Today we’d like to introduce you to Mishell Elliston.
Mishell, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was a 5-year-old jumping rope with a neighborhood friend when I fell and hit my head on the concrete driveway. My mother held my injured head in her lap as a neighbor rushed us to John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix. I was later transferred to the Barrow Neurological Institute where, after months of physical therapy, doctors declared that I would never speak nor walk again. I was told that my entire left-side would remain paralyzed. The nurse gave my mom a wheel-chair when we left the hospital. My parents never loaded that wheel-chair into the car. That was in 1972.
Today, I’m a 500+ hour Yoga Teacher & Personal Trainer. I’ve made it my mission to convince any doubters — with and without physical injuries — that the ability to practice yoga or be physically competitive is well within their reach. I believe the only limitation in the way of a successful yoga practice or physical fitness is a false belief that it can’t be done. And I have the history to back it up. If I can do it, anybody can do it, I say or To know me, is to love me, my, athletic body belies the once bleak prognosis the medical staff had for my future. I credit my mother for the first phase of my recovery. When my mom took me home from the hospital, that’s when my rehab truly started. Refusing to allow any doctor or test result to dictate my future, My mother devised her own physical therapy method. Using my father’s extra belts, she strapped my arms and legs to her own and then went about her usual routine of housekeeping chores. My Mom moved me around like a marionette.
For several months, my life centered on relearning much of what I had already thought I perfected before the accident. I had just learned to tie my sneakers and was so proud of myself, and then all of a sudden, I couldn’t do it anymore, I recall all the hours I spent struggling to hold a simple loop in place with my disabled left hand while completing the bow with my right. Just as soon as I finished, my mother would untie the laces and make me do it all over again. I went through similar ordeals in buttoning my shirts and zipping up her jackets. It was hell! But it paid off. By the age of 10, I had become a star attraction at symposiums conducted by the Barrow Neurological Institute — I was asked to skip or play hopscotch on stage in front of an audience of physicians to illustrate my progress. Through the continual repetition of simple tasks, I essentially had rewired my brain around the injury, a result supported by subsequent brain scans.
Doctors dubbed me “the miracle child.” Nearly all physical functioning had returned, except in my left wrist, hand, and foot. There, some loss of fine motor skills remained, though disability did not keep me from trying new things, including softball and tennis. I even participated in gymnastics, though my instructors banned me from the uneven bars because I didn’t have the reflexes to safely time the moves. Over time, I became adept at hiding my disability, literally keeping my hand out of other people’s view. Then, at 13, I decided I wanted to become a model — partly because modeling seemed glamorous, but even more, because it would force me to stop hiding.
By this time, my mother’s insistence that I could do and be anything I wanted had rooted inside of me, and I was ready to prove it. Anything where I’d be under a microscope, I did, I couldn’t be more vulnerable than becoming a swimsuit model! For the next ten years, I modeled for runway shows and magazine spreads, and even received a small stand in part on the pilot of a San Francisco television show, “Midnight Caller.” From there, my career turned to the corporate branding industry in which I worked as a project manager for a variety of major corporate identity clients. All the while, I continued to stay in shape by running and going to the gym. One day in 1998, while I was peddling away on an exercise bike, I noticed a class starting up on the other side of a glass partition. Fascinated, I inquired and learned it was an Ashtanga yoga class.
From then on, whenever I finished my workout, I’d sit outside the window and watch — until the day the instructor invited me to grab a mat and give it try. The thought of managing the kind of moves yoga required was entirely scary. If my attempt at gymnastics had reminded me of anything, it was the firm belief that my left side was just too weak for some pursuits. But the instructor seemed so insistent, I relented and took a spot at the front of the room. Through the entire class, I mostly just stood there and watched, just as I had outside the window. Afterwards, I felt so defeated, I was practically in tears. I thought. Why did I just embarrass myself in front of all these people? That is precisely the feeling I hear expressed all too often these days by others who feel intimidated at the very thought of yoga or working-out, believing they aren’t flexible enough, strong enough, young enough or coordinated enough to even attempt it. I empathize with them, I know from first-hand experience that their fear is unfounded. In my case, I decided to place my trust in my instructor and face my own fear.
I began by attending class twice a week, then three times, and before long, I was hooked. I became obsessed with it because I was getting strong and feeling good, adding that the practice not only improved both my sleep and my diet, it provided the impetus to serve my community. Yoga opened me in unselfish ways. I credit yoga with significantly increased strength and flexibility in my left side, as well as improving my overall balance, focus, self-confidence, and connection with my body. I soon added medicine ball classes to enhance my core strength and help balance left and right brain activity. Freed from all my self-imposed limitations, I took on the challenge of competing in triathlons, endurance events that combine swimming, cycling and running 5K, and 10K races. There is no way I would have ever competed in any sport without the breakthrough I had through yoga,
Now, I’ll go into anything without hesitation, and it’s that spirit I want to instill in my own daughter Emersen as she grows up. I love sharing my story with children & teens, it’s a crucial time in their lives as they mature. I have turned my handicap into a positive and it’s my purpose in life to share my story and help those who may be stuck. I went on to earn my 500+-hour yoga teacher certification through Advanced Yoga Sciences in San Francisco, CA. I became a board member of the Arizona Yoga Association and a member of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, and I completed Ayurveda therapy training through the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. I am now a Certified Personal Trainer as well, so I can reach more people. I believe anyone can reap the benefits of exercise. My clients range from athletes to paraplegics, from teens to seniors. My advice to beginners is simple: start slow, do what you can, and trust that you will steadily improve with every session. No one starts out as a yoga master, just as no one is born a decathlete.
To this day, I do not have full use of my left hand, and over the last 3 years, I have had two wrist surgeries where they removed a carpal bone. I will likely never be proficient at any activity that requires nimble fingers — such as typing or playing the violin — but I can accept that because I can do so much more than what the doctors ever believed possible. If it weren’t for my mom and my yoga master — if it weren’t for yoga — I wouldn’t be doing half of it.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has always been a challenge for me since 1972. I actually have no memory of it ever being easy for me physically. It’s a part of who I am. If I want to incorporate a new fitness element, I have to practice it and practice, as my Yoga Master says to me everytime we train “Again Mishell, again.” In 2009, I was in a terrible car accident, I was T-boned. Again, my left-side was hit. I shattered my pelvis in 7 places, including my tailbone and sacrum. Once again, I was given a wheelchair and was told I couldn’t stand or walk for several months. Within the first month of being home, I got up on crutches, I had to run my Yoga Studio. My yoga discipline is what actually made my recovery go smoother, due to my flexibility prior to the accident, I didn’t have any residual side effects from the car accident – except an awesome scar and all the metal in me. This, however, has limited some of my yoga practice now. Backbends are much more challenging!
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Eightlimfit – what should we know?
We have a Door to Door business, We customize on-site group fitness classes and private instruction for all ages. We are known for senior retirement community fitness classes and we also work with corporate groups and high-school sports programs. We specialize in post -physical therapy work for seniors by incorporating some of the necessary movements to improve overall strength and mobility. We facilitate large-scale yoga events in the community and we have a 200-hour yoga certification program. I personally enjoy working with Parkinson’s Disease clients, and we can do Big and Loud Movement routines. I want to do more motivational speaking, inspiring people to reach their personal best. I enjoy working with high school students because it’s a crucial time in their life to build confidence and self-esteem. What sets me apart is my own perseverance, my experience and my desire to help you connect to your higher power and to work thru your physical insecurities. I have a great deal of patience and empathy for anyone struggling with wanting to be at their physical best. If you want it, I will do my best to get you there.
- Website: www.eightlimfit.com
- Phone: 480-861-5148
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: eightlimfit
- Twitter: eightlimfit
Jim Poulin Phoenix Business Journal Photography, Charlie Brown Photography, Claudia Valle Copy, Charlotte Brown, Mishell Elliston