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Practices for Living and Dying

I was asked by a local yoga studio to write a piece about my experience with yoga and my transplant in particular, under 700 word. This is what I came up with.

Yoga: Practices for Living and Dying

Often times, we show up to life expecting one thing, and end up finding something completely different. When I started my own journey down the yogic path, it was the physical practice that challenged my competitive mind and runner’s body. It took several years of concerted effort in the asana practice to begin to hear through the chatter of my mind to be receptive to the philosophical teachings of the yoga practice. It was no coincidence that during this time I was diagnosed with a life threatening illness that was expected to progress to a terminal state.

Overnight, my yoga practice began to change. First, I began to listen more intently. Often I would find myself very emotional during or after a yoga class, and I found myself yearning for the little hidden messages my skilled teachers embedded into their classes about the impermanence of the body, suffering, and the key to finding lasting happiness and freedom. In time, I would come to understand that these messages were the backbone of ancient texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita, important scriptures in the yoga philosophy.

For several years I continued to practice asana, meditation and chanting, and began my study of the yogic scriptures in earnest. I benefitted from increased self-awareness, ability to be in the present moment and knowledge about the temporal state of almost everything, including the body and mind. The yogic path slowly took over my life, and I transitioned from studying and practicing yoga, to studying, practicing and teaching.

After ten years of living with an auto-immune disease and having undergone a career and a lifestyle transformation, finally in late 2012, the illness progressed to an untenable state, and I was told I would need an imminent liver transplant. The year 2013 was spent on the transplant waiting list, in and out of the hospital every few weeks. When I wasn’t in the hospital, I continued teaching and practicing yoga, and when I was in the hospital, I spent my time studying and writing about the how my understanding of yoga was influencing my experiences of living in the hospital with a dying body. In this way, I continued to practice and teach yoga, even without having the physical strength to do so. More than ever, I saw my body changing and capable of complete demise. I had no choice but to surrender all that I had to a source greater than myself. Once this happened, I found shelter in the source of the greatest love imaginable; I felt protected, no matter the consequences of my situation.

The yoga practice gave me an unusual ability to remain focused in the moment on living and loving rather than getting carried away in the fear of the unknown future, despite the uncertainty, pain, and utter exhaustion of living for so long with a chronic illness. I found peace in continuing to fill my days to the best of my ability with the people and activities I loved.

In September, 2013 I finally was given the great gift of a new organ thanks to my anonymous donor. I underwent a twelve hour surgery followed by eight weeks of hospital stay. It was unclear whether or not I would survive in the first weeks, but after many complications, I was released from the hospital in late November, and was slowly able to return to practicing and teaching yoga. As I write this today, I continue to feel blessed to have my life, to be able to continue on this path with the people and activities that fill me with joy. I am very honoured to be here today, practicing and teaching yoga. Yoga has shown me the path to living and loving, and ultimately also the grace in understanding our own temporality. Yoga is truly the practice of living and dying.

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