Fear and Faith Don't Go Together: Liver Disease, Organ Transplant, and Yoga

by Carole Kalyani Baral

In 1987, when I was 40 years old, I was diagnosed with a rare, hereditary autoimmune disease called primary biliary cirrhosis, which attacked the liver. I was informed that I probably had 10 years to live and there was little that could be done to heal this condition. My husband, son, and I were devastated to hear this dire prediction. And I felt compelled to learn all that I could about this puzzling disease and to try to ameliorate the effects of this dreaded sentence. 

Fortunately for us, I had already established some skills to help me cope with this stressful prediction. I had become a certified yoga teacher in 1976 at the New York City Integral Yoga Institute. I was trained to instruct students in physical postures (asana), deep relaxation (Savasana), breathing practices (pranayama), and meditation techniques. Not only did I practice at home, I taught these skills in various classes first at a men’s prison, in an adult education program in my town, and at an after-school yoga course in the local high school where I taught English. I also taught at a summer camp for vegans, teaching cooking and yoga classes for 35 years. 
 
As my disease progressed, I had to concentrate on the disabilities that were then plaguing me more of the time. Specifically, I took my doctors recommendations for dietary restrictions more seriously, such as eliminating nuts and nut butters and reducing the amount of oil in my food as these burdened my liver’s ability to digest fats. I was already a vegetarian for years and was on my way to becoming a strict vegan. I became more attentive to raising my legs above my heart (with pillows and also using a wall) to eliminate the swelling in my ankles. Meditation became a more regular practice with the use of mala beads and mantra repetition.
 
During this time I travelled extensively during vacations from school taking yoga instruction from many experts all over the world. I visited Bali, New Zealand, Mexico, Guatemala and several European sites like The Isle of Skye in Scotland and Austria’s Sivananda Ashram, Italy and France. I never let my liver issues thwart my adventurous spirit or invade my mind. I would live fully even with some careful limitations. 
 
In 2006, my doctors said I was now within one year of death and after maintaining my condition for almost 20 years, the blood numbers indicated that I needed to replace my liver in order to survive. I had been on the transplant list for over nina years but I never was sick enough to be a priority. Now my health was rapidly declining, my tummy and legs were swollen with fluid, my skin was dark brown, and my eyes were a brilliant shade of yellow. Luckily, within just a few weeks, a match for me was found in a woman who had died from a stroke. Only 1% of all cadavers are capable of donating their organs. This woman had the right blood type for me as well as the size organ that was compatible with my structure. So, with this “gift of life” from an unknown donor, I was reborn after an eight-hour surgery with a “previously enjoyed” liver. That was now 13 years ago! 
 
My secret weapons were my faith in the Integral Yoga teachings, a positive attitude, and a supportive family environment. I used the breathing techniques of three-part deep breathing and alternate nostril breath to calm my mind and to prepare me for meditation daily. I worked with the neurovascular points of holding my forehead to elicit a relaxation response as well as neck and shoulder rolls. I “thumped” my thymus gland to activate the immune system. I enjoyed employing many different positive visualizations to calm my mind and focus the healing. 
 
I now live in Southern California, surrounded by uplifting friends who share my vegan lifestyle and the abundant natural beauty of the ocean and mountains. I devote myself to maintaining a healthy lifestyle so that I can give back the many blessings I have received during my life. I am fortunate to have been a yoga teacher for over 40 years and now teach a free weekly mixed-level Accessible Yoga class to senior citizens at the local Jewish Federation center. I firmly believe that living a dedicated life of service has many rewards. 
 
I urge those with serious health concerns to align themselves with excellent medical advisors and capable yoga and relaxation classes for example restorative yoga sessions. This alignment will allow true healing to take effect and put their issues into proper perspective. As my teacher said, “Fear and faith don’t go together!” 
 
At 72, I have survived a liver transplant, a rare blood disorder, a broken hip that put me in a wheelchair for four months, and most recently breast cancer. And, as Maya Angelou said, “Still I’ll rise!” Peace can be yours with courage and applied fortitude. May you be as blessed as I am! 
 
With gratitude, Carole Kalyani Baral
 
Carole Kalyani Baral has been a yoga teacher since graduating from the Integral Yoga Institute in NYC in 1976. She taught Yoga and Relaxation Techniques in the Adult Education Programs in upstate NY for 35 years. She is a current Board Member of the North American Vegan Society. She was given the privilege to convert all the recipes and information for the book from vegetarian to vegan for The Yoga Way: Food for Body, Mind and Spirit published in 2017. See pawlingpublicradio.org for 35+ free articles about vegan cooking, vegan recipes, and photos of vegan dishes. Kalyani  now teaches a free Accessible Yoga class at the Santa Barbara Jewish Community Center for all ages and abilities. As a liver transplant recipient, she is eternally grateful for the “gift of life” she received in 2006. “Service with compassion” is her motto!
 
This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief of the Accessible Yoga blog and co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being.