published Tuesday, January 10th, 2012

Chattanooga yoga instructor, massage therapist overcomes vision problem

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    Jillian Ricks, who is severely vision-impaired, owns Jillian’s Studio, a yoga studio on Jane Manor Circle in Soddy-Daisy. She was introduced to yoga massage during her training program and is now a licensed massage therapist as well.
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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Licensed massage therapist Jillian Ricks, who has a severe vision impairment, is said to have a magic touch.

Her trained hands offer comfort to both body and mind, her clients say.

ABOUT HER

* Age: 25.

* Profession: Massage therapist, yoga and bellydance instructor.

* Education: Bachelor's degree in philosophy from University of Tennessee at Chattanooga; licensed massage therapist from Chattanooga State Community College.

* Hometown: Soddy-Daisy.

* Family: Husband, Nathan Ricks; cat, Baillie Ricks.

* Favorite movie: "Gone With the Wind."

* Favorite book: "Hawaii."

* Favorite music: "I like all kinds of music."

* What is something people would be surprised to learn about you? "I am a Skills USA national gold-medal winner for Yoga-sage, the combination of yoga and massage. While in a yoga class, a teacher might come up and massage you while you are in different poses or you can schedule a private session with a trained massage therapist to receive massage while moving from pose to pose."

"I am just doing what I have been trained to do," said Ricks, owner of Jillian's Studio on Jane Manor Circle in Soddy-Daisy. "I listen to my clients, and I just do what seems natural to me to help them relax. I have no secret."

Ricks is equally as talented in yoga and bellydancing.

The strong-willed young woman doesn't let obstacles get in her way. Ricks was diagnosed at 6 years old with Stargardt disease, a genetic eye disorder that typically progresses to the point of legal blindness.

"By the age of 9, it had reached a stopping point," Ricks said. "My eyesight has not changed since that point, and it should not get any worse. It took all my central vision and left me with only peripheral vision."

"I read Braille and have computers that talk to me so I may function just like everyone else. I do not think it affects me at all. I have the tools needed so I may run a business just like everyone else. I also have a loving husband and family who help me in any way I may need."



Q: With a degree in psychology, what led you to yoga and massage therapy?

A: In college, my best friend introduced me to yoga. I had been dancing since I was 4, so yoga just fit. I have been practicing yoga regularly for six years. I finished my yoga teacher training in June of 2010, and I have been teaching ever since. During my yoga training, I was introduced to yoga massage. Massage just seemed to come very naturally to me. So, in August 2010, I signed up at Chattanooga State [Community College] for massage therapy.

Q: When did you add bellydancing to your resume?

A: Bellydance is a funny story. Even though I had been dancing all my life, I was not comfortable moving my hips and belly. When my mother and her friend wanted to start bellydance, I was very reluctant. My mom talked me into it saying that it would be a great mother/daughter experience. So I signed up. At first I did not like it much. But my teacher, Stacy Nolan, was able to teach me to be comfortable with my body. She really loosened me up. Now I love bellydance. I have been bellydancing since 2008.

Q: Do you work with people of all ages?

A: Yes. My grandmother takes my yoga classes.

Q: Yoga seems to be the exercise of choice today. Have you seen an increase of interest in your own practice?

A: Yes. When I first started practicing yoga, there was one studio in Chattanooga, but now I can count five or six new studios. For massage, there are new spas opening all the time. Massage is starting to become mainstream, not just for relaxation but for all the medical benefits as well. Bellydance is becoming more accepted in the arts. People are starting to see that it takes true talent to move like a true bellydancer.

Q: Why do you think each is beneficial?

A: Massage has so many benefits, I cannot even try to name them all. [It] helps circulation, boosts the immune system, promotes relaxation, decreases depression and anxiety, relieves muscle tension, encourages muscle strengthening, relieves stress.

Yoga and massage go great together. They have some of the same benefits. Yoga promotes self-awareness, increases flexibility, increases core strengthening, regulates breath, helps promote movement of all joints.

Bellydancing encourages self-confidence, promotes a sense of feminine beauty, strengthens the core and gives an hourglass shape to the body.

Q: How did Stargardt disease affect you as a child?

A: Of course I have had to overcome obstacles, but this never stopped me from doing what I needed or wanted to do. I was raised by very smart and caring parents. They never treated me like I was disabled. I was treated just like my brother, who does not have the disorder. They never allowed me to make excuses. I had the same responsibilities as everyone else. They encouraged me to participate in anything that interested me. I have danced my whole life; I played softball and soccer; I was in the Soddy-Daisy and UTC marching band color guards. I did all of this because my parents told me I could do anything I put my mind to. They also told me it would be difficult, but all the hard work I put into everything just made it more wonderful.

about Karen Nazor Hill...

Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...

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