As the years roll on, the wear and tear on your body begins to add up. Particularly in old age, the cumulative effects of a lifetime of use can result in irreparable damage to limbs, muscles and bones. That’s just what 86-year-old Anna Pesce believed… until she met a yoga teacher a third of her age.
When you’re in a certain amount of pain, most people tend to see a specialist to figure out what’s causing it and – more importantly – get some help to solve the problem. But if the cause of the problem returns later, it could be time to find another solution.
However, when you’ve had all the help available only for the pain to return time and time again, it can be easier to just give up. And if you believe it to be a symptom of growing older, you may be resigned to it being just “one of those things.”
This is just what happened to 86-year-old Anna Pesce from Orangeburg, New York. Over several decades, Pesce slowly developed a stance akin to a hunchback. The debilitating condition was due to a combined diagnosis of scoliosis, osteoporosis and a herniated disc.
Scoliosis results in an “S”- or “C”-shaped curvature of the spine, while osteoporosis is a common ailment where bones become weaker and so more likely to snap. Combined with the herniated disc – when the soft center of ligaments joining the vertebrae try to punch through a torn outer layer – they all caused a permanent stoop to Pesce’s posture and an incredible amount of pain.
While osteoporosis has no remedy – though measures can be taken to prevent further deterioration – scoliosis and herniated discs can be treated with surgery and physical therapy. But although Pesce had tried every option available to her, the pain persisted.
“I tried everything,” she told the New York Post in August 2016. “Acupuncture, a physical therapist and seeing a chiropractor. You feel good temporarily, but [I’d be] in pain again soon after.” And if the pain wasn’t already unbearable enough, it would quickly get a whole lot worse.
Back in November 2014, while seeing her kids in Wagener, South Carolina, Pesce nearly keeled over climbing the stairs. She told the New York Post, “I had this horrible pain shooting up my back. I had to be carried up the stairs and put into a wheelchair for the rest of my stay.”
With Pesce having exhausted all other options, then, her granddaughter suggested giving yoga a try. Indeed, the fully qualified yoga instructor referred her grandmother to Rachel Jesien, a friend in the field who concentrates on back issues. And Jesien, who lives with scoliosis herself, went on to form an unlikely friendship with Pesce.
While scoliosis can strike at any age, it most often develops in children between 10 and 15. With Jesien at 28, then, it’s a condition that she had lived with for many years. In 2010, however, she came to back care yoga when her massage therapist suggested that she give it a go.
Jesien told the New York Post, “I had to wear a back brace for five years and went to physical therapy every week, but [yoga] was the only thing that worked.” And as a result of her very first yoga class for scoliosis, she was inspired to become an instructor herself.
In 2011, then, Jesien earned a yoga certificate specializing in back care from the Chelsea, New York-based Yoga Union center. Her aim as an instructor is, according to her website, to “empower each client to have an innate understanding of both their structural and habitual patterning.” She then equips students with the knowledge necessary to help heal their pain.
Three months after Pesce became wheelchair-bound during her visit to her kids, meanwhile, Jesien started paying weekly visits to her home. She demonstrated poses and stretches that would restore Pesce’s mobility and confidence. And following just four weeks’ worth of sessions, something incredible started to happen.
During those sessions, moreover, Jesien showed Pesce two simple restorative yoga poses: the child’s pose and the chair savasana. Child’s pose is a kneeling pose folded at the waist with the chest falling between the knees. The forehead touches the ground in front, and the arms rest either by the sides or forward past the ears.
The chair savasana, meanwhile, is a pose undertaken laying down. While the person is flat on their back with arms resting by their sides, the feet are rested – with the legs slightly bent – on the seat of a chair. Even with these very basic yoga poses, though, Pesce began to notice a drastic difference.
Indeed, after just one month of yoga classes Pesce was out of her wheelchair and back walking. And by the two-month point she was able to identify which poses she needed to do to fight each different type of body pain with which she was suffering. Incredibly, then, after only four months the 86-year-old was able to pop into a modified headstand.
Speaking to the New York Post, Jesien said, “She was timid at first, because just moving caused her so much pain.” But Pesce proved to be a fast learner, and almost two years later – and while still continuing lessons with Jesien, sometimes with the aid of a harness – her hunched back appears all but gone.
What’s more, Pesce’s family have seen both a drastic transformation in their mom’s appearance and in her general outlook on life. “My mom is a lot more independent,” daughter Rosemary Pitruzzella told the New York Post. “Even how she carries herself – she just seems a lot happier and brighter now.”
Jesien, meanwhile, has high praise for the octogenarian. “She’s a tough cookie,” the yoga teacher added to the Post. “Before we were working together, she was so down about her condition. But now she has such a different outlook and feels so much better about her life.”
And while specialists advise seeing a physical therapist for diagnosis, the restorative benefits of yoga – at least in Pesce’s case – are clear. Indeed, the New York Post has quoted the octogenarian as saying, “I feel wonderful now because I can drive by myself and do the things I wasn’t able to do before. I’d recommend this to other people.”