Yoga Story: Ann Vanderburgh
It was a dark period of my life. My 86 year old dad was dying after a long, slow descent into dementia. My 85 year old mom had passed away a year and a half before. Our house, in which they had lived with us for ten years, was filled from basement to attic with my dad’s gargantuan collection of accumulated belongings; his legacy of life as a unrestrained pack rat. My husband and I were exhausted from the challenges of the endings of my parents’ lives.
Then I was diagnosed with osteoporosis. I was devastated, as osteoporosis had been the death knell for my mom. Her spine had slowly crumbled, despite her ferocious determination and relentless daily walking. Once her ability to walk became compromised, pneumonia swiftly and decisively allowed her to escape this earth. Swallowed up in the challenges of my dad's care, I had only barely begun to grieve her passing.
I was panicked and desolated by my diagnosis, feeling doomed to follow exactly in my mom’s footsteps. I felt literally crushed by the heaviness of our circumstances, by the weight of my dad's material detritus that was stored right over my head in the attic, crushing my bones and my life. I didn't know what to do.
Marshaling some energy, I began to investigate options for treatment. They were minimal. Western medicine had little to offer. In alternative realms, acupuncture and yoga surfaced as potentially helpful. I started seeing an acupuncturist, and I asked my friends where I could find a good yoga class. Other movement arts such as karate and tai chi had played a pivotal part in much of my life, along with regular long distance walking and hiking, but I had never tried yoga. I had always believed, thanks to my incorrect inner stereotypes of yoga practitioners, that yoga was meant for people far more flexible and elastic than I. None of my favorite physical activities had promoted the sort of physical flexibility that I really needed. My back hurt, my heart ached, and I felt overwhelmed and discouraged.
A friend recommended Yoga Sanctuary, as she had once attended a workshop at her college run by a Yoga Sanctuary teacher. I arrived at my first class on a Friday morning, choosing that particular class simply because it was the only thing that fit my complicated work schedule. I entered the room a crunched-up, bunched-up ball of depression and anguish.
I looked around and saw myself surrounded by lithe, flexible people of all ages, all of whom seemed to me to be far more graceful and talented than I could ever hope to achieve. I was in so much inner pain, however, that I had no emotional space to be discouraged by this. I simply just started, committed to the idea that I had to find a proactive way to work with myself.
Fortunately for me, my new teachers saw potential in me rather than the limitations I saw in myself. From that very first Friday, I was shown a path to physical and spiritual healing that far exceeded any initial expectations. Encouraged to go at my own pace and make adaptations as needed, I was held in a circle of peace, hope and deep faith in our physical and spiritual ability to heal, learn and grow. I found my teachers very accessible and ready with specific guidance whenever I needed it. Determined to create a daily practice at home in addition to my weekly classes, my teachers and I created a plan; a daily routine that I could adjust as needed.
Slowly over time, I began to notice some changes. After about six months, my back pain markedly diminished and became less and less of a limiting issue. Gradually, I could approximate more and more of the poses that I saw my classmates doing. In the tumultuous and extended grief process that ensued after my parents’ deaths, my teachers and the practice that they helped me to create provided a deep wellspring of guidance, affirmation, and sustenance. Now after two years of daily practice, I am stronger, healthier and much more limber. While I still have bones that are far “lighter” than average, I feel that I am doing everything I can to take good care of what I have. Equally if not more importantly, however, I have found a profound spiritual touchstone of strength and support. The link between mind, spirit, and body is celebrated deeply in our yoga practice. In every class, our teachers show us how to tap into the vast potential inside of us, which is part of and seamlessly connected to the larger universe, and the wisdom and mysteries that lie even beyond.
There is a Buddhist saying: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” For me, the Yoga Sanctuary has been that teacher. And for that I am profoundly grateful.
Ann S. Vanderburgh