Steve Houser couldn't shake the numbness creeping into the bottom of his foot and into a couple of fingers.
A few days later, after a night out with friends, Houser collapsed in the parking lot of a west Omaha bar and grill. He couldn't move. It felt like his body had "folded up."
What Houser thought was a pinched nerve was actually a disc putting pressure on his spinal cord, causing him to lose feeling in his limbs.
The Omaha man underwent surgery and then spent five months undergoing rigorous physical therapy at QLI until he was able to walk on his own.
"When I walked out of QLI, I felt like I had won the World Series," Houser said.
Still, Houser is less flexible than he used to be and stiffens up after being on his feet for extended periods of time. To combat that, he's been taking adaptive, chair yoga classes.
"I've still got a lot of issues, but I found out how helpful yoga is to me," Houser said.
The yoga classes are meant to complement standard physical therapy. Megan Potter, coordinator of physical therapy and occupational therapy services at QLI, said the staff sees physical improvements, like improved core strength or flexibility. They also see emotional benefits such as an improvement in a patient's mood.
One patient was in rehab after suffering a stroke. The yoga classes, Potter said, helped to improve her strength, much like the physical therapy did. She hit her goal to be able to move around her home.
"One of the biggest things I saw in her was a shift in her emotional state, not being as sad or depressed about her injury," Potter said. "She wasn't looking at life in the way of 'things are changed and things are not going the way I want them to go.'"
Chanell Jaramillo, a certified yoga instructor who teaches Houser, has been leading adapted yoga classes for about four years. She teaches group and one-on-one sessions at QLI four days a week as well as group classes at her studio Simplicity Wellness, Yoga and More.
Jaramillo, who trained with a Minnesota-based group that specializes in adapting yoga for people with disabilities, started leading the classes after modifying yoga poses for a pregnant woman who worked at QLI.
The classes draw a mix of participants who have limited mobility due to aging, strokes, and spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries.
In class, Jaramillo can modify poses to meet each client's need.
She often has participants tackle the pigeon pose. It typically sees participants on the ground. But Jaramillo's students sit on a chair and place one ankle over their other knee. For more of a stretch, they can lean forward. Also called the "figure four" pose, it's good for opening the hips and stretching the glutes, Jaramillo said.
"They can roll in here in their wheelchairs and nobody's going to bat an eyelash," Jaramillo said. "Everybody's familiar with what we do."
Within hours of arriving at the emergency room, doctors performed surgery on Houser. They removed the disc and stabilized Houser's neck with a piece of bone and a small plate. Doctors knew Houser would be faced with a long road to recovery and lifelong issues stemming from the injury.
"Only time would tell if the spinal cord would recover," said Dr. Douglas Long, who performed the 2012 surgery. "The fact that he was taken care of immediately and he got partial return was a good indicator he would make gradual, steady improvement."
Houser said his flexibility is vastly improved thanks to physical therapy and yoga. He used to not be able to lift his foot onto his knee. Now he can tackle the task with no pain. Yoga has helped his posture, too.
He's also working on walking for longer periods of time. He can walk for about 15 minutes before his body starts to stiffen up. When he left QLI, it took about 5 minutes before he felt stiff.
During a recent class, Houser sat with four other yogis in the dim studio. Before rolling their shoulders and embarking on yoga poses, they focused on their breathing.
Houser practices the poses from class at home. He lies on the floor and props his feet on the couch. Then he stretches his feet in the air and lets gravity align his spine. When he's working at the Ralston Arena, Houser stretches his arms in the air, mimicking the poses done in class while seated in his office chair.
While sometimes it might look "a little weird," Houser said, the flexibility is important.
"The more flexible you are, the more the breathing and everything else just helps the entire system work," he said.