I move, I breathe, I feel, I heal.
By Bec Isaacs
When I think about my life, I see so many chapters. Chapters of love, of loss, of pain, of joy, of trauma, of heartache and heartbreak. Chapters of insecurity and doubt, pride and passion, strength and weakness. Chapters of being somewhere in between all of these things. But all of these chapters have made me who I am today, and all of these chapters have helped me appreciate that person. The thing is, there has always been one common thread in each of these chapters. A thread that has helped me deal with life. A thread that has helped me heal. A thread that at certain times, was the only thing keeping me alive.
This thread transformed my life, and continues to support me today. It has taught me about strength, patience, failure, discipline, acceptance, vulnerability, and joy. It has been the key player in minimizing chronic pain in my body, which has contributed to the happy and healthy life I live today.
This thread, is movement.
This is my story.
I was a mover my whole life. When I was younger I was a dancer, a gymnast, a skier, snowboarder, soccer player and some would have said, a free spirit. I was the kid who was running around and climbing trees in the forest every time I had the chance. I even had reoccurring dreams that I could fly (I still have these dreams today). Basically, I was always moving.
In 2007 I got pretty sick. I spent two years in and out of pain and depression. I was low in energy. I spent more time with my toilet than with my friends. My weeks consisted of headaches, migraines and emotional episodes. I was bloated, malnourished, and my energy had flatlined. I was on a soccer scholarship at university and was struggling to perform. I was struggling to even get out of bed. Soccer wasn’t the only thing that suffered, I was having trouble in school and couldn’t engage properly in personal relationships. I wasn’t myself. I was so under-nourished I felt paralysed. It got to a point where I could hardly walk or see...speech was difficult, and every muscle and bone in my body was aching as if it was about to explode. After some tests, observation and re-hydration, the doctors told me I had celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that is much more commonly known today, and relatively easy to mange with dietary techniques.
While all of this was happening I was also dealing with daily headaches. In fact, I didn’t know what it felt like spend a whole day headache free. The headaches became migraines 2-3 times per week, and I had excessive pain in my jaw. This pain was part of my life consistently for seven years and onward. A some point throughout those seven years I was diagnosed with TMJD, an umbrella term for pain and discomfort in the muscles responsible for moving the jaw, and the muscles that connect the jaw to the skull. It was torture.
Needless to say, I was in pain. I was laughing less, my eyes were dull and lifeless, and although I was doing my best to enjoy life despite the physical distress I was experiencing in my body, the headaches made it impossible to participate in the world.
During this time I went through an ass-kicking of a break up. It kicked my ass so hard that I felt like I never learned how to breathe, and that I would never breathe again. But deep down I knew I would breathe again. In fact, I knew I was still breathing... even though it felt really really hard. Whatever this feeling was, I wanted to beat it. I wanted to heal.
And then the yoga happened.
I had been to some yoga classes before, but it was mostly for exercise. So when I decided to get back on the mat, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing or why. But I got on the mat, and moved my body based on what I interpreted from the teachers instructions, and something felt different. I was starting to understand the practice a little more and my body felt so at ease after every class that I kept going back for more. The movement also reminded me of my days as a dancer, which made me feel joyful.
After the break up I made a commitment to myself that every time I felt anger or pain, or resentment.. I would go to yoga. I also promised myself every time I wanted to text my ex, I would go to yoga instead. Let’s just say I went to yoga... a lot.
After some serious time on the mat, life decided to kick my ass again. My aunt who I was very close with was losing her battle to cancer. My father’s memory was starting to fail him, and my headaches and migraines were becoming increasingly debilitating. With everything that was going on, I knew I needed to move home. When my father’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis became official, there was no question that it was the right thing to do.
I packed up, moved home. And my days looked a little something like this.
Wake up. Go to yoga. Go to the hospital for the afternoon to be by my aunts side. Go to work. Go to party and make questionable decisions. Go to sleep. Repeat.
The questionable decisions started to overtake the yoga. I was losing my practice and myself. I was sad, angry and heartbroken. I was in physical and emotional pain and I was losing the two most important people in my life. I just couldn’t seem to find my own two feet.
I remember this chapter so clearly. My aunt passed away, I was trying to hold onto my dad while trying to hold my mother together in her state of denial and emotional collapse, and my life that was spinning out of control. I made some horrible decisions. I wasn’t taking care of my body or my heart. I lost my passion, my pride and I wasn’t getting on my mat. It was clear I had lost my way.
I remember driving around the city one day, my eyes full of tears, thinking “how could all of this possibly be happening? ... and then saying to myself “you don’t even have it that bad!” This was the conversation in my head for a while...it went back and forth, back and forth. I stopped paying attention to what I was doing so I pulled over and parked the car. Wiped my tears and looked out the window. I had parked right in front of the yoga studio. It was clear what I needed to do.
It was that very moment that I decided to shift my victim mentality from “why is this happening to me” to “this is happening, so get your shit together and figure out how are you going to deal with it”. I had lost my aunt, I was losing my dad, my mom was falling apart... I didn’t want to lose myself too. I knew I needed to move my body.
I gave away the only pack of cigarettes I ever owned... I had it stashed in my drawer from one of the nights I had one too many drinks. I decided to stop having one too many drinks. I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, renewed my yoga membership despite the cost, and committed to loving myself so I could start helping my family (which was the whole reason I moved home in the first place). I knew in order to help them, I needed to stop hurting myself first.
Things started to shift. I started taking my yoga more seriously. There were days where nothing made sense... except for yoga. So I went back to the mat and moved, every single day, over and over again. Before every practice I would say mentally to myself “ I move, I breathe, I feel, I heal”.
I was getting stronger. I was becoming more patient. I was clearer and more motivated. My headaches and jaw pain were still prevalent but I was more able to manage the pain because of the benefits of my consistent yoga practice. I would move, and things would just feel better.
Now lets fast forward to 2015. I had been through the ringer with specialists and doctors back in Canada to try and figure out how to manage my headaches and jaw pain, nothing was working. What I really wanted to do was see the world. So I left home, traveled through Asia for a while and then spent a year in Australia. I was still practicing yoga, but not in a consistent way. But in June of 2015 a friend of mine set me up with the Byron Yoga Centre, where I lived for 3 months. I woke up every day, and moved my body. I was spending anywhere from 4-6 hours a day on my mat. I was under the guidance of some incredibly experienced teachers, and I was starting to understand that the physical part of the practice was simply the gateway into something much bigger. Something shifted, and I began practicing CONSCIOUSLY. For the first time in my practice I was fully aware of my movements and my breath. I was slowing down and tuning into my body. I was listening. I was moving enough that I could be still. It was like I was dancing the pain out of my body, one posture, transition, and breath at a time.
I ventured back to Canada and realized that I had been headache free for a period of time without realizing it. The pain in my jaw had subsided, and my eyes started to shine. I felt lighter, and stronger at the same time. Since then I have been back and forth between Canada and Australia, and have had a consistent daily practice of asana (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), and meditation. I move my body every single day, in a conscious, loving and nourishing way. Some days I push, some days I pull back, but I move, every day.
Here’s the thing... my yoga practice hasn’t healed my pain completely and it doesn’t promise me a pain free life. It hasn’t brought my aunt back, or reversed my father’s Alzheimer’s disease. It also hasn’t erased all of the poor decisions I’ve made in my life or the heartbreaks I have experienced. What my yoga practice has done is taught me how to breathe. It’s taught me that although I will never be able to control what happens around me, I can control what happens within me, which means I can control how I respond to life when it is challenging AF. The physical benefits of the practice have given me enough space from my pain to get to know myself as a human being, instead of as the shell of the human being that I was. It also helps me appreciate the days I am pain free even more, while doing my best to honour the days I am not.
Although there have been many factors to my healing, the consistent thread that I keep coming back to is movement, and for me that is yoga. Conscious movement has literally saved me from a life pain. It is my therapy, my best friend, and my lifeline. It is the biggest and brightest tool I have which has lead me to a life of inspiration, pleasure, joy, and purpose.
Today, I am a certified yoga teacher, spending a lot of my time studying and exploring functional movement patterns so I can teach others how to move functionally and consciously in their own unique bodies. I directly recognize the power of this process through my own experiences, and I hope that my story will inspire others to do the same.