The Hoffman Process had come up in conversation a few times and it had piqued my interest. I was at a phase in my life where I felt stuck; trapped in my chronically ill body and trapped in my work. I was stuck in my thoughts and reactions, and I was looking for ways to get unstuck. I just wasn’t sure whether Hoffman was right for me; for one, I’d had a lovely childhood and the idea of dissecting the relationships with my parents wasn’t appealing to me.

I’d had what many people would see as an idyllic childhood, growing up with my older sister in – what felt like – the carefree seventies in a small village in the south of the Netherlands. I moved to London in 1997 after graduating from University and taking a gap-year in Australia. I worked in IT in the banking sector and initially thrived on the pressure of deadlines. I loved to solve the puzzles to make systems work better and the bonus was that, with the money I earned, I could travel and see more of the world.

Maud in hospitalIn 2002, during one of my many trips through South America, I fell ill with a stomach bug. Back in London I became progressively ill until I finally went to hospital and was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. While in hospital, my boyfriend of over six years, broke up with me. Over the next seven years I was given many different medications which at first helped but then gradually made less and less impact. My energy drained away along with my social life, and I was left with my high-pressure job but very little else. Out of sheer desperation I agreed to an operation to remove my entire large intestine. It was a major procedure and the recovery process was slow and painful.

The desire to support my own recovery led me to discover yoga, at a little studio at the end of my street. Three months of private lessons helped ease my pain and made me feel stronger.

Unfortunately, as the years passed, more auto-immune issues transpired, and in 2012 I was re-diagnosed with fistulising Crohn’s disease (also an inflammatory bowel disease). At the moment our medical approach has no cure, it can only address the symptoms. The cause is currently thought to be part genetics, part environment and diet. When in 2015 I had part of my small intestine removed, I was physically in good shape due to my yoga practice. I noticed the recovery was much easier this time and when I was able to practice yoga after six weeks, my body felt strong and flexible.

This inspired me to sign up for a yoga teacher training to learn more and share with others. Over the years that followed I expanded my studies to include yoga therapy and yin yoga. I began to teach yoga to my colleagues at work and taught one class at my local studio. Physically I was doing better, but the emotional rollercoaster of living with this painful and socially debilitating disease made life a struggle. At my stressful office job, I had wound myself into a tight pattern. I worked long hours, and I felt a lot of pressure to do the job ‘right’. It caused a lot of frustration and resentment – mainly towards myself. I’d read that some studies found that Crohn’s disease can be exacerbated by suppressing emotions and I knew that I wasn’t processing all these feelings in a healthy way. The only times I felt no judgement was when I was practicing or teaching yoga.

It was then that the Hoffman Process came into my life. It was mentioned to me, during a meditation/yoga retreat with Sarah and Ty Powers. A few months later during a weekend workshop, I spoke with a fellow student who had done the Process. She described it as being taken apart and put back together again. I wasn’t keen on psychotherapy because I felt very protective about my upbringing, yet I knew something had to change, so I signed up and in July 2019 I headed to one of the Hoffman venues on the Sussex coast.

It was the most amazing week, with tears and laughter, rituals, and a lot of quiet time to feel into and process difficult emotions. A week where I shared a deep bond with complete strangers, all bearing our souls. A week for which I am deeply grateful.

Maud with certificateThe Hoffman Process helped me understand my patterns and my emotions better. For example, at work there were colleagues who would trigger a sense of unfairness and deep anger within me, even the sight of their name on an email was enough to set me off. After the Process I could see that it had nothing to do with them, it simply triggered an unresolved event in my past and a knee-jerk response and now I had tools to deal more effectively with that.

My behaviour and reactions changed greatly after the Process. Some changes were very quick, others are still a work in progress today. I can be aware of a pattern or have an insight but feel I haven’t yet integrated it. And that’s fine. I’m no longer in a rush and that’s important because it’s the rushing and striving that meant I literally didn’t have time to digest my life and emotions. I know that if my nervous system is stressed and I’m in ‘fight or flight’ mode then my parasympathetic nervous system that allows me to ‘rest and digest’, shuts down. My digestive system was showing me how rarely I was able to relax.

People sometimes seem surprised when I say I loved the Process, as it can be seen as very tough, but I truly enjoyed it as it gave me a deep sense of connection. Some activities were familiar to me from yoga retreats but there were other times that really challenged me, especially ones where I was asked to be spontaneous and playful and work in groups. It showed me how much I valued being in control and had started to isolate myself.

Seven months after completing the Process in February 2020 I finally decided that I’d had enough of my Jekyll and Hyde life. I quit my stress-inducing job and began to focus more on yoga, qigong, somatic work such as myofascial release, which releases tension and stress held in the body, and somatic movement which retrains the brain to release postural stress patterns. I believe, in the words of trauma expert Bessel Van Der Kolk’s seminal book, ‘the body keeps the score’ of emotional stress and that’s why it is so important to understand your patterns.

I’ve recently moved back to my childhood home in the Netherlands to support my elderly mother who is on her own since my father died in 2017. Living in my old childhood room under the same roof as my mother would have been impossible before the Process but now it feels like a positive, nurturing choice. I’m able to be less reactive, to listen deeper and communicate better and I feel that this is a healing time for both of us. I’m spending time in nature and allowing myself time to look after myself and those I love. It’s a much slower, kinder way of life for now and it’s giving me time to write and put together some wonderful programmes (based around qigong, mindfulness, somatic movement, yoga, etc.) to help others on a similar journey with their health.

I believe that my emotions are very much intertwined with my chronic illness. The Hoffman Process helped me to see when I am reacting from a pattern and provided me with tools to shift to responding from a place of calmness and equanimity. I would do the whole Process again in a heartbeat.

Maud GerrittsonHow to better digest life: five insights:

  1. Practice mindfulness: slow down, breathe, create space in your mind and body so you become less reactive and more aware of your internal world.
  2. A daily mind-body practice such as qigong or yoga: a practice where you connect mind, body and soul, where you breathe consciously and mindfully move your body. It’s difficult to have an open mind in a stiff body…
  3. Know thyself: begin a self-inquiry into what motivates you, what scares you and what triggers you. By more fully feeling and understanding your own emotions you can understand others better.
  4. Practice gratitude and self-compassion; they are necessary antidotes for the inner-critic and self-doubt. These practices make you a kinder person.
  5. Be curious and think maybe? Try not to get stuck too much in what you think you know; it closes your mind. You learn so much more by thinking: maybe?

To find out more about Maud’s offerings on qigong, yoga, somatic movement, myofascial release and more, visit: