Learning to Become a Vessel

Name: Kim Stanley
Location: Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

During teacher training we were taught that we need to be a vessel for our students. Our teacher guided us through this process and the group did quite a bit of self exploration and cleansing. These exercises were specifically designed to clear out some of our own baggage and free up some space. You can’t be a vessel when you are full of your own crap, right? Practicing forgiveness, laughing, crying, and maybe a little screaming are all great preparation for new teachers.

When we accept this immense responsibility to teach others the practice of yoga, we need to be prepared for our class to bring in anything and everything: failed relationships, body issues, past or present abuse, all the garbage that we humans try to compost into our darkest places and hope that it will slowly decompose. Instead, it usually simmers just under the surface and sometimes, an intense practice gives it just the extra heat it needs to boil over. With all of this barely contained energy in the room, teachers have to be ready to catch the overflow. If we are constantly spewing out our own drama, we may not be prepared to bring in and hold still, what our students may need to release.

Fortunately for me, my particular teacher felt very strongly about our role as vessel and I had tried to listen intently as she described to us what we might have to do. However, I had never actually experienced this phenomenon for myself until last week and I was not as prepared as I had thought…

One of our students, someone I have known for a couple of years, showed up at a class I was subbing and appeared to be a little out of sorts. When I asked her how she was doing before class I was totally unprepared for her answer. She very simply and quietly told me that they had lost their child the day before. As you can imagine my heart dropped to the floor; I felt dizzy; my hands went to my face; time stoppedall of the normal human reactions to horrifying news. Once the room stopped spinning and came back into focus I thought, “Hey, this is not your pain; buck up and be here for this person!”

I don’t know how but she managed to keep it together with just a small tremble in her lip. We hugged and while I was holding her I tried to will my energy to take on some magical power to just envelop her like an opiate. But unfortunately I don’t have that or any magical power.

During class I was consumed with how I should act with this student in the room. My heart was breaking for her and on top of queuing poses, I was concerned that I would say the wrong thing and cause her to burst into tears. About mid-way through our practice, that word “vessel” finally floated into my swirling thoughts and I tried to convince myself that I was being one. I knew I needed to empty out some space to allow her room to do what she needed but I was still holding on to my own junk. I had to get rid of the idea that I had to come up with the perfect words to soothe her, or bring in the perfect pose to somehow release her pain in a physical way. I just needed to be a vessel. A container. A safe place for her to do whatever it was she needed without my own dirt, my desire to be the hero, muddying up the water.

The good newswe made it through class with neither of us having a complete breakdown; maybe a few slowly released tears and some deeper than usual sighs. The bad newsI will still struggling with making this all about me. I wanted to come up with the gesture or words of wisdom after class that would fix the problem; as if it were something that could be fixed. As I am still far from enlightenment, I tend to manipulate every event to answer the question, “how does this affect me?” But I knew, in my thinking brain, that this was definitely not about me. How did I get my heart and my gut, the non-analytical parts, to get on board? This was about a fellow yogi, friend, human suffering an unbearable loss and if I was going to help at all I needed to stop trying to be the superstar. I do not posses mystical powers of healing or clever words that answer the mysteries of life. The only skill I possess is to hold some space free and clear for my students to feel safe. That role as vessel had to trump my thinking brain’s need to save the day.

I let the student divulge as many of the details as she wanted to and tried not to press her for facts. Again, be a vessel Kim, not a siphon… She told me her family had been at the hospital all week, apparently their ordeal had gone on for a few days. After so many hours of crying and sitting in a hospital waiting room feeling totally helpless to help the one person for whom she felt totally responsible, she needed to just come to yoga. She didn’t want to go home and sit anymore. She wanted to take some deep breaths and stretch her tired body. And she knew she could come here. She knew that she would find support, a few words to calm her spinning mind, maybe a few hugs, maybe a dimly lit room with quiet peaceful music. Whatever she was looking for, she felt she could get it here.

With that I started to think about what an amazing place this is! This studio, this larger vessel, is apparently so safe and so comforting that people who have had the worst thing in the world happen to them feel okay to enter and are even drawn to be here. How incredible that this studio, and others like it all around the world, have become a haven where you can take a few breaths even after your very worst day.

The yoga community is what makes this place sacred and inviting. We are doing our small part with our little lives, in our little town, to connect to the bigger world energy. For just a brief moment, every day, we move beyond the individuals that make up this group and became something larger, that thing that is closer to yoga. We make a tiny step toward getting rid of the duality that we insist is part of our human condition and instead, share ourselves through vulnerability; maybe, in this instance, vulnerability in the knowledge that one day this could very likely be us. Tragic things happen all the time. We don’t know what’s coming next but man, it feels a tiny bit better to think that we have a vessel; a safe comforting home-away-from-home to come to if we need it.

Life is beautiful picAfter the class, I was speaking to another teacher about what had happened to our friend and we were both amazed at the student’s poise and level of control. I mean, she was clearly shaken to her core but she was still, for the most part, keeping it together. As parents, we imagined we would both be sobbing, heaving messes unable to speak to anyone let alone attend a yoga class.

Later that week the student shared with me a phrase that someone had said to her at the showing. She said, “It will never be the same but it will get better.” She jokingly added, “I want it to get better now.” We chuckled and I knew that I was witness again to what a truly strong, brave, beautiful person she is and that as usual, the student had taught the teacher. I hoped that I could continue to grow and learn to work on becoming a true vessel and that in time, I too, will get better.

Kim StanleyAfter 12 years as a student, Kim finds the most beautiful thing about yoga to be its adaptability to everyone. No matter your age, physical ability or state of mind, you can be a part of something awesome. Kim completed her 200 RYT from Pranayoga School of Yoga and Holistic Health and is working towards her ERYT. In 2012 she took a leap of faith and left a well paying, but soul sucking job as a software project manager to follow her passion and teach full-time. Yin Yoga is her true love but she also really digs Heated Prana Flow classes. She has a B.S. in Organizational Leadership and lives in Fort Wayne with her very understanding husband, two gifted children, two old dogs and two crazy cats. You can find her teaching schedule at kimstanleyyoga.com or yap about yoga with her on facebook.com/KimStanleyYoga or twitter @kimstanleyyoga.

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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 Learned to Love Myself

Name: Erin
Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Occupation: High School Student and Yoga Assistant

I guess I never really realized how lost I was until I found myself… until I loved myself.

Yoga is the reason for my loving myself. Teenage years are some of the roughest years, the time when you are searching for yourself. But in reality, that’s silly… we are one person, we are unique, we are what we are. I don’t think it’s a matter of searching as much as it is about accepting: accepting who we are and then falling in love with the way God created us. I believe that once we can do that… that is when we have “found ourselves.”

When I was in 8th grade, I came home to a dark house and all I could hear was crying. Once I made my way to the living room, my mom told me the news that my dad had passed away. My dad had been in an out of rehab, which meant he was in and out of my life. I couldn’t control the way he acted but I knew he loved us so much. After his death I was ok as I knew that everything happens for a reason and that my daddy was in heaven with Jesus.

Looking back on grades 9-11, I realize now how I tried to control everything, especially what I ate and how much I exercised. Controlling these things was the only way I could feel good about myself. I guess I controlled those things because I couldn’t control that my dad had to go.

Over the past year yoga has become something more than exercise for me; it has become a lifestyle. I used to try to control everything about myself but then my mom taught me, “Who is there to really impress?” I guess before yoga the person who I was trying to outdo and impress was myself. I was trying to “better” myself by cutting back on food, keeping up with the latest nutrition fad so that I would look not just ok, but great. But I never achieved great. Exercising nonstop and eating all the “right” foods was never enough. There was no way I could out-do myself. I was trying to control my own life instead of just going with the flow and letting God do the rest.

After a year of practicing at Evolution Power Yoga, I started realizing a change in my life. I was not sure what it was but it was contagious. I had to go to yoga. Yoga had become a part of me.

Working at a local grocery store, I worked my butt off for a year to save for yoga teacher training. Finally it came. My training was an intensive teacher training (200 hours in 18 days, 14 hours a day). I made friendships with everyone in the training, including the instructors. I learned so much more than how to teach yoga: I learned how to listen to others and how to truly be myself. I learned that I am perfect, whole and complete, just the way I am.

Once the training was over, I fully accepted my body and myself. I was so grateful for what my body had accomplished (3-4 yoga classes a day) and the surprising ways in which my body physically changed. I now feel leaner, lighter and happier, however I believe I feel that way less because of my physical nature and more because of my self-acceptance. I am so much kinder to my body now because I am so grateful for everything that it has done for me.

It is exciting and unbelievable to me that by the young age of 17, I am a 200-hour yoga instructor and a 30-hour Budokon Yoga instructor. Yet I know that this is just the beginning of my life. I have so much love, joy and passion to share with people. I receive so much enjoyment from assisting classes at my yoga studio and I am constantly learning new things.

Before yoga I thought that all life had to offer was high school, college, marriage and then life would be over. And I wondered, “What is the point of learning new things if that’s all there is?” After being in this adult world I now understand how flawed that thinking is. Life is just STARTING! And I am so excited and overwhelmed by all the opportunities that I have. I am so thankful for the strong, flexible body that allows me to be a vessel for this beautiful practice, and I never want to stop learning. I want to keep shining the light that God has given me so that I may use it to brighten the lives of others.

Erin is a senior in high school this year. She is a certified 200-hour Yoga Teacher and a 30-hour Budokon Yoga Teacher. She plans to do more yoga training and massage training after graduating from high school.




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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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Like Coming Home

Name: Candice Garrett
Location: Monterey, California, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Director of Nine Moons Prenatal Yoga

Photo attributed to Flickr user Liamfm.

At 19 years old, I found myself pregnant, alone and in a hostile environment.

My mother had abandoned me during my last year of high school, and I was homeless, living out of cars and at friends’ houses. My behavior was reckless. A formerly model student and athlete, I barely made it to class and almost didn’t graduate. I think my teachers took pity on me and pushed me through, one of them even gifting me a yearbook anonymously. During high school I took refuge in an evangelical church. Their over-the-top enthusiasm to welcome me in made me feel less broken. I overlooked some of the codependent ways they exhibited in their faith because it felt like I had a family that actually wanted to be around me, faults and all. I remember thinking they were all so open with their faults and sins and problems. It made me feel at home.

For that reason, though I had been accepted to numerous colleges that would be cheaper, closer to familial resources, or more in line with my prospects of becoming a surgeon, I chose an elite, private Christian college. And away I went. Those first days were so odd for me, having come from such a tough last year of high school and being dropped into the lap of luxury, surrounded by children who were so sheltered, so bright, so sure of their places, their safety, their faith. They couldn’t fathom the experiences I’d been through, and frankly, they didn’t want to know. I closed up, made a show of being something, someone I wasn’t. This wasn’t the church I had found, these weren’t broken people, and I was out of place. That first year I lost three of my grandparents, people who had been pivotal in my life and in my identity. Having no one to turn to, feeling isolated, I lost it a bit.

I reached out for help, for support from my new-found community, but was told that my grandparents, who weren’t confirmed Christians, were probably in hell. I found refuge instead in the man I had started dating just before I left for college, the boy back home that came to see me. He was my lifeline. But somehow I couldn’t hold it together. I lost sight of everything I wanted and who I was, a sheltered girl who was thrown into real life in such a short time. I cheated on my boyfriend and I broke his heart. I felt helpless to stop myself, to reign in my self destruction, even as I watched it happening. Shortly after that, I found out I was pregnant and being that my boyfriend wanted nothing to do with me, we had an abortion. He held my hand the entire time, we cried together through the pain and the clinical terror of it all, and he left me, bleeding and woozy in my dorm room. And that, was that.

Photo attributed to Flickr user elycefeliz.

That summer, I fell into a crowd from college that, though able to talk the talk, played a very different game behind closed doors. In short, I found the same bad behavior from which I had come seeking healing. I drank a lot, partied too much. One night I had too much to drink and awoke to a man I barely knew. I convinced myself it was my fault, for having so much to drink, for going to bed naked. I ended up dating him, I think in an effort to smooth over the rough edges, to make it okay, for both of us, that he had taken advantage of me when I was unconscious. I think my sense of self-worth was so broken, so guilt-ridden over the abortion that I convinced myself I deserved every rotten thing that came my way. And so it was.

It was an uneasy relationship. We didn’t like each other, not really. He was mean and played hateful games at my expense. He beat me once. I stayed even then. But I looked forward to ending our summer affair by returning to school, as it was an easy way to break up, to let distance separate us, rather than stand up for myself.

Shortly after I returned to school, he came for a visit. That visit, though uncomfortable and short, ended up with me being pregnant. Again. I know now that that conception occurred on the exact same date as the baby I had aborted. The mind is tricky that way. It didn’t occur to me for years, and when it did, I found both comfort and unending despair.

He didn’t come back, that boyfriend, not even after he knew about the baby. I couldn’t go through with another abortion, wouldn’t. It was my choice and I took it. I hid my pregnancy for shame from my community. In a strict Christian college, one just didn’t have premarital sex (though, in truth, it was happening all the time, one just didn’t get pregnant). I isolated myself, finished my semester and then I went home to tell my family, my father, my sisters what I had done with my life. Their promising young surgeon was nothing more than a knocked up failure. My dear, sweet twin sister said as much. Though she would take it back now, a thousand times if she could.

I went home and nursed my wounds, birthed my baby and became a very confused mother. I had no friends, no faith, no community. I was bitter and scared, and truth be told, tough as nails. Motherhood made me find myself in the chaos. I didn’t know where I was going, or what to do, or what I would become, but I knew I had a little boy that was more precious than anything on earth, for whom I would sacrifice anything. I knew that if I never gave him anything else, I would give him pure, unadulterated love.  He would have that at least.

I slowly pulled myself together. I married a man that had been a good friend to me since I was 17, a man who had watched and nurtured and held me up through all of my misdeeds. He became a father to my son, and eventually  a father to two more of our own sons. Meanwhile, as my husband finished school, I sank into a depression, realizing the professional life I had given up, realizing that the Christian faith no longer had meaning for me. I became a very reluctant, morbid atheist. If this faith wasn’t for me, there couldn’t be anything else, right?

When my husband was in paramedic school, I started practicing yoga at our local YMCA. I have a congenital defect with my feet, and they were getting worse. I had heard yoga might help, so I went. I marched into a dark room, sat down and looked around, realizing that I was the junior of everyone else in that class by at least 30 years. When a woman walked in with thick orthotic shoes and a pronounced osteoporotic hump, when I realized this was the teacher, I wanted to bolt. What had I gotten myself into? I was clearly out of place.

But then she threw herself into shoulder stand and I was hooked. In the entire year I studied with her, I never heard a Sanskrit word, or anything about philosophy. I never did a headstand or an arm balance. But I felt good  and my feet got better. To this day, I will tell you that the short time I spent in that very gentle, secular class was the best yoga I have ever done.

Two of Candice’s sons.

I signed up for a teacher training when we moved into a remote area for my husband’s work. It was the first time I ever heard that yoga had a philosophy, a tradition behind it. It was so much to absorb and I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand the Yoga Sutras or the ideas behind them. So I didn’t study them. For me, the therapeutics was enough.

And so I practiced. I sought out teachers and studied more intently with my own mentor. I found new ones as well. And a funny thing happened. I went through a crisis of self inquiry. Though I wasn’t studying the philosophies, their lessons were happening, organically. At some point I realized that the simple act of asana, of being around good teachers, had made me seriously face my demons: the past, and the present ones. I cried, I raged, I was confused. But it eventually smoothed out to be an overwhelming sense of rightness and peace. I started studying the philosophies and really understanding them, with the help of my teacher, it grew. I grew.

Here was a way of living that made sense to me and aligned with my scientific nature. It asked me to be a better person, to study, to refine myself. And so I did. It was like coming home, for the first time.

My husband will tell you that yoga made me a better person, a more honest, kind,  confident person. In truth, he will tell you that it brought me back to who I was before all the chaos, to who I truly was, only a little bit better. And it is true.

Now I work with other pregnant women and train prenatal teachers and what we offer is more than asana, but group support; a chance to live it, breathe it, grieve it all, this whole journey of motherhood, regardless of marital status, or religion or sexual orientation. And in that way my journey has made so much sense. I lived this thing, so that I could have the wisdom to hold another woman up. It’s so simple, isn’t it? I don’t grieve for my story anymore. I don’t find shame in it. It is mine, and I own it, crunchy bits and all, so that I might be a better friend, a better mother, a better mentor to other women who know exactly what I’m talking about.

Candice Garrett is the director of Nine Moons Prenatal Yoga, a program that offers certification in pre/postnatal yoga, doula services and childbirth education. She is also the author of Prenatal Yoga, Finding Movement in Fullness and a mother to three sons. She lives in Monterey, CA.You can find her yoga program 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.

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