Meet Heather: She’s Supercharged!

Heather and her harp.

Meet Heather.   And her harp.

When you meet Heather, or even when you practice next to her, there’s an energy you can feel.  She can’t help but radiate it.  She’s at the studio every day, always ready with a smile, her hair in a cute side bun (often with a flower, too).  Obviously a hard worker, when you hear her story, you will find it difficult not to say “wow.”

Heather was born an adventurous spirit and a fearless streak.  She was also born with a birth injury which limits the range of motion in her right arm, and which also caused her right arm to be shorter than her left.  Raised by her spirited mom that this was not a “disability”, Heather learned early on to keep growing, keep searching, keep becoming.  In college, Heather studied music and went on to get a graduate degree in spiritual psychology: synthesizing the physical, emotional, and behavioral within a spiritual lens.  Before her graduate studies, however, she hit the road.  As in, you guessed it, a Volkswagen van.  Circa 1971.

Starting in Montana where she wrote music, Heather became a traveling musician.  Singing and playing her guitar, she made her way across the country, honing her craft in an honest love of people and music.  Along the way, she learned the skills of gathering an audience and performing.  Her then boyfriend, now husband, helped her buy and fix up the van.  Heather realized that even though she was able to get gigs, it wasn’t really a living.  Eventually, they made their way to the Northwest in 1997.

Always an enthusiastic participant in physical activity despite her arm, Heather has been a distance cyclist, a runner, a swimmer (especially cold water), hiker, backpacker, skier and snowboarder.  In her 20’s, Heather took up hang gliding.  In a couple of crashes, she broke her ankle and then her arm.  The resulting fracture had the unfortunate effect of making her right arm even shorter.  She made her way in and out of yoga for a couple classes here and there, having worked at the Omega Institute for a time.  Yoga felt, at the time, boring and it was easy for her to space out.  Even though she was a vigorous exerciser, she  still held on to the belief that yoga wasn’t something she could do.  That she was somehow “asymmetrical” and so yoga was not right for her.  It never really clicked.

Along the way, Heather learned to play the violin (jimmy-rigged by her engineer husband so she can play it as you would a cello), the harp and both the 6 and 12 string guitar.  She’s always played more for the love of music and less to be an elite musician.  She champions learning to play an instrument at any age-it boosts brain development.  When determining what career course to pursue, Heather was drawn to pediatrics and playing for sick kids at the bedside.  While working for a nonprofit was challenging, she loved blending her music with spiritual psychology.  Her son was born during this time, now the twinkle in her eye and current biking partner.  The hours in pediatrics were tough on her body, often playing longer than she should have.  While working in this capacity, Heather discovered the practice of music thanatology.  While best described on Heather’s website, music thanatology is a professional field that unites music and end of life care.  Her next chapter was about to be written.

A confluence of  life factors faced Heather as she left her job in pediatrics.  She began her own business as a music thanatologist (she also offers harp lessons and music for ceremonies including weddings and funerals).  But as she was leaving her job, a worrying condition appeared in her left dominant hand.  Because of years of overuse, she developed muscular wasting in her hand.  She wasn’t able to play the guitar and her fingers were numb.  After consulting a hand surgeon, Heather underwent surgery to help repair the numbness and lack of dexterity she was experiencing.  Six months after the surgery, she was a little better but still the muscle had not grown back.

At roughly the same time, on a flight in Turkey with her sister, Heather decided to give Bikram yoga a try.  Heather’s sister Danni is a Bikram yoga instructor in Seattle.  Danni has been an instructor since 2011, but has practiced Bikram for many years.  Over the course of about 3 years, Heather went to 3 classes at Danni’s urging but still didn’t think it was right for her.  Finally, on that flight, Heather agreed to try a 30 day challenge at Bikram Hot Yoga Vancouver.  She knew the once in a while thing wasn’t going to work for her.  She had to go all in.

On April 29th of last year, Heather started her 30 day challenge.  At about 3 weeks in, Heather noticed that the muscle in her hand was growing back.  It served as further inspiration to her practice, as she was already feeling fantastic!  Looking back, Heather was in class over 300 days last year.  She watched her sister’s body “completely change” as she has been doing the yoga and feels her body is changing too…and her mind.  While she came to yoga “in a purely exercise way,” she now finds she is no longer doing the yoga, the yoga is doing her.  By this, she means that an entire class feels like it can go by in 5 minutes.  She has highly spiritual experiences in class:  she’s not reaching or searching, it  just comes.  For Heather, who practices daily, it’s not strenuous anymore mostly, something just happens and then…it becomes your foundation.  Physically and in daily life.  While core strength is what Heather says has changed most remarkably in her body, it’s also helped in her professional life.

In Heather’s work in hospice, she attends to her patients at the bedside.  She relies on her ability to connect and be present with her patients in order to bring about what thanalatolgists call loosening, a philosophy regarding bridging between this life and death.  For certain, the opportunity to do this work is for Heather, sacred.  She wants the music to have potency and purpose, which can include playing music or singing into her patient’s ear.  For most of us, death is a concept we rarely discuss or see.  But for Heather, her mission is to talk about it openly and have the conversation.  It’s a passionate calling for her, and her grace and willingness make her the ideal conduit for the journey between the life we have lead and what comes next.

When you see Heather in class, you can see she is what she calls “supercharged!”  Lucky for us, being part of a yoga community, we can all share in her vitality, and give some of our own.  Nowadays,  Heather will gladly geek out on some long talks about yoga with her sister or fellow yogis.  It continues to be a catalyst for change in her world.  For Heather, yoga has infused new life and energy into everything she does.  You never know when things are going to get turned upside down, and you will have to rediscover who else you are, what you can achieve.  Maybe all of us can get inspired by what Heather calls our constant and ongoing task:  growing.

 

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Bring it On

Sometimes life takes you on an unexpected path.

Sometimes life takes you on an unexpected path.

Just like the rest of us, Brandy’s life was going along just fine.  She was in a high stress job.  She was parenting her two daughters and stepson.  She and her husband were pursuing a healthy lifestyle.  Then a friend of hers was diagnosed with cancer.  When Brandy asked her what she could do to help, her friend said, “Go to the doctor.  Get yourself checked.”  And so, after going to a new doctor, Brandy was surprised to learn that a family history of cancer on her dad’s side warranted a trip to a genetic counselor.  And then an oncologist.  And then a surgeon.  Through each step of the process, Brandy had one abiding thought that she repeated over and over:  Bring it on.

At first, the news came slowly.  Luckily, Brandy’s insurance covered the test for the BRCA gene.  BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes can cause breast and ovarian cancers in women (and men) who have inherited a certain mutation in them.  Brandy tested positive for the gene (there are different types and different risk factors depending on the results) and found herself making some pretty heavy decisions in a very brief period of time.  Within 24 hours, Brandy made the choice to have a double mastectomy.  Even her naturopaths, a field which is often as odds with Western medicine, counseled her to have the surgery.  Brandy was scared, but she also felt empowered.  Unlike others before her, she had the information.  She had options.  And, of course, the one thing she was fiercely determined to keep.  She had her life.

Brandy and hubby enjoy a beautiful day together.

Brandy and hubby enjoy a beautiful day together.

The prep work was daunting.  Because Brandy’s gene carried a 96% chance of breast cancer, she had to get moving.  There were doctor’s appointments and tests after tests:  mammogram, MRI, plastic surgeon, general surgeon and even a psychologist to make sure she was mentally ready for what she was about to undertake.  And then, an ultrasound showed found a mass which kicked the whole process in high gear.  Her surgery was scheduled for April 19th, 2012.

In March, her mother in law brought Brandy a flier from the Vancouver Bikram hot yoga studio.  She knew Brandy wanted to be strong, healthy and ready for her surgery.  So Brandy went to her first class.  To her, it was “harder than childbirth!” She kept going. And going.  She felt “amazing.” She did the yoga every day leading up to her surgery, 30 days.  It prepared her in ways that she didn’t expect.  Exercise really is just the beginning, she says.  During her practice, she would visualize herself coming out of the surgery healthy and well.  With the yoga, she was able to manage her breath, take control of her mind, work through pain and learn how to calm herself.  When you get into it, she says, It can take you wherever you want to go.

After surgery, Brandy was focused on her next step:  reconstruction.  After mastectomy, this process can take years depending on how your body heals and reacts.  At a follow up appointment with her general surgeon, she found out that there had been 2 other masses on her chest wall.  The surgeon recommended radiation and chemotherapy.  Brandy felt blindsided.  She wanted to move on, not go back and expose herself to more toxins and invasive procedures.  Subsequent to many specialist consultations on what to do, the answers remained painfully elusive.  At the 11th hour, she made the brave decision to forego further treatment, to live as cleanly and presently as she could. Yoga, mindful living and breath, Brandy reasoned , will  keep me cancer-free.

June and July came with follow up surgeries for the reconstruction process.  The whole undertaking was painful and slow with an average 6 week wait until she could go back to yoga.  The surgeries and scar tissue also prevent full range of motion initially, so half moon pose with arms raised up over her head, was particularly difficult.  Instructors took the time to show her the pregnancy series which she used post surgery to help her avoid pain and ease her way back.  At about this time, Brandy began preparing for her next big surgery in October.  Her gene gives her about a 75% chance of ovarian cancer, so she took the tough step of removing those as well.  When ovaries are removed, the body plunges into menopause and estrogen ceases to flow at it’s usual rate, affecting bone density, mood, temperature, stamina among other things.

On October 31st, after dressing in costumes of doctors, nurses and patients, Brandy’s family escorted her to surgery.  She wasn’t allowed to go back to yoga until January 1st as her doctors feared the heat would exacerbate inflammation in her body.  Because her gene is estrogen receptor positive, the goal is to keep the estrogen in her body as low as possible.  This means she can’t take hormone replacement.   She relies on good nutrition, yoga and running to keep her weight down.  She takes supplements to help with other side effects of estrogen loss.  She limits caffeine and sugar. But, she says, she’s not perfect.  In this phase of her life, even while she has been through incredible trauma, she has given herself the gift of perspective.  Not so easy.

Brandy and her daughters.

Brandy and her daughters.

When asked if she was a spiritual person, Brandy pauses.  Of course, she says.  But this experience has changed how she sees the world.  She has become more open to other people, ideas and ways to be.  It has set her on a new spiritual path toward healing herself and those around her.  While she doesn’t see life the way she used to, she is eager to share her knowledge with others to help make a difference.  She and her daughters volunteer for Pink Lemonade, an organization set up by her plastic surgeon, Dr. Allen Gabriel.  She quit her high stress job and works in a place where she can feel less like she is on the “gerbil wheel.” She is training now for a half marathon.  She recently was featured in an article in the Columbian telling her story. Yearning for more in-depth yoga study, she attended teacher training this past year.

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In the end, Brandy describes the hot room as the pillar of her recovery.  It is the place she can go to slow herself down and get grounded.  It is the place where community embraces her.  It makes her feel more connected to the universe and is her gateway for healing and being present.  Most days, she says, she doesn’t give her experience much thought.  You can find her, just like you, sweating on her mat.  Everyone in the room has a story, she says, and hers is just one of many.  But if Brandy is near you, you can feel the energy of life flowing through her.  You can see it in her twinkling eyes and gorgeous smile.  You can hear it in the resolve of her words.  Maybe next time you see her in class, you can move next to her and get some.  Trust me, it’s good stuff.  Bring it on.

Life is precious.

Life is precious.  Just ask Brandy.

Photos of Brandy and family provided by the lovely Brandy herself.

Top and bottom photos by talented local photographer Barbara Paulsen.

Pregnant, Poised and Powerful

A beautiful standing bow, made even more so by the beautiful baby in her belly!

A beautiful standing bow, made even more so by the beautiful baby in her belly!

When you meet Christina, you are first struck by her perfect complexion, her beautiful dark eyes and her sparkly smile.  But after you talk to her awhile, you see an inner determination that is not immediately apparent.  Walking away from our interview, only one thought came to mind.  That girl is fierce.

Christina first came to Bikram yoga after serving in the Peace Corps.  She returned in 2010, and after hearing about Bikram often in Seattle, decided to give it a try here in Vancouver.  She moved here to be with her then boyfriend, now husband, who also practices at the studio.  Christina had tried yoga at her gym, and while she liked it, she found it lacking.  Plus it was cold in there.  As luck would have it, Groupon provided the pathway to the studio.  In the beginning, Christina found Bikram yoga to be, well, noisy.  There was so much talking.  And the poses were the same every time.  But after a while she learned, it’s not the poses that need to change.  It’s you.

After practicing for over a year, and soon after she got married, Christina found out she was expecting.  This came as a surprise, so she and her husband decided to keep it quiet.  She went to class as usual and remembers feeling absolutely awful.  Actually, she said class sucked.  She felt heavy, like every movement required more effort than it should have.  She also felt metaphorically heavy because of this secret she had.  Her own family didn’t even know.  But eventually she knew she had to tell the instructor.  After calling her over, Christina was told by the instructor that she shouldn’t be practicing in her first trimester.  Christina emailed Rajashree, who assured her it was okay to practice.  However, nausea and fatigue kept her out of the hot room until her second trimester.  (Please refer to Rajashree’s pregnancy recommendations on the Bikram yoga website for more specifics).  

Christina, true to form throughout her pregnancy, listened to her body.  When she didn’t feel well during her first three months, she “laid on the couch.”  Knowing she’d eventually go back, she discussed Bikram yoga with her midwife.  While the midwife “wasn’t a fan,” she told Christina to stay hydrated, keep cool and keep her heart rate as low as possible.  (Christina emphasizes how important it is to drink more than you may want to, hydration is crucial).   Other instructors at the studio reminded Christina that it wasn’t about the temperature in the room, it was about her core temperature, which was regulated by sweating it out anyway.  Studio owner Erika (who had delivered a healthy baby after doing Bikram yoga throughout her pregnancy)  provided pose modifications and support.  In her typically assured manner, she says that if her midwife told her it wasn’t okay, she would have found somebody else.

Second trimester:  hooray!  As Christina started feeling better, she went back to the hot room.  And this time…she felt like Wonder Woman.  She felt flexible and amazing.  Her family, however, didn’t feel so great about it.  They saw the photos and worried that she could be hurting the baby.  Some friends were shocked, one even commented that she was cooking her baby.  To this friend, she replied, “then she’ll come out perfect.”  This kind of poise is present whenever she is questioned; remarkably rare among the nervous first-time-moms set.  When asked how she maintained the courage of her convictions, Christina shrugs and says she just knew she could do it.  Even when she got frustrated, she didn’t give up. She remembers one class where she slept the whole class.  She says, “the hot room gives you what you need.  I guess I needed a nap.”

Feeling like Wonder Woman in her second trimester.

Feeling like Wonder Woman in her second trimester.

In the uphill struggle that marks the third trimester, Christina says the poses began to get harder and harder, and she remembers when she wasn’t able to do eagle anymore.  The wide legged stretch on the floor felt great, but weird when her belly began touching the floor.  Her husband reminded her:  All you need to get out of yoga right now is breathing.  Concentrate on that.  So she did.  And finally, the day after she did reflexology, went out to dinner, had wine and went for a walk with her husband, she went into labor.  Her doula came, and was thrilled with how well Christina was doing using prayanama to get her through the contractions.  She used anything and everything to get herself through in her typically resourceful manner:  hot compresses, therapy ball and soaking in the tub.  At last it was time to go to the hospital.  Feeling aggravated by the wait to check in and fill the pool (she was doing a waterbirth), she kept breathing.  As the pain worsened, it became more challenging.  It felt like she wasn’t getting any breaks in the contractions.  Thoughts were swirling but she couldn’t communicate.  She found herself yelling in a high pitch. Ultimately, her midwife reminded her to “get out of her head and into her body.”  A lower pitch and open throat, she told herself.  And then her daughter was born.

A backbend most can only dream of, and in her third trimester no less!

A backbend most can only dream of, and in her third trimester no less!

Post-partum, Christina went back to class 4 weeks after her daughter was born.  This class was miserable for her, but she told herself to be patient.  Her advice to new moms is to not have high expectations.  It takes awhile.  And you might cry though the whole class because you are flooded with hormones.  And above all, don’t forget to pump before class.

When you are around Christina, you feel like she has her act together.  A sharp sense of humor rounds out her self reliant manner.  When asked how Bikram yoga helped her get through pregnancy, childbirth and being a new mom, she doesn’t hesitate.  It helps you be in the moment.  You focus on what is at hand, not the future.  You quiet your mind.  You don’t have to overthink.  Your body stays strong, but you give your mind a rest.

Knowing Christina, you would do well to listen.

The happy family.

The happy family.

Thanks to Christina for providing the beautiful photos, and the inspiration.

It Takes Two to…Yoga

When you see two yoga mats lined up in front, it's a good bet it's Tara and Jonathan.

When you see two yoga mats lined up together in front, it’s a good bet it’s Tara and Jonathon.

The yoga studio is home to many practicing couples.  Often they set up their mats in their own spots separately in the hot room.  Often they come to different classes because one has to stay home with the kids.  The rest of us look on enviously, saying “I wish I could get my (husband, wife, etc.) to come to class with me.”  Not Tara and Jonathon.  They practice with their mats right next to each other in friendly competition and because, as Jonathon says,  “We’re a good team.”  Obviously.

Tara and Jonathon, in addition to being Bikram devotees, are chiropractic physicians.  Their practice is Atlas Spinal Care, just a stone’s throw from the Eastside studio.  They met in undergrad at Auburn University.  (Just a hint of southern twang is detectable when you listen hard enough).  Beginning as running buddies, eventually theirs was a relationship borne of a mutual competitive spirit, desire to help others, a deep friendship and belief in hard work.   Also, Tara says, they have a matching “obsessive” streak in their personalities.  Having graduated from chiropractic school here in the Northwest, they decided to stay.  For the past 9 years, they have built a thriving practice specializing in headaches.  Their office is busy, clean and professional which clearly reflects their inspiring commitment and work ethic.

A friend initially brought Tara to the hot room.  During the class, Tara remembers thinking:  a.)  I’m going to die and b.) Jonathon will love this!  Apparently, Jonathon loves the heat, nostalgic for the sweltering southern temperatures he grew up with.  A day or two later, Jonathon too tried the yoga.  Both of them found themselves wanting to go back, despite the toughness of the class.  That was a year ago.  Today, you can find Tara and Jonathon joining studio challenges, finding alternate studios when out of town and vigorously recommending Bikram yoga to their patients.   These two are hard core, going to 3 to 5 classes a week!  What is it about the yoga that has made this couple so committed?  Many reasons, as it turns out.  Tara has gained a new love of drinking water.  Each is better able to do the mental transition from work to home with the benefit of the class.  Jonathon enjoys seeing himself improve.  Most of all is the friendly rivalry between the two.  Tara says, “sometimes I look at what he’s doing in class and think WOW.”  Jonathon counters, “Sometimes I look at Tara and think, she just raised the bar!”  Being around them, you can sense the respect they have for each other.  But you can also tell they gear themselves up for a smackdown.  Stay out of their way, trust me.

Each of them has their own personal reasons for their dedication.  Jonathon states that when he sees other people do postures that he can’t do, he thinks, “I’ve got to be able to do this pose.”  He loves the structure of the classes and the accountability provided by the instructors.  He is completely motivated to push himself each and every time.  For Tara, she feels similarly and is particularly buoyed by some neck issues which have improved with Bikram yoga.  As a chiropractor, with access to physical therapy, massage and acupuncture, it came as a pleasant surprise that the yoga what was finally helped resolve some nagging problems.  “I’m stubborn, I keep at it,” she says.  Hmm.  Sounds like someone else we know.

By far the most compelling reason for going to yoga for both Jonathon and Tara is optimum health.  Telling me about a patient who had come in with an 8 liter a day Mountain Dew habit, Jonathon emphatically states that people need to take charge of their health.  He is frustrated when his patients can’t find the wherewithal to take care of themselves.  To Tara and Jonathon, their goal is to have their patients need them less.  To that end, they encourage hydration (with water, not pop, by the way), regular exercise and most of all, personal responsibility.  “People hold their adjustments better when they are active and strong.”  Seeing them fully engaged in a life of health, it’s tough not to feed off their enthusiasm.  Really.  Just talk to them for 5  minutes sometime.

As far as the studio itself, Tara and Jonathon love walking in and seeing people they recognize from other classes.  It’s a feeling of community and family that is the gift of a regular yoga practice.  They have always felt warm and welcomed, a far cry from some studios they have visited where the feeling was stuffy or unstructured.  Having a clean and professional studio goes a long way to staying motivated to keep coming back.  Of course, there are always off-days. But this is one couple who doesn’t let each other off the hook.  When one is feeling sluggish, the other is there to encourage.  Jonathon’s one complaint?  Mat etiquette.  When they are all up and down and out of order, this is troubling to him.  Anyone wanting a lesson in mat placement?  Jonathon is your guy.

There are some days when the pair walk into the room and can’t find two spots next to each other.  Both Tara and Jonathan say that it doesn’t feel strange to be alone in class, but that it doesn’t feel quite right when they have to be separated for class.  So, next time this happens, move over so they can be together.  You will be rewarded with tons of positive energy.  Times two.

Yoga saved her. Literally.

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In case you didn’t know, the cervical spine is not a spot you want to injure.

Fellow yogini Cindy has always been a self described daredevil.  A sampling of her adventures includes rugby, skiing, snowboarding and diving to name a few.  She thrives on trying new things and being social, such as doing a mini-talk shows, production, promoting ski-wear and now helping students design yearbooks.  If you were a friend of Cindy’s, you would know her as positive, energetic, fun to be around and up for anything.  Cindy had been doing Bikram yoga for about a year when, on an outing with girlfriends, her adventurous spirit lead her to a life-altering moment.  Look out, Cindy.  Karma is coming.

A beautiful day on a boat with friends.  Laughter, water and time away from the grind of work.  A couple of her friends’ kids decide they want to jump off a 5 story precipice into the beckoning water.  Wanting to add cliff jumping to her resume, Cindy said “Let’s do it!” in her usual enthusiastic way.  Her 20’s something co-jumper showed her how to negotiate, feet first, into the water below.  However, when Cindy jumped, she took a little pre-jump up and subsequently ended up trying to right herself the entire way down.  She hit the water hard, and from such a height, water becomes less and less like water and more and more like ground.  By lucky coincidence, a firefighter was in a boat near her and saw her land.  Swiftly and expertly, he and a friend removed her from the water, stabilized her spine with a towel and called for assistance.  That assistance wound up being first an ambulance, then a helicopter when they realized the extent of her injuries.  When Cindy asked questions, being reasonably cognitively aware of what was happening, the answer was almost always the same.  “Because,” they responded, “this is serious.”

About the time the helicopter arrived, Cindy knew this was more than what she thought initially was whiplash.  Her arms and neck were tingly and she was breathing in a rapid and shallow way.  She thought to herself that she was in shock as she was transported to the nearest hospital.  In pain and confused, she was urged to go to Portland for emergency surgery.  Then everything went black.  She woke up after her first surgery at OHSU where they place a plate in through her neck, pulling aside her vocal cords in the process.  Three days later, another surgery from the rear of her neck to place the screws.  In a drug induced fog, Cindy remembers wondering, “Am I dead?   Am I dreaming?”  Neither.  Long hours of recovery at the hands of her loving husband and 15 year old son allowed Cindy, having broken her neck in August, back to the hot room in January.  Pretty amazing.

Cindy speaks appreciatively toward studio owner Erika, who put her membership on hold until she could return.  Cindy’s doctor asked her what she did to keep fit, and when she answered Bikram yoga, he said the strength she had developed in her spine may very well have saved her from being a quadriplegic.  Her return to yoga, however, felt far from triumphant.  Tears flowed, disguised in sweat, out of sheer frustration.  In an extraordinary show of resilience, Cindy continues to battle back, talking herself through postures she could once do with ease.  She has learned how to alternately push herself and back off when needed.  Her favorite postures have changed since the accident, as she understands her new body.  As she attempts patience with her healing, she forgoes deep back bends and breathes through the frustration.  Her favorite pose is standing bow:  both it’s beauty and it’s promise.  “Someday,” she tells herself as she gently works her way into the posture.  Always the competitor, though, she challenges herself, “Cindy, you are going to figure this out!”

Bikram yoga initially drew Cindy in as a way to support an aging (eek!) body.  Having played team sports all her life, she was compelled by the group mentality.  Spiritually, Cindy uses savasana as a sacred space to cultivate thanks.  For what? For being healthy, for having people who love her, for the universe and for all the good things in life.  For a firefighter ironically named “Cliff” who pulled her from the water.  Bikram yoga also serves her competitive nature, with it’s mirrors and it’s teachers (she sees them as coaches) always encouraging her to do more, go farther and be better.  She has seen others and herself do things she didn’t think were possible.  You can do it.  You can do it…

Sometimes, despite a remarkable road to recovery, Cindy still plays some “head games.”  She asks herself why she put herself at risk.  Was I stressed?  Did I have something to prove?  Regretful of the pain she caused herself and the people she loves, she questions.  She wonders.  Just like a true yogi.  But when she finds herself in that place, she goes back to her breathing.  Her positive nature shines through.  She remembers the biggest lesson that yoga has taught her:  You are more than you think you are.  You can do more than you think you can do.  The confidence she has gained continues to grow.  She resolves to live life fully, if not as a daredevil, as the person next to you on her mat.  Living the big life.

Thanks Cindy!

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Beth: She meets,she greets, she inspires…

Now that is a gorgeous backbend!

Now that is a gorgeous backbend.

Hello yogis and welcome to Vancouver Bikram Yoga’s blog!

In case you haven’t met her yet, we’d like to introduce you to Beth Perkins.  She mans the desk on Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons.  You will know her immediately by her big beautiful eyes, her indelible smile, her ceaseless charm and her huge and seriously contagious laugh.  Oh yeah, and her backbends (see above).  Studio owner Erika wanted to spotlight Beth as a committed and incredibly fun yogi as well as someone who has come a long, arduous path to the place she is today.

Beth first came to the studio in July 2010, exactly one year after the death of her beloved 20 year old son Ryan.  His death had understandably paralyzed her on many levels.  She was trying to get herself back on track after a year of mourning; going to yoga with friends, engaging in a support group (with members whom even now she says she will count on forever) but she said there was something missing.  For Beth, it was Bikram Yoga.  She says this practice is “extreme,” but her grief and suffering at the time were extreme as well.  After a tough start, it turned out to be a perfect fit.  Her first class, Beth said she was worried she might not be able to crawl out of the room.  But she did.  Again and again, Beth came back.  Why?  To her, the answer lies in the grounding and focus it brought and the sense of accomplishment she felt like nothing else she had done before.

Her biggest challenge initially was breathing.  She found herself getting a little panicked and found it eased over time when she learned to “get on top of” her breath.  To her surprise and relief, the breathing carried over into her “real” life and learned that breath is the key to surviving in the hot room and outside of it.  She sees the hot room as a place to challenge what you think is real.  As she says it, in the room and in life, “the best thing is to let go of your expectations.  Or your ego will get you.”  Now, 2 and a half years after she began coming to the studio, her challenges are different but “opportunities are everywhere” to move your practice forward.  Her favorite poses are camel and rabbit.  They are difficult of course, but as she giggles, “sometimes I just tell myself I love how it feels when really it feels awful.  And you know what?  It works!”

The practice has contributed to Beth’s well-being in many ways.  Her doctor told her she was a “walking stroke,” but she has managed to lower her cholesterol by 120 points and her blood pressure as well since she started practicing.  Beth took the advice of her fellow yogi’s and eats a mostly plant based diet now, too.  Perhaps the most remarkable change she has made is moving from taking 3 different anti-depressants to now being anti-depressant free.  She credits yoga as being the force which got her through the withdrawal-like symptoms of dizziness and fatigue.  In her cheery and upbeat way, she also gives props to her fellow yogi’s as being the “beautiful community” which helped her through.  She sees them as keeping her accountable, being spiritually like-minded and contributing to her already bubbly outlook.  When you rub elbows with people like this, she says, you can’t help but be a better person.

And for now, you can catch Beth three days a week at the studio.   Sometimes four when she has time between her full time job in health care, playing with her two dogs and creating an outdoor space at the home she shares with her husband of 15 years.  Of course, the grief remains and becomes more acute when her son’s friends begin getting married and having children.  But Beth reminds herself, in her own genuine and sparkly way, that healing is a gift you give yourself. And along with time with friends and loved ones, yoga puts you on a path to accept and surrender.  Until then, Beth herself is a gift to anyone who meets her.  With her big beautiful laugh, her generous smiles and her dedicated practice to health, you can’t feel anything but be inspired.

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