Oh, I can’t bear this pain anymore, Cindy Rogers despaired as a wave of hopelessness overtook her. It was a familiar feeling: In fact, ever since the then 54-year-old Santa Monica, California, resident had sustained a life-altering injury after a horseback riding accident in 2012, despair was something she felt on an almost-daily basis.
Unable to walk and in excruciating pain, Cindy’s world had crumbled, her injuries exacerbating a lifelong battle with anxiety and depression. Despite medication, cortisone shots and other traditional treatments to help her cope with the agony, her troubles persisted until one day, after her husband of 36 years left for work, Cindy made a terrifying decision to end her own life.
My family will be better off without me, she thought. But suddenly, fate intervened and her husband, who had sensed something was wrong after leaving the house, returned just 15 minutes later…and just in time. In that moment, Cindy felt something inside of her shift.
I want to live and walk again, she vowed. And with her family by her side, Cindy began taking antidepressants and decided to undergo two major spinal surgeries, one of which required she be in an extended coma, with no guarantees that she would ever take another step again.
Afterward, and after months of intense physical therapy, Cindy was thankfully making progress in her physical recovery, but she was still struggling to walk. Then, to her surprise, her physical therapist suggested giving yoga a try.
Although she had been skeptical about trying yoga in the past, with her depression still weighing on her despite the medication, Cindy felt determined to try anything. And as her therapist put a mat down, showing her moves for her back and neck, Cindy felt an instant mental relief that thrilled her.
“It’ll be the best next step for you,” he encouraged, recommending a hot yoga class to help loosen her muscles. “You’ve made it this far, but this will help you to get to the next level in your recovery.”
I guess it can’t hurt, Cindy thought. Anything to get me feeling better.
A Peaceful Balm
After doing research, Cindy was surprised to find that yoga wasn’t just a physical exercise — it had also been clinically proven to change the practitioner’s psychological states, allowing the body to regulate its stress and anxiety response by reducing heart rate and lowering blood pressure.
Intrigued, Cindy signed up for hot yoga, and in her first class she found that the intense heat of 105 degrees did help loosen her muscles and increase her flexibility.
Though she couldn’t do many of the poses at first, she pushed through the pain, attending the class five times a week. To her surprise, the effect on her emotional state was immediate, and Cindy was thrilled to find that the cloud of depression that had been hanging over her since her accident was starting to clear as a result of yoga.
As her strength improved, Cindy also noticed that each new position she tried brought forth its own emotional release, and one day, just months into her new practice, she turned to her husband with a smile and marveled,“I feel like my mind is at peace! Yoga has freed me from those painful emotions!”
Getting better with each passing day, Cindy made yoga a part of her daily routine and today, the 63-year-old is free from symptoms of depression and anxiety and can walk normally once more. Her experience was so revolutionary that she even co-founded the website Yoga Pose (YogaPose.com) in 2020 with her son, Cobb, and produced the documentary, Your Brain on Yoga, which is streaming free on the website, in partnership with Mental Health America.
“We want to share yoga’s restorative power with everyone,” says Cindy of the free digital library of poses she and her son put together. “Anyone can simply visit the website and search for the perfect pose based on the symptom they’re experiencing — like anxiety or stress. Yoga has transformed me into a different person — mind, body, and spirit!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.