The Healing Power of Yoga
Barbara Newborn, director of Gardens of Yoga Studio, uses yoga to help people recover from major injuries and illness
By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
An English major who had graduated summa cum laude from Ithaca College in New York, Newborn suddenly lost all ability to speak, read or write. She was 21. "I entered this strange world by myself," she recalls. "I couldn't understand anybody or talk to anybody. I didn't have my physical voice."
The stroke threw her neatly planned teaching career into chaos. It also shaped the rest of her life. Eight days after the stroke, Newborn returned to her parent's home in Pennsylvania where she spent the next six months re-learning the simplest of tasks -- how to hold a pencil, turn on the shower or run a brush through her hair. To re-gain her language skills, she practiced with flash cards and memorized spelling words. When she felt strong enough, Newborn did something particularly gutsy: She took her driving test over and then drove herself to Ithaca to audit graduate courses at Cornell University.
Since then, she has earned two master's degrees, founded a camp in New Mexico for head trauma victims, pioneered programs for young adults with traumatic brain injuries and worked as a rehabilitation counselor. She is also the international spokesperson for the National Stroke Medical Education Institute based at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. During the 10 years it took her to recover, Newborn also fell in love with yoga. She realized that it had the power to transform. With its physical challenges and emphasis on breathing and relaxation, she knew that it could help stroke survivors improve spirit, mind and body.
She made many study trips to India and eventually became a yoga teacher, working with other young adults who had suffered strokes and head injuries. Over the years, she began developing individualized programs based on her clients' disabilities and circumstances. Today, she teaches yoga across South Tampa.
At a recent session in her Ballast Point home and studio, Gardens of Yoga, Newborn leads students through a series of breathing exercises and gentle poses. "Close your eyes and listen to yourself, listen to your body," she tells the class. "The more you breathe into that stretch, the easier it becomes. You've got intelligence in your body. Listen to the stillness."
The studio looks out over an exquisite one-acre garden and pool, an ongoing project Newborn shares with her husband of 11 years, Antonin Nenov. Pentas, lantanas, and beach daisies grow alongside tall grasses and a profusion of magenta bougainvillea. Before class, students gather in garden chairs and sip cold ginseng tea sweetened with honey. Three fat cats languish in the sunshine, so mellowed by years of relaxation that they sleep on their backs, bellies in the air.
Although many healthy students enroll in Newborn's private and group lessons, she maintains a strong following among people who have suffered major illness or injury. About 70 percent of her clients have physical challenges. The rest need help with stress reduction and relaxation. Her philosophy? That through yoga, you can learn to be well again, spiritually and mentally, "and that's when you start to heal physically."
Newborn, now 51, so believes that yoga can change lives, that she staked her career on it. Four years ago, she moved from New York to South Tampa after Nenov, a software analyst and yoga teacher himself, was offered work here. Although Newborn had taught yoga for years, it was always her second job and she had never depended on the income for survival. This time, she decided to take it on full time. Now she and Nenov -- who has since quit his job to teach yoga full time -- offer classes seven days a week, both at their home and at various locations around Tampa. They specialize in a variety of healing yoga therapies, helping students with ailments ranging from high-blood pressure to arthritis.
Candy Federico and her husband, Simon, sought out Newborn's
yoga classes about six weeks ago. They were desperate for
injuries sustained in a car
accident in March 2001. Both had tried traditional physical therapy
as well as massage therapy to cure lingering neck and back
pain. "This has helped us tremendously," Candy says. "In physical therapy, I was pushed
and pulled, but no one taught me how to breathe."
After their session, Newborn, gives them both impromptu hugs and then presents
them with a jar of Tiger Balm and her homemade relaxation cassette to tide them
over until the next class.
"Many of my clients really depend on my classes to relax, so I make tapes for
them to listen to when I'm away," Newborn says. "When you're relaxed, you appreciate
everything around you. You can't have joy when there is stress and tension."
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