30 Days of Kate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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The Body I was Born With

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Bretton headshot

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

 

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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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Held by the Whole

Name: Maiga Milbourne
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor

Photo by Flickr user GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS.

Yoga created me.

My Mom had three children and was a stay-at-home care-giver at age 38. She had begun practicing yoga and offering classes for others informally. She’d even begun eating vegetarian, as well as juicing, at various points in the month. Her body was cleansed, causing alarm bells to ring when she suddenly began craving cheesesteaks. She delivered me when she was 39 and my Dad was 48.

I remember being little, maybe four years old, and watching her teach uddiyana bandha (a breath technique to hollow out the abdominal cavity) to my then 12-year-old brother. When I was 16 she took me to a class at the local gym. I remember that the class was offered by candle-light, that thread-the-needle pose soothed my sore neck and shoulders, and that child’s pose felt like a refuge.

During those teenage years I suffered from a profound depression. Emotionally, I was responding to significant amounts of imbalance and abuse. I was hospitalized twice while in high school, and remained on pretty significant anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications until my senior year. I remember searching through my Mom’s bookshelf to find books on yoga. I went to my room and practiced asana. When my feet reached over my head in halasana, or plow pose, I truly felt hopeful. My body cooperated – I hoped that maybe one day I could find the same sync in my emotional world.

I then came across a book of meditations. I have no idea of the source, but I vividly recall a visualization of myself in the Tantric web of the universe. The book suggested that you watch yourself glow with an inner rose light. As the light shines brighter, the Tantric web around you becomes clearer. The meditation allowed me to feel held in all life, and to feel connected to it. My depression caused me to feel so alienated and worthless. This meditation offered me a stark contrast – that I was an integral part of all life. No better, no worse. Intrinsic. Valuable.

I began to once again see the world as vast, and the possibilities for life within it, as enticing and exciting. I went to college in Massachussetts at age 18. Living in New England, a few states away from my birthplace of the Philadelphia ‘burbs, and off of the mood stabilizing medication, I began to see my own depression and abuse as lessons in compassion. I had suffered, but I knew that others in the world suffered far worse. I began to study history, politics, and sociology with the goal of understanding others’ experiences more intimately. The first year after college I interned at a Union for Legal Aid Attorneys in New York City, where I catalogued instances of police brutality.

My own experiences began motivating me to align towards healthy communities, policies, and practices. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studying Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and Argentina’s relationship with the IMF and World Bank. The following semester I studied abroad in La Habana, Cuba, learning profound lessons about the human cost of embargoes and living under a punitive foreign policy.

I became a human rights activist. During this time I continued to practice yogic breath work, or pranayama, but wasn’t able to sustain a regular physical asana practice. I began to realize that I would burn out from this demanding work if I didn’t exercise self-care. I came back to the mat, slowly and steadily. I found a studio that immediately stoked my curiosity towards the physical possibilities of the practice. In these classes I encountered poses I’d never previously imagined! I joined other adults in losing ourselves in sweat, fantastic music, and smart, skilled instruction.

I wanted to be a part of that community, but I still felt odd. I felt that lingering sense of alienation that had built itself into my personality as a depressed adolescent. As a young adult, my activism work still lead me to feel on the fringe. I hadn’t figured out how to belong within my own skin, let alone within a larger network.

I saw that my favorite studio offered a teacher training program. That sounded like heaven. As a full-time activist I felt fulfilled and purposeful but also consistently time-starved with no savings. It seemed a pipe-dream that I would be able to afford a teacher training program.

The following year my grandmother became fatally ill. She was the only member of my family of origin with whom I was still close. I was named after her and visited her as often as I was able. I spent that Christmas by her bedside in intensive care. Shortly afterwards, she passed on.

It was a huge blow to again feel so untethered. I continued practicing yoga and engaging in social justice work. One day I received an unexpected phone call from my Mother – she was dividing my grandmother’s inheritance among her children and I would receive some money. I was dumb-struck. I was grateful for the money but also unsure about how to use it in a way that honored my grandmother. I certainly had debt to pay off, but I wanted this money to build something in her memory. I realized I could use some of the money to pay for teacher training. In this way, every time I moved onto the mat, or offered a class, it would be in gratitude for her.

Photo by Flickr user Nikhil Kirsh.

As I began the teacher training program, so many pieces of my life coalesced. I began to allow myself to embrace the community at my yoga studio, and to be enriched by these beautiful people. I was able to dedicate my teaching practice to my grandmother, and in this way find a healthy tie to a fractious family history. I also was able to offer yoga to other activists and advocates so that they too could benefit from the sustaining presence of this practice. In my first year of teaching I went on-site to area organizations and offered seva classes. I currently build community with other instructors who are activists, organizers, and advocates so that we can support one another, as well as our collective work.

Yoga has always been the piece that created me, healed me, made me whole. My Mom practiced yoga while I was in her womb. Her practice illuminated my presence early on. As a teenager, when trauma and depression nearly destroyed me, yoga showed me that glow of hope within. As an activist, yoga reminds me that if I believe in healthy communities for all people, I need to keep my own life sound. And yoga gives me the tools to do just that.

Passionate about healthy bodies, relationships, and communities, Maiga Milbourne E-RYT teaches vinyasa yoga to groups and individuals. Yoga offers so much to each student: physical health, mental well-being, ease, and community. In reflection of the broad benefits of yoga, Maiga has created a range of services to provide to her clients, all seeking to help each one realize their fullest potential. Learn more at maigamilbourne.com.


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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Name: Rachel Wolfe
Location: Winnetka, Illinois, USA
Occupation: Artist and Gallerist

Nearly every aspect of my current life can be attributed to practicing yoga. The sheer presence of my being on this planet owes a deep debt of gratitude for those who channeled the yoga asana, the dhyana and pranayama practices, those who shared their knowledge, those who brought yoga to the west and to the teachers that have touched my life.

I was born into life a vivacious and curious child. But early on, the first bouts of digestive woes and sleeping trouble began disrupting my bliss. I can recall feelings of unregulated currents of energy running through me. I was easily overwhelmed, exhausted and frequently moody. Around my transition from childhood to adolescence, I encountered a two-year span of insomnia. The insomnia doubled the effects of the mild anxiety I carried, resulting in panic attacks that would lead me to believe I was dying. This trifecta was compounded by the deep depression that grew from the darkest spot within my soul. All of this happened before the age of 16.

During this time, a therapist suggested I try yoga and meditation to help me sleep at night. I was also encouraged to keep up the writing and art I had begun doing as a means to even tolerate being in my body. While it seems dramatic to me now, this story was an intense reality for me at the time.

Photo by Flickr user Mokarta Graphic.

I was always looking for a way out, a way out of the feeling of wanting to die, the feeling that dying was a better option than feeling, and I got that way out. I was placed on medication and careful observation after my family found out I had been cutting myself. The medication numbed every inch of my being.

I was attending yoga classes at the local park district and I was loving how I was able to achieve the postures with ease. I felt good at something, and therefore good for something, despite feeling nothing. And if it wasn’t for the yoga, then I might very well be medicated now, but something inside of me was speaking up and asking me to clear out my body. I’m glad that I listened.

Coming off of my meds threw me into a high that I have yet to ever experience again. Yoga became a means to keep my muscles soft after the daily six-mile runs, as well as a philosophical pursuit to satisfy my insatiable appetite for theory and life understanding. The breathing techniques allowed me to sleep at night without waking. As I felt better and more balanced, I realized later how fast I was running away from everything, including food. The disordered relationship that developed resulted in a thinner than thin body and worried my family, yet again. At this point, I fancied myself living off of air or ascending into some spiritual realm. My yogic studies were one sided, as I had yet to discover the grounding qualities of a yoga practice.

I’m not sure how I was able to balance myself out after existing in the lowest low a person can go and swinging up and nearly off into the stratosphere. The only mainstay besides my art and writing practice was yoga. It was always there for me. Later I would discover that my family and the entire Universe were rooting me on the whole time.

Signing up for a Yoga Teacher Training was the catapult I needed to ground me, balance me and ultimately bring me to the bliss I remembered as a very young child. The training taught me that all those years of self-study were actually worth something. I was more knowledgeable than I thought I was. As I began to share my knowledge and experiences with others, I quickly learned that I am more capable than I thought I was. Yoga brought me from the depths of suicidal depression and anxiety, through the highs of mania to a place of balanced empowerment, that at one point I was assured I would never have. But here I am, living proof that yoga can heal some of the deepest and most challenging wounds to heal.

Bringing my full attention and awareness to this training must have set off some deep ripples in the Universe because during and after the training, the positive and exciting transitions grace my life. The serendipity, the synchronicities are astounding and daily. I used to dream of living a life like the one I live today. And on this day, it occurs to me what happens when I practice yoga, or when anyone does for that matter. Yoga changes the stories you tell yourself. Any experience I have encountered in this life has been centered on emotion and feeling. Simply by reinterpreting or rewriting my story, I can then feel that story and therefore live that story. There’s no amount of obsessive thought that can effectively do this rewiring. Yoga does the work, as long as I bring my full awareness to the practice. The more attention and intention I have drawn inward, the richer my experiences flow outward.

Some days I find myself wanting to run away from my mat or let my hips flop open when I know I need to hug them in. These indicators are reminders of the shadow life I once led, the story of despair I was telling myself. It is an incredible feeling of empowerment, triumph and ceaseless desire to share my new story as I feel every part of my being and life experience, through yoga. We are everything we need, and yoga is the guide.

Rachel Wolfe was raised in a small town outside of Chicago. She completed a Bachelor of Art in 2006 and a certified Yoga instructor in 2012. Rachel has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally as a photographer and writer. Her second publication is in progress. Rachel is currently based on the Northshore of Chicago, traveling for assignments, commissions, study and fun. You may connect with Rachel on Facebook. Learn more about her projects at www.rachelwolfe.com and follow her artist process on Howlya, her blog.


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There Is No Such Thing As Paradise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Jeannie Page.

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