I Was Completely Unprepared for Cancer

Name: Esther Sadie Brandon, M.S.Ed.
Location: Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA
Occupation: Education Consultant

breast-cancer-survivorI am now a breast cancer survivor. In early spring 2015, I was diagnosed with an early-stage carcinoma that was surgically removed. After surgery I had a course of radiation treatments. This was not a journey I would have chosen, but it has brought me gifts. During this time of diagnosis, treatment, and healing, practicing mindfulness and yoga has offered me a container to lean into and, at times, a container to surrender to.

In late April during the first days after the diagnosis, the words of Rabbi Alan Lew came to me during a sitting meditation: “This is real and you are completely unprepared.” They’re from the title of his book, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation. Rabbi Lew’s writings drew on stores of Jewish wisdom, as well as a profound psychological awareness borne of his work as a spiritual leader and counselor.

Rabbi Lew’s phrase, “completely unprepared,” really strikes a deep chord. It names something deep and pervasive in the human psyche. Although we’re not often in touch with this feeling, deep down we all feel unprepared. If we look at our lives honestly, the events that really shape us, that really make us who we are, are the events we didn’t prepare for, or we couldn’t prepare for: a serious illness, the loss of a loved one, the failure of a relationship—these are the things that really shape our lives.

So, what do you do? What is the next step forward? From a mindfulness perspective, a way to respond to life, including those moments when we feel “completely unprepared” is to simply take slow, deep breaths.

I have had a yoga practice for some 30 years. Through that, and through my work in teacher preparation, I began learning about and using mindfulness practices in my life. In yoga practice, for example, simple forward bends both standing and seated can be calming. During this traumatic time when waves of fear would arise, I would feel distracted and not easily able to focus. Practicing simple forward bends and reminding myself to breath would begin to settle my mind and body and the fears would begin to pass, giving me some space.


Photo attributed to Flickr user: tarnalberry

Many moments followed when constructive choices and decisions needed to be made, and I would feel overwhelmed, almost as if I was underwater and not quite able to reach the surface. In those moments, sitting and following my breath would help me come to the surface. I could imagine my activated amygdala coming to quiet, and soothing energy being sent to my prefrontal cortex, calming my body and helping me to begin to think and make decisions. When I felt clear and more able to hear my own voice, I would gather myself to take the next step.

In my yoga practice, the following simple intentions have informed my practice: move into the pose, be in the pose and reflect on any thoughts or sensations coming up, and then surrender as you hold the pose—and then, with grace, repeating the cycle, using the tool of repetition to quiet any distracting thoughts and to give room for any strong sensations to ease. These intentions were helpful to me in managing the appointments with doctors, undergoing the surgery, completing a course of eight weeks of daily radiation treatments, and now healing. Sitting in a chair waiting for an appointment or for treatment, I would take slow intentional breaths, moving into a seated posture with my feet firmly on the floor, my back straight, my belly soft, creating space for my breath. I would notice any sensations in my body, if my heart was beating quickly or my stomach was churning. I would notice if my mind was jumping from thought to thought. I would breathe in and out and would notice the feelings, sensations, or thoughts settling like waves gently breaking on the shore.

I am now more easily able to mindfully feel both the difficult and the pleasant emotions of this journey: the uncertainty, the worries and the fear, the relief as I recover, the acceptance of a new normal, and noticing my strength and resilience—each informing the other. Writing about it now I see that having experienced cancer brought with it some gifts: a new sense of integration, a new sense of knowing myself, grounded in the present, with hope for the future.

Story appeared in Lion’s Roar, April 2016.

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Esther Brandon has practiced yoga and mindfulness meditation for 35 years. After retiring from Lesley University in 2012, Esther completed the Yoga 4 Classrooms® Licensure Program for Trainers, and she is in training to become a CARE (Cultivating Awareness and Resilience in Education) facilitator. She has begun presenting an introduction to CARE for the Yoga 4 Classrooms IMPLEMENT™ Leader Training program focused on empowering schools to use teaming and in-school leaders to sustainably integrate yoga and mindfulness school wide.


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What Matters Most

Name: Lindsey Porter
Location: Falkirk, Scotland
Occupation: Yoga business owner

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I used to be a modern-day, career-driven, busy, multi-tasking mum. I still am. The difference is this: I’ve redirected my driving force from delivering million-pound projects for banking institutions to delivering yoga sessions, wellbeing retreats and supporting local charities. And I’m doing it in the best way I know how: with passion, commitment, a good dose of curiosity and a mantra of “I can only ask.”

I’ve spent a lifetime picking up “other” skills alongside white-collar professional ones. I just never knew how these mismatched pieces of a jigsaw puzzle would somehow lock together one day.

At 27, taking some time out after Graduate training and working for a bank in the city, Reiki healing found me in a timely fashion whilst travelling around South America. It was following an unpleasant incident in Chile, I came across a Reiki-healing initiation course in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia – it was meant to be!

At 33, between leaving Canada and the American bank I was working for and moving to Scotland to join another, I deepened my yoga practice and immersed myself in learning about yoga instruction in Rishikesh, India with Yogrishi Vishvketu, Himalayan Yoga Master and Co-founder of Akhanda Yoga. It was here my yogic name, Asha Jhoti, was given to me which translates to: Light of Hope.

After spending nine years loving and learning about NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) coaching and communication techniques, having children and working that mythical corporate “4-day week,” I made the difficult and brave decision to make some changes at age 42. It boiled down to these 3 things:

  • Stopping – this was the toughest step, to stop what I was doing, reflect and recognise reoccurring patterns that were no longer fitting with my values and beliefs of where I was at, where I want to be and who I am. Some deep stuff.
  • Starting – knowing what you don’t want is good. Knowing in what direction you do want to step forward is a journey of discovery.
  • Exploring – going beyond the known, the comfortable and enjoying the process as new paths unfold. Change included some necessary, meaty adjustments to our lifestyle particularly on the financial front – which were not to be taken lightly.

Now in 2016, my life is evolving through my commitment to yoga in a multitude of new and exciting ways. Yoga for me is becoming a much broader union of the mind, body and breath, I feel my “light of hope” is helping others and it feels good.

In January this year, I decided to take my yoga to new places. I set a challenge to get myself out of the damp Scottish winter slump. Every day in January, I took my yoga into the community and visited a different place of interest around Falkirk, performed a yoga pose and posted the picture to my Facebook site along with some facts about the sight, its history, the pose and its benefits. Local interest and support quickly grew and after the Falkirk Herald ran an article on it, an opportunity for a new challenge shortly followed.

Lindsey Natrajasana Kelpies.jpgAs part of International Earth Hour celebrations in March, I lead 130 curious people into a Guinness Book of Records attempt performing Tree Pose at the iconic Kelpies, Falkirk – the largest equine sculptures in the world (pictured here). The record is in the process of being verified.

This spring has seen a lot of new growth. Firstly I became an ambassador for the ethical and eco-friendly Asquith active wear brand. I then successfully designed and co-hosted my first Wellbeing Retreat in the Scottish Highlands offering daily yoga, hill walking and NLP coaching. In June, I was able to give back through taking part in Glasgow to support Yoga For Alzheimer’s for Alzheimer’s Research UK. I’ve joined the Executive Committee of Yoga Scotland to get involved in promoting yoga in a wider context, I’m starting to write articles around wellbeing-related topics and I am looking forward to whatever else comes next…

As my amazing, rewarding yoga journey unfolds I’m reminded of this: “That which matters most should never give way to that which matters least.”  I wonder what repeating patterns you can identify in your life that you could make some changes to, for the better? Namaste.

Lindsey Porter bio.jpg

Lindsey of Yoga~Nu~U is an experienced RYS Akhanda Hatha Yoga teacher, Reiki Master, NLP Practitioner, Holistic Therapist, Project Manager and starting out at writing articles. She offers yoga classes, one-to-one instruction and co-hosts Wellbeing Retreats (Yoga, Hill Walking and NLP Coaching) in the Scottish Highlands and overseas. Find out more at:
www.yoganuu.com Facebook site: Yoga~Nu~U.  Twitter: @LindseyDPorter. Instagram: yoganuu



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Exploring Softness Within My Strength

Name: Kristi Johnson
Location: London, England
Occupation: Forrest Yoga Teacher

I remember my first yoga teacher training like it was yesterday. I didn’t feel like I was flexible enough to be a yoga teacher. I was struggling my way through the morning intensives, surrounded by ex-dancers, flinging themselves in and out of everything without a decent warm-up. My body chugged and screeched alongside them as I muscled my way through. Signing up for the training felt like a decision I had made against my own best judgment.

At some stage during the training I was called to the centre of the group and asked to demonstrate Chataranga. I went in and held it, strongly. As everyone ooohh-ed and aahhh-ed I continued to hold it. My muscles were pumped and my mind determined to keep the shape for as long as it took, to demonstrate “perfection.”

It was in this moment that I acknowledged my “strength,” and identified with it as my driving force.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Within my first year of teaching, I was partaking in a class and got badly injured. The teacher stood on my back leg in a lunge, pressing down hard and fast, which resulted in a herniated disc in my low back. I was in absolute agony. I couldn’t even stand up straight in the beginning. Every footstep sent nerve pain down my entire left leg for almost a year.

Being so firmly routed in my quest to be strong, and hold everything together, I pushed myself through it. I was teaching on average 22 yoga classes per week, practicing intensely every day, and indulged in spinning classes, boxing classes, and boot camp classes several times a week as well.

My practice sucked. I would grit my teeth through Wheel Pose after Wheel Pose, as my teacher barked at me to use my legs more, tuck my tailbone more, to trust him, it was the only way to heal. I was feeling pretty burnt out, in my practice, in my teaching, and in my life. I literally felt like I was on a treadmill, running hard and fast, but going nowhere. I knew that something had to change, and I truly questioned whether to go on and hone my skills as a teacher, or walk away from teaching all together.

Many of my friends and fellow teachers had studied with Ana Forrest and raved about her. I wasn’t convinced that holding a pose for a long time, being still, and breathing into my genitals was really my thing. Regardless, I took their advice and signed up for her Advanced Teacher Training in Hong Kong, where I was living and teaching at the time.

On day one of the Advanced Teaching Training, I introduced myself to the circle of trainees in such a bubbly, confident, and convincing manner; even I was fooled. As soon as I began to share my injuries with the group I fell apart, unexpectedly, into a puddle of tears, while mildly hyperventilating. Everything that I had bottled up, even my fear of crying in public, came to a head all at once. I went from not having cried for a very long time, to a blubbering mess for nine days straight.

I can’t explain exactly what happened, but something had shifted, in a big way.

My journey from then on became an exploration of softening—a huge learning curve for all things in my life. Forrest Yoga was a pillar of support in this sense, and as I have discovered, feeling supported plays a crucial role in my ability to soften and be vulnerable. The intents woven into the Forrest teachings like “Work Struggle Free,” and “Feed Your Spirit” became solid building blocks in my quest to embrace and honor softness and vulnerability.

I had always seen softness and vulnerability as a great weakness.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Forrest Yoga being strong, grounding and intense, fed the intensity junkie in me, but required deep feeling breath, and an element of softness to hold the poses for any length of time. Without these ingredients, I found, it is just a great big struggle.

Simple exercises like sitting on the side of my bed each morning as soon as I had woken up, with closed eyes, and a deep breath, were golden. To feel into what my spirit needed that day, reconnected me with my intuition, and knitted my spirit back together—a spirit that felt like it had been left somewhat in tatters.

Moving on, my personal mission to embrace softness and vulnerability, has shone a great big light on the immense power that comes from weaving in these elements. I feel super strong, but in a different way.

I can hold a solid Chataranga, but that strength no longer fully defines who I am.

I feel my power, and know that it lives in my spirit, my intuition, my heart, and in my vulnerabilities as much as it does in my legs, arms, or abs.

Finding softness within my strength is still a daily practice. I move much more slowly, in all areas of my life. I teach much less. I don’t numb myself out with ridiculous amounts of exercise, and I am no longer getting burnt out from my teaching. My teaching feeds me greatly, and I am hugely grateful that I did not walk away from it.

The place where my softness and strength meet is where I am committed to sharing from right now. I feel stronger, more grounded, and more vibrant than I ever have and I’m committed to empowering others in the same way.

Kristi Johnson Bio picKristi first discovered yoga in her native country of New Zealand. She traveled to Hong Kong and China in 2003 where she explored more deeply the physical, emotional, and spiritual practice of yoga. Kristi taught at PURE Yoga in Hong Kong, gathering a rich amount of experience teaching group classes, privates, and workshops, while furthering her training with teachers from all over the world. She experienced her first Forrest Yoga teacher training with Ana Forrest in 2010 and from then has never looked back. Kristi currently lives and teaches in yoga studios in London and Europe, and assists Ana Forrest in trainings and workshops around the world. You can also find Kristi’s Forrest Yoga classes online at Movement For Modern Life. Connect with Kristi here:

Website: www.kristimaeyoga.com
Blog: www.kristimaejohnson.tumblr.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/people/Kristi-Mae-Yoga/100011147582087
Instagram: www.instagram.com/kristimaeyoga/

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Let’s Help a Fellow Yogini in Need

I had the pleasure of connecting with Ashley Zuberi (formerly Herzberger) just about three years ago when she wrote a beautiful essay for The Yoga Diaries about how her yoga practice allowed her to find her true path as a yoga teacher. Her story was titled How Yoga Saved Me From the Worst Mistake I Didn’t Make and it was so compelling that it went on to be published in the print version of The Yoga Diaries. After changing her own life in so many positive ways, Ashley became a yoga teacher and has gone on to bring light and healing to the lives of so many others.

In the years that followed, Ashley went on to marry the love of her life, a dedicated F-16 Fighter Pilot in the District of Columbia Air National Guard, responsible for protecting America’s capital. The young couple then achieved the American Dream of purchasing their own home. And here’s where the story turns very sour. Due to the greed of others, they have been the victims of very serious real estate fraud and now find themselves homeless and in dire financial straits.

Ashley (and her husband) has been of service to so many others over the years and, despite the terrible situation she finds herself in, Ashley continues to be a positive force for good in the world. Now it’s our turn to give back to her.

I’d like to call on The Yoga Diaries’ community to be of service to Ashley and her husband. Please read the full story and consider donating here:


Ashley and her husbandWith Gratitude,

Jeannie Page



Shredding “Shoulds” and Embracing Life

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Name: Katie Boyle
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
Occupation: Forrest Yoga and Yoga Nidra Teacher, Learning Consultant and Writer

Katie Boyle photo1.JPG

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” The words of the famous American writer, Joseph Campbell, ring in my ears as I sit down to write about my yoga story. Quite simply yoga has shown me a way to let go of the life I thought I had planned and given me the courage to explore a different path.

Until I found yoga I didn’t realise the extent to which my life was dictated by the word “should.” I was a good girl. A perfectionist. A high achiever. I held myself to standards and expectations that often weren’t my own.

Then in my early thirties, life, as it tends to do when you’re heading down the wrong path, took an unexpected turn. The nine-year relationship I was in began to break down. There was a quiet voice within me that started to hint that maybe this relationship wasn’t quite right. How could this be? Surely I was crazy? My partner was the perfect person to marry and have children with. How could I possibly throw all that away?

The more I rejected this whispering voice inside me, the stronger it started to speak. I found myself crying. A lot. I got sickMy body’s way of telling me that I couldn’t continue like this. Life as I knew it was crumbling. I was scared, confused, my heart was breaking. I fought against it until I couldn’t fight anymore and I made the decision to leave.

This wasn’t meant to happen. Surely that “should” have been my path. Shouldn’t it? My hopes and dreams were in tatters. I felt like I had let myself down, and in the process hurt the person I cared most deeply for in the world. The guilt and shame was unbearable.

When there was nowhere else to turn, I turned to yoga. My mat felt like the only place where I could find solace and grounding when everything else was falling apart. Magically, at that point, an opportunity emerged to attend a workshop led by Ana Forrest, the founder of Forrest Yoga. I was new to Forrest Yoga but my body was telling me that there was something powerful about the practice. So, although apprehensive, I jumped at the chance. My heart gave a huge, resounding “yes!

When the student is ready the teacher really does appear. At the workshop Ana Forrest explained that the word “shoulders” has the word “should” in it is because it is the area of the body where we tend to hold all of our responsibilities and burdens. Her words touched me deeply. I could feel the weight of my own “shoulds” bearing down heavily in that area. As Ana coached us to breathe into the areas of tension in our shoulders and relax our necks, I could feel the first layer of “shoulds” beginning to release. Tears of hurt, grief, guilt, and shame started to flow. The relief was immense.

This experience changed everything for me.
 Since then Forrest Yoga has continued to provide me with practical tools to let go of my expectations about how life “should” be and embrace a life that is even richer and more aligned to who I am. It has opened me up, connected me to my spirit, and showed me that there is a different way.

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Through the continuous journey of self-exploration and discovery involved in becoming a Forrest  Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra teacher, I have learned that the whispering voice within me is the voice of my spirit, my intuition, my heart’s wisdom. My practice has given me a way of connecting to and welcoming that voice rather than being afraid of what it is has to say. I’m learning that I don’t need to follow a path dictated by what I think I “should” be doing just because I’ve reached a certain age or because everyone around me is doing it. This doesn’t mean I don’t value other people’s advice and opinions, but it does mean that rather than blindly following the road most travelled, I get on my mat and ask my body what feels right for me. I don’t need to search outside. All the answers I’m looking for lie within.

When I’m not sure of the path to follow I ground myself through active feet. When I set
 my vision and intentions for life, I focus on my active hands, and it reminds me not to grip too tightly to my plans and expectationsInstead to remain open to the possibilities that life has to offer. These are often much greater than what we thought we wanted in the first place. When I feel disconnected and low in mood, I connect to my deepest breath and do some Forrest Yoga ab workouts. This gets my energy moving and reminds me of how alive I am right now.

It’s not that my path is now a linear, upward trajectory in which yoga provides a miracle cure. Of course I experience challenges. There are times when I still feel confused, uncertain, and fearful of the future. But now I have a way of welcoming in and working with those feelings, rather than pushing them away.

Yoga has allowed me to unravel and accept my story so far. It has also given me a way of taking full authorship of the next chapter. I get to choose how it will unfold. The fact that this chapter involves teaching yoga and helping others to navigate life transitions, while remaining grounded in who they are and what they want, is exhilarating!

Katie Boyle bioKatie is a Forrest Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra teacher with a passion for sharing the healing power of yoga and helping people connect to feeling in their body. Katie combines her yoga teaching with her role as a Learning Consultant at Insights, an organisation which works with some of the biggest companies in the world to improve the performance of their people, teams, and leaders. Katie’s unique combination of skills in facilitation, coaching, Jungian psychology, yoga, and mindfulness enable her to create powerful development experiences – be it those in the workplace or on the yoga mat. Please follow Katie here:

Website: www.wellbeingwithkatie.com 
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yogabykatiesarahboyle
Instagram: http://instagram.com/katiesarahboyle

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Name: Debbie Verdicchio
Location: Dover, NH, USA
Occupation: Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist

Sexual violence happens to people of any age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion and ability. One in three women is sexually assaulted in their lifetimeit’s an alarming statistic. At the age of 42 I became a part of that statistic. I never thought in a million years that I would be a survivor of a drug-facilitated, felonious sexual assault. I had no idea how much my life was going to change that humid June morning as I sat alone in an emergency room waiting to be examined. This violent crime was going to challenge my strength as a daughter, niece, aunt, friend and a women. With the support of family and friends I reported the assault a few days later.

As the summer went on, I suppressed any memory of what had happened, lived my life and tried to move on. My family was amazed by how well I was handling this and they waited for the ball to drop. By the end of the summer the man who sexually assaulted me was arrested and charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault. The story hit the media and more women came forward with similar encounters with the same man. This nightmare that I tried so hard to forget was now real and my life began to spiral out of control; I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown and my family encouraged me to seek help and counseling. Unfortunately, this man never stood trial for the crimes he committed against me and other women. He eventually pleaded to a lesser degree of simple assault and walked. As a result, I plunged into a dark tunnel of depression and anxiety.

That traumatic event that shook my core years ago started a negative trickle effect in my life. I battled demons for years. I was on and off of antidepressants and saw different therapists for interventions, all which helped only minimally. I wasn’t at a good point in my life. I was unhappy with my personal and professional life. I had a 20-year career as an Early Childhood Educator, but my career had hit a road block and I felt overworked, underappreciated and treated unprofessionally. I didn’t feel challenged in my job and I knew I needed a change. Something had to give. I spent countless nights laying in bed crying and worrying about what direction my life was headed. I had no idea where to begin to find the peace, happiness and balance that I was so desperately seeking.

Debbie Verdicchio yogaIt wasn’t until the fall of 2013 that things began to change. A co-worker of mine was doing this challenge called Bikram’s Biggest Loser 3.0 and she convinced me to join her at the studio in Portsmouth to take a class. Before that point I had never heard of Bikram Yoga, the 26 postures, nor the heat. I took the class and thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” During my first class I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe and I lay on the floor the entire class, wiping the sweat off my head. But after class I felt amazing and slept like a baby that night. I went back a few times after and then stoppedI didn’t return for a long time. Actually, it was almost a year until I returned to the hot room.

With the encouragement of two co-workers who had done the Biggest Loser challenge before me, I decided to try this challenge myself. I’m not going to lie, the first few classes sucked! I thought to myself, “What the fuck did I get myself into?” I definitely struggled the first couple weeks of practice; I struggled with my body and the way I looked. After a month of practicing I noticed the health benefits of practicing Bikram Yoga. I noticed changes in my body, I was gaining more flexibility and strength and my clothes fit better. Physically I felt better. I didn’t feel as tired and the plantar fasciitis that was giving me pain in my right foot was resolved within two weeks of practicing. A visit to my doctor showed that my cholesterol and blood pressure were down and I had lost weight.

Being a full-figured women, I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for most of my adult life. But for the first time in my life I have learned to love myself, curves, rolls and all. I found a community where I am accepted for who I am and no one is looking at me or judging me because of my size. The more I practiced, the less I struggled with my body and the way I looked. I remember taking a class with Jaylon, the owner of Bikram Yoga in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and he said something that stuck with me and I will never forget, “There is no judgment in here today.” I began to realize that I wasn’t alone in my struggle and that others were battling the same uphill battle as me. This was very comforting to me.

As I approach a milestone birthday, I am at a point in my life where I am supposed to be. Everything began to fall into place. I love my job as a Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist and it’s very empowering to help others. I’m probably the happiest that I’ve been in a long time and I credit this feeling to practicing yoga. I feel strong, I feel supported and I feel peace.

Debbie Verdicchio HeadshotDebbie Verdicchio is a Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist with Childcare Aware of New Hampshire, a Child Care Resource and Referral Program through Southern New Hampshire Services.  She is an advocate to help stop sexual and domestic violence in her community. She resides in Dover, New Hampshire with her dog, Max. Find Debbie on Facebook here and on Twitter @debbiev315.



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Out of the Forrest. Into the fire.

Name: Lizzy Nichol
Location: London, UK
Occupation: Health coach and Forrest Yoga teacher

Lizzy Nichol yoga poseI am teaching a yoga class in the style of a chicken.

I am not a yoga teacher…yet. So just the “teaching” part is challenging enough. In front of me, the other trainees are laughing so hard they fall from their down dogs onto their knees.

I walk through the line of mats clucking and squawking, red faced, teetering between humiliation and hilarity. Between tears of laughter and tears of everything and anything else.

Just when I think it can’t get any worse, the trainer who decided I would teach chicken-style whispers in my ear, “Don’t forget to flap your wings.”

This is a typical afternoon on Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training. Think of it like the yogi military. First you must be broken down before you can be rebuilt. The breakdowns happen daily. Only now more than a year on do I see that yes, I have been entirely rebuilt.

A day or two after that chicken class, I am teaching again. Only this time I am to bark orders like a sergeant major.

Only I cannot do it.

Suddenly I would rather teach 100 more sequences as a chicken than just this one in charge.

I start. I stumble. And then I cry.

There is a saying in Forrest Yoga – “Never waste a good trigger.” Over the remainder of the training I began to unravel the knot I unwittingly located deep inside myself when asked to be a sergeant major – When I was triggered.

Turns out it’s been there since 1988.

I am five years old. My teacher, a young, French, willow-the-wisp woman named Miss Allport is standing in the middle of the classroom screaming my name.


The class holds its breath.

I don’t remember the transgression. But I can make an educated guess: I am talking, loudly, when I should be listening. I have declared, loudly, that the exercise she has set is dull. I have told someone, loudly, I think they are stupid and how they can do whatever they are doing, better. I am being a bossy little so-and-so.

There’s the word. “Bossy.”

The first time someone called me bossy was the first time it occurred to me that that, perhaps, was what I was. And clearly this was not a term of endearment. Clearly this thing that I was was undesirable. Clearly I needed to change.

So “bossy” and all its accoutrements went into a box – A box that I would fill over the years with other labels. Arrogant. Loud. Judgmental. Selfish. Each time I nailed it firmly shut.

Twelve years later I would stand in front of a quarter of my school as an appointed head of house and mumble through my curtains of long hair, looking down at my feet.

By accident, it seems I had also put confidence, self-esteem, authority and leadership into that box. Along with all my opinions. Along with my voice.

There was a new willow-the-wisp in town.

Now I am sitting in a circle on teacher training, another twelve years on. The talking stick is moving steadily, minute by excruciating minute, towards me.

[Forrest Yoga rules – whoever has the talking stick will speak uninterrupted for their allotted three minutes on a given subject before passing it to the next person.]

Kneeling, I press one end to my heart and begin.

I tell them about that kid in the classroom. And the girl with the long hair. I tell them how I have realized – just at that moment – that I have been running from my own voice since I was five years old. That I became a writer so I could speak without speaking. And wrote for brands, in voices not my own. I say that I seem unable to form an opinion, sitting permanently on any and every fence. I say that I thought I was an introvert who could pretend to be an extrovert, but perhaps I’ve been an extrovert all along. An extrovert in hiding.

On the last day of training we hug and cry, fearful of going back to our lives where the hard work will commence. Where we must make good on our intentions. Where we must build our broken-open selves back up.

I didn’t know if I would teach. If I could. I had insight now, but I still did not have a voice. I did precisely nothing about becoming a teacher …

Until four things happened in quick succession.

February: My teacher asks me if I would like to assist a class a week.
March: A friend asks me to cover her classes at a well-known studio.
April: I find, audition for, and get, a teaching job in a studio.
May: I fall into (and in love with) a public speaking training program.

Lizzy Nichol cobra poseIn the months just gone I have stood on stage in front of 80 global executives from a well-known charity and spoken for an hour. I have gotten to the final of a speaking competition telling a story about my Grandpa. I have sold out a retreat and designed a workshop. I have been on a radio show. I have branched out from blogs to tele-seminars. I will give my new opinions to anyone who asks, or will listen. And I have taught many Forrest Yoga classes.

It is less than three years since I stumbled on Ana Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine, at the London Yoga Show and read it cover to cover in days, appalled, entranced, and certain I had found my practice.

I could never have predicted then, that in finding my practice I would also find my voice.

Lizzy head shotLizzy Nichol is a health coach, writer and Forrest Yoga teacher. She helps women reunite with their bodies and get the energy and confidence they need to do awesome stuff with their lives.




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

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I Can Take a Compliment

Name: Helen Vostrovsky Holmes
Location: Madbury, NH, USA
Occupation: Mother, swim coach, elementary school aide

Helen Vostrovsky Holmes yoga pic

A woman gave me a compliment today. What I can tell you about this woman is that she is striking, tall, carries herself with intelligence and seems to take herself seriously. We’ve spoken once or twice before and both times I felt compelled to keep it calm and sound thoughtful. I don’t know her name but she is that kind of a woman.

The compliment was given after a particularly good yoga class. Hot yoga. Bikram Yoga. She told me this was the second day in a row that she practiced behind me and she thought my practice was really beautiful and graceful. She emphasized that she thought all my poses were consistently solid and again, beautiful. I know that she knows yoga well enough to give the compliment and also knows that my practice is not perfect. She knows that is not the point. So do I.

I responded with a “Thank You.” Several of them. I made no self-deprecating jokes whatsoever and allowed only one quip about making sure to practice in front of her always. Just the day before, in the first class this woman was behind me, our teacher had told an anecdote about a famous female comedian making the point that as soon as women start to do well at something they tend to self-deprecate. Good point.

I am not a person who has ever been comfortable with my physical presence and since I was about 13 it was clear to me that I missed out on true happiness because my hair is too thin, my thighs too fat, I can only be less than a size 12 when I practice anorexia, and I have a weak chin. I squirm when being checked out by men or women, my husband even, and I absolutely do not enjoy looking at myself. Not in photos. Not in mirrors and definitely not in giant, wall-sized mirrors while standing next to people in tiny clothing that often covers even tinier bendy butts. Or so you would think.

I started practicing Bikram Yoga about three years ago after being inspired by my husband to give it a try. From the very first class – in my awful aqua-colored tankini top and getting dizzy and nauseous through every standing pose – I was transfixed by myself in the mirror. I was shaky, uncoordinated, and out of shape. But in that mirror, I was goddamn BEYONCE wearing that awful aqua-colored tankini top.

Over time I have built up my strength, flexibility and skill through yoga. I think I can hold my own. One thing I have never had to do, though, is improve upon liking what I see in the big mirror. That started on the very first day.  I have no idea if the striking, intelligent woman was being genuine or if she just might be the “pay it forward” type making a point to compliment someone every day. What I took away from that interaction with this woman is that I have been keeping a secret for quite a while. My secret is that I am beautiful – and I believe her.

Helen Vostrovsky Holmes bio photo

Helen Vostrovsky Holmes is a mother of three and devoted to the practice of Bikram Yoga. Please find more from her on her blog www.thoughtsleakingout.blogspot.com and like her Facebook page: Thought Leaker.




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

Want to read more? Check out The Yoga Diaries the book, now available on Amazon. Follow The Yoga Diaries on Facebook here.

30 Days of Kate

Name: Katelyn Martin
Location: Woodstock, CT, USA
Occupation: Recent college graduate pursuing a career in yoga as well as holistic health coaching.

Katelyn Martin tree poseAnxiety as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “A fear or nervousness about what might happen.” However, for anyone who deals with anxiety on a daily basis, it can be described as “A royal pain in the a$$.” Having anxiety at times can be debilitating, I would know; it took me almost eight years to finally find a solution to enable me to take a hold of my life again. What is the solution you ask? YOGA!

I struggled through high school and college with anxiety. I was constantly fighting an internal battle; my mind was my worst enemy. I would spend hours upon hours creating unlikely situations in my head and sending myself into a panic about these very unlikely scenarios. Anxiety made my confidence diminish; I was unable to sleep well; I was constantly stressed out; and most of all, I was simply unhappy.

I found yoga during my junior year of college—someone dear to me had introduced me to it and I would describe it as love at first class. I began to understand that not only did yoga help me stay in shape but it also kept me grounded; each and every class spoke to me. I was coming to new realizations and revelations daily. It was one aspect in my life where I knew there would be no judgments passed. I walked into and out of every class with a calm demeanor, something that I had never truly had. I was finally at peace and content with who I was.

I graduated from college this past May with a degree in business. I was still unsure about what I wanted to do for a career, but that is common for most recent college graduates. I decided to take “30 Days of Kate” for myself. I took 30 days off from my job search and completely immersed myself in yoga, writing, reading, and learning about myself. I would not have described myself as a religious or spiritual person prior to my “30 Days of Kate,” but that all changed as well. I started to send gratitude out into the Universe, asking for guidance, and asking for help when I needed it. What I received in return at times was almost overwhelming (in the most beautiful kind of way).

I loved who I had become after only 30 short days and wanted to continue on this path of growth. I was practicing yoga both on and off that mat; I was more accepting of people, aware of my flaws, calm, and spreading kindness everywhere I went. I knew that this was the kind of career that I could wake up to every morning and love. I wanted to help people restore confidence within themselves and learn how to apply yoga into every aspect of their lives. How could I make this happen? I have now begun my journey to getting my 200-hour yoga teacher training certification, yoga therapy certification, and my nutrition and holistic health coaching certification. I am now passionate about my future and excited to be able to restore people’s faith within themselves.

Katelyn Martin bio photoKatelyn Martin is a recent college graduate who plans to pursue a career in yoga as well as holistic health coaching. Find her on Instagram at Katelyn_Martin.




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

Want to read more? Check out The Yoga Diaries the book, now available on Amazon. Follow The Yoga Diaries on Facebook here.

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Author Jeannie Page talks to me about The Power of Positivity and Listening to Your Heart

The Yoga Diaries’ creator, Jeannie Page is honored to have been interviewed by UK Mindfulness, Health & Lifestyle Coach, Natalie Edwards. Natalie and Jeannie share a rich conversation about the making of The Yoga Diaries, the transformational power of yoga, the power of positivity and listening to your heart, out of body experiences, etc.

Enjoy an inspirational listen!

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Author Jeannie Page talks to me about The Power of Positivity and Listening to Your Heart.