Meet Cheyenne, 500-hour teacher in training, IU neuroscience major, and author of an unpublished children’s book titled Sir Oinkus. After spending her teenage years homebound, Cheyenne found in yoga a way to express her deep gratitude for life. Of this month’s theme, the Right to See, she explains that “you don’t have to be sick or bedridden for years to take off the veil and see the beauty in the world.” Read on to learn more about her journey.
Your story is unique - Tell us about it!
It all stems from one big thing that happened in my life. My freshman year of high school, I had to drop out because one day I collapsed in the middle of a presentation and started to have a seizure. My sister had been sick and bedridden for years, and we didn’t know what it was. We both have a genetic condition called POTS. It’s a nervous system condition that causes a heart condition and comes on with puberty. My autonomic nervous system doesn’t work correctly, so my heart has to work so much harder than the average person’s to get the blood from my feet all the way up to my head. I couldn’t walk, and every time I would stand up, I would pass out. Nobody knew what my sister and I had. At Riley hospital, everyone passed us around. Then we went to Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and they diagnosed us. I spent years bedridden and housebound.
What helped you through your illness?
Many things. I grew close with my mom and my sister because we were all in it together. My mom was my angel. Also, my rhinoceros iguana, Benny. For some reason, I became fixated on getting an iguana. When I got him, he was just a baby. He turned the focus from myself and my suffering to nurturing something and getting a best friend. He would lay in bed with me, and I would feed him oranges. I was obsessed with him. Along with reading, he was the only thing that allowed me to escape this prison of the body that I had. My body had taken control. Not being able to move, it was like my body could not keep up with my soul. It felt like being trapped, and your soul being so big and so expansive that it’s not allowed to spread its light and its joy.
How did this experience inform the way you view life?
I live life to the absolute fullest. My heart can beat healthily now. I can appreciate everything my body does just to keep me sitting up. I get to go out into the world and see a blue sky and every miracle around me no matter how small. That was the big thing that I got out of my sickness. I just love life so much it’s overwhelming. I want other people to know that they don’t have to be sick or bedridden for years to take off the veil and see the beauty in the world. They can just do yoga. Get rid of distractions, and that’s when the world opens up and you can truly see it for what it is. To me, that’s not anything on social media but the face-to-face interactions around you. It’s putting your bare feet in the mud. It’s feeling your heart beating in your chest.
What brought you to yoga?
My doctor recommended it when I was starting to get a little better. I really didn’t want to because I had gained so much weight over the course of being sick, and the American cultural image of yoga is really thin, flexible girls. I remember the first time I came to Vibe--it was one of the first times I left my house--Erin Thomas greeted me as soon as I walked in the door. She was so kind that I felt instantly, you know, warmed to this place. The next week, my mom and I came and took a basic class with Erin. I didn’t know what a monster I was creating. I wasn’t quite well enough to do yoga then, but 7 months later on my birthday, I felt this nagging sensation that I needed to go back to yoga. I went everyday after that, and four months later I was in 200-hour teacher training. That completely changed my life. Yoga is the drop of water that created a ripple in my pond.
How did yoga help you during your recovery?
Vibe has given me a safe place to blossom and grow and literally unfold from this very insecure girl who had such anxiety that I would walk through Walmart gripping my mom’s shirt. Yoga helped me come into my body. It changed the narrative of my body from being this weak thing that controlled my life to being this precious vessel to care for and develop. I realized, this is who I am, in the flesh. This is me. My perspective changed from “I hate my body” to “my body is precious.” One day during Barre, I looked over and saw this tiny little bump in my arm and thought, “Oh, that’s my bicep! I’m gaining muscle!” I felt a spark of complete, utter joy.
Does that experience influence your teaching?
It all stems from my sickness, that passion and love I have for life. People always tell me that they can hear me smiling while I teach, and that’s exactly what I feel is my strong suit. I just want students to come into their bodies. I was forced into a conditional situation that made me introspective. But you know, you don’t have to be bedridden to find that. You can find that on your yoga mat by getting out of this world that’s full of distractions and stimulation. Your body is so intricate and amazing on its own. Just come into the precious sensations of the miracle that your body is.
What do you hope people take away from yoga?
Yoga taught me to love myself wholeheartedly. I’m so grateful for that, and I want other people to love themselves. The work you do on your mat carries into the outside world and every person you meet. It helps you bring your light into the world. I always say, “Be your own teacher, be with yourself, be in your own body.” I want people to learn to care for their minds, their bodies, their spirits. And to realize that they are so much more than flesh and bone. There’s no other person you’ll be spending more time with than yourself, so be kind to yourself. Love is everything.
Now that you’re working on your 500-hour certification, what’s next? Where do you want to take this work?
I want to be a doctor. Last year in teacher training, Laura asked us, “If you had all the money in the world, what would you want to learn?” That was a wake up call for me, when I first wondered, “what if I went to college and studied neuroscience?” That night I drove home so fast and told my mom. I was planning to take a few years to think about college, but that night changed everything. Three days later, we scheduled my SAT, so I was starting to teach yoga, studying for the SAT, and finishing my last year of homeschool. Now, I’m in college studying neuroscience at IU. I’m also teaching yoga at the behavior unit at IU hospital for people who are struggling with depression. By becoming a doctor, I could take yoga into a deeper layer of healing people. Life has such intrinsic value. I want to connect with people and help them the best I can.
Is there a yoga teacher who particularly inspires you?
Cinnamon has been one of the most influential teachers to me. She once said something about the difference between miracles and magic. She talked about the caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. I feel like I’ve been through this ugly transformation and come full circle. The hardest thing that has ever happened to me is what turned me into the butterfly.
It sounds like you’ve found many miracles in that experience.
In those 5 years that I was sick, l learned 50 years of lifelong lessons. I know if I had not gotten sick, I would be going through the motions of life. I wouldn’t have everything that is precious to me. I found Vibe, I found my stupid amazing iguana that sleeps in my bed everyday, I found religion and God, I found best friends in my sister and mom, and I found my passion, this fire within me that I didn’t know I had. Coming to yoga fed my flame, and now I am a freaking beautiful wildfire!
Join Cheyenne on your mat:
Hot Fusion //
Tuesdays & Thursdays @ 7:30pm
Hot Sculpt //
Wednesdays @ 1:45pm
Thursdays @ 4:30pm
Fridays @ 3:00pm
Hot Power Vinyasa //
Saturdays @ 4:30pm