In 2009, I was diagnosed with spondylolisthesis, spondylosis and degenerative disc disease. I was told I would need to have a spinal fusion surgery or, eventually, lose all feeling in my legs. At the time, I was running marathons, extremely active and couldn’t fathom the thought of having surgery on my spine.
Understanding that running wasn’t going to be a long-term activity due to my diagnosis, and that I wasn’t ready to succumb to surgery, I began to explore more low-impact activities. It wasn’t until I tried Bikram yoga that I felt the physical challenge I was seeking in an activity that would not progress my diagnosis. In addition to the satisfying physical challenge, I found Bikram brought me significant mental clarity and focus.
As I began to increase the frequency of my practice, I found myself diving deeper to help manage emotional and mental health. At the time I started practicing I was struggling with various aspects of life and Bikram yoga gave me an outlet to support my emotional and spiritual well-being. I still don’t quite know what it is, but to this day when life feels draining I latch on to my yoga practice and begin to feel filled up again.
On the physical side, I haven’t yet had to resort to spinal surgery and still have all the feeling in my legs. In fact, each summer I go on a week-long 500-mile bicycle ride. Due to other commitments, I typically don't find the time to train. Despite this, for the past two years, I have been able to participate in these rides without significant struggle. Fellow riders are always shocked when I say I haven’t ridden my bike for more than 50 miles since the last year. I give credit to my consistent yoga practice for giving me the power, strength and mental agility to successfully participate and enjoy myself on these rides.
Today, despite numerous scheduling challenges, I make my practice a priority. I am proud of allowing myself to make the time and I (usually) don’t feel guilty about it. I now know, no matter how difficult it seems in the moment, each time I step out of the hot room I will feel more positive and be healthier than when I walked in.
Luke remembers clearly his first Bikram yoga experience back in 1999:"That first class was momentous! I wanted to continue experiencing this well-defined and challenging, yet do-able thing." He practiced for a year at that time, but eventually found himself on a long yoga hiatus. "I can only imagine what my life would be like today had I continued with Bikram Yoga for the past 17 years, but that is not my story. Instead, my story found me terribly out of shape in recent years."
In January of 2016, dealing with chronic back pain and carrying some extra pounds, Luke was overjoyed to find that Bikram Yoga St. Johns had opened just a couple blocks from his home. He took it as a sign.
Now back to practicing at least 3 times a week, Luke is feeling a variety of positive effects: "I have greater mental acuity and overall I am less stressed. I'm definitely more flexible, breathing better and sleeping better. I would even go so far as to say that I am considerably happier.
"For a few months before starting again, I had acute stiffness and pain in my back, which has greatly improved thanks to yoga. I'm still working through it, but already my ibuprofen intake has been slashed by 90%! I've also shed 15 to 20 pounds since I started six weeks ago. It’s amazing to think that only months ago, I was quite worried that I had no hope of bouncing back from where I was spiritually and physically. Now at age 55, I am just at the beginning of my journey."
Luke's advice for new students? "Every day is different, and I would advise to neither be discouraged by a rough day, nor be complacent about a good day. Pay attention to the wonderful instructors. Trust your limits, but try to believe that it's often not as hard as it seems; push yourself whenever you feel you can, and your effort will be rewarded."
"One difficulty I had 17 years ago,” Luke adds, “was in believing that the community really only wanted the best for me - more than I thought I deserved, probably. At the time, accepting what now seems like a simple truth was a great obstacle. With the benefit of experience and some wisdom, I've become more able to accept such unconditional caring.
And, with much credit to the nurturing environment that Kay and Orlo have created at Bikram Yoga St. Johns, I feel that all of these seemingly unrelated threads of my story have been brought together in a miraculous way.”
When you see Luke around the studio this month, be sure to say "hi" and congratulate him on being our March Student of the Month!
HHY Founder, Yoga Business Coach, yoga-doer and life-lover, Kay Afif!