Part of the reason for this website is to gather stories and inspiration of the way that yoga has helped people to manage or heal health issues. My hope is that by sharing these stories and increasing our awareness and knowledge of the power of yoga, more people will be inspired to turn to yoga in times of trouble.
Our world currently works on a scientific model – our rational minds want to know that something will work before we commit to a change. By gathering stories from people who’s lives have been transformed by yoga, we collectively offer up that proof to our rational mind, saying “See – it worked for this person. And that person. Maybe it can work for me too.”
One person who has had great success with using yoga, meditation and lifestyle changes to manage a serious health condition is Hillary Rubin. I first wrote about her in this article How a yoga practice can manage Multiple Sclerosis – Hillary Rubin’s story.
Since publishing that story, Hillary and I have been in touch, and she’s kindly agreed to be interviewed about her journey since she was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis back in 1996.
How did you feel when you were diagnosed with MS?
I was pissed off at first, and wanted to know what I did to deserve this kind of situation. When those words were spoken to me, “You have Multiple Sclerosis”, it seemed like a sentence I was handed for doing something wrong. I blamed others and ultimately blamed myself. I did all I could to figure out what I’d done wrong instead of seeing what was right.
At the time, I believed in a punishing god. Plus I was pissed off at God already because I’d had a troubling childhood and I thought “Well with all that behind me – now this!” It was only after embracing my diagnosis by accepting it that I began to learn that there was much more to it than even the doctors could explain.
What was your life like then?
In 1996, I was living New York City and working in the fashion industry at Prada. I was in a relationship that seemed to be good for me and was becoming part of quite the power couple. I made sure I was at the right parties and places and looked the part. All that mattered to me was the outside as well as what others thought – this was the real prison I created myself!
I partied and worked intense days, plus spent time with people who were abusive – yes it’s fashion and there is something to say about the Devil Wears Prada. Funny enough, I thought my life was ok, but inside I was crumbling while trying to keep it all together – mostly for the display to others. I will say this Angel wears Prada.
What support did the medical profession offer, how did they outline your options?
My options did not look great. They give it all to you right up front and at the time disregarded any alternative routes as well as diet connections. The offered medications mostly and the feeling that this is the only way…
My doctor at the time said you can do yoga, acupuncture and other things but you must take the meds. I never felt taken care of for the most part but alone. It all was so clinical and not personal.
Was there a turning point when you just realized it was up to you how you handled MS? What was that turning point like?
That turning point came for the most part in the beginning of my being diagnosed, after I went to over a handful of Doctors, including a spinal surgeon and a headache specialist. I was offered a spinal tap to make the diagnosis 100% certain.
One doctor basically said to me we are 99% you have it from your MRI and for the 1% you can have a spinal tap. I asked what that was, and after the details were given to me, a voice inside was strong and said ‘No Way’.
When I said no to having a spinal tap, I saw that my choices actually were going to be how I took my power back. From that day on, I delved into books on health, eating, personal growth along with starting yoga. This was when the light begun to shine through the cracks in the situation. I am grateful for cracks since the light always wants to shine…
I have to share that is was as if I was given my life back and it was up to be to take it where I wanted to.
Do you remember your first yoga experience?
Yes, I will never forget it.
I went to a place near my home in the Flatiron district of NYC. The studio is no longer there. My teacher Stephanie Foster was strong and sweet, she even looked a bit like Susan Sarandon and held a black belt in karate which I thought was pretty cool. I never shared my situation with her but as I began to get into my body again with a focus – as a child I was a gymnast and at the time was working out in a gym – I felt more alive then ever and knew this was going to be a medicine, a friend, a relationship and a path that I was seeking for many years.
How has yoga practice helped you deal with MS?
Well I never really see myself having to “deal with MS”. I was diagnosed with MS – just like I have brown hair it all changes and yet it does not define who we really are. Yoga has opened me to who I am on a deeper level, and gifted me holistic tools to grow from.
MS is my teacher and yoga has offered me powerful yet accessible teachings to grow into the best I can be every day.
Yoga keeps me humble, strengthens me, heals me, uplifts me and is one relationship that is ever changing. Every time I come to my mat I am different and at the end of my practice again I have evolved. This is a gift to know I am co-participating with my process of being more of myself.
I’ve realised on my personal journey that when I was diagnosed with MS in 1996, I could have become a victim or turned it around into an opportunity to be involved in my process of healing.
Yoga for me is how I learned discipline as well as built my self-esteem. Yoga helps me even to this day to stay steady and listen to myself in any situation.
How do you view your diagnosis now?
It is a teacher, blessing and tool that has helped me, plus now I am able to help others rid themselves of being a victim and feeling afraid of the unknown.
What advice/words of support do you have for other people dealing with health issues?
First of all we must remember that everyone is dealing with something. This “something” is a gateway or even an invitation to enjoy the process of evolving into the best you, you can be.
Ok, once you have gone through being mad, blaming and feeling bad for yourself… then take this on as an opportunity to see there is more working in your body than not working.
Follow it – by embracing it, accepting it and seeing there is more to emerge from our challenges we can let go and step into a process of healing. Its like you have been given a new focus in life – to listen and care for your body. Get involved with the healing process and ask questions to see how you can grow from your situation into seeing it as a gift. Always know you are not your diagnosis and you are not alone…
What good things have come about because of your MS?
Meeting some amazing people, being able to inspire others, learning that life is a gift, taking care of my body and living a life with a greater awareness.
Today I am grateful to be able to lead a movement to empower those who feel that they are not able to find out who they are under the diagnosis, and show them how to remove the pain and work towards a hopeful future.
As we move towards understanding our role as creators in this life, what’s your vision for our World?
As a friend and mentor says, “A world that works for us all“. I want people to know that whatever they are dealing with, they are not alone.
I want us as a world to become more aware that we are all connected and if one of us is sick or in pain that we all feel it on one level or another. I want there to be an evolution from being judgmental, critical to understanding and opening up to healing in all ways – physical, mental and spiritual.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Yes – here’s 3 steps you can take to start your process of healing today.
Use a journal or piece of paper or even a 3X5 card and read each one or the one you choose out loud while looking at yourself in the mirror.
Make a commitment to do this for one day or an entire month as the more attention you put to this the more the energy of wellness will follow. This process will shift your cells and allow you to vibrate with greater health.
1. I am grateful for my challenge of _____________________ and I know that I will find the teacher that lives within my situation. My challenge of _______________ is one of my greatest gifts. Thank you for opening me to more of myself.
2. Today, I lovingly embrace _________________ and welcome my process of healing. Today I open to what is to be revealed to me from my _______________. I know at this moment that health and wellness is my birthright and my process begins with my being part of saying YES to my process and I am ready to discover the blessings in my challenge (notice if anything comes up and then you can use this as a meditation and ask it aloud).
3. I am ready to release one habit that keeps me from feeling good about myself – choose releasing the need to complain, gossip, putting yourself down, smoking, drinking alcohol, using drugs, eating sweets, or anything else that may make sense to you….
Thank you Hillary!
Hillary has just released her first yoga DVD, called Yoga Foundations – Transform life’s challenges into platform for wellness.
If you have used yoga or meditation to manage or heal a health condition, I would love to share your story here. Use this contact form to get in touch.