Though it can have many causes and produce a wide variety of symptoms, candida often results in serious health problems for the sufferer. For me, yoga is helping cure the underlying root cause, which I've identified as stress. At a crossroads with my health, I was faced with the realization that my seemingly healthy diet and hours at the gym were simply not enough to maintain vitality, and my body was making sure I took notice!
When I finally reached my "rock bottom" it was time for a mind-body overhaul and complete holistic approach to an optimum, balanced well-being.
Before I figured out what was happening to my body, candida overgrowth perforated my gut lining, which allowed undigested food particles to seep into my bloodstream prematurely, firing up my immune responses causing 28 food allergies. Fatigue, IBS symptoms and inflammation set in, and my overworked immune system led to flu after flu and pneumonia. One thing was causing another, and I was slowly deteriorating.
I experienced a four-year period of heightened anxiety and stress that culminated with the traumatic death of my father. Even during periods of rest, before bedtime, upon waking, or in the shower, there was not a moment I felt at ease.
It was a blessing to have access to a naturopathic doctor who understood and could diagnose candida in the first place, and during this time stress was revealed as an underlying catalyst that I could no longer afford to overlook. Physically eliminating excess candida and healing the gut was, and still is, a very important part of my healing process.
Stress releases cortisol and deteriorates the integrity of the gut. When we're in a state of stress, our sympathetic nervous system kicks in and our "fight-or-flight" response is activated producing cortisol and adrenaline. This is an acidic state, and our systems (such as digestion) temporarily shut down. This response is normal — and in some instances beneficial — in small doses, but we can't thrive or maintain health in a chronic state of high alert. Enter yoga!
When we're stressed, tense or worrying, we tend to have shallow breaths. Even if we sit in front of a computer all day for work, we tend to have shallow breaths. Stress and shallow breathing seems to be a byproduct of the Western way of living, and I used to catch myself holding my breath quite a bit!
The deep, mindful breathing practiced in yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, telling us it's OK to take it down a notch and relax! When we're not breathing deeply, there's less oxygen to our cells, which hinders our life-giving energy flow, or prana. Deep yogic breathing also stimulates the lymphatic system, which is responsible for the removal of dead cells and toxins. Candida releases over 70 toxins during the "die-off" phase, so proper removal of these toxins through a strong lymphatic system and deep cleansing breaths is key.
Yoga also links breath with flowing movement, which creates a deeper mind-body connection. When I focus on my breath, my attention is turned inward, allowing me to be present in the NOW. This gives my over-thinking conscious mind a break! In a yoga class I’m NOT worrying about my external environment, my last voicemail, my new project at work, or what I need to do after class. I’m open to feeling subtle energy shifts and identifying where I hold tension physically, so I can release these tensions for greater fluidity.
Yoga awakens an awareness that allows me to detach from external events. This isn't to say I don’t experience emotions, BUT they're just emotions! I'm not frustrated; I'm experiencing frustration and it (like everything else) shall pass. Awakening to this difference in perception reveals a peaceful freedom and acceptance that allows me to surrender to resistance on and off the mat.
The real gift of healing yoga teaches is that when life inevitably throws a curve ball that would otherwise trigger a stress-fueled reaction, just flow with it!