My Journey from Dis-Ease to Teacher
By Jayne Alenier
Twenty five years ago I had to wear a neck brace. I was too weak to hold my head up. I couldn’t walk barefoot because of nerve pain. I was in bad shape. I had fibromyalgia—a disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue and other challenging symptoms. In August this year I celebrated my 65th birthday and things are different. This landmark birthday got me thinking about how I got from there to here and the role that yoga and Iyengar yoga has played in that recovery. Here is my story.
I was first drawn to yoga when I was 40 as a way to treat my fibromyalgia. I had heard of a Hatha yoga class for what was called “special populations,” and I signed up. After about a year of taking this class, I experienced some improvements and started taking regular Hatha yoga classes. After every class, I would have questions and new insights and I began to realize that yoga is a lifelong journey of discovery.
At some point, I thought I wanted to teach, and my teacher recommended I pursue a 200-hour teacher-training. I went through the training and registered with Yoga Alliance as a yoga teacher. Before too long, I realized I needed more training to go deeper and understand more. That’s when I started taking classes with Iyengar yoga teachers. I knew that for my own practice and health, and for teaching yoga, I had found that something more.
After some time, I started moving towards becoming certified. Compared to getting a 200-hour registration, this was a daunting task. For me, this entailed four years of continuous mentorship with two Certified Iyengar Teachers, concurrent with four years of continuous practice of Iyengar Yoga. As you might imagine, this study required a deep physical and emotional commitment. One of the many lessons I learned along the way was that through the practice of santosa (contentment) and tapas (burning zeal) I could make enormous strides. The practice honed my ability to hold two seemingly divergent thoughts in my head at the same time—how could I be content and still strive to do more?
All was seemingly moving in a good direction. I was about five months away from my second round of testing to become a Certified Iyengar Teacher. If I passed this test I would finally be able to call myself an Iyengar Yoga Teacher. That was when I started to have tingling in my hands and feet and numbness in other parts of my body. Within three weeks, I had lost my ability to walk. After many tests without getting any answers I ended up in the emergency room. I was finally diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder where your immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. After treatment, I had to relearn how to walk again and rebuild my strength.
But I had found Iyengar Yoga and was fortunate enough to work with Lois Steinberg, one of the world’s most experienced yoga instructors. She was personally awarded the 10th level of certification (Advanced Junior II) by B.K.S. Iyengar himself. She had spent 38 years of extensive studentship with the Iyengars, including annual participation in the general and medical classes at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India.
With help from Lois, I learned how to do the standing poses on my back because my balance was not yet fully restored and my muscles were so weak I didn’t have the strength to stand. I also learned how to encourage the nervous system to heal. Eventually I was strong enough to do poses at the trestle.
I continued and I eventually found my way back to taking the second exam. I had to do most of the physical part of the weekend-long test with the support of the trestle. Not only was that okay, but the assessors commented on how much they appreciated that I knew how to modify my practice. One of the beautiful things about Iyengar Yoga: is that we are encouraged to work to our capacity using the amazing tools that BKS Iyengar created for us.
Two years after becoming certified, I passed my third exam to become an Intermediate Junior I Iyengar Teacher. My health is strong and I continue to deepen my practice and my teaching. Disease, illness, and pain can bring about sorrow and suffering. They can also be an inspiration to work, to understand: they can be our teacher and our inspiration. Going through and recovering from these bodily pains has inspired me to share my understanding of and belief in the practice of Iyengar Yoga. This is why I teach and continue to learn and practice. I’d love to see you in class.
Jayne teaches an all levels class every Monday and Wednesday, 9:30 – 11am.