consultant told me gently that my new problem was due to advancing years and I must expect it. I was fitted with a spinal jacket which seemed to me to spell defeat (didn't help much either). The 'plumber' consultant was plainly baffled by my persistent internal symptoms, which I found impossible to describe. He assured me that there was no deterioration of my innards but I was getting older and must expect trouble. My gynaecologist and my local doctor also expressed the opinion that I couldn't expect to feel the same at 52 as I had at 25.

I had better mention at this point that I have always had a fat face and rosy cheeks and look well even when I feel like death. I suspected my medical advisers of writing me off as a neurotic and who can blame them? I felt humiliated and isolated and prayed desperately that I would get better or die. Through all this my marvellous husband was endlessly patient, endlessly caring and endlessly worried- which was really the worst thing of all. I did my best to hide my distress and not make his life a misery as well but it wasn't easy.

This state of affairs continued until May 1980 when an old friend from student days flew to England on one of her lightning visits. On this occasion she was fresh from a World Conference of Yoga Instructors in Japan and, noticing that I was creeping about in rather a subdued way, asked me what was wrong. Well, I thought she'd be off in a couple of days, so I could tell her. At the end of this dreary recital she said she was sure yoga could help me.

Because she had talked to me about yoga before. I had made enquiries locally in case it could help me but it had meant joining a class which was, for me, out of the question. I begged my friend to give me a lesson during her brief visit. She did and promised to send me a book when she got home. We also discussed the spiritual side to some extent. I do not find this difficult to comprehend as I have been aware of a power and a presence to which I have been able to listen and communicate since I was fourteen years old and lying with both feet in plaster casts, desperately wondering how I was going to live my life and unable to discuss my problems with anyone. Being brought up as a Christian in the Church of England I call this presence and power 'God', but the name seems to me to be quite irrelevant. The important thing is that you are never alone.

Some weeks later, Swami Satyananda's book 'Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha' arrived. The first thing that impressed me was that each exercise was, if necessary, accompanied by a health warning under the heading 'Limitations' e.g. "Not for people with high blood pressure or a weak heart." I read and reread the 'Introduction to Asanas' and practically learned by heart the theory of the backward bending asanas. My only ambition at this time was to strengthen my back, but I was intrigued by the possibility of additional benefits. With the blessing of consultants and local doctor I got started.

In the firm belief that I must follow the instructions to the letter if I were to give the book a fair trial, I rose at 6 a.m., went into the spare bedroom and lay down in front of an open window with the book on the floor in front of me. In these early days I practised the asanas very, very slowly and carefully, obeying all the instructions to the last detail and, miraculously it seemed to me, everything claimed in the introduction to the backward bending asanas was true. Not only did the back muscles become stronger, but that terrible feeling of internal distress' began to go. So immediate were the benefits of the three asanas I performed consecutively every day (bhujangasana, ardha shalabhasana and sarpasana) that my one desire on waking each morning was to get into the spare room and practise them, (he book said that these exercises would give the internal abdominal organs a good massage, the mere idea of which astounded me. Yet this must have been exactly what was needed because I felt better every day. I soon got rid of my backache (and the spinal jacket), the plumbing is now more efficient than it has ever been and blinding headaches which had suddenly started to attack me were easily cured by short spells in advasana, the reversed corpse pose. I also added the leg lock posture to my daily program. As my friend said: "It is all so logical."

It is now November 1981 and I have not once missed my morning yoga since the book arrived from Australia in July 1980. I dare not as I am convinced that its effects are both remedial and preventative. I boast loudly and at some length, to anyone interested, about the virtues of Swami Satyananda's book and the miraculous improvement that yoga has wrought in me. My husband backs me up enthusiastically with the story of how I cured his 'almost slipped disc'. He has had this trouble before and it has taken much time and physiotherapy to put it right. On this latest occasion Swami Satyananda's book and I got him back to normal in a week. I keep a spare copy to lend out and often supply the address of the ashram in London to people who wish to buy a copy.

I cannot imagine that I will ever meet Swami Satyananda, much as I would wish to, but I hope that he reads this because it is my 'thank you' to him.