Have you ever wondered how you can create wellness in your life? In this episode, Camille welcomes Abigail Atkinson, a certified holistic health coach, yoga teacher, and founder of Well With Abigail, where she uses yoga to help people feel connected with themselves and to create a healthy balance in their lives.
Abigail shares her health transformation after suffering from a stroke in 2012 and learning how to walk again to now help others improve their physical and mental wellbeing through the strategies that changed her life. She also shares her advice on how to overcome hardships and challenges in your life.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to improve your wellbeing, tune into this episode to hear how you too can feel cool and connected to your inner cadence of rhythm and connect deeper within yourself.
ABIGAIL ATKINSON [00:00]
Yeah. I had just started teaching yoga when I had the stroke. And I loved yoga so much. It was always a dream of mine. But I never thought I could, I was the breadwinner for my family at the time, to just teach yoga.
So, you want to make an impact. You're thinking about starting a business sharing your voice. How do women do it that handle motherhood, family, and still chase after those dreams? We'll listen each week as we dive into the stories of women who know. This is Call Me CEO.
If there's one thing that I've noticed about being an ambitious woman and talking to many incredible women doing amazing things is that it is very common to push ourselves to the limit to the point where sometimes our bodies will tell us it's time to slow down, whether that's with sickness or not getting enough sleep or finding yourself sitting in unhealthy thoughts.
And so, I love finding people or modalities or books that will help you to feel cool and connected to your inner cadence of rhythm that you really should be connecting with. So, today's guest, Abigail has been sharing yoga locally in Utah for the past decade with nearly 3000 teaching hours. And she specializes in making yoga accessible for all bodies and abilities after suffering a stroke in 2012, when she actually had to learn how to walk again.
So, she is now a certified holistic health coach and nutritional herbalist and yoga teacher. And she's going to share with us all about how she uses yoga as a modality to help her feel connected to herself and to create that healthy balance.
Welcome back everyone to Call Me CEO. This is Camille Walker, your host. And here, we celebrate mothers and women building businesses that create balance and plenty in their lives. And that doesn't come without trial and error. That doesn't come without hardship. And that doesn't come without tripping along the way. That's part of the process. So, welcome, if you are new here. And if you're not, thanks for coming back.
Today, we are actually speaking on something that I'm very passionate about, which is creating wellness in your life. And we are with an expert on that where she is going to be sharing with us a very transformative experience of how yoga changed her life. Her name is Abigail Atkinson. And she is the owner and CEO of Well With Abigail, which is her Instagram handle and her website, which we're just saying, that's so cool. It rhymes. And it's everything and everywhere. So, Abigail, thank you so much for being with us today. I cannot wait for everyone to hear your story and how yoga has helped you and your wellness.
My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me. It's just an honor to be here. It's an honor to share. It feels like I heal a little bit more every time I share my story and how I got to the place where I am today. So, thanks for making space for that.
Let's dig into your story. Tell us about how you found yoga. Tell us about where you live, a little bit about you, and everything that's going on, and then how you got into yoga.
Okay. I actually got into yoga because nothing else felt good in my body when I was pregnant with my second child. It was like yoga was all that I could do. And I absolutely fell in love with it. I kept practicing yoga. It became a daily practice for me actually, obsessed with it.
At the time, this was before I was a yoga teacher, I was in a really stressful job. I had a corporate career that I spent about 16 years climbing up the corporate ladder, working 60, 70 hours a week. At the time, we had BlackBerrys before the iPhone days. My kids used to call it my crackberry. So, it was like I was always tied to work and stress related to work. And I just had such a hard time finding balance in my life.
And yoga actually helped me create a sense of balance, a sense of harmony. It was an outlet where I could relieve stress, where I could not have to worry about anything else except for my body and my breath. So, yoga quickly became a really important part of my life. But my lifestyle was still very stressful.
I got to the point where I remember one day looking back into my journals, reading a journal entry that said, "I can't keep doing this. I can't take one more step forward." Then fast forward, I had a stroke in January of 2012. And the stroke was caused from an injury to my neck. So, it wasn't actually health-related.
But I think it's so interesting that sometimes the universe sends us situations that force us to slow down, force us to take a look at our lives. And it was just so ironic to me that I literally couldn't take a step forward after that. I was in the hospital for a month and had to relearn how to walk again.
And I was a pretty determined person. I worked really hard at my recovery. I did all my physical therapy and my occupational therapy. I had my mom bring my yoga mat to the hospital. And the nurses would help me down to the floor, so I could do whatever yoga I could manage. I actually put a picture of myself in a yoga pose from a time that I was in Hawaii at the beach. I hung that up in the hospital room, just to motivate ,just to keep my spirits up to keep going.
And just being forced to slow down and recover, I had time to reflect. I had time to step back out of the lifestyle that I was in and ask myself like, is this how I want my story to end? I could have died. And I would have died stressed out and burned out and disconnected from my children. And that's just like, no, that's not for me. That's not how I'm moving forward.
So, I never went back to that corporate job. After yoga helped me recover my ability to walk, after making some healthier lifestyle changes, helped me regain more balance in my life, that's when I decided to become a yoga teacher. That's when I decided I was going to do the thing that I love most in the world.
I did my yoga teacher certifications. I trained with Matthew Sanford with Mind Body Solutions. He's the leading pioneer of adaptive yoga in the United States. He's a paraplegic. And I teach all kinds of yoga, but I specialize in adaptive yoga for stroke survivors, TBI, traumatic brain injury survivors, people with MS, Parkinson's, anybody with some sort of mobility impairment, or just people who sit a lot. I do get older adults as well.
I really love yoga practices that are softer and slower, like adaptive chair yoga. I also specialize in yin yoga. We hold the poses for three to five minutes, long stretches. I love practices that make me slow myself down. Otherwise, I love to go, go, go, go, go.
That is the general overall story of how I went from stressed out, burned out, working way too many hours to no time for me to revamp my life and truly love myself, give myself permission to do what I love to do, and to help others live fully in the body that they have, find balance with the life that they have.
That is so powerful. There are a few things that you said during that that I really clung to, which was if you're not slowing down, the universe will give you a reason to. Something's going to come up. And another thing being to love the life that you're in, the body that you're in because that's what you have, right? And so, it's honoring that you said yoga is what felt best to you, and then being able to have that foundation to build upon as you were recovering from this stroke.
Can you take me back to 2012? You're lying in your hospital bed. You're now learning you have to walk again. How did you find the stamina? You talked about that photo that you had put up on the wall. But mentally, what were some practices that you went through in your mind of showing up and trying and giving it your all again and again? And what was it like for your family? Where was your husband? Where were your kids? Tell us a little bit about what that moment was like.
Sure. Where do I even begin? I love that you're asking about what my mindset was like because I think this is key. No matter what's going on externally, what we're saying to ourselves internally, the conversation that we're having with ourselves, makes such a big difference. So, I did have that picture of myself in the yoga pose up. And that pose is actually still really challenging for me to do.
Which pose is it so that we know?
It's a toe stand where you're balancing on your toes of one foot. And the other leg is in a half lotus position. And you're squatted down. Yeah. I actually had very specific mantras that I had written out on that nurses board that they write your schedule on and the name of your nurse.
And the mantra was, "My body and brain know exactly how to heal. My body and brain know exactly how to heal." So, for me, this was an exercise in trust, trust that if I did the work and I took care of myself and I gave myself periods of rest, my body is going to be loyal to my wellbeing.
My brain, we used to think that once a brain cell died, it was gone forever. But we know now that your brain can be plastic forever. I knew that I could forge new neural pathways to help me be functional again. And I will definitely credit my yoga practice as helping me with that mindset. And really it truly started even before I landed in the hospital.
So, I was actually in the middle of teaching a yoga class when I had the stroke. And it was at the place where I was working. Yeah. So halfway into class, I just start getting severe neck pain. And my right side starts to go numb. I thought I was sick actually at first, but it just kept progressing. And finally, I talked to the students down to Shavasana, which is what we call final relaxation. And I leaned against the wall. Wait for it to pass. It did not. It became excruciating.
Oh, sorry, Abigail.
It got robotic for a minute. A clap right here for an edit. So, we're going to start right where you said, I talked to my students to Shavasana. That's this. That's the final relaxation, you can start right from there.
Okay. So, I talked the students down into Shavasana, that final relaxation. And then, I sat down and rested against the wall, waited for it to pass, but it just became excruciating pain. I knew something was wrong then. I couldn't get back up. I crawled over to one of the students. And that person helped me out. We called 911. And because my right side was going numb and I wasn't able to walk, I suspected that I was having a stroke.
And here's the thing. There's this moment, a chunk of time where I'm just waiting for the EMT to arrive. And my body is saying, you're going to die, you're dying. I actually thought I was dying. I was completely surrendering to this is it, talking to God, "Please take care of my children." And so, this is what my body's message is saying to me.
The EMT arrives on the scene. And he examines me and he says, "I think you have vertigo. My wife had vertigo two weeks ago." So, I recommend that you go rest for a couple hours. If you still feel sick, go see your doctor."
So, here is a moment in time where I have a choice to make. I choose to listen to the medical authority, which is what culturally we're trained to do our whole lives or I can choose to trust myself, to listen to myself. In yoga, we say things like, "Listen to your body's messages, honor how your body's feeling." And I'm so grateful that I've been practicing that.
That helped me make the choice and say, "No, I choose me. I choose to trust myself. You're taking me to the hospital." He did. The neurologist that was on duty in the ER, I ended up at Utah Valley Hospital, was the Utah Valley Regional Hospital back then, the neurologist saw right away that I was having a stroke and got me on heparin, got me the medication I needed that truly saved my life, and prevented me from having more severe physical deficits than I would have otherwise.
And when I think back about that, it's not just what you say to yourself, but what you say to yourself and what you practice saying to yourself matters. Because then, you're training yourself in how you're going to respond in a stressful situation. If I hadn't had that practice listening to my body, I don't know if I would have decided I was going to listen to my body and trust myself. But I'm so glad I did.
Because even if I had been wrong, what would have been far worse, even worse than if I had died from the stroke would be that I had rejected myself. I had not listened to me. And that I think takes a hit in our confidence. I think self-trust is something that we have to build on skill by skill. And so, that was just a really important lesson to me that, yeah, it's important that you trust your innate wisdom, your own inner authority.
Yeah. Wow, I love that so much because I feel like you're right. A person of authority that comes in and is meant to be taking care of you, which I'm sure in his mind, he thought he had the solution and he knew what was going on. But no one can advocate for ourselves the way we can because you knew. You had that intuitive voice saying, "No, this is more than that," which I think too often, especially as women, we can ignore or suppress.
I know that when I had my first child and delivered him and then had subsequent three more babies, I felt like with each one, I felt like I could advocate for myself better. And I was more confident in knowing what I needed. And that changed a lot of the process of the way that I delivered my babies.
And so, I think that's fascinating that yoga really truly does help you with the mindset as well as your body and listening to your body. And that alone is such a beautiful gift. Because I think that otherwise, there's so much noise in the world. There's so much input of what we're being told to say or think or do that I love that you were able to incorporate the practice of yoga and mindfulness into literally saving your life. That is incredible.
Thank you. And we all have access to it. We can all learn to trust ourselves, to listen to our own wisdom and hopefully not wait until we're in a mortal crisis to live our best life, live how we want to live. It took me having a stroke to stop with that burnt out, overly stressed lifestyle.
And even though I would never wish a stroke or a trauma on anybody, it ended up being such a gift for me. There's that term post-traumatic stress syndrome. We all know that. I learned another term on the opposite end called post-traumatic growth. And I feel like that's truly what it was for me.
And challenges, obstacles, even if it's not looking death in the face or something quite as traumatic, we all have these challenges. And we can use them to help us grow into better versions of ourselves, help us create the life that we truly want to live because it always feels like there's time. Okay.
If this happens then or when I get to this place, then I'm going to do this. And we don't know how long we're going to be here. I might not be here next year. Now is the time. Now is the only time that we have. And, yeah, that's the other thing that it taught me that. It's got to be now. And we got to be with the people we love now. We got to create the things that make a difference in the world now. Because if not now, when?
Yeah. I think you're right. A perspective shift like that is so profound. And that's why I love sharing stories and hearing other stories like yours where it really did give you a shift of resetting those boundaries or those priorities.
I think that COVID did that for a lot of us, where it was, if this really was the end, would you be happy with the life you're living? And if this really was a reset for slowing down and paying attention to the things that really matter at the end of the day, how does that stack up to the life you're living right now? And how does that make you feel about the trajectory of where you're heading?
And I think that that's really fascinating that you were able to take that moment and say, yeah, this is different than what I want. I don't want to go back to that corporate job.
So, how did you then develop a business? You were already practicing and teaching yoga. So, it sounds like you were already leaning into that as a way of lifestyle or creating a job for yourself. How did you then steer into developing your own business?
Yeah. I had just started teaching yoga when I had the stroke. And I loved yoga so much. It was always a dream of mine to just teach yoga. But I never thought I could, I was the breadwinner for my family at the time. I didn't know I was allowed to leave my corporate job and try to make money another way. It was so irresponsible of a thing to do, right? At least that's what I believed at the time.
But I just never went back. I was on disability for a little while. I used a walker for a while. I really had to put a lot of work into my recovery. And I was like, what am I going to do? I just never went back to that job and decided to keep teaching yoga classes.
So, I just started with that. I just started with teaching some yoga classes. And then, I started studying yoga more. I started teaching at corporate offices. Boy, do all the people in the corporate jobs need some yoga. I started teaching in studios. I started offering events where people could find that balance, where they could slow down and reconnect with their body, rebuild that relationship with their body, find ways to let go of stress and be more resilient to challenges through yoga, through meditation, through herbs.
I love herbs, too. We were just talking about kava before this, which is a very relaxing herb. And in general, just really being devoted to our wellbeing in small little chunks. So, for me, it was a very slow process. But it built over time.
And now, I've built it up that I teach yoga teachers. I teach yoga teachers how to teach yin yoga, adaptive yoga. And I offer events and trainings and retreats for women because it gives us something to step into, that helps us create that harmony and balance because sometimes it's hard to just sit. It's harder to sit and meditate. And you got so many things going on. It's hard to slow the mind down.
That's at least how my personality is. And I know so many people can relate to that. So, for me, it's very helpful to have something I'm doing that makes me be slow and still and present, like holding a stretchy yoga pose for five minutes, a yin yoga pose, like sitting in tea ceremony, like having a gentle yoga practice. These things invite me to step into the present moment. And I love sharing that with other people. So, it's just grown. It's just grown from there.
That's wonderful. So, you do host events all over Utah. That's something that we talked about. And we have quite a good amount of audience that is listening that is from Utah. So, I wanted to talk about some of those offerings that you had. And I'm going to look at my notes here.
So, you are offering an Autumn Equinox in Pleasant Grove. That will be September 23 from 11 to 1 pm. We'll put all of this information in the link below. And then, there's also an eight-hour workshop over two days, four hours on a Friday, four hours on a Saturday. Is that right?
On October 20th and 21st. And that's a workshop to teach chair yoga. So, I'm curious for those people who are listening, let's say that they're not in Utah and they can't come visit. And they want to incorporate more practice or stretches where we're sitting at our desk, we're looking at screens all day, how can we be present and connect? Could you take us through a short, I don't know, three to five-minute practice of what that could look like within our own space?
Yeah. You can do so many things in a chair. Let's just do some upper body. All of us can relate to having neck and shoulder tension.
Yes, we can.
And I love this. I love to call these little yoga snacks because people think you have to have a whole hour dedicated to your yoga practice or why bother doing it? Now, one thing I will tell you really quickly. With my stroke recovery, I actually found that once I started taking smaller increments of therapy, my physical therapy, my yoga, like 5, 10 minutes, and then rested, and then an hour later, 5, 10 minutes, and then rested, the frequency and distribution versus one long session amplified my healing so much faster.
And I think that we can do this throughout the day too, right? You don't have to take 30 minutes, 45 minutes or an hour. You can do two minutes of stretching. And it will be clarifying to your mind and will help your body, preventing it from getting too stiff from being hunched over in that seated position. So, these little yoga snacks make a big difference. Okay.
Yoga snacks. Let's do it.
Yeah. Go ahead and set up nice and tall. You can close down your eyes if you're comfortable with that and you're not driving or maybe just soften your gaze. Start to feel into the natural curves of your spine. Shoulders relaxed, face soft. Tongue falls off the roof of the mouth.
Now, become aware of your breath. Just notice the physical sensation of breath in your body. So, pay attention to where you feel the breath most clearly. This might be at your belly, your chest. Maybe you feel the breath, brush past your nostrils and land in your chest. The breath can only happen in this present moment. So, follow your inhale all the way to the top. Follow your exhale all the way to the bottom. And this will help you stay present.
In your next exhale, let the chin fall towards the chest .Stay sitting up nice and tall. We got a little stretch for the back of the neck here from the base of the skull to the top of the shoulders. Let those shoulders sink up, the face drops a little heavier with the head.
Let's take small half circles, just half circles. Roll one ear over to its shoulder. Exhale, chin back to chest. Inhale, opposite ear over to its shoulder, chin back to chest. Continue that rhythm, that pattern with your own breath. As soon as you feel the line of tension on one side, you can drop the chin and roll on over to the other side. Maybe imagining any knots of discomfort starting to loosen.
Let's bring one ear, let's say our, right ear over to our right shoulder. And we'll hang out here for a moment. We're going to take our left arm out to the side of the body. Palm face up. Let your elbow be bent and roll your thumb back like you're going to touch the ground.
Now, imagine I'm gently pulling your elbow away from your body. Arm never go straight. Keep reaching that right ear towards your right shoulder. Feel some traction here. You might even use your right hand to knead out the knots in your neck and the top of your shoulder. You can move your head. You can move your chin, exploring the line of tension.
Exhale, drop your chin back to your chest. Let your left hand fall. Bring your hands to your knees. Inhale, dry your shoulders back, lift your chin up. A gentle arch. Exhale, squeeze your glutes, tuck your chin, and round your back. See if you can find a stretch in the back body. Just a simple cat cow. Inhale, arch. Send the heart forward, the shoulders back, the chin up. Exhale, round, scoop out the belly, cat like with the back.
Take one more like that. Follow your breath. Rise back up nice and tall. Drop your left ear to your left shoulder. Right arm comes out to the side, elbow bent, palm faces up towards the ceiling. Turn your thumb backwards towards the floor. So, we're really trying to externally rotate the arm, relieving tension in that shoulder joint.
Now, go ahead and reach your right elbow away from the body. Maybe move the head. Maybe the left hand helps massage out the tension here on the right side of the neck and shoulder. You've lost awareness of the breath. Just invite yourself back. Notice what it feels like to breathe here. And exhale, relax that hand down. Drop your arms out by your side. Take a big inhale, circle sweep your arms up. You guys can't see me, but let your left hand capture your right forearm.
And we're going to timber over to the left. Keep your right hip anchored to your chair wherever you're seated. Send your breath into your right lung. Give your side body a stretch here. Rise back up. Capture that left wrist. Take it over to the other side. Throw your left ribs back. Keep your low ribs in. Breathe into your left lungs. Stretch yourself from the inside out. Feel that side arch here. Good. Rise back up. Exhale, rotate to the left. Drop your right hand to your left knee, grow nice and tall. Inhale, exhale, twist.
Feel your breath as you inhale. Reach those arms back up. Exhale, rotate to the right. Left hand to right knee. Grow tall on your inhale. Rotate to your edge on your exhale. You can look back past your right shoulder. Notice where you feel the stretch in the back into the hips and the shoulders. Gently release yourself forward. Pause for a breath.
And just notice what qualities are present. Notice if anything has bubbled to the surface, any feeling of spaciousness, maybe just a small sense of relief. Acknowledge yourself for taking a moment to move and breathe and stretch in the middle of your day. Thank you for joining me for that yoga snack. Namaste.
Namaste. I feel very rejuvenated with that snack. That was amazing. I hope for those of you listening could join with us. And if you can't, I'm going to repost this section on Instagram just for that because that I feel so good. I know I need to do that every day because that felt so good.
This has been so much fun. Thank you so much for your vulnerability for showing up and sharing with us. What a beautiful gift yoga has been for your life. And tell our audience where they can find you online.
You can find me at wellwithabigail.com. I'm most active on Instagram @wellwithabigail or @adaptedyogautah. I would love to hear from you. Yeah. Stay connected.
All right. Thank you again.
Hey, CEOs. Thank you so much for spending your time with me. If you found this episode inspiring or helpful, please let me know in a comment in a 5-star review. You could have the chance of being a featured review on an upcoming episode. Continue the conversation on Instagram @callmeceopodcast. And remember, you are the boss!
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.