Editor’s Note: The following guest blog post was written by our gifted and beautiful Yoga Intern, Leah Atkinson. Leah has used yoga, acupuncture, holistic health and wellness to heal her body, mind and soul after an accident left her with years of chronic pain. Today, she is able to live her life to the fullest and take part in activities far beyond anything her doctors ever thought she would be capable of. She frequents yoga classes at Centered and can often be seen “flying” through the air during Matthew Higdon’s new Acro Yoga classes. Leah, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. You are an inspiration!

Reinvent the idea of what you suspect your limits are. Toss them out the window and then go for it.  For much of my adult life, I have noticed that when it comes to getting  “in shape” people tend to frown and associate being healthy with something close to torture. Why does it have to be such a serious and arduous event? Shouldn’t it make you smile and feel better?

Acro-yoga isn’t what you think.

I have fallen in love with this interactive fun adult play time. Amazingly, it isn’t nearly as hard as it looks! It only takes two things:

1) A friend who is willing to explore the possibilities of a healthier life (just come join a class; friends are awaiting)
2) The willingness to smile and laugh — because you won’t be able to stop yourself!

Take it from me, our bodies are designed to move, feel and even fly (with a little help) — regardless of the limits others want to place on us. It takes just one breath at a time and maybe a bit of reaching out in trust.

How Yoga Helped Me

I was once considered a hopeless case. My body was irreparably broken both physically and mentally as a result of a near fatal snowmobile accident on January 20th, 1996. Before that fateful day, there was nothing I couldn’t do or accomplish. As my Grandmother said..”I had life by the tail with a down hill pull”.
The beginning of the end, or so I thought started in beautiful Jackson Hole Wyoming that day. I was having the time of my life exploring the pristine back country of Yellowstone Park. One second changed my life forever, an unfathomable twist of fate.  As I stood waist deep in the magnificent powdered white wilderness, a startling noise broke my moment of tranquility and silence. From the corner of my eye I saw a massive purple blur.  It seemed to swallow me, and a thousand fists pummeled me at once in the chest….I fell into blackness.  When I came back to consciousness I was enveloped in an airless horrifying black abyss, I couldn’t see, move or breathe.  There was a crushing weight that sat on me like a huge anvil of death slowly squeezing life from me. Overwhelming pain and panic descended on me, but I was powerless to move or even comprehend what was happening. Then the blackness rescued me from torture once again.  I had been hit and buried alive, crushed and suffocating in a frozen snowy tomb by a thousand pound snowmobile.
This accident left me with forty-seven broken bones from my waist to my neck, my heart, liver and other vital organs damaged and bleeding. Both lungs collapsed, punctured by 35 rib fractures,  as well as multiple fractures in my back, clavicles and scapula. At this point my life became a quagmire of darkness and despair. I was tortured with relentless PTSD and nightmares from the physical and psychological trauma. There was no escape. I went from an independent confident woman with unlimited possibilities to completely disabled, unable to care for myself in nearly every basic sense.  I couldn’t brush my teeth or hair, and I needed help to sit or stand.  I could not lift more than two pounds for nearly five years.  A gallon of milk weighs more than two pounds. The world I was accustomed had no room for someone like me.  I was damaged, and unable to bounce back, eventually many people in my life vanished, then I too vanished in shame and isolation. I felt worthless and humiliated, unable to bear what my life had become.  

For years, Doctors told me I wouldn’t walk or be able to use my body normally again. The only logical remedy offered were the mind numbing drugs prescribed that alleviated my suffering and kept me from feeling or remembering.  I was told that my survival from this unthinkable accident was a miracle, but I didn’t feel like I miracle, my life had evaporated as far as I was concerned.  I wasn’t living, I was the reality version of “The Living Dead”, lifeless and unthinking.

I guess you could say that I started from less than zero.

More than eight years after my accident I was sickly, only able to walk with the aid of a cane and I continued to live with the unforgiving ghouls of chronic pain, depression and never ending panic.  It wasn’t until I discovered, a Yoga Journal magazine, that a shift in my perspective occurred. It simply stated ” Yoga: How to Breathe Through The Pain”. This short but life saving article started me on my journey from weak, hopeless, and helpless to a feeling, that there must be light at the end of this dismal existence from the mind numbing medication that was slowly killing me mind, body and soul.

The Benefits of Yoga: Fact, Not Fiction.

With the consistent practice of yoga and other healthy choices such as acupuncture, therapeutic massage, and organic vitamin rich food, my disabilities are becoming abilities.  I am gaining strength, not just the physical aspect but the greater strength to let go, have patience, compassion and not judge myself as harshly.  The only limits are what I set for myself.

I have found a nearly miraculous way to work with my perceived short comings, fears, chronic pain and most remarkably I know now that being healthy can be fun. Acro-yoga is like rediscovering my childhood all over again.  It is a gentle safe way to regain strength, trust and vulnerability.   I have slowly figured out that it wasn’t what I was doing that hurt so badly, it was that I was doing nothing.  My body and mind were in atrophy from so many years of being afraid to move and even breathe. Something so fundamental….I had forgotten.  We can survive for days even weeks without food or water, but without breath we can only last minutes.

Now, not only can I walk, but I can bend twist and, yes… fly.

The benefits of yoga are so far reaching both physically and mentally I could write volumes on the empowering and healing qualities it has, but for now I suggest that you just give it a try. Step and out do something good for yourself that will turn your world upside down… literally!!

Life is not a destination, it is a journey.  My journey to a better healthier life has not been easy and it continues one breath at a time, but I can tell you with conviction and long experience that it is never too late, if you are willing to take that leap of faith and believe. Everyone can, even me.

— Leah Atkinson, Yoga Intern & Yoga Teacher