Monday, July 16, 2012


My husband and I have been shredding, filing or trashing the clutter that has gathered in our house over the last 7 years. A lot can gather in that amount of time. Things misplaced, forgotten, needed and unnecessary. Being the opposite of a hoarder, I have caused the shredder to overheat multiple times in the past week. But something I saw today made me stop before the shredder had a chance to quit.

It was a simple sheet of paper with 10 names handwritten in blue ink. Across the top was the title: Demo Class, Saturday July 26, 2008, Altheatized. The first class ever taught at my studio, AYM. I read each name slowly and was amazed to see three names I recognized as still coming to classes, workshops and retreats.

The handwriting was Yvonne’s. She’d been my co-worker, friend, sister and biggest supporter (after my husband) for 13 years before passing away this March. So many emotions, memories and thoughts went through me as I looked at that simple sheet of paper resting in a manila envelope labeled – Old Sign In Sheets. The dream inside my head and heart of owning my own studio became a dream realized.

Sometimes people try to stop us from dreaming. They tell us what we want to do is stupid, ridiculous or impossible. They see all of the struggle, challenge and failure before the dream is even attempted. I had no idea what hard times we would encounter or what happy moments we would celebrate when I first signed the lease to 4051 Stone Mountain Highway, Suite G101B, Lilburn, GA 30047. I smile, grimace, laugh out loud and shed a tear with the memories.

I’m not a selfish dreamer, so I shared my dream of AYM and still do. I know my dream and AYM have had an impact on more than one person. A good dream that exists when we’re awake is something to cherish.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Yoga Spider

I love nature and being outdoors. I'm at home swimming in oceans and climbing mountains. It's not strange to see me helping an earthworm off a sun-baked sidewalk into moist dirt, or holding and examining a lizard with my son.

But my love of nature has limits. Roaches are beyond my limit. Mosquitos are beyond my limit. Those strange, centipede/spider, hybrid, basement dwellers are beyond my limit. Stuff like that.

Let me preface the remainder of this blog with a note. I love spiders. Well, to be more accurate... I love the concept of spiders. I like that they build webs to catch bugs that are "beyond my limits" and then eat them. Spiders do the dirty work I don't want or like to do. So I love them. I don't particularly like them too close to me, though.

With that prologue out of the way, I will continue.

This past Thursday was a limit tester for me. I was teaching a gentle flowing Yoga - Qi Gong fusion class at a corporate office. The fitness center and wellness room is in the basement of the large five-story office building. As with most basements, we often get crawly friends visiting our Yoga class. The students and I are pretty used to it, and we simply shoo pesky friends away, sweep them out the door, or (in unfortunate and extreme cases) smash them with a shoe.

I'm usually pretty calm about bugs in the Yoga room. Cause I'm a nature chick, right? I'm the queen of outdoor sunrise or sunset Yoga and meditation. I calmly share my Yoga mat with ants, beetles and grasshoppers. I welcome a butterfly or moth landing on my arm while I'm in seated meditation under the sun. Bring on the bugs!

So back to this past Thursday. I wanted to provide a prop for one of the students to assist her in a move. I quickly scanned the room and found a low block resting in a dark corner behind the stereo. I was still speaking in my Yoga voice (my Yoga voice is really soft and soothing and puts people to sleep) as I stooped to pick up the block. And there it was. A tarantula-like hairy spider. I can't quite recall exactly what sound I made, but it was not in my Yoga voice. But the class didn't seem to hear me, so I quickly went back to what I was saying, brought the students out of the pose and had them resting with their heads down as I contemplated what to do with Hairy Spider. Hairy Spider helped me with my decision as it began to crawl toward one of the students.

"Um," I started. "I don't want to alarm anyone, but there is a rather large spider crawling toward us, so let's rearrange the room," I said in my Yoga voice.

I guess I said it too calmly because no one moved right away. But as the students followed my gaze, immediate rearranging took place. A minute later, we were back on our mats and moving through another series of poses when Hairy Spider started crawling again.

"It's on the move. It's on the move." That's all I said in my Yoga voice. And just as calmly as I'd said it, one of the students lifted a nearby trashcan and covered Hairy Spider with it. Problem solved.

I won't lie to you... I felt the hairs on my arms standing up as I taught. And I couldn't seem to get back into the rhythm of my flow. I kept feeling like Hairy Spider was going to get out and crawl on my leg while I was resting in Svasana with my eyes closed. I felt like I was being tested. Like my zen limits were being challenged. Why was Hairy Spider affecting me in this way?

At the end of class, I knew I couldn't leave Hairy Spider there. The next person to walk in that room would move the trash can, see Hairy and kill him. I couldn't allow that. So I overcame my fears and removed the trashcan, allowing Hairy Spider to crawl free.

I don't know where Hairy Spider is now, and I'm okay with that.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Before April 2011, I had never fasted. I never saw a reason to do it.

I attend a church that fasts annually. The annual church fast is not only from food, but also from media - telephone, television, social media, radio, etc. A media fast? Now that was something I needed to take a break from. Last year, I completely ignored the food fast and implemented portions of the media fast. Yeah, I said portions. I'm not a cold-turkey kinda chick. I have to do things in stages... see how it feels on me.

Instead of abstaining from all forms of media all day, I chose what and when I'd restrict. Since social media and telephone use are part of my work day, I allowed it during the day for work purposes only, and chose two days when I'd stop using them after hours. I only answered the phone for my kids, husband and mother. I abstained from listening to music and talk radio the entire week. I don't watch television very much anyway, so it wasn't a hardship to not watch for the week. I even took one day and refrained from speaking unless I had to for work. Completely. I didn't talk to my kids or husband all day (I kind of liked that part).

The result was great. Practicing silence in all forms - speaking, listening, writing - allowed my thoughts to flow more naturally and I felt like I could hear myself and other energy sources communicating with me. I loved the experience so much that I reduced how much I listen to the radio, music, and the news on a regular basis. I tape the tv shows I want to watch and designate a day and time to sit and enjoy them - I don't flip channels looking for something to fill empty space and time. Each morning, I purposely practice silence as a part of my daily routine and meditation. I feel much more aware and in tune to myself, the people around me, and the spiritual messages around me.

But this blog is about my recent experience with my first food fast.

April 2012. My sister-friend, Yvonne, had just passed away the previous month and I couldn't bring myself to attend church. Everything reminded me of her and all I did was cry through the service. So I didn't go for a month. When I returned on April 22, they were discussing the annual fast. Each day had a personal focus like repentance or relationships. Each day required no eating until 6:00pm and only fruits and veggies could be consumed after 6:00pm. Only water and fruit juices could be drunk. No media was allowed after 6:00pm.

I felt like I needed to stop and allow me to be first for awhile. I hadn't been first while Yvonne was sick. I hadn't been first when I transported her to hospice and we began planning - writing her will, getting bank accounts in order, deeding her house, planning her funeral. I was nowhere near first as I put her needs first, then my children, then my husband, then my business. I knew I would be okay. I felt strong - stronger than anyone else in her family or mine. I felt like I was the base of the pyramid, holding it all safely together for everyone. And everyone looked to me to be there and be the strength they needed and were lacking.

So when I saw the fast coming on April 29, 2012, I knew at that very moment I wouldn't wait. I would start the next day on April 23. I liked the daily principles set by the church, but my needs were different. I decided each day, I'd wake up, see what my morning meditation told me was my focus principle and that's what it would be. Period.

I could make this blog long and drawn out. I could detail each day with funny anecdotes of how hungry I got around 3:00 each day, which made me irritable and impatient. I could also highlight the good moments when I felt clean and light and aware and strong. All those things happened. Each day was different. Day 2 was the hardest. Day 1 and 4 were the easiest. I was ready to shut it all down by Day 5, so I did. I just stopped fasting and starting eating at about 4:15pm on Friday afternoon.

When I meditated on what I learned during the fast, the most important thing had nothing to do with spirituality, strength or control. It had nothing to do with the principles on which I focused each day, even though they were great and helped me heal after my friend's death. The most valuable lesson I learned from the fast is what foods my body cannot tolerate at this stage in my life.

When I would eat in the evening during the fast, I always started with fruit. Strawberries, grapes, oranges, or a banana. I would follow that with nuts - peanuts or cashews. For dinner, I'd have a salad of carrots, cucumbers and a lettuce mix. Or I sauteed zucchini, squash and onions in garlic powder, pepper and season salt. All of it was delicious and I actually felt full each night.

Cereal and milk. That ended the joy. The bloating, abdominal pain and gas that came with my favorite quick snack were almost unbearable. I haven't used regular milk since 1999 when my son started drinking regular milk after nursing. I always use lactose-free, skim milk with extra calcium. I've been using Lactaid in the purple container with the yellow banner across the top for the last 5 or 6 years. But on Wednesday April 25, Lactaid was not my friend. And I haven't consumed it since that date.

For the last few years, I thought it was raw vegetables that had been causing me gastric distress. I LOVE raw vegetables! I'd been restricting my intake of raw zucchini, squash, carrots and broccoli for years hoping my abdominal discomfort would end. I only eat tiny meals throughout the day to lesson any pain. Now, one of my favorite meals and snack - cereal and milk - has shown itself to the culprit! I'm both happy and sad with the realization.

This month, I scheduled an appointment with a new physician - a medical internist that is also a holistic doctor. The visit was thorough and wonderfully informative. After our discussion about gastric issues and other side affects to bread, pasta and dairy, she recommended a probiotic called Align. I've been taking Align as prescribed for one week and the results have been amazing for the main symptoms. I also switched to soy milk.

My fast revealed a great deal. Things about my spirit, my strength, my tolerance, and my weaknesses. It was a spiritual reawakening, a mental rejuvenation, and a physical revelation. My husband has forbade me from ever doing it again (remember those short-tempered, irritable moments I told you about). I may and I may not. But for now, I'm where I need to be and content with today.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Cancer II

I've put off writing this blog for over a year. That's how long it's been since I wrote the blog "Cancer" about my sister-friend, Yvonne. It was Labor Day 2010 when I spent the night in her hospital room at the Northside Cancer Center. We laughed, talked, gossiped, discussed business and watched television like any other day we'd spend together in Atlanta. Neither one of us believed we'd be where we are today.

Yvonne & Althea dancing @ AYM

Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (AML) is what she has. The only cure is a successful bone marrow transplant from a donor that matches your marrow. Yvonne's mother, Liz, was a partial match and the bone marrow transplant in March 2011 was successful. Yvonne was in full remission and we were excited, happy and counting our blessings... for four months. As she and I joyfully made plans to attend my family's annual Thanksgiving celebration in Myrtle Beach, she received the news that the leukemia cells had returned. We were both in shock, confused, and full of disbelief. Hundreds of questions and several bone marrow and blood tests later, it was confirmed. Yvonne spent Thanksgiving 2011 in the hospital and I was miserable without my sister-friend.

Yvonne & Althea @ Annual Cuttino Thanksgiving Dinner 2009

Yesterday was February 24, 2012. We sat together with her sister, Ferus, in an isolation room of the Cancer Center. Yvonne was crying and looking soulfully into my eyes. My eyes filled with tears as I stared honestly back into hers. Even though I stopped cursing a few years ago, the only thing I could think to say to her in that moment was, "This is some bullshit." And she nodded in agreement with only a hint of a smile.

The oncologist had just confirmed that the latest round of chemo that had left my friend's body frail and weak hadn't worked. Yvonne and I had discussed this moment many times over the last year and a half, and we'd decided that if it came to this, she'd stopped fighting and let God do what was going to be done. February 24, 2012 was the day of that final decision. I pulled out my computer, which is never far away, and started recording, through my tears, what her wishes were for her house, car, jewelry, and clothing. My attorney, had already started putting together her will and these were the last remaining items to fill in the blanks. We made tearful phone calls to both of our mothers, my husband and our Pastor. And I did what I always do - handled business.

As I wiped her tears and typed her wishes and talked to people she couldn't talk to, flashes of our friendship slipped in and out of my thoughts. And as the memories flickered through my mind, I knew why we'd never referred to each other as friends. We're truly sisters - more than many siblings linked by blood.

In 1999, I "accidentally" tried out for a semi-professional basketball league's cheerleading team. I was the second-oldest woman there at 28, had no professional dance experience, and was the mother of a 10-month old. I never expected to make the team and simply was there to have fun. The sound tech that day of the try-outs was a heavy-set, happy woman... Yvonne D. Carroll. She was supportive to all of the us trying out, but was truly happy to see me make the squad.

A month later, I was surprised to see that sound tech teaching a high-energy step aerobics class at the Bally's where I was the new Group Exercise Director. We talked, we clicked and she became my assistant. When I left Bally's to run another company's aerobic program, Yvonne came with me as my assistant. When I decided to make an aerobics video, Yvonne was right there in my cast. A year later, when I filmed my first cable fitness show, Yvonne was on my left smiling into the camera and grapevining right. When I hit the fitness presenter circuit, there was no one I would trust more to handle selling my videos and managing the money than Yvonne. When I needed someone to watch my babies while I presented or taught, Yvonne was my girl and had my back.

Yvonne selling Altheatized videos

I remember talking to my husband one weekend and discussing how I could give back to someone who had done so much for our family so selflessly. I'd been teaching fitness at resorts in Jamaica for several years and thought it would be great to give Yvonne a week's vacation in Jamaica. So I did! I didn't realize at the time how much of a gift the trip would be.

Yvonne had never flown on a plane before. Her first flight ever was on Jamaica Air out of Baltimore into Montego Bay, and it was the funniest flight I've EVER taken in my life. I laughed so hard, the flight attendant and the passengers around us were alarmed and thought I'd gone crazy. Yvonne is a funny, funny chick. I remember trying to get her to look out the window at the water and palm trees lining the runway of the Montego Bay airport as we landed. She gripped the armrests until her hands were hurting and refused to turn toward the windows. I'm laughing through my tears as I type this with the memory.

We actually invited six of our girlfriends to accompany us on the trip, but Yvonne and I arrived two days earlier so she could have a full week of fun and sun. She and I explored the city and hung out with a couple of my friends from the island. When our girlfriends arrived, it was a non-stop party that to this day has not been rivaled in any of my journeys to the Caribbean. What happens in Jamaica stays in Jamaica. (I'm smiling through my tears)

Yvonne, Althea & the Girls in Jamaica

In 2005, my husband and I decided to relocate our family and my business from Baltimore to Atlanta. It took a couple of years for us to get settled and for me to decide what I wanted to do with my fitness career. In 2007, I found the perfect spot to open a dance, Yoga and fitness studio. I have a degree in business and worked in corporate America for a few years prior to starting my own company in 1996. All of my education and experience taught me several things, but number one was... you can't do everything yourself. If I was going to open a studio, I needed someone I trusted to be with me. Yvonne was my only choice.

But Yvonne had lived in Maryland her entire life. Her family and childhood friends were all there. She had a job with Maryland Corrections where she'd worked her way up to the second highest rank of Major. Why would she leave all that to come help me run a fitness studio in Atlanta? Only she knows the answer, but she did. So, in June 2008, she retired after 22 years, sold her condo in Maryland, packed up her life and moved into a cute little house 7 minutes from our house in Georgia. Even though AYM stands for Aerobics, Yoga & More, most of our close friends and family say it stands for Althea, Yvonne & Maurice (my husband). In my heart, it does. (I'm crying again)

Yvonne & Maurice in the construction of AYM

The first two years of our running AYM was bumpy and more than a learning experience. We fought, we cried, we laughed and we learned. We grew closer than friends or sisters. We started speaking the same way - no one could tell us apart on the phone. We shopped together, ate together, partied together, traveled together. We became extensions of one another. We were together so much, my brother literally started calling her Entourage instead of Yvonne. (I'm smiling again) My kids consider her their aunt just like my brother is their uncle. My mother considers her another daughter and all of my uncles and aunts look for her when I come to family gatherings. We are sisters.

For so many years, Yvonne was my rock and my back. For the last two years, I've had to be hers. Hospital transfers, oncology visits, bills, lawyers, difficult family phone calls. I've handled it all just like she would have done for me - without a second thought and selflessly. People keep saying how much they appreciate what I'm doing for Yvonne, but they don't understand what she's done for me. Sometimes I write better than I speak. This blog is the explanation. It's my way of saying thank you to my sister for helping me live out my dreams. For always believing in me and trusting that I could do whatever I imagined. In front of people, I'm always calm and rational and smile - always. I don't like drama - never have. But in the privacy of my car and home, I let the pain and tears flow freely. I'm not crying for me, I'm crying because I know Yvonne isn't done yet. She's not done having firsts. And I'm not done experiencing them with her. So we'll see how many more we can fit into this life together. As Yvonne and I always say... Cancer sucks.

Talia, Yvonne & Althea celebrating Yvonne's birthday
Althea & Yvonne in Myrtle Beach
Yvonne, Althea & Mom in Chicago

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Baby Steps

I have been a certified personal trainer since 1996 and have worked with many people of different backgrounds, but my most rewarding clients are those recovering from injuries or managing debilitating diseases. Meet my client, Marlin McKeever…

Inherited genetic Spinal Cerebellum Ataxia is a neurological disorder that damages the spinal cord and nerves that carry signals from the brain to the muscles. About 6 or 7 years ago, Marlin began losing his balance and coordination and took a blood test revealing this debilitating disease. As it progressed, he could no longer stand or walk and became dependent on a walker. Challenges with speech and the ability to write forced him to stop working. Marlin began visiting the Shepherd Center, a private non-profit hospital specializing in treatment of spinal cord diseases, for physical therapy and aquatic fitness training. After a couple of years, he felt the rehab at Shepherd wasn’t challenging enough to help him regain his abilities and the water fitness was only seasonal. He needed something more that he could do throughout the year. Family friends told him about the classes they were attending at my studio in Lilburn and about the private Yoga and Pilates training I offered there.

On May 18, 2011 Rose McKeever and her son, Marlin, came to meet me for a private training consultation. Rose, one of the spriest 71 year olds I’ve ever seen, held the front door open for her 45 year-old son who was walking with great difficulty behind a wheeled walker known as a Rolator. He was hunched and bent over as he pushed the Rolator awkwardly through the door and carefully sat for our meeting. As Rose described Marlin’s disease and its symptoms, I took notes and observed Marlin’s movements. When the verbal consultation was over, we went through a battery of core strength, resistance, and balance exercises for me to ascertain Marlin’s limitations and opportunities for strength. When the full session was complete, I calmly pronounced, “He can walk, you know.” Both Marlin and Rose looked at me like I had three heads, but they nodded politely and left after skeptically agreeing to return for a follow up session.

For the next month, I had Marlin do hip and leg exercises to mimic the movements of lifting the leg to walk. We worked on core abdominal and back strength from Pilates for standing tall instead of stooping. I challenged his motor skills and coordination with repetitive multifunctional movements. My goal was to retrain the neural pathways of the brain to the muscles moving his joints around the core. Repetition for muscle memory and improved strength was my plan. After a few private sessions, I suggested Marlin come to my Mat Pilates class. He was initially concerned about disrupting the class and not being able to perform the moves, but the entire program is lying on the back, the stomach or seated. After a few weeks, Marlin was a regular in the class and his core and upper body strength continued to increase. In addition to improvements in his physical strength, his confidence was soaring.

During our private session on July 28, 2011, Marlin’s mother, Rose, sat in her usual corner taking notes while Marlin and I went through our various exercises. I asked him to stand up and hold his stance without support while I counted to five. He did it four times without a problem. I don’t know what made me do it, but as he completed the last one, I heard myself say, “Okay, Marlin, take a step to me.”

His Rolator was across the room, I was standing two feet away from him and there was no table or chair for him to use as support. He looked at me, grunted in disbelief at my request, and blinked a couple of times. I saw Rose cover her mouth in shock in my peripheral sight. No one spoke as we all held a collective breath. I waited. Eventually, he shuffled his left foot a few inches toward me. I felt a pull of energy from my core to his. I knew in my heart that he could do this… right now… on this day. I was only a foot in front of him. I whispered, “Take another step. You can do it.”

He tentatively dragged his right food forward, then, again with the left. After several minutes, we all realized he and I had walked across the room to the door. We were so focused and connected, neither one of us had noticed how far we'd gone. No one dared to say anything. None of us could. He looked at me and I looked at him as we locked hands silently. I guided him to a nearby chair, gave him a high five and a hug, then frantically began recording notes.

Rose cried and prayed out loud as she went to hug him. Marlin began repeating, “I walked, Mama, I walked!” I could hear the disbelief in his voice.

I nodded with a smile. “I told you you could walk!” I turned my back to them to hide the tears in my eyes. I wrote notes without seeing them. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, then eventually turned to finish our session.

I later asked Rose what she felt that day as he walked for the first time since the disease had affected him. “I was shocked and exuberant at the same time. I was speechless. It was simply unbelievable. Just unbelievable.”

Marlin’s response was, “I have hope, again. I have hope.”

Since that day, Marlin has had good days and bad days. But every day he is stronger than the day before. Rose videotapes our sessions for Marlin to study and work from when we’re not together. He is the most dedicated client I have ever trained. When his neurologist saw him for the first time in six months, he was stunned by Marlin’s ability to stand, walk, and sit on his own. We accomplished more with Pilates, faith and trust in seven months than anything he had done before.

Marlin & Althea in Session

As you start this new year with plans, hopes and resolutions, remember to be faithful, courageous, and surround yourself with support. When you fall down, it’s okay to cry, but eventually you’ve got to get up. And when you feel like you can’t do it, imagine a voice whispering to you, “Take another step. You can do it…”