Vivian Del Castillo lay in a lumpy hospital bed, staring up at the popcorn ceiling and trying to figure out how she ended up there. She’d been in the hospital for five days after being admitted when her blood pressure hit 169/119 — dangerously close to life-threatening levels. “I was going through a very challenging, high-stress period. I spent all my time and energy taking care of my children and my parents,” recalls Vivian. “But when I wound up in the hospital, it was a wake-up call. I realized that, in order to be there for them, I needed to take care of myself.”
Overwhelmed and Stressed
“Stress had been a constant presence in my life for years. I have two autistic children who were reaching adulthood, and in order to establish guardianship for them, I was going to court a lot, rehashing the last 13 years of divorce and custody battles with my ex-husband. I was missing a lot of work for the litigation, and my stress was overwhelming. Throughout all of this, I was also living with and taking care of my aging parents. My focus was always on taking care of those around me — never on taking care of myself.
“The stress gave me daily anxiety and nightly insomnia. I have ulcerative colitis, and my high stress levels caused my symptoms to flare up. I knew my health wasn’t good, and I knew I should do something about it, but it didn’t feel truly urgent until my blood pressure soared so high that I ended up in the hospital. That was the warning I needed.
“Over the course of my five days in the hospital, the doctors performed countless tests. They told me that hypertension at my age could lead to a massive heart attack and that, if my ulcerative colitis continued to flare up, it could lead to colon cancer. They said that I needed to get my stress levels under control or it could easily cost me my life.
Calm and Recovered
“Instead of putting me on medication right away, my primary doctor recommended yoga and meditation. With that in mind, I remembered a workout DVD that I’d enjoyed for years that I knew incorporated yoga. But I didn’t have a working DVD player anymore, so I looked up the trainer, Ellen Barrett, online and found that she had a streaming service. There was an option where she recommended a workout for each day. It was only $6 a month, so I decided to try it.
“After the first day, I was already feeling better! Ellen’s workouts are a fusion of yoga, ballet, and deep breathing, so I was toning my muscles while also relaxing. I felt like I had worked out, but at the same time I had a sense of zen that I carried with me throughout the rest of the day. Everything in my life was chaos, but Ellen brought a calm energy and motivating spirit — it was exactly what I needed.
“I had always dreaded exercising, but I started getting up at 5:00 in the morning because I was really looking forward to my workout. It was my quiet time. Within days, I felt my body changing. A month into my workouts with Ellen, I saw my doctor, and she was shocked — my blood pressure was back down to 120/80! After being in stage 2 high blood pressure when I was in the hospital, I’d dropped all the way back down to normal, healthy levels.
“After just five months, my muscles felt more toned, my waist slimmed down and I lost weight — 30 pounds in all. I was happier and more energized and felt like I was able to handle my stress better. Other people thought so too, and my colleagues were asking what I had changed.
“Since then, I’ve kept up with Ellen’s workouts and have avoided taking medication for high blood pressure. I try to do at least 15 minutes every day. My stress feels under control, my body feels fantastic and my spirit feels alive. I plan on doing this forever to keep myself healthy and energized!”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.