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A Woman’s Courage – Bringing Yoga to Men
Some people have the amazing strength and courage to turn tragedy into something good for others. This young woman turned her near-life-ending tragedy and severe back injury into a journey to help men relieve back pain naturally, and to help our Marines wounded in the wars and their families.
Loredana “Laurie” Meilbeck, a registered yoga instructor, had her world changed forever when an oversized SUV crushed her small Ford Escort at 65 miles per hour, breaking her back. Common and unfortunate enough perhaps, but it is the human spirit that grows beyond this tragedy that makes for a story.
Refusing to allow her mind or her body to be dominated by this tragedy, she used Yoga to maintain the positive spirit needed to persevere through a grueling rehabilitation process, to rise above an otherwise crippling life to rise, find beauty again and bring health to others with her experience and strength.
Laurie’s life before the accident was that of an outdoors girl in Southern California; weekends swimming and tanning by the sea, hiking and skiing in the mountains, with an abundance of outdoor life, free and mobile. She was an accomplished figure skater, a model and a student of biology and natural sciences. The mother of two very active children, she was the ‘Uber Mom’ involved in everything from girl scouts to BMX racing.
After sustaining the numerous life-threatening injuries to her skull, spine, internal organs and limbs, she literally had to learn to read, speak and walk all over again. During days spent studying flash cards in English and Italian (her native language), to enduring hours of physical therapy, multiple reconstructive surgeries and a host of medications, Laurie often heard from doctors about the limitations her life would have . “May never walk again”, “will live with brain damage”, “only have a limited capacity to work”, etc. As these bleak prospects troubled her, she quietly began to recall her yoga training, and was helped into the simplest poses by a visiting friend. She began to cling to the belief that practicing yoga would pull her out of the dismal future others envisioned for her. By working slowly, she was able to increase her ability to achieve more physically while clearing her mind and strengthening her positive focus with meditations and breathing.
After 3 months she was discharged from the hospital. She still had many challenges such as severe headaches and back pain, it was difficult to live on her own and had a lot of help from family. She continued her Yoga practice daily with a friend’s help. She felt that the pain medication prescribed by doctors clouded her ability to think and masked her emotions. One day, horrified, she gathered up her pain medication and flushed it all down the commode.
As the years went on, Laurie kept Yoga as her daily practice, continued to raise her children, and eventually went back to work. With diligence and hard work, her life began to bear a resemblance to her better days. Fueled by her love for Yoga, Laurie finally decided to make Yoga her profession.
After becoming a registered yoga instructor, Laurie taught at several local yoga studios and gyms, while pursuing additional training, and opened her small private yoga studio.
One of the opportunities she had was teaching regular classes at Marine Corps Base-Camp Pendleton. Attending these classes were mostly Marine wives who persuaded their Marine husbands to join them in a yoga class, and another class was for the Wounded Warriors, those who had returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The contestants included young, muscular Marines who had been in the Iraq War or were fierce athletes.
While many seemed hesitant or skeptical at first, Laurie experienced the transition as the yoga class became more important and valuable to the men who attended.
Laurie noticed a marked improvement in the men who participated in her classes, if she could get them to attend. Many have started returning, first in the door for class and eager to get started, talking about what positions they like, the disappearance of stiffness and pain, improvement in their golf game, etc. As a patient yet challenging instructor, Laurie was respected. The utter satisfaction and enjoyment verbalized by these men was enough for Laurie to realize what was needed: a yoga class just for men.
Laurie realized that if Yoga classes could be so well received by men that she could take the message to even greater numbers, and help men and women enjoy Yoga together.
During this process, Laurie had an epiphany: that her tragic experience could actually become one of the biggest defining moments of her life, and that yoga was the key. As a “Marine Mom” herself, she knew the sacrifices the young men and women made for our country. As a back injury patient, she knew the challenges of recovery. She knew the social obstacles for men to enjoy Yoga, and as a compassionate soul, she knew that to truly enjoy life, she had to give to others. She vowed to turn her challenges into a platform for greatness in her life.
With unbridled enthusiasm, Laurie embarked on a mission to create a yoga class that could accomplish all of these goals. A yoga class that men could identify with, by linking one of the primary ailments men experience – back pain – to one of the primary physical benefits of Yoga. In turn, this will help spread yoga, and those in need will receive help.
Laurie tried to establish a tone and style that would appeal to men. This included the environment in the room, a basic post routine focusing on stretching and relaxing, less focus on meditation, but a sustained focus on breathing and physical movement and with a contemporary music selection. In the many months spent researching and designing the Yoga class, Laurie has created a class that covers the entire spectrum of posture, stretching, strength building and spinal alignment requirements.
Devoted exclusively to men and specifically targeting men’s back problems, Loredana created the class specifically for men to engage in yoga to help relieve back pain and back problems. She introduced the class to her local adult education program and created it on video for men to use at home. Debuting at Saddleback Valley USD Adult Ed in February, the class was full of 20 men from all walks of life who attended for a multitude of reasons: older men who have lost flexibility, golfers and personal trainers looking for more flexibility , and those with back injuries or pending surgery. The feedback was impressive, the satisfaction with the class very high. Several men returned the following semester, along with several newcomers. Laurie began teaching the class in her private studio, and strives to take the class to ever-widening circles of people at every opportunity. Since many men are reluctant to start yoga at a public studio, they practice yoga for back pain relief by following her class on video at home.
Laurie remains true to her spirit of gratitude and service, donating a significant portion of her proceeds to the wounded Marines. She became a benefactor for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund (IMSFF), an organization whose function is to provide financial assistance to injured Marines, Sailors, and service members and their families during their difficult road to recovery. She continues to support the Fund in various ways.
Laurie enjoys a very healthy lifestyle, teaching yoga at her private studio in California. Laurie’s courage, determination and Yogi spirit are admired by her students, and she likes to offer her message of hope, strength and health.
Laurie works with her husband Phillip to bring the benefits and awareness of yoga to more men.
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