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I encouraged Sharon Mann to write out her journey with Graves Disease. Here it is:
Yoga Journey – From Disease to Ease
Six years ago I took my first yoga class in response to one of the many directives I received from my endocrinologist. She warned me: “Slow down, take yoga, and start to meditate NOW or you will wind up in the hospital.” I had thought about trying a yoga class in the past. It always seemed like a great idea and something I wanted to do when I had more time, when the kids were older and so on. At that time I had been running about four miles a day several times a week for about twenty four years and swimming about 80 laps the other days for about ten years. I enjoyed both of these activities and thought I was being good to myself by taking the time out of my day to do them. I wasn’t ready to decrease either the amount of swimming or running and so I never saw how I could possibly take more time to add yoga to my routine. There were always so many excuses. Apparently, now was the time.
What had happened to me that I had reached a point where I suddenly had to make quality of life changes for myself? My mother, of blessed memory, became ill with cancer at the age of 43. Her prognosis was six months to one year but with her strong will to live and zest for life she defied all odds and survived for nine more years. She saw my sisters and I become young women, danced at all of our weddings and held her first grandchild before she passed away. From her I learned to value good health, to appreciate every moment, and to live life to the fullest.
Approaching the age of 43 scared me and at that time in my life consciously or not, my body was undergoing stresses of which I was not aware. Several months after my 42nd birthday I began to feel fatigue and a lack of energy. I suddenly became tired about half way into a run or swim. My first reaction was that perhaps I wasn’t sleeping enough or maybe even lacking iron. Then other seemingly unrelated symptoms occurred. I developed a rash on my arms that did not respond to any cream, a strange slight swelling of one eye and then tremors in my legs. When I finally did a blood test some of my numbers were off the chart and I was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an autoimmune disorder that leads to an overactive thyroid and is known to be stress related.
After two weeks of bed rest and medication to try to balance my thyroid, my doctor told me that I needed to make immediate changes in my lifestyle in order to get back on the track to wellness. I took my first ashtanga yoga class and was instantly intrigued by the different pace and rhythm. I was amazed at the flexibility and strength of my classmates. At first holding each asana (yoga pose) for five breaths seemed like an eternity. When we relaxed into shava asana (corpse pose) my first thought was when would it be time to get up? However, as I attended class after class I began to adapt to and appreciate the slower pace.
My instructor emphasized that practicing yoga is directly opposite to the manner we approach most other things in life in this day and age. She urged us to go slower in and out of an asana in order to concentrate on our breath and the movement. It seemed as if her words of wisdom were being spoken personally to me. We were encouraged to “appreciate our body as it is in the present moment; to choose the variation that most fits us right now; [and] to concentrate on our breath. If we were doing a tougher variation but not breathing correctly we had missed the point.” She stressed the idea that we should find release and relaxation within the exertion of our muscles during the routine. All of these messages took time for me to learn, appreciate and internalize and I also realized how valuable their application was to other aspects of my life. I had always been trying to run and swim faster and further, fit in more things each day, do everything to make my family and others happy.
Despite my slowing down, doing yoga and medical treatments, the illness progressed and I also developed Graves Ophthalmopathy (also known as Thyroid Eye Disease), an autoimmune eye condition, which took a life of its own. I had an extremely aggressive case and was on a high dose of steroids for over a year to try to treat some of the symptoms. My eyes were bulging, swollen, dry, irritated and extremely sensitive to the elements. Even though my running had turned into walking and my swimming had decreased, I eventually had to stop doing them completely. The only physical activity I was able to continue to do through this challenging period was yoga; it kept my body moving, my blood flowing to my entire body and provided me with spans of peace of mind.
Between 2008 and 2010 I underwent seven operations on my eyes. Recuperation was difficult and for approximately six months I was unable to comfortably leave my home, use the computer, read and do many other things. During this challenging period my daily personal home yoga routines kept me sane and mobile. The meditation that came through the movement was the only time when I could forget about my eyes and situation. I noted that while other things in my life were at a standstill at least with consistency and persistence I became stronger and more flexible as I slowly continued on my journey to improved health.
I was thrilled the day that I could return to my class and be further energized by my classmates and instructor. With time and the lessons that yoga taught me I recovered and transformed from the woman I was to the new me. As I celebrate six years of yoga I continue to rejoice each time I am on my mat, concentrate on my breath, feel the blood and energy flow through my body and forget about my eyes along with their irritations and all else as I enjoy the present moment for all its worth. I also strive to incorporate yoga’s values into everyday life whether at home, in the car or at the supermarket. I am thankful for my teacher, for yoga and its helping me to pass from disease to ease as I continue on life’s pathway.