For each of us, life is full of transformation. For me, peace has come through the growing presence that yoga has had in my life, and with acceptance of the limitations of my body and the flow of continual change.
In 2003, I was working as a massage therapist, and teaching yoga for fun. At the age of 26, with no apparent health challenges, I had a violent and completely unanticipated seizure. I woke to find myself in the hands of paramedics who were asking me basic questions I could not answer.
An MRI led my husband and I to a grim meeting with a physician who explained that I have a brain tumor. I have what is known as a glioma, which is a tumor located in the left temporal lobe which are the areas of the brain that impact speech and memory. Because of its location, the tumor cannot be removed without great risks for a loss of both my memory and speech. This type of tumor is slow growing, but still very much alive.
Finding out that you have a brain tumor that cannot be completely cured causes most people to stop and reflect, as I did. My childhood and early life experiences were tumultuous ones, and I’ve always been drawn to sources of healing and comfort in my life. By the time I was 20, I felt like I had lived a lifetime. I was, quite simply, exhausted to my core.
I was put on a strong series of anti-seizure medications that left me in a stupor with little awareness of my surroundings. Within a month, I decided to go off the medications. I spent three years holistically cleansing my body and replacing the strong medications with herbs. I did have seizures, and struggled to accept the role that medication would play in my life moving forward.
In that time, my yoga practice began to do more than simply soothe my soul – it helped to transform me. What looked like a loss in terms of my massage business was actually an enormous step in moving my life in a new direction.
I had time to study the Chakras and learn how our bodies hold emotional damage that leads to physical damage and disease. I learned how disease in the mind leads to disease in the body. My time with yoga taught me not to be so afraid, to dig deeper and breathe through the pain. This time to reflect made me a better yoga teacher, a better wife and mother, and a better person.
Finally, in 2006, I had an extreme seizure and woke to a husband who said; “This time, I didn’t think you were coming back.” I knew I would need to accept that medication to control these seizures would need to be part of my life, and have found a medication that allows me to function at a high level.
In 2006, I felt strong enough to open a small yoga studio in Murrysville. In 2007, I opened my second studio, located in Aspinwall. I have given birth to two young sons.
Today, my transformation has come full circle. Yes, I have a brain tumor that cannot be removed. With that comes some unease, but I’ve learned to live life more in the present moment as a result. I opened my third studio in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside community in February of 2010, and have a fourth scheduled to open soon. My business thrives and I’m surrounded by a network of talented instructors who share my passion.
Yoga has completely transformed my life. I was originally drawn to yoga for the peace and tranquility that I was searching for in my own life, and for its gifts of clarifying my mind and strengthening my body. Since then, I’ve learned to let my soul go on an adventure while my mind and body detox from the pillars of my breath. Yoga strengthens the body and the mind, and for me, has transformed what was a life of fear and uncertainty to one that is bold, grounded and full.
Dominique Ponko is the inspirational owner of Yoga Flow, Pittsburgh’s premier heated yoga studios. Trained at the Yoga Alliance, Dominique has completed workshops with David Swenson, Baron Baptist, Bervel Bender Birth, Bgagvan Das and Seane Corn, and has appeared in magazine and newspaper articles as well as radio talk shows to speak about her passion. Information about Yoga Flow is available at www.yogaflowpittsburgh.com.