Renegade Health Story of the Month: Shivie Cook

Tuesday Apr 15 | BY |
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After surviving a fire and the 9-11 attack in New York City, Shivie Cook finds new motivation to change her health and her life. Here, she’s taking part in a 585-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money to the AIDS Foundation.

“Nobody said transformation would be easy,” said the butterfly to the caterpillar.

They say insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. I spent the first 30 years of my life wanting to be happy and wanting to be thin. I thought the two were related. I would be happy when I lost weight, I repeatedly told myself, and to lose weight, I just needed to eat less and exercise more.

I kept doing, or not doing, the same thing, and yes, expecting a different result.

One day, I decided that I was tired of doing the same thing and feeling the same way. I had been screaming for months in my journal that I wanted to “get out” of my life, but didn’t know how. I was tired of reading how much I hated myself and was going to change, and then reading the same stuff six months later.

It was my life and even I was getting tired of it!

Hitting Rock Bottom

In my mid 30’s I was a second-year attorney at a big law firm working between London and San Francisco. I was “successful.” Later, I was admitted to practice in the U.K. and New York, earning a six-figure income in the late 90s.

Shivie BeforeYet inside I felt a void. Outside…well, let’s just say my outside did not look the way my insides felt. Looking in the mirror, I didn’t even recognize the person looking back at me. Where had I gone? When did all this happen? How did it happen?

It had been more than 15 years since I last wrote in a journal. One night, feeling so low I didn’t know where to turn, I began writing. I didn’t know what I wanted to say, but soon the words just wrote themselves.

I was alone and crying in my apartment. I had recently returned to San Francisco from London, and within two days, I had collapsed walking home through North Beach. The following day, I was diagnosed with meningitis. It was a dark and lonely time to be far from home and so very sick.

Lying in the dark, alone other than my home nurse for a couple of hours in the morning, I couldn’t shake the feeling that even though this was the life I had trained for, and even though I was good at it, now that I was here, it just didn’t feel right.

Something was missing, but I didn’t know what.

There Had to Be Something More

Law DegreeMy journal became my constant companion. I turned to her when the chips were down or I was feeling low, but didn’t know why. I looked to her to put together the pieces of my puzzle to help me rearrange them in a picture that was more “me.”

I poured myself into her pages, cramped hands racing across the paper. There had to be more to life than this. Even after I knew this to be true, I ran up against my belief that I wasn’t worthy of more. Looking back, I felt I just took one wrong turn—the turn to law school—and now my fate was sealed. Lawyer til I die.

And then I nearly did die. And asleep in my bed no less!

I literally had to almost die in order to learn how to live.

Surviving a Fire and 9-11

It was two days before the World Trade Center came down, but of course we didn’t know that at the time. The phone rang at 6:00 a.m.. Without that call, we would most likely would not have woken up. We never did find out who it was, and can only imagine it was an angel calling.

Racing through the house, I couldn’t find the door. The sound was deafening, like a huge animal roaring a long deep moan in distress.

“I’m going to die,” I thought, “right here, right now.”

Within seconds I was running naked up the street. The flames were leaping out of the front of the house, bringing down power lines that zig-zagged across the pavement, hissing like angry serpents. Slowly, people started to come out and congregate on the street in pajamas and bed hair.

The fire department arrived, 12 trucks in total, along with the press.

Picking Up the Pieces

Though we lost almost everything in the fire, a few things survived, including my Kundalini yoga book that I had bought only the day before; a pair of $500 Gucci shoes, unworn and still intact in their box; a Gucci key ring (I did love me some Gucci back then!); my Buddhist texts and books that were kept separate from my main library; my shrine; and one volume of my journal. The remainder of my writing went up in smoke in books and on laptops and hard drives.

That weekend I had lost a friend in England on Friday. On Saturday, I had my only accident in a friend’s car. On Sunday, my home burned down and nearly took us with it. Monday was pretty uneventful, and on Tuesday, the World Trade Center came down.

All those things I wanted before became a longing for three things—to be happy, to make a difference, and to leave a positive footprint. Having stood and stared death in the face, I was no longer content with getting by or even doing well. Settling for someone else’s version of success was no longer a viable option. I wanted to live and I wanted to do it my way, living, loving, giving back and making a difference.

After that near-death experience, I realized that I could aspire to save money, but I could not aspire to save time. My time was nearly taken away from me, and I had been given a second chance. I was not going to waste it on something that made me feel anything less than happy.

But realizing something and knowing what to do and how to get there are two different matters! I found myself once again turning to my constant companion, my journal. And of course, running up against myself and all my inner gremlins. And feeling very alone.

Rising from the Ashes

The weeks following were some of the most pain-filled days I have had. But here’s something I have learned along the way: In order to rise fully from the ashes, the phoenix must burn.

Sometimes it is in the most intense pain that we dig out the deepest and richest answers. My mantra became, “I am where I need to be in order to go where I need to go.” There was a reason I had walked out of the fire, and it was not to sit in an office with a heavy heart and even heavier workload!

The days and weeks following the fire were long. Staring at piles of deal documents, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of being past caring. I just wanted to see if happiness was possible for me. Why did I survive? What did it mean? Where would I find happiness, if at all? I knew it did not exist in those halls. But was it outside?

On December 31, 2001, I walked out of my life and profession as a corporate lawyer. I left my bags at the door and set off to find happiness, to make a difference and to help others do the same.

I had no idea how I was going to do these things. I was going solely on intuition. My journey since then has been a colorful, poignant and challenging decade. I found out who I was without the six-figure salary and high position, without the high heels, designer labels and power suits.

The Journey to Health

I gave up dieting and going to the gym, along with TV and magazines. During my Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training, I ate a vegan diet of whole foods for 40 days. This was all new to me. I didn’t like vegetables and I had lived on Lean Cuisines when I was dieting. When I wasn’t, I was a McDonald’s-eating, soda-guzzling, hyper-caffeinated, overworked, under-rested lawyer!

I dropped 25 pounds in 40 days and I ate like a horse! After years of depriving myself, I realized that a calorie is not a calorie. One-hundred calories of chocolate and 100 calories of kale deliver a very different nutritional punch. And don’t even get me started on processed foods and what they do. That’s another story!

Simplifying my life, meditating, practicing yoga and eating a clean diet, I found out that inside of me there really was a thinner person waiting to get out. I released more than 65 pounds and have kept that weight off for more than a decade.

As I look back, I can see that it was all about taking care of myself, body, mind AND spirit. We call it “Extraordinary Self Care,” which sounds fancy, but really means learning to ask ourselves, “What do I need at this moment to make myself feel better?”

I had spent decades of my life running around in circles chasing my own tales (a.k.a., my stories of what was or was not possible for me). I was desperately unhappy inside my own body and felt it had betrayed me, morphing over the years into someone I did not recognize.

After the fire, losing weight wasn’t my driving factor. It was living in, and savoring, the moment. With more time on my hands, I loved sweeping my kitchen floor in the morning as the water for my tea boiled. I loved it because I had time to do it, and sweeping the floor is like sweeping the mind—it’s a great daily practice.

I loved walking to the store, under the big blue sky, to get fresh vegetables to make simple stir-fry over rice. Chopping vegetables became my daily meditation. My heart started to ease open as tears from onions fell down my cheeks. The more I tended to my insides, the more my outsides began to look like someone I recognized. More importantly, my outside became someone I could get to like, over time, of course ?.

shivie-bikeI devoured books upon books about body, mind and spirit connections. I tried poi, hula hoop, fire dancing and pole dancing to find a place to start loving this body I had hated for too long. I rode 585 miles from San Francisco to LA twice to raise money to the AIDS Foundation. Prior to that, I had never ridden more than 10 miles.

I taught myself how to cook vegan food and prepare raw food. There was so much to learn and I didn’t have anyone to share it with, but I did have a voracious appetite for information. Doing all of these things made me feel better, and as I felt better, I started making even better choices. As I made better choices, my insides and outsides started to glow. Getting my mind and body healthy and happy became my new daily practice.

All that time I had been preoccupied with advancing my career, looking thinner, finding the right mate, lusting after the latest Jimmy Choos, blah blah, I didn’t realize my foundations were crumbling, I was traveling on shaky ground.

I stumbled into some dark corridors in my inner journey and faced truths I had kept hidden for a lifetime. It was liberating in the most painfully sweet and poignant way. I rebuilt the foundations from the cellar up and worked from the inside out.

It is not a path without its challenges, but then what path is? On the other side of those challenges I found rewards beyond even my wildest dreams. I really never believed I would be truly happy or that true happiness really exists. I never expected to end the lifelong war and tyranny with my body. Now, a happy convert, I want to yell from the rooftops that happiness is possible for you, too.

Today, I live a very different life than the one that led me here. I now know it is never too late to live the way you want to live.

We do not know how long our life is, but we do know we have an expiration date. There is no time like the present to make a change.

* * *

If you have an amazing before & after story you’d like to share, please email us at for details on how to submit.

shivie-ceemaj-2Shivie Cook is a speaker, writer and coach. She counts her near-death experience as one of the greatest gifts she has been given. Wanting more adventure and fun in the second half of her life, Shivie took one brave leap and left her life as a lawyer to find, and practice, happiness. Along the way, she also released 65 pounds and met the love of her life, and partner, Cemaaj. Shivie is currently writing her first book about her journey and works with other women (and a few cool men) to find their motivation and ignite their own One Woman Revolution. Using tools learned from 20 years in the corporate world and 12 years on the other side, Shivie bridges the gap between where you are and where you want to be. Shivie lives on a 10-acre farm in Petaluma with Cemaaj and lots of hummingbirds!

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. I know I have heard the story before but always inspiring Shiv my love <3

    • Shiv says:

      Thank you Louise, I am blessed to have you among my arsenal of friends and supporters, alone we can do so muhc but together we can do so much more. Delighted to walk this path with you. Sending love.

  2. cindi says:

    amazing story…. I think I kinda wonder the same things sometimes….. I nearly died twice now so I know life is fragile…. I want to be happy .. help others and be healthy too….I just restarted … again…. on a healthy eating path and hope this time I will see it thru…. to cure myself…. and maybe then I will find my calling…. ty for sharing… and I wish Shivie and her family all health and happiness…. wonderful when u can help others… and a big ty to u Kev and Annmarie too…. for all that u do!

    • Shiv says:

      Wow Cindi, it sounds like you have the quite the story, and wishing you all the success with your goals, it definitely sounds like you are here for a reason, powerful stuff. Thank you so much for your comment and I do hope you will join us over on FaceBook so we can stay in touch and see your transformation. It is never too late to start living the life we desire and yes we may fall down (it truly is part of the process0 but all that matters is how we get up-fall down7 get up 7 as the proverb says :). Keep getting up and sending love.

  3. Susan says:

    Thank you for this remarkable story, it certainly lifts the spirit and inspires you to take that leap of faith and discover what makes you happy. What an incredible woman, thank you for your story.

    • Shiv says:

      Dear Susan, thank you so much for reading, knowing that sharing my story has the potential to spark a flame of inspiration in another is what I left my life as a lawyer for.

      Life is too short to not decide to make the most of it (and then to take the sucky days as they will happen, life is like that isn’t it?).

      Thank you for leaving a comment, it is a strange world when you write out to the ether and are not sure who is out there, *breathes deeply and smile* I am not alone :). Much love to you and may inspiration be a daily spark.
      Would love for you to join us on FaceBook at

  4. Diane says:

    What a journey and such an incredible story plus very happy ending! Thank you sooooo much for sharing.

    • Shiv says:

      Hello Diane, thank you so very much for reading and stopping by to leave a comment, it real can feel like a ver vulnerable share and one can never be sure how it is received, ahh that is where i have to let it go and i do but it is still lovely to see someone is touched enough to say hi. Melts my heart every time, thank you and sending you love.
      Would love to see you over on FaceBook is you would like to stay in touch

  5. Gail Freeman says:

    Shivie’s story is amazing. Just shows the power of happiness, love of oneself and understanding. For everyone reading this, you can do it too. My story is different but I have done it too and also cured diabetes using no drugs as I am allergic to them. Loving yourself is the key but no easy fixes it takes hard work and dedication and it is worth every step that you take towards the goal.

    • Shiv says:

      Thank you so much Gail, nothing I love more than hearing someone else’s turnaround story, congrats on curing diabetes, it can be done but like you said it’s not always easy. We always say small steps, consistently, over time-thank you so much for sharing your triumph, and I agree ti is never too late to start loving ourselves a little more. Thanks you for stopping by and leaving comment love, I do so appreciate every word :).
      If you would like to stay in touch do join us over on FaceBook at

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