Pain, Suffering, and Yoga

By Mark Stephens on Wed, 02/15/2017 - 12:05
Excerpted from the "Preface" to Yoga Therapy: Foundations, Methods, and Practices (forthcoming November 2017, North Atlantic Books/Penguin Random House):
The pain and suffering I experienced with typical childhood nicks and ailments pales in impact to what I experienced at age 10 when my mother developed breast cancer. My mother was a healer who lived a very healthy lifestyle – with wholesome foods, close friends and family, lots of laughter, focused work, creative projects, and community work, all inspired and enriched by her deep and abiding Christian faith and practices. Well trained and practiced in the medical sciences, she was terrified – mostly for her three children and her husband – when she learned that she had what today is described as stage-IV (metastatic) breast cancer. Despite radical mastectomies, lymphadenectomies, and radiation treatments, it took a mere six months for the cancer to enter her brain and end her life. 
My mother’s death was both traumatizing and awakening. I was very close to her and wonder to this day how my life would have been different had she lived longer. Her illness was my first observation of the aggressive potential of biological infection, the delicate fragility of the human organism, the somewhat tenuous nature of a human life, and how the loss of any one life can be a loss to many others. Her absence was my first experience of profound loss and sadness.
Yet it also taught me about resilience and fortitude, love and relationship, hope and prayer. Odd as it may sound, in dying my mother gave me a second birthing, opening me to more richly sensing the vitality of life and how in every moment we can make choices to live our lives in more awakened ways, regardless of our circumstances. I think this is an important part of the path that led me to begin exploring the nature of life and consciousness in my early teen years, and to a life of practicing and teaching yoga…