Healing Asthma, Sciatica, Wrist Sprains, …. and Growing Almost an inch!

Meet Sarah Cook, 34, of St. John’s, Michigan.  Sarah started practicing Bikram Yoga with us in the spring of 2014, upon a recommendation from her sister.  As of this writing, Sarah has practiced exactly 365 classes!  Sarah has had some exciting updates recently, but her whole history of benefits is very diverse, and quite exciting!

Year 1:

“Before I started yoga, I had gotten a bone bruise (near-fracture) close to my knee, and after 4 weeks on crutches, I was supposed to do physical therapy.  Instead, with permission of my specialist, I practiced Bikram Yoga 3 times a week for 6 weeks.  After that, the specialist said I was completely healed, I did not need any physical therapy, and she would not need to see me anymore.

“In my first year of yoga I lost 30 pounds….and I have kept it off! I used to gain about 5 pounds every winter, but now it doesn’t stick with me anymore.

“I had several previous wrist sprains and injuries and had so much pain I could not use scissors.  Within a few months of practicing, I could use scissors again and the pain was gone.

Year 2:

“My need for asthma medication was drastically reduced.  Before Bikram Yoga I was taking a daily inhaler at 220 mcg every day – sometimes twice a day.  As of Spring 2017 I was taking half of that dose, and I only needed it an average of once a week!

“My sciatica also went away.  My dad walks with a cane because of similar issues, and it was starting to develop in me.  Before yoga I could hardly carry my toddler for a minute without intense pain.  After practicing regularly, I was able to carry her an entire mile without pain.”


Bikram Yoga Full Locust
Sarah Cook in Full Locust Pose, November 2016

Year 3:

“I recently went through a Candida overgrowth and hormone imbalance.  I treated it with a massive change in my diet, and that was very difficult.  I had a lot of anxiety and depression as a result of making these changes so quickly.  Practicing Bikram Yoga not only helped my hormones balance out quicker, but it made it possible for me to take a complete break from the stress and cost of meal planning and preparation.

“Despite my asthma, my lung capacity has always been slightly above average (111% before yoga).  But now, 3 years into yoga, it has increased to 116%.”

September 2017:

“As an adult I have always been 5 foot 3 and 3/4.  At my check-up last week I was 5 foot 4 and 1/2 inch.  At my check-up this month, the nurses looked at my chart and could not figure out what was going on!”


All we are doing is the not-at-all-secret secret of a regular Bikram Yoga practice.  Feel free to share the goodness and healing with anyone who might need a little boost.

Blessings in the Form of a Broken Back, part 2

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

. . . . . . . . . . . .

I have learned a dozen lessons and received a thousand blessings from my back injury on March 17, 2004.

But before getting to those, let me finish telling you about that day.  If you missed the first part of the story, you might want to read that first.

Maybe you should get an X-Ray.

After I moved like a snail through that initial 6:00 am class with Lora, I moved like a snail back to my house, where most of my housemates were still sleeping.  A few were stirring though.  I was visibly moving strangely,  so I could not avoid sharing that I fell that morning…. and it hurt pretty badly…  and could you please help me get my shoes off because I can’t even reach my knees-let-alone-my-feet, and the like…

In the early afternoon I was to have my weekly 3-hour seminar with one of my most influential and favorite professors, Jennifer Robertson.  That semester I was taking her graduate course on ethnographic practice and writing.  I hung on every word in her classes, and it was she who inspired me to fall in love with the field of Cultural Anthropology.  She also had the biggest impact on my ability to write coherently.  She tolerated none of the fluff, distraction, or wandering that was initially present in my academic papers, and I am so thankful for that!

All this is to say that I really looked forward to Wednesdays, mostly because of her class.  I did not want to miss it.

However, at the rate I was moving, it seemed like the usually-20-minute walk to West Hall would probably take me about 2 hours, and putting my backpack on really did not seem like an option.  So I emailed Professor Robertson and told her what had happened.

She suggested that I go to the ER and get an x-ray, just to make sure it was nothing too serious.  I still remember the tone of her email; her genuine care for my well-being was as impressive and impactful in my life as her anthropological brilliance.

Off we go to the hospital

At the time, one of my dearest, life-long friends, A, was also living at Black Elk.  We had found each other in Japan in 2002, initially making each others’ acquaintance over a political disagreement.  Or perhaps it was a semantic one.

In any case, upon meeting, we quickly bonded in an existential, academic, artistic way that lasts to this day.  There were times when I wanted nothing more in life than to pick his brain and share my poetry.  If there is such a thing as a soul brother, he is definitely that for me.  We have often challenged each other, and it has not always been pleasant on the outside.

So, partly out of the obligation that a brother might feel when woken up by a sister in advance of his desired wake-up time, A drove me up to the University of Michigan hospital and dropped me off.  Or maybe he sat with me for a bit in the waiting room.  To tell you the truth, there are parts of this day that I don’t remember.

By the time we got to the hospital, it was around noon, and A had to be at work later that afternoon.  This was before cell phones (or at least it was before I caved); somehow it was acceptable to be left somewhere without a personally dedicated walkie-talkie to our friends and family.

The doctor said that everything looks fine

I do not know how much time passed before I was in the x-ray room, but I remember the immense pain and struggle I had, trying to follow the instructions to get in position for the camera.  It was interesting being 26 years old and moving in a way that I thought belonged to the realm of people in their 90s and up.

I do recall being in a room sometime in the mid-afternoon when someone brought me the x-ray results.  Nothing broken, she said.

I did not know what to make of that; the pain was still excruciating even after a hospital dose of ibuprofen.  Someone caring for me gave me some morphine to see if that would help.

A half hour or so later, they checked on my pain levels.

I recall that I felt a little more spacey and relaxed, but the pain had not diminished at all.

The doctors then were the ones who were not sure what to make of it.

Maybe you fractured your kidney

Luckily, I wasn’t sent home with prescription painkillers to treat the mystery injury.

Someone on staff suggested that I might have fractured my kidney.  All I could think was, “You can FRACTURE your KIDNEY?!?!  I thought they were soft.  You can break one?”

Anyways, they ordered a CT scan to rule that out.  So I drank the liquid that makes certain things glow, apparently, and was pretty disgusted.  My somewhat snobby veganism at the time could hardly imagine what chemicals I was ingesting, but I somehow managed to get it all down.

Later, in the CT machine, I remember feeling my whole body sort-of buzzing, and I felt like I was going to pass out and hyperventilate at the same time.  But I made it through.

The one who cared enough

By this time, it was getting on in the evening.  Much past dinner time and probably getting dark outside – although I was sufficiently in the innards of the hospital that daylight or sundown were pretty much irrelevant.

I just remembered that at one point quite late in the day, I was notified that I was being transferred to a different room.  I was taken to what seemed like an entirely different department.

It turned out that the main nurse who had started out seeing me really cared.  In a purely caring sense, but also in a detective sense.  She was so interested to find out what was going on with my pain that she had me moved along with her at her shift change at 8 pm.  It was a nice feeling to encounter someone so attentive to their work and to me.  I do not remember her name, but I will always remember that warm feeling.

Sometime in the 8:00-9:00 range my nurse caretaker announced to me that they finally figured it out!  This makes so much sense, she said.  You actually do have broken bones.  That would explain the intense pain.  I am so glad we found it.

The transverse processes on L1 and L2 were completely fractured.  Separated from the body of the vertebrae.

Tiny bones that connect to everything

The transverse processes in the lumbar spine come out of the body of the vertebrae at both sides of the main body.  Here is a You Tube video I just found, showing the anatomy of these very tiny bits of bone, and noting that is usually not possible to diagnose these fractures in an x-ray.  (Cheesy music, but good visuals.)

The main scientific – and I mean science via direct experience – conclusion I reached by the end of the evening in the ER was that these little bones apparently connect to everything.  There was literally nothing I could do that did not trigger movement of the transverse processes.  Breathing, coughing, sneezing, sitting down, standing up, rolling over in bed, turning my head, picking up a light object, putting on a shirt.

Everything is connected in there.  It is just that we usually do not feel it.

It is time for bed now.  To be continued…

Blessings in the Form of a Broken Back

by Ann Chrapkiewicz

. . . . . . . . . . . .

If I had not broken my back 13 years ago today, we would not be here.  At least not in the way we are today.

It might sound extreme, but it is true.

If you were in class last year on this date, you may have heard me tell the story.  March 17, 2016, was actually the first time I had been inspired to share the details and the importance of that injury in a group setting.  It took 12 years for me to fully realize how crucial the injury and the healing process were.  Crucial not only in my passion for the yoga, but in my faith in it, in my ability to encourage those who cannot touch their toes, in my desire to learn and study and practice more deeply, and in my faith in the person who is sure this yoga is impossible for them.

And so the story goes….

In 2004, I lived in Ann Arbor in a most wonderful co0perative housing community called Black Elk.  I was working on an M.A. at UM-Ann Arbor and had been practicing Bikram Yoga for almost a year.  I had by that point nearly eliminated my destructive bulimic thought patterns with a near-daily practice of Bikram Yoga, and I was already signed up to go to Bikram Yoga Teacher Training in Los Angeles that summer.  My stress-induced poor breathing was 90% healed.  And my ability to focus on reading, writing, and graduate seminar discussions had improved about 5-fold.

More deeply, I was also able to much better manage my sensitivity to civilization’s heinous destruction of habitats and abuse of animals, the earth, and any less-than-privileged segment of society.  I was disgusted with American imperialism and oil-greed and quite emotionally reactive to it.  Plus, I was a near-evangelical vegan at the time.  (Luckily many of my housemates were, too; we learned how to cook delicious, multi-course meals for all 20+ of us most nights of the week.)

Back injury or not, I do not know how I would have survived the intensity of my mind at the time without Bikram Yoga.

Then, one fateful morning…

In a house full of artists, activists, and students, I was one of very few early risers.  6:00 am Bikram Yoga?  You bet!  I would be so focused and relaxed and energized for my classes later that day.

March 15 and 16 had been pretty pleasant – probably in the 40s or 50s.  Spring seemed to be coming, as it so often does in these parts, even sometimes in January.

So at 5:30 am on March 17, I walked out of the side door and onto the long wooden porch with a bit of a bounce in my step.  I was ready to start the day in the best way I could imagine.

I started down the first of the five wooden steps.

The next thing I knew, I was lying flat on my back, at the bottom of the stairs.  I had no idea what had happened.  Looking back, I am sure I passed out.  I still do not remember the fall or the impact.

Can anyone hear me?

I tried to get up, but the searing pain in my back was so intense.

I called out for my housemates several times.  “Can someone help me?”  “Is anyone awake?”  “Hello?”

I thought I might be lying there until someone else woke up.  But that might be a few hours.

So, somehow (extremely slowly is how), I peeled myself off of the hard, cold ground.  I noticed that the wooden steps were covered with the thin, nearly-invisible sheet of ice.

It did not even cross my mind to go back in the house to lie down.  I moved like a snail to the car and put my body in it, one inch at a time.  My lower back hardy let me move.  Luckily, in the wee hours of the morning, there wasn’t much traffic to look out for; turning my head to one side or the other was nearly impossible.

“Just do what you can.”

All of this had happened in less than 10 minutes.  I still arrived to Bikram Yoga Ann Arbor with many minutes to spare.  Lora, the owner, was teaching that class, and I told her that I had falled on my way out of the house.  She smiled, calmly, and simply said, “Just do what you can.”  No added worry, just warmth and reassurance.

The next 90 minutes were an experiment with a new body.

My back was screaming at me when I was holding still.  I could get my arms over my head – that still worked.  Half moon to the right: I could move my index fingers maybe 2 inches right of center.  And half moon to the left?  Well, about a half of an inch before the pain got worse.

Then I tried the backward bend of half moon.  I started going back slowly, not sure when it would start to hurt more intensely than my resting pain was.  To my surprise, when I got back about half way into my “usual” backbend, the pain stopped.  Completely.  There I was, breathing….listening to Lora’s voice (“go back, way back, more back…”) and all of a sudden, I had a break from the pain.

Interesting, I thought.  But then it was time to move on.  The rest of the standing series is a bit of a blur, these 13 years later, but I know I was moving into about 1% – 10% of my usual depth.  I have to say I didn’t think much about it.  All I could do was respond to the sensations and try to breathe.

One thing I do recall is something that we usually call Standing Separate Leg Forehead to Knee Posture.  What I was doing looked vastly different than the “ideal” posture.

Maybe We Should Call It Standing Separate Leg Chin to Chest Posture

The instructions for the posture – immediately following Triangle Posture – take about 30 seconds.  In those 30 seconds, most people manage to get their forehead to the front knee, or at least pretty close to it.  In those 30 seconds, all I could manage was to get my chin about 3/4 of the way to my chest.  And that was difficult.  I stopped and backed off when the pain worsened.  And I had to suck in my stomach the entire time, or the pain doubled.

It is time to teach the evening class now.  To be continued in Part 2