HEALING WITH YOGA: A PROFILE ON DR. PAULA BARROS
An intimate look into how yoga’s self-healing principles saved her life
When she started practicing yoga, Paula Barros never imagined that it would save her life. Just by looking at this spirited yogi with various accomplishments and credentials, you wouldn’t have guessed that she almost didn’t survive to achieve them.
Paula grew up in Oakland, CA, and then moved to Butte County to attend Chico State in 1970.
While back in Oakland one weekend, Paula’s mother took her to a yoga class. Paula had never tried yoga before, but by the end of the class, she was so inspired that it motivated her to make a life-altering change.
Instead of finishing college, Paula decided to turn her full attention to yoga in 1974 and began studying its principles and practices. Soon after pursuing her new passion, Paula moved to the Bay Area and became a certified yoga instructor at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco. She also became a member of the Iyengar Yoga Teacher’s Association, where she was introduced to the pioneer of Iyengar yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar, who was visiting the yoga institute from India.
After practicing with him for a week, she timidly approached him to ask if she could study with him in India. However, the prestigious yoga expert simply responded, ‘You’re not yet ready.’
Paula was disappointed, but his rejection also ignited her desire to practice yoga even more diligently. In hopes of being invited to India when he visited again, Paula dedicated the next year of her life to improving her yoga practice.
She moved to Watsonville, CA, and taught yoga at the local YMCA and at the Santa Cruz Ballet. Then after a year of focused work on her yoga practice, Iyengar returned. This time when she asked if she could practice with him in India, he responded, ‘Come along.’
The elated yogi then traveled to India in 1977, to practice with Iyengar as a part of a teacher-training program for four months. Training with Iyengar brought a new depth to her understanding of yoga. Not only did she experience the benefits of practicing yoga with him herself, but she also saw how it helped others.
During the months she spent training with Iyengar, many disabled people came to him for help. In practicing yoga with these individuals, Iyengar used the concept of self-healing to help them overcome their disabling conditions. His mentality was that if the mind is healthy, the body is healthy. Paula would later learn the true meaning of this mindset.
“Having being exposed to Iyengar’s methods of using yoga to heal people, I unknowingly had a preview of what was to come for me; a miraculous recovery with the help of self-healing, from an otherwise devastating occurrence,” Paula said.
After she returned from India with a new understanding and appreciation of yoga, Paula continued teaching and practicing yoga, while relocating to Eugene, OR. Shortly after settling in there, her best friend in Montana requested her healing presence at her child’s home birth in the foothills of Glacier Park.
However, a nearly fatal, head-on car collision in route brought everything to an abrupt halt. Although she miraculously survived the accident, Paula shattered her femur when her car’s steering wheel penetrated her right leg. Paula was transported to a hospital in Spokane, WA, and underwent surgery only 24 hours after the accident. When she finally regained consciousness, Paula was met with troubling news from the doctor.
The once athletic yogi learned she would be restricted to a wheelchair and doctor’s speculated that she would be disabled for the rest of her life and perhaps even lose her leg. However, with a fighting heart and faith in the self-healing yoga principles she learned from Iyengar, Paula refused to accept her fate.
“When you get bad news, the mind tends to think of the worst-case scenario,” she said. “In contrast, yoga teaches you to stay in the present and to accept things as they are.”
Paula moved back to Oakland and began a long and painful recovery, which included 12 surgeries, a new, risky limb-lengthening procedure and months of painful recovery through classical physical therapy. Although doctors didn’t think she’d make a full recovery, Paula managed to stay positive. Every time a doctor gave her a troubling diagnosis, she kept pushing on and telling herself, ‘That isn’t going to happen to me.’
“I didn’t always have faith, but I had a sense that I would get my feet back on the ground,” she said.
Paula started to use the same self-healing yoga practices she learned from Iyengar to rehabilitate herself. As a result, she started making tremendous progress.
“I could stand on my head when I couldn’t stand on my feet,” she said. “It kept my spirit strong and my body functioning normally. Even a limited yoga practice was therapeutic on so many levels for me.” In fact, she started to feel so good that she decided to pursue a new interest.
While still in recovery, Paula attended a class on chiropractics, and by the end, she decided to pursue a Doctor of Chiropractic and even completed her prerequisites while still in a wheelchair.
Then, after 27 months of recovery, Paula finally made a full recovery. Feeling renewed and empowered, Paula picked up right where she left off.
She went on to earn her degree as a Doctor of Chiropractic from Palmer West Chiropractic in 1985. Then, still eager to do more, Paula moved back to Butte County and became a small business owner when she established Clear Creek Healing Center in 1987.
Here, she was able to combine her two passions; teaching yoga and practicing chiropractics. Today, she uses the same self-healing yoga principles on her clients that she learned from Iyengar and used to rehabilitate herself. In a little over a decade, Paula managed to gain multiple certifications as a yoga instructor, had practiced with a yoga expert in India, survive and fully recovered from a car accident, completed chiropractic college and establish her own business. But the most significant thing was being deeply humbled by the experiences and lessons she learned along the way.
“The most important thing I’ve learned is tenacity,” she said. “I’ve learned to take obstacles and turn them into fuel.”
Yoga has taken on a greater meaning for Paula, as the practice she adopted only years before her accident allowed her to cope with her situation and make a full recovery.
“After something like that happens to you, you look at the world differently and reevaluate who you are and what you’re capableof,” she said. “Being exposed to yoga truly saved my life.”
Paula still owns and operates Clear Creek Healing Center, where she teaches yoga and practices chiropractics. She also instructs various yoga classes and workshops throughout Butte County.
Now, with this deep transformative lesson behind her, Paula is slowing down to reflect on the future. “Now and then, my inspirational outlook allows all possibilities to be considered,” she said. “Aiming toward the highest, life is sweet in each blessed moment.”