Camp Rockey

Name: Jill Weiss Ippolito
Location: Los Angeles
Occupation: Founder/Executive Director of UpRising Yoga

uprising-yoga-pic-1I was warned when we got the call to teach yoga at Camp Rockey. “It’s the worst of the worst. Really. It’s where they dump the kids, the staff…it could really use some yoga and meditation.”

“Okay, I said hesitantly. Where is this place again?”

Camp Rockey is a Boys’ Correctional Facility located in San Dimas, up in the mountains across from a Girls’ Group Home we had taught at a couple months prior. I was told “it’s not that far” from Pasadena on a good day. Neil was a matter-of-fact Program Director who sought us out after hearing about UpRising Yoga, a program I started which brings yoga to juvenile hall and at-risk communities, where people cannot easily get to a class, let alone pay for one.

Of course I was intrigued and had a yoga teacher in Claremont that was eager to go. Neil explained what we were up against: a pretty rough group of rowdy kids, disengaged staff in the middle of nowhereforgotten about. I liked Neil’s spirit and set a date to go teach three yoga classes with Nikhil, who had been teaching with UpRising for a while.

Once we arrived, we met Neil in the parking lot and lugged piles of new mats I had just bought from Marshall’s that smelled like plastic, much better than the used stinky ones I get donated from generous yoga studios around town. Nikhil, Neil and I juggled piles of mats in the scorching heat of the mountain desert weather. I swore I hear rattle snakes shaking in the fields. After being screened thoroughly, we walked across football fields of grass, through clanging doors and gates. Menacing barbed wire fence circled our heads above the vicious blue sky, so crisp and pretty this daytaunting freedom and beauty, but eerily caged, we walked on.

For a half an hour, various characters that may or may not have had the ability to open the door fumbled with keys trying to get us into the gym. It felt surreal. After little success, we walked another great length to a classroom. Nikhil was in awe of some giant screen in the middle of the room and glided over enamored.

“Wow, that’s a projector board they have in colleges, man, that’s nice! You can barely get this high technology in boarding school!” He went on to explain the fancy stuff this thing does and how hard it is to get in classrooms, while we moved the desk and chairs setting up mats and preparing for our students. Once ready, we had all the mats laid out, so pretty with harmonious colors. Some had corny quotes that said stuff like “Find Your Bliss” or such. We had smiles and were ready to start.

The next thing we knew, the door opened and a crowd of rambunctious boys came tumbling in with a short, loud woman behind them yelling at them to “Get in there! It’s yoga class!!”

I saw Neil talking to the officer who would be “watching” us. He was a hundred and ninety-seven years old and looked more punished than the kids. I started to worry.

uprising-yoga-pic-2“Hi, welcome to yoga! Hey there, I’m Jill and this is Nikhil. Please take your shoes off and hop on a mat,” I tried to say cheerfully. Shaved heads, baggy grey prison clothes, slouched shoulders, tattoos, posturing with glares, snickers, laughter, and boisterous behavior so undisciplined I wondered how I was going to offer my gift, the seeds of yoga healing I hoped to share. I moved into the authority role and started to barrel through like a commander. When it got loud, I got louder.

“Ok, class, how many of you have ever had yoga before?” One hand out of twenty-two went up. He was the shy, quiet one in the back. I thought of my training at UCLA when teaching kayaking to the mentally challenged…find the alpha kid,win them over and you got it…ok, not this guy!

“Anyone injured?” 82% of the hands went up. “Miss, miss, look! Here’s where I was shot!”

“Check out my shoulder, my knee. I just had three surgeries, they took some of the shrapnel out. You know how a bullet explodes? I get more taken out when I get out of here.”

So many little boys had bullets lodged in their bodies. Pain. Suffering. Gang members acting tough. Rows of boys on pastel mats hitting each other through the class I stumbled to teach, some seeking attention trying to get it right to show me, most too distracted by the sight of a female.

Nikhil taught the next two classes and one of them went surprisingly great. We had a sense of order and curiosity and there was a definite interest in yoga, the postures, the history, but most of all they noticed that they felt better at the end of class than when class first started. That magical shift happened. Yoga’s healing worked and the boys left calm, and tranquil and they thanked us for coming. It was so inspiring and hopeful.

The last class was so awful that I had to go get extra security and pull Nikhil out of there. You never know what is going on with kids in juvenile hallwhat sticks or what doesn’t.
I know that teaching yoga to a group of kids who are locked up for something, helps. Across the field next to us, we saw one boy that was being transported to somewhere else in handcuffs. He looked over at us, smiled and said, “Hey, Namaste.”

I know that bringing yoga to that one boy provided just a little bit of peace that he can take with him in his heart forever.

THAT brings me a little bit more peace too…

jill-ippolito

Photo Credit: A+B Photography

Jill Weiss Ippolito is the Founder & Executive Director of UpRising Yoga. She teaches trauma-informed yoga in the juvenile hall she was once detained in. Jill authored UpRising Yoga’s training manual. She is a contributing author to the Yoga Service Council’s book series, “Best Practices for Yoga With Incarcerated and Court Involved Peoples” as well as a contributing writer for LA Yoga Magazine. She is embarking on memoir writing after being told “you should write a book” a million times! You can connect with UpRising Yoga on Facebook here and on Twitter here.


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What Matters Most

Name: Lindsey Porter
Location: Falkirk, Scotland
Occupation: Yoga business owner

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I used to be a modern-day, career-driven, busy, multi-tasking mum. I still am. The difference is this: I’ve redirected my driving force from delivering million-pound projects for banking institutions to delivering yoga sessions, wellbeing retreats and supporting local charities. And I’m doing it in the best way I know how: with passion, commitment, a good dose of curiosity and a mantra of “I can only ask.”

I’ve spent a lifetime picking up “other” skills alongside white-collar professional ones. I just never knew how these mismatched pieces of a jigsaw puzzle would somehow lock together one day.

At 27, taking some time out after Graduate training and working for a bank in the city, Reiki healing found me in a timely fashion whilst travelling around South America. It was following an unpleasant incident in Chile, I came across a Reiki-healing initiation course in La Paz, the capital of Bolivia – it was meant to be!

At 33, between leaving Canada and the American bank I was working for and moving to Scotland to join another, I deepened my yoga practice and immersed myself in learning about yoga instruction in Rishikesh, India with Yogrishi Vishvketu, Himalayan Yoga Master and Co-founder of Akhanda Yoga. It was here my yogic name, Asha Jhoti, was given to me which translates to: Light of Hope.

After spending nine years loving and learning about NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) coaching and communication techniques, having children and working that mythical corporate “4-day week,” I made the difficult and brave decision to make some changes at age 42. It boiled down to these 3 things:

  • Stopping – this was the toughest step, to stop what I was doing, reflect and recognise reoccurring patterns that were no longer fitting with my values and beliefs of where I was at, where I want to be and who I am. Some deep stuff.
  • Starting – knowing what you don’t want is good. Knowing in what direction you do want to step forward is a journey of discovery.
  • Exploring – going beyond the known, the comfortable and enjoying the process as new paths unfold. Change included some necessary, meaty adjustments to our lifestyle particularly on the financial front – which were not to be taken lightly.

Now in 2016, my life is evolving through my commitment to yoga in a multitude of new and exciting ways. Yoga for me is becoming a much broader union of the mind, body and breath, I feel my “light of hope” is helping others and it feels good.

In January this year, I decided to take my yoga to new places. I set a challenge to get myself out of the damp Scottish winter slump. Every day in January, I took my yoga into the community and visited a different place of interest around Falkirk, performed a yoga pose and posted the picture to my Facebook site along with some facts about the sight, its history, the pose and its benefits. Local interest and support quickly grew and after the Falkirk Herald ran an article on it, an opportunity for a new challenge shortly followed.

Lindsey Natrajasana Kelpies.jpgAs part of International Earth Hour celebrations in March, I lead 130 curious people into a Guinness Book of Records attempt performing Tree Pose at the iconic Kelpies, Falkirk – the largest equine sculptures in the world (pictured here). The record is in the process of being verified.

This spring has seen a lot of new growth. Firstly I became an ambassador for the ethical and eco-friendly Asquith active wear brand. I then successfully designed and co-hosted my first Wellbeing Retreat in the Scottish Highlands offering daily yoga, hill walking and NLP coaching. In June, I was able to give back through taking part in Glasgow to support Yoga For Alzheimer’s for Alzheimer’s Research UK. I’ve joined the Executive Committee of Yoga Scotland to get involved in promoting yoga in a wider context, I’m starting to write articles around wellbeing-related topics and I am looking forward to whatever else comes next…

As my amazing, rewarding yoga journey unfolds I’m reminded of this: “That which matters most should never give way to that which matters least.”  I wonder what repeating patterns you can identify in your life that you could make some changes to, for the better? Namaste.

Lindsey Porter bio.jpg


Lindsey of Yoga~Nu~U is an experienced RYS Akhanda Hatha Yoga teacher, Reiki Master, NLP Practitioner, Holistic Therapist, Project Manager and starting out at writing articles. She offers yoga classes, one-to-one instruction and co-hosts Wellbeing Retreats (Yoga, Hill Walking and NLP Coaching) in the Scottish Highlands and overseas. Find out more at:
www.yoganuu.com Facebook site: Yoga~Nu~U.  Twitter: @LindseyDPorter. Instagram: yoganuu

 

 

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Shredding “Shoulds” and Embracing Life

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Name: Katie Boyle
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
Occupation: Forrest Yoga and Yoga Nidra Teacher, Learning Consultant and Writer

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“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” The words of the famous American writer, Joseph Campbell, ring in my ears as I sit down to write about my yoga story. Quite simply yoga has shown me a way to let go of the life I thought I had planned and given me the courage to explore a different path.

Until I found yoga I didn’t realise the extent to which my life was dictated by the word “should.” I was a good girl. A perfectionist. A high achiever. I held myself to standards and expectations that often weren’t my own.

Then in my early thirties, life, as it tends to do when you’re heading down the wrong path, took an unexpected turn. The nine-year relationship I was in began to break down. There was a quiet voice within me that started to hint that maybe this relationship wasn’t quite right. How could this be? Surely I was crazy? My partner was the perfect person to marry and have children with. How could I possibly throw all that away?

The more I rejected this whispering voice inside me, the stronger it started to speak. I found myself crying. A lot. I got sickMy body’s way of telling me that I couldn’t continue like this. Life as I knew it was crumbling. I was scared, confused, my heart was breaking. I fought against it until I couldn’t fight anymore and I made the decision to leave.

This wasn’t meant to happen. Surely that “should” have been my path. Shouldn’t it? My hopes and dreams were in tatters. I felt like I had let myself down, and in the process hurt the person I cared most deeply for in the world. The guilt and shame was unbearable.

When there was nowhere else to turn, I turned to yoga. My mat felt like the only place where I could find solace and grounding when everything else was falling apart. Magically, at that point, an opportunity emerged to attend a workshop led by Ana Forrest, the founder of Forrest Yoga. I was new to Forrest Yoga but my body was telling me that there was something powerful about the practice. So, although apprehensive, I jumped at the chance. My heart gave a huge, resounding “yes!

When the student is ready the teacher really does appear. At the workshop Ana Forrest explained that the word “shoulders” has the word “should” in it is because it is the area of the body where we tend to hold all of our responsibilities and burdens. Her words touched me deeply. I could feel the weight of my own “shoulds” bearing down heavily in that area. As Ana coached us to breathe into the areas of tension in our shoulders and relax our necks, I could feel the first layer of “shoulds” beginning to release. Tears of hurt, grief, guilt, and shame started to flow. The relief was immense.


This experience changed everything for me.
 Since then Forrest Yoga has continued to provide me with practical tools to let go of my expectations about how life “should” be and embrace a life that is even richer and more aligned to who I am. It has opened me up, connected me to my spirit, and showed me that there is a different way.

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Through the continuous journey of self-exploration and discovery involved in becoming a Forrest  Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra teacher, I have learned that the whispering voice within me is the voice of my spirit, my intuition, my heart’s wisdom. My practice has given me a way of connecting to and welcoming that voice rather than being afraid of what it is has to say. I’m learning that I don’t need to follow a path dictated by what I think I “should” be doing just because I’ve reached a certain age or because everyone around me is doing it. This doesn’t mean I don’t value other people’s advice and opinions, but it does mean that rather than blindly following the road most travelled, I get on my mat and ask my body what feels right for me. I don’t need to search outside. All the answers I’m looking for lie within.


When I’m not sure of the path to follow I ground myself through active feet. When I set
 my vision and intentions for life, I focus on my active hands, and it reminds me not to grip too tightly to my plans and expectationsInstead to remain open to the possibilities that life has to offer. These are often much greater than what we thought we wanted in the first place. When I feel disconnected and low in mood, I connect to my deepest breath and do some Forrest Yoga ab workouts. This gets my energy moving and reminds me of how alive I am right now.

It’s not that my path is now a linear, upward trajectory in which yoga provides a miracle cure. Of course I experience challenges. There are times when I still feel confused, uncertain, and fearful of the future. But now I have a way of welcoming in and working with those feelings, rather than pushing them away.

Yoga has allowed me to unravel and accept my story so far. It has also given me a way of taking full authorship of the next chapter. I get to choose how it will unfold. The fact that this chapter involves teaching yoga and helping others to navigate life transitions, while remaining grounded in who they are and what they want, is exhilarating!

Katie Boyle bioKatie is a Forrest Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra teacher with a passion for sharing the healing power of yoga and helping people connect to feeling in their body. Katie combines her yoga teaching with her role as a Learning Consultant at Insights, an organisation which works with some of the biggest companies in the world to improve the performance of their people, teams, and leaders. Katie’s unique combination of skills in facilitation, coaching, Jungian psychology, yoga, and mindfulness enable her to create powerful development experiences – be it those in the workplace or on the yoga mat. Please follow Katie here:

Website: www.wellbeingwithkatie.com 
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/yogabykatiesarahboyle
Instagram: http://instagram.com/katiesarahboyle

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Peace

Name: Debbie Verdicchio
Location: Dover, NH, USA
Occupation: Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist

Sexual violence happens to people of any age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion and ability. One in three women is sexually assaulted in their lifetimeit’s an alarming statistic. At the age of 42 I became a part of that statistic. I never thought in a million years that I would be a survivor of a drug-facilitated, felonious sexual assault. I had no idea how much my life was going to change that humid June morning as I sat alone in an emergency room waiting to be examined. This violent crime was going to challenge my strength as a daughter, niece, aunt, friend and a women. With the support of family and friends I reported the assault a few days later.

As the summer went on, I suppressed any memory of what had happened, lived my life and tried to move on. My family was amazed by how well I was handling this and they waited for the ball to drop. By the end of the summer the man who sexually assaulted me was arrested and charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault. The story hit the media and more women came forward with similar encounters with the same man. This nightmare that I tried so hard to forget was now real and my life began to spiral out of control; I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown and my family encouraged me to seek help and counseling. Unfortunately, this man never stood trial for the crimes he committed against me and other women. He eventually pleaded to a lesser degree of simple assault and walked. As a result, I plunged into a dark tunnel of depression and anxiety.

That traumatic event that shook my core years ago started a negative trickle effect in my life. I battled demons for years. I was on and off of antidepressants and saw different therapists for interventions, all which helped only minimally. I wasn’t at a good point in my life. I was unhappy with my personal and professional life. I had a 20-year career as an Early Childhood Educator, but my career had hit a road block and I felt overworked, underappreciated and treated unprofessionally. I didn’t feel challenged in my job and I knew I needed a change. Something had to give. I spent countless nights laying in bed crying and worrying about what direction my life was headed. I had no idea where to begin to find the peace, happiness and balance that I was so desperately seeking.

Debbie Verdicchio yogaIt wasn’t until the fall of 2013 that things began to change. A co-worker of mine was doing this challenge called Bikram’s Biggest Loser 3.0 and she convinced me to join her at the studio in Portsmouth to take a class. Before that point I had never heard of Bikram Yoga, the 26 postures, nor the heat. I took the class and thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” During my first class I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe and I lay on the floor the entire class, wiping the sweat off my head. But after class I felt amazing and slept like a baby that night. I went back a few times after and then stoppedI didn’t return for a long time. Actually, it was almost a year until I returned to the hot room.

With the encouragement of two co-workers who had done the Biggest Loser challenge before me, I decided to try this challenge myself. I’m not going to lie, the first few classes sucked! I thought to myself, “What the fuck did I get myself into?” I definitely struggled the first couple weeks of practice; I struggled with my body and the way I looked. After a month of practicing I noticed the health benefits of practicing Bikram Yoga. I noticed changes in my body, I was gaining more flexibility and strength and my clothes fit better. Physically I felt better. I didn’t feel as tired and the plantar fasciitis that was giving me pain in my right foot was resolved within two weeks of practicing. A visit to my doctor showed that my cholesterol and blood pressure were down and I had lost weight.

Being a full-figured women, I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for most of my adult life. But for the first time in my life I have learned to love myself, curves, rolls and all. I found a community where I am accepted for who I am and no one is looking at me or judging me because of my size. The more I practiced, the less I struggled with my body and the way I looked. I remember taking a class with Jaylon, the owner of Bikram Yoga in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and he said something that stuck with me and I will never forget, “There is no judgment in here today.” I began to realize that I wasn’t alone in my struggle and that others were battling the same uphill battle as me. This was very comforting to me.

As I approach a milestone birthday, I am at a point in my life where I am supposed to be. Everything began to fall into place. I love my job as a Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist and it’s very empowering to help others. I’m probably the happiest that I’ve been in a long time and I credit this feeling to practicing yoga. I feel strong, I feel supported and I feel peace.

Debbie Verdicchio HeadshotDebbie Verdicchio is a Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist with Childcare Aware of New Hampshire, a Child Care Resource and Referral Program through Southern New Hampshire Services.  She is an advocate to help stop sexual and domestic violence in her community. She resides in Dover, New Hampshire with her dog, Max. Find Debbie on Facebook here and on Twitter @debbiev315.

 

 

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I Can Take a Compliment

Name: Helen Vostrovsky Holmes
Location: Madbury, NH, USA
Occupation: Mother, swim coach, elementary school aide

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A woman gave me a compliment today. What I can tell you about this woman is that she is striking, tall, carries herself with intelligence and seems to take herself seriously. We’ve spoken once or twice before and both times I felt compelled to keep it calm and sound thoughtful. I don’t know her name but she is that kind of a woman.

The compliment was given after a particularly good yoga class. Hot yoga. Bikram Yoga. She told me this was the second day in a row that she practiced behind me and she thought my practice was really beautiful and graceful. She emphasized that she thought all my poses were consistently solid and again, beautiful. I know that she knows yoga well enough to give the compliment and also knows that my practice is not perfect. She knows that is not the point. So do I.

I responded with a “Thank You.” Several of them. I made no self-deprecating jokes whatsoever and allowed only one quip about making sure to practice in front of her always. Just the day before, in the first class this woman was behind me, our teacher had told an anecdote about a famous female comedian making the point that as soon as women start to do well at something they tend to self-deprecate. Good point.

I am not a person who has ever been comfortable with my physical presence and since I was about 13 it was clear to me that I missed out on true happiness because my hair is too thin, my thighs too fat, I can only be less than a size 12 when I practice anorexia, and I have a weak chin. I squirm when being checked out by men or women, my husband even, and I absolutely do not enjoy looking at myself. Not in photos. Not in mirrors and definitely not in giant, wall-sized mirrors while standing next to people in tiny clothing that often covers even tinier bendy butts. Or so you would think.

I started practicing Bikram Yoga about three years ago after being inspired by my husband to give it a try. From the very first class – in my awful aqua-colored tankini top and getting dizzy and nauseous through every standing pose – I was transfixed by myself in the mirror. I was shaky, uncoordinated, and out of shape. But in that mirror, I was goddamn BEYONCE wearing that awful aqua-colored tankini top.

Over time I have built up my strength, flexibility and skill through yoga. I think I can hold my own. One thing I have never had to do, though, is improve upon liking what I see in the big mirror. That started on the very first day.  I have no idea if the striking, intelligent woman was being genuine or if she just might be the “pay it forward” type making a point to compliment someone every day. What I took away from that interaction with this woman is that I have been keeping a secret for quite a while. My secret is that I am beautiful – and I believe her.

Helen Vostrovsky Holmes bio photo


Helen Vostrovsky Holmes is a mother of three and devoted to the practice of Bikram Yoga. Please find more from her on her blog www.thoughtsleakingout.blogspot.com and like her Facebook page: Thought Leaker.

 

 

 

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30 Days of Kate

Name: Katelyn Martin
Location: Woodstock, CT, USA
Occupation: Recent college graduate pursuing a career in yoga as well as holistic health coaching.

Katelyn Martin tree poseAnxiety as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “A fear or nervousness about what might happen.” However, for anyone who deals with anxiety on a daily basis, it can be described as “A royal pain in the a$$.” Having anxiety at times can be debilitating, I would know; it took me almost eight years to finally find a solution to enable me to take a hold of my life again. What is the solution you ask? YOGA!

I struggled through high school and college with anxiety. I was constantly fighting an internal battle; my mind was my worst enemy. I would spend hours upon hours creating unlikely situations in my head and sending myself into a panic about these very unlikely scenarios. Anxiety made my confidence diminish; I was unable to sleep well; I was constantly stressed out; and most of all, I was simply unhappy.

I found yoga during my junior year of college—someone dear to me had introduced me to it and I would describe it as love at first class. I began to understand that not only did yoga help me stay in shape but it also kept me grounded; each and every class spoke to me. I was coming to new realizations and revelations daily. It was one aspect in my life where I knew there would be no judgments passed. I walked into and out of every class with a calm demeanor, something that I had never truly had. I was finally at peace and content with who I was.

I graduated from college this past May with a degree in business. I was still unsure about what I wanted to do for a career, but that is common for most recent college graduates. I decided to take “30 Days of Kate” for myself. I took 30 days off from my job search and completely immersed myself in yoga, writing, reading, and learning about myself. I would not have described myself as a religious or spiritual person prior to my “30 Days of Kate,” but that all changed as well. I started to send gratitude out into the Universe, asking for guidance, and asking for help when I needed it. What I received in return at times was almost overwhelming (in the most beautiful kind of way).

I loved who I had become after only 30 short days and wanted to continue on this path of growth. I was practicing yoga both on and off that mat; I was more accepting of people, aware of my flaws, calm, and spreading kindness everywhere I went. I knew that this was the kind of career that I could wake up to every morning and love. I wanted to help people restore confidence within themselves and learn how to apply yoga into every aspect of their lives. How could I make this happen? I have now begun my journey to getting my 200-hour yoga teacher training certification, yoga therapy certification, and my nutrition and holistic health coaching certification. I am now passionate about my future and excited to be able to restore people’s faith within themselves.

Katelyn Martin bio photoKatelyn Martin is a recent college graduate who plans to pursue a career in yoga as well as holistic health coaching. Find her on Instagram at Katelyn_Martin.

 

 

 

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How Yoga Helped Me View Pain As a Gift

Name: Natalie Edwards
Location: London, United Kingdom
Occupation: Life Coach and Certified Forrest Yoga Teacher

Natalie Edwards namasteOur pain is a great teacher. It tests our resilience and endurance, something that anyone with an injury, physical limitation or condition has to have in abundance on their journey through life. And that’s really how I’ve learnt to view my scoliosis through yoga. It’s a journey on which I have had to learn to navigate and love my curves, even when they are giving me the most excruciating pain, and learn to listen to the many messages my pain has brought me over the years.

My first memory of back pain was around the time that my parents’ divorce became particularly turbulent. I remember thinking that I was partly responsible for their break-up and the chaos that followed. At the time, I made no connection between shouldering that responsibility and my pain as I was just 12 years old. But over the past few years, every time I’ve been to see a specialist in search of more help with my pain and alignment, the first question they’ve all asked me has been, “Was there something else going on in your life at the time you were diagnosed?”

Once told by osteopaths that my scoliosis was idiopathic and directly related to a growth spurt, I’ve since found out that my condition was congenital, meaning I was born with it. After studying baby pictures with my Rolfer at the time, Jennie Crewdson, and uncovering more trauma after discussing the difficult events of my birth (my mother nearly died in childbirth, I was in an awkward position in the womb for most of her pregnancy, and I was born breech and yanked out into the world with forceps when I should have been born by caesarean), there was no doubt that the scoliosis had been there all along and had gone unnoticed. I experienced a huge amount of sadness, anger, and frustration at this news because I’d only just found out at the age of 30 that I’d had this condition in my body since birth. So why had no one noticed it when I was little? But something I had to begin to do was start to learn to love my spine rather than continue to get frustrated by it, whatever new information I found out. To appreciate it and accept it for the way it was meant using it as a guide and a gift rather than fighting with it or continually looking for someone to ‘make me straight,’ and although it’s still a work in progress, my yoga practice has helped me achieve this.

I let my scoliosis define who I was for a long time. It was almost as if it was the main facet of my personality. For years, I was living in that same constrained, frustrated, and hyper-vigilant state that I entered the world in as a baby. I was often scared to participate in things or worried that certain movements would aggravate my back, and I was even told to avoid yoga when I was younger, becoming more and more frustrated and locked in my body and for many years using drugs and alcohol to numb that frustration out even more. But slowly, I began to become aware that my violent internal negativity towards my spine then in turn made the physical pain worse, and from no one did I learn this more truthfully than from my teacher Ana Forrest.

Natalie Edwards arm balanceBefore my teacher training, I hadn’t realised how much I had been ignoring myself and treating myself in such a disrespectful way. I had become an expert in not only suppressing my daily physical pain and a huge emotional backlog of crap and trauma that I had exhaustively tried to submerge with drugs, partying, a job I hated, and pretending to be someone I wasn’t, but also in the self-deprecating way I had been talking to myself for years. I was the queen of apologising for not being good enough, not being strong enough, and not being worthy enough.

I discovered Forrest Yoga via one of my first teachers, Charlotte Speller. She made me realise that my scoliosis was a gift rather than a curse and suggested that I use it to help other sufferers. Even at that stage I was still making assumptions that having scoliosis meant that I couldn’t take on big physical challenges. During my training, something that came up for me that I wasn’t expecting was anger. I’d had no idea how angry I’d been at being in pain all those years and part of me was angry that I hadn’t been able to articulate that pain when I was younger or express how it had left me feeling on an emotional level. I was also angry with myself for abusing my body the way I had up until I’d discovered yoga and how to feel again. Ana Forrest’s teachings helped me begin to explore that anger and made me realise that if you’re fully committed to healing yourself and coming face to face with your dark side, anything is possible.

Her focus on relaxing the neck instead of holding it up was like a coming home for me. Until my first Forrest class I’d had no idea how much habitual tension I’d been holding in my neck, the point in my body where the second curve is most visible. One day Ana whispered, whilst tractioning my neck, “she needs to relax; she doesn’t have to carry everyone else’s problems anymore.” Studying Forrest Yoga also helped me to realise that scoliosis is not just about the spine. When we’re having a bad pain day, we tend to pour all of our frustrated and hateful energy into that one area, but our body is a whole and we need to work with it that way. And so I was completely unaware of the tension I had been carrying in my hips and jaw until beginning a yoga practice. Now, keeping my hips open and supple is essential to managing my back pain, as well as doing regular backbends, which is something I didn’t think my body could ever do or was even ‘allowed’ to do after being told to avoid them. Ana’s intelligent sequencing showed me how to move into them safely and now they are one of the most therapeutic, rejuvenating, and loving things I can do for my spine.

Through Forrest Yoga I’ve learnt to heal parts of myself that I didn’t know were broken, emotionally and physically. But most importantly of all, Ana taught me how to reconnect with and heal my broken heart. My lack of love for myself ran deeper than just my disgust with my spineit was in my very core, and I had forgotten how to be kind to myself and be grateful for my body. I now have a toolbox that has helped me to re-frame and manage pain and I’ll be forever thankful to Ana for that.

Whilst away on my training, Ana held a signing for her book, Fierce Medicine. Inside my copy she wrote, “Dear Natalie, navigate the curves with awe and fascination.” I invite anyone with scoliosis, or anyone who is experiencing and being limited by any kind of pain, to do the same.

Natalie Edwards bioNatalie Edwards is a transformational coach and Forrest Yoga teacher. She specialises in working with women with the same negative body image issues and feelings of low self-worth which held her back in her life and career for many years. Fascinated by the body-mind connection, through powerful mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and health coaching, she helps people reconnect to their bodies, uncover the hidden parts of themselves, and come back to a more inspired and truthful way of living. You can find out more about Natalie at www.natedwards.co.uk.

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/nataliecatherineedwards?ref=hl
Twitter – https://twitter.com/NataliecEdwards
YouTube – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCI_Avs5iIkzbdQApFPYNlAQ

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I Ain’t No Expert…

Name: Emma Todd
Location: Sunshine Coast, Australia
Occupation: Artist, Mama and Student

Emma Todd raysMy new neighbour is a yoga teacher, “or almost,” she says, with laughter shining from her being. I could not only see the sound, but I could feel it in every atom of me, the moment she threw her head back and laughed. Looking back I realise that was when I was first hit by her invisible positive power … her yoga rays. I’ve been infected ever since that moment.

Not that I’m any stranger to yoga. For over 20 years now, I’ve been a haphazard practitioner of Sun Salutations and other asanas featured in magazines I’ve happened to flick through in various waiting rooms. These gorgeous, glossy pages would magically find their way into my bag and have become a little worn and creased and faded, like me. The pages remained in my possession like talismans even though the asanas are memorised by my body and soul. Extended periods of disciplined practice, when I swore to yoga like a new love that this could and would not ever end (because it felt so darn good), were followed by long bouts of yoga droughts where the only practices were hedonism and procrastination in all things. Eventually, with a flabby mind, I shyly hobbled or skulked back to my mat and breathed through each position with love and acceptance and surrender—and always, yes always, within a day or two, I wondered where on this Earth I’d been.

Something mysterious happens the moment I step onto my mat, even when I feel a little tired or uninspired. But every time I finish, I am awake, renewed, and present again. Perhaps the times when yoga disappears from my life in the physical form are just as important and necessary as when it is present, like yin and yang, light and shade, sweet and sour. I can never appreciate something fully till it disappears; I can never see something properly when it’s always the same. Balance has been a dance on a tightrope, filled with high drama, danger, and safety at some point off in the distance. If only I could get there. I’ve come to long for some gentle and sustained harmony, just as I begin to redefine what freedom is.

Emma Todd balanceSo I guess I don’t know all there is about yoga, and I don’t profess to be an expert or highly skilled at it—but with the likelihood of sounding very, very corny, it makes me want to be a better person.

When I’m breathing, I’m alive. Once I begin yoga again after a hiatus, I realise it’s like I haven’t been breathing at all.

When I was told that I had to stop yoga for a period after surgery on my eye, suddenly, despite being sloth-like in mind and body, I was deeply alarmed that I would never be able to do downward dog again. My, did I protest too much. The idea that I may never practice yoga again EVER was inconceivable. I realised how profoundly important yoga is to me and that I needed it in my life.

I guess yoga hasn’t really transformed me. It is transforming me continually, and as time passes and years come and go, I want to embrace yoga more and more. As this slow-moving journey continues, I find I want to go deeper and deeper, not through knowledge gained, but through the greater freeing of my mind—freedom through the physical expression of my body, freedom of my soul through the return to my body, to the return of being present, here and now. Freedom, always, freedom.

A life spent roaming, often fleeing darkness, the promise of hope somewhere new, this time starting over, again and again. The profound dream once had of horses galloping across a broad, unfolding terrain, feeling the earth creating itself, rumbling up through my bare feet, my heart beating hard and fast; feeling the pounding of the earth as the hooves of a hundred brumbies spill out across that wild terrain, mains flying and nostrils flared, getting closer and closer, my ridiculous joy rising with the chorus of their galloping and I long to run with them. I ache to join them running through this place, this world being born, and everything reaches a crescendo of bliss as I experience the beauty of freedom.

“This is freedom,” my soul says, throwing her horse head back and laughing as she runs, her mane flying like kites and I know this is it.

And I don’t know why, but I turn my back on this magnificent scene, and hop into a black plastic garbage bag, with a rectangle cut out for my eyes to see only the clouds in the sky, and I begin to suffocate.

The dream has haunted me. Full of unparalleled bliss and profundity, and a sour ending where I choose to rob myself of breath, I have tried ever since to avoid suffocation, only to seemingly meet my destiny on the path I choose to avoid it. Yet yoga is the path I consciously take now to walk, dance, run in any way to freedom, and it has come from being still and breathing deeply. And it is here I find myself, each day now, breathing, nostrils flaring as I arch my head back and my hair falls down my back and I search for that place in my dream, and occasionally I think I glimpse it.

I choose to hop out of that plastic bag and run with all the wild horses.

 

Emma Todd bio photoEmma Todd lives with her daughter near the ocean where every sense is magnified. Although flirting non-committally with yoga since she was a teenager, last year saw her having to confront her eye health head on and undergo major eye surgery to attempt to stop further loss of sight. A bridge she never wished to cross, ultimately it has been a beautiful awakening that has set her firmly on the path of continuing self-awareness and taking care of her health and well-being. Yoga is now an established part of Emma’s work-in-progress life. Emma is dedicating herself now to her art, wishing to “inspire creatively and be creatively inspired,” as well as commencing the journey to become a Hawaiian Massage practitioner this year. You can find Emma and her art here: https://www.facebook.com/boheme.em.

 

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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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Ganesh Has Many Titles

{Winner Essay of The Yoga Diaries / Rebelle Society contest:
Did Yoga Transform Your Life?}

 

Name: Terry Schifferns
Location: Gibbon, Nebraska, USA
Occupation: Writing Instructor

Ganesh has many titles: The God of Beginnings, The Remover of Obstacles, The Lord of Thresholds, Ekadanta or Bowing to the Truth. Ganesh is never far from Mooshak, his companion the mouse. The mouse has been my totem animal for the last 20 years. But that is a different story. This is the story of Ganesh or when you are ready the teacher appears.Ganesha2009 was a difficult year for me. The year began with my blood pressure spiking and debilitating dizzy spells, a headache that lasted a month, and endless doctor appointments for endless tests, which would later (much later) be diagnosed as six TIAs, Transient Ischemic Attacks (mini strokes). On March 1st my longtime best friend Cher died and my mother died unexpectedly on April 4th. I cried a lot. I went to work like a remote control robot. I graded papers. I went to more doctor appointments. At home, I cried in the shower. I cried at night. I cried when I watched commercials on TV. I cried when I sorted through the medical bills. But I went to work every day.

I had started yoga just a year earlier. So I went to yoga. Every week I went to yoga. Every week I’d set my intention, and every week I’d end up crumpled on my yoga mat in child’s pose weeping. My yoga teacher and companions were kind and compassionate. I made it to the last day of my teaching semester, and I cried for a week straight. I went to yoga twice a week that summer. I read Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. In the story, the main character visits a therapist who has a statue on her desk of Ganesh, “Remover of Obstacles,” “Destroyer of Sorrows.”

I remember thinking about how much I needed my own Destroyer of Sorrows.

That week I walked into yoga, unrolled my mat in the same place I’d been unrolling my mat all summer, and there beside me on the wall was the same tapestry I had been weeping beneath all summer, a tapestry of an elephant with a small mouse at his feet—Ganesh. All summer Ganesh, The Destroyer of Sorrows, The Destroyer of Obstacles, The Lord of Thresholds had been right there beside me, transforming me. That was when I first believed that yoga was the path to my new beginning.

Terry SchiffernsTerry Schifferns teaches writing at Central Community College in Nebraska. Look for her smack dab at the bottom of the Platte’s big bend in the middle of Nebraska dancing with Sandhill cranes each spring.

 

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