Before a painful turn of events turned Deborah Williams’ attention to yoga, her opinion of the practice was neutral: “Sure, I’d heard it was good, but it’s not running!” Deborah has always been a runner: marathons, long-distance, 5Ks, 10Ks, you name it. She played tennis and tried the gym at times, but her undeniable passion is to run. “It’s a meditation,” she says. “Once you push past the initial discomfort of running, you cross over and get just bliss.”
At a young age, Deborah suffered an injury on her lower spine, which led to an operation at 22. Nerve injury from the operation meant that she had no use of her left leg for four months. Not one to let injuries slow her down, she pushed through physical therapy and made a full recovery. For many years she ran with no pain.
One morning, just over a year ago, Deborah woke up in excruciating pain. Perhaps it was scar tissue from those early injuries? After many visits to different doctors and specialists, she was diagnosed with Pudendal Nerve Entrapment. No longer able to sit up, she had to lie down for a couple of months straight and found herself in constant pain. This was a big blow because throughout her 50’s Deborah’s running was so strong that she was used to placing in half marathons and other running events. Literally, overnight, her world stopped.
Through physical therapy and medication Deborah tried to manage the pain, but it wasn’t until she began practicing yoga that the stubborn pain began to subside. The benefits didn’t come right away. Deborah has been steady in her practice for a year, using props and tuning into her breath, identifying the pain and connecting with it. During practice, Deborah tells her body, “We’re going to open up and allow the nerves to move; we’ll get stronger in places where we are weak and we are going to move gently and with respect.” Deborah explains that, as a runner, she almost took her body for granted. It was the spirit of yoga – of being mindful of her limitations; of not comparing herself to others or to ideals of how she ‘should’ be or once was; of accepting herself as she is in each given moment – that has helped ease her journey.
“Pain is not my enemy,” she says, “Instead, it’s a messenger.” Deborah is now able to “sit with the pain” during yoga practice, working in partnership with her body. Her progress has been extraordinary. During our meeting, Deborah demonstrated a few asanas that are no longer difficult for her to perform. At age 62, her strength and flexibility are remarkable--especially in light of doctors labeling her condition as “chronic.” Even more remarkable, Deborah has been able to cut down her prescribed medication by one-third. “There is still pain, but it’s manageable,” says Deborah with a smile.
Deborah plans to live to at least 104 years old - an active life full of motion! She is not yet back to running, but knows she will return to it. For now, she walks her beautiful dog Riley, plays with her grandchildren, practices mindful yoga and prays. "I've always been very strong in my faith," she shares. "Sometimes I think that God or spirituality or whatever force there is in your life, brings something to big to get you to move and grow...Had this not happened, I would not have discovered yoga or the growth that has come from it. This big event ended up being good even when I thought it was catastrophic." When asked what she feels she has learned from yoga, she reflects: "I'm just grateful."