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From Injury to Empowerment: An Interview with Petra Lee Ghin

Petra Lee Ghin is one of the most positive presences at Studio 26. As one of our weekly visitors, she trains with Pilates teacher and Personal Trainer Anita Naegeli. A few months ago while sitting on the bench at the studio before her session, Petra was telling a few of the staff about her physical journey with Pilates and many other modalities, from injury to empowerment. I was tremendously impressed and moved by her transformation, and asked her to share her story with our blog readers. Thankfully, she obliged, and shared this essay with us, and you. Last year, I woke up one morning and could not lift my arm. There had been earlier signs that something was wrong. I had experienced little burning pains running from shoulder to elbow, and either my fingers would tingle or they would go numb. Then the pain started to feel like a flare and I would feel nauseous and tired all the time. At this time, I was working out with Anita (Naegeli) but I didn’t want to tell her because I thought it would eventually just go away.

When I realized I could not lift my arm, I was stunned. I am a hairstylist; this is my livelihood. What was I going to do? I finally confessed what was wrong to Anita and together we determined it was my rotator cuff. When I went to the doctor I was told no surgery was needed but I was to let it rest until it healed. For me this was a death sentence for my business. It was risky for me to take that extended time off; this lead to a very frank conversation with Anita. What were my options? Yes, I would have to cut back [working as a hairstylist] but with the right workout I could heal, and not lose any mobility in my shoulder and arm.

My sessions with Anita at Studio 26 became an evolution of physical therapy infused with mobility exercises. Anita was able to use classical Pilates, when it fit my ability. I cannot describe my despair on the days that I could not lift a five-pound weight. Anita had to assist me. My body felt like it wanted to curl into itself and shrivel. I could not even talk about it to anyone because I didn’t want to be perceived as weak. Those were the days when I wanted to tell Anita that I could not finish our session and to please leave me alone. But my mind just whispered to do one more and when I felt I could not, Anita would find another way to get me through it.

Around the time when I began to feel stronger I decided to take a Budokon yoga class, which is now my religion. I learned from my instructor Derek that I can control my body. He reminded me that I could do my best until I could do better and most importantly how I do anything, is how I do everything. Something clicked when my practice began to flow not from outside but from within. My mind was not afraid to take a few risks and for the first time my mind and spirit connected.

I could fly. The new balance I achieved between Pilates and yoga helped me to approach new forms of exercise. I could do cardio then onto some boxing, and so it began. This creature that I had become had lost 42 pounds, could run the Rugged Maniac, do advanced Pilates exercises and is the fittest she has ever been. Period.

I maintain my regimen by mixing my weekly program with Pilates, yoga and mixed martial arts. I don’t diet, but I am mindful about what I eat. I do not deprive myself of anything and I have cheat days where I inhale my donuts and ice cream.

The main lesson I have learned is that mindful exercise can heal. That might just mean remembering to breathe. My journey has been emotional and in my new life I embrace people I would never have met. So I am so grateful to the universe for breaking me just so I could and can continue to expand into my brand new self.