Often, I write about the benefits of yoga in my ongoing daily practice as a way to alleviate stress, promote healing, and feel in harmony with the world around me. The words of my teacher, Pema Chödrön echo in my mind as I slowly let go and attempt to empty my mind and achieve a state of truly being present, she says:
…”feeling your heart, and greeting the next moment with an open mind can be done at any time: when you wake up in the morning, before a difficult conversation, whenever fear or discomfort arises.”
I am a Crohn’s disease patient.
In 2006, I had a partial bowel resection and I have been in remission for the past 5 years. I was very sick and weighed only 119 lbs on my 5 foot 8 frame (now I am up to 139-142 lbs.). One of my goals, in writing the book with naturopath Jessica Black, was to try to help people BEFORE they get full blown Inflammatory Bowel Disease, by educating them about diet and lifestyle changes that are vital to maintaining health, especially in today’s world where we are exposed to chemicals and stress. An anti-inflammation diet is key; drinking lots of water, sleep, exercise, yoga and meditation, are all ways to cope with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and other auto-immune diseases—AND having a positive attitude.
After my terminal ileum, ileo-secal valve, and a big part of my Sigmoid colon (that’s part of the large intestine that had been damaged by a fistula that had spread across my abdomen and formed a tumor, that was thankfully benign) were removed, it took me weeks to get back on my feet, and I took baby steps —like walking to the mailbox each day was a big deal!
Yoga and meditation have helped me find a much-needed balance in my life. I work for a publisher called Shambhala, in Boston, and I asked my (then) boss, Steve Dyer, what I should read now that I was home from the hospital and wanting to follow a Buddhist path. He suggested books by Pema Chödrön, and the first three books I read had titles that attracted me: When Things Fall Apart, Start Where You Are, and The Places that Scare You—I loved her voice, her compassionate way with writing in a style that made me feel like she was writing just to me. Her newest is called Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. I highly recommend her, and also Saki Santorelli’s book, Heal Thyself.
But what about exercise?
The Olympics are inspiring, no doubt about that. It would take the harshest cynic not to like some of the back stories, too. When I was a kid growing up in Providence, I always watched with my father. We both loved the “Up Close and Personal” shorts about the athletes—they came alive in your living room, as if they were sharing their stories just for you.
After I had recovered from surgery, I kept looking for activities that would help me stay in remission, and exercise topped my list: hiking, walking, running, snow shoeing, cross-country skiing, swimming, kayaking….all became priorities, especially hiking. I began to get physically stronger and fit, gaining muscle and stamina (I had been a smoker with a twenty-year habit!). In fact, I got in better shape as I worked out all the time, and increased bone density (especially important due to my heavy usage of Prednisone over the course of the three years leading up to my surgery…not a good drug to take for that long!)
Running my first half marathon for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America was one of the most awesome things I have ever done. First of all, I can’t believe I ran THIRTEEN MILES !!! Woohoo. I signed up to fundraise, too, and raised something like 2,500!!! I was very proud of myself, but I realized I was mostly proud of my fellow runners, my mentor (Bethanne Ford Packard), and my coaches—an inspiring group! I felt secure and happy surrounded by fellow Crohnnies and uc-ers! We laughed a lot, and encouraged each other during the race (some were walkers, too). I remember at mile 11, one of my coaches, Kate Devlin, urged me on, and I thought I would totally give up at that point, but I wanted to RUN. The whole thing!
I did it (in something like 2-1/2 hours, but who cares—I finished and I did run the entire way). I met tons of people (there were over 5,000 runners!) who had serious cases of Crohn’s and UC. I will never forget how close we became and how they inspired me. I am thinking of doing it again….
I can’t wait to watch U.S. paddler Carrie Johnson, who will compete in the sprint events in the second half of the Games. Carrie is a personal hero of mine — she has Crohn’s disease, like I do — and it has not made her quit; in fact I think it has given her more resolve and focus.
I will post some photos… Me, with my Team Challenge pals (that’s us jumping up for the camera at the start of the race outisde Boston, in Canton, Mass.)…. And a video of Carrie Johnson that is so beautiful! and one more photo of me on one of my training runs (with one of my dogs, Topher) in the ‘hood.
Good luck to all the aspiring athletes out there! It really does help to exercise daily, for 45 minutes!