Out of the Forrest. Into the fire.

Name: Lizzy Nichol
Location: London, UK
Occupation: Health coach and Forrest Yoga teacher

Lizzy Nichol yoga poseI am teaching a yoga class in the style of a chicken.

I am not a yoga teacher…yet. So just the “teaching” part is challenging enough. In front of me, the other trainees are laughing so hard they fall from their down dogs onto their knees.

I walk through the line of mats clucking and squawking, red faced, teetering between humiliation and hilarity. Between tears of laughter and tears of everything and anything else.

Just when I think it can’t get any worse, the trainer who decided I would teach chicken-style whispers in my ear, “Don’t forget to flap your wings.”

This is a typical afternoon on Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training. Think of it like the yogi military. First you must be broken down before you can be rebuilt. The breakdowns happen daily. Only now more than a year on do I see that yes, I have been entirely rebuilt.

A day or two after that chicken class, I am teaching again. Only this time I am to bark orders like a sergeant major.

Only I cannot do it.

Suddenly I would rather teach 100 more sequences as a chicken than just this one in charge.

I start. I stumble. And then I cry.

There is a saying in Forrest Yoga – “Never waste a good trigger.” Over the remainder of the training I began to unravel the knot I unwittingly located deep inside myself when asked to be a sergeant major – When I was triggered.

Turns out it’s been there since 1988.

I am five years old. My teacher, a young, French, willow-the-wisp woman named Miss Allport is standing in the middle of the classroom screaming my name.

EL-IZ-A-BETH!

The class holds its breath.

I don’t remember the transgression. But I can make an educated guess: I am talking, loudly, when I should be listening. I have declared, loudly, that the exercise she has set is dull. I have told someone, loudly, I think they are stupid and how they can do whatever they are doing, better. I am being a bossy little so-and-so.

There’s the word. “Bossy.”

The first time someone called me bossy was the first time it occurred to me that that, perhaps, was what I was. And clearly this was not a term of endearment. Clearly this thing that I was was undesirable. Clearly I needed to change.

So “bossy” and all its accoutrements went into a box – A box that I would fill over the years with other labels. Arrogant. Loud. Judgmental. Selfish. Each time I nailed it firmly shut.

Twelve years later I would stand in front of a quarter of my school as an appointed head of house and mumble through my curtains of long hair, looking down at my feet.

By accident, it seems I had also put confidence, self-esteem, authority and leadership into that box. Along with all my opinions. Along with my voice.

There was a new willow-the-wisp in town.

Now I am sitting in a circle on teacher training, another twelve years on. The talking stick is moving steadily, minute by excruciating minute, towards me.

[Forrest Yoga rules – whoever has the talking stick will speak uninterrupted for their allotted three minutes on a given subject before passing it to the next person.]

Kneeling, I press one end to my heart and begin.

I tell them about that kid in the classroom. And the girl with the long hair. I tell them how I have realized – just at that moment – that I have been running from my own voice since I was five years old. That I became a writer so I could speak without speaking. And wrote for brands, in voices not my own. I say that I seem unable to form an opinion, sitting permanently on any and every fence. I say that I thought I was an introvert who could pretend to be an extrovert, but perhaps I’ve been an extrovert all along. An extrovert in hiding.

On the last day of training we hug and cry, fearful of going back to our lives where the hard work will commence. Where we must make good on our intentions. Where we must build our broken-open selves back up.

I didn’t know if I would teach. If I could. I had insight now, but I still did not have a voice. I did precisely nothing about becoming a teacher …

Until four things happened in quick succession.

February: My teacher asks me if I would like to assist a class a week.
March: A friend asks me to cover her classes at a well-known studio.
April: I find, audition for, and get, a teaching job in a studio.
May: I fall into (and in love with) a public speaking training program.

Lizzy Nichol cobra poseIn the months just gone I have stood on stage in front of 80 global executives from a well-known charity and spoken for an hour. I have gotten to the final of a speaking competition telling a story about my Grandpa. I have sold out a retreat and designed a workshop. I have been on a radio show. I have branched out from blogs to tele-seminars. I will give my new opinions to anyone who asks, or will listen. And I have taught many Forrest Yoga classes.

It is less than three years since I stumbled on Ana Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine, at the London Yoga Show and read it cover to cover in days, appalled, entranced, and certain I had found my practice.

I could never have predicted then, that in finding my practice I would also find my voice.

Lizzy head shotLizzy Nichol is a health coach, writer and Forrest Yoga teacher. She helps women reunite with their bodies and get the energy and confidence they need to do awesome stuff with their lives.

 

 

 

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There Is No Such Thing As Paradise

Name: Alli Akard
Location: Buda, Texas, USA
Occupation: Yoga instructor / mom / adventurer

It was the summer of 2005 – fresh out of college and a new love on the rise. When I met my now husband that fateful day at a coffee shop, he ordered coffee, black. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that that simple cup of coffee would forever change the course of my life. I was a fairly typical college student, semi unsure of the future, but with big dreams and aspirations…and little direction. As the weeks evolved and the friendship blossomed, the two of us decided it would be a great adventure to drive from Texas to Panama in search of surf and new beginnings. We starting planning immediately and before we knew it our car was packed with basically everything we owned and off we went, heading south.

I had always had a love for yoga. It started out as a form of exercise when I was fifteen. My mom had convinced me to take a class with her and I remember my very first adho mukha svanasana (downward dog). It was a sensation I had never felt before. I always considered myself an athlete, having played various sports in high school and of course, surfing, but nothing could prepare my muscles or my mind for that first downward dog. It was as if it flipped my whole perspective upside down. As I grew and evolved from a scrappy teen into a free-spirited adult, I took my yoga practice with me. During college I even took yoga as an elective to gain a deeper understanding of all eight limbs of yoga. I remember writing my Sanskrit on note cards in preparation for my mid-term. Virabhdrasana is still one of my favorite words to say.

As I set out on our ‘Summer of Love’ tour with my new romance and a wild spirit, I remember thinking, “Thank God for yoga, I can do it anywhere.” I would use the asanas at night in our dinky motel rooms, mediation in the long car ride and my karma with the many people that scammed us along the way.

Well, since this is an essay and not a life story, I’ll skip all the epic, amazing adventures that we encountered along the way and I’ll fast forward six years. That summer of love tour turned into a new way of life. Once we arrived in Panama we decided this was the place for us and the Universe agreed. We ended up creating a business for ourselves in real estate and development. We built our own home, perched on a mango-filled cliff right in front of the Pacific ocean, where we watched the sun dip into the water every night. Some would call it paradise. Our business blossomed and so did our family. We eventually married and had three beautiful jungle babies to add to our paradise.

I always said that our home in Panama would be the ideal spot for a yoga retreat. I would wake up in the morning to do sun salutations and sit under the mango trees to meditate. How could so much beauty and peace have found me? Or did I find it? Either way, it didn’t last long.

On August 27, 2009, my world changed in an instant. I was on my way home from a long overdue personal vacation. I had been a wife and mother, living in the jungles of Panama for over four years. I treated myself to a night in Panama City, were I wined and dined, indulging on sushi and expensive perfume. I had never been away from my children and I felt slightly guilty, but the prospect of a king size bed, clean sheets and A/C all to myself was more then I could deny. It was paradise.

When I arrived home that evening, I noticed a car parked down the road from our house. I thought it strange, as we live miles from anyone, but figured it was a local person coming for a visit. We were somewhat of a novelty, being gringos with small children and all. As I walked into my living room and saw my small children sitting on the floor, my husband was nowhere to be found. At that point a man in a mask ran out of my room pointing a gun right at my face. Everything went in slow motion. It was like I was watching the whole experience from overhead. I was hyper aware of every movement, every thought, every breath.

Over the years I had spent a good amount of time reading about meditation and self awareness. If there was ever a time that knowledge was to come into play, it was in that moment. I was in survival mode and I decided right then and there that if my family and I were going to die, we would do it with love in our hearts. Through the whole ordeal, I never took my eyes off my eldest son’s eyes. I just kept telling him I loved him and that everything was going to be ok.

The whole robbery lasted roughly fifteen minutes, but the stress it had on us as a family took years to get over. We eventually, with great sadness, sold our house and decided it was time to move back to Texas. Over that course of time I completely lost any passion or drive for life. I was depressed, severally stressed and suffered anxiety attacks on a regular basis.

Time had passed and we were living a new way of life, just making it through each day. Yoga had taken a far back seat to Xanax and I no longer cared about being inspired. I didn’t know who I was anymore, but I knew I was a far cry from the free-spirited girl that had taken a chance on love and adventure seven years earlier. Then one day I figured I had nothing to lose, so I decided to try a yoga class. But I assumed it would be a waste of time and energy and I hated leaving my kids and felt selfish every time I did. I lived each moment as if it was the last time I would see them.

I laid out my 15-year old mat, the same one I had used when I took classes with my mom. We started moving through a vinyasa. The instructor’s voice was like a soft bass that moved through my whole body. I felt a sensation welling up inside of me as I moved. It felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. By the time we were in eka pada kapotasana (pigeon pose) on our mats, I was soaked in tears. I knew without a doubt that I was right where I needed to be in my life. Dare I say, it felt like paradise. In an instant I knew I had all the answers inside of me. All I had to do now was set out on the path to discovery.

My adventure in this discovery this past year has evolved just as beautifully and profoundly as a lotus flower itself. I have since completed my yoga training and am well on my way to opening my own studio and retreat center in Panama, where I hope to share my love and passion for yoga with my community. But more importantly, I have evolved in ways beyond comprehension. Yoga taught me to mend broken relationships with myself and others, to deeply and unwaveringly trust my Self and manifest all of the great things this world has to offer. I went from having zero passion in life to more passion than this Universe can hold. Yoga has been the greatest gift to me and every time I step onto my mat, I am reminded there is such a thing as paradise, and it’s in my heart. Namaste.

Alli Akard is a wife, a mother, an adventurer and a yoga teacher. Her journey with yoga connected her with her true self, and then when life unexpectedly met her with a time of darkness, it was the yoga that brought her back home. Alli and her husband own and operate Panama Coast Property, a real estate and development company in paradise, on the coast of Panama. They are currently working on developing a yoga studio and retreat center, so that they may share their paradise with others. Alli can be found on Facebook 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.


Under Armour Every Day

Name: Colleen Palmateer
Location: Ellicott City, MD, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Administrative Assistant at the Yoga Center of Columbia

 

Photo attributed to Flickr Creative Commons User Ozan Ozan.

Many years ago I went through a tumultuous time, as I grieved the loss of several people close to me, through death and broken relationships. I had two young children, and was struggling to find my way. My response to this enormous amount of stress was to put on some protective armor by closing myself off. I clung to my grief, anger, and fear. Emotionally, I shut down, and physically, my body became constricted and hard. This went on for some time, and my world became very small.

Through God’s grace and with the help of family and friends, I came to understand that this stressed-out, closed-up person was not the real me. It was just someone that I created to try and cope with a very rough patch of life. I gradually learned to trust, breathe, move forward, and take off that hard shell of armor I was wearing. I found new ways to cope, reaffirm my faith, and step back into the flow of life. I learned that sometimes holding on hurts more than letting go.

Yoga brought me home to my real self — and even now, whenever I struggle, the mat is a place of safety. My strength enables me to maintain the integrity of a pose, and then I layer on softness by using my breath. Where do I need to let my guard down a little, and where should I be more assertive? It’s a dance between the two. I love feeling the strength that the standing poses engender, the heart-opening of a beautiful backbend, a delightful twist, and finally, finally, softening into relaxation.

Photo attributed to Flickr Creative Commons User myyogaonline.

As babies, we are joyful and open, and we thrive when we’re nurtured well. Growing up, we learn that boundaries are appropriate and necessary, and a few shields go up. As life goes on though, sometimes circumstances beat us down. If we overprotect ourselves, we can lose that person we once were, and we become hardened both emotionally and physically. The harder we become, the more we withdraw. If we can break this vicious cycle and learn from it, we can recapture our true selves and maybe even a little bit of that childlike joy that was once so natural.

We need boundaries and softness. I can’t help but think of Under Armour Clothing – it protects athletes from extreme heat or cold, and yet is soft and allows free movement. It provides just the right amount of protection. Maybe we should all wear Under Armour every day!

Colleen Palmateer found peace and health through her yoga practice. She is a certified yoga teacher, registered with the Yoga Alliance at the 200-hour level. Colleen is pursuing her passion of helping people get out of pain through Doug Keller’s Swatantrya yoga therapy certification, and will pursue the 500-hour certification in 2013. Colleen is passionate about sharing yoga with others to help them relieve pain and live more joyfully. Her students learn good alignment, healthy breathing techniques, and how to relax. They also develop a greater awareness of the body-mind connection. In Colleen’s classes, students laugh, open their bodies, and find peace and rest. Colleen wishes to engage her students with the idea of having a strong body, sound mind, and open heart. Visit Colleen’s website and check out her blog! Colleen can be found on Twitter @colleenyoga.

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