Chapter 03: Exploring Massage and Raja Yoga; Cancer is a New Health Challenge

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Chapter 03: Exploring Massage and Raja Yoga; Cancer is a New Health Challenge

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Ms. Sumler begins this chapter by explaining that she became interested in massage during the year she spent in bed after her spinal surgery for scoliosis and was learning about alternative treatments. She also talks about joining a raja yoga community because of her desire to live a spiritual life; her yogi was the source of her name, Sat Siri, and her yoga teaching practice at Yoga Central. She then talks about her diagnosis with melanoma and describes undertaking yogic death practices to confront this challenge.

Identifier

Sumler,PSS_01_20180501

Publication Date

5-1-2018

City

Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Personal Background; Faith; Character, Values, Beliefs, Talents; Influences from People and Life Experiences; The Patient; Professional Path; Human Stories; Offering Care, Compassion, Help; Patients; Patients, Treatment, Survivors; Cancer and Disease; Formative Experiences; Evolution of Career

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Disciplines

History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Oncology | Oral History

Transcript

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Mm-hmm. And it made a real change. Yeah. So tell me about the after, kind of coming back, and getting back on track with—or becoming reconnected with bodywork and all of that. How did all that happen?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

So after that, really what happened was, a number of years of grieving the dancer me, and (laughs) watching lots of dancer movies and crying a lot, and just kind of trying to return to my old body. I just really started applying everything I could, really dived deeper into my yoga practice. I had been practicing for a while, but really just trying to do everything to, quote, “heal.” I wanted to really heal, and I wanted my body back. And then I remember at one point talking to my doctor about it, like, well, when... Because I thought that my problem was my cast, that somehow my cast (laughs) had made me stiff, and kind of forgetting that my spine is fused and I have this steel rod, and not only that but I’ve lost the natural curves, like the lumbar curve, and so my center of gravity has changed, and all that’s never going to be as it was before. And so I remember my doctor telling me, “This is something you might just have to accept.” And I was so angry. For three years I was really angry, and I was like, I’m not accepting this. I’m changing this. And then, finally, (laughs) I did, I think really through meditation, be able to come to that acceptance that this is me, but on the other hand I’m really grateful, because meditation, massage, yoga, walking, diet are all things that have helped me manage kind of the side effects of the surgery that I had. Massage came into play—I mean, I started kind of learning about massage when I was younger, kind of just reading in books, the year that I was in bed and in a body cast I really spent learning about what they called then alternative healing. So I did, like, a correspondence course in Western herbology, and just a lot of different investigation on diet and things like that.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

How usual was that in Houston at the time?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

It was not usual. I mean, in that time there were two yoga schools in Houston. I remember the yoga school I attended was one of them, and my yoga master said, “One day yoga will be on every corner,” and I was like, “Yeah, sure.” (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Who was the teacher?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yogi Budjeon. So it was not that—there was some of that but not a lot of that in Houston at that time. And so then I really started learning massage through yoga. Kundalini yoga’s what they call a raj yoga, so it’s a whole lifestyle practice, not just asana. And so some meditation—I mean massage—was part of that. And so I first started learning different bodywork and massage from my yoga master, and he would have courses he would teach also, and...

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

What attracted you...? And you said raj yoga?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Mm-hmm.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

R-A-J?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Mm-hmm.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Okay, so the lifestyle. What attracted you to that kind of complete commitment, as opposed to, oh, I’m going to take some classes in this and this and this and this? It’s sort of more separate, compartmentalized. You know what I’m saying?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah. I think it was really the authentic me was still that very spiritual and just really wanting a spiritual life, and trying to see how I fit in. And so for me it felt like this is where I fit, that it had kind of all these different components that I was looking for, and kind of that had spirituality in all these different aspects of life and lifestyle, and really health and healing. It was... I think when I first walked into my first kundalini yoga class, I just felt like, oh, I’m home. It was kind of that feeling of, yeah, this is it.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Wow, that’s neat. So tell me... I mean, I noticed that you took a lot of really interesting training. Tell me about some of that. When did you make the decision to actually—like, I’m going to go get real training in this? Or maybe I should ask you: tell me about your relationship with Yogi Budjeon. Because it sounds like that’s where it really started, the whole training started.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah, so... (pause) I felt—I was really—felt like I had a lot of ignorance, that I just didn’t... I really still wanted to know what is this thing about the universe and how does it all work. And so having a spiritual teacher that I could train with was important to me, because—especially when I was a little older and starting my family, because there was guidance kind of on all these different aspects of your life. In yoga, in Ayurveda, they tell you, like, how to sleep. I mean, just, there’s just guidance for everything. And so I was really grateful to be able to have guidance really in confronting my own self. To be able to confront myself, to connect with the self, to be able to elevate myself, to be able to learn the difference between kind of my—what we call the ego is how I identified myself in the world, which, when I was younger, was involved with suffering. The me that suffered for so long, because I wasn’t a, quote, “dancer,” and that just was never going to happen. That was just so painful to go through. And then to be able to have a teacher guide you in that’s not you, that’s a role, and the you, the Self with a capital S, isn’t affected by the roles, the different roles in life. It’s always there. It’s nourishing. It’s perfect. It doesn’t suffer. And I think now, working with patients, that’s the self that I like to connect with, with my patients, and not put a judgment on them that “You are this cancer,” or “You’re this treatment,” or “Isn’t that too bad that you’re going through that?”

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Or “These are the things you can no longer do because of your cancer.”

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Right, but you are you.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Yeah. Wow. Now, you mentioned that you were married and started a family. When did you get married, and what’s your husband’s name?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

I got married—let’s see, when was that? (laughter) I got married, I guess, in 1981, and I’m no longer married, but his name is Michael Sumler. And our—my first daughter was born in 1982, and her name is Guru Kirn.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

And how do you spell that?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

It’s G-U-R-U, next word K-I-R-N, Sumler. Guru Kirn Sumler. And then I have a second daughter, Sara Sumler, Sara without an H. (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Okay. And I wanted to ask you about the name you selected. I kind of googled it, and there... Is it from a mantra?

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

It’s a spiritual name that I got from my teacher, and it is in—there are mantras with that name, which we kind of segue into when I was diagnosed with cancer, but kind of... (laughs) But anyway, I was given the name by Yogi Budjeon. I guess I got my name in 1982. Yeah. And so it means—what it means is—it means “the princess who represents the great truth,” and truth being “sat,” and “sat” is that Self we were just talking about, so...

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Oh, so your name kind of represents that—one of the most profound teachings for you.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Yeah, that’s wonderful. Okay. So, next in the story? You mentioned the cancer journey.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah, so—

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Or whatever you feel is the next step to tell.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah, I think—well, when I was, I guess, in my... So it was in 1990, around 1990, 1991—I guess it was sometime in 1990—I noticed that I had this, like, mole on my back that wasn’t there before. And the reason that I knew it wasn’t there before was because I have a scar down the middle of my back from my back surgery, and it was just right above it, like dotting an I. And the reason I was aware of that area was because when I had my surgery, my surgeon told me, “Don’t let your scar get burned for two years,” or something. “Otherwise, it’ll be shiny.” And so I remember searching at that time to try to find a one-piece bathing suit that was high in the back. That was impossible. They were all string bikinis or something. But somehow I found one, and there was about three inches of my scar that was above that line, and, of course, it sunburned, because I was a burner, and so I remember always looking to see when I was younger, “Is it shiny?” So I knew there wasn’t a mole there. But everybody kept—you know, my friends, my massage therapist, and my husband kept assuring me that, “Oh, no, you’ve always had that.” And then I started having these funny feeling—like, one day, in the night I woke up feeling like I was having a heart attack. And I remember thinking, I can’t be having a heart attack. I’m a yogi. I’m a vegetarian. I’ve been exercising my whole life. There’s no heart disease in my family. And this kept happening. And so then one day I was... It was before that I started having fevers. So I would have high fevers, like, every—they would last --every afternoon for a week, every other week. I started seeing lots of different types of doctors, and having lots of tests, and nobody could figure out what was going on with me. My tongue turned black. It was just all these strange things were happening. Anyway, then one day I was taking a nap and I started having this pain in my back, right between two vertebrae, and I thought, I wonder if I massage that if this pain will go away, and I felt that that mole, it had been flat and now part of it was raised. And so that led me going to go see the dermatologist. And she always had told everyone in our family, because we get a lot of moles, like, “Oh, this will be nothing,” and so I thought for sure she was going to say it’s nothing, and then as soon as she walked past me—my gown was open in the back and she saw it—she said, “Oh, that’s definitely coming off.” And so I was, oh no. So... And then she said, “You’re going to need to call somebody to come and pick you up because you won’t be able to drive afterwards,” and I was, “Okay...” And so, anyway, I called my husband. He worked just a few blocks away. And it was flooding. It was raining, and it was flooding. And he said, “I can’t get out. All my customers are coming back. (laughs) I can’t get out.” And I was like, “Okay, well...” I said, “I think I can get out of here,” because she was in a high-rise, and I said, “I think I can get out, and I kind of know Houston so I think I can get home.” And so I left, and I was—it was out in Spring Branch, and I was driving my kids—I had one child at a private Montessori school in Spring Branch, and my other child was in a public Montessori school, (laughs) near the U of H. I was thinking, well, the older child can just stay there, because they’ll have a slumber party, there’s a pizza place next door, but I’ve got to go get the baby. And so I was on I-10. I got there, kind of wiggling around to get past high water, and got on the freeway, and on the radio they kept mentioning the freeway closing right behind me. And so I was just right ahead of it. And I picked my daughter up, and I got to the school. I had to park in the middle of the road and wade through water to my knees. And I got my daughter and my neighbor’s son, and I carried them (laughs) on my hips to the car, and we drove home. I drove past one of the bayous nearby, and the water of the bayou was up to the road. And I got home and I turned on the news, and then the road I had driven by on the bayou was flooded. And I thought, I’m going to be okay. I’m one step ahead today. This is a good omen. And so I came home from teaching yoga one night and my husband told me the doctor called him, wanted me to call her, and I was, “It’s 7:30 at night.” And he said, “Yeah, she said just call whenever you get here.” And I thought, that doesn’t sound good. So I called and I found out that I had melanoma. And then I had a visit with an oncologist, and I was told that I would not survive two years. So that was just really shocking. And I spoke with my yoga master, and he told me different—he told me to meditate on death in every moment. And so I did a lot of different kind of yogic death practices. And all of my yoga classes—I taught four classes a week then, and all of my classes, all the meditation and practices were death practices, but I didn’t tell my students that. (laughs)

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

What does that mean? I have no idea what a death practice would be in a yoga class.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

So it might be, for instance, a meditation that is using a mantra that has to do with kind of facing death, or... Like one of the practices that I did, I didn’t—actually, this one I started doing, and I didn’t know at the time it was a death practice, but it is for facing death. And so this practice I did, it was like a two-and-a-half-hour-a-day meditation, and every morning I would do it, like, at 3:00 in the morning, and every morning when I would wake up I would feel death, like this feeling of this presence looking over my shoulder at me. And then, by the end of the practice, that feeling would be gone. But every time, every day, it would still be there. During this time period, I had a recurrence, so the melanoma came back in the same place. My oncologist said, “Well, we’re not going to consider this a recurrence. We’re just going to think this was a rogue cell.” (laughs) I was like, okay, whatever. So then I had—at that time they only used surgery for melanoma, so there weren’t—there wasn’t any other treatment. And so I kept doing this practice, and then one day during my meditation, I had this experience of death just facing me, and I just remember feeling, well, finally, you aren’t just sneaking around behind me. We’re finally just face to face, and if you want me, you take me, you know? But anyway, at that time, at the end of the practice, death was gone, and it didn’t come back. And so I thought, oh, okay, I think I am going to be okay. Either way, I think, all the other practices that I did were kind of facing death in my daily life, and so I basically taught my husband, “This is where the chil...” I was a housewife. “This is where you buy the kids’ clothes. This is where I buy your clothes. This is when they’re on sale.” And just kind of organized the life for my children, and just started trying to gain acceptance that my children would be okay. That if they lost their mother at such a young age that they were going to be okay. And just kind of facing all of those kind of things.

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

How old were your children at this time? You said one was a baby.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Well, she was... So one was a preschooler, so they were—let’s see... [four] and eight. [ ]

Tacey A. Rosolowski, Ph.D.:

Yeah. So, yeah, tender age.

Pamela Austin Sat Siri Sumler, LMT, BCTMB, CLT, E-RYT:

Yeah.  "

Chapter 03: Exploring Massage and Raja Yoga; Cancer is a New Health Challenge

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