I went to my first yoga class in 1999 to tackle stress and back pain. At the time I was a news anchor and reporter, and I was unable to sit at the news desk or stand for a live report without experiencing shooting and/or throbbing pain. My high-octane life of constant deadlines, odd hours, lack of sleep, and weird working conditions manifested in two different spine conditions and high anxiety—bad news for a newsperson. Sometimes I would lie on the floor during commercial breaks just so I could feel enough relief to get up and muster a smile for the cameras despite the pain.
Every minute at work was filled with talk of disaster, crisis, controversy, and violence, all of which had taken a toll on my heart and my personal life. I had few coping skills for this level and type of stress, so, like many others in the industry, I became jaded, turned to cocktails, and held it all in—a recipe for toxicity. Three of my friends/coworkers with similar lifestyles were diagnosed with cancer in their mid-30s, and one passed away a few years ago. Gratefully, I never got so sick that I was on life support, but certainly, I was not supporting my own health very well.
Because of my spine, my doctors banned me from nearly all the activities that helped me cope with stress, including the super-sweaty cardio workouts that also kept me slim and camera-ready. Doctors even instructed me to get in and out of a car a special way. Most nights I couldn’t sleep without medication. Every part of my life was compromised by my health, and my health was being compromised by every part of my life—a terrible cycle that kept eroding my mind, body, and spirit. I felt like I was in a physical and emotional storm cloud every day. A single gal at the time, I was not a fun date. My soul was suffering, and I feared I would never find my soul mate. In a word, I was unhappy.
In the midst of an array of medical treatments for my spine problems, including anti-inflammatory spine injections, electro-stimulus, prescription drugs, acupuncture, and months of physical therapy, I tried yoga. I felt better physically, at first, just for short periods of time. I was skeptical about whether yoga would help me. Let’s be honest; before, I had been stress busting by kickboxing, and this was the total opposite. But I found I was challenged physically by the poses and measurably calmer after each class. I was curious to know more. Doctors said that to “fix” my spine they would have to cut through the front of my neck for surgery. Even so, they could not guarantee total pain relief. Faced with that reality, I kept going to yoga.
I wavered between skeptic and willing student. I fit in as many classes as my schedule allowed and was fortunate to have knowledgeable and caring teachers. When I couldn’t make it to class, I did pieces of the poses from class, and I did them everywhere. I stretched at the news desk during commercial breaks. I twisted in the corners of airports. I breathed deeply in traffic jams to relax. I meditated to cope with one chaotic situation after another. I can’t recall exactly when things shifted, but yoga became part of my everyday life.
My spine specialists were skeptical, worried that yoga would hurt me rather than help me. They saw actual physical improvement, though, and they gave me a green light for more yoga. My body got stronger. My mind became calmer. I slept better, which gave my body a better shot at resting and repairing itself. Some modern medicine was needed to help treat me, but a pattern became clear to me: I could insert some kind of yoga in various moments of my day, and I would feel better. Guess what? I never had the spine surgery, and more than a decade after all these problems, I’m pretty much pain-free.
Today, an increasing number of medical studies support what I had discovered during my journey out of pain and stress: My mind helped my body feel better, and my body helped my mind feel better. What the yogis had experienced for thousands of years, I experienced in modern life. Without a doubt, I can say yoga was a major factor in transforming my health, and really, my life. Literally, my yoga practice was my medicine; it saved me—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In my mid-40s now, I feel I am the healthiest version of me that’s ever existed.
In a word, I got happy.
Deeply passionate about yoga’s ability to transform, or at least just help people feel a little better each day, I decided to learn how to teach it. My students were delighted learning even the smallest things that made them feel better, and they wanted more for the times they couldn’t come to class.
I spent the first 20 years of my career in the media, delivering news and information about the world via television and Web. Now, in this book, I feel I am broadcasting the most vital information I could possibly offer: an easy-to-understand, accessible way to help people feel better and be happier—regardless of level, age, gender, ethnicity, or life circumstances.
When I first started yoga, I could probably do only 20 percent of any class, if that. I had the following reactions: 1) I don’t like this; 2) This isn’t doing anything; 3) I don’t feel anything; 4) This is a waste of my time; 5) I can’t do these poses; 6) I don’t like this teacher; and 7) I want to leave class. I hear a mix of those things from a lot of people who are new, have injuries, or have doubts. Believe me, I understand. I see people who are stressed, hurting, or struggling in some way, and it quickly takes me back to how I felt back then. Because I have been there, I can say with total authenticity to you and anyone, “You can feel better too! It’ll take time. Try this. Keep doing it. It works.”
Yoga isn’t about becoming a human pretzel, being vegan, or wearing trendy workout clothes to a green juice bar. It’s a way of living and creating habits to live a life of less suffering and more peace and happiness.
This piece has been modified from Christine Chen’s new book Happy-Go-Yoga: Simple Poses to Relieve Pain, Reduce Stress, and Add Joy. It’s the result of revelations in her own healing journey, hundreds of hours of teacher trainings, years of teaching students of all kinds, and her own ever-changing self-practice.