Yoga for Health: Interview with Savitridevi
We interviewed Savitridevi about how yoga helped her recover from a serious and painful spinal condition. She is now a successful yoga teacher sharing her hard-won experience with anyone who wants to learn. She has a great story with some very important lessons!
My back problems began suddenly with stabbing pains running from my sciatic nerve down my leg. Looking back I probably hadn’t taken enough care of my abdominal strength following the birth of two children in 12 months.
I was pregnant again when my first baby was 12 weeks old and following the birth of my second baby things seemed to be so busy with two small children and I am sure all the lifting and carrying didn’t help. On top of that I have family history of lower back weakness.
The condition really affected my daily and family life. I was definitely feeling very low and anti-social and living with pain made me short tempered and tired.
Seeking a Natural Remedy
I am a pretty alternative thinker when it comes to health and so I was committed to a natural solution to my problem. I doggedly spent two years pursuing acupuncture, osteopathy, chiropractors, massage and even faith healers and a breatharian who promised spiritual surgery!!
I still regularly use acupuncture, osteopathy and massage for health and wellbeing, they just weren’t the solution for my lower back issues at that time.
Finally I went to a surgeon who diagnosed my prolapsed disc. He told me that surgery was an option and would reduce the pain by at least 80% and that sounded great.
I had a 7-hour operation but chose not to have the L4/L5 vertebrae fused. It was a success and I did indeed have only 20% residual pain. However I lived in constant fear that I might do something that would aggravate my back again.
I will remain eternally grateful that about the same time as the surgery Shantimurti and Atma started Ashram Yoga. After a flyer landed in my letterbox a group of us decided to begin a private class with Shantimurti. I arrived at my first class in a back brace and only flexible enough to touch my knees.
Shantimurti didn’t even raise an eyebrow. He just said, “Lie on the floor and do what you can.” He never made a fuss about my back and he always handed me the responsibility of knowing my own limits, but he also encouraged me to try things and explained how to safely move into postures.
The fact that he and Atma had so much confidence that yoga could help really encouraged me. They were, and have remained, a great inspiration to me.
The difference in my strength and flexibility, even once a week, was immediate. Twice a week was better but when I started to go three times a week things really started to change. Eventually all the pain went away.
Now even at 52 I have more flexibility in my spine than some much younger people. In terms of my daily life my back is virtually pain free and fabulous. I was inspired!! I thought about going back to my previous career of public relations or producing radio programmes but yoga so profoundly changed my life that I decided to do Ashram Yoga’s teacher training course and share this amazing gift with others.
I have been teaching for over a decade and have inspired others to heal through yoga. I am also very excited that my 23 year old daughter, Charlotte, has nearly completed Level 1 Yoga Teacher Training with Ashram Yoga.
I remain really interested in the connection between our thinking and our well-being. I would recommend to anyone one with back problems to read a book called Healing Back Pain by Dr Sarno. I read this soon after the surgery and it gave me the confidence to get moving again.
His approach is psychosomatic – when you are under pressure and you don’t listen to your body and emotions, then the body may produce physical symptoms. He says that pain is easier for you to think about than the underlying issue. Pain is a plausible and understandable distraction.
Dr Sarno suggested repeating an affirmation along the lines that I didn’t need back pain to distract me from my emotional states (or what was going on in my life).
He also suggested getting into the garden! And I can remember that weekend because I went out and began to spread big bags of compost around! That is when I lost my fear of moving and got the courage to try yoga. If it hadn’t been for this book I may never have started yoga.
Stay on the Mat
When I get back pain now, the first thing I do is head to the yoga mat. Some people say, “Oh I’ve hurt my back – I must stop going to yoga.” What people need to say is, “I haven’t been listening to my body. I may have been working beyond my level. I have to get back to the yoga class and listen more carefully.”
And it’s not just the postures. The breathing and meditation are a very important part of our holistic well-being. It’s that mind body connection again!!
I have a friend who had an identical problem and surgery the same year as me. When we met he was staggered at my progress compared to his. While he had done a daily stretch routine at home after his surgery, he now goes to regular yoga classes and is grateful for how much yoga has influenced his flexibility and strength. Stories like this are common around Ashram Yoga.
Conventional versus Alternative Medicine
Another lesson for me was finding the place of modern medicine. I believe that my back may have been weakened by negative thought patterns around security. My faith in the mind-body connection was really strong. So strong that I thought I could heal myself by just changing my thinking.
My beliefs have changed now. I now believe that there is a place for everything – including surgery and alternative mind-body therapies. Mind-body approaches are really important for preventing and managing problems, but once you have a problem – like a prolapsed disc – then you need to acknowledge it and know that thinking your way out is not always an option.
I encourage people who are coming to yoga to get a diagnosis if they are in a lot of pain. And to always disclose pain or injury. It is good to get a diagnosis and know what is going on – whether it is a pulled muscle or a prolapsed disc. Information is power and the better information you have the greater the likelihood of a good outcome.
A Happy Ending
Yoga definitely changed my life. It saved my life. It changed my life’s journey. I am absolutely dedicated to getting yoga out into the lives of others. My gratitude to Shantimurti, Atma and Ashram Yoga is boundless.