Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi

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

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

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

Photo by Flickr User myyogaonline.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Flickr user Hannap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Flickr user jvverde.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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