I hadn’t been sick in years, and by common standards, I’d been taking excellent care of myself through proper nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle. Yet, I was experiencing severe heart palpitations, feeling more feeble and weak than ever in my life.
This felt utterly unfair: I was doing all the right things, wasn’t I?
Long ago, I believed that by closely following yogic principles I'd experience unshakable health, emotional balance, and spiritual connection—gifts that I knew could be acquired through practicing yoga.
And thus, I intensified my physical practice, modeling it around what my teacher shared about his own practice. I shifted from vegetarian to a mostly raw, vegan diet.
I meditated twice a day, following diligently my teacher’s recommendations. Yet, after a while, my whole body was contracting and aching in protest. I considered it a natural part of the process. I thought I would adapt in time.
But one morning I woke up with my heart pumping hard and fast; then, chest pain onset. That was when my husband rushed me to the doctor, for my first visit there in years. What had I missed?
It finally hit me. I’ve done the right things, but I’ve done them the wrong way. Here's why:
1. I valued teachers’ opinions about my body more than my own.
I ignored the messages my body kept sending. It was like entrusting someone else to feel and think for me.
I followed my teacher’s practice: daily asana, pranayama, and meditation. This is what he always praised in classes and credited for his great health and high energy levels. To my surprise, I found out later that his personal practice also included weight lifting, biking, running, swimming, and hiking, always alternating. Yoga posture practice? Of course: two, occasionally three times a week.
For me, old injuries flared up because of the inadequate physical practice.
2. I transitioned to a vegetarian diet because everyone else was eating that way.
I thought a vegetarian diet was best suited for every serious practicing yogi. I became convinced about the benefits of a diet free of animal products, and I felt strongly in favor of non-harming.
I did not consider that such diet, while ideal for some, might not be suitable for everyone. I learned it the hard way.
Some people, myself included, don’t absorb iron well from vegetal sources. No matter the amount of dark leafy greens juices and quinoa in my diet, I became severely anemic. Low iron gave me heart palpitations, weakness, and muscle pain. I realized that I was hurting myself in the name of non-hurting other beings.
3. I forced myself to meditate.
I adopted my teacher’s mediation method. However, after a short while, it became clear that my mediation practice was slowing me down in undesired ways. I was spacey and forgetful. My reactions became delayed. My teacher’s advice was to keep pushing through. It didn’t feel right, yet for some time I was reluctant to explore anything else.
Recovery started when I stopped following rigidly the ways of the masters.
I struggled at first to accept that a vegetarian diet wasn’t for me. But to depend on iron supplements made from beef, and high in toxic fillers and dyes, didn’t feel right either. In the end, I made peace and relaxed into a diet, mostly vegetarian, including some salmon and turkey.
I admitted that teachers, even the most admired ones, are not infallible in advising their students. I internalized the teachings, redefined my goals, and developed my physical practice around the feedback my body provided.
I stopped clinging to that specific mediation practice. It was difficult to accept that I had persisted in something detrimental for that long. I opened up to exploration, and eventually I found what works best for me.
I stopped blaming the yoga practice itself and the teachers for the imbalances I have created and took responsibility for my choices. I found healing. In the end I emerged happy and confident, with a new outlook on life.
A health crisis, like any other crises for that matter, is a learning opportunity. The bigger the challenge it presents, the more we learn through overcoming it. Through gaining firsthand experience with handling crisis, we become stronger and wiser.