Namaste! I'M RACHEL MARIE WHITE...
In 2010 I Googled "yoga" for the first time. I grew up in a strict Christian church where I had been warned of the spiritual "dangers" of yoga, so I did this Google search in secret. Despite what I had been told, I knew that I needed yoga in my life. I remembered hearing that yoga involved deep breathing, and that was what I wanted more than anything else: to be able to take full, deep breaths. At the time I was living with a chest malformation called Pectus Excavatum or Funnel Chest, which I had been born with. This deformity caused my sternum to cave in, and as my body had grown and changed with puberty, it became so severe that my heart and lungs were squished. I couldn't breath properly. I was always tired, and eventually I had to have surgery.
After my surgery in 2011, I used my yoga practice to help me regain strength. For a year, I felt pretty amazing. I could breathe! I was able to exercise, practice yoga every day and do all the things I loved. Unfortunately this period of health was short-lived. I went back to see my surgeon in 2012 because I was experiencing pain all over my entire body, and I thought the source was the surgical bar that had been placed behind my sternum to correct the Pectus Excavatum. He told me to take ibuprofen and go back to physical therapy. This didn't help. Even after having the surgical bar removed in 2013, I still had pain and fatigue all over my body.
Over the next couple of years, my health steadily declined. I had symptoms that affected pretty much every organ system in my body. I was nearly bed-bound. I went to work at my part-time job as a receptionist, and that was all I could handle. The rest of my time was spent resting on the couch, recuperating from that activity. I tried to keep up with my yoga practice, but a lot of times I was just doing Savasana in bed, breathing into the spaces of my body that hurt. I felt like I was dying in slow motion.
I saw nearly ten doctors during that time, had dozens of tests done. It got to the point where I would pray that the tests would be positive just so that I could be done searching for answers. Eventually I found an integrative doctor who gave me the attention I needed. I came across Adrenal Insufficiency (aka Addison's Disease) in my research, and when I asked her about it, she was willing to run all the necessary tests. Although my results were technically not diagnostic of Addison's Disease (my AM cortisol was a mere two points too high), my doctor thought that we should start treatment anyway. In order to meet the diagnostic criteria of Addison's Disease, a person typically has to be at nearly 100% adrenal failure. She didn't think we should wait for me to get to that point since I was already so symptomatic. After my first dose of medication, I felt better immediately!
With my improvement in energy, I decided I wanted to teach yoga. I began teaching professionally in 2015, and founded Sleepy Santosha in 2016. I wanted to provide yoga classes for people like me in a way that was accessible and affordable, and I thought that online teaching would be the best way to do that. At that time, none of the yoga practices I found online were appropriate for people living with the degree of chronic illness that I had been. Even the ones labeled "Yoga for Fibromyalgia" or "Yoga for CFS" were far too strenuous. Because I know what it is like to live with chronic illness, I am able to create yoga classes that intuitively support the needs of someone who is experiencing chronic pain, fatigue, brain fog, etc. I believe that yoga should be an accessible practice for everyBODY! Yoga is a sacred practice of integrating mind, body and spirit so that we can cultivate inner peace. No matter what physical limitations a person may be living with, we all deserve the right to pursue that peace.
The Sanskrit word santosha means contentment. It is one of the Niyamas in Patanjali's 8-limbed yoga, and I believe that it is the gateway to inner peace. This word has had a powerful impact on my life as I have struggled with chronic illness. Although I am in a much better state now than I was, I do still have bad days when I don't feel well. I am learning that it is possible to choose contentment even when my circumstances are out of my control and aren't going my way. Even when I am tired, even when I am in pain, I can choose to observe and experience the moment without judgment and without getting worked up. I can choose to be fully present with myself and allow what is to simply be what is. All the while knowing that nothing is permanent. That surrender, that acceptance, is contentment. It isn't something that just happens. It is a conscious choice, one that we must practice making every day. I've called my business Sleepy Santosha as a reminder to choose contentment and peace, especially when I am not feeling my best.
Yoga has been a deeply healing practice for me, and to be able to share that experience with others is my life's passion. During this time online, I have had the pleasure of connecting with thousands of Chronic Illness Warriors, and I am honored to be a part of their journey with yoga. My work has been featured on numerous websites, including Mind Body Green, The Mighty, Plenty of Spoons, and more. If you would like to work with me or collaborate on a project together, feel free to contact me. To learn more about my journey with chronic illness, my current diagnoses and treatments, check out my YouTube channel.