a woman overcomes chronic illness & heals

kathy venter

Breathing, growing roots and letting go have sustained my body through physical life changes — pregnancy, childbirth, menopause — and my mind during parenting, working and being in relationships. Yoga fosters my imagination, offers me the opportunity to try to understand the mind, helps me to connect with the rhythms of nature. It brings me physical pleasure, comfort in my own skin, emotional security, and supports my hopes, goals and dreams.

My Hatha Yoga practice and teaching are based on three principles learned from Vanda Scaravelli, my teacher for twelve years, and synthesized by Esther Myers, my teacher, colleague and friend for almost twenty-five. In all of the poses, all of the time, we breathe, we ground the body consciously and we elongate the spine in wavelike pulsations, passively or actively using gravity for support and often releasing deeply held tension. These three principles — breathing, grounding and releasing — are universal life skills, and their application to the asanas naturally results in individual expression of the asanas and the development of a rich inner life.

I have survived six decades without serious injury, surgery or illness, so it is difficult for me to imagine experiencing continual pain and deep fatigue. One of my students has struggled through darkness and depression to the light of a very new life using grounding principles to help slough off despair, breathing to rebuild, and elongation to reach out to others. Now she offers her students the sanctuary and the resources she sought, providing succour, relief and inspiration.

Kathy Felkai immigrated to Canada from Hungary in 1980 and opened a high-end jewellery store in downtown Toronto. She had the “Superwoman syndrome,” taking care of two children aged seven and seventeen, a home and the business. In her early forties, she had an active gym routine of aerobics and weights when she began to feel unexplained pain in her body.

“About ten years ago, I got aches and pains in my shoulders and arms,” she says. “I thought I had just overdone the weights. Then I began to get tired, which was very unusual because I always had tremendous energy. The pain and tiredness would go away and come back, until it began to take me off my feet for a couple of days at a time. When it really hit, I couldn’t get out of bed. My organs felt so tired, I couldn’t even breathe. For me who was always so energetic, it was devastating.”

Kathy consulted her family doctor after reading a newspaper article about chronic fatigue. Her doctor told her, “I don’t believe in it, there’s no such thing; you’re just depressed.” Eventually Kathy was able to get a referral to a rheumatologist and after six months of struggling with symptoms and unhelpful advice, she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS).

Chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia often co-exist; they are both chronic, but they are not the same. Dr. Valeria Blumenkranz, a yoga practitioner and medical doctor with extensive experience working with clients with CFS and FMS, stresses the difference between the conditions. “With CFS, the issue is a deep tiredness, an exhaustion that hardly allows you to accomplish anything, and with FMS, it’s the pain that impedes your activities. The only way to diagnose is through symptoms. There’s no blood test, for example, and no cure. The treatment for both conditions is the same: anti-depressants and gentle physical exercise.”

Monica Voss is co-owner and director of Esther Myers Yoga Studio in Toronto, Canada. She offers workshops, retreats and teacher training in Canada, the US, England, Mexico, Tobago and Costa Rica.

Copyright ©2007 ascent magazine, first Canadian yoga magazine, yoga for an inspired life