I Ain’t No Expert…

Name: Emma Todd
Location: Sunshine Coast, Australia
Occupation: Artist, Mama and Student

Emma Todd raysMy new neighbour is a yoga teacher, “or almost,” she says, with laughter shining from her being. I could not only see the sound, but I could feel it in every atom of me, the moment she threw her head back and laughed. Looking back I realise that was when I was first hit by her invisible positive power … her yoga rays. I’ve been infected ever since that moment.

Not that I’m any stranger to yoga. For over 20 years now, I’ve been a haphazard practitioner of Sun Salutations and other asanas featured in magazines I’ve happened to flick through in various waiting rooms. These gorgeous, glossy pages would magically find their way into my bag and have become a little worn and creased and faded, like me. The pages remained in my possession like talismans even though the asanas are memorised by my body and soul. Extended periods of disciplined practice, when I swore to yoga like a new love that this could and would not ever end (because it felt so darn good), were followed by long bouts of yoga droughts where the only practices were hedonism and procrastination in all things. Eventually, with a flabby mind, I shyly hobbled or skulked back to my mat and breathed through each position with love and acceptance and surrender—and always, yes always, within a day or two, I wondered where on this Earth I’d been.

Something mysterious happens the moment I step onto my mat, even when I feel a little tired or uninspired. But every time I finish, I am awake, renewed, and present again. Perhaps the times when yoga disappears from my life in the physical form are just as important and necessary as when it is present, like yin and yang, light and shade, sweet and sour. I can never appreciate something fully till it disappears; I can never see something properly when it’s always the same. Balance has been a dance on a tightrope, filled with high drama, danger, and safety at some point off in the distance. If only I could get there. I’ve come to long for some gentle and sustained harmony, just as I begin to redefine what freedom is.

Emma Todd balanceSo I guess I don’t know all there is about yoga, and I don’t profess to be an expert or highly skilled at it—but with the likelihood of sounding very, very corny, it makes me want to be a better person.

When I’m breathing, I’m alive. Once I begin yoga again after a hiatus, I realise it’s like I haven’t been breathing at all.

When I was told that I had to stop yoga for a period after surgery on my eye, suddenly, despite being sloth-like in mind and body, I was deeply alarmed that I would never be able to do downward dog again. My, did I protest too much. The idea that I may never practice yoga again EVER was inconceivable. I realised how profoundly important yoga is to me and that I needed it in my life.

I guess yoga hasn’t really transformed me. It is transforming me continually, and as time passes and years come and go, I want to embrace yoga more and more. As this slow-moving journey continues, I find I want to go deeper and deeper, not through knowledge gained, but through the greater freeing of my mind—freedom through the physical expression of my body, freedom of my soul through the return to my body, to the return of being present, here and now. Freedom, always, freedom.

A life spent roaming, often fleeing darkness, the promise of hope somewhere new, this time starting over, again and again. The profound dream once had of horses galloping across a broad, unfolding terrain, feeling the earth creating itself, rumbling up through my bare feet, my heart beating hard and fast; feeling the pounding of the earth as the hooves of a hundred brumbies spill out across that wild terrain, mains flying and nostrils flared, getting closer and closer, my ridiculous joy rising with the chorus of their galloping and I long to run with them. I ache to join them running through this place, this world being born, and everything reaches a crescendo of bliss as I experience the beauty of freedom.

“This is freedom,” my soul says, throwing her horse head back and laughing as she runs, her mane flying like kites and I know this is it.

And I don’t know why, but I turn my back on this magnificent scene, and hop into a black plastic garbage bag, with a rectangle cut out for my eyes to see only the clouds in the sky, and I begin to suffocate.

The dream has haunted me. Full of unparalleled bliss and profundity, and a sour ending where I choose to rob myself of breath, I have tried ever since to avoid suffocation, only to seemingly meet my destiny on the path I choose to avoid it. Yet yoga is the path I consciously take now to walk, dance, run in any way to freedom, and it has come from being still and breathing deeply. And it is here I find myself, each day now, breathing, nostrils flaring as I arch my head back and my hair falls down my back and I search for that place in my dream, and occasionally I think I glimpse it.

I choose to hop out of that plastic bag and run with all the wild horses.

 

Emma Todd bio photoEmma Todd lives with her daughter near the ocean where every sense is magnified. Although flirting non-committally with yoga since she was a teenager, last year saw her having to confront her eye health head on and undergo major eye surgery to attempt to stop further loss of sight. A bridge she never wished to cross, ultimately it has been a beautiful awakening that has set her firmly on the path of continuing self-awareness and taking care of her health and well-being. Yoga is now an established part of Emma’s work-in-progress life. Emma is dedicating herself now to her art, wishing to “inspire creatively and be creatively inspired,” as well as commencing the journey to become a Hawaiian Massage practitioner this year. You can find Emma and her art here: https://www.facebook.com/boheme.em.

 

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My Journey Back to Myself

The Yoga Diaries is proud to present the winner of the
Montezuma Yoga transformation story contest:

 

Name: Leah Johnson
Location: Colorado, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

Costa Rica BeachA little over two years ago my life started again. I had moved to a small jungle town in Costa Rica thinking that I would only be there for three months to learn some yoga and Spanish—but little did I know what the Universe had in store for me.

I was always curious about yoga but I could never seem to get myself to take a class. It wasn’t until almost five years ago that I began to know the value of my body. As most people who go through life and the motions that come with it, I had some injuries growing up but never anything that would make me think twice.

In March 2010, a bus ran a red light and hit me in my car. With adrenaline rushing through me, I had no idea how my life had just changed. I sustained injuries to my leg, shoulder, neck, and a hell of a lot of whiplash; but the biggest doozy of them all was my mild traumatic brain injury. I couldn’t handle going to dinner with friends or hearing my mom walk into the house with her heeled boots on. I couldn’t walk without my leg shaking for more than five minutes, and at any given moment I would forget what I was talking about with people. I was very proactive in my treatment and the Universe was definitely looking out for me because it brought into my journey people that helped guide me in the right direction. Without them I am convinced that I would never have been brave enough to take a chance and ultimately start my yoga journey.

After two years of solid treatment and more or less starting to take chances on myself again, I decided to make up for my lost study abroad opportunity. I found a small vacation school in the jungle beach town of Montezuma, Costa Rica. I decided to study Spanish and yoga. Honestly the yoga was my way of maintaining all of the hard work I had put into my physical health. I had no expectations of what this thing called yoga was and in the end I am thankful for that. I couldn’t hold downward dog for five breaths without my shoulder screaming and all I could think was, “What the hell did I get myself into?”

Slowly but surely I kept at it and I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was I liked about the practice. My body was aching, I was tired, but I loved my teacher, Dagmar Spremberg, and our conversations after practice, so I kept going back. Then one day we were in the middle of a sequence and I remember so clearly her giving a cue to Warrior II when all of sudden I had a clear image of myself teaching yoga in a park back in my hometown in Colorado. I felt empowered, strong, and curious. I told Dagmar what had happened and her response was simply for me to do a yoga teacher training. The next thing I knew I was doing a month-long immersion program and once again the Universe had been conspiring all along.

Leah Johnson wheel croppedI can’t explain what it feels like to be broken down and built back up all in one breath, but I know how it feels and my teacher Jaqueline Chiodo (with whom I did my 200-hour teacher training) did just that. Chakras, chanting, Ayurveda—my whole world was opening up and it felt right. I felt connected and I felt as if I had tangible words to describe things I had felt my whole life. Suddenly I was a teacher. What? Me? This is crazy. I returned home after being gone in the jungle and while I was trying to figure out my next steps, I offered up free classes to finish up my certification. Free classes led to privates, privates led to being busier, and low and behold I got a job at another studio, and I had students with whom I was connecting just as I had done with my own teachers. And here we are two years later. When I say “two years,” it seems like a long time but then when I play back everything I am amazed at all that has happened! I’ve led retreats in both Colorado and Costa Rica, and I can’t seem to get myself away from trainings because I’m a nerd at heart and love to learn, and am continually a student.

As it has for many, the physical practice was what brought me to my mat, but it is not what has kept me there. It has helped me to reconnect with myself and every day I ask myself how it is that I can take my practice off of my mat. How can I find my breath in the midst of the chaos? How can I appreciate the fact that I GET to do this practice, not that I have to? I am walking, breathing, living so yes, I GET to move, to breathe, to flow, and what a beautiful thing that is. The truth is, yoga has brought out so many why’s for me. Why it is I don’t do well around negative people. Why when I haven’t been to my mat for too long or I have stopped taking five minutes for myself that my injuries flare up and I feel clouded and frustrated. It all comes back to my breath and being able to connect. The connection, the held space for change and transformation—that is what my journey with yoga has brought me so far. I know I’m still just at the beginning of it but what a journey it has been. I am forever grateful to my teachers and my students for the lessons I learn every day.

I love to teach. I love to connect. I love that I have the privilege of seeing the other side of yoga, both on and off the mat. I love that I have found a foundation to come back to when I feel like I’m in chaos. And I love that I always have my breath. Lord knows I am still working on my transformation, but my mat is a tangible place to go when I need it—to take chances, to trust that every practice is different from day to day but in the end it is worth every single breath I take.

Leah Johnson bioLeah was born and raised in beautiful Colorado where she has the privilege of teaching and connecting with people daily. Although she has a travel addiction that sweeps her off to the jungles of Costa Rica or to visit friends whenever she can, she loves that Colorado is her home. She is a RYT 500 Vinyasa yoga teacher and hopes to have her own wellness center one day. When she’s not teaching she is with family and friends and most likely having a few laughs and a dance party.

 

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

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Ganesh Has Many Titles

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Yoga Diaries – the Book!

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

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

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

Available now on Amazon.

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

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

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

 

Cover design by Gibran Julian.

Learning to Become a Vessel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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How Yoga Saved Me From the Worst Mistake I Didn’t Make

Name: Ashley Josephine Herzberger
Location: Wichita Falls, Texas, United States
Occupation: Lifestyle Entrepreneur & Yoga Instructor

Photo attributed to Flickr user aadl.

Photo attributed to Flickr user aadl.

In 2009 I was well on my way to accomplishing the thing I’d thought most about for my first 21 years of life. I was going to graduate from college with two degrees, both of which were categorized as high distinction due to my 3.9 GPA.

As I was preparing for my senior year, I had done everything that I possibly could to prepare myself for a successful life in the “real world.” I’d just returned from spending eight weeks interning for a boutique public relations firm in London. I had work experience (international, no less!), a stellar work ethic, the good grades to prove it, and dreams of one day owning my own public relations firm. I was going to be a bigwig media executive.

Around that same time, I started suffering from some serious chest pain. I had started practicing yoga fairly consistently after completing a second 90 days of P90X, and I thought yoga would help me to maintain my physique. Unfortunately my chest hurt so badly that it hurt to breathe, so I knew that yoga was definitely out of the question. Having recently fallen in love with the practice, I was disappointed.

I was also frustrated and scared that I was suffering from such incredible physical pain. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong – they kept telling me everything was fine.

Everything was not fine, despite how it appeared on the surface. In fact, everything was wrong.

I was super stressed. My drive to succeed had pushed me to the edge, and I was only 21 years old. I remember thinking to myself that somewhere along the way I had really screwed up. But it wasn’t my fault because I was doing everything everyone expected me to be doing and I was doing it well. I was a superstar in someone else’s life.

After my chest pain (a symptom of my extreme stress and nothing more) subsided, I dove into yoga even more. I have the recession to thank for giving me a slight reprieve in finding a corporate job. I found one, but for a yoga company rather than for a big PR firm.

In a small way, yoga saved my life after just a few months of practice. The awareness I developed to listen to my body led my mind to ponder a different career path. Little did I know there was no turning back.

Ashley Josephine peacockBecause I worked for a yoga company, I had the opportunity to take a Teacher Training program at a discount. A huge knowledge junkie, I was excited to take it for myself, but also knew that it would help me to better represent the company. I was in the marketing department after all. I didn’t go into the Teacher Training with an intention to teach afterward. I went in with an open mind, willing to see what would happen.

It became quickly apparent that I was meant to be a yoga teacher. I denied it for a while because yoga teachers don’t make much money; at least all of the yoga teachers around me seemed to struggle day in and day out to make ends meet. That wasn’t the life I wanted. I was still hanging on to dreams of luxury resorts, fancy dinners, and high-profile events from my “Big Girl” PR career track.

Teacher Training certainly helped me to deepen my practice with yoga. I became immersed in the philosophy and mindset practices and some more things started to shift. Opportunities appeared in my life at just the right time to set me up for a big leap of faith, which I took in the spring of 2012.

At this time, I decided I didn’t want to work for someone else and I set out on my own as an entrepreneur. I still had my marketing hat on, but it was a major accomplishment to let go of a steady paycheck and decide that I was going to fend for myself. The old Ashley would never have done that. Yoga made me believe that I was strong, smart, and capable.

Ashley Josephine green malaIt has been almost a year since I left the safety net of society. My dedication to practice has helped me come into even more alignment with who I am and what I was put on this Earth to do. It’s not marketing.

The entrepreneurial bug bit me hard, but it would never have had the chance had I not ventured into the yoga forest.

Yoga changed my life in a profound way. My practice pointed me back home. The journey down the wrong road was causing me a lot of pain and unhappiness. Without yoga, I would never have had the strength to follow my passions and live my dream.

I strongly believe that yoga practice gives you everything you need to succeed as you. It’s the education you’ll never receive in the classroom because it teaches you about your strengths, weaknesses, passions, personality, preferences, and aversions.

Once you start to harness that knowledge, it’s up to you to show up in this world and make a difference. It’s my hope that I can do that by empowering young women to reconnect with their own souls and to live the life they deserve. It is yoga that got me to where I am today, and yoga will continue to guide my way for the rest of my life.

Ashley Josephine bio
Ashley Josephine Herzberger currently shares her love of yoga in Wichita Falls, TX, and the surrounding area, through classes, workshops, and on her blog http://ashleyjosephine.com. Her conviction for the spiritual aspects of practice have inspired her to build an online studio of women to support one another in their quest to reconnect with body, mind and soul. Sign up for her weekly Wellness Wednesday newsletter to receive short yoga videos and inspiration for living an authentic life.

 

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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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