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’s Dharma is to Heal

Name: Elizabeth McGlinchey
Location: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Occupation: Graduate Student

Photo by Flickr User st_gleam.

Photo by Flickr User st_gleam.

When I was a teenager, a drunk driver drove into me as I crossed the street, leaving me severely injured. Weeks passed, jam-­packed with surgery, radiology tests, laboratory tests, and diagnoses. I changed into someone with whom I could no longer identify.

Once my health became stable, I was admitted to a rehabilitation hospital, and was soon able to move around independently… in a wheel chair. I remember the first time I stood up and the excruciating pain that surged through my body. Reminiscent pain still comes and goes in my legs, but it is something I have tolerated well in the years since and it has never stopped me from wanting to become stronger and athletic. Twelve years later I am still healing physically and emotionally. 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

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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Crash into Me

Name: Gitte Lindgaard
Location: Denmark
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

It was a morning like any other. My husband was driving me to work, it was an early summer morning, the sun was shining, and the birds were singing. What I remember the most was the sudden sound of squealing tires and then the crash.

Photo by Flickr User mrJasonWeaver.

Another man was texting while driving and he hit our car at high speed. We were both taken to the hospital. My husband was fine but I was diagnosed with a concussion and later with whiplash. That morning my life changed forever. For more than six months, I was bound to my bed. I couldn’t tolerate any kind of sound or light, to the extent that I was forced to wear sunglasses all the time. I isolated myself because I couldn’t be with more than two or three people at a time. I was tired all the time, I had headaches, and I couldn’t remember any new things. I felt very sorry for myself.

The entire situation was very scary. I didn’t know if I would ever get better and I felt that I was failing as a mother and a wife. Prior to the accident, I had been so dynamic and full of life. I had always loved sports and led a very active life with my family. We all loved competing at everything and now I couldn’t do anything. I felt like such a burden. Everything was hard, even simple everyday things like cooking or even sending an email. It was a struggle to see my physiotherapist and the treatment didn’t work. I tried acupuncture, a neurologist, a psychologist, and a lot of other things, but unfortunately nothing really helped.

At some point someone advised me to try yoga. I was never a big fan of yoga. I had tried it a couple of times and it was just not for me. Even though I was well trained, I wasn’t flexible at all. I also found it to be boring because there was no competition. At the same time, I was ready to try anything in order to get better, so I decided to give it another chance.

Because I couldn’t handle being in a room with more than two or three people at a time, I couldn’t attend a yoga class. I bought some DVDs about yoga and started doing yoga for 15 minutes every day. I hated it so much in the beginning. I got so tired and I felt like I was hurting my fragile ego by being so lousy at it.

Slowly, after a month, I began to enjoy it more and more. I could see small improvements in my practice. I got better at listening to my body regarding which poses were good for me and knowing when I had had enough. Doing yoga gave me energy and it lessened my sensitivity to light, until eventually I was able to stop wearing the sunglasses. I started to make my own sequences, just by listening to my body and my intuition, and the sequences got longer and longer until I was practicing yoga for 45 minutes every day. I started to get better at it. My body began to become more flexible and at some point I could actually touch my toes. After 3-4 months I started to train in a fitness center. I still kept on doing yoga.

After a year I was declared 85% healthy. I started to work again and because it became harder and harder to make time to do yoga, I lapsed in my practice for quite a while. I started to get headaches again and sometimes my arm would get numb for a few seconds. This really scared me and it caused me to make a decision: I would commit to yoga for life.

After I made this decision and started to practice again, it was as if my soul and my body started to work together. Something magical was happening. I rediscovered myself; not the person I was before the whiplash, but the person I was supposed to be. Yoga changed from being something I had to remember to do, into something I wanted to do. It became a necessary element in my life. I made time to do yoga every day because my body and my soul simply needed it.

On my journey to rediscovering myself, I started to introduce yoga to people with disabilities at my work. Guiding them in the world of yoga just felt so right and rewarding. Yoga kept taking more and more space in my life and it felt like falling in love. I could read about it for hours on end and practice poses every available minute. Sometimes I would even do yoga while taking a shower.

More practice led to more clarity and I eventually enrolled in teacher trainings in both The United States and in Denmark. Today I teach yoga full-time to people with pain, injuries, conical illness, and disabilities. I have found the real me.

Gitte lives in Denmark with her husband and two daughters. Gitte has practiced different types of yoga and after recovering from whiplash after a car accident, she began teaching yoga mostly to disabled people. Gitte is the founder of Livets Træ (Tree of Live.) She has a degree in Nutrition and Health and specializes in empowering people to be aware and take responsibility for healthy living. Gitte believes in doing something every day of which her future self would be proud. Gitte can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LivetsTrae and on Twitter @loveliveyoga.

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Mind Over Back Pain

Name: Sara Curry
Location: Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Studio Owner

Image by Flickr user neckandback.

In 2001, after a history of throwing my back out, I was diagnosed with 2 herniated discs. I had endured long periods where I couldn’t move or perform the tasks of daily life for a few days or even weeks. But in 2001, it became worse than ever. The pain was constant and I couldn’t find relief with any activity. Moving hurt, but so did resting. I couldn’t lie on the table long enough to get a massage. I thought chiropractic care would help, but after some sessions, I was in too much pain to even get into my car. My husband had to tie my shoes for me, he had to bring in the groceries and change the cat litter, shovel the walk, weed the garden, and anything else that required lifting, carrying or bending.

I had just started practicing yoga at Bikram Yoga Burlington, Vermont, when the pain became really acute. I called the studio and asked what I should do. My teacher, Aimee, told me I could take a couple of days off if I really felt I needed it, but to get back in the studio before a week had gone by. I visited a spine doctor that week and got my diagnosis. “Cortizone shots, pain killers and surgery,” he explained, were my only options for pain management. Notice that I didn’t say “rehabilitation.” He had nothing to offer long term; no way to heal or rehabilitate the area. Instead he offered a way to just cut out the bulge and take drugs so that I couldn’t feel it.

I knew there had to be another option, a better option. The yoga had been making me feel great in so many other ways, that I decided to trust the process. I listened to my teachers. I practiced almost every day for over a year. In my poses, I worked on creating traction for my spine to take the pressure off the compromised discs. I limited or skipped forward bends all together. I worked to deepen my backbends in order to improve my spinal alignment and to develop soft tissue strength to support the weakness in my inter-vertebral discs.

I shed a lot of tears on my mat in that hot room. Tears from the pain. Tears because I felt sorry for myself. Tears because it was hard and sometimes I felt hopeless. When you are in the depths of that kind of pain, it is hard to see that there might be a relief someday. When everything hurts, from brushing your teeth to sleeping, it is hard to imagine that your life won’t always be focused on your pain, even in your sleep.

There were many days that I pulled into the parking lot, drove around the back of the building and right out the other entrance. Sometimes I did that circle three or four times before I would park my car and drag my aching back through the doors of my yoga studio. Many of my classes were very painful, but I always felt worse if I didn’t go to class.

My biggest breakthrough came when I took a class with Rajashree Choudhury in Los Angeles at Bikram Yoga International Headquarters. I wanted to speak with her before class to give her a disclaimer about my back and to ask her for any help or modifications. There was a long line of students waiting to speak with her, so I never got my chance. Before she started the class she told us that many students had asked her about modifications for back pain, “Just do your yoga,” she told us.

And I did. Within 11 days, I was pain-free and terrified. I was terrified that it wouldn’t stick, that the pain would come back, or that I would do something to hurt myself again.

I still face that fear some days.Thankfully the days are now few and far between, but it does come up from time to time. Each time it does, I get better at dealing with it. I tell myself that moving my body is not going to damage it. I remind myself that I have learned to heal myself with yoga before and that I have the tools to do it again.

Owner and Director of Bikram Yoga Portsmouth, Sara Curry is a 500-hour Certified Bikram Yoga Instructor. Sara found her way to Bikram Yoga after years of rugby, weightlifting and running left her with two herniated discs and debilitating back pain. Faced with a choice from her doctors between surgery and a lifetime of cortisone shots, Sara chose Bikram Yoga instead. With just the 26 postures, she was able to return to a pain-free life. She has been inspired by her own recovery to share this healing series with others. Sara has given birth to two children naturally, with no back pain during either pregnancy. She has returned to snowboarding and hiking and can carry her 5-year old up Mount Agamenticus, on her shoulders, without any pain. And all of this knowing there was a time when she couldn’t roll over in bed at night without searing pain. In the words of Bikram Choudhury, it truly is, “Never to late. Never too bad. Never too old. Never too sick to start all over from scratch.”

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Held by the Whole

Name: Maiga Milbourne
Location: Southern New Jersey, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor

Photo by Flickr user GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS.

Yoga created me.

My Mom had three children and was a stay-at-home care-giver at age 38. She had begun practicing yoga and offering classes for others informally. She’d even begun eating vegetarian, as well as juicing, at various points in the month. Her body was cleansed, causing alarm bells to ring when she suddenly began craving cheesesteaks. She delivered me when she was 39 and my Dad was 48.

I remember being little, maybe four years old, and watching her teach uddiyana bandha (a breath technique to hollow out the abdominal cavity) to my then 12-year-old brother. When I was 16 she took me to a class at the local gym. I remember that the class was offered by candle-light, that thread-the-needle pose soothed my sore neck and shoulders, and that child’s pose felt like a refuge.

During those teenage years I suffered from a profound depression. Emotionally, I was responding to significant amounts of imbalance and abuse. I was hospitalized twice while in high school, and remained on pretty significant anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications until my senior year. I remember searching through my Mom’s bookshelf to find books on yoga. I went to my room and practiced asana. When my feet reached over my head in halasana, or plow pose, I truly felt hopeful. My body cooperated – I hoped that maybe one day I could find the same sync in my emotional world.

I then came across a book of meditations. I have no idea of the source, but I vividly recall a visualization of myself in the Tantric web of the universe. The book suggested that you watch yourself glow with an inner rose light. As the light shines brighter, the Tantric web around you becomes clearer. The meditation allowed me to feel held in all life, and to feel connected to it. My depression caused me to feel so alienated and worthless. This meditation offered me a stark contrast – that I was an integral part of all life. No better, no worse. Intrinsic. Valuable.

I began to once again see the world as vast, and the possibilities for life within it, as enticing and exciting. I went to college in Massachussetts at age 18. Living in New England, a few states away from my birthplace of the Philadelphia ‘burbs, and off of the mood stabilizing medication, I began to see my own depression and abuse as lessons in compassion. I had suffered, but I knew that others in the world suffered far worse. I began to study history, politics, and sociology with the goal of understanding others’ experiences more intimately. The first year after college I interned at a Union for Legal Aid Attorneys in New York City, where I catalogued instances of police brutality.

My own experiences began motivating me to align towards healthy communities, policies, and practices. I studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studying Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo and Argentina’s relationship with the IMF and World Bank. The following semester I studied abroad in La Habana, Cuba, learning profound lessons about the human cost of embargoes and living under a punitive foreign policy.

I became a human rights activist. During this time I continued to practice yogic breath work, or pranayama, but wasn’t able to sustain a regular physical asana practice. I began to realize that I would burn out from this demanding work if I didn’t exercise self-care. I came back to the mat, slowly and steadily. I found a studio that immediately stoked my curiosity towards the physical possibilities of the practice. In these classes I encountered poses I’d never previously imagined! I joined other adults in losing ourselves in sweat, fantastic music, and smart, skilled instruction.

I wanted to be a part of that community, but I still felt odd. I felt that lingering sense of alienation that had built itself into my personality as a depressed adolescent. As a young adult, my activism work still lead me to feel on the fringe. I hadn’t figured out how to belong within my own skin, let alone within a larger network.

I saw that my favorite studio offered a teacher training program. That sounded like heaven. As a full-time activist I felt fulfilled and purposeful but also consistently time-starved with no savings. It seemed a pipe-dream that I would be able to afford a teacher training program.

The following year my grandmother became fatally ill. She was the only member of my family of origin with whom I was still close. I was named after her and visited her as often as I was able. I spent that Christmas by her bedside in intensive care. Shortly afterwards, she passed on.

It was a huge blow to again feel so untethered. I continued practicing yoga and engaging in social justice work. One day I received an unexpected phone call from my Mother – she was dividing my grandmother’s inheritance among her children and I would receive some money. I was dumb-struck. I was grateful for the money but also unsure about how to use it in a way that honored my grandmother. I certainly had debt to pay off, but I wanted this money to build something in her memory. I realized I could use some of the money to pay for teacher training. In this way, every time I moved onto the mat, or offered a class, it would be in gratitude for her.

Photo by Flickr user Nikhil Kirsh.

As I began the teacher training program, so many pieces of my life coalesced. I began to allow myself to embrace the community at my yoga studio, and to be enriched by these beautiful people. I was able to dedicate my teaching practice to my grandmother, and in this way find a healthy tie to a fractious family history. I also was able to offer yoga to other activists and advocates so that they too could benefit from the sustaining presence of this practice. In my first year of teaching I went on-site to area organizations and offered seva classes. I currently build community with other instructors who are activists, organizers, and advocates so that we can support one another, as well as our collective work.

Yoga has always been the piece that created me, healed me, made me whole. My Mom practiced yoga while I was in her womb. Her practice illuminated my presence early on. As a teenager, when trauma and depression nearly destroyed me, yoga showed me that glow of hope within. As an activist, yoga reminds me that if I believe in healthy communities for all people, I need to keep my own life sound. And yoga gives me the tools to do just that.

Passionate about healthy bodies, relationships, and communities, Maiga Milbourne E-RYT teaches vinyasa yoga to groups and individuals. Yoga offers so much to each student: physical health, mental well-being, ease, and community. In reflection of the broad benefits of yoga, Maiga has created a range of services to provide to her clients, all seeking to help each one realize their fullest potential. Learn more at maigamilbourne.com.


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Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi

Name: Brian Leaf
Location: Northampton, Massachusetts
Occupation: Author

In 1989 I was like every other insecure 18-year-old starting freshman year at Georgetown University. I was like everyone else except that, every few hours, I had to sneak off to issue myself a medical enema. Needless to say, this did little to boost my self-esteem.

I faced this plight because I had ulcerative colitis. I’ll spare you the detailed symptoms, except to say that they greatly resembled what you’d expect after drinking murky tap water at a very cheap Mexican motel.

Photo by Flickr User myyogaonline.

Luckily, though, my situation changed dramatically that year after I stumbled upon an elective: yoga. I saw that my symptoms of colitis were worse on days that I had skipped yoga. So I wondered if doing more yoga would lessen the symptoms?

I decided to self-medicate with yoga. Five times per day, I practiced four sun salutations, followed by 10 minutes of deep relaxation. Taking these 20-minute yoga breaks, five times every day, was a huge time investment. But my effort proved worthwhile, because three days later my symptoms were gone. GONE.

The symptoms stayed in remission for two years. When they flared up again, I reinstated my self-medicating regimen with four sun salutations, followed by 10 minutes of deep relaxation, five times a day. And again it worked.

As you can imagine, I was a yoga zealot after that. In fact, in the span of two years, I went from being New Jersey’s top rated high school debater to the kind of guy who shows up to Advanced Accounting class in a Mexican serape and leather sandals.

After college, instead of pursuing an accounting career, I traveled the United States, studying yoga and meditation. I didn’t hold any jobs for too long, and wherever I lived, I tutored to cover rent and expenses. I was happy with this nomadic lifestyle for several years, until, during a meditation-based psychotherapy session, my therapist suggested that I was, in fact, avoiding settling down because I was challenged by holding down a job and showing up consistently for a relationship, because I had attention deficit disorder (ADD).

I thought she was probably right, and I was miserable about the diagnosis. I wondered if my biochemistry would limit what I could achieve. Could I ever work a steady job, get married, and settle down?

Then I remembered when I had been diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. I wondered if, like colitis, ADD did not represent a permanent disease or disorder but an indication that I needed to reexamine how I was living. I began searching for evidence in holistic health literature that ADD could be treated naturally through yoga, diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.

Finally, in an article about Ayurveda, I read that a certain imbalance can cause ADD-type symptoms.

I made an appointment with a local Ayurveda practitioner, and I started taking classes. I received a wide range of advice including meditation, yoga postures, herbs, urine therapy (the daily practice of drinking one’s own midstream morning urine), and this gem: “Every morning before you leave the house, apply a small amount of untoasted sesame oil to every orifice of your body: lips, nostrils, ears, nipples, penis, and anus.” I know now that all of this is terrific advice. But it was advice that, nonetheless, I was not quite ready for.

Photo by Flickr user Hannap.

I learned that according to Ayurveda each individual is a unique blend of three proclivities, or doshas, described as ether/air (vata), fire (pitta), and water/earth (kapha). Ayurveda posits that health and vitality result from respecting the particular needs and maximizing the innate gifts of one’s dosha.

I learned that a person with lots of ether/air (me) is often very creative and funny and flexible (if I do say so myself), but when out of balance can become overly creative, overly flexible, and overly airy — basically scatterbrained, wishy-washy, and flatulent (d’oh!). In fact, vata people’s tendency toward flexibility and creativity can become unbounded and then look like the spaciness and distractibility of ADD.

I developed a personalized prescription included taking herbs, meditating, giving myself a daily sesame-oil massage, eating a certain diet, sitting for an hour every day next to a tree on the bank of a gently flowing stream, and reminding myself throughout the day to be in my body (rather than lost in my mind).

And again, it worked. After six months, I was more focused, more energized, and more present. I went from spacey, distractible, and impulsive, to attentive, focused, and mindful. Now I could hold down a job and finish a long-term project — in fact, I’ve authored 11 books.

It’s fair to say that as long as I respect the needs of my particular constitution, I don’t have ADD any more. And the same is true of colitis. If I held in my emotions, gave up yoga, and subsisted on fast food and soda, I bet I’d be back to the medical enemas, but as long as I express my feelings, exercise, and eat well, I am colitis, ADD, and enema free.

Brian Leaf, M.A. is the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. He draws upon 21 years of intensive study, practice, and teaching of yoga, meditation, and holistic health. Visit him online at http://www.Misadventures-of-a-Yogi.com and check out the book trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcYFYjnU9Cw.

Based on the new book Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi ©2012 by Brian Leaf. Published with permission of New World Library http://www.newworldlibrary.com.

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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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