Gutsy Yoga. That’s the name of my signature workshops that explores yoga and GI disorders, helping people deal with digestive issues.
I developed Gutsy Yoga, in part, because of my personal health history. I was diagnosed, as an adolescent, as having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). As a young adult, for some reason, it would flare up whenever I went out to dinner with a certain set of people. Can’t say whether it was the food, overeating, conversation, or company.
During the time that I was teaching English in Mexico City, once, in my true style, I endured severe pain until my class ended. I put my books and tapes in my backpack, and waited for a bus to take me to the nearest hospital ER. In Mexico, I practiced breathwork between sips of manzanilla tea, ideally at a beach or poolside. Not because I wanted to swim or sunbathe, but because I’d learned early on that many of our physical problems are emotional. Unlike my Sarah Bernhardt sister, I held everything inside, causing havoc on my innards.
My tricky tummy was ultimately what brought me to the lotus pose. Once I had an established practice, my pains were few and far between. The last time I had too much pain to endure my asana practice, was the morning of my father’s burial. Never one to say ‘no,’ I carried most the responsibilities for the funeral, and going through his living quarters.
So, I understand the connection between the brain and the belly, and yoga and GI disorders. That’s why as a yoga therapist, I want others to make the connection between the different branches of yoga, the body and the brain and use the branches of yoga to heal their dis-eases.
He is the epitome of calm, cool, collected, yogi. So I was curious when I heard that his path to yoga was similar to mine. Govind Das’ complications were severe. He suffered from ulcerative colitis and IBS, with some diagnosing the cause as the incurable Crohn’s. His antidote was a trifecta: yoga, bhakti and Ayurveda.
“Here I was, in my 20s… my body wasn’t working. I didn’t know what I was going to be doing for the rest of my life. I had a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety. I felt there was so much more. I just had to say that’s not the truth. My birthright is to be healthy and well. My spiritual self had been awakened, but I didn’t know how to express that. So, I walked into my first yoga class, ever, at 24. I walked out and I knew that yoga was going to be my avenue … my tool for healing.”
He was in a rut, but his inner wisdom knew the way out. As he delved deeper into yoga, he experienced teachers, Krishna Das, Jai Uttal and Ram Dass, all of whom led him toward Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaj-ji), who ultimately would become his guru.
“Everything was pointing to him,” recalls Govind Das. “Neem Karoli Baba said, ‘Suffering is Great.’ Our suffering, our challenges, push us to evolve. Illness. Financial struggles. They are not mistakes. There are no mistakes. If we see them as gifts, they are opportunities to grow.”
Govind Das‘ physical ailments were his opportunity for spiritual development. “From that place of acceptance, we can start to put new routines in our life that produce karmic roots. We have to have a deep faith in that law. From that faith, our healing can take place.”
The bhakti embodiment of love and unity were appealing to him. Of course the road between a first yoga class and becoming a bhakta (devotee) is long. Likewise, overcoming years of ill health are not overturned like magic. After a certain period of time, his symptoms started to recede, and a new digestive system manifested. He took on a new identity, a new name, and a new view of life.
“It was mental, emotional and spiritual. It took a radical shift of my being, for that new being to take root in my body.” He learned to “Relax and feel your way into the journey. Let yourself flow into a vast ocean of love … A field of unified energy. Let it be a tool … An opportunity to come back to your essence.”
Govind Das also relied on Ayurveda, which goes to the root of the problem and works to find the missing internal balance. His anxiety and fear, for example, are indicators of excess vata, as is IBS. He heeded his Ayurvedic doctor’s Rx.
“I grew up eating tremendous amounts of white sugar and white bread. The large intestine is where it all ends up,” says Govind Das. So he adopted a more yogic and Ayurvedic way of eating based on whole, organic, unprocessed foods. Basically, ensuring there was more prana (life force) entering his body, and less tamassic or rajassic (aggravating) foods.
“My Ayurvedic doctor put me on a kitchari (mung means with rice) diet for two years. It was 75 percent of my diet. The taste of kitchari is completely satisfying to the tastebuds. (Before,) I spent so much time wasting energy and time, thinking about what I was going to eat. Mung dal is (the goddess) Lakshmi herself. Those yellow mung dal are golden. They’re very easy on the digestive system, balancing to pitta and vata.”
As is always the case with yoga therapy and Ayurveda, you need to constantly monitor your lifestyle. Nothing in life is constant, hence, imbalances can still arise.
“I consider myself healed, but it’s something I have to continually manage. The flare-ups in the past would last for years. Now, I know what I need to do. I believe so much of digestive stuff is related to emotional aspects of our lives. I think if anybody has digestive things going on, it’d be worth looking at that. Where is fear present in my life? Worry? Anxiety?”
Swami Vishnu-Devananda, who is responsible for bringing Sivananda Yoga to the western world, in one of his books, acknowledges the strong link between the emotions and the body. “Every emotion takes its toll on the body. The constant tension put on the mind owing to unnecessary worries and anxieties takes away more energy than physical tension. However one tries to relax the mind, one cannot completely remove all tensions and worries from the mind unless one goes to spiritual relaxation.”