Finding Balance After a Stroke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Lyfe” and Breath

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

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

Then my breath was taken from me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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

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

Day 3

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

Day 4

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

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

Day 5

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

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

Day 10

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

Day 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 13

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

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

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

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

Joy Lanzerotte by treeNOW

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

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

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

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The Body I was Born With

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Bretton headshot

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

 

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Broken to Whole: A Journey of Transformation

Name:             B. Grace Marie Bullock, PhD, E-RYT, Certified Viniyoga Therapist
Location:        Eugene, Oregon, USA
Occupation:   Mind∞Body Therapist, Editor, Author, Research Scientist, Yoga Instructor

I literally could not breathe for 11 years. The air in Los Angeles left my asthmatic airways distressed and exhausted. At one point I ended up at UCLA Medical Center for days, pumped full of drugs and under the threat of being put on a respirator. I walked away, determined to never go back.

I moved away from Los Angeles later that year to attend a doctoral program in clinical psychology in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley. Liberated from the toxic air, I set out to renew my passion for running. I was living in Track Town USA after all, and running seemed to be the perfect antidote for the stresses of grad school.

crutches cropped

Photo attributed to Flickr user Tony Crider.

Within weeks my left tibia was fractured. No sooner would one fracture heal then another would emerge for no reason. Over the course of graduate school I was in and out of casts and crutches, as one by one bones would fracture or break. I was no longer running. Metatarsals would break from stepping out of my car, or off of a curb. My doctor at the university health center believed that I was suffering from osteoporosis, a bi-product of years of being on and off of high doses of prednisone to treat my asthma.

My first Dexascan revealed what I had feared – my bone density was two standard deviations below the mean for my age. Essentially, I had the bones of an 80-year-old woman. My years of exercise and healthy eating had not mitigated the destructive effects of years of using steroids to treat my asthma. I could no longer run, skate, ski, or engage in any other bone stressing activity. My bones were so brittle that any insult placed me at risk for a serious injury to my hips or spine, let alone the rest of my body. A life long athlete, I felt physically and emotionally broken. My primary coping mechanism for life stress was gone, and depression set in.

I took up cycling with a vengeance, and hit the weight room even harder to try to increase muscle mass and bone density. I began a daily regimen of biophosphates, calcium, and Vitamin D. My bones continued to break. In 2007, a repetitive stress fracture nearly cut the upper portion of my left femur at my hip in half. A lack of bone mass made my femur bone inoperable. I spent over seven months on crutches. I’d even nicknamed my orthopedist “Dr. Doom,” because it seemed as though the story became progressively worse as time went on. After an interminable period of inactivity and despair, I returned to yoga. I had attended yoga classes for a number of years, but was a yoga jock and a savasana dasher. “Real” people didn’t have time to lie around and do nothing.

This time around I could barely move my atrophied leg. I had to sit. I had to listen. I had no choice. In those weeks of silence on the mat, I discovered the practice of yoga. I observed the subtle transformation from feeling stressed out to peaceful and grounded, an experience that eluded me during my years of striving for the perfect pose. It soon became apparent that I needed to learn more, and enrolled in a year long yoga teacher training program.

Grace side angle poseThe study of yoga philosophy and principles for teaching and practice had a profound effect on me. I was fascinated by the yamas and niyamas – particularly the idea of ahimsa. The idea that we bear a responsibility to do no harm to ourselves as well as others was liberating, particularly after years of pushing myself to exhaustion and illness. I could forgive my perceived weaknesses, failures and inadequacies, and operate from a place of compassion and loving kindness. With practice, I was able to open myself to shraddha, and to surrender my grip on life.

This shift also changed the way that I viewed the process of therapy. For years I watched as my clients suffered, engaged in cycles of self-punitive thoughts and behaviors, just as I had. I realized that most of us are detached from our bodies and our inner divinity, and are locked in an endless spiral of doubt, angst, striving, and stress generation. Yoga seemed to provide a different way of thinking and being that shifted those samskaras, or patterns. It offered a holistic model of healing, as opposed to considering the mind and body as distinct entities. Compelled to understand this mind body connection, I dove further into the teachings and practices of yoga and studied to become a Viniyoga therapist. I discovered the therapeutic practices to be profound, vast, and incredibly powerful.

In years of practicing and teaching yoga, and building a private practice in which I integrate evidence-based psychotherapy with affective neuroscience and yoga therapy, I have experienced a profound physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation. Yoga has taught me to honor the light within all beings, including myself. I am tremendously blessed to witness the metamorphoses of my students and clients, each of whom approach their practice with courage and determination. They are my inspiration.
Grace and her dogMy personal evolution has taken many forms. Pranayama practices have strengthened my lungs, freeing me of the dependency on medication to breathe. Meditation has grounded me in my body, and my life, allowing me to embrace the ebb and flow of events with compassion and loving kindness. I have learned that life happens, and that we have the opportunity to respond with compassion, and in the spirit of ahimsa. Remarkably, even though I stopped taking medication for osteoporosis over two years ago, my bone density continues to improve. I have not broken a bone in six years!

The wisdom of yoga in all of its forms has transformed my once broken being into a vessel of strength. The journey has been miraculous, and I am filled with gratitude and grace.

Grace hugging dogB. Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT is a mind∞body therapist and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Her clinical work and research link evidence-based models of psychotherapy with affective neuroscience and yoga therapy. Grace is dedicated to teaching yoga to individuals of all ages and ability levels, creating practices that foster health, strength, empowerment, and stress reduction. Her life and classes are infused with playfulness, humor, compassion, and unbounded enthusiasm. After struggling with illness and injury for many years, Grace approaches each day with gratitude for the blessing of being alive and present. She strongly believes that each of us has the ability to heal our physical and emotional wounds, and to create lives of peace and joy. Her life is devoted to cultivating a better world one breath at a time.

Learn more about Dr. Bullock’s Mind∞Body Therapy practice, research, writing and more at http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com, follow her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DrBGraceBullock, or write her at bgracebullock@mind-bodytherapy.com.

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10 Simple but Profound Ways that Yoga Changed My Life (and can change yours)

Name: Tanya Kemp
Location: South Africa
Occupation: Entrepreneur

Tanya Kemp Patanjali quoteI started practicing yoga for the first time on my Wii Balance Board with Wii Fit Plus. I was getting over the brutal ending of my five-year relationship and my Wii console offered me some desperately needed escape from endless thinking and analyzing. I soon figured out that the Yoga practices on Wii Fit Plus helped quiet my mind even more than skateboarding or basketball, and soon I wanted more…urgently. My brother joked at the time and said I was like an addict – ‘chasing the white light.’ He was right in some ways – I was chasing the white light – the Divine white Light that Yoga would bring into my life.

Fast forward a few years and yoga is now such an integral part of my life that I don’t know how I ever survived without it. These are the lessons yoga continue to teach me every day:

1. Every day is an Opportunity for a New Beginning: My yoga practice is different every day. Poses that are hard on one day are manageable or even easy on another. I just have to accept what is happening on the mat for me today. I appreciate what I have on each given day…and know I can start again tomorrow.

2. The Value of the Pause: A friend once described me as ‘quick thinking – fast talking.’ Having a million-miles-an-hour-mind has its perks, but when that chatter becomes destructive, it’s hard to stop the snowball effect. Yoga taught me to pause and be still. I appreciate nothing more than those golden moments when I am moving, fluidly, in a dreamlike state, aware only of the flow of my own breath. Finally, my mind gives it a rest and I become free from its bondage.

3. Expression of my Soul: Savasana has become an amazing opportunity for an encounter with my true self. Seated meditation is still a challenge for me but in savasana I connect with my soul. I don’t think, but things come to me: insights into myself and I am left in awe of what is in my heart.

4. Fear Paralyzes: Challenging postures taught me that my fears and doubts paralyze me. When I doubt, I fall out and when I’m scared to fall, fail, or get hurt – I just don’t do anything. It’s my strategy in life too. So now I fall, I get hurt, and I get up….because it’s so important to DO something – and when it doesn’t work out the way I planned – it’s never as significant as I thought it would be.

5. Release and Let Go: In a posture, when you hold on, you tighten up, constrict and contract, and there’s little room for moving forward. Sounds a bit like life – surprise surprise! Letting go of what you don’t NEED is essential to move forward. The tension is self-inflicted – I just need to become aware of it…and then release it.

Tanya Kemp warrior pose6. Love Thy Body: The way yoga has me seeing my body, is that we’re a team. All my organs, cells, glands, and me – we have a little support group going on. I look after them, they look after me. We chat and listen and I learn so much from all of them because this body knows endlessly more than I could ever fathom. We heal each other, every day.

7. Acceptance: My practice teaches me to be at peace with what is, even if it’s not exactly how I had envisioned it. I will be on a mission to conquer one of my nemesis postures, without progress to get excited about, when suddenly, without warning, I will get into another posture for the first time. Just like that. For every pose that has eluded me, yoga has given me another just as lovely instead.

8. My Endless Potential: I have expanded my body in yoga in ways that had me realize how much more there is to me. It’s a journey during which I am expanding my body, my potential, and my understanding of the limitlessness of being human.

9. Physical Body Improvements: I am no spring chicken but I’m in better physical shape than I have ever been. I am strong and I am healthy. No diet, no starvation, no extremes – just me and my ‘support group’ doing the work as a team!

10. Happiness: Yoga has made me happy. I get an intense sense of joy when I roll out my purple mat and get into that first downward facing dog. I come home – I’m centered and peaceful…and happy. I am being with what is. I am.

Dear Yoga – Thank You.

Tanya Kemp bio photoTanya Kemp is a qualified Psychologist, Social Worker, Life Coach, Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner, Yoga Student and Teacher and Yoga Therapist. Through Tanya’s Yoga Business: Heal. Love. Yoga, she expresses her heart’s song in yoga, well-being, personal development and acceptance, improving people’s quality of life, and mobilizing (mass) action to make the world a friendlier place to be – one act at a time, one person at a time, one day at a time. Join Tanya, and Heal. Love. Yoga’s Journey in sharing Yoga and making a contribution to the world returning to its true spiritual nature. Follow Heal. Love. Yoga on facebook and on Pinterest.

 

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The Dance of Breath

Name: Paulina Julián
Location: San Francisco, CA
Occupation: Yoga and Spanish Instructor, Writer, Life-long Student

paulina dancing warriorAt 17 my life was pretty full. I was a high school student, editor in chief of a literary magazine, a professional ballet dancer, a college applicant, a seeker of romance, a perfectionist, a daydreamer, and an anorexic.

My life felt like a fast freight train, going at full speed with a ticket to a destination of which I was unaware. I woke up in the mornings with a highly altered pulse, ready to jump up and take on the world in a rush.

It seemed my mantra at that time was “do everything, say yes to everything, and do it quickly, for you might run out of time.”

On one of my high school summer breaks, I decided to advance my ballet career by attending an intensive ballet camp, with rigorous teachers and other professional dancers. I felt a deep passion as I set out to class each day, and I relished the rush of adrenaline every time my body moved in unison with the piano music. And yet, along with this passion, there was also the accompanying urge to achieve a perfect ballerina’s body, a compelling drive to attain more in life in order to feel satisfied with who I was. I constantly looked at myself through the eyes of one for whom nothing is enough, and for whom there were plenty of reasons to be unsatisfied. I compensated by taking more dance classes outside of my regular schedule, practicing extra hours, and making more plans for advancing my dance career.

My body finally gave in. It was during a rehearsal for an important performance. My dance partner lifted me, and as I landed, my foot twisted and my Achilles tendon tweaked. I cringed for a moment, looking worriedly at my foot, and impatiently at my body for not keeping up with the beat.

Art by Gibran Julian (www.gibravo.com)

Art by Gibran Julian (www.gibravo.com)

“Just keep going,” said the teacher. “This is not the time to stop.” And so, I did. I kept going on my fast train, as my pained body and self-disappointed mind danced along.

Finally the time came when my foot could no longer hold me up on pointe shoes. I reluctantly went to the doctor and after a thorough checkup and x-rays he said the words I had been dreading all this time: “You need to give yourself time to rest and slow down.”

In panic I asked, “But, will I ever dance again?” I felt my entire life and self-image crumbling down to pieces.

“Maybe, maybe not.” said the doctor. “But for now, it’s time to stop.”

I cried endlessly for the next month, as my sore foot and leg lay immobile in a cast, and the life I had planned for myself started to turn in front of my eyes. For years I had taught my body the art of dance. It taught me, in generous return, the art of surrender.

When enough time had gone by that I could walk again, something had shifted inside. I had given myself (or life had pushed me to give myself) the time to look at my life from a quiet -and physically still- standpoint. There was an unexpected sense of serenity in letting go of my expectations. Beyond the fear and nervousness, a deep longing for “something else” was slowly arising.

A good friend of mine saw the sudden change in my passionate drive, and out of compassion (and a bit of worry for my suddenly quiet state), invited me to a meditation and yoga retreat. I figured I that I had nothing to lose. So I packed up my bags and headed for the weekend retreat.

As I sat down to meditate for the first time in my life, I felt myself “arriving” in my body. I felt my healing foot, the sore muscles on my back, even my worked- up brain. Although I had been a dancer for many years, it was like meeting my body for the first time. It was my own body, not the body I had been urgently trying to fix and improve. And then I came upon a long-time companion, so present and yet just now meeting for the first time: my breath. A turning point.

Now, looking back at myself as a teenager, I realize I am not that much different. I treasure art, dance, writing, seeking new vistas, growing, overcoming limits, and seeing things from new perspectives. I am still passionate, and I am definitely still a perfectionist! And yet, yoga has allowed me to let go of the extra baggage that shrouded this passion.

Paulina yoga pose As I move through asana, my ballerina self is present, however she now follows not only an outer music beat, but also the inner, quiet rhythm of breath. Although I never achieved the ultimate perfect body of a ballerina, yoga inspired a new respect and gratitude for my body. Although I didn’t get into the Ivy League college that I wanted, I met the love of my life at my second choice college. And, although things usually don’t turn out exactly the way I plan them to, yoga teaches me every day there is a sacred flow in life: filled with surprise, with wonder, with love.

And during those moments of rush and stress, I now catch myself in the old freight train. Yoga reminds me that I can ask for it to stop; I can step off, pause, and reconnect with my heart: where I can be, where I am enough, and where all is perfect, in its own perfectly unexpected way.

Paulina bio with Dan and kittyPaulina Chandani Julián, originally from Guadalajara Mexico, recently moved to San Francisco with her dear husband and lovely kitten. She is a dedicated yoga and meditation practitioner and loves to write and learn. Above all, she cherishes family, friends and Nature with all her heart, and is a firm believer that life is a cool, rare, and sacred gift.

Paulina shares her inspiration at Now is the Time for Yoga, and she teaches Yoga in Spanish at Yoga Garden, San Francisco.


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Ageless

Name: Nick Montoya
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher, Corporate Trainer, Author, Speaker & Father.

I returned to Arizona a year ago and the question I got asked most often was, “What happened to you? You look a lot younger.” The short answer was “yoga.” A little more conversation and they understood that my life underwent a major transformation and I was now the happiest and healthiest I had ever been. By the end of the conversation they would say, “I need that in my life. Can you help me?”

prescription bottles

Photo by Flickr user nirbhao.

In February of 2009, I woke up one morning and could not walk. The back and leg pain that I had been dealing with for a few years suddenly got worse. Lying there, I reflected on how my health had gotten to where it was. It was gradual over the years and the medicine cabinet full of prescribed medications was the result of treating the symptoms and not the source. My doctor referred to me as a “walking time bomb.” My total cholesterol level was 230 and my blood pressure was 180/98. Migraines or unbearable headaches were an everyday occurrence. I had no energy and felt the weight of the world upon me.

No one, not even my three daughters knew the gravity of these health issues, as I held to my Hispanic/Latino perception of machismo – that I am a strong man and can handle anything. I should be able to handle a divorce from a 24-year marriage; and handle being solely responsible for the care and welfare of my three daughters; and handle my job as a senior manager at Intel Corporation where I had enjoyed a successful 27-year career; and handle the publication of a book I wrote; and handle the care of our horses; and handle leadership positions within several Hispanic-based Sacramento community organizations. I did handle everything, some say perfectly. However, underneath, my health was crumbling. The time bomb was going to explode at any time.

When I woke up that morning in early 2009 and could not walk, I soon found myself under the care of the Chief of Staff of Pain Management at UC Davis Medical Center. The diagnosis was extrusions in L4/L5. He suggested to first try a series of steroid epidurals to see if those would be effective in “loosening things up.”

My eldest daughter Giana, 23 at the time, drove me to the hospital for that first surgical procedure. On the way home, she pulled over to the side of the road, turned the engine off and stated that she would not drive one inch further until I promised her I would go to a yoga class. Giana had been practicing yoga for a couple of years and had been bugging me to give it a try. I had refused, thinking that yoga was for “sissies.” I did promise and fulfilled the commitment a few days later when the epidural seemed to take effect.

Nick Montoya tree poseThat first yoga class was mind-blowing. It was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I had ever experienced. I sweated more than I had ever sweated in my life, and it was not a hot yoga class. As I was walking to my car I realized I felt better than I had in a long time. I went back for more. I kept feeling better and had lots more energy.

Within six months I had lost 50 pounds and was able to get off of all medication. My total cholesterol level dropped to a healthy level of 152. I no longer got migraines and headaches were at a minimum. My back and leg pain were greatly reduced and it was no longer an inhibitor to any activity. It was not necessary to return to UC Davis Medical Center for the remaining two steroid epidurals. My doctors were amazed.

I wanted to learn more about this ancient practice and my philosophy of accelerated learning is this: if you want to learn something, learn how to teach it. So I enrolled in a 250-hour teacher training program and within one year from taking my first yoga class ever, I began teaching five classes per week. I soon found myself as a role model and inspiration for other middle-aged people that needed to improve their health. I was also able to integrate life experiences, concepts from my book and years of leadership training into step-by-step programs – helping people in their transformation to a healthier lifestyle.

Nick Montoya side plankOnce I started teaching yoga, I found myself at another crossroads: Do I finish my career in the corporate world or do I make a significant change and become a full-time yoga teacher? After a lot of reflection, prayer, and meditation, I decided to leave the corporate world and become a world-class yoga teacher, adopting a new mission for my life: help people get healthy.

My first stop was my home state of Arizona to spend time with my parents and to see what I could do to help my Mom feel better. She was managing several chronic pain issues and her health was continuing to decline, despite a cabinet full of prescribed medications. Within four months of practicing yoga breathing techniques, the doctor took her off oxygen. Through a daily chair yoga routine, she has lost weight, increased her strength, and was able to reduce daily medications from ten to three. My Dad takes my power classes and at 83 is stronger than most students half his age.

There are now three generations of Montoyas practicing yoga. Besides my parents, all three daughters practice. The eldest daughter has gone on to become a teacher herself and has combined yoga and Latin dancing into a program, based in Florida, called Shiva Latina.

Today, I teach ten yoga classes per week at the Blissful Yoga Studios based in Scottsdale, Arizona. I conduct lifestyle transformation workshops and retreats, guest-teach in any city I visit and am the teacher featured in a new unique 4-DVD 8-week program for Beginners, called “Ageless Yoga with Nick Montoya.” Thousands of people are now doing “Ageless” and producers are looking to turn this into the “P90X phenomenon” for people 40-plus.

“Ageless” has become a term associated with me. It is not only the name of my yoga programs, it also reflects my physical and mental outlook on life. As I am getting older in age, I am actually getting stronger, more flexible, more balanced, more focused, and have more energy. I am “aging less” and through my teaching, helping others to achieve their own sense of ageless health.

Hey, if I can do it, anyone can!

Nick Montoya bioIn addition to being a Power Vinyasa Yoga teacher, Nick Montoya has enjoyed a successful career as an executive coach, a nationally acclaimed author, consultant, speaker, and expert trainer. After experiencing a dramatic transformation through yoga, Nick reached a crossroads in his life and decided to leave the corporate world to become a full-time yoga teacher. Nick’s wellness programs are produced by Vayu Productions. Nick Montoya can be found on Facebook here and on Twitter @NickMontoya4. Follow The Ageless Program on Facebook here.

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

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

Yoga’s Dharma is to Heal

Name: Elizabeth McGlinchey
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Occupation: Graduate Student

Photo by Flickr User st_gleam.

Photo by Flickr User st_gleam.

When I was a teenager, a drunk driver drove into me as I crossed the street, leaving me severely injured. Weeks passed, jam-­packed with surgery, radiology tests, laboratory tests, and diagnoses. I changed into someone with whom I could no longer identify.

Once my health became stable, I was admitted to a rehabilitation hospital, and was soon able to move around independently… in a wheel chair. I remember the first time I stood up and the excruciating pain that surged through my body. Reminiscent pain still comes and goes in my legs, but it is something I have tolerated well in the years since and it has never stopped me from wanting to become stronger and athletic. Twelve years later I am still healing physically and emotionally. Continue reading

Breaking Patterns

Name: Anonymous
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Occupation: Mother, Wife & Yogini

Photo by Margie Woods Brown.

Photo by Margie Woods Brown.

I’ve learned a lot of amazing things on my mat, with incredible Forrest Yoga teachers and friends in my community. These women are inspiring; sharing and being authentic in the quest for wholeheartedness and vulnerability. Yes, vulnerability. It’s something most people let shame them, yet on our mats we sweat out more than just the toxic substances in our bodies. We sweat them out of our hearts and minds.

As Brené Brown says, by giving a voice to your story it can no longer shame you. We are talking about her book in our bad-ass group of women that comes together weekly to commune on our mats, sharing laughter, our thoughts and dinner afterwards. I’ve decided to drop my sh*t story and let go of the shame that I have allowed to hold me back. So here goes a bit of authenticity for ya: I am a foodaholic. I have let myself eat to numb out for too long. I am done. Really done. Not just “ok, yeah I do this and it sucks but I will stop…for a while,” but Really. Effing. Done. Continue reading

Yoga – The Greatest Gift

Name: Julie Peoples-Clark
Location: Burlington, Vermont, USA
Occupation: Mother, Dancer, Yoga & Dance Teacher

Ella and Julie 2Ten years ago, I gave birth to my daughter Ella. My husband and I were very excited to be having a baby. I had a wonderful full-term pregnancy. I ate right, exercised every day, didn’t drink alcohol, and stayed away from anyone who was smoking. My due date came and went and I was two weeks overdue when I finally went into labor. My labor was very hard and long, Ella went into distress and was not breathing when she was born. She was taken away from me and the next time I saw her she was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Continue reading