Sarah Kehoe tried Aleve for her back pain. She tried stretching. She tried yoga. She tried forgetting about it. She tried pain patches. She tried acupuncture. A shot of painkillers into her back. Prescription anti-inflammatory pain patches. Opiates. Surgery. Physical therapy. Heat and compresses. Ignoring it again. Steroids. More opiates. Acupuncture again. She couldn’t sit, stand up straight, lie down on her back. She was weak, had lost muscle tone. She fainted on the subway. Sarah Kehoe, an otherwise healthy 36-year-old woman, a former high school and college athlete, a yogi of 10 years, was falling apart.
Sometime during the summer of 2011, Kehoe doesn’t know exactly when, a disc in her back herniated. After her surgery that September, pain seized hold of her again in the winter: the surgeon said the disc had reherniated slightly. Neither he nor Kehoe wanted to do surgery again, leaving Kehoe to search for other pain management options. Her brother had recently completed a meditation course to treat his depression and bought her a course for Christmas.
In early January 2012, Kehoe stood in the back corner of a barre studio on 29th Street in Manhattan. She and the one other class member listened quietly, each holding a white flower, while their instructor Emily Fletcher sang tranquilly in Sanskrit to begin the initiation ceremony. A ribbon of perfume danced gently off the end of an incense stick in the dim, candlelit room. Peace settled over the studio quickly, despite the calls of actors rehearsing next door bursting through the wall. Kehoe was hinging her last hope on the mantra she was given while the instructor and the other student closed their eyes. Silence swelled in the room and the meditation began.