Coming in HAWT

It’s that time of year again here at Mind the Mat. For seven years, we’ve enrolled a cohort of curious minds into our signature Yoga Teacher training, and we start a new format this weekend! We’d like to invite you to join us for mini sessions in our brand new Foundations of Yoga training and workshops. About a year ago Nora wrote a post about her Teacher Training Journey. Well, she is back to give an unexpected recount of how Mind the Mat’s teacher training has further impacted and supported her life. Here’s Nora’s surgical story…

For the past three-ish years, I have been dealing with chronic back and hip pain. This pain took me from running thirty miles a week to running zero, from at least two hot power yoga classes a week to zero. This pain also took me from 100 to 130 pounds (give or take a couple or… thirty). After months of X-rays, MRIs, physical therapy, cortisone injections, spinal injections, and pain management treatments, my orthopedist, who I call “Big Dan,” and I decided it was time to do the thing that I had wanted to avoid – surgery.

An MRI had shown some structural abnormalities in my hip joint and labral “fraying” – this is what my orthopedic surgeon wanted to repair. Your labrum is the cartilage inside the hip joint. It keeps your thigh bone and hip bone connected (#science). If the top of the thigh bone (femoral head) is bumpy, it can cause impingement (which means restricted range of motion). Initially, Big Dan had planned to just shave down the femoral head, which would fix the structural issue and (hopefully) resolve my pain. During the surgery, he, as I found out later, got really excited. The cartilage wasn’t just frayed; it was torn and disconnected to the bone. Gross right? This repair turned the surgery from just run-of-the-mill to serious business. But, like my mentor at the Defense Department always told me, “never half (ahem) anything. Whatever you do, use your whole (ahem).” Well, at least my hip listened to his words of wisdom.

Sometimes, those bumps on the top of the leg bone can tear the cartilage, but those tears can also be caused by trauma (think car accident or contact sports) or repetitive movements (again, the sports). Put me down for check, check, check – all three. Running, Rugby, Soccer, Rowing, Swimming, Boxing, Lifting, and 90 gazillion (that’s the exact number by the way) of leg lifts combined with my structural issue had conspired to create this relatively gruesome tear.



Good drugs, a nerve block, and a couple hours later I was in post-op with a repaired hip, answers to lots of questions about the source of my pain, but also with a way more intensive recovery ahead of me than I had been prepared for.

The first couple of physical therapy sessions after surgery, with Rob (who I don’t have a nickname for just yet), helped me understand my restrictions like what degrees of flexion and extension and rotation I was able to make with my hip. These restrictions changed week to week based on my pain, my ability to move/walk, and where I was in Big Dan’s post-operative “regimen.” Yes, Dan has a specific regimen, but honestly, that’s why I trust him. During the first couple of weeks, I learned how to walk on crutches, put on my shoes, and how to get in and out of the shower. As a Yoga and Pilates teacher, mobility coach, and lifelong athlete, my only consolation was that I understood what flexion, extension, and rotation meant. I not just knew, but I regularly teach the biomechanics of the muscles I was stretching and strengthening. A combination of the Mind the Mat training(s) I had been through, the ninety hundred (again, exact numbers here) of anatomy and biomechanics lectures from Megan Brown (HAWT Pilates cult leader), and the classes I attended regularly pre-surgery taught by Mind the Mat’s extremely skilled instructors, made it so that when my physical therapist talked about activating my transverse abdominis (TA), a seat belt like deep ab muscle that attaches to your spine, I knew how to do that.

I did whine and cry and make a lot of faces when the gluteus medius strengthening (or “side (ahem)” as I fondly call it)  became a regular part of the rehab program. I have stood in front of countless students lecturing on the importance of your glute med, how critical this muscle is to pelvic stability, how it supports the spine, how strengthening this muscle, and others like the TA are critical in developing correct motor patterns. Now here I was, in a hip brace, whining like a baby through clamshells, and having incredible empathy for every new HAWT Pilates student I had ever taught. I was also the patient that my physical therapist, Rob who needs a nickname, could walk away from while I was doing these exercises because he knew I was doing them correctly. And as a reward, I get the “good” ice pack.



As I write this, I am exactly six weeks post-op and I am still whining and still probably not drinking enough water (don’t tell Christina, my medical proxy). I was only supposed to be on crutches for three weeks; it’ll likely be more like eight. I was supposed to be out of the hip brace after a couple weeks, and I’m still in it. BUT(T), my hip is fixed, I was strong before, and I have a great surgeon and physical therapist. I know how to do my exercises. I know how to modify moves, stabilize my hips when doing heel raises, and when Rob tells me to be careful about activating my “QL” when I’m practicing walking with a cane, I know exactly what he’s talking about.



At Mind the Mat and in HAWT Pilates particularly, our teachers, including me, talk about what it feels like to activate the right muscle, why this muscle and not another needs to work, which muscles support which kinds of movements and which muscles are being worked in each exercise. So much of the HAWT Pilates program and Yoga Teacher Training is based on physical therapy principles.

There is nothing I do in physical therapy that I haven’t learned about at Mind the Mat. It just wasn’t this hard.

I’m sure I’ll regret writing that.


  • The latest from Megan
Megan Brown, physical therapist, Pilates instructor, mother and co-founder of Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga in Alexandria, VA, likes to goof around. Yet her commitment to her students and her skill set in the field is no joke. After graduating from University of Virginia with a degree in Sports Medicine, Megan went on to receive her Masters in Physical Therapy and eventually her Doctorate in the profession. Although Pilates was never part of the plan, the method changed the way she treated patients, positively re-directed her career path and enhanced her own active lifestyle. Customized Pilates instruction is her specialty–she designs classes based on clients needs: athletes, new moms, rehabilitation or just for fun (why be serious all the time?). Pilates + Yoga is the best of both worlds, hence the creation of Mind the Mat studios providing classes for all—in every walk of life.

Mind the Mat Pilates & Yoga was founded in 2008 by Megan Brown, Doctor of Physical Therapy and Polestar Certified Practitioner of Pilates for Rehabilitation and Sara VanderGoot, Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Registered Yoga Teacher (e-RYT 200, RYT 500). In their private practices as physical therapist and massage therapist respectively Megan and Sara observed that many of their clients were coming in with similar needs: relief for neck and shoulder tension and low back pain as well as a desire for more flexibility in hips and legs, stability in joints, and core strength.

Together Megan and Sara carefully crafted a curriculum of Pilates and yoga classes to address needs for clients who are pregnant, postpartum, have injuries or limitations, who are new to Pilates and yoga, and for those who are advanced students and are looking for an extra challenge.     

2214 Mount Vernon Avenue
Alexandria, VA 22301


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