Written by Kim Shoyama, Karma Activist
I’ve always been very thin. People would always tell me that they wish they could eat whatever they wanted and be as skinny as I was. Working out or moving in any way never really occurred to me. I took pride in eating whatever I wanted to, not moving very much and not gaining any weight. I never really had any hobbies either. I would spend my days going to work, coming home, watching TV or playing on the computer, eating, watching more TV and then going to bed.
I never saw anything wrong with it.
I was pretty content with my life and I saw no reason to change - until I started to get bored. My house was always very clean, my husband was always working, I might as well have been living in the suburbs, it took me so long to get anywhere. Even if there were places to go, I’d never feel like going anywhere. I liked staying at home. That’s when I realized I needed a hobby – what kind of hobby, I had no idea.
My husband suggested that I check out the Hot Yoga studio close to our house. I didn’t know too much about Yoga besides it being for hippies and flexibility, and I was already flexible, so I didn’t think I needed it. My husband said that people he knew seemed to enjoy it, so I decided to give it a try. Who would have known that it would change my life forever?
I’d be lying if I said that I went to my first class, and had a fabulous time. It was downright embarrassing. I got through maybe the first three poses, before I had to lie down. I honestly thought I was going to die. I had purchased a two week unlimited pass because I thought I probably wouldn’t like the first class, and I was right. I never really thought that by the second class, I was hooked.
Some people would argue that being “hooked” on something is usually a bad thing and in some ways, I’d agree. There were times when my need to go to yoga was so great,I’d get really angry if a delay on the subway would make me late. I had to get there 30 minutes beforehand to get a good spot, and I would stress myself out to get my zen on. There was even a time when my boss made me do something at 4:45 PM (I worked 9-5), but I had to leave at 4:42 PM to make it to Yoga by 5, and I cried. Literally cried. I would say that being hooked taught me a very good lesson: Instead of stressing out or crying because I couldn’t go to yoga, I had to accept that yoga wasn’t in the cards for that night. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t go the day after, or the day after that, or even to the later class. If I had to force something, or stress myself out to do it, was it really worth it? That was the first of many lessons from the mat that I took off the mat. The second one may have saved my life.
In 2010, I noticed that I had a developed a small, hard lump underneath my armpit. I went to the doctor to have it checked out. I stumped this doctor, who didn’t know what it was, and suggested I keep an eye on it to see if it would go away. It didn’t. It grew. The second doctor that I had seen suggested I go get an X-ray to see what was going on as she was also stumped. The X-ray showed that my lump was what you call a lipoma - a benign tumor of fatty tissue. Apparently lipomas are harmless, and quite common. Lipomas are so common in fact, that the X-ray technician showed me their lipoma. There was nothing really to do about it, unless I wanted to have it surgically removed, so, I left it.
Then it started to get bigger, running down my side, and then around my shoulder blade. My doctors kept telling me that I was fine, and not to worry about it. The only problem was, I did worry about it. I knew there was something not right about this thing that was growing on me. The second yoga lesson that I took off my mat was to listen to my body. My body was telling me that my lipoma wasn’t common, and there was something wrong, but my doctors said I was fine, so I should be fine, right? I decided to go see a plastic surgeon, because it was starting to get embarrassing, and uncomfortable when I slept on my side. I could feel a hard lump underneath me, and it gave me such anxiety, I couldn’t sleep. I had to call the plastic surgeon and do something about it.
At my appointment, my surgeon asked me questions that my doctors hadn’t:
Doc: how big was it when I first noticed it?
Kim: It was about the size of a pea.
Doc: When was that?
Kim: 2010? (it was late 2011).
Doc: And it grew to this size?
Kim: Yes (roughly the size of a small chicken cutlet under my right armpit, and a large chicken cutlet over my right scapula).
Doc: Do you mind if I take some pictures of it and show a colleague of mine?
Doc: normally lipomas don’t grow from the size of a pea to this size in a year. I’ll send my colleague, a sarcoma specialist the pictures and we’ll see what we’re dealing with. It could be nothing, but I just want to make sure.
Kim: Sarcoma? You mean, like, cancer?
“Before Yoga” Kim would have lost her mind. I might have cancer. OMG I might die. I just bought a house with my love, I adopted two cats who I haven’t spent enough time with, there was so much more of the world I wanted to see. To say that I didn’t think these thoughts would be a lie, but I also learned how to breathe - not to jump to conclusions, to see what this new doctor had to say. And this was a huge wake-up call - I needed to live my life as if my days were numbered. Lesson number three. Live in the moment and enjoy every second that I could.
In March of 2012, I had the surgery I needed to remove my liposarcoma. My surgeon said that I would have to take 6-8 weeks off to heal. After my 5 week follow-up appointment, my doctor was impressed by the mobility I had in my shoulder area, and said that my consistent yoga practice before my surgery was absolutely why I had healed so well.
I didn’t know that yoga would absolutely change my life for the better when I first stepped on my mat. Had I not purchased a two week pass and spent a lot of money on clothes, a towel, and a mat, I probably would have given up and gone back to watching television and being bored with life. Instead, it continues to make me stronger, inside and out; it continues to teach me valuable life lessons, and it helps me connect with so many people in my community. Yoga is truly a gift and I hope it continues to be a huge part of my life.