I got into alignment yoga the old fashioned way- I was in pain and needed to learn how to stop hurting myself.
I thought of myself as an indestructible, bionic woman in 2007. As a professional aerialist, I could bench press my body weight, do more pull-ups than most men I knew, and was getting booked by a talent agent for dramatic shows on my red silks at casinos, art museums and the like. I was a certified yoga teacher lauded in my Midwestern community as an archetype of strength and fitness.
Then my shoulder started hurting.
What started as a nagging discomfort quickly became debilitating, searing pain. I thought I was simply overdoing it and took some time off from my training. I sought help from a kinesiologist, a chiropractor, and massage therapists. I tried Reiki, PT, and meditation, but got only minimal relief.
My pain was getting worse and my yoga practice wasn’t helping. Adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) hurt, and I couldn’t practice chatturanga dandasana (low plank) any more. It got so bad that picking up a glass of water made me grimace.
I was teaching yoga but I felt like a fraud.
In late 2007 I moved to Philadelphia and in early 2008 I pivoted from the Vinyasa Yoga I initially practiced and started studying Alignment Yoga (what used to be Anusara).
It was like coming home. It resonated, immediately, and I knew I had so much to learn.
I started uncovering my body’s patterns: how my mobile ribs and remarkably open shoulders put me at risk. I began building more integrated strength. I learned anatomy and biomechanics. I studied uplifting Tantric philosophy and how to apply it to both the poses in my practice and my everyday life off the mat.
My shoulder pain started to clear. I learned how to work with my body’s idiosyncrasies and move back into weight bearing pain-free.
I began to practice poses I had been avoiding because of the pain: first adho mukha svanasana (down dog), then chatturanga dandasana (low plank), even moving quickly through vinyasa (flow) again. I made my way back, pain-free, into the most challenging poses: inversions, binds, arm balances.
The alignment principles revealed to me not only my own body’s issues, but patterns that are shared among humans: pains that show up when we sit a lot, when we run marathons, when we practice ballet.
I began sharing this alignment wisdom with my students, and they started coming to me with questions about their injuries and chronic pain. Today, I have supported thousands of students in learning why their body hurts and how to apply mindful alignment in simple poses to create healing.
I have helped students in group classes and private lessons as well as teacher trainees in Maha’s Yoga Teacher Training; together we have strategized how to work with herniated discs in their low back, torn hamstring attachments, flat feet and bunions, separated shoulders, and repetitive movement injuries from their careers.
Then in 2018, I was in a bicycle accident and broke my arm. Like really, really broke it. I suffered a compound fracture, snapped both forearm bones in half and turned one of the bones to powder. After a 6.5 hour surgery, three plates, countless screws and 300 stitches, my medical team told me it was unbelievable that I hadn’t separated my elbow (so common in the wreck I had, and especially with the force that I hit).
My surgeon told me the yoga is definitely working, that it’s strengthened my joints, and to keep it up once I could move again.
I assured him I most definitely would.
He also warned me I would be unlikely to get my full mobility back, that my injuries were just too severe.
I came home and elevated my arm for a full month. When I was able to move again, I gently applied the alignment yoga that I know so well and the method I’ve shared with so many students: move from no weight bearing towards greater weight bearing. Be patient yet tenacious. Let the breath lead the way.
And most importantly: none of this should hurt.
Today, the function in my arm is incredible. Another physician was impressed in my recovery and asked, ‘who did my PT.’ I told him the truth: I had one PT appointment at the Philadelphia Hand & Shoulder Center during which I learned how to break up scar tissue (so helpful!). I showed my physical therapist the exercises I was doing to regain movement in my arm, and he told me to keep doing exactly that.
I felt so lucky to have the yoga wisdom to hold me during that time.
As my bones healed, I continued to move and practice in the ways I’ve taught my students: with great reverence, patience and tenacity.
Yoga is not a pill you can take that will make your problems go away. It’s a practice and it takes both commitment and time.
In the Yoga Immersion and Teacher Training program at Maha, we share the nuts and bolts of this life-affirming system of philosophy, movement and practice. In our public classes, we distill this information into digestible, short formats. In our private lessons, we tailor this knowledge to meet each individual’s needs.
I’ve been teaching yoga in Philadelphia since 2008, and training teachers here since 2010. I stand behind our system and this studio wholeheartedly. I am so proud to be a member of this community, and endlessly grateful to all my teachers (especially my longtime mentor Zhenja La Rosa) and every student whose process has educated me over the years.
Come to class. Book a series of private sessions. Register for Immersion. Together we continue to seek, learn, heal and grow.
I hope to see you on the mat soon.