Cherie is a panelist at this year’s Accessible Yoga Conference, and will speak on the subject of teaching adaptive yoga with a disability. “If I can help someone maintain their independence for any time, then that’s a gift.” Cherie was living in California with her teenage son, 11 year old daughter and husband in the late nineties when the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis began to affect her body.
“I was numb from the bra-line all the way down through my toes.” With a clear spinal tap and not enough lesions on her brain or spinal cord to be certain, Cherie lived undiagnosed for more than five years.
At that time, Cherie was engaged in a healthy, active lifestyle, running her own successful massage therapy office and teaching regular yoga classes. Everything changed after her first slew of symptoms. “It felt like my spinal cord was shattered glass. When I was numb, I could be bleeding and I wouldn’t know. It’s so unpredictable. I’ve woken up and not been able to use an arm.”
Cherie became very focused. “My life had changed completely, but I was also rewarded….Able-bodied people have a different view of their body.” Cherie, who had been studying the Yoga Sutras, practicing and teaching yoga for years leading up to her first Multiple Sclerosis event, had to discontinue her physical yoga practice to rest. She adapted her practice to the other limbs of yoga. After months of recovery she was able to take up her classes again teaching from a seated position at the front of the room.
“Experiencing limitations in my own body made me all the more aware of how people were, or weren’t, able to move in my classes.” This discovery led her to create Adaptive Y.O.G.A. (Your Own Gentle Approach) Workshops. Her work as a massage therapist gives her an in-depth knowledge of anatomy and physiology, but her unique approach to teaching comes from a strong understanding of her own finite reserves of energy.
In her teacher training workshops she gives each student an opportunity to experience what it’s like practicing with a disability. To begin, she places a chair forward and chair backward, allowing each student to sit however it resonates with them. Each student is then confronted with a prop(s): visual impairment goggles, a lead apron to simulate fatigue, weights or straps are applied to a limb to effect mobility, resistance bands to the waist to simulate the MS “hug” on the diaphragm that inhibits a full breath, a swim fin on one foot to feel the sensation of drop foot, etc. Whatever you are given is what you’ve got to work with. She then invites her students to practice, see what happens. Then they experience the adaptations.
“This last teacher training almost everyone had an ‘aha’ moment. It gave me the chills.”
Cherie’s greatest desire as a teacher is to assist in each student’s cultivation of ‘ease’. Ease in your body, mind, and spirit. She encourages each student to identify their story, and try writing a new one, even for one day: “Today I am pain free!” or “I can run!”
Cherie currently splits her time; during the Summer months she and her husband reside at their lakefront home in Biwabik, Minnesota. During the winter they call the Monterey Peninsula in California, or Las Vegas, Nevada home. Cherie describes the first annual Accessible Yoga Conference as a profound experience; heartwarming and supportive, where a clear sense of family was created. This sense of family and interdependence is what keeps Cherie traveling and teaching throughout her life. She volunteer teaches Adaptive Y.O.G.A. Workshops for several chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society across the country, the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, local YMCAs and other community organizations staying with family and friends wherever she teaches.
Cherie is an integral part of Accessible Yoga as a leader of the Inreach/Outreach committee. She enjoys her yoga practice, meditating,, kayaking, lying on the dock, some gardening, and writing. She recently authored the Yoga webpage for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society - Yoga and MS.
She spends most of her days planning classes, being a new Grandmother to her two beautiful Grand Girls and three step Grand Kids, rubbing jasmine oil on her toes and being grateful for every part of her body that feels!