-- STAFF PHOTOGRAPH
five years ago, Claudia deHaven Biddle lay flat on her back
after being stricken with a debilitating illness, wondering if she
ever walk again. She was given little hope of walking, let
alone surviving past 18.
Now a 13-year veteran yoga teacher and therapist, she has come to Marblehead
to share what she's learned about yoga's benefits to students, both
able and disabled.
hard to imagine that the supple blond-haired woman showing her
students a mind-boggling variety of yoga poses continues to live
with a physically debilitating disease.
syndrome I have, inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CDIP),
is very similar to multiple sclerosis," explains Biddle. "It's
an extremely rare neuromuscular disorder with auto-immune origins."
with MS, the sufferer's own immune system eats away at the myelin
sheath, which transmits impulses back and forth from the brain
to the muscles. When myelin degenerates, no impulses can be transmitted,
so the body receives no messages to move and undergoes sensations
that are distorted and very painful. During a flare up of the remitting
and relapsing disorder, the patient is rendered partially or fully
April, 1978, at 13, I was admitted to the hospital," says
Biddle. "Soon I had little more than slight shoulder-shrugging
ability. I remained there until October, fully paralyzed for seven
months. I left the hospital in a wheelchair and the doctors told
me I would never function completely normally because of the muscle
atrophy that had occurred."
started rehabilitation therapy. Slowly, with the help of chemotherapy
and other experimental treatments, she learned how to walk again.
But each time she became ambulatory and doctors tried to lessen
the level of the lethal drugs she was taking, the paralysis returned.
She went through this ordeal a number of times.
I would have to be on a chemo regime for the rest of my life, I
began to aggressively search for a way to counteract the side affects
through incorporating good nutrition, meditation and physical activities
into my daily routine," says Biddle.
was unable to do anything that involved impact to the joints, or
she would end up back in the hospital. Once, when a bout of her
illness had kept her at home, Biddle saw a woman doing yoga on
was clear that some of the moves in yoga were the same as the stretching,
strengthening and balancing exercise I did in physical and occupational
therapy," says Biddle. "To re-learn my balance, the therapists
had me get on all fours and reach out the right leg and left arm,
which is a yoga posture. They had me stand on one leg with legs
up by the chest, pressing palms together - that was also a yoga
pose, known as tree pose."
adds, "I've since discovered that, whatever stage my body
is in at a particular time, I need to continue applying yoga principles.
Whether I'm in a wheelchair, in a bed or on a mat, my pain level
is decreased, my recovery is faster, and I lose less flexibility
and strength and lessen stress if I do yoga daily, no matter what.
So while doctors gave me a prognosis of a life with limited mobility,
yoga has helped me achieve a quality of life beyond anyone's expectations."
pupil to teacher
years of studying and practicing yoga, Biddle began to teach yoga
to friends at jobs and at home. Following back surgery and more
recovery, she became director of aquatics at the YWCA.
incorporated yoga in my teaching, all ages, all levels," says
Biddle. "For instance, I would teach children how to breath
evenly and rhythmically when swimming, not hold their breath, through
Pranayama (life-force breathing). This jump-started my career creating
yoga programs professionally."
particularly values her three years of teaching at geriatric units
at Boston's McLean Hospital.
saw Alzheimer's patients, with just enough memory remaining to
be terrified because they knew they were not at home, but with
not enough memory to know their left arm from their right," says
Biddle. "I helped them to find a sense of ease and control
by being able to coordinate enough to do simple yoga breathing
and be able to calm themselves naturally, as opposed to achieving
that through drug therapy. It is beautiful to experience that power
major life events then led to a career change.
my house burned down three years ago and corporate jobs I had in
graphic design dried up, I decided that I really wanted to focus
full time on expressive therapies and yoga therapy," says
Biddle. "So I created Snow Lion Yoga. I can do restorative
yoga therapy, where I focus on the mind like psychology, but find
the points in the body where tension, injury, and trauma is held.
It's akin to physical therapy. Yoga postures, called asanas, can
be combined with breath and mind to heal the body's injuries, such
as rotator cuff problems, recovery from back surgery, or to deal
with chronic pain, as from arthritis."
certified 500-hour Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT), Biddle has logged
more than 9,000 hours of clinical and private yoga instruction.
She is registered with the national Yoga Alliance in multiple yoga
disciplines, holds a additional 500-hour RYT in Ashtanga and is
trained in Hatha, Iyengar, Thai Yoga Massage and Chi Kung.
her own grueling experience, Biddle has also learned the value
of these approaches.
are so used to pushing our bodies to the extreme," Biddle
tells her students. "This is contrary to yoga, which is designed
to help you lessen stress, learn to breathe as humans were meant
to and develop strength and grace. Postures are held, yet flow
together, creating a vigorous work of the body, but without punishing
points out that the yoga postures and routines were designed to
maintain or restore health over 2,500 years ago and that Western
medicine is using identical forms today in injury recovery. Having
studied medicine and psychotherapy in college, she believes that
a combination of Eastern philosophy of medicine and practices,
along with standard Western medicine, is the most effective approach
love of Marblehead has led her to open her business locally.
years I have found excuses to come to my friends' house here in
town, with its wonderful exposure to the sea and to nature," she
said. "There I began teaching yoga to a small group who didn't
want to learn yoga at a gym, but somewhere they could learn 'real'
yoga without the competitive atmosphere. But as these in-home classes
grew, and times didn't always coincide with their family's needs,
I had to find a permanent space or discontinue classes."
wanted a noncompetitive and soothing environment, and finally found
what I was looking for at A Dancer's Dream," says Biddle. "I
fell in love with the place, management and the ambiance. At that
point, Beth Wheeler, the owner, was looking for someone to establish
new yoga classes so it seemed like a win-win situation and I set
up shop with my Snow Lion Yoga at 222 Beacon Street."
Biddle's classes, students can learn as in-depth yoga as they want
focus on the individual student, providing a safe haven to practice
and utilizing the multiple styles of yoga that I'm certified to
teach that will be most helpful to them," she says.
by her own personal triumphs through yoga, Biddle has developed
a logical approach to teaching that combines Western medicine,
Eastern health practices and common sense.
specialize in providing one-on-one attention and adapting to the
unique needs of my clients for a true holistic mind-body-spirit
program," says Biddle. "I respect the fact that a novice
may have certain fears and concentrate on making people less apprehensive
about embarking on yoga."
students have ranged from geriatrics to male athletes, from children
to those in wheelchairs.
lauds yoga's ability "to help maximize health, stamina, flexibility,
and serenity." When a person signs up for sessions, she does
a thorough health analysis, complete with questionnaire, and modifies
postures to suit their needs.
are offered five days a week at times convenient for my clients," says
Biddle. "They're at 8 a.m. on Saturday, 11 a.m. on Sunday
and 'Lunchtime Yoga' is at noon on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays."
working with a new client, Biddle frequently gets excellent feedback.
Last week, a woman who had come to see Biddle with a daughter who
recently had been diagnosed with Diabetes I and II, sent her this
e-mail: "After your wonderful classes, Claudia, my daughter
seems very happy with her decision to keep at yoga. You really
had a lot of positive things to say and gave her the desire she
needed to choose to go on practicing yoga for the many health benefits
it will offer her. We want to continue working with you."
there's little doubt she
continue to work with all of her students, despite her illness.
only disability," she says, "is a closed mind."
Snow Lion Yoga offers private yoga sessions group, and corporate programs,
as well as Thai Yoga Massage. For more information, contact Biddle
at 617-905-7301 or visit her Web site at www.Snowlionyoga.com