What I do.
Most simply, I am a yoga teacher and pain educator. I work to support, educate, and empower people who are struggling with persistent chronic pain.
I am certified as a yoga teacher. I have a post-graduate diploma in Pain Management from the University of Alberta. And, I have over 20 years of experience managing my own chronic pain.
I work primarily out of the CHANGEpain clinic in Vancouver. I teach therapeutic applications of yoga (including breath work, movement, meditation, mindfulness, and restorative yoga) for pain management. I also teach pain education programs and offer pain management coaching to people who feel like they need support implementing self-management practices.
Pain and me, me and pain: my story.
When I was 11 years-old, I woke up in the middle of the night with shooting pain through the right side of my neck and upper back. I passed out on the bathroom floor, my mom called 9-1-1, and that was the beginning of my long and challenging journey with persistent chronic pain.
For the first 10 years, my persistent pain was relatively isolated to the neck/upper back/chest/shoulder area, and I always referred to it as shoulder pain. I struggled with knee pain as well, but it was fairly easily managed by avoiding certain activities. I saw many different practitioners over the years and often refer to being in a “hope/despair” cycle. I would start seeing a new practitioner, feel hopeful that they might be able to help me, and then, inevitably end up feeling despair when they didn’t.
Through my 20s, I developed pain issues in different areas of my body and was eventually diagnosed with a pain condition that would lead to my initial exposure to pain education.
There have been three key interventions that have helped me to successfully manage chronic pain.
#1 – The food I’m eating
My first breakthrough with pain came in 2004. After having been sick with sinus and respiratory issues for over a year, I started seeing a Naturopath and a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) doctor because all the conventional approaches (chest x-rays, antibiotics, etc.) weren’t finding anything or fixing anything. Both the Naturopath and the TCM suggested that I stop eating a number of different foods. Coincidentally, many of these foods were foods that I tested allergic to through conventional allergy testing when I was 15 (and didn’t cut out because I thought allergies were supposed to give you hives and make your throat swell). I cut these foods out of my diet in 2004, and not only did I start to recover from being sick, I started to see an improvement in my pain. Believe it or not, but I’ve found that wheat brings on the shoulder pain that started when I was 11 years-old.
#2 – Practicing yoga
Not too long after changing my diet, I attended a yoga class at a summer camp I was volunteering with. I had done yoga before, but not with a good teacher. At this time, I was having a lot of trouble with pain in my right hip. After I attended the class, I was shocked to realize later in the day that my hip wasn’t hurting. Shortly after this experience, I started attending regular yoga classes at a yoga studio, and the practice of yoga – the postures, the breath work, the philosophy, the meditation – began to help my body feel good. For me, yoga became the next crucial piece to solving my pain management puzzle. I took my teacher training in 2009, and I practice every day.
#3 – Learning about pain
For a particular pain condition that I have, I was referred to a program through Vancouver General Hospital (VGH) and to a University of British Columbia (UBC) study on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Mindfulness (which involved taking part in a 10-week program). Through both of these programs, I received a considerable amount of pain education, and that pain education was transformational. More than anything, else pain education helped to reduce the fear and anxiety that I felt around pain, and that proved to be as helpful as they said it would be!
Teaching yoga for pain relief
These programs I took also made me realize that everything I was doing in my profession as a yoga teacher had so much potential to help other people in chronic pain. I began working exclusively with people dealing with persistent chronic pain in 2013. I thought that the knowledge (pain education) and tools (yoga) would be the most valuable thing I had to offer people, but what I have learned over the years is that my experience living with chronic pain is the most valuable thing I bring to the work I do. I am often able to make people in pain feel seen and understood because I really do understand a lot of what they are going through. People often ask me if I am healed from chronic pain. The short answer is no, but I have gotten very good at managing it and I want to help other people get good at it too.
Some noteworthy education and training
Yoga Teacher Training Certificate, Langara College
Advanced Yoga Training Certificate, Anand Prakash Yoga Ashram (in Rishikesh, India with Yogi Vishvketu)
Post Graduate Certificate in Pain Management, University of Alberta
Pain Care Yoga, with Neil Pearson
Relax and Renew: Restorative Yoga Teacher Training, with Judith Hanson Lasater
Yoga Anatomy Training, with Leslie Kaminoff
Yoga for Anxiety, Anger & Depression, with Judith Hanson Lasater
Kinesiology of Yoga, with Susi Hately
Moving from the Organs, with Judith Hanson Lasater
Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training Certificate, with Janice Clarfield
Unrelated to yoga and pain management, I have a Bachelor of Commerce (with a specialization in Finance and a minor in English Literature) and a Bachelor of Arts (majoring in Interdiscipinary Studies).