When Cindy Michaels’ husband died, she struggled with moving forward.
“When Marty died, I thought I would die too,” she said. “I had to figure out how to live. I learned a lot about myself.”
“It was my yoga class that saved my life,” Michaels said. “They gave me a reason. At 6 a.m., I was rolling out of bed and getting there. In yoga, your body knows what to do and your mind follows ... I stepped out on my mat and said, ‘OK. You can do this.’”
Yoga became Michaels’ form of therapy. She began to face the pain and deal with the loss of her husband, Dr. Martin “Marty” Michaels.
She is a yoga instructor. She was also a pediatric occupational therapist and owner of Tips For Children. But occupational therapy was too hard for her to face after her husband died in December of 2011. He was a pediatrician and owner of Peds Care. The Michaels built their businesses together on Shields Road just off Dug Gap Road.
“For many, many years, my husband and I built Peds Care,” Michaels said. “When he died, I couldn’t go back to that because it was too painful. I had started a journey of my own — teaching yoga. I decided to become a yoga therapist, a good blend of my old life and my new life.”
Yoga therapists work with patients to help them with physical or mental ailments, such as high blood pressure or anxiety. Michaels expects to finish her training to be a yoga therapist next year.
“Yoga allows your body to heal, physically and emotionally,” she said. “It was a gift that I had this practice. That’s when I realized I wanted to learn more, wanted to share more. This is powerful stuff.”
Michaels is beginning a new life, and out of her transformation came the idea for a wellness center called Wrens’ Nest.
“My life’s journey is being epitomized,” Michaels said.
The center is under construction on the same property as Peds Care.
Wrens’ Nest is a place for “seeking, stretching and soaring.” It’s for education and support for living a healthy lifestyle. The project is still in the early stages, but Michaels hopes to collaborate with others to offer a place for support groups and educational classes on food and health as well as one-on-one counseling programs. She will expand her yoga studio, Yoga By Cindy Inc., into Wrens’ Nest.
“I think it’s much needed for the community,” said Susan Ewing, a licensed clinical social worker who is on the Wrens’ Nest advisory board.
“I think that the idea is that people can find a place where they can get their needs met in many different ways, addressing the body, the mind and the soul,” Ewing said. “I think there are not many places like this in the South. I think it’s a cutting-edge idea, especially in a small town. I think everybody’s lucky Cindy has this much commitment to this idea. It’s forward thinking. It’s really about people finding one place where they can begin to heal, to become whole, to grow, to stretch themselves, to learn.”
Wrens’ Nest will focus on helping people do what is best for their body, mind and soul. Michaels hopes the center will be open in January.
“We’re looking at having psychotherapy, yoga therapy, regular yoga ... massages, any other service that would have an impact on body and mind,” she said. “It’s all about education and support, about being able to reach a higher potential.”
“I’m building the building,” she said. “I don’t want to be alone in this adventure.”
The building will have a multi-purpose room, small rooms ideal for one-on-one programs or services and another area with a kitchen and fireplace that Michaels hopes will serve support groups.
Michaels hopes to host quarterly programs at the turn of each season to focus on foods that are in season and things happening during each season. She’d like to bring in authors who have written about wellness topics to speak and sign books.
“She’s very much a visionary,” Jane Taylor, who is on the advisory board, said. “She has big dreams and she follows through. I knew she would do an amazing job. ... I think this place will be great for people to find some peace and growth. This is a place where you can stretch and grow and challenge yourself.”
Ewing plans to have office hours at the center to help individuals and families work through anxiety, depression, loss of a family member, a rough patch in a marriage or other traumas, such as abuse. She also plans to host workshops there. Her current practice is in Chattanooga.
“We say organizations take on the personality of the person at the top, and one of the things about Cindy is that she believes in the community,” Ewing said. “She believes in the mind, body and spirit connection, and because of that, she’s gathered people around her that operate the same way. She’s an example of what happens when somebody experiences tragedy and they grow through the tragedy and beyond the tragedy.”
The Rev. Patricia Grace, rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, also serves on the board and plans to be involved in the center as a spiritual director.
“I’m really excited about it mostly because it’s so wide open,” Grace said of the center. “There is a lot that can be done. The focus is on a place where folks can experience growth, wholeness and the whole self. It’s exciting it’s unfolding and is somewhat mysterious because it’s not all planned out and put down on paper, and it’s all growing.”
As a certified spiritual director, Grace will assist people on a spiritual journey.
“It’s really being a friend to another person, sitting together and discerning the movement of God’s spirit in someone’s life,” Grace said. “Sometimes it’s surrounding a change of a job issue, or there’s an inkling of change in their lives. It’s walking together on this spiritual journey. I’m more of a companion. It’s praying together, reading some spiritual material. ... Most of it has to do with reflecting on a person’s experience in this world.”
Grace, who has been in Dalton for a couple of years, calls Wrens’ Nest a “labor of love.”
“Cindy’s spirit is so open and engaging,” she said. “She’s wanting to make this a gift to the community. It will be really fun to see what comes of it and how it grows.”
The Healing Advocate
The project is also a way Michaels is memorializing her husband and his lifetime of work. The couple planted gardens, created walking trails and a labyrinth, and built a platform just outside their businesses. It was a place for them and their employees to go to be re-energized and relax.
The gardens have become a sacred piece of land to Michaels. She hosts sunrise yoga sessions on a platform in the garden, which at certain times of the year is in a direct line with where the sun rises. It is surrounded by plants and flowers, the rock labyrinth and benches. Her son even chose the garden for his wedding.
“The space is a really important space to me,” she said. “In 2007 we started wanting to grow some veggies ourselves. We lived on a wooded lot so we put in nine raised beds. Planted apple trees and some berries.”
A new piece to the garden is an old lime green Volvo that has been converted into a sculpture on which Michaels placed some medicinal plants, and there will be an apple tree growing out of the top of it.
All of the Michaels’ children learned to drive on the Volvo, and when their youngest was given the car, she was allowed to choose any color she wanted to paint it. She chose a bright green. After driving it for about a year, she found out she couldn’t go anywhere without being noticed and decided on a white car instead, Michaels said.
“Marty drove it,” Michaels said. “It became a symbol of him. When he died I said, ‘What am I going to do with this?’”
She decided to turn it into a car garden called “The Healing Advocate.”
The car will be in the middle of a breezeway connecting the healing center building to the gardens.
“The car is there at the center, and it has been very healing for me and the employees at Peds Care,” Michaels said.
Jenn Hosford, who has worked at Peds Care for almost 18 years, is glad to have access to the gardens and the car. She is an office manager and said the Marty Michaels was like her “professional dad.”
“The garden itself is kind of a place of serenity for us,” she said. “It’s a fast-paced place to work. We see about 200 to 250 patients a day. We have a lot of difficult things going on. There’s a lot of stress that comes along with running a pediatric office.”
“And it’s a place to memorialize Dr. Michaels for us,” she said. “He started that as a way to connect with nature in a way to alleviate stress when we felt it here.”
Hosford expects Wrens’ Nest to be an expansion of that idea.
“There’s so many things going on nowadays with the world in general and with all the technology out,” she said. “Everybody is very fast-paced and this is a way to connect back to the Earth and your overall well-being. This is for your inner being.”
“I think it’s a great thing she’s doing,” Hosford said. “I’m anxious for her to get it open. I hope the community really takes it in and welcomes it and I hope it thrives.”
When Cindy Michaels’ husband died, she struggled with moving forward.
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