Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a ballerina. My mom always tells me the story of when we used to walk by the old Boston Ballet studio on the way home from preschool and watch the dancers through the window. I would exclaim, “Mommy! I want to do that!”
My mother had no idea what she was getting into, but she signed me up.
Where Athleticism meets Artistry
Ballet can be a very non-forgiving athletic endeavor, but it is also an art. On one hand, the pure enjoyment I get from moving through space in such a skilled way outweighs any physical hardship I had to endure to get there. On the other hand, there is a culture of criticism and self-judgment that can make it difficult to get to and to maintain that place – especially when the roller coaster of life with Cystic Fibrosis is added to the mix.
In spite of those challenges, in 2010 I found myself performing with a small, local ballet company on a regular basis, alongside a full-time job at a bio-pharmaceutical company. It was an amazing time in my life!
Having just gotten married the year before, my husband and I were really enjoying every moment together. For us, that meant taking regular rides on his motorcycle. Yes, we knew the risks… and freely accepted them at the time. (I also actually found it to be an interesting form of airway clearance… 😉 )
But needless to say, on one particular day in 2010 when our motorcycle crashed our lives were changed forever.
Recovering Body and Breath
The impact caused 2 fractures to my left femur, crushing my left knee and the left side of my face. Managing CF was a big challenge during my long recovery from those injuries.
It was 10 months before I was able to go back to work.
I wanted to get back into the ballet studio as soon as I could, but I knew I wasn’t ready – mentally or physically. A friend from work mentioned that a new yoga studio had opened up close by and she had started practicing there.
I took one class and was hooked.
As I started to practice regularly, I noticed the similarities between yoga and ballet. The need to stay in the moment. The growing awareness of sensation and connection throughout the body. The need for breath in connection with the movement and the perseverance to keep trying when things didn’t work the first time.
But something about yoga was different.
Unlike in the dance studio, on days when my body didn’t want to cooperate, I was able to find joy in those moments as well. I was able to laugh at myself! I was able to let GO!
This new perspective flowed into all other aspects of my life. I made the choice to make movement the focus of my life instead of an aside. I immersed myself in teaching ballet and creating movement.
This change in focus also allowed me to put more energy toward physical activity… and my health improved. It quickly became clear that with my knowledge of body mechanics from ballet, and my growing passion for yoga, becoming a yoga teacher was the next logical step.
Moving forward in honesty
In the summer of 2016, I completed an immersive, four week intensive 200-hour teacher training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health. It was around this time I also started being more open about having Cystic Fibrosis. I had always been open among friends, and inside the college bubble, but with the fear of unintended employer retaliation looming in the background I always felt the need to be careful, especially when it might bring into question my physical capabilities as a dancer.
Walking into the teacher training, I had decided to be completely open for the first time… and it felt amazing. This group of people whom I barely knew had already accepted me as part of their “teacher in training” community; their knowledge of my CF had changed nothing.
I wasn’t looking for special treatment. I knew my body could handle what I was getting into, but it was refreshing to be given the power to make that decision for myself. I was looking to be seen, without judgment, in a place that was known for teaching non-judgment . . . but somehow the response was still surprising.
Meditation in Motion
Kripalu Yoga is sometimes called “meditation in motion.” It is meant to be a practice that is attainable for every-body. We work to maintain focus on sensations within the body. We emphasize connecting movement with the breath, but also listening to what the body needs and not judging ourselves for those choices.
Living with CF, we come from a place where sometimes breathing in a controlled manner is really challenging. Personally, I find the idea of non-judgment to be the most important aspect of my practice. Allowing myself to make the choice without consequence to come out of a pose a little early, change how my breath relates to the movement, or to push myself to take things to the next level. This conscious intention to honor my breath makes my practice so much more enjoyable.
As a teacher, I strive to give my students the space to make each practice their own. I’m guiding an experience that is just as much about relaxation and breathing as it is about moving.
My goal is to guide a practice that allows you to be just where you are, enjoy the physical sensation of moving, and gain awareness of the entire body in the process. I am excited to be a part of the CF Yogi family and to be able to share this wonderful practice with all of you.
Join Heather for Gentle Yoga, coming on Monday evenings in March! New to CF Yogi? Register here!