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Meditating Mom

January 8, 2014

The sun is just starting to crest over the roofs of neighboring houses when I wake.  I roll out of bed and say, “Thank you Spirit,” as my feet touch the floor. My husband is sleeping peacefully and the house is quiet as I prepare my meditation mat, blankets and bolsters on the bed.

Facing the open windows and the rising sun, I settle comfortably on the bolster and fold my legs into an easy half lotus. I take a deep breath as I look at the changing colors of the brightening sky.

My focus changes to my breathing and I close my eyes. I feel my body ease into the joy of stillness. I can feel my heartbeat. My palms are resting one on the other, and I sense the energy exchange between them.


I hear my husband make an interesting waking sound as I feel him stretching on the bed. He gets up, walks into the bathroom and immediately starts brushing his teeth. I ignore the sounds and focus on my breathing once again. I am immune to outward sounds.

Knock, knock.

That can’t be one of my sons. My older son has already left for high school and my younger son doesn’t have to get up for another 30minutes.

Knock, knock. “Mom?”

It is the younger son. What is he doing up at this early hour? I hear my husband turn on his electric razor and the rhythmic whir as he moves up and down on his jaw.

“Mom, are you sure today is an A day at school and I don’t need my trombone for band?”

I easily open my eyes and slowly turn my head toward him like the meditating goddess that I am. I speak with a peaceful calm, “Honey, bring me my cell phone from the kitchen counter.”

He leaves and I return to my focused breathing. I empty my mind. I ignore the sound of the shower running and the clanking of the ironing board being opened in the bathroom next door. I am peace. I am bliss. I am meditating.

Bang. My son returns, swinging the door open with a bit too much force, and it slams into the bookstand behind it. I slowly open my eyes, and mentally remind myself that I am a yoga goddess. I am above anger and frustration. I am The Meditating Mom.

I reach from beneath my blanket and take the cell phone from my son. I patiently tap on the screen until I find the email from his band instructor. Together we read the email regarding the appropriateness of leaving his trombone at home.

“Okay, thanks Mom,” he says, and walks from the room, gently closing the door.

I return to focused breathing, an empty mind, a peaceful spirit. I am so deep in meditation, I don’t realize my son has returned until he says…

“Why are you sitting there like that? Are you meditating?”

I look upon him with the peaceful grace of The Meditating Mom that I am. I nod slowly, with loving eyes. Then I notice his hair is not combed and he’s wearing one light jacket to go to the bus – which is not coming for another 45 minutes. My meditating mind wonders 3 things at once:

  1. Why hasn’t he combed his hair? Didn’t he look in the mirror?
  2. Atlanta is experiencing record low temperatures in a single digit. Is he planning to go the bus stop in that light jacket?
  3. Why in the world is this child standing here ready for school almost an hour before he’s supposed to be?

But I am The Meditating Mom. I will not attack this child with queries and frustrated commentary on the importance of looking in the mirror before you leave the house. Instead, I patiently say…

“Honey, do you know how cold it is outside?” He shrugs nonchalantly. Does this mean that he doesn’t know or that he does know and just doesn’t care? I try another tactic.

“Come here. Let’s look at the temperature.” I click on the screen of my smart phone until the screen changes to an icy blue and the number 14 shows up. “Honey, that’s the temperature. It’s too cold for that light jacket.” He sighs in frustration. He thinks I might be suggesting he wear a heavier, warmer coat. Uh, yes. I am.

Holding out hope that he’s not completely insane, I try another idea. “Open your jacket and let me see what you’re wearing underneath.”It’s possible he has on a long sleeved shirt. Or maybe an athletic Under Armor beneath a t-shirt. Something that indicates he understands that 14* is pretty d@#% cold. Oops. That’s not what a meditating yoga goddess would think.

I take a deep breath and let it out slowly as I see my child is wearing only a t-shirt from the summer. No sleeves. No Under Armor. No undershirt. Just a summer T.

I try one more time to be the blissfully peaceful, soft-spoken yoga mama I know I am. “Honey, you need to put on a long sleeved shirt.”

He emits another heavy sigh, as though I’m the one that’s crazy and suggesting something absolutely asinine. “Mom,” he says with emphasis. “Can I just wear another jacket over this one?”

I do an internal debate with myself. Two heavy jackets equal one big coat. I can end this discussion and get back to my meditation if I agree with this negotiation concession. “Yes.” He leaves, satisfied.

I close my eyes. I settle beneath my blanket. I breathe.


Is that my son sighing in my bedroom while I’m meditating? I open my eyes and turn my head to see him leaning on the door and looking out the window. In his own way, he’s meditating. That’s my baby.

But this Meditating Mom is done for today. I get up and leave him meditating on the rising sun.

Can Yoga Really Wreck Your Body?

February 8, 2013

When I initially read the title of the New York Times article, How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body, I was ready to debate, argue and share my point of view. Then I read the article. And sadly, I agreed with most of it.

I started my personal Yoga journey at the age of 26 in 1997. Ashtanga (Power) Yoga was my introduction to a world that was foreign to me.  Nothing during my first year of Yoga remotely related to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras or the Eight Limbs. And I did what I was taught – push, work, challenge beyond limits. I received a “Yoga certification” the next year at a weekend aerobics conference in Baltimore, Maryland. I still recall the instructor asking me to demonstrate a move for the class because I was flexible – and I thought I was the BOMB! As a Yoga teacher, I taught what had been taught to me. Work, push, challenge. All of it was ego-driven and the complete opposite of the actual principles and spirit of Yoga.

Injuries from years of running and high-impact aerobics made me begin a self-study of naturopathic wellness, orthomolecular nutrition, and alternative medicine. I began monthly treatments of acupuncture, reflexology and massage. I studied and practiced different forms of meditation and started a serious practice of Hatha Yoga and Mat Pilates. My approach to Yoga had completely changed. In fact, what I was practicing in 2007 was so vastly different from what I had started in 1997, it felt wrong to call them both Yoga.

In the NYT article, William Broad details the journey of classically trained Yoga instructor Glenn Black. The main points Mr. Black makes that I agree with are:

  • Instead of doing yoga, “they [students] need to be doing a specific range of motions for articulation, for organ condition,” he said, to strengthen weak parts of the body. “Yoga is for people in good physical condition. Or it can be used therapeutically. It’s controversial to say, but it really shouldn’t be used for a general class.”
  • A number of factors have converged to heighten the risk of practicing yoga. The biggest is the demographic shift in those who study it. Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems.
  • There is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury. “Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.”

I disagree with the article in that I don’t believe Yoga will wreck your body – a poor Yoga instructor can wreck your body. Instead of avoiding Yoga, aspiring students should visit studios, observe a class before taking it, and ask the following questions:

  • Is the instructor teaching only on the mat or is he or she watching, moving, touching and aware of each student in the class? A teacher that treats the class like his or her personal workout or opportunity to shine will not be able to provide safe correction and alternatives for students in need.
  • Is the teacher pushing or pulling on students or gently guiding individuals into natural, safe and comfortable positions?
  • Are there props like chairs, blocks, blankets, belts, or pillows available? If so, does the instructor use them or share techniques about their use in assisting poses?
  • Does the class leader explain poses and offer alternate moves? A well-educated instructor will be able to discuss a pose from the perspective of anatomy and kinesiology as well as from an internal and organic point of view.

Like snowflakes, no two Yoga instructors are alike. Choose yours as carefully as you choose your physician or hair stylist. A bad perm can ruin your day, but a bad pose can ruin your body.


December 12, 2012

I was hesitant at first. Another international trip with my mother? Sigh. This is the woman who can always find something to complain about and was almost left in the Colosseum in Rome because she was tired of listening to the guide and wanted to sit in the shade.

Hm. I was tempted to enjoy a two-week trip to Kenya with a girlfriend to her hometown solo, alone, free. But I thought about my husband, god-brother and girlfriend. Their mothers have all passed from this life, and I know they would give anything to explore a foreign country with their mothers if the opportunity was there. So, I made the call and we booked the flights.

To make sure we spent as much time together as possible, I flew to Florida so I could make the entire journey to Kenya with her. I was exhausted and ready to sleep on the two-hour flight. But as soon as I arrived at my seat, I could tell I was next to a “chatter”.

“I haven’t flown in awhile,” the young guy seated on my right says to my profile.

I turn to him with a cold smile and say, “It won’t be bad. We’ll be there before you know it.” Then I turn to the window and shut my eyes. There’s silence for about 20 minutes, then…

“Is this bothering you?”

I blink a couple of times and turn to him.

“My music. Is it too loud? My girlfriend – well my ex – my ex-girlfriend hated for me to play my music so loud that she could hear it from my headphones.” He motions to the large, sound-canceling headphones wrapped around his neck.

“No, it’s fine. I’m good. Enjoy.” I snuggle even closer to the window, hoping to give him the sign that I want silence.

“Yeah, I have to play it loud because I’m deaf in my right ear.”

Sighing inwardly, I sit up and turn to him in defeat. It’s obvious he wants to talk and I’m chosen to listen. “Yeah?” I say with pretend interest.

“Yeah, when the bomb went off I got shrapnel in my arm and leg and now I’m deaf in my right ear. My best friend saved my life shielding my body.”

“You were in the military?” I ask with a little more interest.

“Yeah – the army. My best friend is – was – a Marine. Three of our friends were killed in the blast and most of us on the truck were injured.”


“Yeah, even crazier, my best friend came home and was killed last week by a drunk driver. That’s why I’m flying down here… for his funeral.”

I don’t have a response so I simply look into his sad brown eyes and nod.

“We’ve known – we knew – each other since we were six. We grew up together and after we graduated, we both went into the military. He was like my brother. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make it down for the service, but I knew I had to.”

He stops speaking and looks down at his right hand – his fingers are flexing and unflexing. He absently traces a long scar along the inside of his forearm. “I got this scar from the bomb blast. I couldn’t move this arm or walk for months. My rehab took eight months.”

We talk for the remainder of the flight. About his childhood. About his life in Boston and how he ended up working and living in Atlanta. About his love of cars and how he rebuilt the engine of several classics.

“Did you or your friend ever get married and have kids?” I ask, now genuinely interested in the life of this young soldier.

“No,” he says a little reluctantly. “We were so dedicated to our work there just wasn’t a way to do it.” He pauses a beat. “I did have a girlfriend and I asked her to marry me, but she didn’t want to wait. I knew I was going back to Afghanistan and it wouldn’t be fair to ask her to wait for me.” He looks down at his hand and flexes his fingers again.

He tells me about the “brotherhood” of the men he served with. He flexes his hand as he relates the story of a young boy who worked at a vendor booth on base. The boy was feeding information to a cell group just off base, and a suicide bomber from the cell took out five of his “brothers” and injured several more.

“You can’t trust anyone over there. Only your brother. Only your brother.” He rubs his knee and flexes his fingers.

Suddenly he looks up at me, “I’m sorry I’m talking your ear off. When I was in rehab, my doctor told me talking about things would help. The post-traumatic stress is…” he shrugs rather than finishing the statement.

“If you hadn’t been injured, would you have gone back?” I ask.

He doesn’t hesitate. “Yeah,” he says nodding and looking directly in my eyes. “Yeah.”


“I’ve been in the military since I graduated at 17. I wanted to serve and protect my country instead of sitting at home doing… what?” He shrugs again, then mumbles, “I ended up sitting at home anyway, huh?”

I don’t respond. I simply look at him and he looks at me. Other passengers around us, who’ve all been listening to our conversation, sneak glances at us.

We continue talking as the plane lands and passengers begin deplaning. I notice his limp as we walk down the jetway. We walk and talk together like old friends as we make our way to baggage claim. After grabbing our bags, we head outside laughing and joking.

Eventually, my mother’s car crawls up, and I’m actually a little disappointed to end our conversation. He reaches out to shake my hand, but I hug him tightly instead.

I whisper in his good ear. “Thank you for serving our country. I’m sorry to hear about the death of your friend, but I hope you will be a comfort to his family. Enjoy reuniting with your brothers and try to have a little fun while you’re here.”

He puts his hand on his heart and looks at me. “God bless you. Thank you.”

I’m grateful for the sacrifice this man and his brothers have made. I’m grateful for my relatives and friends who have served like him and possibly even with him. I’m grateful for my mother, waiting patiently for me to put my bags in the trunk. Thank you…


July 16, 2012

My husband and I have been shredding, filing or trashing the clutter that has gathered in our house over the last 7 years. A lot can gather in that amount of time. Things misplaced, forgotten, needed and unnecessary. Being the opposite of a hoarder, I have caused the shredder to overheat multiple times in the past week. But something I saw today made me stop before the shredder had a chance to quit.


It was a simple sheet of paper with 10 names handwritten in blue ink. Across the top was the title: Demo Class, Saturday July 26, 2008, Altheatized. The first class ever taught at my studio, AYM. I read each name slowly and was amazed to see three names I recognized as still coming to classes, workshops and retreats.


The handwriting was Yvonne’s. She’d been my co-worker, friend, sister and biggest supporter (after my husband) for 13 years before passing away this March. So many emotions, memories and thoughts went through me as I looked at that simple sheet of paper resting in a manila envelope labeled – Old Sign In Sheets. The dream inside my head and heart of owning my own studio became a dream realized.


Sometimes people try to stop us from dreaming. They tell us what we want to do is stupid, ridiculous or impossible. They see all of the struggle, challenge and failure before the dream is even attempted. I had no idea what hard times we would encounter or what happy moments we would celebrate when I first signed the lease to 4051 Stone Mountain Highway, Suite G101B, Lilburn, GA 30047. I smile, grimace, laugh out loud and shed a tear with the memories.


I’m not a selfish dreamer, so I shared my dream of AYM and still do. I know my dream and AYM have had an impact on more than one person. A good dream that exists when we’re awake is something to cherish.

Yoga Spider

June 16, 2012

Althea Hugging a Stingray

I love nature and being outdoors. I’m at home swimming in oceans and climbing mountains. It’s not strange to see me helping an earthworm off a sun-baked sidewalk into moist dirt, or holding and examining a lizard with my son.

Althea showing a sea cucumber to her son

But my love of nature has limits. Roaches are beyond my limit. Mosquitos are beyond my limit. Those strange, centipede/spider, hybrid, basement dwellers are beyond my limit. Stuff like that.

Let me preface the remainder of this blog with a note. I love spiders. Well, to be more accurate… I love the concept of spiders. I like that they build webs to catch bugs that are “beyond my limits” and then eat them. Spiders do the dirty work I don’t want or like to do. So I love them. I don’t particularly like them too close to me, though.

With that prologue out of the way, I will continue.

This past Thursday was a limit tester for me. I was teaching a gentle flowing Yoga – Qi Gong fusion class at a corporate office. The fitness center and wellness room is in the basement of the large five-story office building. As with most basements, we often get crawly friends visiting our Yoga class. The students and I are pretty used to it, and we simply shoo pesky friends away, sweep them out the door, or (in unfortunate and extreme cases) smash them with a shoe.

I’m usually pretty calm about bugs in the Yoga room. Cause I’m nature chick, right? I’m the queen of outdoor sunrise or sunset Yoga and meditation. I calmly share my Yoga mat with ants, beetles and grasshoppers. I welcome a butterfly or moth landing on my arm while I’m in seated meditation under the sun. Bring on the bugs!

So back to this past Thursday. I wanted to provide a prop for one of the students to assist her in a move. I quickly scanned the room and found a low block resting in a dark corner behind the stereo. I was still speaking in my Yoga voice (my Yoga voice is really soft and soothing and puts people to sleep) as I stooped to pick up the block. And there it was. A tarantula-like hairy spider. I can’t quite recall exactly what sound I made, but it was not in my Yoga voice. But the class didn’t seem to hear me, so I quickly went back to what I was saying, brought the students out of the pose and had them resting with their heads down as I contemplated what to do with Hairy Spider. Hairy Spider helped me with my decision as it began to crawl toward one of the students.

“Um,” I started. “I don’t want to alarm anyone, but there is a rather large spider crawling toward us, so let’s rearrange the room,” I said in my Yoga voice.

I guess I said it too calmly because no one moved right away. But as the students followed my gaze, immediate rearranging took place. A minute later, we were back on our mats and moving through another series of poses when Hairy Spider starting crawling again.

“It’s on the move. It’s on the move.” That’s all I said in my Yoga voice. And just as calmly as I’d said it, one of the students lifted a nearby trashcan and covered Hairy Spider with it. Problem solved.

I won’t lie to you… I felt the hairs on my arms standing up as I taught. And I couldn’t seem to get back into the rhythm of my flow. I kept feeling like Hairy Spider was going to get out and crawl on my leg while I was resting in Svasana with my eyes closed. I felt like I was being tested. Like my zen limits were being challenged. Why was Hairy Spider affecting me in this way?

At the end of class, I knew I couldn’t leave Hairy Spider there. The next person to walk in that room would move the trash can, see Hairy and kill him. I couldn’t allow that. So I overcame my fears and removed the trashcan, allowing Hairy Spider to crawl free.

Althea Releasing Hairy Spider

Hairy Spider

Hairy Spider

I don’t know where Hairy Spider is now, and I’m okay with that.


June 11, 2012

Before April 2011, I had never fasted. I never saw a reason to do it.

I attend a church that fasts annually. The annual church fast is not only from food, but also from media – telephone, television, social media, radio, etc. A media fast? Now that was something I needed to take a break from. Last year, I completely ignored the food fast and implemented portions of the media fast. Yeah, I said portions. I’m not a cold-turkey kinda chick. I have to do things in stages… see how it feels on me.

Instead of abstaining from all forms of media all day, I chose what and when I’d restrict. Since social media and telephone use are part of my work day, I allowed it during the day for work purposes only, and chose two days when I’d stop using them after hours. I only answered the phone for my kids, husband and mother. I abstained from listening to music and talk radio the entire week. I don’t watch television very much anyway, so it wasn’t a hardship to not watch for the week. I even took one day and refrained from speaking unless I had to for work. Completely. I didn’t talk to my kids or husband all day (I kind of liked that part).

The result was great. Practicing silence in all forms – speaking, listening, writing – allowed my thoughts to flow more naturally and I felt like I could hear myself and other energy sources communicating with me. I loved the experience so much that I reduced how much I listen to the radio, music, and the news on a regular basis. I tape the tv shows I want to watch and designate a day and time to sit and enjoy them – I don’t flip channels looking for something to fill empty space and time. Each morning, I purposely practice silence as a part of my daily routine and meditation. I feel much more aware and in tune to myself, the people around me, and the spiritual messages around me.

But this blog is about my recent experience with my first food fast.

April 2012. My sister-friend, Yvonne, had just passed away the previous month and I couldn’t bring myself to attend church. Everything reminded me of her and all I did was cry through the service. So I didn’t go for a month. When I returned on April 22, they were discussing the annual fast. Each day had a personal focus like repentance or relationships. Each day required no eating until 6:00pm and only fruits and veggies could be consumed after 6:00pm. Only water and fruit juices could be drunk. No media was allowed after 6:00pm.

I felt like I needed to stop and allow me to be first for awhile. I hadn’t been first while Yvonne was sick. I hadn’t been first when I transported her to hospice and we began planning – writing her will, getting bank accounts in order, deeding her house, planning her funeral. I was nowhere near first as I put her needs first, then my children, then my husband, then my business. I knew I would be okay. I felt strong – stronger than anyone else in her family or mine. I felt like I was the base of the pyramid, holding it all safely together for everyone. And everyone looked to me to be there and be the strength they needed and were lacking.

So when I saw the fast coming on April 29, 2012, I knew at that very moment I wouldn’t wait. I would start the next day on April 23. I liked the daily principles set by the church, but my needs were different. I decided each day, I’d wake up, see what my morning meditation told me was my focus principle and that’s what it would be. Period.

I could make this blog long and drawn out. I could detail each day with funny anecdotes of how hungry I got around 3:00 each day, which made me irritable and impatient. I could also highlight the good moments when I felt clean and light and aware and strong. All those things happened. Each day was different. Day 2 was the hardest. Day 1 and 4 were the easiest. I was ready to shut it all down by Day 5, so I did. I just stopped fasting and starting eating at about 4:15pm on Friday afternoon.

When I meditated on what I learned during the fast, the most important thing had nothing to do with spirituality, strength or control. It had nothing to do with the principles on which I focused each day, even though they were great and helped me heal after my friend’s death. The most valuable lesson I learned from the fast is what foods my body cannot tolerate at this stage in my life.

When I would eat in the evening during the fast, I always started with fruit. Strawberries, grapes, oranges, or a banana. I would follow that with nuts – peanuts or cashews. For dinner, I’d have a salad of carrots, cucumbers and a lettuce mix. Or I sauteed zucchini, squash and onions in garlic powder, pepper and season salt. All of it was delicious and I actually felt full each night.

Cereal and milk. That ended the joy. The bloating, abdominal pain and gas that came with my favorite quick snack were almost unbearable. I haven’t used regular milk since 1999 when my son started drinking regular milk after nursing. I always use lactose-free, skim milk with extra calcium. I’ve been using Lactaid in the purple container with the yellow banner across the top for the last 5 or 6 years. But on Wednesday April 25, Lactaid was not my friend. And I haven’t consumed it since that date.

For the last few years, I thought it was raw vegetables that had been causing me gastric distress. I LOVE raw vegetables! I’d been restricting my intake of raw zucchini, squash, carrots and broccoli for years hoping my abdominal discomfort would end. I only eat tiny meals throughout the day to lesson any pain. Now, one of my favorite meals and snack – cereal and milk – has shown itself to the culprit! I’m both happy and sad with the realization.

This month, I scheduled an appointment with a new physician – a medical internist that is also a holistic doctor. The visit was thorough and wonderfully informative. After our discussion about gastric issues and other side affects to bread, pasta and dairy, she recommended a probiotic called Align. I’ve been taking Align as prescribed for one week and the results have been amazing for the main symptoms. I also switched to soy milk.

My fast revealed a great deal. Things about my spirit, my strength, my tolerance, and my weaknesses. It was a spiritual reawakening, a mental rejuvenation, and a physical revelation. My husband has forbade me from ever doing it again (remember those short-tempered, irritable moments I told you about). I may and I may not. But for now, I’m where I need to be and content with today.

Cancer II

February 25, 2012

I’ve put off writing this blog for over a year. That’s how long it’s been since I wrote the blog “Cancer” about my sister-friend, Yvonne. It was Labor Day 2010 when I spent the night in her hospital room at the Northside Cancer Center. We laughed, talked, gossiped, discussed business and watched television like any other day we’d spend together in Atlanta. Neither one of us believed we’d be where we are today.

Yvonne & Althea dancing @ AYM

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) is what she has. The only cure is a successful bone marrow transplant from a donor that matches your marrow. Yvonne’s mother, Liz, was a partial match and the bone marrow transplant in March 2011 was successful. Yvonne was in full remission and we were excited, happy and counting our blessings… for four months. As she and I joyfully made plans to attend my family’s annual Thanksgiving celebration in Myrtle Beach, she received the news that the leukemia cells had returned. We were both in shock, confused, and full of disbelief. Hundreds of questions and several bone marrow and blood tests later, it was confirmed. Yvonne spent Thanksgiving 2011 in the hospital and I was miserable without my sister-friend.

Yvonne & Althea @ Annual Cuttino Thanksgiving Dinner 2009

Yesterday was February 24, 2012. We sat together with her sister, Ferus, in an isolation room of the Cancer Center. Yvonne was crying and looking soulfully into my eyes. My eyes filled with tears as I stared honestly back into hers. Even though I stopped cursing a few years ago, the only thing I could think to say to her in that moment was, “This is some bullshit.” And she nodded in agreement with only a hint of a smile.

The oncologist had just confirmed that the latest round of chemo that had left my friend’s body frail and weak hadn’t worked. Yvonne and I had discussed this moment many times over the last year and a half, and we’d decided that if it came to this, she’d stopped fighting and let God do what was going to be done. February 24, 2012 was the day of that final decision. I pulled out my computer, which is never far away, and started recording, through my tears, what her wishes were for her house, car, jewelry, and clothing. My attorney, had already started putting together her will and these were the last remaining items to fill in the blanks. We made tearful phone calls to both of our mothers, my husband and our Pastor. And I did what I always do – handled business.

As I wiped her tears and typed her wishes and talked to people she couldn’t talk to, flashes of our friendship slipped in and out of my thoughts. And as the memories flickered through my mind, I knew why we’d never referred to each other as friends. We’re truly sisters – more than many siblings linked by blood.

In 1999, I “accidentally” tried out for a semi-professional basketball league’s cheerleading team. I was the second-oldest woman there at 28, had no professional dance experience, and was the mother of a 10-month old. I never expected to make the team and simply was there to have fun. The sound tech that day of the try-outs was a heavy-set, happy woman… Yvonne D. Carroll. She was supportive to all of the us trying out, but was truly happy to see me make the squad.

A month later, I was surprised to see that sound tech teaching a high-energy step aerobics class at the Bally’s where I was the new Group Exercise Director. We talked, we clicked and she became my assistant. When I left Bally’s to run another company’s aerobic program, Yvonne came with me as my assistant. When I decided to make an aerobics video, Yvonne was right there in my cast. A year later, when I filmed my first cable fitness show, Yvonne was on my left smiling into the camera and grapevining right. When I hit the fitness presenter circuit, there was no one I would trust more to handle selling my videos and managing the money than Yvonne. When I needed someone to watch my babies while I presented or taught, Yvonne was my girl and had my back.

Yvonne selling Altheatized videos

I remember talking to my husband one weekend and discussing how I could give back to someone who had done so much for our family so selflessly. I’d been teaching fitness at resorts in Jamaica for several years and thought it would be great to give Yvonne a week’s vacation in Jamaica. So I did! I didn’t realize at the time how much of a gift the trip would be.

Yvonne had never flown on a plane before. Her first flight ever was on Jamaica Air out of Baltimore into Montego Bay, and it was the funniest flight I’ve EVER taken in my life. I laughed so hard, the flight attendant and the passengers around us were alarmed and thought I’d gone crazy. Yvonne is a funny, funny chick. I remember trying to get her to look out the window at the water and palm trees lining the runway of the Montego Bay airport as we landed. She gripped the armrests until her hands were hurting and refused to turn toward the windows. I’m laughing through my tears as I type this with the memory.

We actually invited six of our girlfriends to accompany us on the trip, but Yvonne and I arrived two days earlier so she could have a full week of fun and sun. She and I explored the city and hung out with a couple of my friends from the island. When our girlfriends arrived, it was a non-stop party that to this day has not been rivaled in any of my journeys to the Caribbean. What happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica. (I’m smiling through my tears)

Yvonne, Althea & the Girls in Jamaica

In 2005, my husband and I decided to relocate our family and my business from Baltimore to Atlanta. It took a couple of years for us to get settled and for me to decide what I wanted to do with my fitness career. In 2007, I found the perfect spot to open a dance, Yoga and fitness studio. I have a degree in business and worked in corporate America for a few years prior to starting my own company in 1996. All of my education and experience taught me several things, but number one was… you can’t do everything yourself. If I was going to open a studio, I needed someone I trusted to be with me. Yvonne was my only choice.

But Yvonne had lived in Maryland her entire life. Her family and childhood friends were all there. She had a job with Maryland Corrections where she’d worked her way up to the second highest rank of Major. Why would she leave all that to come help me run a fitness studio in Atlanta? Only she knows the answer, but she did. So, in June 2008, she retired after 22 years, sold her condo in Maryland, packed up her life and moved into a cute little house 7 minutes from our house in Georgia. Even though AYM stands for Aerobics, Yoga & More, most of our close friends and family say it stands for Althea, Yvonne & Maurice (my husband). In my heart, it does. (I’m crying again)

Yvonne & Maurice in the construction of AYM

The first two years of our running AYM was bumpy and more than a learning experience. We fought, we cried, we laughed and we learned. We grew closer than friends or sisters. We started speaking the same way – no one could tell us apart on the phone. We shopped together, ate together, partied together, traveled together. We became extensions of one another. We were together so much, my brother literally started calling her Entourage instead of Yvonne. (I’m smiling again) My kids consider her their aunt just like my brother is their uncle. My mother considers her another daughter and all of my uncles and aunts look for her when I come to family gatherings. We are sisters.

For so many years, Yvonne was my rock and my back. For the last two years, I’ve had to be hers. Hospital transfers, oncology visits, bills, lawyers, difficult family phone calls. I’ve handled it all just like she would have done for me – without a second thought and selflessly. People keep saying how much they appreciate what I’m doing for Yvonne, but they don’t understand what she’s done for me. Sometimes I write better than I speak. This blog is the explanation. It’s my way of saying thank you to my sister for helping me live out my dreams. For always believing in me and trusting that I could do whatever I imagined. In front of people, I’m always calm and rational and smile – always. I don’t like drama – never have. But in the privacy of my car and home, I let the pain and tears flow freely. I’m not crying for me, I’m crying because I know Yvonne isn’t done yet. She’s not done having firsts. And I’m not done experiencing them with her. So we’ll see how many more we can fit into this life together. As Yvonne and I always say… Cancer sucks.

Talia, Yvonne & Althea celebrating Yvonne's birthday

Althea & Yvonne in Myrtle Beach

Yvonne, Althea & Mom in Chicago

Baby Steps

January 3, 2012

I have been a certified personal trainer since 1996 and have worked with many people of different backgrounds, but my most rewarding clients are those recovering from injuries or managing debilitating diseases. Meet my client, Marlin McKeever…

Inherited genetic Spinal Cerebellum Ataxia is a neurological disorder that damages the spinal cord and nerves that carry signals from the brain to the muscles. About 6 or 7 years ago, Marlin began losing his balance and coordination and took a blood test revealing this debilitating disease. As it progressed, he could no longer stand or walk and became dependent on a walker. Challenges with speech and the ability to write forced him to stop working. Marlin began visiting the Shepherd Center, a private non-profit hospital specializing in treatment of spinal cord diseases, for physical therapy and aquatic fitness training. After a couple of years, he felt the rehab at Shepherd wasn’t challenging enough to help him regain his abilities and the water fitness was only seasonal. He needed something more that he could do throughout the year. Family friends told him about the classes they were attending at my studio in Lilburn and about the private Yoga and Pilates training I offered there.

On May 18, 2011 Rose McKeever and her son, Marlin, came to meet me for a private training consultation. Rose, one of the spriest 71 year olds I’ve ever seen, held the front door open for her 45 year-old son who was walking with great difficulty behind a wheeled walker known as a Rolator. He was hunched and bent over as he pushed the Rolator awkwardly through the door and carefully sat for our meeting. As Rose described Marlin’s disease and its symptoms, I took notes and observed Marlin’s movements. When the verbal consultation was over, we went through a battery of core strength, resistance, and balance exercises for me to ascertain Marlin’s limitations and opportunities for strength. When the full session was complete, I calmly pronounced, “He can walk, you know.” Both Marlin and Rose looked at me like I had three heads, but they nodded politely and left after skeptically agreeing to return for a follow up session.

For the next month, I had Marlin do hip and leg exercises to mimic the movements of lifting the leg to walk. We worked on core abdominal and back strength from Pilates for standing tall instead of stooping. I challenged his motor skills and coordination with repetitive multifunctional movements. My goal was to retrain the neural pathways of the brain to the muscles moving his joints around the core. Repetition for muscle memory and improved strength was my plan. After a few private sessions, I suggested Marlin come to my Mat Pilates class. He was initially concerned about disrupting the class and not being able to perform the moves, but the entire program is lying on the back, the stomach or seated. After a few weeks, Marlin was a regular in the class and his core and upper body strength continued to increase. In addition to improvements in his physical strength, his confidence was soaring.

During our private session on July 28, 2011, Marlin’s mother, Rose, sat in her usual corner taking notes while Marlin and I went through our various exercises. I asked him to stand up and hold his stance without support while I counted to five. He did it four times without a problem. I don’t know what made me do it, but as he completed the last one, I heard myself say, “Okay, Marlin, take a step to me.”

His Rolator was across the room, I was standing two feet away from him and there was no table or chair for him to use as support. He looked at me, grunted in disbelief at my request, and blinked a couple of times. I saw Rose cover her mouth in shock in my peripheral sight. No one spoke as we all held a collective breath. I waited. Eventually, he shuffled his left foot a few inches toward me. I felt a pull of energy from my core to his. I knew in my heart that he could do this… right now… on this day. I was only a foot in front of him. I whispered, “Take another step. You can do it.”

He tentatively dragged his right food forward, then, again with the left. After several minutes, we all realized he and I had walked across the room to the door. We were so focused and connected, neither one of us had noticed how far we’d gone. No one dared to say anything. None of us could. He looked at me and I looked at him as we locked hands silently. I guided him to a nearby chair, gave him a high five and a hug, then frantically began recording notes.

Rose cried and prayed out loud as she went to hug him. Marlin began repeating, “I walked, Mama, I walked!” I could hear the disbelief in his voice.

I nodded with a smile. “I told you you could walk!” I turned my back to them to hide the tears in my eyes. I wrote notes without seeing them. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, then eventually turned to finish our session.

I later asked Rose what she felt that day as he walked for the first time since the disease had affected him. “I was shocked and exuberant at the same time. I was speechless. It was simply unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”

Marlin’s response was, “I have hope, again. I have hope.”

Since that day, Marlin has had good days and bad days. But every day he is stronger than the day before. Rose videotapes our sessions for Marlin to study and work from when we’re not together. He is the most dedicated client I have ever trained. When his neurologist saw him for the first time in six months, he was stunned by Marlin’s ability to stand, walk, and sit on his own. We accomplished more with Pilates, faith and trust in seven months than anything he had done before.

Marlin & Althea in Session

As you start this new year with plans, hopes and resolutions, remember to be faithful, courageous, and surround yourself with support. When you fall down, it’s okay to cry, but eventually you’ve got to get up. And when you feel like you can’t do it, imagine a voice whispering to you, “Take another step. You can do it…”

The Surprise

December 22, 2011

A gift and a surprise are two different things. A gift may not be a surprise and a surprise may not be a gift. But sometimes, you get lucky and get two for one – a gift that is a surprise to receive.

I’ve never really been one for giving or receiving “planned” or “scheduled” gifts. I like to call it “premeditated gifting”. It takes the fun out of it for me. Like birthdays, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas. You know someone is going to give you a gift on that day because they feel like they have to. Boring. Too easy. And for me, I don’t like the challenge of having to purchase a gift for someone just because a certain date requires it. I feel pressured and can never seem to figure out the appropriate thing to give.

What I do for people I really like is to keep mental notes of things they like, need or want. And when they least expect it, for no good reason, just because I was thinking of them when I saw it or decided to create it… I give it to them. It’s a surprise and because it wasn’t dictated by a holiday or some other  occasion, it’s even more special. Those are the types of presents I like to receive, too.

My husband, kids and friends know this about me, and we, therefore, very rarely engage in premeditated gift-giving. However, my husband and I have had an unspoken challenge to try and get each other with the surprise element whenever we can. I’ve gotten him pretty good a few times with unexpected surprises that we still talk about. After a few thwarted surprises, he’s been able to catch me completely unaware creating some awesome memories. But what he did this week topped them all…

The Surprise:

A couple of months ago, my husband sent me a calendar event request:

Wednesday 12/21/11 6:00pm – Date Night

I accepted the calendar request and went on about my busy life without thinking too much about it. As the date came closer, my schedule became more hectic with clients, classes, and various end-of-year activities. That Monday, I asked my husband if we could push back the time a little to accommodate a class I wanted to take. He firmly replied, “No.”

On Tuesday, I received a cryptic phone call… “Althea, you need to be at the airport at 11:00 tomorrow morning. Bring an overnight bag and dress warmly with comfortable boots.”

Huh? My mind immediately scrolled through my Wednesday to-do list and appointments. Payroll, client, drive friend to the hospital, etc. etc. “Uh, no I can’t do that, Maurice.”

“Uh, yes you can. Call and reschedule your clients and make arrangements for the other stuff. Your mother will arrive tonight to take care of the kids. Check your email and print the boarding pass that’s there,” he commanded. The tone of his voice let me know there was no use arguing.

Okay, I’d play along. It was only one night. I printed the boarding pass for LaGuardia Airport in New York and packed a small backpack. The next morning, I dressed comfortably, put on a lightweight coat and my favorite Converse All Star high-top winter booties and headed for the airport. I dutifully boarded the plane, flew 2 hours, and waited in LaGuardia’s baggage claim for my husband. While I waited, I started imagining what this surprise could be… I’ve never seen a Broadway show and I’ve always thought that would be cool. Maybe we’d see the Lion King or The Color Purple or something crazy I’d love. Maybe we’d hook up with some friends from the past and eat at a great restaurant and dance and party like we were in our twenties again. Maybe… Before I could fantasize about another possibility, there he was striding quickly through the doors.

“Come on, let’s go. We don’t have much time,” he said abruptly as he handed me a box, kissed me quickly, and headed toward the taxi stand. I jogged behind him to keep up.

We drove through the rush hour holiday traffic and ended up in front of one of New York’s oldest and finest landmark hotels. We quickly checked in, freshened up and then Maurice was looking at his watch again. I asked if I should wear the more stylish high heel boots I’d stuffed in my overnight bag. But the look on my husband’s face told me to keep on the All Stars. I briefly wondered what kind of activity would warrant such a casual look, but Maurice had changed from his work attire into a pair of jeans and comfortable loafers, so I trusted him and stepped back into my winter booties.

Once we were outside, Maurice asked the porter which direction to go for BB Kings. BB Kings? I hate Blues music. But I’d suck it up and go with it. I’d act like I loved it and enjoy the evening with my husband. So, we walked past the waiting taxis and headed up the street. The weather was nice, the lights in Time Square were bright, and people were in a festive holiday mood as they brushed past in various directions. It’s been years since I’ve hung out in New York, and I took in the smells of the street vendors, the various languages being spoken, and the horns blaring from taxis whizzing past with fondness. I was so wrapped up in walking, talking and laughing with Maurice, that I temporarily forgot that there was an end result to this evening.

At one point, Maurice looked over at me with a weird look on his face. “What?” I asked him. He didn’t respond, he simply shrugged and kept walking, but at a slower pace. I stepped in stride with him and continued looking ahead when I saw it. The marquee directly in front of us. I stopped in the middle of the moving crowd and let out a gasp. I literally couldn’t breathe as I read the marquee. Maurice began to laugh and took out the camera to take a picture of my face. I don’t know what I said or did, but I remember the people around us on the street looking at me like I was crazy. I hugged Maurice and felt tears well up in my eyes.


This past summer, several of our friends, my brother and his wife, and Maurice and I purchased tickets to a concert event with multiple groups performing. I liked them all, but there was only one I really wanted to see – my favorite R&B group. The day of the concert, though, Maurice was running late, traffic was bad and we couldn’t find a parking space once we got there. When we finally made our way through the line and into the amphitheater, the group I had been waiting a month and all that day to see had already finished their set and were gone from the stage. The second act was performing and I was absolutely devastated. I tried my best not to let anyone know how sad I was to miss my favorite group performing live, but I think my brother and husband knew.

Back to Time Square:

Mint Condition

Those were the only words on the marquee of the BB King music hall. My favorite group. Maurice knew how hurt I was to miss them when they were performing in Atlanta earlier in the year and he’d searched until he found them in a venue I’d love. The concert hall was an intimate room with a bar in the back, tables around the side and standing room only in the center. We ordered appetizers at the bar, then posted up along the rail in the standing room only section. Mint Condition blew it away. I sang, danced and jammed for two hours. I didn’t get off my feet until we stopped in Famiglia’s Pizza on Broadway for a slice at 11:30pm.

Christmas is three days away, but no gift under or around the tree could compare to the present I received on Wednesday December 20 in New York City.


October 12, 2011

This morning I’m practicing silence. No talking, no singing, no radio or television. No social media or text (except to let my unanswered callers and “tweeps” know that I am practicing silence and will contact them this afternoon).

I didn’t plan this. I simply didn’t feel like talking or hearing any noise. I hesitate before waking my younger son for school. Will I be able to avoid speaking to the inquisitive young scientist? As I tap him awake and beckon for him to get up and go in the bathroom, he looks at me questioningly.

“Mom, why aren’t you talking?”

I just shrug and leave the room. He doesn’t ask me any more questions and continues getting ready without my usual prodding and reminders to “wash your hands”, “brush your teeth”, “wash your face”, “lotion your body”, “hurry up and stop playing.” You know, the usual comments I’ve been repeating to him every school day for the last four years.

I go into the study and write a note. I’m not talking today. I’m practicing silence. I take the note back to my son’s bedroom and show it to him as he dresses.

“Why?” he asks.

I shrug again, and he shrugs too. Discussion over.

I go downstairs and pack his lunch, clean the kitchen and glance at the clock. He only has 20 more minutes before the bus is due to pick him up and I still haven’t seen him in the kitchen for breakfast. What should I do? Break my silence and shout up from the bottom of the stairs, “Malikkkkkk! Where are you?! Come on Man!”

Hm, nope. Not today. Instead I clap my hands loudly three times from the base of the stairs.

“Coming Mom,” my younger son responds immediately, and comes jogging down the stairs completely dressed and ready for school.

Normally, I have to shout up the stairs at least two or three times before getting a response, but I clap my hands three times and he comes running? Hm… I may actually be on to something here.

But there’s still one more hurdle to overcome. The teenager. The 6’0” athlete sprawled out on his bed that usually cannot be awakened by the annoying alarm on his cell phone, the force of his younger brother jumping on his back and bed, or me prodding him and yelling his name repeatedly for five minutes.

Let the challenge begin.

After kissing my younger son goodbye, I make my way upstairs with determination. I will not speak, I promise myself.

As I walk into his room, I can see his body twisted in the sheets and comforter. His legs are hanging off the bed on one side and his arm is hanging off the bed on the other. His mouth hangs ajar the way it does when he’s in a deep, deep sleep. I stop to mentally prepare myself. I will not speak.

I forcefully shake his arm and back for a few seconds, and miraculously, he moves, stretches… and turns over on the other side and goes back to sleep. I don’t give up, or shrink away from the challenge. Instead, I slap his bare leg, hard, and he mumbles something, but keeps his eyes closed. I walk out of the room to gather my thoughts, then turn back and bang as hard as I can on the bedroom door. He jumps up, startled, and looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. Satisfied, I smile and wave him toward the bathroom.

“What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you saying anything?” he asks me with the slurred speech of someone waking from a deep sleep.

I shrug and point to my mouth. I mouth… Not Talking.

“Why not?”

I shrug again and leave the room.

Long story short, he actually makes it to the bus stop on time (a rarity, but that’s another story for another time). He doesn’t go without trying to get me to talk to him, though. I refuse with a smile, some gestures and a hug and kiss before he leaves.

As he walks to the front door, he tells me in his new, deep, authoritative, young man voice, “I don’t like this not-talking thing, Mom. You need to talk.” Then he leaves.

What a peaceful morning. No struggles, no fighting, no yelling upstairs, no threats, no last-minute scrambles and sprints across the yard to catch the moving bus as it drives away from the stop. Peace, calm and order.

I might be pushing my luck to try it tomorrow, but I’m okay with feeling satisfied with what I got today.