Amy Sedgwick has just returned from a weeklong yoga training. “I’ve been pursuing this 500-hour teacher certification for some time,” she says between sips of tea. She’s sitting at her kitchen island and her dark hair is up in a loose ponytail. Around her, signs of family life point toward the everyday chaos of getting two young daughters out the door in time for school. The previous night, she worked a long shift at InterMed, where she is an emergency physician, yet she seems rested. It must be from all the yoga.
Or perhaps it’s just her inner reserves of strength.
Over the past six years, Amy, who is now 43, has faced her share of challenges, and she’s come out the other side stronger, more resilient. She’s learned that contentment comes from within, not from any exterior marker of success. She’s learned to lead with her heart.
“Six years ago, I was in my happy little world, being a doctor and mothering my oldest daughter, Alexis,” she recalls. “My second daughter, Gabrielle, was born and everything seemed fine.” Soon, however, Gabrielle became ill. First she developed a serious lung infection, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which required Gabrielle to spend a week on a ventilator in the ICU. Then, after she had seemingly recovered, just when Amy and her husband, Peter Sedgwick, thought “everything was fine and good,” they began to notice something disturbing, something every parent dreads. Gabrielle wasn’t meeting the “normal milestones,” and for a long time, they didn’t know why.
Doctor appointments followed doctor appointments. Gabrielle grew up cheerful and loving, a “sweet little imp,” but she wasn’t OK. Amy’s younger daughter is now 6 years old and is, in Amy’s words, “severely cognitively delayed.” Gabrielle has undergone extensive, multidisciplinary testing, but Amy and Pete still don’t know why this happened to their little girl.
The year when Gabrielle got sick was one of the hardest of Amy’s life. “I had two deaths in the ER. I had a man who was healthy and in his 30s with a pregnant wife who I was unable to bring back, followed soon after by a small child who also died despite our best efforts at resuscitating her,” she recalls. “I was an attending and in the ER, where you are responsible for your patients, their families, and the staff. I ‘dealt with it,’ at the time,” she says, making air quotes, “but I didn’t deal with it.”
She calls that year a “year of increasing heartache.” Six months after the pain reached its peak, she was sitting in a yoga training with her teacher, Jacqui Bonwell, and her fellow trainees. Suddenly, this enormous sob rose up from somewhere deep within. “I have never heard a sound like that come from my body, that guttural sob, and it was a deluge,” she says. Yet after the storm of tears had passed, she remembers feeling “physically lighter. I had put that energy somewhere, and it finally came out.”
As often happens, Sedgwick emerged from the other side of that hellish year stronger and more capable. Having Gabrielle, she says, helped strip away her fear. “I realized that there are no shoulds in this life. There are no should-dos. No have-to-dos. I realized I didn’t have to adhere to any pre-conceived notion of ‘the right way to do things’. I could be a doctor and be a yoga instructor. I did not have to do things because of external validation. And it was so liberating.”
“When you have a kid with special needs, you realize there is no roadmap,” she adds. “I know people in my life who, when bad things happen, they say, ‘It’s not fair. When will I finally be at peace?’ But there is no finally. Unless you’re dead. There is now, and that is it.”
Two years ago, Amy mustered her courage to make a seemingly risky career move. She opened her own yoga studio, Riverbend Yoga in Yarmouth, with the intent of bringing her anatomically leaning, medically inclined blend of yoga to her fellow Mainers. These days, she splits her time between working and teaching yoga classes. She is also continually adding to her extensive knowledge about the human body. She reads like a fiend, devouring books about evolution, animal cognizance and philosophy. And then she brings it all together; she uses meditative breathing in the ER and medical training in the studio. She crosses disciplines regularly, taking the ideas from Chinese medicine into her western medical practice, all with the goal of creating better lives for her clients and patients.
“I wanted to create a studio where people could come, be safe and learn about their bodies,” she says. “At the bedside, I use the same approach to listen to and help empower my patients.”
Some of her work is inspired by Maine researcher and manual therapist, Tom Myers, who founded Anatomy Trains, an educational organization dedicated to promoting knowledge of the fascial planes, which are layers of connective tissue that run throughout the human body. She also continues to draw inspiration from her yoga teachers, Jacqui Bonwell and Tiffany Cruikshank.
For Amy, this kind of whole-body thinking has become second nature. It is part of her yoga practice and part of her life. She no longer wants to consider each element of her existence separate—she lives with a Gestalten zest, allowing her various interests to feed and nourish each other.
But at the end of the day, this isn’t Amy’s most important takeaway or her most profound epiphany. Her message, be it at her yoga studio or in her medical practice, isn’t one of just physical health or momentary wellness. It’s about her deeply rooted belief that happiness comes from an interior place. It comes from knowing, really and truly, who you are at your most basic, primal level.
“I think we need to change the idea that we need to look a certain way, or drive a certain car, or reach certain milestones,” she says. “The most important thing is that we have a sense of who we are. It is from that place of peace, from that inner contentment, that we can be good to others.”
She adds, “What does your heart say? That’s what matters.”
Katy Kelleher is a writer and editor who lives in Buxton with two dogs and one husband.