“Lyfe” and Breath

Name: Joy (Kathryn) Lanzerotte, MA, LPC
Location: Prescott/Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Occupation: Licensed Integrative Counseling Psychologist, Yoga Teacher, Public Speaker

Joy anjaneasanaTo breathe prana, life force energy, is all you have to do. For me this was apparent when I embarked on my yogic path 23 years ago. Movement follows breath. I ended every yoga class with “all you have to do is breathe.”

Then my breath was taken from me.

Despite being a healthy vegetarian, avid yogi, and holistic health aficionado, I gasped for breath through a persistent cough. It was July, in Phoenix, Arizona- everyone coughs and gasps, right? Under the care of a naturopathic physician, I had a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia.

Upon receiving the results of my x-ray, my doctor advised me, “You have a collapsed lung, a pneumothorax. Go straight to the ER.”

I was told to be prepared to spend the night. I was in danger and was not to drive. What? I was trying to comprehend that my breath was hazardous to my health. I entered the ER and waited. The attending doctor, a surgeon, confirmed that my lung was collapsed and had been for at least two and a half months. There was a jelly covering it and my trachea had shifted. He showed me the x-ray.

“How have you survived gasping for air, coughing, and the pain?” he asked, bewildered.

The pain of a collapsed lung was nothing compared to the pain I endured during the insertion of a chest tube. There was not enough morphine, prayer, or meditation that could allow me to escape the invasion of this foreign object into my body. I kept asking, “How can this be? I am not a smoker. I know how to breathe.”

I was admitted to the hospital, to the surgical floor.

Day 2

The doctor informed me that a black spot was discovered on my lung. I became faint. The doctor grabbed a cold cloth for my head.

I have a collapsed lung with a black spot?!!”

The doctor told me that my body would react with sensitivity to all medical attempts to restore my breath. He also said, “One thing IS certain: you know how to breathe. No one walks around with a collapsed lung for two months.”

A second chest x-ray confirmed the black spot. I required surgery. People live with one lung. But apparently not people like me, as I would always live a compromised life. I was given the following options: 1. Go home with a mini chest tube, 2. Go home, take some time, and return to have a chest tube reinserted, or 3. Have surgery to remove the jelly, and hope the lung inflates.

Day 3

Surgery, a flat lung, no breath, chest tube, dry cough. What is the message? It was my first surgery, a major organ, and I was frightened. Surgery was delayed, increasing my anxiety, which worsened as I gasped for breath.

Day 4

The doctor arrived as he did every day. Then he informed me, “You have Valley Fever. You have had it for some time. It invades your immune system, but your knowing how to breathe has prevented you from facing an unbelievably life-threatening illness. Valley Fever can kill.”

The doctor was right, my entire being reacted negatively to the surgery. If things were not grim enough, my body was swollen like a huge Macy’s balloon. I was enormous. My skin was stretched in every direction and when touched, made the sound of Rice Krispies. The medical staff came to view my body, touching my skin to hear it snap, crackle, and pop.  Guided imagery, chanting, meditation… nothing distracted my mind from the sights, sounds, and pain of this horrific disease.

Day 5

The pulmonary specialist, also amazed at the sight of the flattened lung with the jelly, shared the treatment for my illness. It was similar to chemo drug therapy. It would make me sick, disrupting my digestive system. I wanted to heal naturally. My surgeon encouraged me to try a low dose of morphine to allow my body to rest. He said I was fighting for my life with little, if any, reserve.

The days passed but nothing changed. One nurse took her breaks to visit me, to chant and offer me guided imagery. There were more blood tests and x-rays, but nothing changed.

Day 10

My partner contacted a high priestess/minister, seeking guidance. He saw I was giving up, letting go. Unbeknownst to me, they contacted friends, colleagues, and my global email contacts, to partake in a healing ceremony, which was scheduled in two days.

Day 12

Friday, the day of the ceremony, people gathered in my room. They came in silence, leaving items on my bed and flowers- lots of flowers. Before the one o’clock hour, the high priestess leaned into my space and whispered, “Is there anything you want to say, some thing or someone with whom you want to make amends? Anything you wish you had accomplished or completed in this life?” 

“No,” I responded, “if I were meant to finish my book or dissertation I would have.”

Then she asked, “If you live, what do you want?”

“I want to go to Italy to eat and drink as much as I want.”

At the 13th hour, for 13 minutes, the high priestess asked everyone to assist with breathing the breath of life into my lungs, to be held in the Goddess vessel. She asked them to pray, chant, meditate, or give hands on healing to source their higher power. I sat cross-legged in the center of a bed with handrails, supported by tubes, and the breath and prayers of all gathered in spirit.

Silence embraced the room. I was ready to go, to face death. The light was bright and freeing, I felt seven, innocent. My “lyfework” here on earth was complete. The ceremony ended and I was alone.

Day 13

The next morning, another chest x-ray was ordered. Hope waned, the hospital wanted the bed, and my partner was losing patience. We waited. My surgeon arrived to remove the chest tube. He smiled and said, “You are going home, your lung is re-inflated enough to remove this tube.”

Was it a miracle? Did I die? Was I going to breathe without a device?

YES! At four that afternoon, we left the hospital, my home for 12 days. I was not to drive for two months nor fly for three more.

In October of 2006, a pulmonary specialist discharged me from treatment. He said, “Go and live! Go to Italy, fly a plane, do inversions, handstands, regain your life. You have endured the most serious Valley Fever trauma.”

Joy Lanzerotte by treeNOW

I’ve waited almost 13 years to the day to share this story. I have not wanted to relive any part of it nor the challenges. I continue to teach and practice yoga, emphasizing breath, not just asana. I maintain a life-long commitment to holistic health and wellness and never accepted any medication other than herbs and acupuncture.

I have total respect and deep felt love for my naturopath, my cousin, and surgeon who came to my room every day. I am eternally grateful to my goddess high priestess/minister and to all those who gathered around my bed and universally to breathe life into my body, mind, and soul.

Joy Lanzerotte bioJoy is a licensed counseling psychologist, a former university professor and a yoga teacher for over 2 decades, with 4200 hours of training. She has taught throughout the United States, at numerous health spas, and has been one of the teacher trainers at Avalon Yoga and Art in Palo Alto, CA. She was selected by the Arizona Yoga Association as the featured teacher, 2010. Currently she teaches yoga in Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona and nationally. Find Joy on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LyfeworksByLanzerotte. The business name LYFEWORKS™ was inspired by Joy’s father. Growing up he’d teach her, “Life is work if you live it, but life works if you live it.”  Joy changed the “I” to “Y” because the “Y” represents that YOU are responsible for your choices. 

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The Journey Back From Drug Abuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Living Yoga

Name: Jacob Daniel
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: DJ, Producer, Artist, Author, Entrepreneur and Yogi

Artwork by Jacob Daniel.

Allowing my own personal yoga to bubble up from within, collect in my heart and then to consciously guide it, as to how it may express through my every thought, word and action – is a much different perspective of yoga than I had when I unknowingly stepped upon this path. My first perspective, which was shared widely among western men, was that yoga was basically for sissies who couldn’t or chose not to play competitive contact sports. My first class was attended in an attempt to win the favor of someone, and had nothing to do with breath, balance, calm or deep connection with the Divine within.

As I stretched fairly easily through all of the poses (I was playing collegiate soccer at the time and was in fair shape), I was marveling at the facts that not only did these people meet in a room to stretch together multiple times a week, they were paying to stretch together. It is safe to say that I did not instantly awaken to the gift hidden within yoga.

Years passed. Yoga enters and leaves, enters and leaves. Each time a little more presence is brought to the experience, as thankfully the difficulty in actually holding some of the more advanced poses offered a degree of challenge which required focus. During those handful of experiences, which happened over about 10 years or so, yoga became less associated with stretching and became a workout, something physically demanding and strangely relaxing.

Years passed. Meditation enters my life on a wave, and I am given an understanding that there is stillness contained within yoga, it is that calm, golden core of energy that I had tapped into while playing soccer when “in the zone.” I understood why it felt so relaxing, even as I moved. As soon as I was keenly and acutely present, the stillness from within would begin to flow out and seemingly guide my movements through an outer hush. During this time yoga evolved from a workout and something physical into something mental which allowed for becoming calm and centered, each time sensing the power that rested within the deep calm.

Next came my introduction to Anusara Yoga and a reinforcement of a major change that was occurring in my life, as my understanding of God was changing and expanding. The underlying philosophy and practice of Anusara is connecting with the Divine within us, and the idea of being an extension of the very energy that is God, was rapidly expanding within my consciousness. I had recently had an experience that gave me great insight into this seemingly invisible connection to the Divine.

Artwork by Jacob Daniel.

While sitting with my love, Elizabeth, I was describing a new understanding that I was given about our connection with God. I held in my hand a large rough-cut crystal. Science has discovered that crystals have a consciousness operating within them, which causes them to grow as they do. Knowing this, I said, “…then that means that if we break a little chunk of this crystal off, we will have a little piece of the Original Consciousness, contained within the little piece of crystal. The consciousness within the little crystal is forever linked to the Original big consciousness within the big piece of crystal, by the fact that it came from there. It is forever linked to it’s Source.”

Understanding what this meant caused me to realize my connection with God, and how it was unbreakable. With this blockage in understanding cleared away, a sharp sensation like a needle pierced through my side. I instantly grabbed it as if I had been shot, yet found to my surprise that it was not painful, it simply felt as if something had been released, as if a cork was removed to allow water to flow. I laughed and cried for an hour or so, feeling a heightened vibration within.

After focusing upon this connection with God with greater regularity, it became a simple obvious knowing that was always in the back of my mind, “I have an unbreakable connection to God.”

My love and I continued our practice with a few Anusara CDs. In between sessions I would find myself stretching more and more, and breathing consciously as I stretched. I was moving based on what I felt in my body. I was allowing my body to guide me into each asana. My own personal yoga was coming from within.

Then one day I asked myself, because I had recently posed the same question to another, “What is yoga to you?” It wasn’t until I asked the question that the answer came and gave me a deeper understanding. The natural expansion of yoga in one’s life, or any spiritual practice for that matter, is to completely fill one’s life with the practice. I had never thought about it, yoga “completely” filling my life. In an attempt to understand what that could mean my imagination produced an image of what life would be like “filled” with yoga, every breath conscious, every movement deliberate. Then I realized, yoga has been the physical preparation for existing permanently within the awakened or enlightened state of being, being consciously aware always of our connection with and the presence of God, union with the Divine. Shortly after this the “Living Yoga” and the “Heart Breath” came forth.

Breathe through the heart as often as possible to experience peace and true happiness and may all paths be showered with blessings and wondrous awakening.

Jacob Daniel is a DJ, producer, artist, author, entrepreneur and yogi. He lives with his wife and creative partner, Elizabeth Anna, 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 and an essay 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.

Follow on Instagram @: EOTL_ElizabethAnna
Like the Band page on Facebook @:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/EOTL/310124985667090?ref=ts&sk=app_129982580378550

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Blessed to Be Me

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
The Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.


Name: Almitra Hakeem (spiritual name, Shantibindu)

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor

I’m writing on this beautiful summer weekend as I spend time with my personal Sadhana (practice) which includes nurturing all of the forms of my being: spiritual, mental, physical, emotional and energetic. All of my tools are valuable instruments: sound, breath, awareness, movement and stillness. With regular classes and yogic studies I have learned and remember that the wisdom of Satyananda Yoga® teachings is exactly what is needed in my life, learning and teaching circles. I’m feeling very blessed to be me right now.

The place to which God sent me, after a loud inner cry for help, was Atma Center. I’m grateful to have a long-term relationship with teachers who hold space for me to grow, and I’m living in a space of awareness that growth doesn’t happen overnight but rather little by little, over time.

“No one else can do your growing up work for you,”  Swami Atmarupa would say, all these years giving me a gentle nudge forward. I wouldn’t be living in the space of grace without my teachers at Atma center, teachers who have introduced me to and taught me how to use our awesome God-given inner tools: awareness, breath, life force, meditation, subtle movements, sound, and many more.

Over the last fourteen years, my yoga practice has moved me from being 75% insane, 70% in pain, 80% physically blind, and an emotional basket case, to being a more calm, less stressed person with normal vision. And from my teachers I have experienced unyielding patience; they have never given up on me, they have invested in and had faith in me, and they have always seen in me that which I thought could not awaken. This has brought me great healing. I continue to learn, to grow and to improve every day. I see this. My heart is full of gratitude. Om.

Shantibindu has worked in the movement arts for years, with extensive experience in dance and Tai Chi. She first encountered yoga in a book store in her early twenties and remembers it as something “that looked weird and made me feel really good.” Shantibindu led programs in dance and movement for children in local libraries, and this experience makes her particularly effective at teaching yoga to kids and teens. When asked why she teaches yoga, Shantibindu responds that she has “an unyielding desire to assist myself and others in attaining greater awareness of living a harmonious life. Satyananda Yoga® practices move each practitioner closer to that awareness.”

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Mind and Body Connection

Name: Nancy Gilbert
Location: Clayton, North Carolina
Occupation: Yoga Instructor, Owner of Tittibha Prenatal Yoga School

Photo attributed to Flickr user EEPaul.

I have spent my 47 years being active: riding bicycles, running, hiking, canoeing and now kayaking. So imagine my surprise when I was diagnosed with having exercise-induced asthma at 22-years young. It really never slowed me down, however, until I reached my late 30s and I started noticing some changes in my level of endurance.

Photo by Flickr user Kukhahn Yoga.

I needed a form of exercise that I could enjoy and that was indoors (since I moved to the allergy capital of North Carolina). I discovered yoga at a small and intimate studio near my home. Voilà! Because of the pace of yoga it was a very doable form of exercise for an asthmatic. I can only remember having one attack in the seven years of practice. What I have learned from yoga is to breathe better and to be more focused on the way in which I am breathing, which in turn gives me more control over my asthma. Yoga itself did not cure any illness, but it did make me aware of how to better control the triggers for the illness.

Since discovering yoga, I have now started to study the yogic texts and have uncovered the deeper meanings of the life of a yogi. And by doing so I have grown in my knowledge of myself, my career and in my personal relationships. While I would say that the asana alone did not fix any aspect of my personal life, it did help direct me to a way of deeper understanding through the many years of studying the yogic texts.

Yoga is not just a physical practice. It is a connection between the mind and body. My journey with yoga will continue as will my discoveries about the connections of the mind and body. We are what we put into our body.

Nancy Gilbert 200 ERYT, RPYT, is the owner of Tittibha Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training School and has studied yoga for seven years with local and national instructors. Nancy’s desire is to stay true and authentic to the yogic traditions in her teachings. With special interest in the yogic texts and prenatal yoga, she currently teaches two prenatal classes and two body and breath classes at The Yoga Connection, Smithfield, NC. The prenatal yoga school keeps Nancy’s weekends busy providing training all over the east coast. Nancy feels truly blessed to be able to share the prenatal yoga with others who desire to teach to expectant mothers. Please visit Nancy’s blog, Pre-Natal Yoga.

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The Yoga of Everyday Life

Name: Anonymous
Location: Berkeley, CA, USA
Occupation: Student

Photo by Flickr user @kim.

Racing around the Oakland International Airport feels far from my comforting “om” space. “Do I have my photo ID? Do I have my confirmation number? Did I pack my liquids? Am I staying present?” My mind jumps from checking my luggage and getting my boarding pass to wondering if I will get through the security line by Christmas. Finally my body catches up to my mind and I find myself in the security line.

The way the line wraps around makes me uncomfortable — too much awkward eye contact. I notice my self-judgment and insecurities coming up. “Why is she looking at me? Do I really look that weird at 5am? I wonder if it looks like I’ve been crying…God, why don’t you take a picture, it will last longer!” Far from compassionate and patient, I reach the security officer who approves my ID and ticket. “Take a breath.”

Now, the rat race to take off the shoes, remove the jacket, take out the laptop. “Darn, the old couple beat me to the x-ray machine! Will my purse come out the other end before I do? What if someone steals my bag or my wallet or something?” Now I walk into this strange contraption that  looks like a new technology for x-rays. “Is this harmful? Can this cause cancer?” And then I come out the other end. A long sigh of relief. I gather my things and put my shoes on: I balance on my left leg, bring my right knee to my chest, and tie the shoelace on my right shoe. I do the same for my other leg. I then arrive at the gate and wait in line to board.

Photo by Flickr user Kelly Loves Whales.

This is yoga. From my balancing posture, to my quickening heart rate; from my reminder to breathe, to my concern about how I look; from my mistrust in others, to rushing through the process only to end up waiting in a line. The whole experience is yoga. Have you not felt any of these feelings and sensations during a yoga class? Perhaps you felt that you were not flexible, or forgot to breathe, or wished for the end of a pose, or felt like people were judging your ability or your appearance. From our hardships to our successes, and all of the seemingly mundane activity in between, yoga is life.

In my Forrest yoga teacher training I saw many people suffering. Yearning for some momentary relief, I saw people desperately seeking answers to their problems. And all of us wanting to arrive at the light at the end of the tunnel- the tunnel of death, destruction, addiction, and despair. And at the end of the yoga training, nothing had really changed for me, and I became disappointed. I stopped practicing yoga all together for several months. And then I slowly let it back into my life, and now am practicing Ashtanga Yoga, Mysore style.

The answers I was seeking finally began to percolate into my consciousness. Now, at the other end of the tunnel, I look back, forward and right where I am and I see the same things I had seen before: death, destruction addiction, and despair. But now I also see life, creation, love, and passion. And more importantly, I see that these aspects are not different and we cannot have one without the other.

Photo by Flickr user rabiem22.

Someone close to us may pass away, but only so that another beautiful soul can experience this life as well. We might suffer addiction, but perhaps we are blessed with this ailment so that we are especially motivated to learn methods of non-attachment and renunciation in our treatment. We might despair over the end of a relationship, but only so that we may grow stronger in our individual strength and fortitude and learn more about our deep desires and passions.

We see suffering so that we may also see compassion; we see hate so that we may love more. All of these are faces of the same coin. And yoga is breathing through the process and staying present with the beauty of emotion that is the human condition. Yoga is every experience- from the difficult to the easeful. And if we remain present through this life, using practices like yoga, we may soak up all the wisdom and pleasure it has to offer.

 

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