The Power of Movement, Mindfulness, and Taking Care of Yourself
On Sunday, March 5, 2017, I join a host of yoga teachers and musicians in leading the Power Of Movement, a yoga fundraiser benefitting the Arthritis Research Foundation. This organization is focused on conducting research and bringing awareness of arthritis and related autoimmune diseases which affects 4.6 million Canadians … I happen to be one of them.
Let me take you back nearly 10 years ago. 2007 was an important time for me – I had made some big life changes that completely shifted my life. At the time I was searching for my place on the planet and I knew working for the federal government wasn’t it. In the five years prior to this, I had changed from a business program at Seneca College, to Journalism at Humber, worked very briefly for a television station until it shut down, and had various part-time jobs in retail, children’s birthday parties, and the service industry. Towards the end of 2007, I decided it was time for yet another major change, so I took a year off of my government job to test out a career in the fitness and wellness industry. I had already spent the last year building a roster of personal training clients and teaching group fitness classes and wanted to see where I could take this.
About a quarter of the way through my year off, I became ill. All I knew was my digestive system was off, I couldn’t keep anything in, and if I did manage to eat it would go right through me undigested, I was losing blood, and my weight went down from 147lbs to 130lbs in a matter of weeks. It took weeks before my doctor could come up with diagnosis. Many of the symptoms I was experiencing were similar to so many other conditions, but all the tests were coming up negative. All the while, I’m still teaching classes and personal training, and literally sleeping every minute in between. Barely eating. Moody like you wouldn’t believe … and depressed. I remember going from being so motivated to start a new career and build a business to wanting to hide from people and stay in bed all day. I went from being so outgoing and the social butterfly, to wanting to runaway from everyone and everything.
Eventually, underweight, malnourished, and with an extremely low hemoglobin count, my doctor sent me in for an emergency colonoscopy. The results? I was in the middle of a massive flare up of distal ulcerative colitis. “WTF does that mean, doc?” I asked, having never heard those words before. As it turns out, my immune system thought my colon was an intruder and was attacking half of my transverse colon and my entire distal colon (from my belly button all the way out). This attack formed little ulcers along the way, which explained all the blood I was losing. Luckily I had medical benefits, as I technically was still a government employee. My treatment was 9 tablets of prednisone, 2 times per day and eventually taper off over the course of 3 months, plus a daily anti-inflammatory enema for 2 weeks. I took the first few tablets right after my scope and that evening I had my first formed bowel movement in two months. It was heaven!!
The next year was an interesting one. After the initial 3 months, I started finding blood again, so something didn’t catch. Having to see a specialist at this point, it was determined that I’d need to be on medication for the rest of my life. First an anti-inflammatory which was a strong dose of aspirin, but the dosage I needed was too high for one person to sustain for the rest of their life, so I was then put on a stronger medication, only two tablets this time. The side effects? The medication would tamper with my liver functions and I’d have to get monthly tests to make sure everything was fine.
“So wait,” I said to my specialist. “You want me on several medications for one condition that require regular testing to make sure they don’t cause another condition? Yeah, no … that doesn’t work for me.” I remember both my doctor and specialist thought I was crazy, but I knew this wasn’t for me and that I didn’t want to live like that. After a recommendation from a friend, I met with a naturopath who helped me tremendously. My goal? Heal from this flare up, come off of medication, and never have one again. I won’t bore you with the two year journey that followed, but a lot of mental, emotional, and physical work helped me heal completely. In December 2010, I took my last tablet of the steroid I was on and never took one again. I’ve been medication free since and am healthier than I’ve ever been.
Now it doesn’t always end this way for people with colitis. Many have had to have portions of their colon removed or wear ostomy bags. Some have been hospitalized, forced to drop out of school or quit their jobs. Some have one flare up and can manage it with diet, exercise, rest, and meditation, while others have to be on heavy medication for the rest of their lives. I’m blessed to be one of the former, and yoga and meditation have played a huge role in my healing journey. As with many (not all) inflammatory conditions, Ulcerative Colitis can be stress-related, diet-related, or both. Yoga and meditation can help us connect with our bodies to hear what it needs to function at optimal health, and helps us gain the strength and courage to honour what our body needs.
This is why I feel so fortunate to be part of the team leading this event. I can now do my part to spread awareness of the benefits of movement and mindfulness, the importance of connecting to our bodies and truly knowing what they need to be healed (and it’s always different for everyone), and most importantly, the importance of community. My network of healers, family, and friends made it possible for me to heal, and I’m grateful for it every day.
If you would like to support me in my efforts to raise funds and awareness for this cause, click here to donate. Or to get involved and join me and other members of our YogaFit family, click here to join Team YogaFit Canada to bring healing to the millions of people who are affected by arthritis and related autoimmune conditions.