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Yoga Instructors 'Living Proof' of its Benefits

Tom and Susan Wilkens, of Forest Park, credit yoga to helping them recover from open heart surgery, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. Now they run a local studio out of their home on Madison Street.

Tom and Susan Wilkens of Forest Park are living proof of the benefits of yoga.

They run the Dancing Cranes Yoga & Massage studio on Madison Street and have been longtime instructors at other places in the area. And doing yoga has helped save their lives.

In June 2011, Tom underwent emergency open heart surgery for an aortic dissection at Loyola Hospital. The doctors didn't think he would survive it, but Tom recovered rather rapidly. 

"The doctors said it was because he was in such great shape from all the yoga he was doing," Susan said. "They said he had the heart of a 20-year-old." Doctors never determined the cause, but said it could have been an undetected genetic problem or a virus. 

Susan and Tom had plans to open their own yoga center, but while he was recovering, Susan asked if that was something he still wanted to do. He said it was clear then the answer was yes.

"There's always this illusion you have all the time in the world, when it's clear you don't," Tom said. "It became very clear to me that I knew what I wanted to be doing."

Write a review of the Dancing Cranes Yoga & Massage. 

Tom was a trained massage therapist, and Susan was interested in studying astrology. When she went to the Temple of Kriya in Chicago to learn about astrology, she also heard about yoga and became interested. 

However, Susan had fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, forcing her to take time off from her job, and nothing doctors suggested was helping. She tried kundalini yoga, a form that focuses on glands and the nervous system, and her health began to improve. Tom, who had done tai chi for 10 years prior, also became interested and studied yoga at Kriya. He immediately decided he wanted to be an instructor. 

That was in the mid-90s. Now Tom has been a teacher since 1998 and Suysan since 2002. They've worked at the Oak Park Fitness Formula Club, the Park District of Oak Park and other locations in the area.

"The whole time we're thinking it would be so great to have a place on our own," Susan said. "But we didn't want to operate our yoga center with our eye always on the dollar sign." 

So they waited for the right place, and agreed in March 2011 to take a second-floor space on Madison Street at the recommendation of Chris Geoghegan, who owns the building, operates MOSS Modern Flowers on the first floor and is a longtime yoga student. The studio opened in January 2012 in the second floor of 7405 Madison St. 

The yoga center is also their home, an aspect the Wilkens said makes the experience more intimate and organic. 

Their classes are typically between 10 and 12 people, and they're all close with the Wilkens. Because Tom was recovering, he couldn't lift or move anything more than 10 pounds, but their friends and yoga students stepped up and helped with the move. 

"Because we live here, too, it's really like welcoming people into our home," Susan said. "We have people making tea in our kitchen, sitting down to chat." Running the studio out of their home also keeps the overhead low, and that allows them to offer a $10 drop-in rate. 

They preach the benefits of yoga and offer a wide variety of services, including meditation, gong immersion and lots more. Learn more about the services at the Dancing Cranes website or in Patch's business directory. 

"It works," Tom said. "Both of us are living proof of that."

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