April 23, 2009

When my mom called, I couldn't get home fast enough: My father had liver cancer, and doctors believed he was dying. Overnight I morphed into someone else. Normally energetic and optimistic, I found myself holed up in my bedroom alone, devastated at the thought of losing him. Even when he began chemotherapy and it looked like he might recover, I still couldn't shake my sadness. I started seeing a therapist, but crying to him felt so useless, and I wasn't ready to try medication.

When a co-worker who was an avid yoga fan suggested that taking a class would lift my spirits, I was skeptical. I didn't see how an hour of stretching and breathing could make me feel less depressed, but she confided to me that yoga had helped her through a rough time and persuaded me to try it.Walking into that first session, I felt nervous. But as I got into the routine, I was struck by how it cleared my head and reduced my anxiety. After 10 rounds of sun salutations and countless other poses, I felt empowered and accomplished. I started going to classes twice a week.

Yoga gave me something to look forward to when nothing else could drag me from my apartment. Soon I started waking up happy and grateful, the way I used to. (My dad's health was improving too. After chemotherapy and a liver transplant, he has made a full recovery.) And over time I became physically and mentally stronger, which helped me feel that no matter what happened I wouldn't fall apart again.

Ultimately yoga led me to make a major career change: Inspired by how physical therapy helped my father, I left my marketing job to start studying occupational therapy. And I became a certified yoga instructor so I could incorporate its teachings into my clients' sessions. As a required part of certification, I taught classes at a wellness center for cancer patients and their families. A woman told me that one of the warrior poses made her truly feel like a survivor. I couldn't have agreed with her more.

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