Joanne Spence - Slow Movement Maven
Twenty years ago, my life changed completely. I was in an auto accident. Afterward, I had excellent health care for the parts of me that were visibly broken, such as my knee. Two surgeries and two years later, I looked fine, but I was not. I had sustained a severe whiplash injury - all soft tissue - that became a chronic problem over time. I slipped into a depression. It was a challenge to get out of bed in the morning and certainly hard to parent two young children who needed more of me than I could muster. At that point, I began looking earnestly for non-drug interventions. My pain-management doctor suggested I try a new experimental surgery on the facet joints. I joined a health club so I could have some child care while I was exercising. It was at the health club that I heard about yoga and took my first yoga teacher training.
Though I had been working hard in physical therapy and in water aerobics, I found that the yoga class was difficult. Despite my pain, I saw myself as a strong and flexible (I have since learned that one does NOT have to be flexible to do yoga!)person with a burning desire to be well. The type of yoga training I found myself in was quite active (not much resemblance to what I practice now), but I was young, and yoga was a new thing in health clubs. Something happened in the midst of not-really-liking-yoga-and-thinking-it-wasn't-for-me. About three days after the training, I woke up and realized (a) I had slept well, and (b) I was not in pain - for the first time in two years. This was big!
I embraced yoga with evangelical zeal. The days I practiced, I felt good; the days I didn't...well, it didn't take rocket-science for me to realize that some sort of shift had taken place. I went on to do several more trainings in quick succession and, before I knew it, I had a new career path.
Back in 2000, there were only two or three yoga studios in Pittsburgh and the surrounding area. By contrast, today a yoga studio on every street corner is not hyperbole in some neighborhoods. I felt called to open a studio. Why? I figured if a little yoga had changed my life dramatically, then more yoga could only make it better. My hope was that if yoga had been the catalyst for my recovery, then maybe it could be that same catalyst for healing others. If there was a human template for what a yoga teacher should be, I wasn't it - so I really believed if yoga could help me, then it could help anyone. With that philosophy and experience, I started teaching yoga, eventually opening my first studio in Regent Square in 2003. I eventually sold that business in 2014 after I had opened Urban Oasis Pittsburgh in my home studio in North Point Breeze.
Along the way, I started a non-profit, 501(c)3 organization called Yoga in Schools. We were able to secure grant funding to work in many schools in Pittsburgh. I also worked as a yoga therapist at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic. My educational background was in social work, and I had worked with 'at-risk' youth and their families for over a decade. Combining yoga and mental health services was a natural marriage of my skills. If you would like to know more about Yoga in Schools, our website is www.yogainschools.org.
My own mental health and wellbeing has greatly improved over time with practice. I believe in 'taking my own medicine'. Radical self-care and self-acceptance are part-and-parcel of a yogic lifestyle which is what I try to model and teach to others. I have also studied the brain, the nervous system, and why yoga helps. I think a little knowledge of neuroscience goes a long way - particularly if you are a skeptic. Frankly, the simple techniques of movement and breathing that I teach aren't very sexy. Sometimes, they may seem boring. But therein lies the surprising and profound power of simple movement and breathing exercises. My sweet spot is introducing skeptics and scoffers to the practice of yoga. I invite you to contact me and try it for yourself. You may be amazed at the results.