Digestive Demons on the Loose: When You Suddenly Get Sick in the Middle of Teaching Yoga

This entry was posted on Apr 8, 2014 by Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg.
When Digestive Demons Spring to Life in Your Yoga Class

I had just led the class in the opening Sun Salutations when it hit: a fast-moving stomach flu that made me almost sink to my knees. Luckily, I could, telling the students we were going to do some seated poses. I kept my eyes steady as the waves roared diagonally through my torso. While I didn’t need to rush to the bathroom yet, staying focused was more challenging than correctly adding all the numbers for this year’s taxes.

At the same time, I soon realized I wasn’t the only one fighting the waves. One of my students, who I had given a lift to the class, slowly crawled to the wall, and signaled to me that she was having a Ménière’s attack. I nodded back while leading the rest of the class in a seated twist, and soon, some reclining poses.

“I guess we’re moving toward more of a restorative yoga class,” I said aloud, acting as if this was the plan all along. “By lying on our back, we can focus on our breath and opening up our hearts,” I continued on, all the time counting the minutes left until I could be horizontal without having to talk. Or move. For a long time.

As the class progressed, I started to feel like I had an angry raccoon trapped in my stomach, and his even angrier brother in my intestines. My friend at the wall was breathing slowly with her eyes closed, and I wondered if I needed to get her to a doctor. Meanwhile, I wasn’t even half-way through the class and running out things I could lead us through without my inner raccoons raging out of control.

“I’m sorry. I just got sick,” I told my class, wondering at the stupidity of confessing that my own class made me ill. “I can’t do anymore,” I said. They understood, and although I gave everyone a free pass for another class, I could tell people were both sympathetic and wanting to slip out quickly without exposing themselves.

With everyone else gone, I could crawl over to my sick student and see how she was. Wobbly. Nauseated. Tired. I needed to drive her home, which meant I needed to drive myself too. We toddled out to the car, holding onto each others’ forearms like 90-year-olds trying to return to the nursing home after an ill-fated adventure. As for the drive, let’s just say it was one of the longest stretches of 15 minutes in a car I’ve ever experienced, and we made it without anyone throwing up. At least not until we got out of the car.

Since that class, I’ve been exceeding grateful for being able to do a forward bend without agony, and to lead my students through a full class without any inner raccoons banging through the alleyways. If yoga is about yoking, our deepest connections with life, then occasionally we find ourselves buddying up with the parts of life we would rather not see, especially in the middle of a yoga class. But life is life. Sometimes you bound out of yoga practice, joyfully into the bright world. Sometimes, you crawl.

About Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg is the Poet Laureate of Kansas, and the author of 14 books, including a forthcoming novel, The Divorce Girl; The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community & Coming Home to the Body (Ice Cube Books); and four collections of poetry. Founder of Transformative Language Arts – a master's program in social and personal transformation through the written, spoken and sung word at Goddard College (Goddard College); where she teaches, Mirriam-Goldberg also leads writing workshops widely. With singer Kelley Hunt, she co-writes songs, offers collaborative performances, and leads writing and singing Brave Voice retreats (www.BraveVoice.com); and she blogs regularly at her website (www.CarynMirriamGoldberg.wordpress.com)

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