The amputee yoga teacher
After losing her right leg in the 2004 tsunami in south-east Asia, Fiona Callanan has tapped her inner strength and resilience through Rocket Yoga. When life gets challenging, she says, face your fears and embrace it...because you might just surprise yourself
Fiona Callanan made a positive choice to live her life to the full aged 27, after being hit by the 2004 tsunami. Now 45, a mother of two, international lawyer, public speaker and yoga teacher for Pure Yoga in Hong Kong, her story is inspirational.
In her legal career she has worked in London, Hong Kong and Singapore for major organisations including Barclays, Bank of America and now at McKinsey & Company.
This is her story in her words:
“When I was 27 my life was amazing. I was about a year into my first proper job as a lawyer in a top London law firm and I'd been sent to Bangkok for a few months as part of my training. I loved it. I was doing the job that I wanted to do, living in a five-star hotel, meeting people from all over the world, learning about a brand-new culture and eating good food.
Then the tsunami hit. I was in Krabi at the time; I was lucky to survive but I lost my leg. A few weeks later back in London I wished I had my old life.
I wanted to be a ‘normal’ 27-year-old lawyer jumping out of bed in the morning running to the tube station ready for a full day at work, but my new reality was very different.
I’d often wake up from a long sleep, completely forget that I didn't have a lower right leg, go to jump out of bed, fall on the floor, stump first, and be in a lot of pain. At the hospital they gave me a wheelchair to help me get around but I wanted more freedom and independence so I began to use crutches, which weren’t ideal, but they helped.
I originally had visions of getting a new prosthetic leg, slipping it on like Cinderella and running off into the sunset doing a few marathons and never having to go back to the hospital. The reality was slightly different from that and it was hard going initially.
I always remember how fortunate I was during and after the tsunami. Had any small thing been different I wouldn’t have survived.
I make regular visits to the UK to visit my prosthetist at Pace Rehabilitation who are experts in treating people who have sustained lower limb trauma. Their sessions have been invaluable to my rehabilitation.
My yoga journey
I tried my first real yoga class in Hong Kong in 2014. It helped my stress levels, which were pretty high looking after two small children and doing a full-on job, and so I carried on with the practice once a week.
At the beginning, the leg situation was a great help to my yoga in lots of ways. I would see all these fit, flexible people doing things that seemed impossible, but never thought to compare myself to them or try to compete because I just thought it wouldn’t be possible to do any of it with an amputation. And then, one day, I had a feeling that I would be able to do a pose I had previously completely dismissed. I tried and did it! I was elated and a bit shocked that my body was clearly capable of doing so much more than my mind ever thought it could. That was the day yoga hooked me.
“If you face a challenge you can deal with it, even if you have to do it in a bit of a roundabout way. Face your fears and push yourself because you might just surprise yourself.”
I’ve been practicing Rocket Yoga for two years mostly with Marcus Veda and Hannah Whittingham in London. I love it because it’s lots of fun, a strong practice, so a good workout, and because it has loads of upside-down stuff and arm balances in it, it makes me feel like I can fly!
But I also love it because it’s very accessible. The essence of the Rocket practice is choice. It’s about learning to understand how you are energetically and physically feeling in the moment, and then giving you the power to decide which direction to take your practice in. It also has a strong focus on the breath. In fact, I teach and practice to music that is specially mixed at a set tempo which we match our breath to. And the way we breathe is designed to activate the parasympathetic nervous system – the neurological function that relaxes and rests us, all while we are pushing ourselves pretty hard physically.
The combination is magical. And it also includes all of the elements of a trauma-informed yoga practice. A somatic way for us to release the trauma in our bodies and minds. Both consciously and subconsciously. My Rocket Yoga practice has helped me with my own healing and rehabilitation immensely and I am incredibly grateful to now be able to share it with others, as a tool that they too can use to help themselves to live full, rewarding, and peaceful lives. I’m also deeply grateful to my foundational yoga teachers, Patrick Creelman, Rinat Perlman, and Jason Crandell.
My advice to anyone who has lost a limb is to keep embracing the challenges you’ll come across and keep going! That is what has made me a better and stronger person. If you face a challenge you can deal with it, even if you have to do it in a bit of a roundabout way. Face your fears and push yourself out of your comfort zone because you might just surprise yourself.”