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!