As a child, Nicole Cyrille was teased for the funny way she walked on her toes. Turns out it was a genetic difference that doctors said would eventually cripple her.
A few years ago, the Nashville resident discovered that yoga could do what doctors said couldn’t be done.
A bar for balance is the only thing different about Cyrille’s yoga practice, but the 44-year-old writer and yoga instructor is statistically unique.
Cyrille has a rare genetic disorder called CMT, or Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
“It affects toe to knee, and fingertips to elbow,” Cyrille said.
Her body overproduces a protein that causes the muscle in her legs to come away from the nerve. It has led to 12 surgeries so far.
“Without the myelin, the nerve can’t send the signal to the muscle,” Cyrille said. “The muscle is not being fed, therefore it atrophies.”
It also causes the ankles to roll, which often requires more surgery.
Eight years ago, Cyrille stumbled upon a different path when he discovered yoga.
“The head neurologist at Vandy at the time, Dr. Jane Howard, she actually started telling me, ‘You need to start telling me about this yoga. I may need to start prescribing it,’” Cyrille said.
Her ankles became stronger.
“So my left foot is heel toe, which is amazing. Never in my entire life,” Cyrille said. “And my right foot, not so much.”
Cyrille believes this is only the beginning.
“The doctors say you can’t do that, that we’re destined for wheelchairs and curled up fingers,” she said. “But through yoga and other holistic things that I’ve been able to do, there is calf growth. And the last time I went for a checkup, on the one to five scale of muscle strength, I went from a two to a three-plus. So getting better.”
Cyrille is now a certified yoga therapist and has opened her own hot yoga studio.
“I’ve dealt privately with people with bulging disk, insomnia, with depression, sleep issues,” she said. “We have infrared heat, so it lessens inflammation.”
She said Yoga Harmony on Charlotte Avenue is open to all abilities and disabilities.
“If you don’t feel like you belong somewhere, you belong here,” Cyrille said.
She continues to embrace that reality one breath at a time.
“We all have stuff we deal with. Some are physical, some are mental, some are emotional. And this is just mine, and it’s OK.”
Cyrille’s mother also has CMT. She practices yoga seated with adjusted postures.
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