A young, fit, freelance digital marketer who spent almost three years completely bedbound due to unexplained severe back pain has revealed how she became a yoga guru.
Dani Fagan was 35 and living in Spain with her partner at the time, when, despite no physical injury, she began experiencing extreme pain in her lower back.
One night, the pain became so excruciating Dani had to crawl on her hands and knees to the bathroom.
Despite spending thousands on doctors, specialists, physios, and chiros, she ended up finding her own way out of chronic pain – and her only recovery tools were a pen and paper and her ability to change the state of her nervous system.
She realised she was suffering from Tension Myositis Syndrome and found the more she wrote and the more truths she uncovered about her past trauma, the more her symptoms eased.
Dani Fagan was 35 and living in Spain has revealed how she spent almost three years completely bedbound due to unexplained severe back pain – before she became a yoga guru
Dani essentially spent the next three years lying down, taking daily medication, which barely touched the pain
Dani explained that the pain at times felt out of control, saying: ‘I felt like I was being stabbed repeatedly in the back, I’d never felt pain like it. I was screaming and even considered ringing an ambulance.’
Dani essentially spent the next three years lying down, taking daily medication, which barely touched the pain.
Previously an avid exerciser with a busy social life and successful business, she now couldn’t sit, stand, drive, and would need to use a wheelchair outside of the house to travel short distances.
Sometimes she’d have to crawl on her hands and knees just to put the kettle on.
She said: ‘My only saving grace was I was running my own business from home at the time, so I was able to continue to work, albeit lying down on the couch.’
Desperate for relief, she tried steroid injections, muscle relaxants, every kind of physical therapy there is, and opioids.
When the pain was at its most severe, she’d go to the emergency department for help, where she’d get diazepam injections to relax the muscle spasms, but the relief was always temporary.
Dani explained: ‘I was always going to chiropractors, physiotherapists, osteopaths, I had laser treatment on my back, I did everything possible to get out of pain, but nothing worked.
Dani said before she suffered the back pain, she was an avid exerciser with a busy social life and successful business
While suffering from the pain, she she couldn’t sit, stand, drive, and would need to use a wheelchair outside of the house to travel short distances
‘Some of the treatment was actually making me worse, and it hurt so much I couldn’t even to lie flat with my legs out.’
Eventually an MRI showed a herniated disc, but doctors said Dani’s level of pain was so severe, that it did not match the diagnosis she had, and so they refused to perform surgery.
While Dani is relieved about this now, at the time it caused her extreme frustration.
She said: ‘I just wanted a solution.’
Incidentally, she later found out the disc herniation was just what’s known as a ‘normal abnormality’, not the root cause of the pain she was experiencing.
Dani explained: ‘I was basically a hermit for three years as I was in too much pain to go out.
‘It made me really anxious and depressed. It was like I just lived in a cave of darkness and pain.’
Dani’s real breakthrough came when she was scrolling on Facebook one day and saw a post from a friend who was going through a similar experience and had recommended the book Healing Back Pain by Dr John Sarno.
‘I was sceptical, but I had nothing to lose, so I bought the book and started to read,’ Dani said. ‘From the very first page, it was like reading my autobiography.’
In the book, Dr Sarno writes about a condition called Tension Myositis Syndrome (abbreviated to TMS and now also referred to as Mind Body Syndrome.)
Sometimes she’d have to crawl on her hands and knees just to put the kettle on, and she would work from lying down on a couch
Dani said she was ‘basically a hermit for three years’ because she felt in too much pain to leave the house
Essentially, he writes that repressed emotions and prolonged stress can manifest as physical symptoms in the body, chronic back pain being a very typical manifestation of this.
Dani explained: ‘There are certain personality types that are more susceptible to TMS – people pleasers, perfectionists, ‘goodists’, high achievers – and I ticked every box.’
While there is still some scepticism about Mind Body Syndrome in the medical world, Sarno’s ground-breaking work in the 1980s has been credited and expanded upon by countless neuroscientists over the last few decades and its popularity and effectiveness on healing chronic conditions by treating the root cause has helped thousands of people worldwide.
Dani explained: ‘The main thing to understand about it is, it’s not saying ‘it’s all your head’ – the pain is 100 percent real.
‘But the crucial difference is that it’s pain being caused by the brain, by chronic dysregulation in the nervous system being stuck in a flight-flight-freeze state, rather than a structural abnormality in the body.’
Dani was convinced straight away that this was the cause of her pain. Her mental health struggles, past experiences and history of trauma made her the textbook TMS poster-child.
Understanding her pain was no longer dangerous, Dani began to reduce her medication and gradually began to reintroduce things she’d normally be too scared to do.
The freelancer spent thousands on doctors, specialists, physios, and chiros as she tried to find a solution to her pain
Over time, Dani was able to remove the fear of her pain, and gradually became less scared of her symptoms
‘I’d sit up for a minute, then I’d have to lie back down again,’ she says. ‘I was still in pain, but I was less scared of my symptoms, which allowed me to start to very slowly get my life back.
‘Removing the fear of my pain was a huge step for me because fear fuels the fight flight response in the nervous system which is the fire that keeps chronic conditions alive.’
By this time, Dani had moved back to the UK and even though she’d convinced herself her pain was caused by emotional trauma and nervous system dysregulation, she fell back into the medical model, hoping that UK doctors might have another physical or at least hybrid solution that involved both mind and body.
But as soon as she saw yet another physio who didn’t help, she quickly realised she was going back down the wrong path.
So Dani decided to re-read Sarno’s book, which led her to the work of Nicole Sachs, a Psychotherapist and Mind Body expert, who’d worked with Sarno and developed her own approach to this type of pain, which involved journaling about repressed emotions and regulating the burnt out nervous system with regular meditation.
Dani wrote about trauma, body image issues, and other difficult emotions, stressful relationships, work, family – everything that she had pushed away or bottled up for years finally had a voice.
She finally understood that her emotional world was directly proportional to her physical experience.
She said: ‘Some days, I found it really hard to keep writing, but I made sure I showed up every day.
‘Everyday I’d wake up, make a cuppa, and get back into bed with my journal and give myself space to feel the things I had hidden for so long.’
Dani had moved back to the UK and even though she’d convinced herself her pain was caused by emotional trauma and nervous system dysregulation, she fell back into the medical model, hoping that UK doctors might have another physical or at least hybrid solution that involved both mind and body
As soon as she saw yet another physio who didn’t help, she quickly realised she was going back down the wrong path
Dani would follow up each journal session with a meditation practice and started to include gentle yoga and short walks into her routine.
Within just three months Dani was almost completely symptom free. Her lifelong anxiety also eased, which she hadn’t realised was related to the same dysregulation that was causing her pain.
Keen to help others, Dani made her own website called My TMS Journey (mytmsjourney.com), collating free information and all the essential resources about the Mind Body Syndrome, neuroplasticity, trauma and the mind-body connection for those looking for answers, like she had been for years. She also shares daily tips and insight into healing chronic pain on Instagram and Facebook.
She continued to learn and develop her own offering to the chronic pain community and knowing how much gentle yoga had helped her heal her back pain, regulate her nervous system and get her back into safe movement, she began teaching gentle restorative yoga classes, with meditation and breathwork components, completely aimed at those suffering from chronic conditions – or on their way out of it.
‘Now that I’m completely pain-free, I teach classes and run online courses and have genuinely found my passion in helping others heal their chronic conditions, not just manage them.
‘Whether that be chronic pain, fatigue CFS/ME), fibromyalgia, migraines, POTS, IBS, anxiety, it’s all related to the same root cause – chronic stress, trauma and the underlying nervous system dis-ease that these experiences create.’ Dani said.
‘I want anyone suffering to know there is a way out if we compassionately treat the root cause.’
Keen to help others, Dani made her own website called My TMS Journey, collating free information and all the essential resources about the Mind Body Syndrome, neuroplasticity, trauma and the mind-body connection for those looking for answers
Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS)
TMS was a term coined in the Seventies by Dr John Sarno, a former professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University
It refers to physical pain that has a psychological root. Proponents say the pain’s origin in the brain does not make it any less real, but it does require a different kind of treatment.
Further research led Tony to Georgie Oldfield, a former NHS physiotherapist and the main proponent of Dr Sarno’s work in the UK.
She argues that chronic pain can be caused by repressed emotions (from past problems or current stress) which can manifest themselves in physical ways.
For example, seemingly random pain is often linked to the triggering of repressed feelings such as anger, fear and frustration.
Once these emotions start to build up and reach a tipping point, they can make the nervous system oversensitive.
This can then result in a myriad of issues in the body and lead to conditions such as sciatica, migraines, whiplash, Fibromyalgia and tinnitus.