I am Tracy Forsythe, a teacher here at Kelowna Yoga House. For those who do not know me, I am a Mom of three, a Grandma to four wonderful little ones, a wife, daughter, sister, friend, a lifelong student of yoga and a person living with Scleroderma.
I was diagnosed with Scleroderma, a chronic and progressive serious auto-immune disease 25 years ago when I was only 30 years old. At the time of diagnosis, I had been working as a Court Reporter. At that time, I believed the unusual and painful symptoms I was experiencing were due to stress from a demanding career and home life with three small children. I was balancing being home five days a week, attempting to be supermom, volunteering at my children’s schools, being a homemaker, but also two days of the week, having to be mentally and intellectually 100 percent on my game as a Court Reporter in the Court of Queen’s Bench in Edmonton, working on serious criminal jury trials, amongst other high profile judicial proceedings. Life was full and chaotic, and my perfectionist personality was striving to be 100 percent at it all.
At first, I started to experience odd symptoms. After a dental visit, my jaw ached with extreme pain, headaches, TMJ. I chalked it up to the dental work and stress, received a dental splint for nighttime, and I started seeing chiropractors and a physiotherapist. My neck pain became so bad, that at work, when I was back in the office transcribing my court cases, I would wear a neck brace. My feet began to swell so that my shoes did not fit, my knees ached, and I was so very, very tired – but aren’t all mothers tired, I thought to myself? My co-workers all seemed to be able to manage parenting and working, so why was this so hard for me? My days off between working were now my recovery days. The long hours sitting in court, writing the proceedings verbatim on my stenograph machine and then transcribing those proceedings back at the office, meant a lot of keyboarding and computer work, and this took a big toll on my body. I was barely able to make it through a court assignment. I finally went to see my family doctor and she tested me for carpal tunnel, which came back negative, and that was all she could think of. Unfortunately, a diagnosis would take almost two more years.
I decided to take some time off work to lessen my stress. I thought naively that my mystery illness would vanish because I was now home, fully present with no other obligations other than taking care of my family. Unfortunately, my symptoms worsened. At this time, I had switched doctors, and around Easter of 1996 my hands became swollen twice their size, so I thought, okay, this is a visual symptom, something the doctor will actually see, I will get this checked out. I was fortunate that my new doctor was very caring and smart, and she ordered bloodwork immediately. My bloodwork showed that SED inflammation markers in my body were off the charts. This prompted a referral to a rheumatologist who did many more tests.
The Rheumatologist confirmed that I did in fact have Systemic Scleroderma; in his words, “this is potentially extremely serious.” At first, I was relieved that I was not going crazy, I had something with a name, but then the reality of it all set in, and as I educated myself about the illness I became very, very scared. I was scared that my kids would lose their mother, and I was scared that I was going to be in this excruciating pain the rest of my life. I did not know how I could possibly cope with this much pain forever.
However, around the time that I first experienced symptoms, I started to take yoga to manage my stress. It was serendipitous that pain and discomfort led me to a holistic practice that would literally change my entire life. I was extremely fortunate that my first teacher and only teacher for the next 10 years was truly the most enlightened woman I have ever come across in my life. Margo had gone through serious illnesses herself, and so when she asked me how I was feeling after class one night, I told her that I felt like a 90-year-old woman trapped in a 30-year-old body. She urged me to seek medical advice. But the blessing that Margo gave me was her unselfish sharing of her knowledge of the 8 limbs of yoga, her truth in living that yoga, but most importantly the HOPE that her living example gave me on my journey to healing and wellness. I truly believe that I would not be here on this Earth if I had not discovered yoga and incorporated a holistic lifestyle.
The next six years of the illness were very, very difficult. My hands were barely usable: I could not zip up a zipper; could barely open a car door or do up my seatbelt. My entire body was inflamed. My doctor sent me to a Rehabilitation Hospital as a day patient to learn how to live with this broken body. I had to nap everyday whenever and wherever I could, and I would still feel exhausted. Walking the dog or planting spring flowers felt like climbing Mount Everest to me. I was not able to clean my house or do all the tasks I was used to doing without a second thought. I relied on my husband, parents, and relatives a lot. However, I had three little kids who needed their mom, and this forced me to get up every morning with them. Without this, I may have never gotten out of bed again.
The first several years living with Scleroderma were a very dark period for me. Deep depression and solitude set in. I cried out to God: I give up, I cannot do this alone. I need You. I have nothing left in me to fight. This was a pivotal moment in my life. I have always been a spiritual person, even religious, but I had never faced a hardship like this before. In yoga we call this surrender, Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender to God, to the Divine. Once I handed over my struggles to a higher power, I experienced a definite energetic shift in the way I viewed things.
All the while, I was being guided by my bright light Margo. She never felt sorry for me, she always offered me information if I asked, but did not preach for a single moment. She was, however, a tangible example of the power that yoga has to transform and heal. She helped me in a quiet and very wise way. Energetically and spiritually to be around her was healing in itself. She embodied Ahimsa (non-harming) and encouraged self-reflection or Svadhyaya.
Yoga had me hooked from the very first class, because it truly was the only thing that gave me relief from the pain of inflammation, muscle soreness, severe fatigue and joint pain. I learned to practice gently, emphasizing diaphragmatic breathing, gentle stretching, perfect for my extremely stiff and sore Scleroderma body. In a class, we would maybe only practice three classical asanas, but this format was perfect for me at that time. Scleroderma translates to “hard skin” meaning your healthy connective tissues are replaced by an abundance of collagen or scar tissue, and for me this happened in my skin, muscles, connective tissue and digestive tract. Others are not so lucky, as it affects those areas as well as their heart, lungs and kidneys.
This gentle practice of yoga calmed my nervous system – absolutely imperative with autoimmune illness. Things started settling down, I changed my diet, I looked into alternative treatments, and I went off the hardcore drug therapy that did not seem to help me anyways.
Slowly but surely, my life improved, and the previous four “good” days a month transferred over the years into only three to four “bad” days a month.
My love for yoga and the relief it gave me spurred me on to study more for my own self- knowledge, and this led to a mentorship from Maya Margo Balog into the Yoga Association of Alberta’s Teacher Training. I was very frightened that my disability would be too big a barrier, but it proved to be the very thing that spurred me on. I became officially certified as a yoga teacher in the YAA in January 2001. I continued to teach in St. Albert, AB, my hometown, a couple days a week and soon had an extremely dedicated group of students whom I taught until my departure to Kelowna in 2007.
Two years before I left for Kelowna, I began taking Iyengar Yoga classes with two wonderful teachers in Edmonton and Spruce Grove. Margo had studied Iyengar Yoga for several years before she dedicated her practice to the Himalayan Tradition of Yoga & Meditation. Her teaching of asana, however, was heavily influenced from these years of Iyengar. I was feeling stronger and wanted to explore the Asana side of yoga in more detail and depth and challenge myself more. My continued interest in Iyengar Yoga led me to the Kelowna Yoga House, which brought me to meet Deborah Lomond (KYH’s senior teacher at the time). When Deborah found out I was a certified teacher, she suggested I take Iyengar Teacher Training. The thought of this thrilled and terrified me at the same time. I still employed many modifications in the asanas. My neck was very arthritic and stiff, my shoulders and wrists ached, and I still experienced some fatigue and muscle soreness. However, after every single Iyengar Yoga class, I always felt a surge of energy. I definitely would be sore the next day, but it was manageable. Deborah’s encouragement and compassion gave me the courage to stoke the Tapas (fire) in my practice. I was amazed how the intelligent, strong and safe method of Iyengar Yoga shattered all my self-limiting beliefs. I decided to jump in and go for it, and am I ever glad I did. I began teacher training in 2009 and received my first Iyengar teacher certification in 2012, and a second higher level of certification in 2016.
Since 2016, my life has been a roller coaster ride. My Dad passed away from cancer, my younger brother is coping with the very same cancer, my daughter was hit by a car, my husband was diagnosed with epilepsy, two of my children married and my first two grandchildren were born, with two more born earlier this year. So needless to say, it’s been a whirlwind of highs and lows these last few years. And now we are all still living in a worldwide pandemic and all the worry and anxiety that brings to us all.
However, yoga is still there for me. My practice has changed. It’s become quieter, gentler, more reflective. My body is in transition, dealing with scoliosis I’ve had since my teen years, and now menopause meshing with chronic illness and flareups is a new experience for me again. I am re-learning every day the power that yoga has on the quality of my life and state of mind. What a wonderful gift this art and science is to humanity.
As for me, do I still have symptoms? Do I still have flareups? Do I still have Scleroderma? Yes, I do. I am not cured of Scleroderma but I am continuously healing from it. I may have a diagnosis of Scleroderma but I am NOT Scleroderma. Thanks to yoga and the many beautiful, kind teachers and mentors I’ve crossed paths with along with my desire to live well, I can give much gratitude for the transformative and healing limbs of yoga and how it has enriched my life.
Having taught yoga now for the last 20 years, I am most grateful for all my students along the way who have taught me much more than I could ever teach them. I am grateful for each and every person I am privileged enough to share my experience of yoga with. I look forward to sharing yoga and all its benefits with you!
Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher
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