Kelli Rowe tried Bikram yoga one time a few years ago. It wasn’t an enjoyable experience, thanks largely to the man on a nearby mat whose stomach wasn’t agreeing with exercise in a 105-degree room.
Little did Rowe know that just a few years later, Bikram yoga would give the Hazel Dell woman her life back.
“It’s saved me,” Rowe said.
Rowe, 53, has a birth defect, called Arnold-Chiari malformation that caused her to have seizures, migraines and balance issues. When Rowe was 32 years old, she had surgery that stopped the seizures. The other issues, however, persisted. Rowe has daily migraines and has always struggled with her balance.
Still, Rowe was always physically active. She ran every morning, usually 2 to 5 miles, then would pop in a workout DVD or lift weights. She worked as a massage therapist, tended her garden and ran her house.
“I was quite busy,” she said.
Then, one sunny morning in January 2014, that all changed.
Rowe’s Nissan Sentra was struck twice as she waited to turn at a red light. Rowe was left with a concussion and a totaled car. She was given medication to manage the persistent pain.
A few months later, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was prescribed psychotropic medication. She was also on sleeping pills to help her fall asleep at night and was taking additional medications to balance the side effects of the other drugs.
“I was on so many meds,” Rowe said. “It helped me through a time, but it wasn’t the answer for what I needed.”
Rowe was unable to run or lift weights. She couldn’t work in her garden. Keeping up with her raw foods diet became too cumbersome. Soon, she was 50 pounds heavier and had arthritis in her back. She had no energy, no motivation.
“I went from being very physical to, ‘I don’t want to do this,'” Rowe said. “I didn’t know limits before. Now I have to ask for help.”
That’s where hot yoga came in.
That November, one of Rowe’s friends bought her a 30-day pass for Bikram yoga as a birthday gift. Rowe was ready to make a change, to try something new. That first month, she attended 60 classes.
Rowe never turned back. With the exception of a monthlong break to sort out medication issues, Rowe has been a regular presence at the Bikram Yoga Hazel Dell studio.
“It’s worked out a lot of kinks,” Rowe said.
Today, Rowe has been off of all medications for four months. She’s stronger. She’s sleeping better. Her body feels good. Her mind feels clear.
“I just feel like I see life clearer again,” she said. “I have my dark days, but I feel better when I come out of yoga.”
Rowe isn’t unlike many people Mica Fish sees come through her yoga studio.
“They come in because it’s been recommended to them as a last resort,” Fish said. They see it as a coping mechanism, not a healing modality, she said.
The difference, Fish said, is Rowe realized right away that yoga could serve as a healing modality.
“Kelli has been dedicated to using yoga to improve her health from the beginning,” Fish said.
“She has approached it like a prescription,” she added. “She’s coming in every day, rain or shine. It’s not a social activity or a pastime. It’s medicine.”
Fish has been impressed with Rowe’s commitment to yoga and taking care of herself. Rowe typically takes two classes per day, one at 6 a.m. and one at 9 a.m., as well as two classes each weekend day.
One way Rowe has always stayed motivated is to challenge herself with physical contests. When she was running, she challenged herself to run 10 miles per day for five consecutive days.
“There was no rhyme or reason,” she said. “I just chose to do it.”
And she completed the challenge.
“You don’t know your capabilities until you try,” Rowe said.
That mindset is what prompted Rowe to go for the world record of Bikram yoga classes: 65 90-minute classes in 30 days. Rowe did 80. At 60 days, she was up to 143 classes. And she plans to continue daily doubles for as long as she’s able.
“Setting a world record is secondary to what she’s doing, which is really changing her life,” Fish said. “It’s giving her her life back.”