My (looooong!) Story ~
Seriously! You may as well brew some tea, grab a snack and put up your feet because this is practically a novella.
I’m Maggie Verderame — aka, Magareeshi. Magareeshi is a nickname given to me because I’m somewhat of a “yogi.” I don’t think I’m like The Maharishi or anything! In fact, I’m totally against the whole “guru” thing. (So, if you’re looking for me to be your guru, I must tell you now, I won’t do it! You are your own guru. I am happy to inspire your inner guru to guide you. But that’s all. I mean, sheesh, I don’t levitate, nor am I better than you are. I may have some insights for you, but when you apply them, your own brilliance will shine through — and what I want is for you to be shiny, happy YOU! Ok, now back to me ...)
On paper, I am a singer-songwriter and a yoga teacher. I’m also a happily married mindful mommy, a vegetarian home cook, and a creator of FUNctional art and jewelry. Yoga is the foundation for everything I create.
I’ve been doing yoga since 1992, when I was 19 years old. (You do the math!) When I was about 10 years old I was diagnosed with scoliosis. If you don’t already know, scoliosis is a curvature of the spine. My case was severe enough to warrant wearing a custom-made hard brace that encased my entire torso. I wore my brace 23 hours a day, allowed only to take it off for an hour of stretching, swimming or bathing. As I grew, so did the severity of my spine’s curve.
By my teenage years, my hips and shoulders were out of alignment with each other, my ribs were rotated in a wonky formation, and my thoracic spine (the upper back part), was shifted way far over to the right, under my shoulder blade. I began having immunity issues, and chronic kidney infections in my left kidney that could be attributed to my spinal alignment. I had a bit of a hump (not the technical term — that’s “kyphosis”) on the right side of my upper back. I kind of made all this work for me and my teenage attitude by simply standing in a bit of a sassy looking stance most of the time. I went to school, was outgoing, and was able to keep studying and working at my passion, which was musical theatre. Truth be told, though, I hurt. My body hurt a lot, all the time. Occasionally I missed school and opening nights and talent shows because of my kidney problems or other health issues.
At 16 I was told I needed surgery to straighten my spine. I was supposed to have a metal rod attached to my spine, forcing and holding it into place. My orthopedic doctor told me if I didn’t have surgery, the chances of my being in a wheelchair when I was an adult were high, given how consistently my curve kept increasing. He also suggested that I wouldn’t ever be able to be pregnant because it would put too much pressure on my ribs and back. Outwardly I was happy and peace-loving, but I was a pretty angry, confused kid.
Before I was diagnosed with scoliosis, there was a lot of stress in my life. My parents divorced when I was a baby and a few years later my mom remarried a man who became an abusive alcoholic. I was physically and sexually abused when I was little. My mom tried hard to keep things positive, but by the time I was a teenager, all this stress contributed to tight muscles, pain, and the intensity of my spine’s curve.
I know this all sounds like a total bummer, but there’s a point to it and it has a happy ending, so please keep reading .......
Due to an insurance debacle, I never got my surgery in high school. I didn’t know anything else I could do to help my physical state, so I kept on keeping on in hopes that someday I would be able to have surgery. In the meantime I received a diploma from a small college in my “backup” field of study, broadcast journalism, while I worked in a record store, performed in community theatre and wrote and sang my own songs in some dive-y places. Eventually, though, my back hit a tipping point. I had to stop working, I couldn’t go further on in school and I certainly couldn’t perform. I could barely walk. I was hunched over and in pain and for a few weeks when I was 19 I lost all the feeling on the surface of my back.
Insert hopeful music here .......
Around that time, a new friend suggested I see her mother who was an acupuncturist. I made an appointment. I had no idea what I was doing, by the way! This was before Google and I did no research whatsoever; I just went with it. At my first appointment, in addition to using needles, the acupuncturist did all sorts of bodywork I’d never heard of. I left her office in what felt like a different body. I had more mobility and relaxed muscles. I could breathe more deeply. I was happier and the world around me looked brighter.
At the end of my appointment, the acupuncturist asked me if I had ever tried yoga. I hadn’t, but for some reason — again with absolutely nothing to go on, it sounded like a GREAT idea! We decided on a regular treatment plan for me that I couldn’t afford and I committed to trying yoga right away. Ah, to be 19 again! Just wing it!!
I did my part. I showed up for appointments and I went to a yoga class at a gym. I had some lower body flexibility, a wee bit of coordination, and no upper body strength. It was odd. It was challenging. It was kind of funny. I was the youngest and least physically capable person in class. I left thinking, ‘Okay, not sure what I just did there, but it was kind of cool, I guess.’ Right away I noticed I felt really, really happy. I felt connected to things I found meaning in like flower children and social justice and peace and health. I thought that was amusing. It felt good. A few minutes later in the locker room the yoga teacher approached me. She said, “Oh, I’m so glad I ran into you! I see what’s going on in your body and I know that was hard for you, but, if I may? Just ... just ... come back. Try yoga again, ok?” It all seemed so peculiar and I had no idea why I was doing any of what I was doing, but I said, “Okay. Sure.”
I did go back. Weekly. I went to my acupuncture appointments weekly, too. I finally fessed up that I couldn’t pay for all of this and I got my first lesson in miracles-through-people when the acupuncturist offered me a job! She said she would pay me to be her receptionist/office manager and her benefits package would be all the free acupuncture I needed ... because, she pointed out, I needed A LOT.
My time spent in the acupuncture office and at yoga classes exposed me to the world of natural living. I began to eat differently. I began to think differently. I began to feel differently. I began to associate with alternative healthcare practitioners, bodyworkers, mindful artists and meditators. I began to attend all sorts of workshops and classes. I was healthier and happier. I was more positive, hopeful and physically capable. I found a lovely yoga teacher who altered every posture to suit my needs, even when it was nowhere near what the rest of the class was doing. She taught me that yoga is for EVERYONE, regardless of their circumstance. I got myself a yoga book and I did yoga all the time.
I decided to go to acupuncture school because the system of Oriental Medicine had so positively impacted my life. I remember the first sentence of my application essay was, “Acupuncture changed my life.” In school I continued to get healthier and healthier and I realized that, in addition to helping heal me, acupuncture was my catalyst to yoga and learning more about nutrition and natural living. I figured out that I didn’t actually want to be an acupuncturist. I missed performing and wanted to live as an artist with enough of an understanding of Oriental Medicine to support my life and to be able to share it with others. It became clear to me that I wanted to explore all kinds of natural healing to have a positive impact on the world — especially children because I knew what it was to be an unhealthy, unhappy, disrespected child. So I left school. I eventually left the acupuncture office and I went back into theatre (and, therefore, bar tending — which totally paid off because it was at the bar where I met my indefatigable, inspiringly musical husband in 1995 and we’ve been collaborating ever since).
All the while I did yoga. Yoga and healthy living permeated everything I did. It became the foundation for my life. I learned to live with more acceptance and go with the flow and follow my muses. When I was given a group of teeny tiny kids to direct in a musical, I inherently infused yoga into that work. When I taught preschool and implemented an original after school dramatics program for kids 12 and under, I shared yoga with those kids, as well. It made sense to me that kids should experience yoga because it could help them be calm, happy and focused. It never occurred to me, however, that I was or would be a yoga teacher. In fact, I didn’t exactly know what I would do professionally so I explored working with kids, writing, performing and anything that interested me. My freelancing, entrepreneurial spirit was born and I trusted I would figure out a way to weave everything I loved together.
Fast forward about a zillion (okay, maybe 9) years later when my yoga teacher at the time told me I should be a yoga teacher. I laughed because 9 years into my practice, I was just starting to try to do a headstand. You see, over the years, my spine had shifted closer to the center of my back, my ribs had rotated into a healthier alignment, and my shoulders and hips had released a lot, all without surgery. So, I was finally feeling able to explore yoga like the other able bodied yogis in my classes. I was getting strong. I was getting brave. I could get a little adventurous and try to do things that had seemed impossible earlier in my life like, stand on my head. I thought my teacher was crazy. And yet, somehow, once again, I went with it and wound up interning under her, attending yoga teacher trainings and started teaching in 2001. I had a knack for it and I absolutely loved teaching yoga!
In 2003 my husband and I opened a yoga studio in Las Vegas (where we live because he is a badass drummer for a cool show on the strip!). I directed the studio for 5 years. During that time I developed my kids yoga program, trained a slew of yoga teachers, created my own teacher trainings, connected yoga with art and music locally, and basically had a grand old time with some of the most wonderful people on earth! In 2008 we decided to have real life baby instead of a yoga studio one, and our full-of-moxie wee girl was born in 2009.
Since that time the foundation of yoga in my life has become an even fiercer force! It has led me to a deeper understanding of mindfulness through parenting and ignited a passion in me to support other families in their pursuit of happy, healthy, mindful living. My artistic soul is called to create and share like never before; the music and artful things I make all emerge from yoga. I am driven to de-mystify yoga, showing how it can be practically applied by ANYONE regardless of their background or beliefs. I’ve put it all together and now use yogic principles and entertainment to inspire people of all ages to lead more natural, joyful lives!
Through yoga I have become grateful, even for the dramatic negative things that have come my way; they have shaped who I am today. Yoga and music are interestingly similar and working closely with both for so many years, I have learned how to improvise and go with the flow. (Full disclosure: I am not perfect and stumble often, but I at least fall back on this intention every time I become overwhelmed!) I have learned that one thing leads to another, we are all connected, a tolerant world view leads to understanding and peace, and that there are many blessings in disguise among us. Thanks to challenging circumstances bringing me to yoga and all that unfolded from there, I am living brightly ever after!
And I hope to contribute to you and yours doing the same! If you want to get started with a yoga retreat day, click here.