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Lisa Niemi: Healing From the Loss of Patrick Swayze

The dancer, writer, and horse woman channels her grief into advocating for pancreatic cancer research.

You used to smoke. How did you quit?

My lung capacity was severely diminished and it scared me enough to quit. I quit the hard way: I just put the cigarettes down. I visualized nicotine as a big monster. Within a year my lung capacity improved by 60%.

What are your best and worst health habits?

My best health habit is that I've been doing yoga three times a week. I'm buffed in my upper body like I probably never have been. My worst is that I sometimes grab whatever food is nearby. It's like, "Wait a second, there's a bag of Doritos in there."

Did yoga help you after Patrick passed away?

I started back into it only a few months after losing Patrick, and it could be hard. You usually do a little meditation at the beginning and at the end of the class. I was glad that everyone's eyes were closed because I'd have tears running down my face. At one point I said, "I'm going to give this class one more try, and if I cry, I'm going to take a break until I'm OK." Then, I didn't cry during class. So I thought, "OK, this is a sign to keep coming."

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

My whole life is in flux right now. I'm staying very open about where life might want to take me. There are a lot of things I really enjoy doing, and I'm going to see if that continues to be the case -- it may shift. In 10 years I hope that whatever path I end up on is one that gives me bliss.

What are the other benefits of yoga for you?

Once I saw another woman in the dressing room out of the corner of my eye. I thought, "Oh my God, this woman looks like me when I was 18." When we got to class, I got a look at her face, and she wasn't 18 years old. She was in her late 50s or early 60s, but her body ... that's the true test right there. You look at these woman who are older and who have a really good yoga practice  -- they're healthy and strong, and their bodies look young.

What do you do to unwind after a tough day?

I try to find relaxation in the things that I do. I'm working with some horses this summer, and I'm trying to get some miles on them. In the morning, I'll think, "I've got two hours to work the horses and do this and that." Then I get on the horse and the whole time I'm working the horse I've got a big smile on my face. I find those moments in all the things that I do.

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