How Yoga Saved A Life

By Sari Huhtala

Nicky Poulin still remembers the first day she set foot in a yoga studio. Turning the corner to  make her way into class, her eyes scanned the room, only to find a handful of pencil-thin girls who could likely strike a pretzel-like pose in a heartbeat. She turned to run, tears streaming down her face. “I’m too big. Too sick. Too fat,” she thought to herself, wondering why she had ever come in the first place.

A friend had urged her to sample a yoga class, and she kept resisting, all the while saying to herself, “You don’t see me. Do you not see me? I’m fat. I can barely move any more. I’m incontinent.” It was hard to fathom the idea of participating in a yoga class with such limited mobility, she recalls. And yet, there she was, in studio, facing her fears of fitting in. A woman turned to her and guided her to a different room.

She had been in the wrong class. The restorative yoga class was just down the hall. It was there she discovered a new life in yoga. That was 10 years ago at the age of 36, at a time when doctors told her she would, in all likelihood, end up in a wheelchair. “Yoga saved my life,” Poulin says. “I remember as I was walking back after that first class and I had my first yoga ‘high.’ I was pain free. I thought to myself, if I was going to be addicted to anything in my life, let it be yoga.”

And so it was. She engulfed her life with yoga. Having no access to a restorative yoga class for ‘round bodies’ in North Bay at the time – her first experience with yoga was in Toronto while staying with a friend during routine doctor’s appointments – she engaged in private yoga sessions in her home. And on her days off, she did yoga, and everything started to change for her. The pain from fibromyalgia was diminishing. It no longer took her three hours to get herself out of bed and become mobile in the mornings. Her outlook was brighter.

Even her husband and son told her she was a much nicer person when she was doing yoga. She lost 65 pounds. “My health challenges are gone,” says Poulin. “I have not lost my voice like (doctors) said I would. I’m no longer incontinent. I’m not living in chronic pain. Do I have all 18 trigger points of fibromyalgia? Yes. Can I control it? Yes. With the arthritis I’ve learned with my body to get through the flare-up times.” Yoga has been a saviour for her, mentally, emotionally and physically, she says.

Once pulled by ego, a perfectionist, self-conscious, unable to quiet the chatter of a busy mind, Poulin now sees how yoga has helped her learn acceptance. “In the past, if something happened I would internalize it and wonder ‘why would they do that?’” Now, she simply lets go. She lives by the Sanskrit word ‘Namaha’ which translates into ‘It is what it is.” “Even if your best laid plans go awry, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

“If I take a deep breath, then exhale, it helps me let go. It helps me move forward and let go.” Her journey with yoga has been a challenging one, not because of the postures or the physical side of it, but rather because of the fears she has had to work through. She began teaching restorative yoga classes to fill a need in the North Bay area. Four years ago she travelled to India to study in an intensive seven-week teacher training program. The fears of fitting in surfaced again.

“Again the ego took over,” Poulin remembers. “I’m standing in this room with 30 beautiful, elite, athletic women. I was so different. I cried for the first three weeks.” Today, Poulin operates Ohana Wellness Centre in Callander and has a strong following of students who enjoy the restorative yoga classes. She says she recently learned something. A woman contacted her because a friend had gained so much from taking the class.

The woman expressed her own fear of fitting in. She said, “I’d like to come to take your classes, but I’m only 80 pounds and I don’t think I’d fit in.” Poulin realized it didn’t matter if one was a round body or not. The experiences of not fitting in are much the same for everyone. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re 200 pounds or 80 pounds, we all have insecurities – things that stop us from doing the things we really need to be doing. We need to let go.”