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How Yoga Saved My Life From Mold and Lyme Disease

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I could only run for six minutes. Once my heart rate rose, my throat tightened and my lungs turned to lead. I could not force air through no matter how hard I tried. I had three sub-four-hour marathons under my belt and I couldn’t run a mile without wanting or needing to collapse. Something was wrong. I was once exuberant and energetic but I turned tired and grumpy. My toes were purple and I had rashes all over my chest. My sinuses and ears were so congested I couldn’t breathe, smell or hear. After countless, fruitless doctor visits, I found the wet carpet in my bedroom closet. For nine months I had been living with a leaky sewer pipe and rampant Aspergillus mold throughout the walls between my bedroom and bathroom. I moved to a friend’s house and never went back.

Over the next couple of years, I changed my diet, met the man of my dreams and started doing yoga. I still couldn’t run but life was pretty good. My new partner and I both quit our jobs and traveled to southeast Asia for 10 months to explore the world and to find perspective exploring cultures different than our own. On our adventure of a lifetime, Brad started getting debilitating migraines and grinding his teeth as he slept. I developed a rampant fungal infection after multiple mold exposures and a heavy dose of steroids. Needless to say, it was time for us to go home.

After getting jobs and healthcare back in the states, we sought treatment for symptoms that were so random and unexplainable: fatigue, restlessness, acid reflux, inability to find words, headaches, never-ending sinus infections, mood swings, etc. etc. Neither of us could get better and no one could tell us why. Antibiotics, steroids and PPIs only made things worse and our relationship was on the edge of crumbling. Finally, we were referred to a new doctor that specialized in infectious disease and in early 2016 he was diagnosed with Lyme disease and I with biotoxin illness caused by mold.

We both began treatments and decided it was best to move away from Seattle to find a drier place to live and heal. My life started to spiral. I was leaving the city that I loved and called home. I was leaving my beloved parents and a group of friends that made me laugh and knew all of my secrets. I didn’t know who I was or where I belonged anymore. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t drink, I couldn’t eat like a normal person and I just generally felt like crap. I mourned for the life I wanted for myself and for Brad. I mourned for the kids we couldn’t have and for the new adventures we weren’t well enough to go on. I mourned for the loss of my partner who acted like a complete stranger and was in pain most of each day. I was angry and blamed anyone who looked at me wrong. I was lost.

We moved to Denver and the first thing I did was find a yoga studio. Luckily there was one just a short distance from our new house and I started going every Saturday morning. Yoga made my body feel good and the studio was a place I could escape to for 75 minutes to just be. The teachers quickly learned my name and enforced a sense of community in each class. I always left with a smile and the feeling that I was strong when everywhere else in my life I felt weak.

Annie and Brad smiling in front of a mountain range in Colorado

One particular Saturday morning, after a frustrating argument with Brad, I attended the class as usual. At some point in the class, the teacher asked, “What can you let go of to go deeper?” I proceeded to do six wheel poses and then burst into tears. The instructor assisted me in a recovery pose and didn’t say a thing but I knew she had seen me crying. She just gently guided my feet and let me be. It was in this moment that I realized the power of yoga. I knew this was exactly where I needed to be. When the opportunity of a teacher training program came up, I jumped on it. Never in my life did I think I would become a yoga instructor. I was a runner with tight hamstrings and terribly inflexible hips, but this studio made me believe that yoga was for every body. Even one that was debilitated by illness.

The training program was intense and involved meditation, journaling and introspective group sharing. Through these exercises, I slowly peeled the layers of my emotional onion. I realized my anger and blame was not serving me and I took responsibility for the drama I created from it. I was able to let go of the desire to control my life and learned to take it for what it was instead of what I wanted it to be. I began to understand my grief and to see my husband for who he is and that the only thing I could do was love him unconditionally. I became OK with the idea that we were ill and actually found peace with all the chaos that comes with a chronic illness. My body was also responding from the physical aspect of the training. I could sense the toxins being wrung out and could see the proof of it when I went to the bathroom. I lost weight and my sinuses opened up. During yoga, I could breathe again.

Yoga will remain a huge part of my life from now on and for that I am grateful. It shifted my perspective from being a victim to being a warrior. It made be believe that perhaps our illness was the best thing to happen to us as it made us stronger and taught us valuable life lessons. Exploring the spiritual foundations of yoga (the yamas and niyamas) taught me new perspectives on how to treat others and how to be my best self. It was the yama of Ahimsa that taught me about loving myself and my husband despite our circumstances and the niyama of Santosha that I learned to be content in my discontentment. All of these practices have helped me navigate through this illness and through life. Yoga has taught me to stay in the pose, to stay in the heat, to stay in the discomfort of life and just breathe.

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Originally published: January 29, 2018
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