Bending. Stretching. Lifting. Straining. It’s a typical day for Kristen Rockwell, who owns an airy import carpet store in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood. Her carpets are as beautiful as they are heavy — lifting them to display or load into clients’ cars or homes is a daily challenge.

And her challenge is worsened by persistent pain. The result of two car accidents, Kristen has scar tissue in her back that impairs mobility and leads to discomfort. She broke a foot while running, and of course her daily work revolves around carpets that can weigh as much as 80 pounds. “The pain was getting so bad I wasn’t sleeping at night. It is hard to be in a good mental state when you’re hurting,” she says.

For the past ten years, Kristen has been successful in managing her pain with the help of chiropractors and massage therapists. But she began to suspect she needed more help when a visit to the doctor revealed she’d shrunk a full inch in height. Was it an early sign of the arthritis and osteoporosis that runs in her family? “I love to walk, I don’t want to be denied walking in 10 years because I’ve abused myself now,” she says. “I want to stand up straight. I’m 46years old, I’m not going to get a lot of that stuff back.”

Kristen found help just a block away. At Pratique Yoga Studio, Lilith Bailey-Kroll evaluated Kristen’s body. “The first thing I noticed was Kristen has a rounding in her back, and she had two locked areas,” says Lilith. This would account for Kristen’s pain, and her shrinking statue. It would also lead her to lift carpets in a way that perpetuated the injury, further tightening her aching back. “We started with back bends to get her back to release, and created sequence that alleviated the pain. I suggested poses that elongate the spine, since she was having a lot of compression.”

It’s taken hands-on, one-one-one work, but Kristen does see a big difference, and swears by her weekly yoga sessions at Pratique. “When Lilith is pushing on me, then I understand,” Kristen says, describing why Lilith’s approach is different from other approaches she has tried. “It’s that tactile thing; with that pressure and contact my head can understand—can make the connection with–what my body doing. If Lilith didn’t lean on my knee or elbow or hold in specific places, I wouldn’t get that.”

“There’s this pattern we have that’s habitual and part of our personality,” Lilith says, addressing Kristen’s quest to reprogram the way her body moves. “That neural pathway takes multiple times to develop, so to shift it you need to do it correctly multiple times to develop new habits.”

After months of working with Lilith, Kristen’s results are also promising. “My shoulders have opened up, and I’m trying to have better posture,” Kristen says. She regained three-quarters of an inch of height. And every day finds relief from her pain through her practice of yoga.

Photographs by Laura Petrilla