Can Yoga Change Your Life?

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Find out how it has for three local women.

What if the power to change your life could be found within the four corners of a yoga mat? Could your life go from one of transition, sadness or even disease to one of good health and happiness? Three area women think so.

Obviously we can’t accurately forecast what the future will hold, but we can have control over our present. Here’s a striking example: Newly married and enjoying a dream job in the corporate world, Johanna Capecci felt she had it all. Sadly, four trips to the ER later, her driven life would forever change.

Riddled with abdominal pain so bad she could hardly speak, Ms. Capecci was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease, an autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease in which the lining of the intestine becomes inflamed, causing intense pain, malnutrition and other life-complicating conditions.

She was able to tame flare-ups with medication, but her body became resistant to the immunosuppressant drugs. And although her pain was gone, her flare-ups came back in the form of a swollen ankle.

Soon after Ms. Capecci discovered she had Crohn’s Disease, her father was diagnosed with brain cancer and her mother began dealing with heart problems. Ms. Capecci’s flare-ups increased as a result of the stress. “I had everything I ever wanted, but I just couldn’t take it anymore,” she explains. She joined a Crohn’s Disease support group where yoga was recommended to build physical strength without being too stressful on the body. It became a way for Ms. Capecci to work out and feel in control. No matter what’s going on with her life, she takes 15 minutes a day to do yoga. “Life can wait,” she says. Flare-ups still continue, but yoga takes her away from the pain and toward a positive sense of self. “I just close my eyes and let my body roll.”

But life sometimes throws you more than one curveball, and finding a way to cope may take a small army. Silvita Diaz Brown from Puebla, Mexico, now lives in Chicago and teaches yoga and dance throughout the city. However, things weren’t always so sunny.

At age 5, Ms. Brown’s mother committed suicide and her father was initially accused of her death. While he fought for his innocence and freedom, Ms. Brown and her brother lived with their grandmother in minimal surroundings. At school she was bullied and often felt criticized. “This negative environment led to me putting up emotional blocks, being insecure and very anxious, and then becoming anorexic,” she says.

Ms. Brown was able to recover with support from family, but she also sought spiritual guidance and was introduced to yoga. “Yoga is a way of living,” she affirms. “Yoga is home. It’s a physical, mental and spiritual state of being. You’re able to think before you act. It’s a process of mindfulness and being able to see the truth instead of unrealities I’ve created in my head.”

Another Chicagoan, former professional figure skater Allison English, was led to yoga after she took a nasty fall on the ice, which left her with nerve pain and a numb leg, coupled with bulging discs and two herniated discs in her back. Although her doctor strongly recommended surgery, she declined. While Ms. English plummeted into anxiousness and depression, she was also diagnosed with Celiac Disease, a condition that damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing nutrients.

Her mother gave her two yoga DVDs and she found doing yoga helped her walk with less pain. And after taking a class at the local park district, she found yoga gave her full feeling in her nerve-damaged leg. “It was in that moment I realized yoga was something special – that it did something more than stretch you out,” Ms. English says. Yoga became a profound way of dealing with everything. “I was never able to go back to skating. Stopping was really hard for me. I felt lost for many years, but yoga was a way of helping to find my way back to a self that didn’t rely on something external to be defined,” she reflects.

After training with Ana Forrest of Forrest Yoga, Ms. English walked away a yoga instructor and started to pass that energy on to others. One of her first students told her how she thought of committing suicide nearly every day. But because she had Ms. English’s yoga class, she had a reason to live. “We get one go-around at this life – to appreciate every moment of it and stop holding back,” she says. “That’s really been the most profound change for me. And in that I’ve found the most delight, joy and happiness ever.”

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About Lisa Payne

Lisa Payne is a Writer, Personal Trainer and Group Fitness Instructor. After receiving her BA’s in Broadcast Journalism and Communications from the University of Iowa, she worked as a Writer/Producer at KCRG-TV, an ABC affiliate, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Lisa then moved back to Chicago to receive her Post-Baccalaureate degree and MFA in writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Lisa has since combined both of her loves: fitness and writing.