Several years ago–It was either 2011 or 2012, I was attending a workshop with my teacher, Manju Jois, at my late teacher’s beautiful farm in Bucks County, Pa. Since these workshops bring people from all over the world –seriously– we were in a room of 10-15 people, all with amazing stories of how yoga changed their lives. One of these beautiful souls was Erik. I have ALWAYS remembered him because of his story:
One day, after our Mysore practice (I will do a post on Mysore practice soon.), we were all sitting outside enjoying a crisp spring morning, when we started talking about our yoga stories, and Erik’s story struck me to the core. I say this, because, even after several years of not seeing each other because of babies or misc other reasons, I would still tell my students about this amazing man, who attributes is miraculous recovery, to our favorite practice, yoga.
This year, while training with Manju, I asked Erik if he had ever written his yoga story, and if so, would he mind if I shared it? It truly is a story of inspiration. Every time I think about Erik, I’m in awe of his dedication and his truly amazing success story. I tell every single group of teacher trainees about Erik. I tell this story to help keep it alive, to help show each student how yoga truly can be life changing, and that with dedication to the practice, they can change their lives too. Today, I would like you to meet my dear, inspirational friend, Erik Marrero.
This pose has been part of my life since I was a 14 year old boy in the late 60’s. I had not heard of ‘yoga’ then, but found I could balance like that. It was 40 years later, in my 1st year of yoga, that my vinyasa teacher taught a pose she called Mayrasana. She had no expectations that any of us could do it. I did it, which shocked her and me I had not done that shape in 50 years!
I am a double cancer survivor; kidney cancer (1997) & prostate cancer (2002 & 2005). In 2005, my prostate cancer metastasized into my entire skeleton. I started hormone therapy to control the cancer. My oncologist told me that once in the bones, there is no getting rid of the cancer. Two years later, the side effects of the hormone therapy were getting to me, primarily weight gain (30 pounds) and depression. That’s when my oncologist in Philadelphia recommended the MBSR program.
The MBSR program is an 8-week program pioneered by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The program teaches mindfulness meditation & very gentle yoga. On day one, we were taught the body-scan meditation. The next day, I practiced it upon arriving at work (in the parking lot). On the walk into work, I noticed that the pain in my legs and pelvis, pain that I had for the last 18 months, was gone. I also realized that I was smiling. My depression was gone!
I was also suffering from osteoporosis of the lumbar spine. I received treatment for this starting in the late 90’s.
Once I finished the MBSR program, I found a yoga studio and started practicing yoga 3 days per week (Vinyasa, Hatha, & Yin). I also continued my daily meditation practice. After 18 months or so, I started practicing yoga daily, with the intent of taking teacher training (Vinyasa Yoga). Yoga really agreed with me!
A year after I started practicing yoga, my lumbar-spine density increased 4.2%.
My endocrinologist could not explain this gain. The protocol that he had me on could only slow down the loss of bone density, or at best, stop the loss. I credited the turnaround to meditation and yoga.
In the second year after I started practicing yoga, I had another 4.2% increase in lumbar-spine bone density. In November of 2009, I started practicing Ashtanga. Later the next year, I had a 13.9% increase in bone density. In the fourth year, another 9.9% increase. A few more annual scans showing increases of 4,2% per year followed. I no longer have osteoporosis! My endocrinologist was blown away by these results. I smiled at him and told him that it was due to the yoga!
In the Fall of 2010, my nuclear bone scan showed that most of the bone mets from the prostate cancer had disappeared – only two spots remained! My oncologist could not explain this. I told him it was the meditation and yoga.
By 2012, I was practicing Ashtanga Yoga 6 days a week. I’m healthier, stronger, & more balanced than I have ever been.
I’m a strong believer in the power of yoga and meditation to improve quality of life for cancer patients/survivors. My January 2017 Nuclear Bone Scan showed NO evidence of the last two spots of metastasis! My doctors are amazed at my recovery.
If you’re ever up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pa and want to practice with this super sweet, incredibly strong, and so so so knowledgeable teacher, be sure to check out the studio where he teaches Mysore, which is called Trishula Yoga (https://www.trishulayoga.com/) If you do get a chance to practice with him, be sure to give him a big hug from me and to thank him for sharing his story of inspiration and courage.