A lot can happen in a split second. One moment Life is a straight line and then, BAMMO! It’s not.
What happens in the crash of a moment shapes us for who we are to become later in life. Oftentimes, it changes us so profoundly, that we learn to look at our losses and setbacks as blessings.
Such was the case for my dear friend Annette Dale Kramek, who at the age of thirty, was blind-sided by a brain tumor, something way beyond her control and certainly not a consequence of uninformed choices. A graduate of Public Health and Nutrition, Annette was living a balanced, mindful life. A poster girl for the quintessential West Coast LA Lifestyle, she was enjoying her fit body and all-around sun-shiny good health; running, biking, and watching her surfer boyfriend ride the waves; and LOVING her work as a ski-wear designer. Life was good…
Except for the fact that a brain tumor got in the way of her dreams. Annette took it head on and came to grips with her health: it was a beast she needed to learn about and tame, and tame fast. But getting an accurate diagnosis was anything but a fast process. When severe symptoms presented themselves, Annette visited over 40 health care professionals before her tumor was detected.
At an age when most young women are dreaming about careers, sex, weddings, and babies Annette courageously redirected her life and underwent life-changing brain surgery. It could have resulted in stroke, loss of speech and the need for a permanent gastrointestinal tube but ‘luckily’ for Annette, only her face, throat and digestive tract were temporarily paralyzed. She could not talk or eat for months but the real life change is what happened inside her to enlighten and ignite her spirit.
During her recovery period, she moved in with her mother who cared for her, unconditionally. It was on one day when her mother was driving her from one place to another that Annette discovered a Transcendental Meditation Center right down the road from her. Back in 1993, the center was one of a very small number nation-wide. Annette saw that as a very good sign and did not hesitate to begin her sessions. After only one session, movement returned to her face. In four years Annette only missed one session.
For those of you who don’t already know, Transcendental Meditation is not a religion, philosophy, or lifestyle. It is a simple, natural practice that takes 20 minutes twice daily. Annette complemented her daily TM with four yoga classes a week.
Annette learned early on in life that finding her way to a clear understanding of her condition was - and always will be - the first step towards wellness. Over time and with increasing awareness, the “right way” to treat her body was a natural practice for her. Through regular yoga and Transcendental Meditation, Annette acquired a hard-earned road map to living a balanced life.
Twenty years later, Annette is designing her own line of yoga wear. Her studio is based in Pittsfield, MA where she designs and manufactures yoga practice and lifestyle clothes for leading yoga retreats and wellness spas. Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health,Jivamukti, Canyon Ranch, Cranwell Resort and Spa , Mii Amo Resort Spa, and Club Med [and a sweet local favorite - Dottie's Coffee Lounge] are among her clients. Profoundly influenced by the teachings she learned through the practice of yoga, she named her clothing line Ancient Language, calling upon Sanskrit, the ancient language of the Gods …and studious yoginis.
The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit 'Yujir Yogey' which means to join, to yoke, to put together and to restore - to restore what is lost. Most of us have lost our balance at some point along the way and Yoga primarily seeks to restore that balance. For Annette long after her brain surgery, yoga and meditation continue to be her road map and the signposts are written in Sanskrit.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE and the rest will follow… The practicalities of owning and running her yoga wear company physically challenge Annette every day. Like many small business owners, she readily accepts the challenges as a natural part of doing what she loves. While Ancient Language is growing exponentially, Annette’s dream is not to have a HUGE company that distances her from the design process she loves. Nor does she want to be alienated from her clients, instructors and customers who wear her clothes and provide inspiration.
To Annette, it’s still very personal and she wants to keep it that way. Ancient Language is a natural extension of her thoughts and feelings and beliefs which she is able to express and share through her designs and relationships. She truly enjoys being in touch with every part of her business and doesn't want to lose that in the wake of a growing company. Yet, she recognizes that striking a balance between her company’s growth and her personal involvement is not always a straight line.
The amount of work required to run her company leads to exhaustion and debilitating pain, an on-going condition she is currently deciphering, not unlike the way she went about discovering her brain tumor. When the scales shift, Annette calls upon the teachings learned in her thirties. She admits that to achieve greater wellness, she still needs to carve out more time for yoga and meditation, and to dial back the hours at work.
Surrender. Annette needed to learn new ways to communicate her vision before she could completely “let go,” but this was a particular challenge to her because the brain surgery severed one of her vocal cords. The act of talking exhausts Annette and her remaining vocal cords are often over-worked and strained so that her words come out muted. Annette has adjusted to this injury and speaks articulately, but not without effort, so she rests when she needs to rest.
After a recent yoga class while the two of us were dripping in the steam bath, she laughs as she tells me, “You wouldn't believe how LOUD I used to be! You could hear my laugh a mile away.” And that made me smile and think of the vibrant young woman whose life changed overnight at the age of 30.
Annette is still vibrant to this day and her light shines through her work. I had the pleasure of spending time with her in her design studio. It was a quiet, snowy afternoon and we were selecting spring colors and prints. Apart from being fun and providing an imaginary trip to warmer climes, it showed me just how efficient Annette is with her time and how she maximizes it to make room for the creative process, which she clearly loves. Annette is joyful at work. There is no doubt her work brings her joy.
In order to protect and maintain that joy, Annette practices a constant system of checks and balances. If she works too much, she cuts back. It is this agility to live each day as it comes that allows Annette to be very present and aware of the joys as well as the strains placed on her health. By applying the life-long skills she learned through yoga and Transcendental Meditation, she is able to balance her life with her work, all the while practicing and sharing her deep love for yoga and its teachings.
Later when Annette and I are together at Kripalu, her face lights up when she sees the girls in the shop. She greets them as good friends – it’s clear that staying in touch, literally, with her clients is an important key to her happiness. Beaming, Annette told me “I love this part!”
And I know it’s true.