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A Woman’s Courage – Bringing Yoga to Men
Some people have amazing strength and courage to turn tragedy into something good for others. This young woman turned her near-life-ending tragedy and serious back injury into a journey to help men naturally relieve back pain and help our war-wounded Marines 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 mph, breaking her back. It may be commonplace and unfortunate enough, but it is the human spirit that transcends this tragedy that creates a story.
Refusing to allow her mind or body to be controlled by these tragedies, she used yoga to maintain the positive spirit needed to persevere through the grueling rehabilitation process, rise above an otherwise crippled life, find beauty again, and bring health to others. her experience and strength.
Laura’s life before the accident was that of an outdoorsy Southern California girl; weekends by the ocean, swimming and sunbathing, hiking and skiing in the mountains, with plenty of outdoor life, free and mobile. She was an accomplished figure skater, model and student of biology and natural sciences. The mother of two very active children was an ‘Uber-Mom’ involved in everything from Girl Scouts to BMX racing.
After suffering multiple life-threatening injuries to her skull, spine, internal organs and limbs, she literally had to relearn how to read, talk and walk. Through days spent studying for flashcards in English and Italian (her native language), physical therapy classes, multiple reconstructive surgeries, and countless medications, Laurie often heard from doctors about the limitations her life would have. “She may never walk again,” “she’ll live with brain damage,” “she has only limited ability to work,” etc. As these bleak prospects worried her, she began to silently recall her yoga training and was assisted in the simplest poses by a visiting friend. She began to cling to the belief that practicing yoga would lift her out of the bleak future others imagined for her. Working slowly, she was able to increase her ability to achieve more physically while clearing her mind and intensifying her positive focus through meditation and breathing.
She was discharged from the hospital after 3 months. She still suffered from many problems such as severe headaches and back pain, it was difficult to live alone and she had a lot of help from her family. She continued to practice yoga daily with the help of friends. She felt that the pain medication her doctors had prescribed clouded her ability to think and masked her emotions. One day she collected her painkillers in disgust and flushed them all down the dresser.
As the years passed, Laurie kept yoga as her daily practice, continued to raise her children, and eventually returned to work. With diligence and hard work, her life began to resemble her better days. Living with her love of yoga, Laurie eventually decided to make yoga her profession.
After becoming a registered yoga instructor, Laurie taught at several local yoga studios and gyms, continuing her training and opening her own small private yoga studio.
One opportunity she had was to teach regular classes at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. Those classes were attended mostly by Marine wives who talked their Marine husbands into joining them for a yoga class, and another class was for wounded warriors returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Participants included young, muscular Marines who had been in the war in Iraq or were fierce athletes.
While many were initially reluctant or skeptical, Laurie experienced this transition as she watched the yoga class become more important and valuable to the men who attended.
Laurie noticed a marked improvement in the men who took her classes if she could get them to attend. Many started coming back, first in the door for class and eager to get started, talking about what poses they liked, how stiffness and pain went away, how to improve their golf game, etc. Laurie was respected as a patient but demanding instructor. The utter contentment and enjoyment these men expressed was enough to make Laurie realize what was needed: yoga classes for men only.
Laurie realized that if yoga classes could be so well received by men, she could take the message to even more and help men and women enjoy yoga together.
In the process, Laurie had a revelation: that her tragic experience could actually become one of the biggest defining moments of her life, and that yoga was the key. As a “Sailor’s Mom” herself, she knew the sacrifices young men and women made for our country. As a back injury patient, she knew the challenges associated with recovery. She knew the social barriers for men to enjoy yoga, and as a compassionate soul, she knew that in order 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 set out on a mission to create a yoga class that could achieve all of these goals. A yoga lesson that men could relate to by connecting one of the primary ailments men experience – back pain – with one of the primary physical benefits of yoga. On the other hand, it would help spread yoga and help those who need it.
Laurie set out to create a tone and style that would appeal to men. This included a room setting, a basic routine of poses with a focus on stretching and relaxation, less focus on meditation, yet maintaining a focus on breathing and physical movement, and a selection of contemporary music. Over many months spent researching and designing yoga classes, Laurie has created a class that covers the full spectrum of posture, stretching, strength building and spinal alignment requirements.
Dedicated exclusively to men and specifically targeting men’s back problems, Loredana has created a course 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 a video for the men to use at home. When Saddleback Valley USD Adult Ed debuted in February, the class was filled to capacity with 20 men from all walks of life who attended for many reasons: older men who have lost flexibility, golfers and personal trainers looking for more flexibility, and those with injuries back or pending surgery. Feedback was impressive, satisfaction with the class very high. Several men returned the following semester, along with several freshmen. Laurie began teaching the class in her private studio and tries to bring the class to an ever-expanding circle of people at every opportunity. Since many men are reluctant to start yoga in a public studio, they practice yoga for back pain relief by watching her video class at home.
True to her spirit of gratitude and service, Laurie donates a significant portion of her proceeds to wounded Marines. She has become a benefactor for the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund (IMSFF), an organization whose mission is to provide financial assistance to injured Marines, sailors and service members and their families during their difficult journey to recovery. He continues to work to support the fund in various ways.
Laurie lives a very healthy lifestyle and teaches yoga at her private studio in California. Her students admire Lauri’s courage, determination, and yogi spirit, and she delights in offering 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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