I was born in Michigan and moved around the mid-west as a child, living in Michigan, Missouri, and Indiana. When I was 15, I was a passenger in a car accident. During the accident my sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae were dislocated, partially severing and stretching my spinal cord. My diagnosis is quadriplegia, but I was able to regain much of the use of my arms and hands. I am confined to a wheelchair with no use of my legs. When I was 19 I moved to the east coast of Florida on New Year’s Eve. There I was lucky enough to meet my husband, David, and in 2006 we moved to Punta Gorda to be closer to my dad. We live here with our dog, Baci, and our cat, Crackers.
I began practicing yoga with Bonnie at The Yoga Sanctuary in 2009, and now I work with Jennifer. I thought about practicing yoga for about a year before I got up the nerve to send an email to the studio to inquire as to whether practicing yoga was even possible for me. I thought yoga might be good for the aches and pains that come with a spinal cord injury. Although I knew in my heart that yoga would be good for me, I was scared. I don’t really like people I don’t know touching me. I knew I would have to talk about my disability, what “works” and what doesn’t, why I get goose bumps or clammy when I’m physically uncomfortable, and other things that were only discussed with my family and closest friends. I emailed TYS. Despite the fact that I kind of hoped that no one would reply, Bonnie did. Not only did she reply, but she also got me excited. She told me about quadriplegic yogi Matthew Sanford. If you haven’t read his book “Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence,” get it today. He is an inspiration.
I do private yoga sessions every other week. I am not particularly disciplined, so my at-home practice consists of stretches and breathing, usually in response to an acute ache, pain, or stressful situation. I also attend workshops on occasion.
I have many gripes that come with being a wheelchair user. My shoulders, neck, and arms ache. Fortunately, yoga keeps my bursitis at bay. My aches and pains are now manageable. I could barely turn my head before I began to practice yoga. Now neck stretches are something I love, not fear! During my sessions Bonnie, and now Jennifer, provides the movement that my legs don’t get on their own. We put them up, we stretch them, we breathe, and my legs relax. It’s funny how independent you feel when you allow someone else to help you for a few minutes. I also enjoy the energetic aspects of yoga. I love breathing out and letting that negative energy go.
When I started yoga, I was looking for things to make me get out of the house. I work from home, which makes it easy to get stuck in a rut where I’m tired at the end of the day and don’t get out for even a breath of fresh air. Yoga is like physical therapy that is relaxing and enjoyable. Yoga is my way of continuing physical therapy on my terms. For me, the greatest benefit of practicing yoga is the ability to move beyond my wheelchair. When I practice I move in ways that I never do in my day-to-day life, which feels so good. My favorite poses are any twist, or arms straight up.
There aren’t many things in my life that I can say I have done consistently for five years, but yoga is one of them. I am inspired by my family, because they make me want to feel my best. I still face all of the same challenges I faced before beginning yoga, but now I have some new tools to deal with them. If my neck aches, I know what to do to address it in that moment. If my shoulder hurts, I know what to do. My challenges remain the same, but my response is different since I began my yoga practice.
Outside of yoga, my husband and I love to travel and cook. Work takes up a lot of our time, but we try to balance that out by having fun with friends and family, and we love taking Baci out for happy hour at the many dog friendly restaurants around town.
As for quotes, I will leave you with an all-time favorite and a yoga favorite. I think Dr. Seuss is one of our great philosophers, and he once said, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you!” This is so true. It’s what I had to accept when I welcomed Bonnie and Jennifer into my life. And my favorite yoga quote comes from Bonnie Yonker herself. I was checking out after practice, and TYS had a teacher training going on. I asked Bonnie whether the teacher training addressed adaptive yoga; I was thinking about adapting yoga for people with disabilities like mine. She said, “All yoga is adaptive, everyone’s practice is unique.” That was the moment I felt at ease with my practice. When I’m at TYS, it’s not about my physical challenges, it’s not about accessibility or adaptability, it’s just my hour as a yogi.