An extraordinary story of recovery from a nearly fatal accident

Gareth joined one of my beginner courses some years ago, made good progress, and soon became a regular in our Mysore morning program. He then stopped attending, which I put down to him maybe having moved or similar, as our students’ life circumstances often change.

A couple of years ago I offered a Pranayama course, which is when Gareth contacted me to let me know that he’d had a serious accident, was on crutches, and was wondering if he could still participate in the classes. Of course I agreed to him coming along. During the classes he needed to sit on a chair. He used two crutches and was wearing a CAM boot, to support and immobilize his shattered ankle.

Gareth had fallen off three or four storeys of an apartment building, had suffered major injuries, and lay in a coma for three weeks afterward. He had nearly died.

At the end of the pranayama course Gareth asked me if I thought that there was anything he could practice in terms of postures? ‘Of course, there is always something you can do’ I replied.

In weekly one-on-one sessions, we started out with basic breathing and movements, Gareth lying on either his back or his front. We worked on stretching the hamstrings, and opening his painful hips. We also continued with a Pranayama practice. Seated postures were hardly possible, because Gareth’s knees – which had suffered greatly from the fall – would only bend to a 90 degree angle, and he couldn’t close his knee joints. Lowering himself down to the floor from standing was a major problem. One of his ankles is permanently fused at a right angle; he can’t move the joint at all. He also had major operations on his hips, lower back, and neck. The latter was also fused, and is severely inhibited in its movements, leaving Gareth only with a limited lift of his chin, and he can’t tuck it under much either. Neither can he turn his neck much to the right or left.

We soon started on simple standing postures using the rail as support, as balance was very challenging, especially with the restricted movement in his ankle and knees. I still remember Gareth in triangle pose, wedged between the banister and myself to prevent him from falling over.

Gareth quickly recognized how much yoga was helping him to regain some movement, after having been stationery for a couple of years. He committed to a daily practice, and displayed great determination and resolve to decrease his dependency on the boot and crutches. He improved gradually, and could soon stop wearing the boot, although he was still using both crutches.

I had a strong sense that Gareth needed to move more, and would benefit from a kind of ‘work out’. It seemed to suit his nature. After all, before his accident he had chosen to practice Ashtanga, which is certainly physically challenging. So we began on strengthening postures, like chaturanga – the push up – which lends itself beautifully to this purpose :) From there he soon lifted up into upward facing dogpose, and not long after, into downward facing dogpose. These were great achievements at the time.

Balancing was still a big challenge; just standing, let alone walking upright had its good and not so good days. Standing and bending the knees/squatting was very difficult. But the benefits of Gareth’s daily practice became very apparent, and soon he could let go of one crutch when walking, which was a delight to witness.

Because it appeared that Gareth wished for a physical outlet in his now restricted life style, I was hooked on the idea of re-introducing Ashtanga to him, moving away from the more therapeutic approach to Yoga. After practicing some standing postures regularly we approached the challenge of the Surya Namaskara = sun salutation. When it finally came to the day when Gareth did his first sun salutation again, I had to hold back tears, I was so moved.

The biggest hurdle was Surya Namaskara B, because of the stepping up from downward-facing dog pose to the warrior posture. Using his fused ankle when stretched to the rear, left him unsupported and without balance. With the use of props, after some time Gareth practiced his first sun salutation B, which again was a very moving moment!

Gareth has shown great acceptance of his serious bodily limitations, and is facing them with determination, courage and great discipline. He is an inspiration to us all, and wonderful testimony as to what one can achieve through the regular practice of Yoga!

Meanwhile we don’t need to meet for one-on-one sessions anymore. Gareth is back in the Mysore room, without the boot and crutches! His practice is more advanced than that of some of the other students, who unlike Gareth are blessed with a full range of mobility.

You can read what Gareth wrote about his journey here.

No matter what the issue, Yoga always has something to offer to help us heal and improve our life circumstances. Breathing is always a starting point, and then we go from there.

OM Shanti, Angelika