A painful mystery solved

Shambhavi Hughes found healing through yoga after discovering she had spina bifida

Author: Jamie Hall

Shambhavi Hughes has never been a violent person—quite the contrary—but she admits to a fleeting thought of violence the day a back surgeon advised her to stop playing sports and take up yoga instead.

“I was ready to hit him,” Hughes recalls, laughing sheepishly. “Sports had been my life.”

Once known as ‘Nicole,’ she adopted the first name ‘Shambhavi’ after a life-changing experience in India, teaching under a well-known yogi.

Physically active her whole life

Hughes is 24 now, but she was 16 when she first started experiencing back pain. At first, she pushed through it, convinced that it would resolve itself through exercise. After all, she had been physically active her whole life, and had advanced in ringette to the point where she played on an elite team.

“I was in the hockey academy in high school,” says Hughes. “I was on the ice three times a day.”

When the pain worsened, she tried taking anti-inflammatories, and then went to a chiropractor. Nothing worked. The pain, which mostly centred on her left lower back, became so debilitating it was practically impossible to find any relief.

Still kept moving

“I felt like an old person,” she says. “The pain was taking away from my quality of life.”

She kept active through it all, knowing that to stop moving altogether would make it even worse.

She eventually tried a form of deep acupuncture. It gave her some relief, albeit temporarily. She finally went back to the chiropractor, who decided to order an X-ray. And that’s when the nearly year-long mystery was solved. It turned out Hughes had a mild form of spina bifida, and in fact had been born with it. The chiropractor sent her to the back surgeon. He told her there was nothing he could do for her—and then recommended yoga.

Pain started to lessen

She wasn’t convinced yoga was the solution. Even so, she signed up for an eight-week session. After a few sessions, she began to notice a difference.

“I would leave there and feel good for two hours, then the next time it was five hours, then the next time it was for an entire day,” says Hughes.

She was hooked. Obsessed, even.

Yoga brought ‘healing’

She took training to become a yoga instructor, and even travelled to India to teach under a yogi there. Her passion now, she says, lies in bringing the teachings and wisdom of yoga to people from all walks of life. She conducts workshops from the Believe-body, mind, soul yoga and fitness studio and says she particularly loves working with people who come to her with back pain issues. She knows more than anyone its healing powers.

“In the end,” she says, “what was once my greatest source of pain became a gift. It brought me to yoga, and to healing.”


Different things work for different people who experience back pain. For Shambhavi, that something was yoga. What worked for you? Send us an email at backactive@wcb.ab.ca and your story could be featured on our website.

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