Healing Through Yoga: Margaret’s Story

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by Staci Gorden

I never really understood what yoga was about until I met Margaret during yoga class 6 years ago.

Margaret practices yoga for at least an hour and a half every day. She believes it helped save her life and continues to do so. She tells me, “I still have those stories in my head of not being good enough. I sometimes still ask myself why I am practicing yoga on one leg. But there is something special about being with my body how it is.”

A little over ten years ago, Margaret was in New York City in the midst of starting a new chapter in her life. In many ways she was a typical college freshman at the time, experiencing the ups and downs of early adulthood. One cold winter day in 2003, she was walking with a friend in mid-town Manhattan. With a hot chocolate in her hand, she stepped off the curb to cross the street when the walk sign came on. Seconds later she was hit by a bus. At that moment, her life changed forever. Margaret calls the accident a gift and a wake-up call. She says it made her realize “everything is a choice, except life and death.”

The fact that Margaret survived the accident is a miracle. And she’s been on a quest ever since to figure out why she did not die. Her left leg had to be amputated below her knee, her right ankle was broken, and she suffered neurological damage. However, Margaret vividly remembers most of what happened that day. In particular, there was a moment when she realized just how much her life mattered. She recalls, “One of the EMT workers knelt beside me, took my hand and said, ‘stay with us sweetheart you have the entire city of New York behind you.’"

During the six weeks she spent in the hospital, she endured multiple surgeries and painful physical therapy. Yet being showered with so much love and support from family, friends, and medical staff helped her through it. Over the course of a year, she made tremendous progress -- going from being bedridden, to a wheelchair, to using a walker, then crutches and eventually obtaining a prosthesis.

The near-death experience transformed her -- physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. However, along with gratitude and a new passion for life, symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) surfaced. Before the accident, Margaret struggled with an eating disorder and low self-esteem. And after the accident the eating disorder worsened. She says what kept her in a cycle of self-destructive behavior was the trauma – not just the accident but experiences from childhood as well. “My mother’s alcoholism. Being a poor kid. Experiencing neglect. Not feeling good enough. Peer pressure. The bus. The pain. Lack of supposed control.” One day she’d had enough. She didn’t want to stay stuck in the pain, so she decided to dive into healing. She read books and did a lot of research and realized that the eating issues, how she treated and viewed her body, were all directly tied to the trauma.

Margaret started practicing yoga about a year and a half after her accident. At the end of her first class, the teacher said “Namaste” and Margaret began to cry. She didn’t know why. But it was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day. She explains, “It's really not about the posture for me. It's more about the awakening and allowing myself to feel and be messy, if it gets messy – and not having to try to be perfect.”

Yoga helped Margaret realize that happiness and self-acceptance is an inside job. She began learning how to take care of her body properly. This included learning about health and nutrition and discovering a new way to approach life -- with gratitude.

For Margaret, yoga is not simply a tool for self-discovery; it is a tool that embodies the community. “Everyone has had a trauma and that's really the point of everything that I do. I want people to realize the collective pain and our shared humanity,” Margaret says. Over the past seven years she has traveled extensively for yoga retreats, completed yoga teacher training and co-led workshops focused on yoga, healing and service.

Margaret finds ways to combine yoga and activism, as she is increasingly aware of the inter-connectedness of the struggles of people around the world. Working as a fundraiser in New York City helped her find her voice and her true calling – raising awareness and encouraging healing for trauma survivors. So she quit her job and began travelling, visiting amputees and orphans in Sierra Leone and Haiti. Travelling to these countries helped her understand gratitude on a different level. She describes the impact, saying “The beauty of the landscape and the people re-enforced my belief in humanity.”

Since re-locating to Washington, DC, Margaret has continued to pursue her passions on and off the yoga mat. Every day she is grateful for the opportunity to chart a unique and fulfilling path in life. As an advocate on social justice issues, she works and volunteers with several organizations including the Limbs for Life Foundation, the Prosthetics Outreach Foundation and Westminster Presbyterian Church’s START program, which provides HIV/ AIDS testing, advocacy and resources. She is also in the process of starting a fundraising company, writing her memoir, and working on outreach to get yoga programs in elementary schools.

I think yoga needs more ambassadors like Margaret. Through yoga she transcends the physical limitations of limb loss. When you hear her tell her story or see her practicing yoga, you see just how powerful that is. When I think of the benefits of yoga, I think of her extraordinary courage, strength, and compassion. Yoga is not just a part of Margaret’s journey; it inevitably becomes a part of the journey for everyone she meets as well.

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