From suicide to salvation: How yoga saved a local woman’s life

Special Reports

CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. (NEWS10) — It’s an issue that crosses every line — gender, age, race — and suicide rates have been increasing. But it’s also an issue people are afraid to talk about.

In the wake of tragedy, how do we heal? For Jess Padula, she couldn’t find her way out of the darkness until she committed to something bigger than herself.

Padula stood between her business partners, back to the wall, facing about 40 people who were seated on mats, intently tuned in. 

“We built this here together, not just for each other, but especially for you,” she said, her voice cracking.

The emotion was hard to contain. At times, it seemed like this day would never come: the grand opening of their very own studio, Baptiste Power Yoga Capital District.  She knew in that very moment how far she had come.

More than half her life ago, Padula met her first love. She was 18 years old at the time, and like her boyfriend Dan, she was anxious and depressed.  Two like minds, she confused their codependency with the idea they were “meant to be,” until one day four-and-a-half years later, Dan came home, told her he didn’t love her, and left.  

Jess and Dan at 18 and 20 years old respectively. Young and in love.

Within months, she met Ian, who picked up the pieces of her broken heart with generosity, and pieced them together with a happiness she hadn’t previously known.  They were married, had two baby girls – Olivia and Charlotte – and lived 10 wonderfully stable years together… until she ran into Dan at Starbucks.  

“And that was kind of it.  I left my husband so I could be with him,” she explained. 

Dan was in the Navy and stationed in Illinois.  A life with him meant leaving her daughters behind.  

“Every day I was excited to be with him, but I was just ripped up inside not being with them,” she said as she held back tears.  “It was only a couple of months when I told Dan I have to go home.”

Dan and Jess at the courthouse when they were married in Illinois.

They weren’t breaking up.  He knew that. The now-married couple had moved to Virginia.  They promised each other they’d find a way to make it work.    

“I remember standing there, hugging him in the threshold of our doorway, and saying I love you, and telling him he was going to have to shove me out the door because I didn’t want to leave.”  

Two days later, he killed himself. 

“He gave no clues, warning, note, nothing,” she explained. “I love you, I’ll talk to you tomorrow.  That’s it.” That was their last conversation four years ago, before Dan used carbon monoxide to take his life. 

Jess blamed herself.  She spiraled deep into depression, and couldn’t find her way out.

“I thought, if I couldn’t save him with how much I loved him, still love him, then what kind of person could I be for anyone? How could I raise two daughters? How could I teach yoga? How could I be a friend, be an anything when I felt like all of my guts had been taken out of my body and there was no purpose.”

She made a decision: she was going to kill herself too. She planned the day, bought the tools to re-create her late husband’s suicide as best she could, left a long note, and prepared to take her final breaths.

She woke up two days later in the hospital.

At the time, her thought was: “I failed my husband and then I failed at doing something that I set out to do.” She didn’t wake up relieved. She was alive when she didn’t know how to be, and was forced to deal with the fallout of her actions.

In the aftermath, she first made herself live for her kids, mother, and best friend so they wouldn’t be mad. She was resentful and didn’t want to, but eventually she found her path to salvation through teaching yoga.

“There’s just an acceptance of like ‘oh that bad thing happened, and you’re also not that bad thing,’ she described of the Baptiste yoga community, which supported her through the healing process.

She found the same open arms at CrossFit Shatter, and the strength to share her story. At first she needed the release, but now she sees the impact she has.

“It was just sharing a little bit, and people were like ‘Oh my God, me too.” By opening up, especially in the classes she taught, Jess began helping other people navigate their own stresses and struggles.

“Jess pushes me the hardest,” said Lisa Doin, one of Jess’ students. “It’s almost a tough love, like I don’t want to disappoint her.”

Sheryl Campbell feels the same tough love. “She challenges me. She brings out things in me that I don’t want to face.”

The underlying and overarching sentiment is acceptance. Another one of her students, Marisa Keppler said, “She’s taught me that I belong. And she told me that I belonged for so long until I believed it.”

Through open dialogue, generous listening, and teaching the three pillars of Baptiste yoga (be a yes, come from your ready now, and give up what you must), Jess shed the identity of “suicide widow” and discovered a new empowered version of herself.

“It changed my whole life,” she explained. “So if I can offer that to anyone else, I want to do that.”

To help as many people as possible, Jess, Sheryl and their friend Tanya MacLeod opened up their own studio this fall. The purpose of Baptiste Power Yoga Capital District is “to inspire others to be the best version of themselves, cultivate community and belonging through connection, and generate transformation both on and off the mat.”

Jess between her business partners Tanya and Sheryl at the grand opening of Baptiste Power Yoga Capital District.

The grand opening celebration was fully booked, and the response has been nothing but positive since the doors opened. For a full schedule of classes, please visit their website here .

Here’s one more wrinkle. Being part owner means Jess is responsible for one third of the cost to open and run the studio. She wouldn’t have been able to afford had it not been for Dan’s military death benefit. She’s truly turning tragedy into a healing space for herself and others.

Though she continues to wrestle with self-doubt, she also feels the pull of her calling.

“I have found what I believe to be my purpose, and I believe it.”

Her social media accounts are full of inspiring posts, which like the rest of her are authentic and moving. You can find her on Facebook at Jessica Padula and Instagram at jess_padula.

The full one-on-one interview with Jess is below, which dives much deeper into specifics of her story, both as she was spiraling down, and climbing her way out of the darkness. She gave us permission to post in hopes that somebody might need to hear the raw truth.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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