From Doubt to Conviction

Interview of Usha Devi in "Yoga Rahasya", the quarterly publication ofthe Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI), Pune andthe Light on Yoga Research Trust (LOYRT), Mumbai, India.
Yoga Rahasya 53 Vol. 13, No. 2; 2006
Usha Devi

Each of us has our own story about how we were introduced to yoga and what motivates us to continue. Some of these stories are of great interest not only to ourselves but also to motivate many others. Usha Devi, a resident of Rishikesh began yoga with a lot of doubt about the subject. Once interested and serious about her practice, she suffered from two major setbacks wherein she nearly lost her legs in two major road accidents. This was an extremely trying time on  physical, mental and emotional fronts. Usha Devi narrates on how Yoga and Guruji enabled her to learn to stand again and return to her yoga practices. A humane, inspiring story of doubt, fear, apprehensions transformed to full faith and conviction on yoga.

In spite of my back pain and other problems, I was not interested in yoga at all, as I thought it was just a physical practice. At that time I was studying classical music, mantras, pujas and temple worship. My husband many a time asked me to do some asanas early in the morning, as he did them daily. But I was not interested at all.

It happened that I came across Guruji’s Shri B.K.S. Iyengar's book, His Life and Work, which I really liked very much. I then started doing some asanas but it was very difficult to start alone and I also felt bored. I took some classes here and there. After four months, I met Guruji here in Rishikesh and that changed my mind totally. I practiced daily with full enthusiasm for hours. I was completely involved. It was wonderful. My back pain and headaches disappeared. I was more relaxed, not so tense and stressed. My anger just disappeared - before I  used to get very angry. My practice became a part of my sadhana or anusthana. I took a vow not to go anywhere for six years, not to travel, just do my practice, as it was written in Hatha Yogapradipika that a practitioner should avoid travelling.

To deepen my practice I visited Swati and Rajiv, two Iyengar trained Yoga teachers in Dehradun once a week. On the 11th of May 1998 I set out for Dehradun on my motor-scooter for the class, but I never reached my destination.  On the journey I crashed into a bus. After two weeks I opened my eyes in hospital. I was not aware of what had happened and who was with me, nursing me. I saw my right arm broken, my right leg hanging in the air, everything looked like a dream to me and I struggled for a few days to survive. I was in a very bad shape.

The bus had gone over my right upper leg. The knee was crushed, the ankle and hip joint were badly damaged, the femur bone split badly, and in the lower leg, the shinbone came out. There was a big hole and the main vein was broken so I lost lot of blood. When I reached the hospital I just had enough hemoglobin to survive.

I was in the hospital for 4 months, undergoing repeated treatments.  Then for 6 months I was at home in the bed on my back, not able to turn either to the right side nor to the left. I managed to sit up slightly to eat and that too with a lot of pain. Many times I just refused to eat. Later on, I slowly learned to sit in a wheel chair. From the wheel chair again I returned to the hospital for more treatment. I had a plaster from top to the bottom leg for months, then a small plaster on the lower leg. In total I think I had more than 18 surgeries and 13 blood transfusions. Those two years were a mess, with lot of pain and misery, and my future unknown. Many times I prayed to God to just to take me away from this tragedy.

I heard people saying that I would never be able to practice again. This really hurt me very much. This also gave me a challenge. I was in touch with Guruji after the accident. He encouraged me a lot. He gave me lots of hope and he asked me not to do anything until everything had healed nicely. Guruji wrote in one of his letters to me that with lots of will power and perseverance, I would be back to my practice. I never believed it but I thought that I would try. I would struggle. He asked me to go to only Pune when I was able to move independently. So it took me two years to be able to move and to travel such a long distance by train. I did not know how I would manage as I still was very much dependant on the walking stick.

I had been living in pain for two years and in Pune there was more pain. It was getting very difficult for me to accept it. I also had a lot of fear. Guruji made me do a lot of things but I had lots of fears. Fear of falling, fear of something happening to me. What if something broke again? What if something went wrong? All the time I was afraid of something or the other. I was afraid of everything.

What Guruji did was really amazing. He first removed the fear. The pain persisted. Then Guruji became quite harsh with me and he said “you are living in an ashram and you cannot face this much of pain? Can’t you accept a little more pain. What is more painful the accident or what you are doing here?”

He made me do a lot of backward bending asanas – possibly to remove the fear. My mind was not involved when I was doing Eka Pada Viparita Dandasana and my head was down on the floor. I felt less pain because my mind was not so much involved. But I was still resisting every time and it was very difficult.

One day, I was doing Viparita Dandasana on the stool. Guruji came and pushed my chin down with his leg. I was quite suddenly really relaxed and smiling. From that day, my practice changed and I was very happy. He also felt that there was not so much of resistance in me. I also felt more confident. He saw something coming, saw the fear disappear and he said “remember one thing I can break your leg also.” I said “Guruji why are you talking to me like this now that I am little confident,” He said, “if you behave like this and resist all the time then of course I will break your something!” So from then onwards my whole attitude changed. Even the students in the Institute told me that I had changed as a person!

When I came to Pune, my mind was as if I had just come out of the hospital. Although I had been out of the hospital for a long time, my mind was still there until that day when Guruji showed me how to change. Then I became more relaxed, more confident and my whole attitude changed. And from that time onwards Guruji really started working with me and it was wonderful.

Things were just about returning to normal when I had another accident in 2003 on the way to Pune and I found myself in hospital once more.  I had to start all over again. It was not just physical pain but mental and emotional too. But then I thought it was an examination!

Again I was in bed for a long time as this time both the femur bones were badly fractured. It was hard to accept another fall. Everything became more complicated. I was miserable and down. But on the other side I was relaxed as lot of metal plates, pins and bolts were removed from my legs and only a few new ones were added. I knew Guruji would surely help me and put me again on my legs. He is so wonderful.

When I returned to Pune after my second accident, my whole practice was different. Guruji worked in quite a different way. He said this was a second accident and I had to be more careful. He did not allow anybody to help me except himself. He said that I had to be very careful otherwise “you might have to go for more surgeries.”

I was able to feel and understand immediately because of the pain. In spite of the pain I felt lot of relief. The color of my leg changed. New life came into my legs, the blood circulation improved and the legs became lighter. I was really happy, having some new hope. My practice became more an internal practice. It was like a meditation but of course with pain.

Since my return form Pune last year, the remaining metal has just been removed 6 weeks ago. Guruji wrote in his letter that I can start my practice and slowly try to go beyond. I practice every day, struggling with my pain and I see lot of improvement. I know that I can’t afford to miss even one day of practice.

Yoga has saved my life, it has helped me to face misery with a smiling face. I know it’s only my practice which will help me to live a proper, independent life and to serve the society. I know I shall never be what I was before but I shall be able to maintain what I have regained, and for this I have to practice every day. There is no other way.

I’m very happy with what life and yoga has given to me.

I have learnt a lot from these mishaps. I would say, never give up. If God closes one door He opens another one. Life is so short and beautiful so that we should not waste a single moment. To have a daily practice is so important. It helps me to be healthier not only physically but also emotionally and mentally. My daily practice has given me a purpose in my life, which is so important. Guruji has given us the wonderful gift of yoga, which everybody can practice in any circumstances. Sincere daily practice will help us to go through all the hindrances, which we have to face in our daily life. I’m thankful to Guruji that again he brought me back on the track. Millions of Pranams to Guruji.

Vladimir Malutin