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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My Yoga Story

Name: Elizabeth Anna
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: Olympic Gymnast & Medalist, Actress, Artist, Author, Entrepreneur and Yogi

I have been an athlete for much of this life, having trained in dance and gymnastics. Quite naturally, from the moment I heard of yoga, I gravitated towards it as a new form of exercise. My initial understanding of yoga was that it was a combination of stretching, balancing and holding poses, all of which I knew to provide a wonderful core work out.

I attended my first yoga class; It was a Hatha class, and there were five other people in attendance, not including me and my friend. We began with the basics and slowly moved through different asanas. As we did so, I noticed my impatience with the slow pace and the seemingly basic nature of the poses. The instructor repeatedly chose to use me as an example of the improper way to do the poses, stopping the class so that everybody could observe me doing the pose improperly. I truly never thought at the time that I could, after 20 years of training in dance and gymnastics, be used as an example of how not to do a basic downward facing dog, yet there it was. At the time I didn’t understand the finite adjustment required within the form in order for the energy and balance to flow freely within the pose.

My first experience with yoga left me feeling picked on, frustrated, annoyed and fairly stretched out. The next years saw me trying out the different disciplines of yoga, all-the-while seeking to experience the harmony and lasting inner peace that I knew could be experienced during the practice of yoga…but not yet knowing how to make it so.

Through one conscious, empowered choice, I “woke up” and life changed. I stopped smoking after many years, with no side effects, no cravings, and no desire to go back. And I realized that “Consciousness” made it so. I read a book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, by Allen Carr, and in the book the author asked me to pay attention to my breath. In other words, be conscious of my breath as I took a drag off my cigarette, be conscious of my thought and feeling as I breathed in the smoke and blew it out, be conscious of my thought before reaching to grab another one. All of the conscious attention on myself was causing me to smoke less and less as I read the book, until by the end I threw away the remaining pack. From that moment on I never desired another cigarette again. Consciousness is Supreme Presence, the calm poise of thought, feeling and action in any given moment. Destructive behavior of any sort shall not thrive where consciousness resides.

“Freedom of Peace”- artwork by Elizabeth Anna

I began meditating twice a day, half an hour in the morning, half an hour in the evening, ever conscious of the movement of my breath in and out. The inner peace and moments of harmony began to expand beyond my morning meditation session and well into the rest of my day. Bringing my conscious attention to the movement of my breath throughout the day brought the harmony of my meditation into every aspect of every day. I was practicing the living meditation.

It was around this time that I was introduced to Anusara Yoga by way of John Friend, the originator of Anusara. The understanding of the inter-connectivity of life and our eternal interaction with the Divine flowed through the very practice of Anusara Yoga. Anusara Yoga perfectly matched my new understanding and my evolving consciousness.

Yoga, the conscious breath, is the vehicle by which the light of God flows in, through us and then back out unto It’s Wondrous Self. The asanas help to gently guide this energy to specific areas of focus to purify, bless, heal and renew the body in that particular area.

What was first a stretching workout, that any gymnast or dancer could do, evolved into a dance with God, a celebration of unity. Now, I practice breathing through different yoga asanas every day, whether it be for ten minutes or 90 minutes. The practice of yoga allows me the experience of resting in the balance point between outer and the inner, the point from which all creation takes place, that place of total awareness, harmony experienced. I have found myself quite naturally incorporating simple asanas, and conscious breathing exercises at different points throughout the day, helping me to re-center, after or while working at the computer, or after listening to someone express anger or sorrow.

The conscious attention to the breath, applied throughout the day, whether walking, stretching, working, or sitting, is “The Living Yoga” experienced; the eternal dance with the Divine, Great Spirit, the Mighty I Am Presence, God. And it is from this glorious place of presence, of conscious awareness that life is meant to be lived. Namaste.

Elizabeth Anna is an Olympic Gymnast and Medalist, an actress, artist, author, entrepreneur and yogi. She lives with her husband and creative partner, Jacob Daniel, in southern California where they  produce music, create art and are currently writing a series of books for both adults & children alike. Two of the short stories can be found on their website and downloaded through the Kindle and Nook platforms. To check out their Wisdom Blog, downloadable art, short stories and music visit: www.OneDropWithinTheWave.com

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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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