Love is Stronger than Fear

Editor’s Note: I have just had the supreme pleasure of spending the entire weekend in a series of yoga workshops with master teacher, Desirée Rumbaugh, and I must tell you that in addition to being an extraordinarily gifted teacher, Desirée is one of the most vibrant, joyful, spunky, and playful human beings I have ever encountered. She is a living example of someone who truly embodies a spirit that shines so brightly from the inside out. Please bear that in mind as you read her incredible story. It is my great honor to share it here. ~ Jeannie Page

Name: Desirée Rumbaugh
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

Desiree and her sonOn October 18, 2003, I returned to Phoenix from teaching a yoga workshop and was greeted at the Sky Harbor airport by my father and two brothers, with the news that my 20-year-old-son, Brandon, and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Lisa, had been shot to death while camping overnight. They were sleeping in the back of her mother’s pickup truck in BumbleBee Arizona, about an hour north of Phoenix, AZ in celebration of their one-year anniversary.

When they didn’t show up for work on Saturday morning, we all knew something must be wrong, but they weren’t discovered until Sunday. There was no robbery, no apparent motivation, and although it was broadcast to the country on CNN and America’s Most Wanted, the case was never solved.

Des kidsI am very fortunate that I have another child, Jessica, my beautiful daughter. This was a devastating loss for all of us. An unthinkable tragedy. An unimaginable pain.

My deepest sadness and fear at the time of this tragedy was that I would never again know joy. I feared that my life would always have a tone of sorrow. I set out on a mission to work in the direction of reclaiming my joy and reason for living. My spiritual journey had officially begun and after almost two years, and thousands of frequent flyer miles, landing into the open hearts of friends and strangers, I realized my son’s death could renew my own life and purpose.

I have been practicing yoga since 1987. I was certified in Iyengar yoga in 1994 and in Anusara Yoga in 1999. Since that time I have been traveling full-time, teaching yoga workshops and retreats all over the world.

I believe it has been the steadfastness and inner strength I have learned directly from my yoga practice that has enabled me not only to survive, but thrive. For the first two years, I was in so much emotional pain that I couldn’t help but share it in my workshops. I shared my grief openly with my students and many of them thanked me for being an example of someone not afraid to be real and true to her feelings.

I travel full-time teaching yoga and believe it is a healing mission for me to go out and share what I have learned about regaining joy after such tremendous loss.

Desiree dancer's poseI would like to let more people know that there is a way to mentally, emotionally AND physically transform the pain and suffering of the past and truly regain motivation and a sense of peace. My healing process was also assisted by a terrific counselor and the teachings of Abraham-Hicks’ principles of the law of attraction. After all these years, it has become clear to me that the union of the human experience with the knowledge of the Divine presence within has helped me to embody the feeling of joy and freedom that it seemed this tragedy had taken away.

The power of Yoga is immense and priceless. I am grateful.

Desiree bioDesirée Rumbaugh is an internationally recognized yoga teacher with unquenchable enthusiasm for life, love, and healing. She blends playful humor with an authentic inquiry into the nature of being to help her students discover their own power, courage, and beauty. Her passion for teaching both the art and the science of yoga is fueled in part by her own experience recovering from deep grief as a bereaved parent. For Desirée, yoga has been a life-saver emotionally as well as physically. With longtime studies in Iyengar and Anusara Yoga, she brings 25 years of experience, experimentation, and creativity to her ever-evolving, outside-of-the-box style of teaching. Desirée travels the world full-time sharing her compassion and her joy with others interested in the transformational power of yoga. She has produced a DVD series entitled “Yoga to the Rescue” and is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal, having also appeared on its cover. Desirée supports the Art of Yoga Project serving teenage girls in the juvenile justice system. She lives with her husband in southern California. Follow Desirée on Facebook here and on Twitter @desireerumbaugh.

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How I Came To Yoga

Name: J. Brown
Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Writer

Photo attributed to Flickr user elycefeliz.

My mother died of leukemia when I was sixteen years old. In the months leading up to her death, I didn’t visit her in the hospital. I went once but after sitting in my car in the parking lot for 30 minutes, I left without going in. I just couldn’t. I was not capable of dealing with what was happening.

Eventually, I’d be hurried to her bedside regardless: for fear she was not going to make it through the night. I remember the nurse coming into the waiting room quickly and saying, “She’s awake!” Next, I see my mother in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her nose. My sister breaks down sobbing and rushes to her side. My mother is semi-hysterical, crying and exclaiming, “I am not ready to go!”

At the time, I had never exhibited much poise or depth. I tended to be somewhat hyperactive and scattered. I spent a lot of time daydreaming. Yet, in this most crucial moment, something I cannot explain happened.

In a strange flash of clarity that I have been inquiring to understand ever since, I grabbed my mother by the gown, jarring her present and bringing her eyes to mine, and said, “Mom, I love you very much and I’m going to do great things in my life and make you proud of me. I’m not going to come see you in the hospital again.”

She nodded in acknowledgement and gave me a pained smile. I kissed her on the cheek and walked out of the room. That was the last time I saw my mother.

Photo by Flickr user Kathrin & Stefan.

In the years that followed, disillusionment set in gradually. I moved from Los Angeles to New York, went to college at NYU and graduated with a degree in the fine arts. After I finished school, things got much worse. At some point I got very low, so low that I felt I either needed to kill myself or find another way to live. Fortunately, I chose the latter.

Even after making this choice, I had no idea what to do. One of the only things I could think of was going to a yoga class. I’d been exposed to yoga in college and even in those most cynical of days, I could not deny how it seemed to make me feel better. I liked that it was ancient and sacred, and about things that are important.

First, I gravitated towards an Ashtanga, power vinyasa style. The intensity suited my struggling temperament. I gained discipline and some immediate gratification but was still largely hurting myself, only now with good intention.

Then, I explored an Iyengar-based approach. I became more aware and technically proficient but the emphasis on accomplishing alignment ended up playing into a lack of self-esteem in myself. There was always another variation I couldn’t do, my shoulder was never quite rotated properly, and even though I was somewhat impressive on the mat, I was still in a lot of pain.

Ultimately, I found my way to an entirely therapeutic orientation, inspired by the TKV Desikachar/Krishnamacharya tradition. By simplifying, slowing and centering my practice on the breath, I was able to cultivate a more measured and patient mode of engagement and a different context for my practice in which I was no longer trying to transcend my difficulties but rather was learning how to ease through them and just enjoy the fact that I am here.

Photo by Flickr user myyogaonline.

I didn’t know it when I started but the course of my yoga practice has been the process of reconciling my mother’s death. It’s difficult to explain how doing breathing and moving exercises can, inadvertently, carry with them the weight of facing mortality. Something about bringing careful attention to my breath and body, the most tangible expression of the fact that I am currently alive and the very thing that will be taken away from me in death, provides an experience that lessens the burdens I carry and illuminates life’s inherent worth.

From this standpoint, overcoming the difficulties that life presents becomes a celebratory endeavor and I feel strangely grateful for my mother’s passing. The pain and sorrow I feel because of my mother’s death, still just as powerful today as when I was sixteen years old, is what led me to yoga and to a deeper appreciation for life’s blessings. My life has a deeper sense of purpose as a result.

As a teacher, I get to witness others as they often unknowingly reconcile their situations and come to the same reverence for life’s majesty. Playing some role in facilitating people’s discovery of yoga and health makes me feel that I am of some use and reaffirms everything that I hold dear.

Whenever someone comes up to me after class or drops me an emotional email to tell me how much they are benefiting from their practice, I feel the warmth of my mother’s touch and I know that I have succeeded in fulfilling my promise.

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy in Practice, Yoga Therapy Today and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Visit his website at yogijbrown.com and find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/yogijbrown and on Twitter @yogijbrown.



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The Journey from Loss To Renewal

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


Name: Nan Zieleniec

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Human Resources Executive

Since 2008, I have experienced personal loss to include both of my parents and my husband. My parents lived long and full lives, but sadly my husband’s life was cut short at the age of 52, following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. During this time, my priority was raising my two beautiful children, now 24 and 21. While I always considered myself a good wife and mother, I had over the years allowed my profession to greatly define who I was as a person. When I wasn’t working, I was often thinking about work. Thankfully, I also placed a high value on being strong physically and I maintained a consistent strength training routine coupled with power walking/jogging. I have also seen a naturopath for almost 10 years, focusing on building a strong immune system. Through all the ups and downs of these years, I thought I was living a happy and balanced life.

Photo by Ashlee Stewak.

In late 2011, my boss came to me to let me know that the company had decided to make an organizational change and they requested that I transition out of my role over the following two months. But for two brief maternity leaves, since achieving my graduate degree, I had never been unemployed. This news rocked my sense of self and I began to feel unbalanced. While I always considered myself a strong individual, my confidence was shaken. After some intense internal dialogue, I determined that this change was going to be a healthy one for me and that I needed to look at it not as a loss, but as a gift. I worked through the transition with as much grace as possible, while also focusing on what the next chapter in my life was going to look like. One thing I knew for certain was that I needed to engage in something life-changing to mark the end of an intense professional gig and it needed to be physically and emotionally demanding to stimulate renewal.

At the beginning of 2012, following some intensive internet research, I decided that I would travel to Laguna Beach, California for a six-day yoga, hiking and cleanse retreat. I had never engaged in a yoga practice and while the ashram indicated that I didn’t need prior yoga experience, I felt I would be most comfortable with a little background and practice. Where to go?

For years, I had driven by the Atma Center as I frequently patronize the businesses in the area. I visited their website and stopped in to explore. As soon as I walked in, I knew this was the place for me to learn in a non-competitive environment, something that was important to me at the time. I left there with a one-month unlimited pass. I shared with the staff my goal to become familiar enough with the yoga practice to be comfortable on the retreat. They assured me that one month would give me a good grounding and they recommended that I read Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. In addressing the relevance of yoga today, Swami Satyananda remarks that “Physical and mental cleansing and strengthening is one of yoga’s most important achievements.” This resonated with me.

I approached this month of introductory yoga practice with zeal, attending class 3-4 times per week. I began tracking all of the various poses I was learning. Studying with a variety of instructors, I listened intently to their explanations of the physiological connections between mind and body. I began standing taller with my heart high and with my shoulders down my back. Unsolicited, my massotherapist remarked that I was standing taller and more aligned. I was feeling ready for the retreat.

I left my job of seven years the last week in January and attended this retreat the first week in February. The retreat was one of the most intense experiences I have ever had and was transformative for me indeed. The physical challenges of the hiking and yoga coupled with the mental challenges of the cleanse took me to a place I had not yet visited in my lifetime. The cleanse evoked a great deal of emotion for me and I then began to understand what Swami Satyananda meant when he said “The body and mind are not separate entities, although there is a tendency to think and act like they are. The gross form of the mind is the body and the subtle form of the body is the mind. The practice of asana integrates and harmonizes the two.”

I left the retreat in a very harmonious state. I returned home at midnight one night and despite the time difference, by 9:00 the next morning, I was in the yoga studio at the Atma Center. I felt a craving for the yoga practice that is hard to describe.

I now do yoga 3-4 times a week. I do high-intensity strength training at least once a week and I power walk/jog twice a week. Both my strength training and my aerobic activities have been intensified by my yoga practice. The core strength I have gained from yoga has allowed me to engage in my strength training in a way that was not possible before and the results are palpable. In addition to the physical training, I have changed my nutrition to include a move toward a more plant-based diet.

I believe all of these changes have contributed to a mental acuity that I was missing. My heart is open. I feel balanced, renewed, rejuvenated and happy. My kids tell me I am aging backwards. I was given a gift and I now know that out of loss can come renewal.

Nan Zieleniec is a human resources executive living and working in Cleveland, Ohio. Professionally, Nan focuses on helping companies create and sustain workplaces that allow the human capital of the firm to optimize their productivity and contribute to the success of the organization. Nan is currently in transition and seeking her next leadership opportunity within an organization that promotes work-life balance and recognizes how the company benefits from an energized workforce. In addition to yoga and other exercise, Nan enjoys live music, gardening, cooking and the warmth of family and friends. Nan has been active in the non-profit and civic community as she believes that giving back and helping to repair the world are obligations each of us has as we occupy our place on this Earth. Nan’s two children are a constant source of pride, inspiration and joy. Nan can be found on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/nanzieleniec.

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