Mary’s story: An inspiring path to wellness

By Jennifer Brilliant

Just a few sessions of yoga therapy can have an enormous impact on clients, sometimes initiating a path toward getting needed help. In the case of this inspiring client, yoga therapy even facilitated significant health and life changes.

Mary* had never done any kind of yoga. She’d received two sessions with me as a gift from her daughter-in-law, a yoga teacher. Mary was dealing with chronic knee pain, general difficulty moving, and a lot of fear and uncertainty about the direction she was headed. She wasn’t sure whether her body was even capable of recovery.

Simple beginnings, surprising results

When Mary came in, we started with the simplest of exercises. We sat in a chair, breathing and sliding her feet along the floor on blankets. We practiced standing up from and sitting down in the chair safely, an action she struggled with in daily life. We also danced together to her favorite soul tunes—her daughter-in-law had clued me in beforehand—so Mary could find some enjoyment in moving her body.

We also did seated “sun arms”: coordinating breath with movement, lifting our arms to shoulder height and lowering them. This simple exercise turned out to be hugely transformative for Mary. In the midst of it, she suddenly realized that the principle of mindfulness applied to physical practice as well, exclaiming, “I never knew I could be mindful about my body!”

Mary is a lifelong Catholic and former religion teacher, and although she had practiced mindfulness in the context of prayer and meditation for many years, she had never put her mind into her body in this way. Mary is the kind of person with a rich intellectual and spiritual life, focused on teaching and communication (even in her retirement, she’s teaching ESL classes), but suddenly the possibility of a rich physical life had opened up as well.

Photo by Tom Fisk

New directions

After our two sessions together, Mary decided to get additional help for her chronic knee pain, which she had been enduring for years. As she emailed me, “With our very successful sessions and your gentle approach, I was inspired to finally seek relief for my knees. You demonstrated each time we met that I could heal. You are the one I credit for moving me forward at long last!” She went first to a rheumatologist and then began having weekly physical therapy sessions. Now she’s looking into joining a chair yoga class in her neighborhood.

Mary hadn’t previously sought solutions for her knees because she was overwhelmed by the painful reality of her situation. She’d believed that the only recourse was surgery, which was unacceptable to her, and she didn’t know of any other solutions. Yoga therapy provided a supportive and gentle first step toward moving out of “Woe is me!” mode and finding answers to her challenges.

Thanks to the work she’s done with all of her practitioners, the pain in Mary’s knees has now disappeared. She’s continuing to work on reducing stiffness and increasing mobility, and she wants to do more yoga therapy as part of an integrative approach moving forward.

Jennifer Brilliant, C-IAYT, is a New York–based yoga teacher and Certified Medical Exercise Specialist. She teaches all levels of group and private yoga classes, special workshops, as well as teacher trainings. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

*Mary has given permission to share her story and image.