When scary things happen, yoga is there to support you.
My name is Rebecca Atlas. I’m a former international model, television presenter and head fashion stylist for Westfield Australia. I’m a graduate of the prestigious Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, a yoga teacher, the Australian representative of Rainbow Kids Yoga and mummy to a beautiful six-year-old cupid. On face value I have it all…
A few years ago I had what I thought was an earache in my left ear. The pain soon spread down the left side of my face and became unbearable. My health declined rapidly. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew when I could no longer open my mouth more than 1cm that it was serious.
After visiting many doctors it was finally diagnosed as a bone tumour and would require a series of operations. It transpired that my face had to be rebuilt not once but twice.
As my face had been my meal ticket, this was both scary and possibly career ending. I was also worried about my family who had already endured many a health scare where I was concerned, and it was my daughter, Giselle, who gave me the will to carry on during even the hardest of times.
Funnily enough it was during my studies to become a yoga teacher that I discovered yoga therapy. Ironically this was before I found out the gravity of my situation. Having a new jaw is not unlike the aftermath of a broken limb. They don’t just magically begin to work again—you have to train them. To a certain extent I was tired of conventional medicine and wanted to pursue a treatment that pulled at my heartstrings.
Yoga therapy is a holistic treatment, so for me, as well as using specific yoga exercises to ease the pain in my jaw, the breathing practices and meditation treated the anxiety I carried because of the seriousness of my condition.
In the words of Leigh Blashki (a founding member of the Australian Institute of Yoga Therapy), yoga therapy literally “chaperones” the patient through one-on-one yoga to physical and mental wellbeing.
My conventional medical team were supportive of this form of therapy because they too realised that the anxiety I was suffering for my future was something they could not treat.
Leigh gave me a series of exercises that involved yoga mudras. These were a set of exercises that allowed me to articulate and form a series of shapes and sounds with my mouth, and with daily practice, enabled me to learn how to eat and make my speech flow more freely.
After six weeks I was able to eat soft foods and I found the strength returning to my face. I even had the confidence to return to work part-time and host a fashion event.
But it wasn’t only the exercises. Yoga therapy gave me the confidence and the tools to step beyond my insecurities and be a whole person again. There was meditation, positive affirmations and daily asanas, which gave strength holistically and physically. With yoga therapy I moved forward from a time of great despair, put the past to one side and saw a future.
The last operation on my jaw was a year ago and I keep up my yoga therapy with the aid of a wonderful therapist called Stacey Elmes, who helps my body stay in balance while it endures ongoing treatment.
Our sessions will often depend on how I am feeling emotionally and physically. Stacey writes a practice session, which I do between our one-on-one sessions, and these are tailored specifically to my body’s needs.
To many, yoga therapy is a gift from the gods. It gives its patients a feeling of empowerment, often from a point where there was no hope. It treats the cause as well as the symptoms and looks at the whole person rather than just the specific problem.
Yoga therapy helped me back to good health at a time when that simple but vital thing seemed completely out of my grasp. When I discovered yoga therapy there was little hope for a normal life. Now, that is exactly what I have—good health, good life.
Rebecca Atlas lives on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, with her daughter Giselle and husband Laurie.