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.

 

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Living My Dream

Name: Dagmar Spremberg
Location: Montezuma, Costa Rica
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

Photo attributed to Flickr user Grand Velas Riviera Maya.

I grew up in a small town in Germany and I remember that as a teenager I always dreamed of a life on the beach, in the sun and under palm trees. Of course, it seemed such a cliché and like a very far away dream, I never thought that it might actually happen one day. But as it is with our dreams and visions, somehow we keep them in the subconscious mind and they have their own energy and power…

In 1991 I traveled for the first time to a faraway tropical land, a land like the one in dream: Costa Rica. I lived in a small seaside hotel in Montezuma which belonged to a German woman and her family and I was very touched and inspired to see that there actually are people who live this dream. But of course I still didn’t think it could ever be me. So I went back to Hamburg with my husband, back to my life and career in the music industry, which was quite exciting and fulfilling, but deep inside of me I still had that longing, I wanted something more from life.

On my 30th Birthday, I suddenly knew that it was “now or never.” It was just a feeling in my gut, but it was so strong I knew I had to follow it. So I left my life in Germany behind, quit my well paid job, left my husband and traveled with two suitcases into an unknown adventure to Los Angeles. There were at least my palm trees, the beach and the sun. I started a small agency for photographers and organized photo productions.

It did not take long before I first came into contact with yoga and found my wonderful yoga teacher Christi Minarovich. Initially skeptical, I listened to her stories and the yoga philosophies: to let things go, accept where you are, things will fall into place…a far cry from what I had learned in Germany, where I was more the type of person pushing forward rather than letting go and sitting and waiting to see what happens next. But there was something that immediately touched me deeply and gave me hope, strength and confidence and so I soon started learning to let go more and instead to rely on my intuition.

I learned to breathe, to find the beauty in life. I started to soften and surrender and suddenly more and more doors started opening for me. Yoga gave me a new view of life, a new sense of purpose and the answers to many of my questions. After three and a half years in Los Angeles, I moved to New York where I continued working for photographers and deepening my yoga practice. Here I found Elena Brower and Anusara yoga and I loved it so much that I went to yoga 4-5 times a week.

Then in 2000 I booked a trip to Costa Rica, and that is what changed everything. I went back to the place that had fascinated and touched me so much in 1991: Montezuma. Nine years later it was still there, a small fishing village, sleepy and quiet. It had not changed much. And as it happens in life, I soon fell in love with the owner of the Hotel Los Mangos. On the property there was an open pavilion that was previously used as a restaurant, but had just been closed two months prior to my arrival. Open air, with a wooden floor and overlooking the sea- the perfect quiet place for yoga! I thought about bringing yoga teachers from the U.S. and organized and booked the first retreat with my teacher Elena Brower for November 2001.

After September 11th happened, I packed my suitcases in New York and decided to jump fully into my new adventure in Costa Rica. And then it hit me: here I was, 20 years later, in my dream of living a life by the sea! Everything seemed to fall into place easily for me, I just needed to say yes to open new doors. It was an incredible feeling of Bliss!

Elena then came for her retreat and she encouraged me to become a yoga teacher myself; so I started training as a yoga teacher in New York. For more than 10 years now I have been living my dream and it is the yoga which always continues to encourage me to see the good, the opportunities, the possibilities in every moment; to trust and believe in my own power and intuition, and to breathe through difficult situations and challenges.

Yoga has taught me to be soft and to give space, both to myself and therefore also to everybody else. I’ve learned from my own experience to first shift things for myself and then everything else will shift with me. I have now found the relationship for which I had always longed, but it was not until I shifted myself that I was able to meet the man of my dreams.

It is the most beautiful gift for me to share my passion for yoga with other people in my classes and to see how fast transformation can happen: how people are calmer, happier, more radiant with yoga. It is not important for me that you can put your foot behind your head or get into difficult asanas, but rather that you feel good about yourself, so that you will find clarity, peace and strength and learn to trust yourself.

I love to empower people to live their dreams.

Dagmar Spremberg moved from Germany to Los Angeles in 1996 and began practicing and studying yoga. After moving to New York, she intensified her studies and trained with certified Anusara teacher Elena Brower at Virayoga. She moved to Montezuma, Costa Rica in 2001 and founded Montezuma Yoga and began teaching yoga and organizing yoga retreats with international renowned teachers of all styles. Dagmar is a 500-hour certified E-RYT with the Yoga Alliance and an Anusara-inspired teacher. As a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NYC she complements yoga with her work as a certified Holistic Health Counselor and teaches lifestyle immersion programs within the Montezuma Yoga 200 Hr Yoga Teacher Trainings.

Dagmar lives with the Swiss artist and musician Daniel Gautschi, in Montezuma, Costa Rica, where they run La Candela Mountain Retreat. Daniel plays the magical instrument called Hang in Dagmar’s yoga classes and they perform frequently together in Costa Rica and Europe. Dagmar’s Yoga DVDs are available on her website as well as Daniel’s new CD “The Gaudan Project – Hold Still.” For more information please visit www.montezumayoga.com and check out Dagmar’s Facebook page here.

Edited by Jeannie Page.

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