Ganesh Has Many Titles

{Winner Essay of The Yoga Diaries / Rebelle Society contest:
Did Yoga Transform Your Life?}

 

Name: Terry Schifferns
Location: Gibbon, Nebraska, USA
Occupation: Writing Instructor

Ganesh has many titles: The God of Beginnings, The Remover of Obstacles, The Lord of Thresholds, Ekadanta or Bowing to the Truth. Ganesh is never far from Mooshak, his companion the mouse. The mouse has been my totem animal for the last 20 years. But that is a different story. This is the story of Ganesh or when you are ready the teacher appears.Ganesha2009 was a difficult year for me. The year began with my blood pressure spiking and debilitating dizzy spells, a headache that lasted a month, and endless doctor appointments for endless tests, which would later (much later) be diagnosed as six TIAs, Transient Ischemic Attacks (mini strokes). On March 1st my longtime best friend Cher died and my mother died unexpectedly on April 4th. I cried a lot. I went to work like a remote control robot. I graded papers. I went to more doctor appointments. At home, I cried in the shower. I cried at night. I cried when I watched commercials on TV. I cried when I sorted through the medical bills. But I went to work every day.

I had started yoga just a year earlier. So I went to yoga. Every week I went to yoga. Every week I’d set my intention, and every week I’d end up crumpled on my yoga mat in child’s pose weeping. My yoga teacher and companions were kind and compassionate. I made it to the last day of my teaching semester, and I cried for a week straight. I went to yoga twice a week that summer. I read Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. In the story, the main character visits a therapist who has a statue on her desk of Ganesh, “Remover of Obstacles,” “Destroyer of Sorrows.”

I remember thinking about how much I needed my own Destroyer of Sorrows.

That week I walked into yoga, unrolled my mat in the same place I’d been unrolling my mat all summer, and there beside me on the wall was the same tapestry I had been weeping beneath all summer, a tapestry of an elephant with a small mouse at his feet—Ganesh. All summer Ganesh, The Destroyer of Sorrows, The Destroyer of Obstacles, The Lord of Thresholds had been right there beside me, transforming me. That was when I first believed that yoga was the path to my new beginning.

Terry SchiffernsTerry Schifferns teaches writing at Central Community College in Nebraska. Look for her smack dab at the bottom of the Platte’s big bend in the middle of Nebraska dancing with Sandhill cranes each spring.

 

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Follow The Yoga Diaries on Facebook here.

The Yoga Diaries – the Book!

Final book simulationSix years ago I was living in Los Angeles during the darkest time of my life. In an act of desperation, I walked into a yoga studio. That single act changed the entire course of my life. Over the years that followed, the yoga practice proceeded to transform my mind, body, and spirit, on every level. Profound healing occurred. Forces aligned. Synchronicity abounded. Soul brothers and sisters showed up on the same path, and I began to witness powerful transformations occurring all around me. I quickly began to see the undeniable– that yoga changes lives; that yoga has the power to heal so much human pain and suffering; that yoga brings magical connection and serendipity into our lives. I knew this was a message that I needed to spread. I knew that I needed to help others to heal and transform their own lives. I knew this was my mission. And so began a labor of love …

I am so thrilled to announce the publication of The Yoga Diaries. The Yoga Diaries brings together 30 diverse yogis, of all ages and from all walks of life, to share their stories of transformation through yoga: stories of physical and emotional healing; stories of overcoming great adversity; stories of finding one’s true purpose; stories of breathtaking, alchemical soul transformations.

The personal and inspiring stories of the brave yogis within these pages will convince you that yoga is a practice for anyone … for everyone.

Available now on Amazon.

I am immensely proud of and thankful for these brave spiritual warriors for having the courage to share their beautiful stories: B Grace Bullock, Jean Merlen, Gitte Lindgaard, Katherine Girotti, Sara Curry, Barry Hurchalla, Elizabite McGlinchey, Alexander Litvak, Alli Banks, Amber Shumake, Maiga Milbourne, Rachel Wolfe, Bridget Boland, Heather Mitchell Jefferson, Erin Lee, Colleen Millen, Desiree Rumbaugh, Rebecca Butler, Julie Peoples-Clark, Natalia Chaparro, J Brown Yoga, Krissie Penney, Ina Sahaja, Paulina Julián Colin, Nick Montoya, Ashley Herzberger, Candice Garrett, Bridget Lyons, Dagmar Spremberg.

May their stories and their inner light shine out and inspire people all over the world!

And may you be inspired to begin your own journeys towards healing …

 

Cover design by Gibran Julian.

Learning to Become a Vessel

Name: Kim Stanley
Location: Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

During teacher training we were taught that we need to be a vessel for our students. Our teacher guided us through this process and the group did quite a bit of self exploration and cleansing. These exercises were specifically designed to clear out some of our own baggage and free up some space. You can’t be a vessel when you are full of your own crap, right? Practicing forgiveness, laughing, crying, and maybe a little screaming are all great preparation for new teachers.

When we accept this immense responsibility to teach others the practice of yoga, we need to be prepared for our class to bring in anything and everything: failed relationships, body issues, past or present abuse, all the garbage that we humans try to compost into our darkest places and hope that it will slowly decompose. Instead, it usually simmers just under the surface and sometimes, an intense practice gives it just the extra heat it needs to boil over. With all of this barely contained energy in the room, teachers have to be ready to catch the overflow. If we are constantly spewing out our own drama, we may not be prepared to bring in and hold still, what our students may need to release.

Fortunately for me, my particular teacher felt very strongly about our role as vessel and I had tried to listen intently as she described to us what we might have to do. However, I had never actually experienced this phenomenon for myself until last week and I was not as prepared as I had thought…

One of our students, someone I have known for a couple of years, showed up at a class I was subbing and appeared to be a little out of sorts. When I asked her how she was doing before class I was totally unprepared for her answer. She very simply and quietly told me that they had lost their child the day before. As you can imagine my heart dropped to the floor; I felt dizzy; my hands went to my face; time stoppedall of the normal human reactions to horrifying news. Once the room stopped spinning and came back into focus I thought, “Hey, this is not your pain; buck up and be here for this person!”

I don’t know how but she managed to keep it together with just a small tremble in her lip. We hugged and while I was holding her I tried to will my energy to take on some magical power to just envelop her like an opiate. But unfortunately I don’t have that or any magical power.

During class I was consumed with how I should act with this student in the room. My heart was breaking for her and on top of queuing poses, I was concerned that I would say the wrong thing and cause her to burst into tears. About mid-way through our practice, that word “vessel” finally floated into my swirling thoughts and I tried to convince myself that I was being one. I knew I needed to empty out some space to allow her room to do what she needed but I was still holding on to my own junk. I had to get rid of the idea that I had to come up with the perfect words to soothe her, or bring in the perfect pose to somehow release her pain in a physical way. I just needed to be a vessel. A container. A safe place for her to do whatever it was she needed without my own dirt, my desire to be the hero, muddying up the water.

The good newswe made it through class with neither of us having a complete breakdown; maybe a few slowly released tears and some deeper than usual sighs. The bad newsI will still struggling with making this all about me. I wanted to come up with the gesture or words of wisdom after class that would fix the problem; as if it were something that could be fixed. As I am still far from enlightenment, I tend to manipulate every event to answer the question, “how does this affect me?” But I knew, in my thinking brain, that this was definitely not about me. How did I get my heart and my gut, the non-analytical parts, to get on board? This was about a fellow yogi, friend, human suffering an unbearable loss and if I was going to help at all I needed to stop trying to be the superstar. I do not posses mystical powers of healing or clever words that answer the mysteries of life. The only skill I possess is to hold some space free and clear for my students to feel safe. That role as vessel had to trump my thinking brain’s need to save the day.

I let the student divulge as many of the details as she wanted to and tried not to press her for facts. Again, be a vessel Kim, not a siphon… She told me her family had been at the hospital all week, apparently their ordeal had gone on for a few days. After so many hours of crying and sitting in a hospital waiting room feeling totally helpless to help the one person for whom she felt totally responsible, she needed to just come to yoga. She didn’t want to go home and sit anymore. She wanted to take some deep breaths and stretch her tired body. And she knew she could come here. She knew that she would find support, a few words to calm her spinning mind, maybe a few hugs, maybe a dimly lit room with quiet peaceful music. Whatever she was looking for, she felt she could get it here.

With that I started to think about what an amazing place this is! This studio, this larger vessel, is apparently so safe and so comforting that people who have had the worst thing in the world happen to them feel okay to enter and are even drawn to be here. How incredible that this studio, and others like it all around the world, have become a haven where you can take a few breaths even after your very worst day.

The yoga community is what makes this place sacred and inviting. We are doing our small part with our little lives, in our little town, to connect to the bigger world energy. For just a brief moment, every day, we move beyond the individuals that make up this group and became something larger, that thing that is closer to yoga. We make a tiny step toward getting rid of the duality that we insist is part of our human condition and instead, share ourselves through vulnerability; maybe, in this instance, vulnerability in the knowledge that one day this could very likely be us. Tragic things happen all the time. We don’t know what’s coming next but man, it feels a tiny bit better to think that we have a vessel; a safe comforting home-away-from-home to come to if we need it.

Life is beautiful picAfter the class, I was speaking to another teacher about what had happened to our friend and we were both amazed at the student’s poise and level of control. I mean, she was clearly shaken to her core but she was still, for the most part, keeping it together. As parents, we imagined we would both be sobbing, heaving messes unable to speak to anyone let alone attend a yoga class.

Later that week the student shared with me a phrase that someone had said to her at the showing. She said, “It will never be the same but it will get better.” She jokingly added, “I want it to get better now.” We chuckled and I knew that I was witness again to what a truly strong, brave, beautiful person she is and that as usual, the student had taught the teacher. I hoped that I could continue to grow and learn to work on becoming a true vessel and that in time, I too, will get better.

Kim StanleyAfter 12 years as a student, Kim finds the most beautiful thing about yoga to be its adaptability to everyone. No matter your age, physical ability or state of mind, you can be a part of something awesome. Kim completed her 200 RYT from Pranayoga School of Yoga and Holistic Health and is working towards her ERYT. In 2012 she took a leap of faith and left a well paying, but soul sucking job as a software project manager to follow her passion and teach full-time. Yin Yoga is her true love but she also really digs Heated Prana Flow classes. She has a B.S. in Organizational Leadership and lives in Fort Wayne with her very understanding husband, two gifted children, two old dogs and two crazy cats. You can find her teaching schedule at kimstanleyyoga.com or yap about yoga with her on facebook.com/KimStanleyYoga or twitter @kimstanleyyoga.

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Follow The Yoga Diaries on Facebook here.

 

Former Infantry Marine Finds Peace in Yoga

Name: Alexander Litvak
Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher and Founder of Namaste Warrior Yoga

Alexander Litvak MarineLiterally in the same month that I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, in September 2001, my body came undone. I was physically broken from multiple injuries suffered from years of punishing Marine infantry training, always pressing my body to its limits and beyond. I further compounded my injuries with additional trauma from my beloved hobbies of body-building and running. These sports, plus rigorous military training, had left me dealing with a badly dislocated shoulder and chronic muscle knots in my neck and the muscles running along the right side of my spine and scapula. With time, unbeknownst to me, the cartilage in both of my knees was worn out as well. By the time I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I was in urgent need of surgery for three major joints of my body and no amount of physical therapy was going to bring back the quality of life I enjoyed back when I was a healthy Marine.

I remember complaining bitterly to the head of the orthopedics department at the Veterans Hospital, about all of my various problems and my struggles to find a way out of my predicament. I was on heavy joint pain medication at the time and unable to participate in any athletic activity – I was only 21 years old. The doctor, after hearing me out, in response suggested I try ‘power walking’ as form of daily exercise. POWER WALKING?!!!! This is what my life had been reduced to?!

When the news hit me, for a long time I was depressed and disillusioned with life. I could not come to terms with being disabled to such an extent. I didn’t want to hear that I had to give up all the sports I loved: bodybuilding, swimming, snowboarding, bike riding, etc….and assume the role of a disabled person. As far as I knew, life was over; power walking could not deliver me into the freedom that a healthy, young, adult male should enjoy at my age.

Luckily, I had become a resilient person, determined not to give up on myself. The Marines taught me that. I decided to seek medical advice elsewhere and to find ways to improve my health, no matter what. With post-military medical insurance, I started physical therapy and sought out other medical opinions, settling on taking the risk of going through a series of reconstructive surgeries. The procedures offered some relief, but I developed arthritis in both knees and the shoulder and I still had trouble going to the gym, lifting heavy weights or engaging in any other sport with repetitive motions, as they caused me tremendous discomfort, including chronic pain and swelling in the affected joints.

This struggle to get back into shape and live pain free went on for four long years. I felt like I was never going to get back to looking and feeling good again. Slowly, my hope waned and I lost my motivation to find the answer to personal fitness; I gained weight and tried to find solace in other areas of my life. That is until one day when a friend recommended that I try a beginner’s yoga class. When I first started practicing, I noticed drastic, immediate pain relief in the arthritic joints, and less inflammation from the workouts, something that was a problem with all of my other sports. The yoga postures (asana) left me feeling stronger and more self-empowered, and the tendons and ligaments which had tightened during my period of inactivity began to loosen up and became toned and more pliant. I was starting to lose the fat and build muscle again, and specifically those muscles which supported and helped to stabilize my damaged joints, thus decreasing my pain. I felt stronger and more enthusiastic each time that I practiced, which I was doing 2-3 times per week.

Alexander LitvakAfter a couple of years, with the help of a private yoga instructor, I was able to strengthen the damaged parts of my body and I was able to resume some of the other sports that I had so missed and craved. I also noticed the stress-relieving benefits associated with a yoga practice; the calmness I felt deep in my soul, the centering, and the increased energy I felt after each new class. Furthermore, as I stayed with my practice, I learned that yoga was an ancient Indian science with an unparalleled variety of postures, self-healing techniques, and a spiritual practice for self-realization and enlightenment. I had learned effective stress relief and had achieved a lightness of being from the varied breath control (pranayama) practice. That, coupled with the art of alignment in postures and the yoga philosophy of life all intrigued me, and soon I was hooked on the entire system – the Ashtanga Yoga system, and the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

As the years went on, I immersed myself in the yogic studies; in classroom, through books, DVDs, workshops, and retreats – I loved it all! As my practiced excelled and I became more advanced, I felt it was time to share my yogic knowledge and secrets learned, signing up for my first teacher training at Yoga to the People in Manhattan, New York in June 2010. My next teacher training was in 2012, and took me to an exotic island of Koh Samui, Thailand to Vikasa Yoga, where for a month we trained outside in sweltering 90-degree heat, every day, for up to five hours per day. Since that time I have continued to study and continue to seek out and study with living yoga masters, gurus and teachers; learning their methods and techniques to stay current, and to evolve my own understanding and practice of what is ‘yoga.’

My body may never be 100%, and from time to time I still have to visit physical therapists for maintenance. And I still feel pain following a long practice or sport activity, which is of course inevitable considering the extent of my injuries. Yoga is not magic; but it is a science, and armed with its techniques I now have the tools which help me to enjoy the highest possible quality of life. Additionally, I have learned to express myself through my practice and I have found peace and self-comfort. And there could be nothing more satisfying than reclaiming control of your life…. and keeping it.

Alexander Litvak mermaidAlexander Litvak is a former Infantry Marine, who left his military service with a series of chronic injuries and little hope of ever being able to enjoy the sports he loved. But then his discovery of yoga led him to not only healing his injuries, but to finding inner peace and calm. Now a yoga teacher and founder of Namaste Warrior Yoga, Alex’s classes are informative, humorous, and draw on the Hatha Vinyasa Yoga tradition, with focus on alignment, understanding of the pose, and attention to deep breathing and concentration. Alex’s goal in every yoga class is to help his students to feel safe while discovering their own true potential and the power of yoga. He wishes to impart the knowledge and wisdom that has helped him so immensely in his own recovery and journey through life. Follow Alex on Facebook here.

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries™ wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Find The Yoga Diaries™ on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TheYogaDiaries.

Yoga and Heart

Name: Steve Abel
Location: Louisville, Colorado, USA
Occupation: Senior Technical Writer and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT)

“Your next heart attack will be your last.”

Drugged stupor, lying in a hospital bed – still, I heard that.

And I wanted to scream, “NO!”

But, I didn’t.

Quiet – I learned to be quiet.

“We need to operate – you may only have two or three more years unless we operate, ” Delivered in the professional doctor voice.

Of course, if that is the choice.

And, the picture changed.

An afternoon of heart surgery, doctors swearing, drugs making me float.

And, the picture changed.

Stent out of the groin, finally; still pain in the leg and the back, and then:

“You are lucky – you have collaterals. Only about 30% of heart patients do, you grew your own bypass. And you are too healthy for bypass surgery. So – lose the weight, start a regular exercise program, take the meds, manage your stress. And come back in five years. You should have five years. And we will have better tools, we will do the surgery again, we will fix you up.”

I leave the hospital, with five years at least.

I am numb, sick, depressed, and- I go back to work. I have to work. I have to take care of my family: three children, wife, and… I will not relive grandfather’s story.

I know how bitter children can be when growing up without a father.

I know my Dad.

So I start cardiac rehab: exercise, diet change. One other patient there, my age, 34; my buddy in rehab, so young, to be so sick — but — I am.

And thank God for nurses, for priests, and for a priest that pushed me into therapy. Because although the the heart disease lived in the heart –  it began in the mind.

Depression, repressed anger, anger turned inward, grief, fear, loss – loss of who I was, and – I was not happy there.

Working, always working, never enough money for the family, never good enough for the job – I can do more, I can take on more, and then — I cannot.

Now — the — work — is — to — heal — this — disease.

I — HAVE — to — HEAL. So – I start more work, now on me, and

The picture changed.

Reversing Heart Disease, by Dr. Dean Ornish – a book of hope: Low fat diet, exercise, yoga, and support for the emotional journey.

And she listens, my therapist. The first time, the FIRST TIME in my life, that I felt heard, that I felt cared about- warmth of an embrace without touch.

And she says, “You need to take care of yourself, to continue to take care of others.”

And that carries me a while longer. For – if I care for you, will you care for me?

Of course, it does not work that way, sometimes. Perhaps – ever. Perhaps…

So what does taking care of myself involve? And – there is this yoga, maybe a teacher can help me with the shoulder pain, the back pain, the hip pain, the …. pain. And I go for a few lessons, and I learn. No, I begin to learn

To breathe.

And – I take breath into my fervent prayer – Just let me live until my youngest gets out of high school.

So – my children kept me alive, you see. The therapist’s question, as we were talking about suicide, “Is there anything you care about? You really, really care about?”

Yes – my children. My children saved my life – and — I breathe.

And I practice, a few poses — for years. And — I begin — meditation.

Stress relief — and — more…….

Steve Abel sunsetFor me, blessedly more. I am reaching up and out, on my knees, and

A touch comes, a taste of the infinite, and

The picture changes.

Pushed into exploration for ministry, the question “Priest or deacon?” And I frustrated my priest – I could not, would not choose…Until four years later, a new priest, and he says, “Your first ministry is to your family.”

And – I go with that, to serve family.

You give to children with no expectation of return, as father – hah – and even more as grandfather.

And – the picture changes.

Dean Ornish workshop, 15 years later: instead of doctors scoffing now, I have become mainstream: Yoga, restorative yoga, every day for a week, and I am hooked. First time, easing the back pain, easing the hip pain, easing the shoulder pain…

I am hooked.

What can yoga offer? I begin to read, and seek a yoga therapist, and

The Secret Power of Yoga, by Nischala Devi, and

I go deeper.

And – the picture changes.

I touch – new joy, new insight, new frames of seeing, of thinking, of moving.

And – perhaps – I should explore teaching? Share this, with other cardiac patients. But I am not flexible, I am not strong, I am not….. And, a yoga therapist’s words —- “You have the heart for it.”

And — I begin, and stop, life interrupts forcefully, and then – begin again.

Dad is gone. I may not have much more time.

And – complete teacher training, in tears, with tears, and — I am getting stronger.

And

I have a teacher in me.

Needs practice, just keep

Practicing

Keep showing up, and

See – where it will lead.

The journey – is finally – starting to get

Exciting.

I am glad to be here

Now.

Just here, just now

Is enough.

Breathe.

The picture changes.

Yoga – is the uniting of consciousness in the heart.

Breathe.

Steve Abel bioSteve Abel began his yoga journey with a commitment to ahimsa and Ishvara Pranidhana in his teens, although he would not have used those terms at that time. The next big step was his diagnosis of stable angina and severe coronary artery disease in 1988. That began a healing journey with yoga, starting with a few restorative poses from his first teacher, and breathing and meditation, practiced for 15 years. The journey deepened further with guided practice for a week (2 restorative classes a day) and a layoff in 2003. That led to a move and a new teacher, and she led him to the sutras (The Secret Power of Yoga, by Nischala Devi). Steve began teacher training in 2007 and completed a 200-hour program in December of 2012. His list of teachers on this journey continues to grow, and he is grateful to them all. Steve now teaches restorative classes and just completed training in the Yoga of the Heart program. His intention is to work with cardiac patients and others dealing with serious illness; to share the love, joy, and peace that he has found through regular, sustained yoga practice.

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries™ wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Find The Yoga Diaries™ on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TheYogaDiaries.

Finding Balance After a Stroke

Name: Barry Hurchalla
Location: Florida Treasure Coast
Occupation: Retired auctioneer and antique dealer

Barry Hurchalla Warrior 2My story began in 2009. I was 65, recently retired, and in good health – until I wasn’t. I was always a ‘sometimes’ runner, biker, hiker, and tennis player, but I started to notice my belly expanding. No, not a beer gut; turns out it was fluid accumulation from my liver not working the way it should. It was a genetic thing. I won the lottery: Two mutant genes triggering a protein deficiency. Goodbye, liver!

I’ll skip the details about my long illness and resulting surgery, but I have to call out the wonderful doctors and nurses at New York Presbyterian Hospital. They wouldn’t let me die, in spite of the many times I emotionally gave up. I also met a great guy, a Buddhist monk from the Zen Center for Contemplative Care, who helped me keep it all together at the hospital. And of course thanks to you, elderly man in Georgia, for becoming an organ donor.

In December 2009, I set out with my new liver. By that time, I had been in and out of the hospital since October. I spent another three in the hospital and at rehab, thanks to a post-operative stroke. Finally, in February 2010, I was free. My daughter and her husband welcomed me to their home, without a second thought, to recuperate. But I honestly just wanted to die. I weighed 111 pounds (I’m 5’7”), and I had apparently left my muscles at the hospital. I needed a wheelchair to move more than 20 feet. I couldn’t balance properly; I had vertigo just standing up.

After three months of my daughter Stacy’s whole-food cooking (and my Chinese son-in-law’s home-made favorites), I was able to get around with a walker and, on good days, just a cane. I was freezing my ass off up north at Stacy’s home in New Jersey and just wanted to get back home to Florida.

I made it back home in May, still using a walker and a cane. But unfortunately I wasn’t enjoying my “new” life. I’m a widower and I wasn’t able to do the things I most enjoyed to keep myself occupied. I didn’t have the balance to ride a bike, or the visual acuity to drive a car at normal highway speeds. The stroke had thrown something out of whack. Doctors weren’t sure, but suspected a neurological issue has disrupted my vision.

Then Stacy threw out something new to think about. She had been practicing yoga for several years on and off, and thought I should try a class. We went to her local community center for a family yoga class. We left my cane in the car, so as not to alarm the teacher.  I held Stacy’s arm instead, and we made it to the mat.

I managed the mat work without too much of a problem, but could hardly stand – just no balance there. But I enjoyed being able to move again, even in a limited way, and I also enjoyed the camaraderie of the class. Stacy and I went four times, to different studios, during my visit. I had been embarrassed by my physical limitations and because I seemed older than everyone else there, but the teachers I met were so understanding – a nice feeling. Yoga really is for everyone.

Then I saw an ad for a donation yoga class at my county library. I started going weekly and getting stronger. I met a fellow in that class who was 79. Not an exception – just the closest mat. Classes were mixed: about a third younger people, a third maybe 40-55, and a third old farts like me. A woman in that class told me about another class at a church nearby. Two classes in one week – it seemed like a lot at the time, but I was ready to commit to my practice.

Barry Hurchalla camel poseThere I met Dari, my mentor-to-be, who had been practicing yoga for more than 45 years, a vegetarian for more then 35 of them. I thought she was around my age, but it turned out she was 85 incredibly healthy years old. I started to take notice! You can see where this is going. I practiced my yoga, however weak I was, for the next year, twice a week. I continued to grow stronger. Yoga motivated me to improve my diet; I gave up meat and coffee. Once borderline hypertensive, my blood pressure is now well within a normal range, without medication.

It’s now the summer of 2013, and yoga is a huge part of my life. The doctors and nurses at New York Presbyterian saved my life, and yoga makes it worth living. I’m practicing now almost every day at Living Yoga in Vero Beach, Florida, with Elise Mahovlich and her great group of teachers. Yoga may not give me eternal life, but it will let me enjoy the years that I have left. It helps everyone, the once-a-week people and the regulars. I’ve never heard a discouraging word.

When I finally told my teachers about my medical history, they were amazed at how much I can do. And people who know me have told me how much they’ve noticed changes over the past year – even those who knew nothing about my illness. My doctors feel the same way; my primary physician said, “I’ve never prescribed yoga, but it seems like it’s working for you.”

My balance has greatly improved. The cane is long gone. I can even do bakasana – for 10 seconds, but still – and am working on headstand (salamba sirsasana). I’m considering teacher training next year, to help others like myself who need a hand in healing. Maybe you’re also ill, or overweight, or just getting older – just know that yoga is for you. It’s waiting for you.

I might have limited years left in my life, but they’ll be fun ones, thanks to yoga. It was sunny today in Florida. I drove my Can-Am motorcycle to the farmer’s market then went up to the pool for a few hours. I rode my bike. I went to yoga class. Life is good.

Barry motorcycleBarry Hurchalla is a 68-year-old retired auctioneer and antique dealer living on Florida’s East Coast. He moved there a decade ago from a pre-Revolutionary stone home in Pennsylvania, where he made his living selling and auctioning antiques. A dedicated yogi, he also enjoys biking and fishing.

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries™ wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Find The Yoga Diaries™ on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TheYogaDiaries.

“Lyfe” and Breath

Name: Joy (Kathryn) Lanzerotte, MA, LPC
Location: Prescott/Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Occupation: Licensed Integrative Counseling Psychologist, Yoga Teacher, Public Speaker

Joy anjaneasanaTo breathe prana, life force energy, is all you have to do. For me this was apparent when I embarked on my yogic path 23 years ago. Movement follows breath. I ended every yoga class with “all you have to do is breathe.”

Then my breath was taken from me.

Despite being a healthy vegetarian, avid yogi, and holistic health aficionado, I gasped for breath through a persistent cough. It was July, in Phoenix, Arizona- everyone coughs and gasps, right? Under the care of a naturopathic physician, I had a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia.

Upon receiving the results of my x-ray, my doctor advised me, “You have a collapsed lung, a pneumothorax. Go straight to the ER.”

I was told to be prepared to spend the night. I was in danger and was not to drive. What? I was trying to comprehend that my breath was hazardous to my health. I entered the ER and waited. The attending doctor, a surgeon, confirmed that my lung was collapsed and had been for at least two and a half months. There was a jelly covering it and my trachea had shifted. He showed me the x-ray.

“How have you survived gasping for air, coughing, and the pain?” he asked, bewildered.

The pain of a collapsed lung was nothing compared to the pain I endured during the insertion of a chest tube. There was not enough morphine, prayer, or meditation that could allow me to escape the invasion of this foreign object into my body. I kept asking, “How can this be? I am not a smoker. I know how to breathe.”

I was admitted to the hospital, to the surgical floor.

Day 2

The doctor informed me that a black spot was discovered on my lung. I became faint. The doctor grabbed a cold cloth for my head.

I have a collapsed lung with a black spot?!!”

The doctor told me that my body would react with sensitivity to all medical attempts to restore my breath. He also said, “One thing IS certain: you know how to breathe. No one walks around with a collapsed lung for two months.”

A second chest x-ray confirmed the black spot. I required surgery. People live with one lung. But apparently not people like me, as I would always live a compromised life. I was given the following options: 1. Go home with a mini chest tube, 2. Go home, take some time, and return to have a chest tube reinserted, or 3. Have surgery to remove the jelly, and hope the lung inflates.

Day 3

Surgery, a flat lung, no breath, chest tube, dry cough. What is the message? It was my first surgery, a major organ, and I was frightened. Surgery was delayed, increasing my anxiety, which worsened as I gasped for breath.

Day 4

The doctor arrived as he did every day. Then he informed me, “You have Valley Fever. You have had it for some time. It invades your immune system, but your knowing how to breathe has prevented you from facing an unbelievably life-threatening illness. Valley Fever can kill.”

The doctor was right, my entire being reacted negatively to the surgery. If things were not grim enough, my body was swollen like a huge Macy’s balloon. I was enormous. My skin was stretched in every direction and when touched, made the sound of Rice Krispies. The medical staff came to view my body, touching my skin to hear it snap, crackle, and pop.  Guided imagery, chanting, meditation… nothing distracted my mind from the sights, sounds, and pain of this horrific disease.

Day 5

The pulmonary specialist, also amazed at the sight of the flattened lung with the jelly, shared the treatment for my illness. It was similar to chemo drug therapy. It would make me sick, disrupting my digestive system. I wanted to heal naturally. My surgeon encouraged me to try a low dose of morphine to allow my body to rest. He said I was fighting for my life with little, if any, reserve.

The days passed but nothing changed. One nurse took her breaks to visit me, to chant and offer me guided imagery. There were more blood tests and x-rays, but nothing changed.

Day 10

My partner contacted a high priestess/minister, seeking guidance. He saw I was giving up, letting go. Unbeknownst to me, they contacted friends, colleagues, and my global email contacts, to partake in a healing ceremony, which was scheduled in two days.

Day 12

Friday, the day of the ceremony, people gathered in my room. They came in silence, leaving items on my bed and flowers- lots of flowers. Before the one o’clock hour, the high priestess leaned into my space and whispered, “Is there anything you want to say, some thing or someone with whom you want to make amends? Anything you wish you had accomplished or completed in this life?” 

“No,” I responded, “if I were meant to finish my book or dissertation I would have.”

Then she asked, “If you live, what do you want?”

“I want to go to Italy to eat and drink as much as I want.”

At the 13th hour, for 13 minutes, the high priestess asked everyone to assist with breathing the breath of life into my lungs, to be held in the Goddess vessel. She asked them to pray, chant, meditate, or give hands on healing to source their higher power. I sat cross-legged in the center of a bed with handrails, supported by tubes, and the breath and prayers of all gathered in spirit.

Silence embraced the room. I was ready to go, to face death. The light was bright and freeing, I felt seven, innocent. My “lyfework” here on earth was complete. The ceremony ended and I was alone.

Day 13

The next morning, another chest x-ray was ordered. Hope waned, the hospital wanted the bed, and my partner was losing patience. We waited. My surgeon arrived to remove the chest tube. He smiled and said, “You are going home, your lung is re-inflated enough to remove this tube.”

Was it a miracle? Did I die? Was I going to breathe without a device?

YES! At four that afternoon, we left the hospital, my home for 12 days. I was not to drive for two months nor fly for three more.

In October of 2006, a pulmonary specialist discharged me from treatment. He said, “Go and live! Go to Italy, fly a plane, do inversions, handstands, regain your life. You have endured the most serious Valley Fever trauma.”

Joy Lanzerotte by treeNOW

I’ve waited almost 13 years to the day to share this story. I have not wanted to relive any part of it nor the challenges. I continue to teach and practice yoga, emphasizing breath, not just asana. I maintain a life-long commitment to holistic health and wellness and never accepted any medication other than herbs and acupuncture.

I have total respect and deep felt love for my naturopath, my cousin, and surgeon who came to my room every day. I am eternally grateful to my goddess high priestess/minister and to all those who gathered around my bed and universally to breathe life into my body, mind, and soul.

Joy Lanzerotte bioJoy is a licensed counseling psychologist, a former university professor and a yoga teacher for over 2 decades, with 4200 hours of training. She has taught throughout the United States, at numerous health spas, and has been one of the teacher trainers at Avalon Yoga and Art in Palo Alto, CA. She was selected by the Arizona Yoga Association as the featured teacher, 2010. Currently she teaches yoga in Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona and nationally. Find Joy on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LyfeworksByLanzerotte. The business name LYFEWORKS™ was inspired by Joy’s father. Growing up he’d teach her, “Life is work if you live it, but life works if you live it.”  Joy changed the “I” to “Y” because the “Y” represents that YOU are responsible for your choices. 

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries™ wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Find The Yoga Diaries™ on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TheYogaDiaries.

From Postpartum Depression to Yoga

Name: Lindsay Farnworth
Location: Utah, USA
Occupation: Mother

Farnworth and baby17 months ago I gave birth to my first child: a beautiful, blue-eyed little boy with serious eyebrows pulled in toward the bridge of his nose and a scrawny body. As I held him in my arms after a quick but difficult natural birth, I didn’t feel the way I expected. Watching the movies and hearing stories from other women, I thought I would feel this overwhelming attachment and love for my newborn babe. Where was that magic feeling to connect us for eternity?

A few weeks went by and emotions ran high for me. I felt myself tumbling toward a dark chasm and while my fingernails scraped on rock to avoid it, the fall was inevitable, and I found myself tumbling into depression. It wasn’t constant, but every time I felt my feet fall out from under me, I was lost.

And I couldn’t figure out why. My son was healthy. He smiled at me. He knew my voice. He obviously loved me. I loved him too, but it was a love that grew over time. It wasn’t immediate the way everyone says it is.

I learned very quickly that I was experiencing postpartum depression: a very dark, terrible place that I could not escape. I received counseling but refused the meds. Medication is not a bad thing, but I felt this was a journey my soul was crying for me to experience, not to numb.

Every day, I felt the desire to do yoga. I ignored it. Then, a few months into my suffering, I decided I was worth it. I got up early, found a great yoga practice on Hulu, and did it. It was focused on the heartbeat.

My heart felt at peace. The movements were sometimes impossible, especially without a teacher there to help me, but I used the difficulty to challenge myself to be present. I had to focus on where I was at that particular moment. Meditation afterward also brought me to the moment at hand—not thinking about the kitchen that needed to be cleaned or the bottles that needed to be washed. I was just me lying on a sticky mat in the corpse pose, palms facing upward, legs relaxed, feet hanging loosely.

Doing yoga has improved my flexibility. It has made it possible for me to breathe better. Before, I could barely do a moderate hike; this past weekend I hiked twice and only lost my breath once going uphill. My body is changing. Where fat once hung, I can feel muscle peeking through. It is an awesome feeling.

But above all, doing yoga has improved my sense of being. It has healed my broken soul. It’s almost as if yoga and meditation have given me the ability to climb out of the dark chasm and into the blue sky—a sky that matches the color of my son’s eyes. Eyes I adore the way only a mother can.

Lindsay Farnworth yoga matYoga has healed me. The journey is not over yet. In fact, it’s only just begun, but I am getting closer and I will continue to cherish the way the sticky mat embraces my lonely feet.

Lindsay Farnworth bio1Lindsay Farnworth currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She has a degree in Creative Writing, enjoys gourmet food, cooking as well as eating, and is a novice yogi. She is discovering new ways to enjoy life every day on her blog, http://livingromantically.wordpress.com.


Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries™ wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Find The Yoga Diaries™ on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TheYogaDiaries.

A Journey of Remembrance

Name: Natalia Chaparro
Location:
Bogotá, Colombia
Occupation:
Yoga Teacher & Health Coach

Natalia arm balanceThroughout my journey I have encountered amazing teachers, beautiful beings, and challenging situations. Even though at many times it was difficult to perceive, it has all been part of a journey towards my own heart; a path of recognition of the Divine in all of its manifested forms; a process that has been teaching me to dance the full spectrum of life’s rhythms: sometimes joyful, other times melancholic and sad.

Now that I have the chance to reflect on all that has unfolded, I see gratitude arising towards circumstances and people that I used to consider the source of my wounds. I can see that the people and situations that I used to blame were actually the ones who pulled me to this path. Perhaps without the presence of painful experiences I would not have had the need to look for something bigger. “Life shakes us to wake us,” so today I appreciate all of the pain and fear that I experienced in the past.

In order to provide some understanding of how I feel now and the meaning that yoga has in my current life, I will start from the beginning of my story. It could have been different- in the end it does not matter. But my story is yet one more example of what yoga and its magic can do!

When I was born my mother was a flight attendant. She traveled the majority of the time, so I grew up spending most of my time with my father or by myself. I have three brothers and being the only girl I always had a feeling of responsibility: I was clearly the feminine, loving caring figure at home.

Many times I felt (still do) like my mother’s mother, which was somewhat awkward and sometimes difficult. But nevertheless I got used to it and that was how I grew up.

When I was seventeen years old, my parents got divorced. It wasn’t a mutual agreement, nor a peaceful and mature decision. Quite the opposite. To my eyes it seemed a chaotic situation, full of pain, crying, and disrespectful words. At that point I felt like my world was ending. My ground felt shaky and I was really scared! I wanted to be there for both my mother and my father. I felt the need to take care of everyone, except for myself.

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney,

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney,

In reality it probably wasn’t that bad, but at that point my system collapsed. I started having a lot of dark and negative thoughts. For months I spent most of my time sleeping, trying to deny my pain. I remember that I never told my friends or spoke a word to anybody about my feelings. I had a deep desire to die, and my body clearly read the message, so it started executing my orders.

I got very sick. I lost almost 20 pounds and as I would only eat sugar cookies, my pancreas started to fail. I was diagnosed with insulin resistance, which doctors described as a very serious condition. I was so weak that I remember I spent hours lying in my bed, feeling how small I was, how little space I occupied and how much I wanted to completely disappear.

My parents forced me to go to a psychiatrist which didn’t had any impact on me. I just went to listen to her speech without being touched by her words.

One day, one of my aunts, who has been a yogini for a long time, told me about a very nice and wise Swami who was visiting Colombia and she suggested that I meet him. For some reason that I still don’t understand, I agreed and went. I just went with no expectations at all. It was a Kriya Yoga weekend workshop. When I first arrived, the smiling people and the peaceful and joyful ambiance seemed very far from my inner reality. But I stayed anyway.

We did some chanting and a lot of guided pranayama. All of a sudden, something inside of me shifted. It was like a recognition of something, of an inner light. I felt touched by pure love, and for a moment, my sense of isolation and fear vanished. It was as if in my breath, in my silence, and in the pulsation of my heart I could hear the sound of life- the music of creation inviting me to keep being part of it. Everything happened really quickly and I didn’t even have the time to fully process the experience at that moment. I just went back home, but it was evident: something was different. I was seeing everything through a different lens. I suddenly realized that life was beautiful just as it was and that I really wanted to be a part of it.

After that experience I started a very intense and dedicated sadhana (spiritual practice). It was as if my practice was food to my soul. All of the pain, the fear and contraction started to slowly move, allowing me to keep walking with more ease.

My whole system understood that I was safe and so the connections with life became stronger. My insulin resistance improved. Contrary to what I had been told by my doctor, I got well without the use of any medicine other than yoga and healthy food.

In the beginning I thought that yoga would be a solution, some sort of medicine and the answer to all of my questions. Actually I was quite wrong. As one of my teachers says, “yoga does not give any answers, just better questions.” I can actually say that it hasn’t made my process any easier, just more intense and profound.

If you ask me if yoga has changed my life, I would say that not only did it do that, but it continues to do so every day.

Natalia Chaparro hanuman beachEvery time I step onto my mat, there is a new revelation, a new opportunity to experience the embrace of something bigger, the ocean of pure consciousness of which I am part.

My practice is a consistent reminder to embrace life fully- an everyday invitation to be engaged and grounded in the present moment just as it is. It’s not that yoga fixes nor changes my reality. What it shifts is my way of perceiving and being part of that reality. It gives me the tools to face obstacles. What I do on the mat empowers me to take responsibility for myself and most importantly to remember who I really am.

For me, this path of constant awareness has been a journey towards my own true self. Through this journey, I have been able to establish an intimate relationship with every aspect of who I am. My mat has become a sacred space where both my light and shadow get to dance and unfold.

Natalia Chaparro seatedNatalia Chaparro, a native Colombian, began practicing yoga over a decade ago. Her consistent and intensive practice was combined with her veterinary studies, both of which left her motivated by her immense love of animals and her fascination with the magic of the living organism. Upon finishing her veterinary career, she met her yoga teacher B.J. Galvan, who introduced her to the world of Anusara Yoga. Since that time the flow of Grace has brought to her path marvelous beings who have left their mark on her with their powerful teachings. The opportunity to learn and share the light with teachers such as John Friend, Sianna Sherman, Douglas Brooks, Kelly Haas, BJ Galvan y Tulku Tsori Rinpoche, has ignited Natalia’s desire to serve and follow this path of learning. Natalia recently graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and is now working as a women’s nutrition and health coach. She is currently living in California, where she has been studying Tantra with her teacher Laura Amazzone, and completing her 500-hour teacher training with Noah Maze.

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries™ wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Find The Yoga Diaries™ on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TheYogaDiaries.

The Body I was Born With

Name: Sarah Bretton
Location: Portsmouth, United Kingdom
Occupation: College Lecturer

I have danced all of my life. It was rewarding for a while, but my body suffered greatly: I pushed it beyond my limits and forced it into shapes that were in-organic and painful. I was ok at dancing: I managed to get a scholarship to Laban, a contemporary dance school based in London and then won a competition to study at the Martha Graham School in New York, which was an enriching experience. I am ever grateful for the experiences I had at these schools and respect all those who passed on their knowledge to me. However, once I embarked on the professional dance path after my training, I learned that there is a world of anxieties that come with this otherwise beautiful art form.

I found that there is an unspoken law in the dance world, a law that relies on the performer possessing a variety of certain character traits with which I just couldn’t personally connect: a degree of narcissism and arrogance, to be competitively motivated, and there is an ever present jealousy and ego as well as the obvious critical judgment, both internal and external. The emptiness came quite early on for me. I attended an audition where the choreographer wanted to take a Polaroid of our bodies and faces before learning any movement. A decision was made early on about which body types should go and which should stay. Lots of auditions are like this. They don’t tell you this at dance school.

At dance school I was surrounded by a rich variety in body shape: petite ones, curvy ones, short legs, long torsos, willowy bodies and so on…. But in the real dance world? You must look a certain way to even get through the door. My body wasn’t long enough, lean enough, strong enough, thin enough, pretty enough for this or that choreographer, and I started to feel that my body had let me down. I worked hard and tried to get the right kinds of jobs, but rejection is a difficult thing and I punished myself. The negativity that I had experienced was so toxic that my mind and my body fell out of sync and eventually I began to feel a pull away from dance as my mind told my body that it wasn’t good enough.

My sister moved to Nashville, Tennessee ten years ago and I have been visiting since. Through a friend from dance school, I’d heard of a successful yoga teacher, Carly Mountain, who is based here in Sheffield. Carly suggested that when visiting Nashville, I should visit a studio called Steadfast and True Yoga and to look out for the owner, Gillian St. Clair. Walking into the studio, I felt Gillian’s energy as soon as I entered the room, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to dedicate myself to the practice. I didn’t know what the moves were, the language or the etiquette, but I knew that I felt an overwhelming urge to give, to yield to the mat, and to flow with the energy in the room.

At first, I felt a familiar anxiety, which came from my previous dance training; my body is in space and is waiting to be judged on its performance. However, after stepping onto the mat I realized that the anxiety was fading away as Gillian spoke to the group and said, “Today you are going to work with the body you were born with” …and my whole self just relaxed with peaceful relief. After being told for most of my life that my body wasn’t good enough, someone had finally said that my body was ok! And what’s more, we were going to embrace that individuality. During class she reminded us to be honest with our bodies and if it hurts- to rest, to get to know our bodies and learn to listen to what it needs. She encouraged us to let go of yesterday, to not think about next week, and instead to live in the person we are now and focus our bodies and minds into the present moment, in the harmony of the room.

Gillian taught me to let go of past anxieties and heavy unpleasant experiences. I cried that day. When I left the class I was lighter, happier, and clearer than any other day I have had on this planet. Gillian calls herself a renegade in yoga. Most of her body is adorned in edgy, striking tattoos, she plays an eclectic blend of the music she wants to play, she says sometimes you need to cuss, and other times you should sit and discuss. I found that she had a talent to listen carefully to the energy within the room and to read the metaphysical and physical responses from us and adjust her class accordingly. Gillian was there, she was present and at a time of emptiness within me, it meant the whole world.

Sarah Bretton leapingOver the years I have holidayed to Nashville and every time I bring a friend, or more recently my husband, and take them to a class of Gillian’s. Every one of my friends cried their first time! I don’t think Gillian’s desire is to make you cry! But the guidance that she shares is so intimate and personal that afterwards you feel so much clearer, kinder, and the feeling of being connected to something bigger than yourself, a higher plane of existence….. bodies and minds become released of their tension. Gillian definitely has a gift and I feel completely blessed to have been guided by her.

When I returned to the UK I was a little disappointed with the lack of yoga classes available to me in my area. Most of the classes are taught in gyms with no real guidance or spiritual offerings. I would read the yoga verses alone, but my body urged for something more so I purchased Short Forms by David Swenson and committed to practicing every day in my lounge. Kind yogis have uploaded various video demonstrations of Richard Freeman on YouTube and I have enjoyed practicing his style, but I really missed the energy of other people in the room during my practice. Maybe it’s my disciplined background in dance but I felt that I also missed the guidance of a teacher encouraging me and leading me through.

During one class, Gillian came over to my mat to assist my alignment in tripod position and she said “your body wants to go into headstand” and I thought to myself…“ok! Well I shouldn’t let my mind talk my body out of it.” It’s still a bit shaky but when I did it I felt so happy! My mind and my body united and I was totally blissed out.

I think a lot of people might think that dance lends itself well to yoga as there are similarities in terms of body positions. But as all yogis know, it’s not all about the acrobatics. Yoga definitely made me more symmetrical after years of anatomical abuse but what I gained from yoga, which I never got from dance, was the inner balance. I’m not talking about core strength, I’m talking about inner kindness and positivity; telling yourself that you deserve a healthy energetic body and that it is beautiful in every shape you do, whether it’s in savasana or something complex like scorpion. I don’t feel competitive as I did with dance. I don’t feel I need to compare myself. Obviously I would like to be able to hold my headstand for longer but yoga has taught me breath and patience and for the first time, I’m working with the body I was born with and enjoying its evolution every day.

Sarah Bretton headshot

Sarah Bretton is a 33-year old college lecturer who lives in Portsmouth, South East England. Sarah lives with her husband Paul, pet cat Ripley, and beagle Harper. Sarah will be embarking on the FRYOG foundation course in Yoga this September under the guidance of Victoria Bedford.

 

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries™ wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Find The Yoga Diaries™ on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TheYogaDiaries.