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.

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The Downside of Being One Tough Mother

Name: Michelle Marchildon
Location: Denver, Colorado, United States
Occupation: Author, Columnist, Yoga Teacher & General Rabble Rouser

“I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want.
If that makes me a bitch, okay.”
Madonna

I’m with Madonna. I can be kind of a bitch. And I’m mostly okay with that.

I can be the most loyal, loving and best friend you could ever hope to have. But do not get me wrong; I am one powerful, strong, fierce, and fearless woman and if that makes me a bitch, well I’ll take it.

It’s taken me years to get to this place where I could say I was powerful. Years, and a steady practice of yoga. As a woman, it is not a popular path to be strong. It will cost you a prom date. It will cost you friends. It will make you the target of many people who are uncomfortable with female power, some of which are females.

Michelle Marchildon yoga poseIt even cost me my first marriage. But that relationship, which I call my starter marriage, was probably worth giving up. That’s because I was in it with my starter self, the one that was afraid of her power.

I remember the day my ex-husband announced he was leaving me. We went to a family counselor, who looked at us over his wire-rimmed glasses and said, “Why are you leaving this marriage? Are you not worried about your wife?”

“I’m not worried about Michelle,” my ex said. “She is very competent. (pause) V-e-r-y  Com-pe-tent.” He was practically spitting the words.

So there it was. My dirty little secret was now out in the open. I am competent. In fact, I might be one of the most capable people on the planet. However, this marriage disaster was not entirely my ex’s fault as I don’t believe he was truly married to me. He was married to my starter self.

I spent years being a little weak so the boys would feel in control and the girls would be my friend. I smiled, a lot. I hid that I was often the top student in class and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Now I’m an Ivy League grad, and believe me, that does not get you friends in the yoga world. What gets you friends is Handstand, and I kind of suck at Handstand.

And although I was good at playing the game of being a little less, it wasn’t ‘me.’ It took me years to shed my fears about being powerful. And it took a steady practice of yoga which helped me uncover my inner badass.

Eventually, I got divorced. I changed careers. I made a ton of money in sales. And I met a man who said to me, “Go get ‘em and I will carry your bag.” So I married him.

What are we afraid of?

Women who are powerful are not liked. We get hate mail from anonymous internet writers who say we are bitches. We are told we are not yogic because we speak up and out against injustice.

If the “yogic” path is to sit in silence, let everything go and be a little less, then perhaps I am on a different path. Because my practice helped me find my voice, and I’m not about to get quiet and play nice now.

I come to the mat to rediscover the woman I know lives inside me, fabulous, intelligent and beautiful. And if that is what society calls a bitch, then so be it.

I would rather spend the end of my days being exactly who I am, than trying to be someone else. You cannot hide forever. And when you come out of your own closet, you can be brilliant. This is living stronger and with your true purpose in life. It is so much better to be authentic, than to try to be popular, and I’m mostly okay with that.

Michelle Marchildon bio photoMichelle Berman Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, author, and yoga teacher. This blog is based on an excerpt from her book, Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and other yoga media. She is an E-RYT 500 Hatha teacher with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co. You can find her blog and website at www.YogiMuse.com. And you can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com.

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Present on MY Mat

Name: Rebecca Fisher
Locations: Fort Worth, Texas, United States
Occupation: Senior at Texas Christian University

Photo by Amber Shumake.Due to my hectic schedule, I had been missing my 8:30 yoga class so I decided I needed to figure out which evening classes were going to work into my new “big-girl job” life. On this particular night, I walked into the studio and the class was full. I made my way to the back of the class and two lovely women made room for me.

I looked up from my mat and there was a woman who was my child’s second grade teacher. She knew me when I was happily married, a stay-at-home mom, the school’s PTA president, a beautiful time in my life before my marriage fell apart and I was thrown away, to be replaced by my best friend. My ex-best friend still works at her school.

Along with the teacher’s instructions, my inner dialogue went something like this:

Teacher: “Come onto a block and go inside.”

Me: “Oh no. Please do not let her see me. I want to run from this room. What if she recognizes me? What am I going to say? Am I really going to say, ‘I am great? I lost two of my kids. I miss them but they live with Michael. You remember him; I am sure Veronica talks about my family’….Wait! Maybe she does not recognize me.”

Teacher: “Come into your breath.”

Photo by Amber Shumake.Me: “I cannot breathe, Amber! I am in pain. The pain is flooding in. Tears are starting to form. Oh gosh, what if Amber calls me out in class? Will she say my whole name? Wait! I am safe. She is not going to use my married name. I can be invisible. I will not stand out. I will just blend in. Amber is talking about my neck and tension. Ugh, can she feel my tension?”

I finally shook off the inner dialogue and I had a break through. How many times have I listened to my teachers speak about staying present on your own mat? I have never known what the heck they were talking about! I decided to stop the inner voice that was not serving me. Could I let it go?

Then the dialogue went like this:

Teacher: “Bring your shoulders straight up to your ears.”

Me: “I left a situation in which I did not feel love. I have made it through college and not any college, but I chose a college which has challenged me and made me step out of my comfort zone. I have met amazing friends and people. I am a badass and she probably has no idea who I am. I am going to enjoy this class and smile. I am going to stay on MY mat, not her mat. I will focus on my breath and not on thoughts that do not serve me. I will smile and I will have a great class. Can I focus on my core the whole class and lift my toes? I can do it!”

Rebecca Fisher coreWe continue through the neck releases and I hear the teacher say, “Let’s lie back, core work!”

Me: “Woo-hoo!”

I smiled. I had a great time! I held my handstand for ten breaths. I got my big old head under my ankle in head to ankle prep. I stayed on my mat and my teacher even commented on my smile.

75 minutes flew by! I was present the whole time on my mat. And it was a beautiful class.

I left Karmany Yoga that night, a strong, happy badass!

Rebecca Fisher bioRebecca Fisher is currently a senior at Texas Christian University, graduating in May, 2013 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She is a mom to three wonderful boys. Rebecca describes herself as obsessed with Forrest Yoga and is working on spreading joy to her friends, family, as well as to future friends. She enjoys writing and hopes that her words heal a heart or bring a smile.



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Edited by Jeannie Page.
Yoga photos by Amber Shumake.

Yoga Saved Me. More Than Once.

Name: Rebecca Butler
Occupation: Yoga Teacher, Writer & Mother
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Rebecca Butler crow poseI started practicing yoga right after graduating from college. I was in Austin working at an advertising agency next door to the global headquarters of Whole Foods, where they were offering classes upstairs. I had no idea what to expect. I figured it would be granola and easy. I was shocked when I broke a sweat.

A few years later, I was a runner. My knees were killing me though, so a friend, who
was very fit, suggested that I join her at Bikram yoga. I went. I loved it. The end. I hung up my running shoes and never looked back. Within a yearʼs time, I was modeling for Lake Austin Spa, busting out dancerʼs pose at the waterʼs edge during sunrise.

Iʼd always had really bad female problems – debilitating cramps, extreme moodiness
during PMS, and an irregular cycle. I started noticing that after every class, I would be
miserable with cramps. So I went to the doctor. They did a sonogram and discovered I
had uterine fibroids. The doctor removed them. It was a surprisingly complicated
surgery. During this time, my marriage was suffering. My husband was a little bit older
and he wanted to have children. I was on the fence about children, but we had tried a
couple of times to no avail. After surgery, because of the extent of dissection required to
remove the fibroids, the doctor said, “Letʼs not discuss fertility until you are ready to
really give it a go.”

Photo by Flickr userJLM Photography.

Photo by Flickr user
JLM Photography.

And then, 9/11. Ok, up until this point, I had been partying – i.e. cocaine, marijuana, and booze galore, mixed with live music. And this had been going on for quite some time since, um, basically high school. See, I grew up in a household with a paranoid
schizophrenic sibling hell bent on killing me and not a single parent, or adult for that matter, who wanted to help me as that meant admitting that something was wrong with our seemingly perfect family. So my solution was: act perfect, be perfect, look perfect, make perfect grades, make boys happy, girls mad, and ‘who cares what you want cause youʼre their only hope.’

Drugs made all of this not feel so horrible. So did yoga. But in different ways, although I wasnʼt yet conscious of the difference. However, I did make this comparison often to my friends. Iʼd be standing in line at some concert, chewing my lips off on x, and my friends would ask me why I liked yoga so much. Iʼd say, “Cause itʼs the closest feeling there is to this right here (meaning the drug high) and smile a 1,000 megawatt smile.”

As 9/11 approached, I began an affair with my and my husbandʼs mutual best friend.
This was not something I was proud of, but it was part of my spree of self-destruction
that was necessary for evolution. The result of said affair: getting divorced, fired, and
pregnant.

In early 2002, I was in a new apartment, working at a new job, and starting to build a
new life – one that had depth and meaning. I realized that my pregnancy was a swift kick in the rear, from the Universe, to get it together. I became instantly sober. Up until this point, I had been living my life to make others happy. Becoming pregnant was my chance to do something to make me happy. Once I became pregnant, I realized how much I actually wanted this baby and I realized how much I had been partying to numb the pain of not being able to do something perfectly for once.

During my pregnancy, I practiced prenatal yoga the entire time. I was single, working in corporate America, and pregnant. I was working alongside beautiful married women. We would enter a conference room together. They would be barraged with questions about their pregnancy; I would be ignored. This blew my mind and severely hurt my pride.

Yoga to the rescue!

On my mat, I could shed my tears. On my mat, I could connect to my baby and feel the
serene happiness that I knew was in store for us, even if my father had begrudgingly
asked me, “Who do you think you are? Madonna?!“ upon realizing that I was
proceeding with my pregnancy, even single. On my mat, I was free of fear, free of
sorrow, and full of love.

For six more years, I toiled away in my career. For six more years, I paid the bills and
hired a sitter several times a week so that I could go to yoga. For six more years, I dreamed of quitting my job and becoming a yoga teacher. Then one summer, I went raw. My raw diet combined with my yoga practice yielded some revelations… Namely:

1. What I wanted in life did matter. And what I wanted was to be closer to my family so that I could both give help to my beautiful mother, who was suffering from ALS
(unbeknownst to us), and receive help from my family, as single motherʼs often
need. What I didn’t yet realize was that I also wanted to be closer to the Divine, and
this was the first step.

2. I wanted to teach yoga instead of selling my soul to line someone else’s
pockets; I wanted to stop pimping myself out in an effort to control the power of
the outside world. Little did I know, I was being called to wake up; I was being
called by my soul to create a life of passion and dedicate myself to a vocation
rather than a career.

3. I actually could make this change. It was not as impossible as I’d led myself to
believe. All of those fears that I had allowed to trap me were exactly that – fears. I
vowed to myself that I did not want to live a life based on fear, but rather, one of
love.

And that is where yoga has led me- to a life of love. Iʼm now remarried with a ten-year old boy and a one-year old baby girl. I teach yoga for a living and I write with passion daily.

Rebecca Butler bioRebecca Butler lives in Fort Worth, TX. Here, she fancies herself in a community that is
at the genesis of change. By day, she is a self-proclaimed-intensity-junkie yoga teacher,
serving as the lead teacher at a local donation-based studio known as Karmany Yoga, a
mother, and a wife… By night {when the house sleeps}, she is a writer, a dreamer, and a
poet. Her most meaningful moments are sometimes spent pushing a stroller, listening to
her latest muse {from Dr. Wayne W. Dyer to Caroline Myss}, and picking up poop from a
90-lb silver lab puppy named Gunner. Her mother passed from ALS (Lou Gehrigʼs disease) in early 2012. Through this journey, Rebecca learned more about life, love, and laughter than any book could have possibly taught her. It is in her memory that Rebecca chooses to live each day in Joy… Joy for life – the ups and downs, breaks and bruises, and the glory. Oh, the glory. You can find out more about her teaching & writing at www.rebeccabutleryoga.com.

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Enough is Enough

Name: Heather Jefferson
Location: Clarksville, Maryland, USA
Occupation: Editor/Co-Owner of The Still Point Yoga

Photo by Flickr user mtsofan.

I awaken in the early morning, rested, with a feeling of hope and peace. As I lie in bed before rising, I ponder all of my blessings: a loving, adorable husband, two beautiful, healthy, sweet daughters, an at-home editing job that allows me to be a present and balanced mother, a partnership at a thriving yoga studio where I get to share my passion, a beloved sister, supportive, loving friends, my health, and my breath.

Later, as I walk my dog, I am overwhelmed by the beauty around me: the swaying leaves, laughing children, the fresh possibility of each new day. I am joyful, calm, and grounded as I go about my day, working, loving, doing yoga, breathing, accepting, and being thankful. But I wasn’t always this way.

Two years ago, I started a daily yoga practice to relieve debilitating anxiety. Every day that I step onto my mat, yoga teaches me to let go and quietly listen to the wisdom of my inner voice. It teaches me to breathe and to trust. It teaches me that positive thoughts create a positive reality. It teaches me to take what I learn on my mat, off of the mat and into my life, where I can create a joyful and beautiful life.

Now that I possess a calm mind and an open heart, and now that I have taken responsibility for my own joy, it is uncomfortable for me to remember and describe the years that I allowed myself to be a victim—a victim of my mother’s mental health diseases. But when I recall the decades that I suffered from anxiety, low self-esteem, narcissism, and ruminating thoughts, I do think of my mother and the power I allowed her to have over me.

Briefly, with forgiveness and acceptance, my mother’s needs were not met as a child. Subsequently, her approach to mothering was loving, but self-oriented, controlling, and without boundaries. She often told my sister and me how much she had loved us when we were small children—without voices of our own. As an older child, I worried about my parents getting divorced—there was great anger and great silence in our home. She once told me that I was going to cause their divorce.

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney,

My mother suffers from depression, anxiety, and borderline personality disorder. She taught me many things while I lived with her: to judge the rich, to worry, to focus on the negative, to catastrophize, to think in black and white, to fear, to befriend people who need to be fixed, to worry about the future, to deny God, to gossip, to find the worst in people, to fear being out of control, and to put her needs before my own. My role in our family was to take care of my mother’s emotional needs—a job left over from her childhood, a job I would hold until I was 45-years old. Yoga helped me to finally let go and find my way to wholeness and peace.

After I left my mother’s home, I earned a college degree, started my career, met and married a profoundly loving and supportive husband, bought a house, gave birth to two darling daughters, and dedicated my life to being a loving, supportive mother. Our sweet family thrived, but inside I battled negative thoughts, guilt, insecurities, and self-doubt, and I stewed in my anger toward my mother—for her mistakes in my youth, for her persistence in making me her caregiver, for her victim-hood—ironically, the very same role I had assumed.

Photo by Flickr user Manue@PrettyKiku.

Yoga teaches that, like the lotus flower, darkness can lead to healing, transformation, and light. The months when anxiety controlled my life were some of the darkest, loneliest days of my life, but I can now look back and see that they were a necessary part of my journey. And I am thankful for those months because they brought me to yoga, to the light, where I found the ability to finally live in the present, not angry at my mother; to respond versus react, at peace instead of anxious; to trust and allow, rather than control from fear; to replace negative thoughts with positive ones, bringing positive energy to everything I do; to be mindful and grateful, not filled with doubt; to breathe and find miracles.


Heather lives near Baltimore, Maryland, with her darling husband, two beautiful red-headed daughters, and the cutest dachshund in the world. She is a freelance editor, a thankful co-owner of The Still Point Yoga, and a dedicated yogi. She will begin teacher training in 2013 and shares her love of yoga every day with anyone who is open to hearing about the magic of yoga.

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Bending Towards the Sun

This post is shared in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Name: Cheryl Kravitz, APR,CFRE
Location: Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Occupation: Director of Communication, American Red Cross

Photo by Flickr user heraldpost.

I have a memory from two decades ago: I am curled up in a ball in the dark, protecting myself from the blows of my husband’s fists. I remember thinking to myself that if my life were spared I would go into the world and speak for those who have no voice, particularly women in abusive relationships.

Soon after that horrible night, I left the city where I was living and moved across the county. I divorced, met and married a wonderful man, and became an activist to help protect women with violent partners. I was still clenched inside, however, waiting for the next blow. It came in the form of five major surgeries, including an emergency hysterectomy and a knee replacement. I wound up in a wheel chair for a few months.

Depressed and angry, I had a heart to heart talk with my sister.

“Try yoga,” she said. “It will ease the pain.”

To this day, I am unsure of which pain she was talking about.

I went online and saw yoga classes listed for people with special conditions. I had been in a wheelchair for months and was still unsteady on my feet. I was invited to attend a session at Willow Street Yoga Center. That first night I lumbered into the class, barely moving. I went to a second class, and then a third. Long, long ago, before I was battered and before the medical problems, I had been pretty athletic. Somehow my muscles remembered. I began to stretch and grow.

I started attending classes twice a week, and then added a third. I did an assisted handstand. For the past three years, and this year too, I have even been able to raise money for victims of domestic violence at a yoga benefit by doing 108 sun salutations in a row. I was delivering on the promise I made to myself all though years ago. I could help others.

This past summer I was in Massachusetts for vacation and learned that a few yoga studios were joining together to do yoga in the park. I thought about the days of darkness, hiding my abuse. I thought about the deep despair after my surgeries, and then I thought about how far I have come.

It was time to take what I had learned, move out of the darkness, and bend my body towards the sun, thankful for the life that is now mine.

Cheryl Kravitz is a respected nationally for her work in community relations, motivational speaking, media relations and issues management. She is currently the Director of Communication for the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region. A survivor of domestic violence she speaks and writes frequently about the topic for local and national audiences.

 

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Peace Through Strength

Name: Kumari de Silva
Location: Southern Californa, USA
Occuptation: Yoga Teacher, Studio Owner

Photo by Flickr user Alan Cleaver.

In 2007 I discovered that my beloved husband had returned to heavy drug use after an alleged 15-year stint with sobriety. How did I find out? He passed out, high on prescription painkillers, while driving. He hit a telephone pole at 60 miles per hour. Via helicopter, he was airlifted to the closest emergency room, over fifty miles away. The car was totaled.

In the emergency room the doctor asked to speak with me. “Your husband is a drug addict,” she told me.

“No he’s an electrician!” I blurted out in protest.

“He’s a drug addict,” she repeated gently. She asked me if I was a victim of domestic violence.

“From whom,” I wondered. I was completely confused. What I didn’t know could fill a book.

Yes I was a victim, probably always had been one. I just had no idea. For ten days I lived in crazy land while my husband’s cover was fully blown.The emergency room morphine, mixed with the pharmacy already in his blood stream, appeared to have caused permanent changes to his brain function. My former husband is permanently irrational.

Ultimately he walked out on me. Left to cover his debt and unable to get him to sign divorce papers, I was forced to work 70 hours per week. I had one day off every 15 days, occasionally. I wasn’t eating much. Food seemed like such an easy thing to trim from the budget. The culmination of events: i.e. stress, confusion, heartbreak, huge debt, the physical component of my work, plus my age, caused a hairline fracture in my hip. I lost the ability to completely externally rotate my femur on one side and suffered nerve damage in my leg and foot.

Photo by Flickr user Macxbebe.

I had no health insurance. Now I couldn’t get it. Due to my disability I was given fewer and fewer hours at my hourly job, until I could no longer support myself. Well, who could blame them? I couldn’t perform the job. I rented my house and left the state looking for employment, still riddled with chronic pain. Along the road my dog died.

My friend base, all fundamentalist Christians, believed my ex and mostly thought that I was being “mean” when I referred to him as a using addict. The ones who accepted his addiction issues believed that if he prayed to Jesus he would be healed. They continued, albeit inadvertently, to support his addiction. They were not supportive to me. One could say everything was gone: health, savings, friends, dog, home, and job.

I moved into a room in a house with two roommates who did yoga. One had a very strong meditative practice. I learned pranayama before I did asana. The other loved the physical practice. A third friend reminded me of the few poses I had learned growing up. He encouraged me to do them again to strengthen my hip and increase my range of motion. I felt discouraged as he patiently adjusted my alignment. Thank you Shawn for your patience.

When my roommate “J” found out that I was messing around with trikonasana, he drove me to a class with his favorite teacher. I still felt neither here nor there about asana. The class seemed like a “cool kids’ club”. With my injury, I felt like a factory reject. Undaunted, J looked for other yoga classes and took me to the next community, over a 15-mile drive away. I am forever grateful to him for his persistence.

Here I met my first real teacher. “M” was a blend of encouraging, upbeat, authentic and funny. She had a deep understanding of anatomy. She had also had some experience with addicts. She soothed my beat down soul. Every class was small and mixed level. M had a gift, I have rarely seen since, for modifying both up and down to suit all of the people in the room. From the first class I continued to go several times a week, sometimes more than one class in a day. Three months after I met her she suggested that I go to a teacher training at one of the larger studios 50 miles away.

“You could start a whole new career!” She said with an impish smile.

“Who would hire me?” I replied with my tired sense of discouragement. “At my age? How long would be I be able to do it?”

“For the rest of your life,” she assured me. What she said in a quiet and firm voice touched me.

Five months after meeting M I took my first 200-hour training. The same day I signed up, M disappeared! In an uncharacteristic manner she let personal issues overwhelm her. I did not hear from her again for two years. Another shock, another loss. The only thing I knew for sure was that my hip was starting to feel better. In savasana, encouraged to set an intention, I would think to myself “I just want to feel better, please let this pain go away!” I taught myself yoga as I was learning to teach. I was at the studio seven days a week, three hours a day. I built a strong practice that supports me.

My practice includes pranayama, meditation and asana. My students are often coming off of injuries, both physical and mental. They relate to me. I found myself re-entering and yet not re-entering society. Today, I eat well, meditate and practice yoga daily. Yoga is my passion. I learned the hard way that nothing is more valuable than feeling comfortable in your body.

For those of you who would say everything happens for “a reason,” I beg to differ. There is no reason I can understand to choose death and drug addiction. If you are a using addict, I implore you to reconsider. The pain it causes you will end at your death, the pain it causes your loved ones will never end.

Peace through Strength

Namaste!

Kumari de Silva is a mild-mannered yogi and poet who lives in the Los Padres National Forest. She received a BA from the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and a 200-hour teacher training from YogaWorks. Kumari’s work reflects a perspective of re-discovering familiar. “Teach what you know” is good guidance, but even more powerful is to “teach what you know well” and this will allow the heart  to reveal a unique peace infused with universal experiences. Once the peace of yoga creates insight, the body savors recognition. The grace of this delicious mind/body connection transcends time, space, and even culture.

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There Is No Such Thing As Paradise

Name: Alli Akard
Location: Buda, Texas, USA
Occupation: Yoga instructor / mom / adventurer

It was the summer of 2005 – fresh out of college and a new love on the rise. When I met my now husband that fateful day at a coffee shop, he ordered coffee, black. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that that simple cup of coffee would forever change the course of my life. I was a fairly typical college student, semi unsure of the future, but with big dreams and aspirations…and little direction. As the weeks evolved and the friendship blossomed, the two of us decided it would be a great adventure to drive from Texas to Panama in search of surf and new beginnings. We starting planning immediately and before we knew it our car was packed with basically everything we owned and off we went, heading south.

I had always had a love for yoga. It started out as a form of exercise when I was fifteen. My mom had convinced me to take a class with her and I remember my very first adho mukha svanasana (downward dog). It was a sensation I had never felt before. I always considered myself an athlete, having played various sports in high school and of course, surfing, but nothing could prepare my muscles or my mind for that first downward dog. It was as if it flipped my whole perspective upside down. As I grew and evolved from a scrappy teen into a free-spirited adult, I took my yoga practice with me. During college I even took yoga as an elective to gain a deeper understanding of all eight limbs of yoga. I remember writing my Sanskrit on note cards in preparation for my mid-term. Virabhdrasana is still one of my favorite words to say.

As I set out on our ‘Summer of Love’ tour with my new romance and a wild spirit, I remember thinking, “Thank God for yoga, I can do it anywhere.” I would use the asanas at night in our dinky motel rooms, mediation in the long car ride and my karma with the many people that scammed us along the way.

Well, since this is an essay and not a life story, I’ll skip all the epic, amazing adventures that we encountered along the way and I’ll fast forward six years. That summer of love tour turned into a new way of life. Once we arrived in Panama we decided this was the place for us and the Universe agreed. We ended up creating a business for ourselves in real estate and development. We built our own home, perched on a mango-filled cliff right in front of the Pacific ocean, where we watched the sun dip into the water every night. Some would call it paradise. Our business blossomed and so did our family. We eventually married and had three beautiful jungle babies to add to our paradise.

I always said that our home in Panama would be the ideal spot for a yoga retreat. I would wake up in the morning to do sun salutations and sit under the mango trees to meditate. How could so much beauty and peace have found me? Or did I find it? Either way, it didn’t last long.

On August 27, 2009, my world changed in an instant. I was on my way home from a long overdue personal vacation. I had been a wife and mother, living in the jungles of Panama for over four years. I treated myself to a night in Panama City, were I wined and dined, indulging on sushi and expensive perfume. I had never been away from my children and I felt slightly guilty, but the prospect of a king size bed, clean sheets and A/C all to myself was more then I could deny. It was paradise.

When I arrived home that evening, I noticed a car parked down the road from our house. I thought it strange, as we live miles from anyone, but figured it was a local person coming for a visit. We were somewhat of a novelty, being gringos with small children and all. As I walked into my living room and saw my small children sitting on the floor, my husband was nowhere to be found. At that point a man in a mask ran out of my room pointing a gun right at my face. Everything went in slow motion. It was like I was watching the whole experience from overhead. I was hyper aware of every movement, every thought, every breath.

Over the years I had spent a good amount of time reading about meditation and self awareness. If there was ever a time that knowledge was to come into play, it was in that moment. I was in survival mode and I decided right then and there that if my family and I were going to die, we would do it with love in our hearts. Through the whole ordeal, I never took my eyes off my eldest son’s eyes. I just kept telling him I loved him and that everything was going to be ok.

The whole robbery lasted roughly fifteen minutes, but the stress it had on us as a family took years to get over. We eventually, with great sadness, sold our house and decided it was time to move back to Texas. Over that course of time I completely lost any passion or drive for life. I was depressed, severally stressed and suffered anxiety attacks on a regular basis.

Time had passed and we were living a new way of life, just making it through each day. Yoga had taken a far back seat to Xanax and I no longer cared about being inspired. I didn’t know who I was anymore, but I knew I was a far cry from the free-spirited girl that had taken a chance on love and adventure seven years earlier. Then one day I figured I had nothing to lose, so I decided to try a yoga class. But I assumed it would be a waste of time and energy and I hated leaving my kids and felt selfish every time I did. I lived each moment as if it was the last time I would see them.

I laid out my 15-year old mat, the same one I had used when I took classes with my mom. We started moving through a vinyasa. The instructor’s voice was like a soft bass that moved through my whole body. I felt a sensation welling up inside of me as I moved. It felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. By the time we were in eka pada kapotasana (pigeon pose) on our mats, I was soaked in tears. I knew without a doubt that I was right where I needed to be in my life. Dare I say, it felt like paradise. In an instant I knew I had all the answers inside of me. All I had to do now was set out on the path to discovery.

My adventure in this discovery this past year has evolved just as beautifully and profoundly as a lotus flower itself. I have since completed my yoga training and am well on my way to opening my own studio and retreat center in Panama, where I hope to share my love and passion for yoga with my community. But more importantly, I have evolved in ways beyond comprehension. Yoga taught me to mend broken relationships with myself and others, to deeply and unwaveringly trust my Self and manifest all of the great things this world has to offer. I went from having zero passion in life to more passion than this Universe can hold. Yoga has been the greatest gift to me and every time I step onto my mat, I am reminded there is such a thing as paradise, and it’s in my heart. Namaste.

Alli Akard is a wife, a mother, an adventurer and a yoga teacher. Her journey with yoga connected her with her true self, and then when life unexpectedly met her with a time of darkness, it was the yoga that brought her back home. Alli and her husband own and operate Panama Coast Property, a real estate and development company in paradise, on the coast of Panama. They are currently working on developing a yoga studio and retreat center, so that they may share their paradise with others. Alli can be found on Facebook here.

Edited by Jeannie Page.

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


Living My Dream

Name: Dagmar Spremberg
Location: Montezuma, Costa Rica
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

Photo attributed to Flickr user Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

I grew up in a small town in Germany and I remember that as a teenager I always dreamed of a life on the beach, in the sun and under palm trees. Of course, it seemed such a cliché and like a very far away dream, I never thought that it might actually happen one day. But as it is with our dreams and visions, somehow we keep them in the subconscious mind and they have their own energy and power…

In 1991 I traveled for the first time to a faraway tropical land, a land like the one in dream: Costa Rica. I lived in a small seaside hotel in Montezuma which belonged to a German woman and her family and I was very touched and inspired to see that there actually are people who live this dream. But of course I still didn’t think it could ever be me. So I went back to Hamburg with my husband, back to my life and career in the music industry, which was quite exciting and fulfilling, but deep inside of me I still had that longing, I wanted something more from life.

On my 30th Birthday, I suddenly knew that it was “now or never.” It was just a feeling in my gut, but it was so strong I knew I had to follow it. So I left my life in Germany behind, quit my well paid job, left my husband and traveled with two suitcases into an unknown adventure to Los Angeles. There were at least my palm trees, the beach and the sun. I started a small agency for photographers and organized photo productions.

It did not take long before I first came into contact with yoga and found my wonderful yoga teacher Christi Minarovich. Initially skeptical, I listened to her stories and the yoga philosophies: to let things go, accept where you are, things will fall into place…a far cry from what I had learned in Germany, where I was more the type of person pushing forward rather than letting go and sitting and waiting to see what happens next. But there was something that immediately touched me deeply and gave me hope, strength and confidence and so I soon started learning to let go more and instead to rely on my intuition.

I learned to breathe, to find the beauty in life. I started to soften and surrender and suddenly more and more doors started opening for me. Yoga gave me a new view of life, a new sense of purpose and the answers to many of my questions. After three and a half years in Los Angeles, I moved to New York where I continued working for photographers and deepening my yoga practice. Here I found Elena Brower and Anusara yoga and I loved it so much that I went to yoga 4-5 times a week.

Then in 2000 I booked a trip to Costa Rica, and that is what changed everything. I went back to the place that had fascinated and touched me so much in 1991: Montezuma. Nine years later it was still there, a small fishing village, sleepy and quiet. It had not changed much. And as it happens in life, I soon fell in love with the owner of the Hotel Los Mangos. On the property there was an open pavilion that was previously used as a restaurant, but had just been closed two months prior to my arrival. Open air, with a wooden floor and overlooking the sea- the perfect quiet place for yoga! I thought about bringing yoga teachers from the U.S. and organized and booked the first retreat with my teacher Elena Brower for November 2001.

After September 11th happened, I packed my suitcases in New York and decided to jump fully into my new adventure in Costa Rica. And then it hit me: here I was, 20 years later, in my dream of living a life by the sea! Everything seemed to fall into place easily for me, I just needed to say yes to open new doors. It was an incredible feeling of Bliss!

Elena then came for her retreat and she encouraged me to become a yoga teacher myself; so I started training as a yoga teacher in New York. For more than 10 years now I have been living my dream and it is the yoga which always continues to encourage me to see the good, the opportunities, the possibilities in every moment; to trust and believe in my own power and intuition, and to breathe through difficult situations and challenges.

Yoga has taught me to be soft and to give space, both to myself and therefore also to everybody else. I’ve learned from my own experience to first shift things for myself and then everything else will shift with me. I have now found the relationship for which I had always longed, but it was not until I shifted myself that I was able to meet the man of my dreams.

It is the most beautiful gift for me to share my passion for yoga with other people in my classes and to see how fast transformation can happen: how people are calmer, happier, more radiant with yoga. It is not important for me that you can put your foot behind your head or get into difficult asanas, but rather that you feel good about yourself, so that you will find clarity, peace and strength and learn to trust yourself.

I love to empower people to live their dreams.

Dagmar Spremberg moved from Germany to Los Angeles in 1996 and began practicing and studying yoga. After moving to New York, she intensified her studies and trained with certified Anusara teacher Elena Brower at Virayoga. She moved to Montezuma, Costa Rica in 2001 and founded Montezuma Yoga and began teaching yoga and organizing yoga retreats with international renowned teachers of all styles. Dagmar is a 500-hour certified E-RYT with the Yoga Alliance and an Anusara-inspired teacher. As a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC she complements yoga with her work as a certified Holistic Health Counselor and teaches lifestyle immersion programs within the Montezuma Yoga 200 Hr Yoga Teacher Trainings.

Dagmar lives with the Swiss artist and musician Daniel Gautschi, in Montezuma, Costa Rica, where they run La Candela Mountain Retreat. Daniel plays the magical instrument called Hang in Dagmar’s yoga classes and they perform frequently together in Costa Rica and Europe. Dagmar’s Yoga DVDs are available on her website as well as Daniel’s new CD “The Gaudan Project – Hold Still.” For more information please visit www.montezumayoga.com and check out Dagmar’s Facebook page here.

Edited by Jeannie Page.

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

My Rendezvous with God Through Yoga

Name: Anonymous
Location: Australia

Photo attributed to Flickr user legends2k.

“Darker it gets, nearer the dawn.”– this anonymous quote comes to my mind when I recall my past. My real life story may sound stranger than fiction for many readers and may attract an array of reactions and comments. We live in a world of information technology and with increasing information and knowledge comes great scrutiny and spontaneous comments, without a real life experience. Words cannot adequately describe the actual experience, even in this age of information technology. Only a ‘direct perception’ can reveal the ‘reality.’

When you write about a real life experience, various people from different countries, languages, religions, cultures and beliefs read such an experience.There is always a gap between what is conveyed and what is received because people read them with their conditioned minds, wearing glasses of various colors. If the article is read by a million people, there are a millions views and understandings; yet not even one in a million may really grasp the true reality. Whatever I am writing here is purely my personal experience, and all the opinions and suggestions are my own, and I do not intend to convert or change anybody with my views or expect anybody to concur with my views. You can read them, reflect on them and decide the outcome by yourself. Only direct experience will be of value in the yoga practice.

Sri Nataraja Temple

All my life I studied and practiced only science and engineering. But deep within me there was a great passion for Philosophy, Metaphysics, Occultism and Theology. This deep rooted passion has its origin in my past and it did not just come out of the blue. I am now 58 years old and I was born and brought up in the small town of Madurai, India, right around the time that India gained its independence from Britain. I remember we did not even have electricity at that time. Poverty and illiteracy were common. Our life centered on the great temple of Meenakshi. My dad was able to educate himself and he graduated from American College, a well-known college even today in Madurai. At that time, he was one of the few handfuls of graduates in the entire district. He educated all of us and I graduated as an engineer and I also did my post-graduate work at the University of Madras, now known as Anna University in Chennai, India.

During one of those days in the university, I happened to meet a fortune-teller, who was supposedly able to predict one’s future by simply looking at that person. He stopped me while I was walking past him and he said, “You come from a warrior family, who belong to the Vijaya Kingdom.You belong to a Naik clan and Naidu caste and you speak telugu. You will become a philosopher during the latter part of this life because that is your destiny.” I just laughed at his prediction. I offered him a cup of coffee and he accepted it as a fee for his prediction and then walked away. I never met him before or after this incident.

But in the second part of life, things changed completely. It was a deep, dark tunnel through which I had to travel nearly fifteen years of my life. I was deeply in debt and I had to sell everything to clear my debts before I became completely broke. I decided to leave India for good because I could not see any future there because of my past actions. I was able to migrate to Australia. My educational background and professional experience helped me for the migration. It was the darkest moment of my life.

Photo attributed to Flickr user h.koppdelaney.

During one of those dark days in India, I had a very strange experience. One day early in the morning I got up and looked at the mirror. I realized I was looking at a man in the mirror. It was a very strange, bizarre and scary moment which I will never forget in my lifetime. For a moment, there was no memory of me. My mind was completely blank. Even though it is only my own image in the mirror I was looking at, I could not relate to it. That momentary experience changed me completely into a new person, spontaneously dissolving all of my past. The great veil of Maya lifted for good. That experience taught me: when I was able to witness my own body, then who am I? The image in the mirror is a reflection of me, yet, I did not recognize that moment. There is a subject within me witnessing an object in the mirror, two different entities.

This mirror experience turned my life upside down. That was the beginning of my spiritual journey, because it was the ‘direct perception’ of my ‘self.’ What more evidence do I need to realize this truth that I am not the body but a spirit? Once this veil of ignorance called Maya is lifted, the darkness that engulfed my life simply vanished.

Now, I am a new person and there is a new beginning. During those solitary moments in silence, I can always feel that oneness with Self and experience Sahaja Samadhi. It is an experience where the Jeevatma merges with Pramatma in an eternal bliss. That was my liberation from the clutches of worldly attachments.The purpose of yoga is to prepare one’s body and mind until it dissolves one’s individual identity called ‘ego,’ and merges with the universal divinity called Iswara, in the state of Samadhi. Once you experience this state, there is nothing else to achieve because it is a direct meeting with ‘God,’ the most gracious, indescribable, ever-present and the most compassionate. It is beyond words.

My life today is very simple. I do not need anything and I spend all my time in the deep contemplation of Iswara, who showed me the path. I have been a vegetarian for the past 12 years and I don’t even think about alcohol and I am certainly not concerned about wealth or women. I have deep compassion for all forms of life on earth. I cannot witness any violence and injustice even in TV shows and I am overwhelmed by sights of poverty, hunger, domestic violence and exploitation of nature in the name of science and prosperity. I now view women with great reverence and respect. I see great divinity in the power of women to create, maintain and destroy. It is a great gift of God and cycle of nature.

I must warn the readers that the veil of Maya is very powerful and we cannot underestimate its power. We can overcome the power of Maya only with the grace of Iswara. When Maya becomes all the more powerful, then the world is in darkness and its end is imminent.

Yoga is a practical, step by step instruction manual that teaches people to transform themselves completely into their divine nature. It is not just a physical exercise or posture. The process is long and tedious and the path is full of hurdles and difficulties, but one can certainly attain the highest goal of Samadhi by following three simple rules of Tapa, Swadyaya and Iswara pranidinani ( strict discipline or austere life, deep contemplation of ‘who am I?” and complete surrender to Iswara). Everything else will fall into place for sincere aspirants.

Jesus Christ is one of the highest yogis in human history,  and Jesus said: “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel and will rule over all.”

This post was submitted by an anonymous author.

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