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Howie Shareff, retired from his dental practice, enjoys sharing the joys and power of yoga in his not-for-profit practice, You Call This Yoga.

Pain Relief Through Yoga: A Personal Journey to Healing and Community Service

By Howie Shareff, DDS (ret)

Howie Shareff

After my 40th birthday, about 18 years ago, I recognized that playing sports, practicing dentistry, and running a business was taking a toll on my body. Looking back, I realize that my mind was pretty full as a parent, clinician, and business owner, too. One of my dental patients had just become a yoga teacher and she invited me to her gentle yoga classes at 5:30—located five minutes from my office. I found that finishing by 5:20 on Tuesday became my adventure in time management. When I succeeded, Julie’s yoga practice fostered relaxation of many tense muscles, and when I allowed it, my busy brain to idle for a while.

The classes helped me; my challenge was what else I could do on my own. I began lying on my floor later in the evening and attempting to replicate yoga stretches and slow breathing that worked best for my hunched over, twisted, and increasingly arthritic body. I also stretched before and after playing tennis and softball—a necessity for me to relieve my neck and lower-back tension. My regimen of practicing slow moving stretches while lying down, combined with relaxed, deep breathing, resulted in improved comfort in my back and shoulder, plus a calming of my mind and restful sleep.

This was all preparation for the challenges that awaited me as a result of arthritis in my neck (dental career and sports) and hip (developmental). In 2002, I had my first neck surgery to fuse three vertebrae. My yoga practice helped me recover ahead of schedule.

However, I was also advised that I was at risk for a second, career-ending surgery. And, despite greater body awareness, old postures and practice demands continued to compromise my health. My second neck surgery in 2007 ended my dental career. Compounding the transition was a post-surgical blood clot that left me partially paralyzed for several hours. Welcome to retirement at 52!

It may seem that this was a severe downward spiral. It was, but, fortunately, I harbored a desire to help Baby Boomers improve their life with yoga. I felt my experiences in dealing with career-ending arthritis and my practices to help me manage these issues was a reasonable foundation for a yoga video. I initiated a home-based business to help people and produced a 30-minute yoga video, with my teacher’s participation. We demonstrated two versions of several poses that provided pain relief for me.

By having a second interest outside my career—to experience and share the benefits of yoga—I was fortunate to have a channel for my life’s work. This turned out to be fortuitous as my recovery from the blood clot gave me plenty of time to accept what is, and how little control we actually have. I have come to find that these concepts are part of a yogic mindset.

My practice of yoga helped me strengthen my compromised side and return to a very good degree of function. This was necessary as I also suffered from an arthritic hip that compromised my walking and quality of life; in 2008, I accepted a new hip and was greatly rejuvenated.

About that time, I stumbled on a program for chair-based yoga. From my perspective, as a dentist who lost his career as a result of poor posture on a chair, this was the union of problem and solution. I trained with a pioneer in the field and promptly offered my services to seniors in a private residence and at The Helen Wright Center for Women.

This proved to be very meaningful for me: sharing my passion for healing along with chair yoga’s modifications of conventional yoga poses brought almost immediate relief of postural tension and, for some, a very stressed mind.

Since then, I have consistently found that people have lost touch with what proper posture is, plus how to achieve and manage it. When my chair students experience proper chair design, their world shifts, as so few people actually live in this ergonomically sound place.

In 2010, the yoga business, now named You Call This Yoga, became an IRS recognized 503 c 3 nonprofit organization. With a mission to help the physically challenged and under­served improve their life with yoga, we have reached hundreds of people in Wake County with our gentle, adaptive style of yoga. This has improved balance, strength, flexibility, comfort, and breathing capacity for people with a very broad range of disorders or life situations.