Meeting the other Johnny Carson is a pleasant experience—with an Irish accent and an artist’s soul, his gentle intelligence is evident immediately. His medium is film and mixed media. His talents have taken him from his hometown of Belfast to California and London, and three years ago, to Pittsburgh for a job working at Carnegie Mellon University.

Heading the world-renowned art school at CMU is a big job. It comes with huge time commitments, a near-endless workload, and lots of stress. John juggles the demands well, but sometimes he pays personal price. “[I needed to] take some time out for myself and I didn’t feel I was in very good shape. And I thought, what can I do about that?” He tried yoga sessions with his wife. “You go through this generic routine. I didn’t feel it was very satisfactory or engaging really, so I didn’t go back,” he says.

Inevitably, stress brought on more symptoms. A stiff neck and pain in his lower back—and a need to manage stress—drew him toward yoga once more. John knew Lilith Bailey-Kroll through CMU (Lilith is a graduate)and saw her in a magazine article recognizing young people in Pittsburgh making a difference. Could Lilith’s personalized approach to Lilith help John manage his stress and the discomfort that comes with it? “I signed up for six sessions. I thought that would be enough to see whether it works for me and makes a difference.”

“The first thing was the conversation,” John says, of starting his yoga sessions with Lilith. She began with questions about his back, and examined his alignment. Lilith saw John’s back needed to be stretched out. But interestingly, his back pain was resulting from issues elsewhere in his body: his hamstrings were tight, and he needed to develop abdominal strength. Other poses and breathing techniques could directly address John’s need to manage stress.

“It’s a bit like that wonderful moment where you know something’s wrong with you and you get the diagnosis and you think, well I know what’s wrong—maybe we can go about fixing it. I was really grateful to get that information and to recognize what’s going on back there, “John says.

Lilith saw what was ‘going on back there’ and developed a sequence to target problem areas, and worked with John over his six sessions to refine it. John runs through his customized sequence every morning.

When asked if the pain is resolving, John jokes: “Well, I’m getting other pains now!” But he’s quick to clarify that it’s a good pain—the kind that comes with exercise, stretching, and progress. He has not seen weight loss…yet. “I see more of a spring in my step. I feel I have better posture, better understanding of my physique. The breathing… I’m conscious of it in a way I wasn’t before,” John says. “It’s a very simple pleasure of feeling healthy.”

Photographs by Laura Petrilla