The Accidental Yogi

Name: Michael A. Stusser
Location: Seattle, Washington, USA
Occupation: Free-lance Writer, Playwright & Game Inventor

Photo by Flickr user chooyutshing.

Photo by Flickr user chooyutshing.

There was a time—and not so long ago—when I thought yoga was a bizarre circus routine where sinewy, limber Indian contortionists in need of a shower bent themselves into pretzels to the beat of Sitar music. Not that there’s anything wrong with being sinewy, from India, or a contortionist, mind you, it’s just that these misconceptions almost caused me to miss out on one life’s more sublime experiences.

My entire yogic experience to date has been in an Intro class at the 8 Limbs Yoga Studio in Seattle. I’ve been a beginner for several years now, and have no intention of moving on to intermediate or advanced classes (where they actually do twist folks into pretzel-like positions). You see, I’m perfectly happy where I am—in the moment—a difficult lesson to learn in this age of multi-tasking, and one of the basic tenants of yoga. Continue reading

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Enter the Lion: My First Steps in Forrest Yoga

Name: Colleen Millen
Occupation: Forrest Yoga Guardian Teacher, mother, graduate student
Location: Northern California, USA

I had envisioned a yoga class on soft supportive bolsters – different variations of lying over things, close to the floor. After all, the workshop was called something like (one might call it “mislabeled”) “restorative yoga.”

Instead, I found myself at one point in a lunge lion – a lunge hugging the back foot in by the sit bone and stretching the tongue out to the chin releasing a seismic roar out the mouth. Dripping with sweat, I went for the sound full-throttle. The burning from my thighs seemed to explode like lava from a volcano out of my mouth until I felt every cell in my body was popping with rage. We released and flowed to the other side. I noticed my thoughts: “This teacher sucks! It was supposed to be restorative yoga! This whole conference sucks! What the hell am I doing here?” I whipped forward out of the pose and onto the ground panting.

Then it hit me – this was my anger. This feeling had nothing to do with this teacher I had just met. For the first time in my life I had just tapped into a layer of feeling so intense that a part of me was working overtime to project it onto everyone but myself. I knew this anger was mine. And the truth of it – even though I had to hit the proverbial brick wall in the pose to find it – actually helped me to breathe deeper. I just had to move past the feeling of smacking into a brick wall of my truth.

After class, somehow I had the hootspa to march right up to the teacher and without preamble I announced: “I spent almost the whole class being pissed at you. It was the most rewarding yoga experience I’ve ever had.”

Ana Forrest looked at me, I thought equal parts shock and amusement on her face, and said: “I’m doing a teacher training in Chicago in the fall. You should come.”

***

The yoga mat has been my doorway to healing. At first, it was mostly a place where I could move my body without physical pain. I found that I could build strength and fluidity of movement without wincing or favoring one of the multiple injuries I had suffered as a collegiate athlete with bum knees.

Most importantly, the mat has been a place I could delight in my body and celebrate it – which has been a challenge after years of raging eating disorder, depression and anxiety (later I rename my experience Complex PTSD). My mat has unlocked feeling, courage and presence – especially when bouts of depression would make me want to curl up and disappear from the world. It has been an altar of sorts where I have both named the fluctuations of feeling that form my emotional world and touched my spirit, which is imbued with gold and as fluid as water. This yoga mat is a home where my body, mind and spirit meet.

And, while all this sounds almost romantic, please don’t misunderstand – on the yoga mat it’s not all roses. I’ve stumbled, cried, wailed, snotted, farted (yes, it happens for all of us one time or another), raged and hid on my mat. It’s because I’ve had the full spectrum of human experience on the mat, that I’m able to say that in yoga I’ve built a home for my soul to play.

Colleen Millen, E-RYT-500, is a Forrest Yoga Guardian teacher and mother of two who lives in Northern California. A former journalist, her advanced asana currently is completing her master’s degree in somatic psychology on track to be a licensed therapist. Recently, her paper “Development of Awareness: Language and Breathing as Essential Elements in Somatic Therapy” has been published in the Journal of Holistic Psychology. You can reach Colleen at contact@bluebuddhayoga.com and read more about her at www.bluebuddhayoga.com. Find her on Facebook at Blue Buddha Yoga – Colleen Millen.

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Crash into Me

Name: Gitte Lindgaard
Location: Denmark
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

It was a morning like any other. My husband was driving me to work, it was an early summer morning, the sun was shining, and the birds were singing. What I remember the most was the sudden sound of squealing tires and then the crash.

Photo by Flickr User mrJasonWeaver.

Another man was texting while driving and he hit our car at high speed. We were both taken to the hospital. My husband was fine but I was diagnosed with a concussion and later with whiplash. That morning my life changed forever. For more than six months, I was bound to my bed. I couldn’t tolerate any kind of sound or light, to the extent that I was forced to wear sunglasses all the time. I isolated myself because I couldn’t be with more than two or three people at a time. I was tired all the time, I had headaches, and I couldn’t remember any new things. I felt very sorry for myself.

The entire situation was very scary. I didn’t know if I would ever get better and I felt that I was failing as a mother and a wife. Prior to the accident, I had been so dynamic and full of life. I had always loved sports and led a very active life with my family. We all loved competing at everything and now I couldn’t do anything. I felt like such a burden. Everything was hard, even simple everyday things like cooking or even sending an email. It was a struggle to see my physiotherapist and the treatment didn’t work. I tried acupuncture, a neurologist, a psychologist, and a lot of other things, but unfortunately nothing really helped.

At some point someone advised me to try yoga. I was never a big fan of yoga. I had tried it a couple of times and it was just not for me. Even though I was well trained, I wasn’t flexible at all. I also found it to be boring because there was no competition. At the same time, I was ready to try anything in order to get better, so I decided to give it another chance.

Because I couldn’t handle being in a room with more than two or three people at a time, I couldn’t attend a yoga class. I bought some DVDs about yoga and started doing yoga for 15 minutes every day. I hated it so much in the beginning. I got so tired and I felt like I was hurting my fragile ego by being so lousy at it.

Slowly, after a month, I began to enjoy it more and more. I could see small improvements in my practice. I got better at listening to my body regarding which poses were good for me and knowing when I had had enough. Doing yoga gave me energy and it lessened my sensitivity to light, until eventually I was able to stop wearing the sunglasses. I started to make my own sequences, just by listening to my body and my intuition, and the sequences got longer and longer until I was practicing yoga for 45 minutes every day. I started to get better at it. My body began to become more flexible and at some point I could actually touch my toes. After 3-4 months I started to train in a fitness center. I still kept on doing yoga.

After a year I was declared 85% healthy. I started to work again and because it became harder and harder to make time to do yoga, I lapsed in my practice for quite a while. I started to get headaches again and sometimes my arm would get numb for a few seconds. This really scared me and it caused me to make a decision: I would commit to yoga for life.

After I made this decision and started to practice again, it was as if my soul and my body started to work together. Something magical was happening. I rediscovered myself; not the person I was before the whiplash, but the person I was supposed to be. Yoga changed from being something I had to remember to do, into something I wanted to do. It became a necessary element in my life. I made time to do yoga every day because my body and my soul simply needed it.

On my journey to rediscovering myself, I started to introduce yoga to people with disabilities at my work. Guiding them in the world of yoga just felt so right and rewarding. Yoga kept taking more and more space in my life and it felt like falling in love. I could read about it for hours on end and practice poses every available minute. Sometimes I would even do yoga while taking a shower.

More practice led to more clarity and I eventually enrolled in teacher trainings in both The United States and in Denmark. Today I teach yoga full-time to people with pain, injuries, conical illness, and disabilities. I have found the real me.

Gitte lives in Denmark with her husband and two daughters. Gitte has practiced different types of yoga and after recovering from whiplash after a car accident, she began teaching yoga mostly to disabled people. Gitte is the founder of Livets Træ (Tree of Live.) She has a degree in Nutrition and Health and specializes in empowering people to be aware and take responsibility for healthy living. Gitte believes in doing something every day of which her future self would be proud. Gitte can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LivetsTrae and on Twitter @loveliveyoga.

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Mind Over Back Pain

Name: Sara Curry
Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Studio Owner

Image by Flickr user neckandback.

In 2001, after a history of throwing my back out, I was diagnosed with 2 herniated discs. I had endured long periods where I couldn’t move or perform the tasks of daily life for a few days or even weeks. But in 2001, it became worse than ever. The pain was constant and I couldn’t find relief with any activity. Moving hurt, but so did resting. I couldn’t lie on the table long enough to get a massage. I thought chiropractic care would help, but after some sessions, I was in too much pain to even get into my car. My husband had to tie my shoes for me, he had to bring in the groceries and change the cat litter, shovel the walk, weed the garden, and anything else that required lifting, carrying or bending.

I had just started practicing yoga at Bikram Yoga Burlington, Vermont, when the pain became really acute. I called the studio and asked what I should do. My teacher, Aimee, told me I could take a couple of days off if I really felt I needed it, but to get back in the studio before a week had gone by. I visited a spine doctor that week and got my diagnosis. “Cortizone shots, pain killers and surgery,” he explained, were my only options for pain management. Notice that I didn’t say “rehabilitation.” He had nothing to offer long term; no way to heal or rehabilitate the area. Instead he offered a way to just cut out the bulge and take drugs so that I couldn’t feel it.

I knew there had to be another option, a better option. The yoga had been making me feel great in so many other ways, that I decided to trust the process. I listened to my teachers. I practiced almost every day for over a year. In my poses, I worked on creating traction for my spine to take the pressure off the compromised discs. I limited or skipped forward bends all together. I worked to deepen my backbends in order to improve my spinal alignment and to develop soft tissue strength to support the weakness in my inter-vertebral discs.

I shed a lot of tears on my mat in that hot room. Tears from the pain. Tears because I felt sorry for myself. Tears because it was hard and sometimes I felt hopeless. When you are in the depths of that kind of pain, it is hard to see that there might be a relief someday. When everything hurts, from brushing your teeth to sleeping, it is hard to imagine that your life won’t always be focused on your pain, even in your sleep.

There were many days that I pulled into the parking lot, drove around the back of the building and right out the other entrance. Sometimes I did that circle three or four times before I would park my car and drag my aching back through the doors of my yoga studio. Many of my classes were very painful, but I always felt worse if I didn’t go to class.

My biggest breakthrough came when I took a class with Rajashree Choudhury in Los Angeles at Bikram Yoga International Headquarters. I wanted to speak with her before class to give her a disclaimer about my back and to ask her for any help or modifications. There was a long line of students waiting to speak with her, so I never got my chance. Before she started the class she told us that many students had asked her about modifications for back pain, “Just do your yoga,” she told us.

And I did. Within 11 days, I was pain-free and terrified. I was terrified that it wouldn’t stick, that the pain would come back, or that I would do something to hurt myself again.

I still face that fear some days.Thankfully the days are now few and far between, but it does come up from time to time. Each time it does, I get better at dealing with it. I tell myself that moving my body is not going to damage it. I remind myself that I have learned to heal myself with yoga before and that I have the tools to do it again.

Owner and Director of Bikram Yoga Portsmouth, Sara Curry is a 500-hour Certified Bikram Yoga Instructor. Sara found her way to Bikram Yoga after years of rugby, weightlifting and running left her with two herniated discs and debilitating back pain. Faced with a choice from her doctors between surgery and a lifetime of cortisone shots, Sara chose Bikram Yoga instead. With just the 26 postures, she was able to return to a pain-free life. She has been inspired by her own recovery to share this healing series with others. Sara has given birth to two children naturally, with no back pain during either pregnancy. She has returned to snowboarding and hiking and can carry her 5-year old up Mount Agamenticus, on her shoulders, without any pain. And all of this knowing there was a time when she couldn’t roll over in bed at night without searing pain. In the words of Bikram Choudhury, it truly is, “Never to late. Never too bad. Never too old. Never too sick to start all over from scratch.”

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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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Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi

Name: Brian Leaf
Location: Northampton, Massachusetts
Occupation: Author

In 1989 I was like every other insecure 18-year-old starting freshman year at Georgetown University. I was like everyone else except that, every few hours, I had to sneak off to issue myself a medical enema. Needless to say, this did little to boost my self-esteem.

I faced this plight because I had ulcerative colitis. I’ll spare you the detailed symptoms, except to say that they greatly resembled what you’d expect after drinking murky tap water at a very cheap Mexican motel.

Photo by Flickr User myyogaonline.

Luckily, though, my situation changed dramatically that year after I stumbled upon an elective: yoga. I saw that my symptoms of colitis were worse on days that I had skipped yoga. So I wondered if doing more yoga would lessen the symptoms?

I decided to self-medicate with yoga. Five times per day, I practiced four sun salutations, followed by 10 minutes of deep relaxation. Taking these 20-minute yoga breaks, five times every day, was a huge time investment. But my effort proved worthwhile, because three days later my symptoms were gone. GONE.

The symptoms stayed in remission for two years. When they flared up again, I reinstated my self-medicating regimen with four sun salutations, followed by 10 minutes of deep relaxation, five times a day. And again it worked.

As you can imagine, I was a yoga zealot after that. In fact, in the span of two years, I went from being New Jersey’s top rated high school debater to the kind of guy who shows up to Advanced Accounting class in a Mexican serape and leather sandals.

After college, instead of pursuing an accounting career, I traveled the United States, studying yoga and meditation. I didn’t hold any jobs for too long, and wherever I lived, I tutored to cover rent and expenses. I was happy with this nomadic lifestyle for several years, until, during a meditation-based psychotherapy session, my therapist suggested that I was, in fact, avoiding settling down because I was challenged by holding down a job and showing up consistently for a relationship, because I had attention deficit disorder (ADD).

I thought she was probably right, and I was miserable about the diagnosis. I wondered if my biochemistry would limit what I could achieve. Could I ever work a steady job, get married, and settle down?

Then I remembered when I had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I wondered if, like colitis, ADD did not represent a permanent disease or disorder but an indication that I needed to reexamine how I was living. I began searching for evidence in holistic health literature that ADD could be treated naturally through yoga, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

Finally, in an article about Ayurveda, I read that a certain imbalance can cause ADD-type symptoms.

I made an appointment with a local Ayurveda practitioner, and I started taking classes. I received a wide range of advice including meditation, yoga postures, herbs, urine therapy (the daily practice of drinking one’s own midstream morning urine), and this gem: “Every morning before you leave the house, apply a small amount of untoasted sesame oil to every orifice of your body: lips, nostrils, ears, nipples, penis, and anus.” I know now that all of this is terrific advice. But it was advice that, nonetheless, I was not quite ready for.

Photo by Flickr user Hannap.

I learned that according to Ayurveda each individual is a unique blend of three proclivities, or doshas, described as ether/air (vata), fire (pitta), and water/earth (kapha). Ayurveda posits that health and vitality result from respecting the particular needs and maximizing the innate gifts of one’s dosha.

I learned that a person with lots of ether/air (me) is often very creative and funny and flexible (if I do say so myself), but when out of balance can become overly creative, overly flexible, and overly airy — basically scatterbrained, wishy-washy, and flatulent (d’oh!). In fact, vata people’s tendency toward flexibility and creativity can become unbounded and then look like the spaciness and distractibility of ADD.

I developed a personalized prescription included taking herbs, meditating, giving myself a daily sesame-oil massage, eating a certain diet, sitting for an hour every day next to a tree on the bank of a gently flowing stream, and reminding myself throughout the day to be in my body (rather than lost in my mind).

And again, it worked. After six months, I was more focused, more energized, and more present. I went from spacey, distractible, and impulsive, to attentive, focused, and mindful. Now I could hold down a job and finish a long-term project — in fact, I’ve authored 11 books.

It’s fair to say that as long as I respect the needs of my particular constitution, I don’t have ADD any more. And the same is true of colitis. If I held in my emotions, gave up yoga, and subsisted on fast food and soda, I bet I’d be back to the medical enemas, but as long as I express my feelings, exercise, and eat well, I am colitis, ADD, and enema free.

Brian Leaf, M.A. is the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. He draws upon 21 years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. Visit him online at http://www.Misadventures-of-a-Yogi.com and check out the book trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcYFYjnU9Cw.

Based on the new book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi ©2012 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission of New World Library http://www.newworldlibrary.com.

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Yoga and Lupus

Name: Katherine Girotti
Location: London, Ontario, Canada
Occupation: Administration Professional and New Yoga Teacher

Photo by Flickr user Andrea Guerra.

I am one of the thousand faces of Lupus. I was diagnosed with Lupus (SLE) over 15 years ago and I have had almost every possible manifestation of Lupus, including: the classic butterfly rash, joint and tissue inflammation, renal failure, pericarditis, ulcers, anemia, pleural effusion, nerve paresis and memory loss. I have lived through two rounds of chemotherapy. It was after this very critical point in my illness, that I was lucky enough to have found yoga. It was then that I decided to change how I was living my life. I quit smoking, changed my diet, I joined a great gym, and have been actively participating in the hot yoga program for over two years.

I rely heavily on my yoga practice for the physical and emotional stability it continues to provide me. Yoga has been an important component in my treatment and greatly alleviates many symptoms of the disease while minimizing the hold Lupus once had on my life. In fact, the benefits have been so extraordinarily positive that I have decided to become an instructor so that I may use my knowledge and experiences to “pay it forward.”

Lupus can affect any gender, race and age. It is an incurable autoimmune disease that can affect any organ at any time. The immune system cannot recognize the difference between its own cells and foreign cells so it will just randomly attack itself (known as a flare), causing inflammation and sometimes serious organ failure. Since each individual’s experience is different, yoga can be tailored to provide very specific relief during any stage of the disease.

My yoga practice has increased my mobility, flexibility and provides pain relief to my sore, inflamed joints when associated with a flare. Yoga relaxes and de-stresses me which can also prevent flares and inhibit disease activity altogether. It also improves my sense of self which has helped me to battle depression symptoms during those times when I get down about my condition. Simply put, yoga keeps me active and feeling positive!

Sadly, my father recently passed away from an autoimmune disease and it gave me a new perspective on life and how it should be lived. Life is too short to delay doing something that you really love and are passionate about. One of my main purposes for wanting to become an instructor is to share yoga with or “pay it forward” to other people suffering with Lupus, Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, so that they too may benefit, as I have, from practicing yoga. As a volunteer with the Lupus Society, I plan to hold free workshops and classes to educate others on Lupus and yoga. 

Yoga and meditation have allowed me to embrace who I am, to be grateful for everything and everyone in my life, and to accept my disease. It has given me the ability to cope and has provided me inner peace. Practicing yoga has taught me that life no longer needs to be centered on my disease, but instead can be lived with a sense of freedom, meaning, and purpose. 

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
-Buddha

Katherine Girotti is a 34-year old yogini living in London, Ontario, Canada. She was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythamatosus when she was just 18 years old. After finding great healing through yoga, Katherine decided to become a yoga teacher so that she could help others struggling with autoimmune disease. Katherine recently completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training course and plans to continue her training next year with a 500-hour teacher training. In the future, she plans to become certified to teach other specialty yoga courses, such as pre/post natal, children’s yoga, yin yoga, and therapeutic yoga.

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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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The Journey Back From Drug Abuse

Name: Anonymous
Location: Waitakere, New Zealand
Occupation: Graphic Designer

A close friend, who was training to become a teacher, first introduced me to yoga when I was about 20 years old.

I had grown up learning ballet, so my body responded quite quickly to the stretches and I soon became a guinea pig for my friend’s teaching practice. What first struck me was the reconnection to my body, and in particular, my legs.

As a typically self-conscious teenager, I realized that I had disconnected so entirely from my body (sadly out of sheer disgust), that I had not really looked at, touched, or engaged with my legs for about 10 years. It was quite a revelation to reacquaint myself with the lower half of my body and I’ll never forget how it felt when I realized the neglect that I had subjected on myself.

I had been through seven years of drug abuse, the last three of which were pretty significant and were getting gradually more and more dangerous in regard to me finding an escape route. Without question, yoga was that escape.

The breath refocused my desires and intentions. Motion and stretching released toxins and lifted my energy. Gradual progression taught me the metaphor of steady success. Everything together gave me the clarity I needed to know there was more out there for me, and helped me to see how attainable and achievable a better life could be.

After this initial introduction to yoga, I began practicing Hatha and Iyengar Yoga, and later Ashtanga Yoga at the Yoga Academy in Auckland City. And just this year I was fortunate to have found a wonderful teacher who has brought in subtle spiritual elements that have extended my practice even further to a deeper and even more fulfilling place; drawing prana from the earth to engage longer and deeper poses, opening and closing the practices with meditation and breathing exercises. It is truly beautiful and I am grateful every day for having found the yogic path and for the methods and guidance that continue to help me along my path today.

I am a 35-year old Mum of four incredible children living in Waitakere, New Zealand. I am married to a beautiful, awesome man and we have a cool dog. I am an artist and work part-time as a graphic designer, but love getting involved in voluntary community work wherever I can. Yoga is an important part of my life and although there are periods of time where I fall out of my practice, whenever I return it fills my heart with immense joy. I sincerely believe that if the world practiced this vital art, we would be a very peaceful, happy (stress-free!) and compassionate world indeed.

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The Yogini Canary: True Tales from the Mines of LA Startups

Name: Ashley Nicolei Vanni
Location: Los Gatos, California, USA
Occupation: Program Coordinator for a Yoga & Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Center

Photo by Flickr user jvverde.

My father always jokes with me that I am like the canary that miners bring on their shoulders into the mines to alert them of toxic gases (if there is toxicity the canary will start chirping or die and fall off the shoulder). Petite, friendly, and energetic, I can relate to the canary, the little messenger of life. My fate, not as tragic as some of my fellow canaries; my journey, quite similar.

I began my journey as a Brand Liaison & Senior Rep for VIP clients with a flash sales fashion-based startup in downtown Los Angeles. Newly out of college and emerging into the industry, I was bright-eyed and excited to have such an amazing opportunity at my young age. Eager to please and learn, I put 110% into my work. Of course, in the startup world, that means 60 hours or so a week. All was well until the company expanded and decided to move offices. My work hours increased and construction was being done in the work place. Little did I know my life was about to take a very dark turn, and change forever.

With high work hours and construction going on in the work place, during office hours, ceiling “dust” and paint chips would rain down on my head, shoulders, desk, and food. I would come into the office in the morning and have a thick coating of white paint dust on my black desk. I could rarely take dinner breaks, so I would usually wind up eating dinner at my desk, the dust from the ceiling all over my dinner. Sadly, at the time, I didn’t think anything of it because my co-workers were all dealing with similar circumstances.

A few months after being in the new office, I began having severe allergic reactions (anaphalactic shock) on a daily basis. Doctors originally thought it was a rapid onset allergy to tree nuts, however tests proved the theory incorrect and I became so sick that I was in and out of the hospital every few days for about six months.The scary part was that doctors were puzzled. All they could do was “make me comfortable” and hope that my body would fight for itself.

Once I left the office for good, the reactions became more sparse. I still cannot eat tree nuts (because they are believed to be a trigger of the attacks, however tests are inconclusive) as that allergy is thought to be a bi-product of heavy metal poisoning or paint VOC poisoning.This is something that I am currently still processing and healing from and most likely will be for a long time to come. On a daily basis, I have to make sure I don’t come in contact with tree nuts (all items processed with tree nuts: shampoo, lotions, conditioner, oils, medicines, vitamins, protein powder, the list goes on).

Although the crisis has been a lot to process and digest, it has proven to me that the body is an incredible machine and a bundle of kinetic energy that we must treat with kindness, forgiveness, love, and care – it is truly capable of achieving so much. And it does so much on its own, without us even having to think about it.

So then, how has yoga saved my life? In many ways: breathing – clearing the energies and the blood; stretching and postures – pushing the body to new limits and experiencing that self-esteem boost in “Yes, I can;” releasing tension, illness, and injury through deep and timely poses; philosophy – teaching me new reason; lifestyle, diet, and nutrition – restructuring my daily life. Yoga and this new lifestyle have opened up new channels, new networks, and new contacts that have guided me in my journey to healing, to becoming complete again. Yoga has enabled me to pick up the pieces and put them back together, not into a “new” me, but rather into an improved, an aware, and a realized me. No process has been more beautiful and I wouldn’t change my lessons for the world.

Connecting with the improved me, after much healing, I decided to pursue a new career in the practice of healing and leading others through their journey of healing. Whatever the cause of our pain, we are all designed to find the light at the end of the tunnel…some of us just need a little more direction. Currently, I am pursuing my dream of becoming a healer by working as a Program Coordinator for a Yoga & Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Center and College of the Arts & Health Sciences. Located in the mountains, there is nothing more healing than yoga, diet, and mother nature.

My next adventure, I have a feeling, will trickle into Qigong (Chinese Medicine) and Dietetics. I truly believe, that at the end of the day, all medicines intertwine and a mix and balance of all (each in its rightful place, time, and amount) will contribute to the ultimate healing. I hope to one day run my own home practice.

So, my little yogis, if there is something that is getting you down, something that is blocking you from your ultimate health and wellness, from being your kindest and most open self… be like the canary. Chirp loudly and you will get through. There is light at the end of the tunnel and it is waiting for you with open arms.

Ashley can be found at the following links:
Tumblr: www.livelovemanja.tumblr.com
Twitter: LiveLoveManja
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ashley.vanni

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