The Woman Who Fell From the Sky

What would you do if you were traveling abroad and needed medical care, but did not speak the language? How would you tell the treating physician what is wrong with you? What if you tried to tell her you had a sprained shoulder, but were misunderstood and they started to treat you for chest pain? What if they thought you were psychotic because they could not understand what you were saying and you were dressed differently from everyone else?

011-Woman-from-the-Sky-smIn 1983, Rita Patino Quintero was found in Johnson City, Kansas digging through trash cans and talking incoherently. She was oddly dressed and seemed to be claiming she “fell from the heavens.” She was taken to Larned State Hospital, a state psychiatric facility, where physicians diagnosed her as schizophrenic. To support their diagnosis, providers noted her unusual statements, her depression and aggression, and the fact she dressed in layers and refused to bathe. While at Larned, she was treated with psychotropic medications and eventually developed tardive dyskinesia, a condition brought on by long-term use of psychotropic medications and characterized by involuntary movements.

After twelve years of hospitalization, Quintero was finally released in 1995 at the behest of the Kansas Advocacy & Protective Services (KAPS) agency. They found a note in her file from 1983 indicating the Mexican Consulate in Salt Lake City told Larned personnel that Rita matched the description of a Tarahumara Indian, a northern Mexican tribe. KAPS convinced the hospital to release her and allow her to return to Mexico.

This case is an extreme example of what can happen when health care providers ignore a patient’s language needs and cultural context. You can read more of Rita’s story in my recent article on the Importance of Cultural Competence in Health Care – Part Two. Here is Part One in this series.

Downward Dog

I started my practice in 2000 at Washington Park Yoga.  I had taken yoga classes before, but they were episodic experiences. I was experimenting and had no commitment to a regular routine.

Washington Park Yoga, now  Heartspace Yoga & Healing Arts, is a few blocks from my office. It offered an Ashtanga course for beginners at 6:30 pm on Mondays. I could commit to leaving work  at that time, which was about the time I usually went home.

Ashtanga is a series of poses or asanas. To practice Ashtanga, one must first learn a breathing technique called Ujjayi.  Eric refers to it as my Darth Vader impression.  The goal is to marry your breath to your movement. The length of your inhales and exhales dictates how long you hold a particular position.

Ashtanga begins with the Sun Salutation, Surya Namaskara.  In a  full series, you do five of Sun Salutation A and five of Sun Salutation B.  The movements in each Sun Salutation provide the foundation for the remaining poses in the series.

The Sun Salutation ends in Downward Dog for five breaths, those of the teacher and not your own. I remember how difficult it was to hold this position for five breaths during those beginning classes.  My heels were inches off the floor and I was supporting most of my weight in my arms.  My hamstrings were tight (and still are from jogging) and my spine was compressed.  I had no core strength and my middle sagged like a deflated balloon. I tried not to look at it while I struggled to hold the pose.

The Sun Salutations are difficult to master. Some teachers think it is too hard and will end their sessions with this posture, instead of begin with it.  I understand their thinking, but am wondering why they are messing with a tradition that was hundreds of years in the making. If I ever teach a yoga class, I will trust that the ancient practitioners knew what they were doing and begin with the Sun Salutation.

There are many physical, emotional and spiritual benefits to a yoga practice. One of the key benefits for me was learning to focus on what I am doing and ignore what is happening in the space around me. “Pay attention to what is happening on your own mat, and not what is happening on the mat next to yours.” This can help you stay focused at work and in life in general.

I am not naturally limber, and can’t hold any of the poses to their full extent. A good day for me is when I can grab my toes in a forward bend without having to stretch my arms to the point where my shoulders nearly come out of their sockets. In the beginning of my practice, I was comparing myself to others in the group who had been cheerleaders, gymnasts or dancers, and were naturally loose and limber.  I had to learn to be satisfied with my own progress and accept my limitations.

My practice has been sporadic over the years, but I have maintained a regular exercise routine that includes yoga. These days, it consists primarily of a series of stretches that I do before playing golf and ending my exercise session at the gym with three Sun Salutations.  Three is a good number.  It is enough to get some benefit from the pose but not so many that I look for excuses not to do it. “It’s only three,” I tell myself, “you can do three.”

I try to find a quiet spot, preferably one that is not in front of the runners on the treadmill who have nothing better to do than watch me. I have never seen anyone else at the gym doing yoga, and I admit to feeling self-conscious. I am also adamant about my right to occupy the space where I am.  I expect, however, that most people are not paying any attention to me and what I am doing on my mat.

  • Why started going back
  • How it feels
  • Increase popularity
  • Gotten too corporate?
  • Favorite pose
  • Most challenging pose