I met Laura several years ago at a Manju Jois training. She was one of those people I noticed because she made getting into and out of my “nemesis” poses look like they were a cake walk. (you know how you notice those sorts of people…not in the negative way, but in the, “holy cow, #goals, I hope I can do that one day” sort of way, .) In June of 2017, when I was 8 months pregnant with my son, we were both in Chicago. She helped assist me in several of the breakout practice sessions, which is when I first started hearing about her Ashtanga Yoga Story. That following January, in Florida at another Manju Training, we had a lunch together where I got to hear even more details about her journey to wellness. I remember thinking, Oh.My.Goodness,..you need to share this story!
Well, here it is, another year later, and I am so incredibly excited to share this beautiful friend of mine with you. Laura got to practice with one of Pattahbi Jois’ original Western students, something that is incredibly rare today. Through her practice, like you are about to read, she not only overcame numerous health issues, but she also did it in record time! If you know anyone that has been diagnosed with Lyme’s Disease, please please please share this story. Who knows, maybe you can help create our next Yoga Miracle post!
P.S. If you’re ever in the D.C. area, Laura is right outside of town, and focuses primarily on private instruction with some group instruction all focused on the therapeutic aspects of the practice. Your time spent with her will be life changing. Ok everyone, meet my friend, Laura.
My Journey through Ashtanga with Lyme Disease
My story begins back in the mid 1970’s, when I was about ten years old. My Dad had his pilots’ license and as a family we spent as much time as possible at a small, rural airport just outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. About a dozen families met on Sunday afternoons for pot-lucks and as much air time as possible.
While the parents practiced their ‘touch and go-s’ the kids played in the woods and tall grass field. We played Hide-n-Seek, Army, football… anything to run and move. By the end of the day we were covered with insect bites, chiggers, ticks and loaded up on hot dogs and soda.
In the ‘80’s when I began high school, the migraines, joint pain and unrelenting fatigue also began. I was told it was growing pains, hormones, and part of being a teenager and to step up. By the time I entered college the migraines were daily, food made me sick, the pain moved from joint to joint. I wasn’t just tired either. My brain was so foggy I couldn’t concentrate.
Fast-forward through worsening migraines, fatigue, brain fog, body pain, allergies, food intolerances, memory loss, sleep issues, infertility, miscarriages to 2013. I found a tick, dead and embedded near my underarm. I went to the doctor to have it documented just in case… someday, far in the future, strange things happened… I was eventually diagnosed with chronic neurologic Lyme Disease, Babesia, Bartonella, pneumonia and the Epstein-bar virus. By the time I got in to see a specialist my resting heart rate was 120 bpm. I could not control my blood pressure, body temperature or balance. I was beyond exhausted and anemic. I had hallucinations, panic attacks, night mares, fevers, night sweats, heart palpitations and speech and memory loss. Sleep no longer existed. The specialist told me to expect 36 months of treatment and it would be similar to going through chemotherapy.
At the height of treatment, I took 45 pills a day, everything from supplements to antibiotics to support medication. During treatment, things got worse before they got better, which was expected. My Vagus nerve took a big hit as did my heart, liver, kidneys and GI tract. The bacteria invaded the language and memory centers of my brain as well.
Right after my diagnosis, Clifford Sweatte, one of the first westerners to study Ashtanga Yoga in the 1970’s with the founder, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, contacted me. He lived about an hour away and worked in aviation. At that time, he also taught a small group of yogis this practice. He invited me to his class, encouraging me that it would heal me. I thought that was a bit crazy but jumped at the chance to learn Ashtanga from one of the senior students.
And if it shaved off a week or two of treatment, all the better! I really had no idea what I was getting into, but I’m glad I did.
So, once a week for the better part of a year, my friends picked me up and drove me an hour one way to and from class. They also made sure I practiced the other days of the week. I could barely remember my name much less my left from my right or front from back. The class had me practice to the far left of the shala so that I could always see what I was supposed to be doing and follow along. Clifford told me if all I could do was a forward fold that was fine but it was essential that I breathe, that is where the magic happens!
Then, as that small group of yogis took me under their wings amazing things started happening. They made sure I practiced, and Clifford made sure I breathed. Every week, Dr. Andy Smith, DC, an Active Release Techniques specialist helped me with pain and the instability in my spine so that I could continue to practice. Clifford and Andy gave me asanas and movements to do to help my weakened organs and nervous system. When I was on the yoga mat practicing I could get my heart rate down to the low 80’s. The pain also went away and I finally experienced endorphins for the first time in my life! I also slept very well.
For a time, I wore a heart rate monitor and my cardiologist could not understand how my heart rate went down while ‘exercising’ and went up while medicated. Every other week I had blood tests done. The results always improved when I practiced the day before and worsened if I didn’t practice. I was able to stop all pain medications, anti-seizures, mood stabilizers and sleep aids during the ‘Hell Protocol’. The doctors were baffled.
I’m now off all medications and am in remission! Ah the power of Ashtanga Yoga!
Clifford introduced me to Manju Jois, the son of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in 2014. I have had the great fortune to be able to study under Manju since then. As the years of practice and study have passed, he has helped me refine my
practice to make it work for me, my healing and recovery. Every 6 – 9 months I have a new body chemistry and physical body to work with which means fine-tuning my practice. It’s not about the postures, it’s about using
those postures and the breath to heal.
I happily take back those thoughts about Clifford being crazy because I completed the treatment in 10 months, not 36 as expected! I am the only patient the doctor has had who completed the treatment on schedule. Most people have to take a break, lower doses, have surgeries and some, tragically, do not make it. Now, I move because I can. I breathe because I can. I dance because I can. Ashtanga Yoga has changed my life in such unexpected and beautiful ways! I am forever grateful.
Laura teaches Ashtanga Yoga in Middleburg, Virginia in the traditional method with an emphasis on the therapeutic aspects. She teaches led classes, Mysore and private sessions. She is certified by Manju Jois to teach both the Primary and Intermediate Series internationally. Along with Clifford and Manju, she has studied with David Williams and Greg Tebb.