Payge McMahon is a beloved group exercise instructor at the Y. She teaches Vinyasa yoga and Pilates, and is even certified to teach Silver Sneakers Classic classes. When Payge walks into a room, she brings warmth and encouragement—and she'll give you a great workout.
An unexpected road to yoga
Payge's exercise journey hasn't been a smooth one. In 1991, at 16 years old, Payge broke her back in a car accident. She was stuck in a fiberglass body cast for a full month. Afterwards, the doctors put her in a metal back brace for three months while she learned to walk again.
In 2007, Payge decided to try yoga. "One day, I just didn't feel like getting on the treadmill or lifting weights. My back was bothering me, but I still wanted to do some type of workout. It was a power yoga class, and I fell in love with the practice."
Payge had a prior misconception that yoga was just about stretching. "I quickly learned that it is way more physical," she says. "It is the perfect overall workout for strength, flexibility, agility, balance and endurance. It connects everything."
In 2008, she went to Thailand to study yoga and received her teacher's certification.
Strength for a second break
Ten years later, in 2018, Payge suffered another major injury, falling 15 feet out of a tree. She broke her back in six places, along with her left arm and leg. "Having broken 19 bones in my life, I've become a pro at rehabilitating my body," she says.
This time around, Payge was put into a hard, clam-shell back brace. Using a walker, she shuffled out of the hospital with an arm and leg cast (and new titanium rod hardware) in less than a week.
Payge's orthopedic surgeon attributed her body's resilience to yoga. "He said, 'Payge, I figure the only reason you are not dead, or at the very minimum in a wheelchair, is because of yoga.”
Her dedication to building strength, balance and endurance played a major role in Payge being able to walk out of the hospital in just five days.
"Muscles help protect our bones. They reinforce the skeletal structure of our bodies. When I fell from that tree, my muscles contracted and protected my spine," Payge says. Had she been out of shape or overweight, Payge would've likely ended up in an inpatient rehabilitation facility instead of being able to go home.
Getting back on the mat
Three months after her accident, Payge was back to teaching a chair yoga class. A month later, she was back to teaching basic and Vinyasa (power yoga) and achieving goals outside the studio. "Five months after falling out of that tree, I backpacked the 97-mile Wonderland Trail around Mt. Rainier with a 30-pound backpack," she says.
Payge attributes her healing to a combination of cryotherapy, acupuncture, cupping, CBD oil, and, of course, yoga. "I’ve lived with chronic pain since I was 16 years old," she says. "Yoga helps me manage it—physically, mentally and spiritually."
One of Payge's favorite quotes is from B.K.S. Iyengar, the founder of Iyengar yoga (yoga that specializes in aligning the body): "Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured."
Payge encourages students in her classes to build the same strength that has saved her body. "If you can only do one yoga position, do Downward Facing Dog," she says. "It stretches and strengthens everything: arms, shoulders, back, abs and legs. It also calms the mind."
She's energized by helping members in her classes learn and grow, and she often shares her story to encourage others to push themselves further. "My injuries taught me humility, perspective and the importance of staying in shape. We have to appreciate life and take nothing for granted."