How Yoga and Writing Saved My Life

My Path towards Narrative Medicine

Our medical system is in crisis. Never before have we been as obese, addicted, depressed, anxious, afraid, hospitalized, medicated or panicked as we are today. Never before have so many of us had so little access to our primary caregivers — whether that’s our doctors, our families or ourselves. Narrative Medicine, a measurable approach to healing through compassionate listening and storytelling coupled with mindfulness practices, offer a new model for care.

Photo credit: Renee Choi

In my twenties, I fell head over heels in love with publishing and yoga. In my twenties, I also suffered from crippling depression, and learned to rely on yoga and personal writing to take care of myself. I am inspired by bringing powerful voices into the world, and the art of arriving in the present moment through breath and movement.

I was fortunate to have access to doctors and medication. I did as I was told. I was diagnosed. I took pills. I was lucky that I discovered yoga; it offered me tremendous relief. The doctors and pills may have saved my life, yet yoga gave me a road map back into the world so I could live my life. It gave me hope and tools to listen to my body and hear my own voice.

Our bodies are our stories— Lewis Mehl-Madrona

I have a lot of experience working with powerful voices. As a book publicist, editor and publisher I have worked with thousands of award winning authors over the past fifteen years — including Bill Clinton, Dani Shapiro, Kay Redfield Jamison, Oliver Sacks, Andrew Solomon, Mary Gaitskill and many others. I have seen how beautifully written and honestly expressed stories have the power to change and improve lives — for the writer and the reader. I have also been inspired to work on a number of medical memoirs and books that directly deal with writing and healing, most notably Judith Hannan’s seminal title The Write Prescription (Archer, Fall 2016).

My understanding of storytelling and how it works with the body in a clinical setting was tested in 2014, when I was diagnosed (mis-diagnosed) with thyroid cancer and had major surgery with lifetime ramifications. Despite all of my experience, in the face of a grave diagnosis surrounded by doctors I was unable to pause, ask important questions and pause again. Instead, I panicked — and let fear drive my decisions. We acted quickly and with great haste.

Stories are antibodies against illness and pain . — Anatole Broyard

In the months following surgery, I suffered from a different kind of anxiety and depression, one that was brought on by the trauma of my medical experience. In this case, the treatment caused more harm than the malady itself.

This experience woke me up.

Surgery is so permanent. As a successful entrepreneur, a passionate yoga practitioner, and the daughter of two feminists I should have the tools to listen to myself, to put my own story forward, and make mindful decisions. Yet, I was unable to hear my own voice let alone listen to myself. I realized that if I had failed to listen to my own narrative, so many others like me with their own unique backgrounds may do the same.

Following surgery, I completed a 500-hour YogaWorks teacher training and became certified in both Restorative and Therapeutic Yoga with Jillian Pransky. These teaching taught me how to transform the thoughts I’m not good enough, I’m breakable, and I’m sick into I am in a state of healing, I am whole, I am expansive and ultimately, I have a story to tell. These teachings helped me heal, and empowered me to become a healing agent to others.

There is tremendous opportunity for positive change and healing.

Major universities and institutions like Rita Charon’s groundbreaking program at Columbia University are on the frontlines of a growing movement called Narrative Medicine. I’m co-producing and moderating an upcoming program at Kripalu called Narrative Medicine Program: A Cutting Edge Approach to Healthcare (June 19–24). Here I am to create a fertile environment for leaders in the yoga and literary world to join the conversation. Dani Shapiro, Jillian Pransky, Dr. Suzanne Koven, Rob Spillman and others will take the stage for five days to spark a conversation to empower patients to share their stories, teach doctors to listen compassionately and change the way we look at wellness.

As we move away from looking at hospitals and doctor’s offices as destination points to manage death and disease, we may aspire to increase wellness and use meditation, yoga and personal writing as an essential part of our self care.

Here’s where I’m practicing all this over the next few weeks:

6-Week Restorative Yoga Series at Medicine Space | Thursdays, beginning April 21

Narrative Medicine Program at Kripalu | June 19–25

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