This article celebrates yoga student Julie Kozlowski for the amazing recovery she has experienced with Bikram Yoga, and for the wonderful human being that she is! Julie has lived through tremendous pain, and she is so courageous and inspires everyone around her. Thank you Julie for being a part of this yoga family and for sharing your story!
This is a longer article than usual, but it's SO amazing that we could not cut anything. Read on and be inspired... especially if you are struggling with any kind of health problems or chronic pain, and are curious how yoga can help.
Julie in Standing Bow Pulling Pose
What was your motivation to start Bikram Yoga?
Honestly, I was feeling overwhelmed with life in general. As I approached a milestone birthday and analyzing where I was in life, I was feeling depressed, not to mention my health and my weight. I have had 2 major back surgeries within the last 10 years, I didn't want another one and I didn't want pain meds to control the rest of my life.
Would you share with us about your back surgeries?
The first one was in 2005, I had two slipped disks and a herniated disk. I also have advanced disk degenerative disease, which many people live with and they don’t even know. But because I have a 55 degree scoliosis curve, it was causing the disks to fail. I tried chiropractors and physical therapy, nothing worked. The chiropractor actually told me there was nothing they could do for me and that I had to have surgery. I found a Doctor that I trusted and has amazing reviews, and he went in to fix the disks and because my back was so fragile from the advanced disk degenerative disease, every time he put a screw in he shattered another disk.
I was supposed to have an 1.5 hour surgery that turned into 7.5 hours. I woke up to find out I had 7 screws and 2 rods in my back, fused from S1 to L5. I couldn’t shower without help. I couldn’t walk for the first few days, then started walking again with the help of a walker.
I was okay managing pain for years with Vicodin, which is horrible for my mind and my emotions. I started having major pain again and found out one of the screws broke and damaged the disks above it. After many opinions, physical therapy and pain management that didn't work, I had to have a second surgery in 2014 and I am now fused from S1 to T11.
I came out of the hospital on Vicodin, OxyContin and Morphine, along with nerve pain killers and a whole bunch more. I honestly don’t remember coming home.
How did you hear about Bikram Yoga?
A friend and current doctor Tahki. I explained to her the way I was feeling on a Thursday afternoon one year ago. She simply said ‘would you be interested in coming to Bikram Yoga with me next Monday at 6:30 PM?’. She explained what Bikram Yoga was (not sure I understood what 105 degrees was going to feel like) and I said ‘sure, why not?. I figured I have to do something different, if I want to feel different. Medication might help with pain, but is so detrimental to quality of life.
I started the my first Bikram Yoga class thinking ‘what have I gotten myself into?’. By the time it was over, I couldn’t get my card out fast enough to sign up. I remember standing in line eager to pay and so excited to tell my friends and family about this awesome practice I was introduced to!
As I was driving home, I started thinking about the upcoming weeks and figuring out when was the next time I could go to practice. I also told myself after I am thru the current commitments on my calendar for the next couple weeks, Bikram Yoga was going to be my number one priority, and the other commitments will have to happen after practice.
For the most part, with the exceptions of some vacations, Bikram Yoga has been my number one personal priority for almost a year now. And when I practice on a regular basis, it makes everything else in life so much more fun and achievable.
What did you think of your first few classes?
I was addicted after the first class! I felt amazing! I couldn’t believe how great it made me feel, truly, mind, body and soul. I never would have believed it without feeling the benefits first hand.
What changes have you noticed in your yoga practice?
I have really noticed that every practice is so unique but no matter how far I go, or if I sit out for a posture or two because I am light headed, I leave feeling amazing and full of energy! I see stresses and challenges in life so much clearer. I have also noticed if I don’t make yoga practice top priority, everything else in life becomes so much more difficult. Yes, I might have a day or two I can’t make it and that is okay, but if I let it slip too long, life can start to feel overwhelming and quickly out of control.
Have you noticed improvements to your health and well-being?
AMAZING! Mind, Body and Spirit! I rarely take pain meds for my back now. All I have is a weekly pain patch. The pain patch is still necessary at the moment, but because I have built so much core strength by practicing Bikram, I am starting to work with my doctor to get off the pain patch.
I am living a normal life again. I can vacuum my house, cook on my feet for hours (I love to cook, so this is great!). I couldn’t do household chores or grocery shop for big items without help, I now can do these things again by myself, which is AWESOME since I am single and live alone.
My outlook on life is so much more positive. I accomplish more, and I seriously don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. I laugh instead of crying!! Lastly, my weight is at the lowest it’s been in my adult life.
I am now in the best physical shape ever in my life. I am sure the weight loss has helped too, but I really started practicing to build my core strength and my emotional strength. I have noticed if I skip too many days, I am in pain and my emotions are not right.
I believe if I had found Bikram Yoga prior to the first back surgery I might never have had the 2nd surgery. I feel my back getting stronger and stronger now after each week. I am doing things in Bikram Yoga I truly never thought I would ever do again.
Julie in Camel Pose
What is your favorite part of a Bikram Yoga class?
The heat! Honestly love it all. I love getting there early, relaxing and clearing my mind for my practice. I love getting thru the Warm Up because at that point my mind is focusing on what I am doing, I don’t care about sweating or being uncomfortable in a position.
As the Standing Series begins, I am excited and focused on each and every move and how to improve while doing this, the stresses from my day are so far out of my mind, I am actually relaxing and exercising all at once. All of a sudden it’s time for the Floor Series, which I find even more relaxing and this series of positions help heal the aches and pains in my body.
Then the last breathing exercise and the Final Savasana are another terrific part of class. The true benefits of everything I just did are healing my body, my mind is clear, I am happy, I am positive, I am smiling inside and out no matter what is going on.
Do you have any wisdom to share with beginners who may have the same health concerns as you did starting out?
It’s amazing! When you drag yourself to a practice only cause you know you should go, you leave on a high that it was the best practice ever. At first I had my ‘favorite’ teachers, because that is what I was comfortable with, now I enjoy learning something different from each teacher. Without the variety of styles, I know I would not be where I am today.
I truly feel honored to be the Student Spotlight. Bikram Yoga has made an AMAZING difference in my life. I am proud and love belonging to this community. If I can help one person by telling my story, it is worth it!
Julie with mom and grandma on either side
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~ Lots of Love... Ian & Jenny and the Detroit Bikram Team