Recently, my husband Danial made the comment that my participation in the Three Trees Yoga Teacher Training in 2021 came at just the right time, that all that I had learned was supporting me during a very challenging time. I agree wholeheartedly!
My journey with yoga first began when Three Trees opened in 2005. Prior to that, I had attended a few hot yoga classes in Seattle and was intrigued by what I could do physically (or not) in a very warm room. But, none of that held a candle to the multiple times I attended Suzy’s intro series and felt the energetic shift in my body as I practiced the different poses (sometimes the same poses multiple times). I knew from that point forward that yoga would be an important part of my life. Even so, it did not mean that I always practiced it; life has a way of challenging those things we know to be important.
When Three Trees first offered teacher training in 2010, I was ready to sign up. And, then found out I was pregnant with my daughter Catherine. Due to a variety of circumstances, teacher training was put on hold, over and over again. When COVID hit in 2020, my mindset shifted significantly. It was time to stop postponing things that reflected my core values. I started my own business, providing legal and consulting services to small business owners. And, in 2021, I signed up for teacher training.
What struck me from the very first philosophy session with Karen was that I was there to understand more about the spiritual aspect of yoga. Don’t get me wrong; Dylan’s method of breaking the poses down into their various parts took my asana practice to a whole new level. I would spend a lot of time just focusing on my forward fold and how changing the alignment of the spine would affect that fold. Similarly, Renee’s anatomy classes provided a solid foundation for my asana practice. I became extremely aware of how important my feet are to that foundation. Suzy’s pranayama (breath) and chakra classes expanded my awareness of subjects (chakras in particular) that were already intuitive to me. And, I was excited to learn Ayurveda (yogic medicine) from Dhaval, having already had some experience with holistic health in my life. The philosophy aspect of yoga spoke to my heart.
Within months of completing teacher training, I learned that Suzy and Karen were selling the studio and I knew in my heart that the next step in my yoga journey was to own Three Trees. On May 1, 2022, I took that step. The next six months were a whirlwind of learning more about the Three Trees community and ensuring that it remained supported and grew as we all were still learning to live our lives post-COVID . Just as I was starting to feel like it was all coming together and I was getting excited to start promoting the 2023 teacher-training program I found myself hospitalized for five weeks.
Within a span of a week, I went from having severe back pain to not being able to walk because my legs had gone numb to being intubated because I was going into respiratory failure. I had contracted a rare condition known as Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system, damaging the myelin sheath that normally protects the peripheral nerves.
I would spend two and a half weeks on a ventilator (including one failed attempt to remove the breathing tube and being re-intubated). After a five-day IV treatment to stop (and hopefully reverse) the damage to my nerves, I had daily visits from a neurologist to determine whether any feeling was returning to my hands, legs and feet.
Once I left the ICU, I started regular physical and occupational therapy in my hospital room, the main focus being for me to become mobile enough to go home. When I left the hospital, I was able to use a walker at home but used a wheelchair when I went out. I slept sitting up at night because my torso still felt constricted and I was afraid that I might not be able to breath if I lay on my back while sleeping.
Five months after first being hospitalized, I am walking with a cane. I still experience some numbness in my feet and am continuing the physical therapy to strengthen my legs and hopefully cure the foot drop I have in my left foot.
Friends have repeatedly asked how I have remained so positive through all of this. Believe me, there have been days when I have felt deeply discouraged by my “slow” progress or by the fact that this happened to me in the first place. But, yoga has helped me stay the course towards recovery. And, having the yoga teacher training fresh in my mind is particularly helpful.
Prior to teacher training, I had an established meditation practice. From the beginning of the severe back pain and throughout this experience, I have found ways to continue to meditate. It has at times looked different than what I typically relied on because the particular situation I was dealing with required adjustments; but I trusted the importance of my practice to my recovery and persevered. Meditation helped me to calm my mind, keep a positive mindset, tune into what was happening in my body and to see what I could do to support its healing above and beyond what traditional medicine was providing.
Being intubated twice gave me an opportunity to exercise my pranayama practice. Between the first and second removals of the breathing tube, I was able to become more aware of what my torso felt like so that when the tube was removed I trusted that I would be able to breath on my own, despite feeling like my breath was restricted. I was also very blessed to have support from Suzy and Janice, who provided suggestions for how to focus my mind and my energy to expand my breath once the tube was removed.
When I was not physically able to practice asana, visualization of certain poses supported my healing. Oddly enough, visualizing a pose such as headstand (which I could not do even before being hospitalized) helped me to think more expansively about my breathing. Once I was able to, I started doing the upper part of mountain pose (arms above my head) in my hospital bed. I am now able to stand in mountain pose on my own. Although my left heel still doesn’t touch the floor, I continue to visualize it and to feel the resulting energetic shift in my body as I hold the pose.
And, just as Karen’s philosophy sessions brought me to the spiritual aspect of yoga, my hospitalization provided me with repeated opportunities to talk with others about my own spirituality and my faith that I would ultimately be just fine. These conversations were not necessarily with people I knew. Often, they were with hospital staff. I welcomed each and every opportunity and I took it as a sign that a higher power was watching out for me. Knowing that inspired me to keep doing everything I could (even from my hospital bed) to get better.
I am grateful for having been a part of the Three Trees community since it was first started by Jeni, Suzy and Karen in 2005. I am grateful that Three Trees has continued to provide teacher training all of these years so that I could still participate in 2021. I am grateful that, when I was hospitalized in October 2022, I had fresh in my mind all of what I learned in teacher training. I am grateful to everyone who sustained the studio through my hospitalization. I am grateful to everyone in the Three Trees community who sent me their love, energy and prayers (and who continue to do so).
I want to say a very special thank you to Suzy who visited me in the hospital nearly every day, bringing me (plastic ☺) yoga army men who were great reminders as well as interesting conversation starters. She also made sure to deliver me regular lattes once I was cleared to drink “thicker” liquids (thank you to Donna for filling in when Suzy couldn’t make it).
I also want to say a very special thanks to Janice for sending (through Suzy) recordings to support me as I learned to breathe on my own again. And, to Karen for keeping the 2023 teacher training moving forward.
Through this challenging time, I have never felt more blessed. Even on hard days it is difficult to be anything but positive when I have received so many wonderful gifts as well as ongoing support and encouragement.
thank you for sharing! aI think we all look forward to continued recovery! I am glad you are her, are improving, and your positive attitude! You have a purpose, remember that, it has brought you through this very trying journey. I am sure the Tree Trees Family all support you and your family.