Tales of Transformation – The Reluctant Yogi


It seems that most stories of awakening to the task of being a lightworker involve an individual who is actively seeking something that is lacking in his or her life. But what if your life was already pretty good and you didn’t want it to change? What if the universe decided to kick you down a road you didn’t want to travel? This is an interview with Margie Mahoney who, after nearly four decades of being a dental hygienist, unexpectedly found a new career as a yoga and tai chi teacher.

MTPS:

You were a professional dental hygienist for several years before you became a yoga and tai chi teacher. How did that happen?

Margie Mahoney:

MargieFinal2As with most people, it takes a good push to make me change, especially when I am happy where I am. I had been working as a full time dental hygienist for almost 40 years and at the top of my profession, educationally and financially, when my boss of 10 years asked me to take a $30,000 salary cut. I loved the combination of the technical aspects of dental hygiene and the people skills involved in working with individuals in setting and achieving health goals, which created a positive impact in their lives. I tried negotiating the situation for almost three months with no compromise in sight and finally resigned myself to the fact that the change was inevitable. Even though this happened during the recent financial crash, I had never had trouble finding another dental hygiene job in the past and was shocked that I could not find another position.

MTPS:

So that’s when you changed careers?

Margie Mahoney:

At the time I didn’t realize I was changing careers, but after two-to-three years of sending out hygiene resumes, calling, and doing some temporary work, I began to change my focus toward teaching. I had been an active YMCA member for over 25 years in both Massachusetts and then Wisconsin. During the 18 plus years I was practicing hygiene in Wisconsin, I would attend aerobic workouts at the YMCA in the mornings prior to work; then for about 15 years I would come back to the YMCA in the evenings for yoga. When a yoga teacher training class was offered through the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy (www.himalayaninstitute.org), I thought I would take the training as part of my long-term retirement plan – I wanted to eventually open up retreat areas for people to renew and recharge their lives. I had no desire to teach, even though I grew up in a family of educators, musicians, physicians and health care workers. I couldn’t imagine enjoying leading a yoga class!

MTPS:

What sparked your original interest in yoga?

Margie Mahoney:

I originally began yoga to help with the stress and physical challenges of working dental hygiene full-time. I had been interested in holistic health care since a dentist with whom I worked 30 years ago decided to transform his practice into holistic dentistry. At the same time an article in my local newspaper (I had been living in Massachusetts) described the beginnings of the wellness movement with the establishment of the National Wellness Institute (www.NationalWellness.org) (NWI) at the University of Wisconsin in Stevens Point. I was pretty impressed that the beginnings of this great change in our health care perspective came right in the state where I was born. When I moved back to Wisconsin from Massachusetts I looked up the NWI and began attending their yearly conventions where I took classes; my life began its transformation there. The NWI has such a wonderful variety of fabulous educators in all aspects of health care and delivery, insurance, musicians, physicians, nurses, educators, and physical fitness experts, to name just a few. I went to hundreds of hours of training and obtained numerous certifications in things like stress management, motivational interviewing, life coaching, tai chi, and health cost containment. I still connect with some of the wonderful trainers from this organization.

MTPS:

That’s where you became a yoga teacher?

Margie Mahoney:

Although I took many yoga classes at the NWI conventions, the real encouragement for taking the teacher training through the Himalayan Institute came from the teachers at the Oshkosh YMCA who had gone through their training program in the past. In addition to being a reluctant teacher, I felt that my physical skills were certainly not anywhere near those of other yoga teachers and students. I was getting beyond middle age and my body was stiff and sore from years of crouching over dental chairs. Thank goodness, in the first week of teacher training, I began to realize that the physical aspect of yoga is just a small part of the practice! In fact, in the Yoga Sutras (threads of knowledge) we are told in Sutra 1.2 “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha” which translates as “Yoga is complete mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind.” Who would have ever thought that yoga had more to do with spirituality and psychology than headstands? Studying the combination of yoga and its sister science, ayurveda, allowed a whole new world to open up for me which I had no idea even existed! And in addition, it made my Christianity more personal and alive.

MTPS:

And Tai Chi?

Margie Mahoney:

Again, I began my tai chi practices at the National Wellness Institute and the Oshkosh

YMCA. I had been through some knee surgery, which put a big kink in my beloved running and found that a tai chi class was very beneficial to my recovery. But after about a year my instructor at the YMCA moved on, and I was able to take classes only sporadically until about six years ago when a new teacher at the YMCA began offering early morning tai chi classes (I was still working full-time as a dental hygienist) in the Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan tradition (the Yang Family Hidden tradition of tai chi is also known as YMT). I was hooked from the beginning. Eventually I began filling in for my instructor when he was absent, made the decision to get my certification at the NWI, and then began teaching a variety of tai chi classes in nearby Appleton and Neenah, as well as in Oshkosh.

Another whole world began to open up for me with my beginning the path of Yangjia Michuan Taijiquan. It led me through learning their empty handed forms of 13 Postures, Duan 1,2 and 3 and from there to the Madison Daoguan to intensify my study with Tuishou (push-hands), the Fan Form, the Wudang Sword Form and the Long Pole form. I took seminars in Neigong (meditation), the I Ching, BaguaZhang, the 8 Piece Brocade, as well as the tuishou of 13 postures. I met wonderful tai chi practitioners and teachers during my four years of taking classes at the Madison Daoguan, and although it has recently closed I feel that I have been so very fortunate to have had this invaluable educational experience! I compared the energy health aspects of yoga (prana and the nadi flow) and tai chi (the flow of chi through the meridians) to our idea of western medicine and have been striving as we are taught at the Himalayan Institute to “combine the best of eastern and western medicine” in my own life and health. I continue to find more similarities than differences.

MTPS:

Were there times you were afraid that you had somehow made a wrong turn and were on the wrong path?

shutterstock_361118099Margie Mahoney:

Over the years I have come to realize that there are no wrong turns or wrong paths…some of the paths we choose just take us a longer time to reach the point where we are meant to be. I continue to be interested in practicing dental hygiene and have continued to renew some of my professional licenses, but my yoga/tai chi/fitness teaching has moved from one-to-two classes per week to almost 25 classes per week. In the end it’s all about wellness, and I have come to realize that I can positively influence health change to a much greater extent in my teaching than I could ever accomplish in dental hygiene. Some of my classes in yoga have more than 30 participants – almost three times the number of dental hygiene clients I could see in a whole day in a dental practice. My students are constantly letting me know how much they appreciate my efforts, which is very rewarding!

MTPS:

I have heard that yoga and tai chi are similar in that they are practices that combine body, mind and energy.

Margie Mahoney:

Yoga and Taijiquan are living examples of holistic practices – those that combine body, mind and spirit. This takes us back to the way health care was originally practiced before the separation of medicine and religion. At the time of Descartes – and the beginning of our western concept of medicine – the spiritual aspect of healing was taken over exclusively by the church, which left the physical art of healing to science. We now know the importance of the individual’s belief system in the process of healing and wellness. They cannot and should not be separated. When you begin to practice both yoga and tai chi, you become very sensitive to the feeling of subtle (spiritual) energy and its movement and stagnation in the body and the energy fields around the body. In addition to studying yoga and tai chi I have been active in taking certifications in more modern names for moving energy, like Body Works, which works with the meridians, and Healing Touch, which is a more modern version of Pranic Healing. Both yoga and tai chi acknowledge the influence of energy in all aspects of our life, including the positioning and architecture of our homes and work sites

MTPS:

How does it feel when you’re in the middle of a long complicated exercise or form?

Margie Mahoney:

How does it feel to be in the middle of a long and complicated tai chi form? WOW!

I often describe a tai chi form as the history of your life from beginning to end. You begin in WuJi (the primordial past) and end up back home. That is one reason that I like to begin and end my practice with my hands folded one over another at the DanTien. In the process of moving through the form you encounter all of the challenges of your life and observe how you work through them.

When the practice flows well, it is like moving through a musical piece. And in fact, I have observed that those who are musically inclined find it much easier to memorize the sequence of movements of a form. Everyone learns differently and I find for myself that I learn things in chunks or blocks with repetitions and transitions. Some people build one step on another and many people like to just follow another’s guidance and relax into the flowing movements.

The highest form of taijiquan is called tuishou, literally “push hands” which is the competitive form of taijiquan, but at the Madison Daoguan, we preferred to call it learning to sense, receive, give and transform energy. The practice involves working with a partner in a close stance on set martial art moves and eventually using these practices in free fighting. Because the Daoguan was non-competitive, this involved not only learning the competitive aspects of the moves but how to avoid the situation, and transform the energy in a manner beneficial to the instigator. It was quite the challenge.

MTPS:

Looking back on how your life path has developed, would you have preferred to have never left your career as a dental hygienist?

Margie Mahoney:

While I still haven’t come to the place where I feel I have “left” dental hygiene, both yoga and tai chi have opened worlds that I did not realize existed. I have become more comfortable with change and realize that I am most excited when I am learning new things. I still don’t appreciate rocking the boat when I am sailing on a clear path, but have come to know that my idea of what is best in my life for both me and those around me comes from a higher source who has my best interest in heart.

MTPS:

If you could have everyone understand just one thing about yoga and tai chi, what would that be?

Margie Mahoney:

Keep an open mind and heart to the benefits and new/old worlds of both yoga and tai chi. You will NEVER regret it

 

 

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One Comment

  1. A great interview. Learned a great deal about yogi and tai chi. Marvel at Margie’s courage taking such a huge step in changing her life focus.

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