The Ascension of my Messy Mind

Name: Tammi Truax
Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA
Occupation: Historical Interpreter, Writer & Mother

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney.

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney.

I’ve been a student of yoga
for five full years now,
and my daily practice
is to me, like breakfast.

Truly drawn to its healing
of mind, body and soul, all of me
has come a long way, sometimes
I even say – yoga saved me.

Physically, I am advanced.
My dog has never been so down,
my warrior so strong and solid,
and recently I stood upon my crown.

Sadly, I remain an amateur
because I cannot quiet
what master yogis call
“the monkey mind.”

I’ve worked at meditation,
the very purpose of the postures,
but in this area I don’t progress.
Mine the noisiest mind in the universe.

I try to meditate,
but I tend to ruminate.
I really want to meditate,
but I’ll secretly start to speculate…

about work I need to do, or
some guy I’d like to agitate.
Even with extreme effort,
I always deviate.

I focus on the breath, but soon
my monkeys start swinging
and away I go – – chasing
bananas instead of bliss.

My third eye wanders,
takes off on a walk about really,
sneaky and insolent,
my mind has a mind of its own.

Feeling like a freakish failure,
whose essence is clearly a mess, I have
vowed to conquer my wicked westernness,
believing it the way to true peace.

But it occurred to me early today
during my concentration’s dissolution,
that my clamorous cranium
isn’t full of pollution … but of poetry.

So with the acceptance
of the Buddha,
I acknowledge that
I will never be a
quiet and contemplative monk,
but I will always be
a very flexible poet.

I am That.

Namaste.

Tammy TrauxTammi Truax writes freelance from a bungalow not quite by the sea in Portsmouth, NH, where she also raises organic vegetables, flowers and children, with limited success. She also works as a historical interpreter at a local living history museum. When not reading and writing, she can be found in a local coffee shop, yoga studio, or on a hiking trail. Say “hi” if you see her.

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Ageless

Name: Nick Montoya
Location: Scottsdale, Arizona, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher, Corporate Trainer, Author, Speaker & Father.

I returned to Arizona a year ago and the question I got asked most often was, “What happened to you? You look a lot younger.” The short answer was “yoga.” A little more conversation and they understood that my life underwent a major transformation and I was now the happiest and healthiest I had ever been. By the end of the conversation they would say, “I need that in my life. Can you help me?”

prescription bottles

Photo by Flickr user nirbhao.

In February of 2009, I woke up one morning and could not walk. The back and leg pain that I had been dealing with for a few years suddenly got worse. Lying there, I reflected on how my health had gotten to where it was. It was gradual over the years and the medicine cabinet full of prescribed medications was the result of treating the symptoms and not the source. My doctor referred to me as a “walking time bomb.” My total cholesterol level was 230 and my blood pressure was 180/98. Migraines or unbearable headaches were an everyday occurrence. I had no energy and felt the weight of the world upon me.

No one, not even my three daughters knew the gravity of these health issues, as I held to my Hispanic/Latino perception of machismo – that I am a strong man and can handle anything. I should be able to handle a divorce from a 24-year marriage; and handle being solely responsible for the care and welfare of my three daughters; and handle my job as a senior manager at Intel Corporation where I had enjoyed a successful 27-year career; and handle the publication of a book I wrote; and handle the care of our horses; and handle leadership positions within several Hispanic-based Sacramento community organizations. I did handle everything, some say perfectly. However, underneath, my health was crumbling. The time bomb was going to explode at any time.

When I woke up that morning in early 2009 and could not walk, I soon found myself under the care of the Chief of Staff of Pain Management at UC Davis Medical Center. The diagnosis was extrusions in L4/L5. He suggested to first try a series of steroid epidurals to see if those would be effective in “loosening things up.”

My eldest daughter Giana, 23 at the time, drove me to the hospital for that first surgical procedure. On the way home, she pulled over to the side of the road, turned the engine off and stated that she would not drive one inch further until I promised her I would go to a yoga class. Giana had been practicing yoga for a couple of years and had been bugging me to give it a try. I had refused, thinking that yoga was for “sissies.” I did promise and fulfilled the commitment a few days later when the epidural seemed to take effect.

Nick Montoya tree poseThat first yoga class was mind-blowing. It was one of the most physically and mentally challenging things I had ever experienced. I sweated more than I had ever sweated in my life, and it was not a hot yoga class. As I was walking to my car I realized I felt better than I had in a long time. I went back for more. I kept feeling better and had lots more energy.

Within six months I had lost 50 pounds and was able to get off of all medication. My total cholesterol level dropped to a healthy level of 152. I no longer got migraines and headaches were at a minimum. My back and leg pain were greatly reduced and it was no longer an inhibitor to any activity. It was not necessary to return to UC Davis Medical Center for the remaining two steroid epidurals. My doctors were amazed.

I wanted to learn more about this ancient practice and my philosophy of accelerated learning is this: if you want to learn something, learn how to teach it. So I enrolled in a 250-hour teacher training program and within one year from taking my first yoga class ever, I began teaching five classes per week. I soon found myself as a role model and inspiration for other middle-aged people that needed to improve their health. I was also able to integrate life experiences, concepts from my book and years of leadership training into step-by-step programs – helping people in their transformation to a healthier lifestyle.

Nick Montoya side plankOnce I started teaching yoga, I found myself at another crossroads: Do I finish my career in the corporate world or do I make a significant change and become a full-time yoga teacher? After a lot of reflection, prayer, and meditation, I decided to leave the corporate world and become a world-class yoga teacher, adopting a new mission for my life: help people get healthy.

My first stop was my home state of Arizona to spend time with my parents and to see what I could do to help my Mom feel better. She was managing several chronic pain issues and her health was continuing to decline, despite a cabinet full of prescribed medications. Within four months of practicing yoga breathing techniques, the doctor took her off oxygen. Through a daily chair yoga routine, she has lost weight, increased her strength, and was able to reduce daily medications from ten to three. My Dad takes my power classes and at 83 is stronger than most students half his age.

There are now three generations of Montoyas practicing yoga. Besides my parents, all three daughters practice. The eldest daughter has gone on to become a teacher herself and has combined yoga and Latin dancing into a program, based in Florida, called Shiva Latina.

Today, I teach ten yoga classes per week at the Blissful Yoga Studios based in Scottsdale, Arizona. I conduct lifestyle transformation workshops and retreats, guest-teach in any city I visit and am the teacher featured in a new unique 4-DVD 8-week program for Beginners, called “Ageless Yoga with Nick Montoya.” Thousands of people are now doing “Ageless” and producers are looking to turn this into the “P90X phenomenon” for people 40-plus.

“Ageless” has become a term associated with me. It is not only the name of my yoga programs, it also reflects my physical and mental outlook on life. As I am getting older in age, I am actually getting stronger, more flexible, more balanced, more focused, and have more energy. I am “aging less” and through my teaching, helping others to achieve their own sense of ageless health.

Hey, if I can do it, anyone can!

Nick Montoya bioIn addition to being a Power Vinyasa Yoga teacher, Nick Montoya has enjoyed a successful career as an executive coach, a nationally acclaimed author, consultant, speaker, and expert trainer. After experiencing a dramatic transformation through yoga, Nick reached a crossroads in his life and decided to leave the corporate world to become a full-time yoga teacher. Nick’s wellness programs are produced by Vayu Productions. Nick Montoya can be found on Facebook here and on Twitter @NickMontoya4. Follow The Ageless Program on Facebook here.

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Yoga – The Greatest Gift

Name: Julie Peoples-Clark
Location: Burlington, Vermont, USA
Occupation: Mother, Dancer, Yoga & Dance Teacher

Ella and Julie 2Ten years ago, I gave birth to my daughter Ella. My husband and I were very excited to be having a baby. I had a wonderful full-term pregnancy. I ate right, exercised every day, didn’t drink alcohol, and stayed away from anyone who was smoking. My due date came and went and I was two weeks overdue when I finally went into labor. My labor was very hard and long, Ella went into distress and was not breathing when she was born. She was taken away from me and the next time I saw her she was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Continue reading

Uniting the Facets of Who I Am

Name: Amber Shumake
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Occupation: Yoga Therapist / Photographer / Writer / Lover

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

For several years as an English teacher, I taught To Kill a Mockingbird, to my 8th grade students. My passion for the prose, I poured into the teaching of this classic. I’ll never forget the year that a student – one of my favorite suns {a pun used to describe the endearing male students who brightened my day} did the unthinkable: having read ahead of the rest of the class, he blurted out the ending, shouting, “Tom Robinson gets shot!” My mouth dropped in dismay because I was disappointed, certainly, but more so because I thought I was going to have to restrain the other students in the room from lynching him. Continue reading

Yoga Saved Me. More Than Once.

Name: Rebecca Butler
Occupation: Yoga Teacher, Writer & Mother
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Rebecca Butler crow poseI started practicing yoga right after graduating from college. I was in Austin working at an advertising agency next door to the global headquarters of Whole Foods, where they were offering classes upstairs. I had no idea what to expect. I figured it would be granola and easy. I was shocked when I broke a sweat.

A few years later, I was a runner. My knees were killing me though, so a friend, who
was very fit, suggested that I join her at Bikram yoga. I went. I loved it. The end. I hung up my running shoes and never looked back. Within a yearʼs time, I was modeling for Lake Austin Spa, busting out dancerʼs pose at the waterʼs edge during sunrise.

Iʼd always had really bad female problems – debilitating cramps, extreme moodiness
during PMS, and an irregular cycle. I started noticing that after every class, I would be
miserable with cramps. So I went to the doctor. They did a sonogram and discovered I
had uterine fibroids. The doctor removed them. It was a surprisingly complicated
surgery. During this time, my marriage was suffering. My husband was a little bit older
and he wanted to have children. I was on the fence about children, but we had tried a
couple of times to no avail. After surgery, because of the extent of dissection required to
remove the fibroids, the doctor said, “Letʼs not discuss fertility until you are ready to
really give it a go.”

Photo by Flickr userJLM Photography.

Photo by Flickr user
JLM Photography.

And then, 9/11. Ok, up until this point, I had been partying – i.e. cocaine, marijuana, and booze galore, mixed with live music. And this had been going on for quite some time since, um, basically high school. See, I grew up in a household with a paranoid
schizophrenic sibling hell bent on killing me and not a single parent, or adult for that matter, who wanted to help me as that meant admitting that something was wrong with our seemingly perfect family. So my solution was: act perfect, be perfect, look perfect, make perfect grades, make boys happy, girls mad, and ‘who cares what you want cause youʼre their only hope.’

Drugs made all of this not feel so horrible. So did yoga. But in different ways, although I wasnʼt yet conscious of the difference. However, I did make this comparison often to my friends. Iʼd be standing in line at some concert, chewing my lips off on x, and my friends would ask me why I liked yoga so much. Iʼd say, “Cause itʼs the closest feeling there is to this right here (meaning the drug high) and smile a 1,000 megawatt smile.”

As 9/11 approached, I began an affair with my and my husbandʼs mutual best friend.
This was not something I was proud of, but it was part of my spree of self-destruction
that was necessary for evolution. The result of said affair: getting divorced, fired, and
pregnant.

In early 2002, I was in a new apartment, working at a new job, and starting to build a
new life – one that had depth and meaning. I realized that my pregnancy was a swift kick in the rear, from the Universe, to get it together. I became instantly sober. Up until this point, I had been living my life to make others happy. Becoming pregnant was my chance to do something to make me happy. Once I became pregnant, I realized how much I actually wanted this baby and I realized how much I had been partying to numb the pain of not being able to do something perfectly for once.

During my pregnancy, I practiced prenatal yoga the entire time. I was single, working in corporate America, and pregnant. I was working alongside beautiful married women. We would enter a conference room together. They would be barraged with questions about their pregnancy; I would be ignored. This blew my mind and severely hurt my pride.

Yoga to the rescue!

On my mat, I could shed my tears. On my mat, I could connect to my baby and feel the
serene happiness that I knew was in store for us, even if my father had begrudgingly
asked me, “Who do you think you are? Madonna?!“ upon realizing that I was
proceeding with my pregnancy, even single. On my mat, I was free of fear, free of
sorrow, and full of love.

For six more years, I toiled away in my career. For six more years, I paid the bills and
hired a sitter several times a week so that I could go to yoga. For six more years, I dreamed of quitting my job and becoming a yoga teacher. Then one summer, I went raw. My raw diet combined with my yoga practice yielded some revelations… Namely:

1. What I wanted in life did matter. And what I wanted was to be closer to my family so that I could both give help to my beautiful mother, who was suffering from ALS
(unbeknownst to us), and receive help from my family, as single motherʼs often
need. What I didn’t yet realize was that I also wanted to be closer to the Divine, and
this was the first step.

2. I wanted to teach yoga instead of selling my soul to line someone else’s
pockets; I wanted to stop pimping myself out in an effort to control the power of
the outside world. Little did I know, I was being called to wake up; I was being
called by my soul to create a life of passion and dedicate myself to a vocation
rather than a career.

3. I actually could make this change. It was not as impossible as I’d led myself to
believe. All of those fears that I had allowed to trap me were exactly that – fears. I
vowed to myself that I did not want to live a life based on fear, but rather, one of
love.

And that is where yoga has led me- to a life of love. Iʼm now remarried with a ten-year old boy and a one-year old baby girl. I teach yoga for a living and I write with passion daily.

Rebecca Butler bioRebecca Butler lives in Fort Worth, TX. Here, she fancies herself in a community that is
at the genesis of change. By day, she is a self-proclaimed-intensity-junkie yoga teacher,
serving as the lead teacher at a local donation-based studio known as Karmany Yoga, a
mother, and a wife… By night {when the house sleeps}, she is a writer, a dreamer, and a
poet. Her most meaningful moments are sometimes spent pushing a stroller, listening to
her latest muse {from Dr. Wayne W. Dyer to Caroline Myss}, and picking up poop from a
90-lb silver lab puppy named Gunner. Her mother passed from ALS (Lou Gehrigʼs disease) in early 2012. Through this journey, Rebecca learned more about life, love, and laughter than any book could have possibly taught her. It is in her memory that Rebecca chooses to live each day in Joy… Joy for life – the ups and downs, breaks and bruises, and the glory. Oh, the glory. You can find out more about her teaching & writing at www.rebeccabutleryoga.com.

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Enter the Lion: My First Steps in Forrest Yoga

Name: Colleen Millen
Occupation: Forrest Yoga Guardian Teacher, mother, graduate student
Location: Northern California, USA

I had envisioned a yoga class on soft supportive bolsters – different variations of lying over things, close to the floor. After all, the workshop was called something like (one might call it “mislabeled”) “restorative yoga.”

Instead, I found myself at one point in a lunge lion – a lunge hugging the back foot in by the sit bone and stretching the tongue out to the chin releasing a seismic roar out the mouth. Dripping with sweat, I went for the sound full-throttle. The burning from my thighs seemed to explode like lava from a volcano out of my mouth until I felt every cell in my body was popping with rage. We released and flowed to the other side. I noticed my thoughts: “This teacher sucks! It was supposed to be restorative yoga! This whole conference sucks! What the hell am I doing here?” I whipped forward out of the pose and onto the ground panting.

Then it hit me – this was my anger. This feeling had nothing to do with this teacher I had just met. For the first time in my life I had just tapped into a layer of feeling so intense that a part of me was working overtime to project it onto everyone but myself. I knew this anger was mine. And the truth of it – even though I had to hit the proverbial brick wall in the pose to find it – actually helped me to breathe deeper. I just had to move past the feeling of smacking into a brick wall of my truth.

After class, somehow I had the hootspa to march right up to the teacher and without preamble I announced: “I spent almost the whole class being pissed at you. It was the most rewarding yoga experience I’ve ever had.”

Ana Forrest looked at me, I thought equal parts shock and amusement on her face, and said: “I’m doing a teacher training in Chicago in the fall. You should come.”

***

The yoga mat has been my doorway to healing. At first, it was mostly a place where I could move my body without physical pain. I found that I could build strength and fluidity of movement without wincing or favoring one of the multiple injuries I had suffered as a collegiate athlete with bum knees.

Most importantly, the mat has been a place I could delight in my body and celebrate it – which has been a challenge after years of raging eating disorder, depression and anxiety (later I rename my experience Complex PTSD). My mat has unlocked feeling, courage and presence – especially when bouts of depression would make me want to curl up and disappear from the world. It has been an altar of sorts where I have both named the fluctuations of feeling that form my emotional world and touched my spirit, which is imbued with gold and as fluid as water. This yoga mat is a home where my body, mind and spirit meet.

And, while all this sounds almost romantic, please don’t misunderstand – on the yoga mat it’s not all roses. I’ve stumbled, cried, wailed, snotted, farted (yes, it happens for all of us one time or another), raged and hid on my mat. It’s because I’ve had the full spectrum of human experience on the mat, that I’m able to say that in yoga I’ve built a home for my soul to play.

Colleen Millen, E-RYT-500, is a Forrest Yoga Guardian teacher and mother of two who lives in Northern California. A former journalist, her advanced asana currently is completing her master’s degree in somatic psychology on track to be a licensed therapist. Recently, her paper “Development of Awareness: Language and Breathing as Essential Elements in Somatic Therapy” has been published in the Journal of Holistic Psychology. You can reach Colleen at contact@bluebuddhayoga.com and read more about her at www.bluebuddhayoga.com. Find her on Facebook at Blue Buddha Yoga – Colleen Millen.

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Discovering the Inner Truth Through Yoga

Name: Bridget Boland
Location: Dallas, Texas, USA
Occupation: Writer, Forrest Yoga Guardian Teacher, Shaman, Doula

Photo by Flickr user AlicePopkorn.

“Button your lip.” Whenever I expressed dissatisfaction or some other “negative” emotion, this slightly more polite version of “shut up” is what my father would say. It was meant as a warning; if I didn’t quiet down I could expect to be sent to my room or swatted on the backside. I even recall having my mouth washed out with soap once or twice for talking back.

My father isn’t a cruel man. He simply parented me and my siblings the same way my grandparents had parented him. How many of us are all too familiar with the adage, “Children are to be seen, not heard?” My father had taken the advice to heart.

As the first of five children, I suffered early on from what I call “perfect oldest child syndrome:” I wanted everyone’s approval, especially my parents’ and others in authority, such as teachers. I was proficient at empathing – feeling what other people wanted from me – from a very young age. I was so good at this that I met their expectations time and again without considering the cost of ignoring my own wants and needs.

This method of relating to the world left me docile and polite. I excelled in school and by my mid-twenties had landed a job as a medical malpractice attorney, fulfilling my family’s dream for me. On the outside, I was the model of success. On the inside, however, a maelstrom of emotions had built up. I had stuffed them further and further down in my body for decades. I was miserable in my career, depressed and lonely in my personal life. And I couldn’t shake the nagging sense that somehow, despite all my accomplishments, I was a fraud.

Photo by Flickr user dkshots.

By the time I found my way onto a yoga mat, I was an emotional time bomb. And explode I did. My time on the mat opened up my body, and try as I might, I couldn’t suppress the backlog of emotions any longer. I’d feel great as I unwound in the opening sequences and strong and steady in the standing Warrior poses. But when I settled down for savasana, something mysterious would happen. All those old, unexpressed emotions bubbled and churned, then erupted in a rush of tears. My arms and legs shook, my nose ran, my throat and jaw ached from the effort of holding back sobs and wails. The phrase “much weeping and gnashing of teeth” occurred to me at the end of many a yoga class.

I tried giving myself a stern talking to inside my head, replaying my father’s “button your lip” over and over. Sometimes it worked and I’d hold back the tears, the frustration, the worry. Other days though those emotions spilled up and out, leaving me reaching for one of the Kleenex boxes my teacher kept around the studio for just this purpose.

Then I started practicing yoga with someone whose mission is to heal life’s emotional wounds, Ana Forrest. “Breathe deep, connect into your core, and feel the Truth of your life. Acknowledge that truth to heal from your wounds and to create the life you most want to live,” this inspiring and powerful yogini instructed in the first workshop I attended with her.

I wanted so badly to follow her instructions, wanted her approval just as I had sought out the approval of all the other teachers and people I looked up to in my life. But there was one problem: this teacher didn’t want something particular from me; there was no right answer I could glean from her cues, from a textbook or my classmates. The answer was inside me and couldn’t come from any other source. To some students this might have been an exhilarating exploration into the mysteries of their own desires. But when I looked within, I found myself facing a seemingly impenetrable brick wall. I had no idea how to feel my internal truth. I’d spent so much of my life seeking what other people wanted that I’d lost my ability to recognize and say what felt true for me.

For several years, I had to take Ana’s instruction on faith. Every time I breathed, every time I did a posture, I’d close my eyes for a moment and check inside: what did I feel? For the longest time, I felt nothing. Just a numbness, an absence of any connection into my body beyond the stretch of tendons and ligaments or the burn of holding a pose long enough to make a muscle protest.

Then one blessed practice, something changed. I was performing uddiyana bandha breathing, tugging my navel back toward my spine at the end of my exhale and feeling inside for even the tiniest bit of sensation. I let go of the pose and took a huge inhale. Something shifted, moved up and out of my abdomen, creating a sense of more spaciousness. I took another big breath, right into all that newfound space, and felt a delicious tingle move from my pelvis down both legs.

Pearl S. Buck wrote, “The truth is always exciting. Speak it, then. Life is dull without it.” Her words get to the heart of the matter. When we dim our truth, our lives dull as a result. Truth is exciting because it is constantly changing; growing and evolving as we do. Our yoga practice also grows as we grow. Excitement was what I felt the first time I connected into my core and my truth, excitement and exhilaration.

That first glimmer of connection was fleeting but when I told Ana about my experience, she encouraged me to hunt and stalk it. The next time I practiced, I set an intention: I wanted to seek out my truth, no matter how far underneath the pile of my unspoken emotions it was buried. I had a great set of tools to help me. These included: kapphalabhati and meditation to connect me to my center or hara, backbends like camel, bow, and wheel to open my heart, neck stretches to improve communication between my brain and my body, and lion’s breath and brahmeri to unstick old emotions and give expression to my feelings. Today, I’m thrilled at the new rapport I have with my own spirit, my own self. I’m committed to living from the inside out – in every moment, with every breath.

Bridget Boland’s work has appeared in Conde Nast Women’s Sports and Fitness, YogaChicago, and The Essential Chicago. Her debut novel, The Doula, was published by Simon and Schuster September, 2012. Excerpts from her work have won the Writers League of Texas Memoir Prize, and the Surrey Writers Conference Nonfiction Award. Ms. Boland teaches writing classes on fiction and memoir, coaches other writers, and offers seminars on yoga, energetic medicine, and writing as life process tools. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a JD from Loyola University of Chicago, and is the recipient of five residencies at The Ragdale Foundation for Writers and Artists. She lives with her son Liam in Dallas, Texas. Find Bridget on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bridgetboland and follow the latest about her book at www.facebook.com/thedoulanovel.

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Bending Towards the Sun

This post is shared in honor of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Name: Cheryl Kravitz, APR,CFRE
Location: Silver Spring, Maryland, USA
Occupation: Director of Communication, American Red Cross

Photo by Flickr user heraldpost.

I have a memory from two decades ago: I am curled up in a ball in the dark, protecting myself from the blows of my husband’s fists. I remember thinking to myself that if my life were spared I would go into the world and speak for those who have no voice, particularly women in abusive relationships.

Soon after that horrible night, I left the city where I was living and moved across the county. I divorced, met and married a wonderful man, and became an activist to help protect women with violent partners. I was still clenched inside, however, waiting for the next blow. It came in the form of five major surgeries, including an emergency hysterectomy and a knee replacement. I wound up in a wheel chair for a few months.

Depressed and angry, I had a heart to heart talk with my sister.

“Try yoga,” she said. “It will ease the pain.”

To this day, I am unsure of which pain she was talking about.

I went online and saw yoga classes listed for people with special conditions. I had been in a wheelchair for months and was still unsteady on my feet. I was invited to attend a session at Willow Street Yoga Center. That first night I lumbered into the class, barely moving. I went to a second class, and then a third. Long, long ago, before I was battered and before the medical problems, I had been pretty athletic. Somehow my muscles remembered. I began to stretch and grow.

I started attending classes twice a week, and then added a third. I did an assisted handstand. For the past three years, and this year too, I have even been able to raise money for victims of domestic violence at a yoga benefit by doing 108 sun salutations in a row. I was delivering on the promise I made to myself all though years ago. I could help others.

This past summer I was in Massachusetts for vacation and learned that a few yoga studios were joining together to do yoga in the park. I thought about the days of darkness, hiding my abuse. I thought about the deep despair after my surgeries, and then I thought about how far I have come.

It was time to take what I had learned, move out of the darkness, and bend my body towards the sun, thankful for the life that is now mine.

Cheryl Kravitz is a respected nationally for her work in community relations, motivational speaking, media relations and issues management. She is currently the Director of Communication for the American Red Cross in the National Capital Region. A survivor of domestic violence she speaks and writes frequently about the topic for local and national audiences.

 

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Yoga and Lupus

Name: Katherine Girotti
Location: London, Ontario, Canada
Occupation: Administration Professional and New Yoga Teacher

Photo by Flickr user Andrea Guerra.

I am one of the thousand faces of Lupus. I was diagnosed with Lupus (SLE) over 15 years ago and I have had almost every possible manifestation of Lupus, including: the classic butterfly rash, joint and tissue inflammation, renal failure, pericarditis, ulcers, anemia, pleural effusion, nerve paresis and memory loss. I have lived through two rounds of chemotherapy. It was after this very critical point in my illness, that I was lucky enough to have found yoga. It was then that I decided to change how I was living my life. I quit smoking, changed my diet, I joined a great gym, and have been actively participating in the hot yoga program for over two years.

I rely heavily on my yoga practice for the physical and emotional stability it continues to provide me. Yoga has been an important component in my treatment and greatly alleviates many symptoms of the disease while minimizing the hold Lupus once had on my life. In fact, the benefits have been so extraordinarily positive that I have decided to become an instructor so that I may use my knowledge and experiences to “pay it forward.”

Lupus can affect any gender, race and age. It is an incurable autoimmune disease that can affect any organ at any time. The immune system cannot recognize the difference between its own cells and foreign cells so it will just randomly attack itself (known as a flare), causing inflammation and sometimes serious organ failure. Since each individual’s experience is different, yoga can be tailored to provide very specific relief during any stage of the disease.

My yoga practice has increased my mobility, flexibility and provides pain relief to my sore, inflamed joints when associated with a flare. Yoga relaxes and de-stresses me which can also prevent flares and inhibit disease activity altogether. It also improves my sense of self which has helped me to battle depression symptoms during those times when I get down about my condition. Simply put, yoga keeps me active and feeling positive!

Sadly, my father recently passed away from an autoimmune disease and it gave me a new perspective on life and how it should be lived. Life is too short to delay doing something that you really love and are passionate about. One of my main purposes for wanting to become an instructor is to share yoga with or “pay it forward” to other people suffering with Lupus, Arthritis and other autoimmune diseases, so that they too may benefit, as I have, from practicing yoga. As a volunteer with the Lupus Society, I plan to hold free workshops and classes to educate others on Lupus and yoga. 

Yoga and meditation have allowed me to embrace who I am, to be grateful for everything and everyone in my life, and to accept my disease. It has given me the ability to cope and has provided me inner peace. Practicing yoga has taught me that life no longer needs to be centered on my disease, but instead can be lived with a sense of freedom, meaning, and purpose. 

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, nor to worry about the future, but to live the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
-Buddha

Katherine Girotti is a 34-year old yogini living in London, Ontario, Canada. She was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythamatosus when she was just 18 years old. After finding great healing through yoga, Katherine decided to become a yoga teacher so that she could help others struggling with autoimmune disease. Katherine recently completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training course and plans to continue her training next year with a 500-hour teacher training. In the future, she plans to become certified to teach other specialty yoga courses, such as pre/post natal, children’s yoga, yin yoga, and therapeutic yoga.

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Peace Through Strength

Name: Kumari de Silva
Location: Southern Californa, USA
Occuptation: Yoga Teacher, Studio Owner

Photo by Flickr user Alan Cleaver.

In 2007 I discovered that my beloved husband had returned to heavy drug use after an alleged 15-year stint with sobriety. How did I find out? He passed out, high on prescription painkillers, while driving. He hit a telephone pole at 60 miles per hour. Via helicopter, he was airlifted to the closest emergency room, over fifty miles away. The car was totaled.

In the emergency room the doctor asked to speak with me. “Your husband is a drug addict,” she told me.

“No he’s an electrician!” I blurted out in protest.

“He’s a drug addict,” she repeated gently. She asked me if I was a victim of domestic violence.

“From whom,” I wondered. I was completely confused. What I didn’t know could fill a book.

Yes I was a victim, probably always had been one. I just had no idea. For ten days I lived in crazy land while my husband’s cover was fully blown.The emergency room morphine, mixed with the pharmacy already in his blood stream, appeared to have caused permanent changes to his brain function. My former husband is permanently irrational.

Ultimately he walked out on me. Left to cover his debt and unable to get him to sign divorce papers, I was forced to work 70 hours per week. I had one day off every 15 days, occasionally. I wasn’t eating much. Food seemed like such an easy thing to trim from the budget. The culmination of events: i.e. stress, confusion, heartbreak, huge debt, the physical component of my work, plus my age, caused a hairline fracture in my hip. I lost the ability to completely externally rotate my femur on one side and suffered nerve damage in my leg and foot.

Photo by Flickr user Macxbebe.

I had no health insurance. Now I couldn’t get it. Due to my disability I was given fewer and fewer hours at my hourly job, until I could no longer support myself. Well, who could blame them? I couldn’t perform the job. I rented my house and left the state looking for employment, still riddled with chronic pain. Along the road my dog died.

My friend base, all fundamentalist Christians, believed my ex and mostly thought that I was being “mean” when I referred to him as a using addict. The ones who accepted his addiction issues believed that if he prayed to Jesus he would be healed. They continued, albeit inadvertently, to support his addiction. They were not supportive to me. One could say everything was gone: health, savings, friends, dog, home, and job.

I moved into a room in a house with two roommates who did yoga. One had a very strong meditative practice. I learned pranayama before I did asana. The other loved the physical practice. A third friend reminded me of the few poses I had learned growing up. He encouraged me to do them again to strengthen my hip and increase my range of motion. I felt discouraged as he patiently adjusted my alignment. Thank you Shawn for your patience.

When my roommate “J” found out that I was messing around with trikonasana, he drove me to a class with his favorite teacher. I still felt neither here nor there about asana. The class seemed like a “cool kids’ club”. With my injury, I felt like a factory reject. Undaunted, J looked for other yoga classes and took me to the next community, over a 15-mile drive away. I am forever grateful to him for his persistence.

Here I met my first real teacher. “M” was a blend of encouraging, upbeat, authentic and funny. She had a deep understanding of anatomy. She had also had some experience with addicts. She soothed my beat down soul. Every class was small and mixed level. M had a gift, I have rarely seen since, for modifying both up and down to suit all of the people in the room. From the first class I continued to go several times a week, sometimes more than one class in a day. Three months after I met her she suggested that I go to a teacher training at one of the larger studios 50 miles away.

“You could start a whole new career!” She said with an impish smile.

“Who would hire me?” I replied with my tired sense of discouragement. “At my age? How long would be I be able to do it?”

“For the rest of your life,” she assured me. What she said in a quiet and firm voice touched me.

Five months after meeting M I took my first 200-hour training. The same day I signed up, M disappeared! In an uncharacteristic manner she let personal issues overwhelm her. I did not hear from her again for two years. Another shock, another loss. The only thing I knew for sure was that my hip was starting to feel better. In savasana, encouraged to set an intention, I would think to myself “I just want to feel better, please let this pain go away!” I taught myself yoga as I was learning to teach. I was at the studio seven days a week, three hours a day. I built a strong practice that supports me.

My practice includes pranayama, meditation and asana. My students are often coming off of injuries, both physical and mental. They relate to me. I found myself re-entering and yet not re-entering society. Today, I eat well, meditate and practice yoga daily. Yoga is my passion. I learned the hard way that nothing is more valuable than feeling comfortable in your body.

For those of you who would say everything happens for “a reason,” I beg to differ. There is no reason I can understand to choose death and drug addiction. If you are a using addict, I implore you to reconsider. The pain it causes you will end at your death, the pain it causes your loved ones will never end.

Peace through Strength

Namaste!

Kumari de Silva is a mild-mannered yogi and poet who lives in the Los Padres National Forest. She received a BA from the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and a 200-hour teacher training from YogaWorks. Kumari’s work reflects a perspective of re-discovering familiar. “Teach what you know” is good guidance, but even more powerful is to “teach what you know well” and this will allow the heart  to reveal a unique peace infused with universal experiences. Once the peace of yoga creates insight, the body savors recognition. The grace of this delicious mind/body connection transcends time, space, and even culture.

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