I was in NYC last week for six days of morning ashtanga yoga practice with Parampara Guru R. Sharath Jois. This made my 15th full week of nonconsecutive study with Sharath, if I count my time in India (two trips) and a week in Miami. Having a mostly “self-practice” with yoga, I find it inspiring and invigorating to try to study from him when I can.
I went to the classes last week without high expectations for myself. After being chronically ill for the better part of a year and only recently in nearly full recovery, I had lost some agility. Well, more like I felt like my body was falling apart. My elbow was malfunctioning and had been for the past month or two, making it difficult for me to do plank position, which in Ashtanga is done between nearly every pose. I had carpal tunnel pain, my chest bones cracked every time I did an upward dog and I felt genuinely tired. I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the week, let alone the first day.
My sore elbow seemed trivial, however, in light of another student in the class: she had a prosthetic leg and was wheelchair bound. But that didn’t slow her down – she took off her removable leg and practiced along side everyone else. Inspiring! What did I have to complain about really?
Still, for me day 1 was rough. I thought day 2 would be rougher, but it wasn’t and my elbow started to work again. By day 3 I forgot all about my elbow and my carpal tunnel disappeared. By day 5 and 6, I felt like a super woman, even though I kept falling over in standing toe hold pose (uttitha hasta padangushtasana). Whatever. I had energy and didn’t hurt all over!
Many of my ailments are caused by chronic inflammation, a fairly common condition that you may also have experienced if you’ve ever felt aches and joint pains, had digestive issues or have an autoimmune disorder, like asthma or allergies.
Inflammation can be causes by toxins from bacteria (like H. Pylori) and viruses, as well as environmental toxins like air pollution and even from the foods we eat, mostly sugar or foods that break down into sugar.
What happens is that toxins that get absorbed into our bones, tissues, muscles, cells, etc. Toxins from the air we breathe to the food we eat to the chemicals we wear in our clothing are all being absorbed into our bodies, not to mention the make-up, deodorant, perfumes, etc. We absorb them into our skin. Even the plastic spoons and straws and utensils we use to cook have chemical toxins that our bodies do not like very much.
As this chart demonstrates, the autoimmune system has an effect on all aspects of our body.
To some extent, we sweat and digest most of the toxins back out of our bodies. But some people have an easier time absorbing and a harder time excreting toxins, which can make them sicker, more often.
Of course the effects of toxins is probably mostly minimal on most people … but who is to say too much is too much? When your migraines develop into weekly occurrences? When you are age 65 and develop psoriasis? Who knows to what degree toxins affects us and what would we do about it anyway? Change our lifestyle? We need more proof or a big wake up call for that to happen!
But me, I get sick far too often if I don’t detox somehow. This means drinking lots of water and eating healthy and eating foods that help lower inflammation. But that’s still not enough. I have to sweat it out and breathe it out. And a physical ashtanga yoga practice is the best tool I know for doing both those things, and at the same time!
For at least an hour and 15 minutes daily, the primary series of Ashtanga is what helps keep me alive. It keeps me from being depressed, it keeps me from having terrible allergies, not to mention makes me flexible and strong, mentally and physically.
I have been doing ashtanga for nearly 15 years (although only regularly for about 5 years). And I can assure you that if it were not for ashtanga, I would be dead either from being sick or from suicide. I don’t think I’m being over-dramatic here.
Last year, for instance, I became very sick after taking B6 vitamins and became “B6 toxic”. B6 Toxicity affected me in every way – I had muscle twitching, pins and needles sensations in my feet and legs, severe dehydration, heart palpitations, brain fog, ridiculously low blood pressure, severe digestion issues and severe anxiety. I had nerve pain and could not touch anything cold with my hands or feet or breathe in cool air, like in an air conditioned room. I had to put aloe up my nose to breathe in cool air to sleep at night. I had extremely oily skin and acne, and because I was so dehydrated, I had to keep drinking loads of water, followed by coconut water (for potassium) and salt to keep up my sodium level. This also meant that for about three weeks I had to wake up to use the bathroom every 90 minutes. It was a really stressful time that last for about two months.
After finding out I had high levels of B6 and that B6 Toxicity had happened to a lot of other people, I was relieved to know that I would recover eventually. I only took 10 over-the-counter vitamins of 100mg a day over the course of a month and, even though the medical community will tell you it is safe to take up to 200 mg a day, I became toxic very quickly. Your body only needs less than 2mg a day and some people, for whatever reason, do not or can not urinate the excess vitamin b6 out of their body.
It took me over two months to get back on track and six months to completely recover. For some people, it may take as long as two years to recover. It was the most awful thing that has ever happened to me personally. I took the vitamins because they were recommended due to other nerve pain I was having (probably from low b12 and folate, which I now take). Do not take B6 vitamins unless your blood levels are low for b6 and your doctor tells you to take it!!!
Anyhow … part of my recovery was sweating it out on my yoga mat. Had I not had this invaluable tool of ashtanga, I don’t know what would have happened to me. All I knew was that I had to practice, even with all that other stuff going on, and so I did, and it helped me get better, quicker.
The primary series of Ashtanga is called Yoga Chikitsa, which means “Yoga Therapy”. The whole point of the primary series is to purify the body. There are certain ways it must be performed and it should be learned from a teacher. Below are the poses in a chart. You can also stream a free video of ashtanga yoga led by R. Sharath Jois, here.
The intermediate series of Ashtanga yoga is also shown in the above chart – it is call “Nadi Sodhana” which means “Channel Purification” or “Nerve Cleansing”. It is focused on purifying the body’s nervous system.
I’m so grateful for this yoga practice that I just wanted to share with you some resources and some background on my yoga journey. My advice is for anyone to do yoga if you want to get healthy or stay healthy – it is for everyone – young, old, small, large, strong, weak, flexible and stiff. I wasn’t flexible or strong before I started doing yoga and everyone has poses they are better at than others and vice versa.