11/09/2013 01:16 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

How Yoga Saved my Life: A Love Story

Full length of a young woman practicing yoga in Camel position on mat
Full length of a young woman practicing yoga in Camel position on mat

If you had told me 10 years ago that I would become a believer in the power of yoga, I would have laughed at you. I would have laughed long and loud before telling you to go back to the hippie colony from whence you came. Back then, yoga was nothing more than a trend to me, a trend that bred an army of vacant, granola-crunching women who were evolving into bizarre contortionist people. I wanted no part in it.

They made us do yoga when I attended the acting program at Dalhousie and it horrified me. Being a naturally patient person, holding poses for extending periods of time is easy for me (second only to my biting sarcasm). Every time we held a pose for more than a minute, I wouldn't be able to suppress the urge to fidget, my mind racing to such an extreme that "being in the moment" was impossible. My constant twitching made my classmates stare at me like I had just ruined Christmas. I would only flash my most charming smile and hold onto the solace of my future graduation date.

Every time I moved my body into a pose, I would hear my joints crack. In the silence of a vast dance studio, the snap of a rusty joint is deafening, making the more common "pin drop sound" far more desirable. It was not only painful, but embarrassing. Naturally, I blamed yoga for everything. If only North America hadn't caught on to India's best kept secret in living a better life, I could still be shoveling McDonald's into my face and wondering if I should maybe leave my couch one day.

It's strange how the things that you resist most in life have a tendency of coming back to you until you have properly learned your lesson. Despite my distaste for what a friend of mine dubbed "hippie karate," I kept getting tangled up in a Yogic conundrum. I landed a job at Lulelemon and was required to do yoga as part of my job. When I was a practicing aesthetician, I worked at a spa that was located inside of a yoga studio. All of my friends became yoga instructors. In time, I had forgotten what it had been like before the word 'yoga' had made its sneaky way into my daily vocabulary. Still, I held out. I was not about to be taken down by the enemy.

That all changed in November of 2012. After a routine physical, my doctor found an abnormality in my blood that indicated Hemochromatosis, a hereditary and genetic disorder that causes the crystallization of iron in the major organs of the body, including the heart, liver, pancreas, and brain. If untreated, this disease can lead to diabetes, cardiac arrest, liver failure, and cancer. I was 27, a good 40 years younger than most patients with the disease, and had already entered its more advanced stages.

After being carefully examined, I met with my Hematologist to discuss the prognosis. I was told about the treatments (a weekly phlebotomy, which was convenient considering my crippling fear of having blood taken out of me), the side effects (severe fatigue), and my dietary limitations (hint: my entire diet needed to be changed). In addition to this, I needed to change my exercise routine. It turned out that the joint pain and snapping were some of the first signs of the advanced stages of Hemochromatosis. High impact exercise would just make it worse.

"But I always go to the gym," I protested.

My Hematologist nodded sympathetically. "Well, you'll be able to go eventually, but for now it's best to lay off," she said. "it would be best to try a more gentle form of exercise."


"Yoga," she said. "It would be the best thing for you."

Of course it was yoga. Even when I was close to death, yoga was there, peering around the corner and wriggling its long, stretchy finger in a sly "come hither" manner. I laughed long and loud, mentally processing the directions to the nearest hippie colony. I no longer had a choice and raised my white flag in surrender.

I would like to say that with the power of yoga, I got better right away. That would be a lie. It was a slow, painful, and ugly process. The creaking got worse, the pain more intolerable. There were days when I was so weak that I could barely stand up. Despite all this, my determination did not wane. Yoga was in my life for a reason, so I kept at it, practicing upwards of three times a week. My patience was still thin and my mind still resembled a NASCAR race, but in time, things started to come together. The pain eased. My mind began to clear.

Nearly a year later, I am a converted believer. My joints no longer snap like popcorn, my muscles are stronger than ever, and I have never felt better. Sure, the treatments helped, but without my Yoga practice, I wouldn't have been able to find the calm in both mind and body that ultimately raised my determination to be healthy again. I am pleased to report that I am new and improved; a veritable Lauren 2.0, if you will. I couldn't be more grateful for it.

Resistance is truly futile. Without yoga, I wouldn't be who I am today. I'll have to thank the members of the hippie colony on my next visit.