My Belly Story
I was born and raised in the Netherlands and after a year of travelling around Australia and New Zealand I moved to London, in 1997. My gap-year firmly implanted passion for travel and after a few years of exploring various wonderful places, I fell ill whilst travelling through South-America (2002). After 3 months of travelling through the most amazing countries, I visited a spa in Ecuador and stepped into a Jacuzzi. The next morning I woke up vomiting with terrible stomach cramps. This bug/virus/illness stayed with me for the remaining weeks of my trip before it slowly started to subside. Six months after returning home, during which time the mystery illness frequently returned, I was very ill and had lost so much weight that I finally had to see a doctor. I was immediately admitted to hospital and after a few days of tests I was diagnosed with pan-ulcerative colitis (UC), an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) of the large intestine (colon). The medical world still doesn’t fully understand the exact cause and nature of IBD; they know it can be genetic, triggered by stress and external factors and that it is a chronic auto-immune illness for which there currently is no medical cure. Recently I learned that my grandmother (who’s name I carry) passed away in September 1938 (age 39, 34 years before I was born) from toxic megacolon -which is now associated with UC- so it might indeed have been hereditary and I am carrying a gene which predisposes me for IBD and which was then triggered by the severe infection I picked up in Ecuador.
Years of flare-ups and large amounts of medication followed (steroids, immuno-suppressants, infusions and much more) during which time the illness progressively worsened; the periods of recovery became shorter and the flare-ups returned stronger. It had a dramatic impact on my life and after seven years I made the desperate decision of opting for colectomy surgery, during which my entire large intestine would be removed and a pouch created - it meant I would have a temporary ileostomy bag (a stoma). It was a very dark period and it took well over a year to start to recover. During this time I had my first experience of yoga and had private lessons from Marie-Laure Desiré at my local studio (the PYC Fulham) which helped my recovery where specialists and medicine had failed. Unfortunately the illness returned; first via pouchitis and fistulas and then, after I was hospitalised with a pyoderma gangrenosum in 2012, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease (IBD in the small intestine).
Illness over the years:
December 2002, diagnosis pan-ulcerative colitis, Charing Cross hospital
2002-2009 years of increasing medication; prednisone, mesalazine, azathioprine and infliximab infusions (not at the same time as azathioprine)
March 2009, total colectomy surgery with jPouch, London Clinic
May 2009, stoma reversal surgery, London Clinic
2011-2012, frequent hospital visits for fistulas and abscesses
Sep 2012, pyoderma gangrenosum, London Clinic
Oct 2012 diagnosis fistulating Crohn’s disease, London Clinic
Oct 2012, start combination azathioprine and infliximab infusions, Guys hospital
Sep 2015, obstruction, surgery to remove parts of small intestine, London Clinic
Nov 2015, stoma reversal surgery, London Clinic
My Yoga Story
Early 2015, I took up yoga again and started practicing at the studio a minimum of 3 times a week. The yoga (ujjayi) breathing made me feel strong and I physically felt more flexible, muscular and balanced, but more importantly it started to have a calming effect on my mind. It was such a contrast from having felt so weak and vulnerable.
Unfortunately in September 2015, I had further surgery due to obstructions in my intestines and I had another temporary stoma; I was in and out of hospital for three months. Mid-January 2016, exactly six weeks after my last surgery, I was allowed to try yoga again. I remember the class clearly, it was a flow and restore class lead by Vicky Fox and I was careful, tuned into what my body needed and to what it wasn't ready for. It was wonderful as my body could finally stretch and relax and breathe again; it was emotional and amazing. It was remarkable that my recovery from surgery this time was dramatically quicker and I attribute it to the power of yoga. I knew then that I wanted to learn more and if I could, share this with others so I signed up for the Power Yoga teacher training (200 hours with Erin Prichard at the PYC Fulham), which I completed at the end of May 2016.
Thanks to the encouragement of my wonderful teacher Mona Godfrey (who continues to teach and inspire me and took the amazing pictures of me doing yoga), some two months later I found the confidence to start teaching yoga at my office, where I have been teaching two classes a week. It's incredibly rewarding to teach people especially those new to yoga. Instead of charging a fee, I ask for a voluntary contribution for props and raise money for Crohn's & Colitis UK (click here for my justGiving page).
I furthered my training by completing a 50 hour Yin course in February 2017. While on this course I noticed one of the students applying loving-kindness in action by giving another student some yoga massage stretches and this peaked my interest. After trying out a day taster course, I enrolled into the Thai Yoga Massage (TYM) practitioner course where I qualified in April 2018. I have since completed the advanced course - both courses have given me great insight into different bodies and differences in range of motion. In November 2017, in a beautiful moment of serendipity, I started teaching the Wednesday Flow & Restore class at the Power Yoga Company (yes that exact one) which fills me with much gratitude. In February 2019, I completed my 300 hour advanced teacher of integrated yoga therapy at the magical Kripalu in Massachusetts, USA .
I cherish the beautiful momentum of it all and I am extremely grateful.
Yoga For Everyone
I would love to make yoga more accessible, especially to people with IBD or other illnesses, but really to anyone who feels intimidated by it all.
Our bodies need the mindful stretching and when we get older we will benefit from the extra muscle tone.
Surrounded by modern technology our minds need more calm to compensate for all the multi tasking we do (and social media we use) every day.
But most importantly: the breath. Cultivating a conscious deep inhale with a smooth and complete exhale and taking regular of these conscious breaths each day will truly impact your sense of calm and general well-being. It almost sounds too easy to make a difference, but it does; you just need the discipline to practice it often.
On these pages I will be sharing information on yoga postures, breathing techniques, philosophy and anything else I've learnt along the way.
Looking to the future, wouldn't it be wonderful if I could do more with yoga and TYM, perhaps full-time? Together with my friend Jacqueline we have been day-dreaming about what might be possible one day.... click here for her (Dutch) page.
Power Yoga Company 200 RYT, 300-hour Advanced Teacher of Therapeutic Yoga (from Kripalu), Yin/Yang - 50 hours, Advancing Yin Skills, level II- 30 hours.
I’m a practitioner of Thai Yoga Massage and have done the advanced course with Kira Balaskas. I’ve also starting practicing myofascia release with Amanda Oswald.
200 hours Power Yoga Co Teacher Training - Apr/May 2016
50 hours Yin Yang Teacher Training, Sarah Lo - Feb 2017
advanced course Thai Yoga Massage - Oct/Nov 2018 (exam to be taken)
2 day workshop (staying balanced + true to yourself during change: self-inquiry, meditation + mindfulness), Ty Powers - Apr 2019
1 week Hoffman Process - Jul 2019
1 day Compassion cultivation training workshop, Thupten Jinpa (author of A fearless heart and former translator of the Dalai Lama) - Sept 2019
30 hours Yin Yoga Intensive II, Sarah Lo - Oct 2019
2 day Myofascial Release course for Thai Yoga Massage (Part 2), Amanda Oswald - Dec 2019