Helen Tolbert: Sharing the Benefits of Yoga

Pain and stress led Helen Tolbert to yoga in her early 50s. Successful in a senior corporate job, nevertheless she needed relief from chronic shoulder and neck pain. “A physiotherapist said to exercise more, but machines aggravated it. After some research I decided to try yoga.”

This writer, as a yoga teacher, had the opportunity to see Helen’s evolution during her first few years of yoga practice. Driven by real need, bolstered by the discipline that had carried her far in her career, Helen’s practice flourished. She went beyond regular classes to private classes as well. In time, quite naturally, results became apparent: high blood pressure decreased to normal, shoulder pain eased, even her height increased about a half inch.

Other results arrived unbidden: “I became more self-aware, in a good way. When I was stressed, I could examine its cause, adapt without escalating it. I began exploring the philosophy, reading books like Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. I became vegan, as an expression of ahimsa, non-violence. That also helped my cholesterol levels!”

As her yoga practice deepened, Helen sought the rigour of the Ashtanga system, and studied with Nicholas Adeline. “Ayurvedically, it was well-adapted to my kapha nature. I received a lot of care from my teacher on how to do this challenging practice correctly.”

A major life event intervened: cancer. Yoga – asanas, meditation, pranayama; philosophy and lifestyle – became her mainstay during a gruelling process of chemo and radiation therapy. “I was doing a modified Ashtanga practice through most of this period, except for a 2-month period when infection set in and I was too ill.”

Helen took early retirement from her job and received Ashtanga teacher training with Mark Darby, then began further training in therapeutic yoga with Naada teachers including Elizabeth Emberly andSonia Osorio. She set up a studio, Renaissance Yoga. Now she is focusing on her therapeutic yoga program, especially yoga for post-cancer care. “The medical system can work wonders to keep us alive in the face of cancer,” she observes, “but when the treatment is over people still have real problems to deal with, like scarring from surgery, lymphodema, radiation burns, depression. My path is to work on myself. But I’ve had this experience, and found so much help from yoga, that I also intend to pass this on to other people, working with them individually or in small groups.”