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How Yoga Saved Me...2 Hours at a Time

Written by Jodi Wasson, Director of Trauma Supports

I get by...with a little help from my (yoga) friends!

"Throughout this process, I’ve repeatedly asked ‘what’s next’ and I am always amazed and grateful of what was in store for my journey- my own personal roller coaster." - Jodi Wasson

My yoga story is not one you might expect.

Some people like to call it their “journey”, but my “journey” felt a little bit more like a roller coaster in all the ways: emotionally, physically and mentally.

Then I walked through the doors of Challenge to Change for the first, but definitely not last time.

But let's rewind to 2015… I was a social worker back then, and truly feel that is who I am (part of my lifework).

I had worked at the Mt Pleasant Mental Health Institute (MHI) since 1994 - 3 years as an Activity Specialist and then 17 as a Social Worker for people suffering from mental illness and substance abuse issues.

The state decided to close this MHI and left me devastated. I spent 20 years here. These were my people, and this was my home. Luckily, I was able to transfer to the Child/Dependent Adult Abuse Hotline.

The kicker was this position was in Des Moines (2 hours away) but it allowed me to continue to be what I was - a social worker.

With the loving support of my family, we accepted this challenge and I worked in Des Moines during the week and returned home to Mt. Pleasant every weekend.

It was hard, but I’ve since learned ‘we can do hard things’ - thank you Glennon Doyle. 😊

Fast forward to 2017, we were making things work- mostly on autopilot and not realizing it at the time.

I had ‘too much on my plate’ which included a routine mammogram in April that turned into a 3D mammogram, several more tests and a biopsy. All while waiting for an interview for a Dual Diagnosis Program Director in Burlington - a job that would allow me to move back home full time.

The Monday after my biopsy, my interview came and I was still anxiously waiting for my results.

At my interview, I was asked where I saw myself in 5 years. I started to cry.

Great interview, right?! I truly didn’t know!

I was so overwhelmed. Needless to say, I did not get the job (a blessing in disguise as that program has since closed).

However, the very next day, I was told I had stage 0 breast cancer.

My anxiety hit an ALL TIME HIGH. I was able to see a surgeon to discuss options the following day - I didn’t take no for an answer when I called to schedule my appointment.

Lumpectomy with radiation was my original plan, but my MRI found another ‘suspicious spot’ that we needed to continue to watch.

NO thank you… so I changed my plan to a double mastectomy.

I waited 7 more (anxiety filled) weeks before my surgery, which included the first step of reconstruction.

Long story short, I ended up having 3 additional surgeries over the course of the next 8 months.

During this time, I was praised by many for my strength and resiliency.

My co-workers coined me as ‘Wonder Woman’. Some days I still ‘wonder’ how I got through all of it. 😉

I now realize the universe was sending me a message in a very loud way: slow down and take care of myself.

In December 2017 (2 surgeries down, 2 yet to come), I found out the Mt Pleasant Correctional Facility was hiring Correctional Counselors (close enough to a social worker, right?!). This was on the same campus as the MHI - ‘home’.

I found this job opportunity on the day of a close friend/neighbor’s funeral - she was the same age as me and passed away from colon cancer. Cancer - UGH!

I believe in ‘signs’ and took this as one. She knew it was my time to be home. This would help me slow down (at least a little). I applied and was hired in February 2018. I was actually offered the job while in the recovery room from surgery #3.

I still tell my boss I wasn’t of sound mind when I accepted the job - LOL- but it was a HUGE blessing! Truly grateful!

In the spring of 2018, my surgeries were completed - Thank goodness!!!

Then in May, I got another call that no one ever expects.

My surgeon called me and told me after a quality assurance review, it was determined I had NOT had cancer.

Another long story short, I was just coming to a place of acceptance of being a cancer survivor.

I was still dealing with survivor guilt from the death of my friend. I had participated in my first Relay for Life walk.

My body and mind were starting to heal… and now this. I was LIVID. I have never experienced such anger and anxiety.

Some told me I ‘should’ be relieved that it wasn’t cancer. 🙄I had known for several years I had abnormal cells from a previous breast biopsy, so when I was told I had breast cancer, it wasn’t a complete surprise… but now being told it wasn’t?

Well, it was a shock to the system, to say the least.

My family, friends and I had been through SO much. This is the part of my ‘rollercoaster ride’ where most ask if we sued. Yes, we contacted an attorney and after a year, a settlement was reached in May 2019. I was hoping to finally find peace- a way to heal from the pains of the recent years.

Two months later, I took the class “Mindful Games” with Challenge to Change “just” to recertify my substitute teaching license. Dubuque is close enough to Mt Pleasant, right? I mean, it was about the same distance to Des Moines. 😊

I chose the class because I facilitate “ACTV-P: Achieving Change through Value-Based Behavior” at the Mt Pleasant Correctional Facility . This course is based on mindfulness and primarily taught to incarcerated individuals who have domestic assault charges. I thought “Mindful Games” sounded somewhat work related and would give me the credit I needed for my sub license. I also knew a few yoga poses - so I thought, why not?

I walked into the Challenge to Change studio and found a spot on the floor to situate myself.

Seriously- a 2 day training where we sit on the floor!? No conference tables and chairs!?

This was very different from anything I’d experienced in my career.

I remember thinking “I might like this”.

I seem to recall I was the only non-school staff in the room but that was ok - everyone was kind and inviting.

Molly shared her story of how Challenge to Change came to be and I was instantly drawn to her resiliency. I knew right then, I wanted to be a part of this.

From there, I took my 95 YTT through Challenge to Change (in Cedar Rapids). I asked myself “what’s next?”. So, I signed up for my 200 YTT and then my 300 YTT - MANY 2 hour trips to Dubuque. 🙂

I now have my RCYT, RYT500, and am the Trauma Supports Director. I learned yoga is so much more than the few poses I initially knew.

I found a safe place where I slowly learned it was ok to be vulnerable (I’m still a work in progress).

Through yoga:

  • My body, mind, and spirit have continued to heal and grow.

  • I found types of yoga I love… and others that are great for others to love. LOL

  • I learned about things like numerology, human design, Ayurveda, KCG, and a lot of other amazing topics.

  • I learned the importance of the PAUSE.

  • I found friendships that I cherish - my AMAZING yoga sisters!

  • I’ve co-taught a 95 YTT. I was a member of the trauma supports team, then co-director, and now director.

  • I’ve taught the AEA ‘Trauma Informed Yoga & Mindfulness Practices to Promote Student Resiliency’.

  • I’ve been on 2 international yoga retreats.

Throughout this process, I’ve repeatedly asked ‘what’s next’ and I am always amazed and grateful of what was in store for my journey- my own personal roller coaster.

Regardless of what is next, I know YOGA will continue to be part of my healing journey. It’s how I seek peace and balance.

Thank you for reading the ride.


Jodi Wasson


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