The Journey Back From Drug Abuse

Name: Anonymous
Location: Waitakere, New Zealand
Occupation: Graphic Designer

A close friend, who was training to become a teacher, first introduced me to yoga when I was about 20 years old.

I had grown up learning ballet, so my body responded quite quickly to the stretches and I soon became a guinea pig for my friend’s teaching practice. What first struck me was the reconnection to my body, and in particular, my legs.

As a typically self-conscious teenager, I realized that I had disconnected so entirely from my body (sadly out of sheer disgust), that I had not really looked at, touched, or engaged with my legs for about 10 years. It was quite a revelation to reacquaint myself with the lower half of my body and I’ll never forget how it felt when I realized the neglect that I had subjected on myself.

I had been through seven years of drug abuse, the last three of which were pretty significant and were getting gradually more and more dangerous in regard to me finding an escape route. Without question, yoga was that escape.

The breath refocused my desires and intentions. Motion and stretching released toxins and lifted my energy. Gradual progression taught me the metaphor of steady success. Everything together gave me the clarity I needed to know there was more out there for me, and helped me to see how attainable and achievable a better life could be.

After this initial introduction to yoga, I began practicing Hatha and Iyengar Yoga, and later Ashtanga Yoga at the Yoga Academy in Auckland City. And just this year I was fortunate to have found a wonderful teacher who has brought in subtle spiritual elements that have extended my practice even further to a deeper and even more fulfilling place; drawing prana from the earth to engage longer and deeper poses, opening and closing the practices with meditation and breathing exercises. It is truly beautiful and I am grateful every day for having found the yogic path and for the methods and guidance that continue to help me along my path today.

I am a 35-year old Mum of four incredible children living in Waitakere, New Zealand. I am married to a beautiful, awesome man and we have a cool dog. I am an artist and work part-time as a graphic designer, but love getting involved in voluntary community work wherever I can. Yoga is an important part of my life and although there are periods of time where I fall out of my practice, whenever I return it fills my heart with immense joy. I sincerely believe that if the world practiced this vital art, we would be a very peaceful, happy (stress-free!) and compassionate world indeed.

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The Yogini Canary: True Tales from the Mines of LA Startups

Name: Ashley Nicolei Vanni
Location: Los Gatos, California, USA
Occupation: Program Coordinator for a Yoga & Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Center

Photo by Flickr user jvverde.

My father always jokes with me that I am like the canary that miners bring on their shoulders into the mines to alert them of toxic gases (if there is toxicity the canary will start chirping or die and fall off the shoulder). Petite, friendly, and energetic, I can relate to the canary, the little messenger of life. My fate, not as tragic as some of my fellow canaries; my journey, quite similar.

I began my journey as a Brand Liaison & Senior Rep for VIP clients with a flash sales fashion-based startup in downtown Los Angeles. Newly out of college and emerging into the industry, I was bright-eyed and excited to have such an amazing opportunity at my young age. Eager to please and learn, I put 110% into my work. Of course, in the startup world, that means 60 hours or so a week. All was well until the company expanded and decided to move offices. My work hours increased and construction was being done in the work place. Little did I know my life was about to take a very dark turn, and change forever.

With high work hours and construction going on in the work place, during office hours, ceiling “dust” and paint chips would rain down on my head, shoulders, desk, and food. I would come into the office in the morning and have a thick coating of white paint dust on my black desk. I could rarely take dinner breaks, so I would usually wind up eating dinner at my desk, the dust from the ceiling all over my dinner. Sadly, at the time, I didn’t think anything of it because my co-workers were all dealing with similar circumstances.

A few months after being in the new office, I began having severe allergic reactions (anaphalactic shock) on a daily basis. Doctors originally thought it was a rapid onset allergy to tree nuts, however tests proved the theory incorrect and I became so sick that I was in and out of the hospital every few days for about six months.The scary part was that doctors were puzzled. All they could do was “make me comfortable” and hope that my body would fight for itself.

Once I left the office for good, the reactions became more sparse. I still cannot eat tree nuts (because they are believed to be a trigger of the attacks, however tests are inconclusive) as that allergy is thought to be a bi-product of heavy metal poisoning or paint VOC poisoning.This is something that I am currently still processing and healing from and most likely will be for a long time to come. On a daily basis, I have to make sure I don’t come in contact with tree nuts (all items processed with tree nuts: shampoo, lotions, conditioner, oils, medicines, vitamins, protein powder, the list goes on).

Although the crisis has been a lot to process and digest, it has proven to me that the body is an incredible machine and a bundle of kinetic energy that we must treat with kindness, forgiveness, love, and care – it is truly capable of achieving so much. And it does so much on its own, without us even having to think about it.

So then, how has yoga saved my life? In many ways: breathing – clearing the energies and the blood; stretching and postures – pushing the body to new limits and experiencing that self-esteem boost in “Yes, I can;” releasing tension, illness, and injury through deep and timely poses; philosophy – teaching me new reason; lifestyle, diet, and nutrition – restructuring my daily life. Yoga and this new lifestyle have opened up new channels, new networks, and new contacts that have guided me in my journey to healing, to becoming complete again. Yoga has enabled me to pick up the pieces and put them back together, not into a “new” me, but rather into an improved, an aware, and a realized me. No process has been more beautiful and I wouldn’t change my lessons for the world.

Connecting with the improved me, after much healing, I decided to pursue a new career in the practice of healing and leading others through their journey of healing. Whatever the cause of our pain, we are all designed to find the light at the end of the tunnel…some of us just need a little more direction. Currently, I am pursuing my dream of becoming a healer by working as a Program Coordinator for a Yoga & Ayurveda Health & Wellness Retreat Center and College of the Arts & Health Sciences. Located in the mountains, there is nothing more healing than yoga, diet, and mother nature.

My next adventure, I have a feeling, will trickle into Qigong (Chinese Medicine) and Dietetics. I truly believe, that at the end of the day, all medicines intertwine and a mix and balance of all (each in its rightful place, time, and amount) will contribute to the ultimate healing. I hope to one day run my own home practice.

So, my little yogis, if there is something that is getting you down, something that is blocking you from your ultimate health and wellness, from being your kindest and most open self… be like the canary. Chirp loudly and you will get through. There is light at the end of the tunnel and it is waiting for you with open arms.

Ashley can be found at the following links:
Tumblr: www.livelovemanja.tumblr.com
Twitter: LiveLoveManja
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ashley.vanni

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Yoga Helped Me. Now I Help Others.

Name: Stacie-Saraswati Dooreck
Location: San Francisco Bay area, California, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor & Author

Photo attributed to Flickr user dietmut.

I was blessed to be born into a family that was already introduced to yoga as it came to the west. A dedicated yogi, my father took a yoga teacher training with Swami Sachidananda (Guru of Integral Yoga), he was involved with Siddha Yoga, and when I was young, he took us to meet Swami Muktananda for ‘spiritual awakening.’

My mother and father became full vegetarians after learning of its health and non-violence benefits from the Gurus. They ate no meat, poultry, or fish by the time I was born, so I was also raised vegetarian and I have never tasted meat or fish in my life. This upbringing planted the seeds for a lifelong journey of teaching and practicing yoga.

My introduction to Hatha Yoga (the yoga of postures) began when I saw my father doing shoulder stand in his meditation room as I grew up. But my own practice did not begin until I needed it, at the age of 17.

In high school I developed chronic neck pain from working out in a gym and waiting tables. My chiropractor actually suggested yoga to treat my pain. I tried a 30-minute yoga video and by day two of doing the video, all of my neck pain was gone; no MRI needed, and I was hooked. The feeling of deep peace and relaxation I felt at the end was like nothing I had experienced before. I did that video daily throughout my senior year in high school and also as a freshman in college.

Photo by Doug Beasley, http://www.dbpics.biz

The next thing I knew, I signed up for a Sivananda teacher training, living for a month at the yoga ashram in Canada. The experience was challenging and ‘different’ for a 20-year old, but it was life-changing too. It planted additional seeds for my lifelong practice and eventual teaching of yoga. I saw yoga as something that put you on a spiritual path, gave you discipline, and was a tool for wellness and balance of body and mind.

I felt that I had to share this amazing gift with others. Soon after I returned to my college dorm, I started teaching yoga to my friends and conducting relaxation workshops for my dormmates. I watched with fascination to see how yoga helped others as it did me, and my passion for the practice grew deeper and deeper. Ever since, the learning and sharing continues.

Stacie-Saraswati Dooreck is a Certified Gentle Integral Yoga Instructor, Certified Sivananda Hatha Yoga Instructor Since 1995, and a Certified Kundalini teacher, bringing a wealth of knowledge to her classes. Stacie used chair yoga while healing from an illness and continues to share with others the benefits of chair yoga. In 2011 she was featured on CBS Ch. 4 News Healthwatch teaching “Yoga for Seniors.” In addition, Stacie is a Certified Fall Prevention Trainer for seniors and trained as an Enhanced Fitness Instructor (evidence based chair exercises and fitness for seniors including cardio, strength training and stretching). She created and leads SunLight Chair Yoga Teacher Trainings in the US and The Bahamas. Stacie is the author of the book SunLight Chair Yoga: Yoga is for everyone!, a book designed to to teach those with chronic illness, injuries, in wheelchairs or at a desk (Yoga at work) how to modify yoga so all can benefit. Stacie can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/sunlightyoga and on Twitter @sunlightyoga, @yogainchairs and @yogainsf.

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A Yoga Story

Name: Allison Foster
Location: Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor 

When I started teaching classes in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, I began to have people approach me to say they would love to try yoga, BUT… (you fill in the blank.)

Some have never gone to a yoga class and worry about how they will look. Others worry about not being flexible. Some think they aren’t “yoga-types” even though they have always wanted to try it. A few aren’t sure they want to practice next to someone who has been doing yoga for a long time. Most just don’t know what to expect. So I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about yoga from my perspective, why I teach and what yoga means to me.

I, like many, found my way to yoga because I wanted to reduce stress and improve my body-build strength and develop flexibility. And I, like many, found that yoga not only did those things, but…So. Much. More.

Since I began a regular practice, yoga has steadily changed my life. I am stronger and more flexible, but not just in my body. I am able to approach my life more honestly and more clearly than ever before. I have reduced stress, but not just because I feel more relaxed. I breathe deeper and love deeper too. I am more alive.

I realized that my yoga practice is a metaphor for my life and that setting intentions on my mat— to be patient, to create space, to be disciplined, to be compassionate, to be present— often lead to those things showing up in my life as well. I discovered that yoga is powerful.

I also realized that yoga is about the connections we have to each other. It’s about NOT judging a book by its cover and it’s about recognizing that each and every one of us is more than we seem. It’s about love.

Last summer, I was on vacation and stopped by a small studio to take a yoga class.  When I walked in, the instructor had just finished a private lesson with a little girl and was talking to her mother. I don’t know anything about this little girl except what I observed in the few moments I was with her.

She was blind. Her facial features weren’t typical. One leg dragged behind her as she walked. She wasn’t quite able to make her body do what she wanted it to do.

And she was beautiful.

Her little soul glowed so brightly, it was almost as if she didn’t have a body to house it.

As her mother paid for the session and talked with the instructor, the little girl sat on a bench singing to herself. And when her mom walked over to get her, she put her tiny hand in the palm of her mother’s, lifted her face to her and said, “Mama, I want to come back. We danced in the waves together.”

That’s yoga.

Join the dance.

Breathe deeply. Love fully. Be vulnerable. Be strong. Let your soul shine. These are the guiding principals behind Allison Foster’s approach to yoga. Practicing for eight years and teaching for five, Allison has discovered that we are all yogis at heart. Since earning her 200-hour Yoga Alliance Certification with Sarla Nichols in 2008, Allison has continued to search, learn and share yoga with others. One of Allison’s favorite quotes from Marianne Williamson vividly points to why she shares her love and knowledge of yoga with others: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Follow Allison on Facebook here.

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Balancing Act

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
the Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.


Name: Betsy Warner

Location: Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Insurance Agent

Photo by Flickr User john.schultz.

I used to think I had a stressful life. After all, I was busy. I was running a small business, I had a wife and two kids, and my 85-year-old mother-in-law had recently moved in with me. As I aged and added more layers of stress to my life, I managed to juggle a little faster and beat myself up a little more because I felt like the worst multi-tasker on Earth.

At the end of last year, my life changed drastically. Suddenly I wondered how anything that had come before had ever felt stressful.

Let me preface my story by saying I have an amazing wife. She’s a runner, she meditates, she eats well, she’s joyful, she’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s taught me an immense amount about enjoying life. So it was more than a shock when we learned last November that she had a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Without notice, we were thrown into a world that is known only to those who have been there; a world of more questions than answers; a world of Western Medicine and more appointments than I thought possible; a world for “other” people. Yet here we were.

Photo by Flickr User TipsTimes.

First, the shock was so intense that neither of us could function very well. We went from appointment to appointment, but the rest of our life was on hold. We sat down with the doctors and set up a schedule for treatment that would take us through most of the year. We had no idea how horrid the treatments would be, and how much suffering she would go through. It was all so incredibly overwhelming that finding anything normal about our days seemed impossible.

I’d heard over and over again that the “caretaker” has to take care, and it didn’t take me long to understand why. So I went back to my on-again, off-again yoga practice. It brought a needed respite in an otherwise chaotic existence. My wife hadn’t been able to work since the diagnosis, so I took advantage of some free classes I was able to find, and supplemented with a home practice and one class a week at the Atma Center. I don’t think I was feeling able to cope, but I was feeling able to be present.

And then, before the shock had worn off, we had more news that seemed so improbable it was absurd. I found a lump in my own breast. The lump turned out to be nothing, but the mammogram revealed some calcified cells that worried the doctors. After an inconclusive biopsy I had a surgical biopsy. Waiting for the results was torturous, and when the news finally came I learned that I, too, had cancer. We would need to proceed with a lumpectomy to look for “clean margins.”

Had this happened six months earlier, it would have been the most stressful thing to happen to us in years. As it was, I just wanted to get through it so we could put that behind us and focus on my wife’s treatment. Oddly, we laughed about mine being the “good cancer.” It was detected early, and needed very little follow up. But after surgery I was unable to bear any weight on my arms or lift them over my head for weeks. So I kept it simple. I remembered the breathing practices and started doing them daily. I was able to do some restorative poses. Then I remembered the balancing poses, and I worked whole practices around them. The metaphor was so obvious, but those were the poses that made me feel like I could keep my life on an even keel. Gradually I was able to get my strength and flexibility back, and I resumed classes.

When the Atma Center offered a special on summer passes, I snatched it up. I’ve been to 2-4 classes a week since I bought the pass, and I still do at least a brief home practice most mornings. Through all of the insanity that has transpired in my life in the last eight months, I’ve actually felt less overwhelmed than I was before this all happened. I’ve been able to give up the idea of multi-tasking rather than beating myself up about it. I’ve managed not to stress out about the ridiculous stack of medical bills we have compiled. I’ve been able to appreciate what amazing gifts we have in our life. I’ve been thankful beyond words for the help we’ve received from friends and family.

By the time you read this, my wife will have finished what we hope is her final treatment for cancer. And I can’t imagine going back to my pre-cancer “normal.” I can’t say all of this is due to yoga, but I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through this year without it; and not just gotten through, but be in it and appreciate it in all of its complexity. And though I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, through it all I have learned and grown and come to know joy in the midst of intense sadness. I have come to really appreciate that each day is truly a gift. As I continue to evolve on so many levels in my life, I am grateful to have yoga to help keep me grounded, present, and yes, balanced.

Betsy Warner is an insurance agent in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She lives with her wife, two daughters, and her mother-in-law. She likes to walk her dog, hike, bike, camp, garden and sing. She’s been practicing yoga since 2004, both with a home practice and a variety of classes, mostly in the Satyananda style. Betsy can be found here on Facebook.


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The Journey from Loss To Renewal

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
The Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.


Name: Nan Zieleniec

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Human Resources Executive

Since 2008, I have experienced personal loss to include both of my parents and my husband. My parents lived long and full lives, but sadly my husband’s life was cut short at the age of 52, following a brief battle with pancreatic cancer. During this time, my priority was raising my two beautiful children, now 24 and 21. While I always considered myself a good wife and mother, I had over the years allowed my profession to greatly define who I was as a person. When I wasn’t working, I was often thinking about work. Thankfully, I also placed a high value on being strong physically and I maintained a consistent strength training routine coupled with power walking/jogging. I have also seen a naturopath for almost 10 years, focusing on building a strong immune system. Through all the ups and downs of these years, I thought I was living a happy and balanced life.

Photo by Ashlee Stewak.

In late 2011, my boss came to me to let me know that the company had decided to make an organizational change and they requested that I transition out of my role over the following two months. But for two brief maternity leaves, since achieving my graduate degree, I had never been unemployed. This news rocked my sense of self and I began to feel unbalanced. While I always considered myself a strong individual, my confidence was shaken. After some intense internal dialogue, I determined that this change was going to be a healthy one for me and that I needed to look at it not as a loss, but as a gift. I worked through the transition with as much grace as possible, while also focusing on what the next chapter in my life was going to look like. One thing I knew for certain was that I needed to engage in something life-changing to mark the end of an intense professional gig and it needed to be physically and emotionally demanding to stimulate renewal.

At the beginning of 2012, following some intensive internet research, I decided that I would travel to Laguna Beach, California for a six-day yoga, hiking and cleanse retreat. I had never engaged in a yoga practice and while the ashram indicated that I didn’t need prior yoga experience, I felt I would be most comfortable with a little background and practice. Where to go?

For years, I had driven by the Atma Center as I frequently patronize the businesses in the area. I visited their website and stopped in to explore. As soon as I walked in, I knew this was the place for me to learn in a non-competitive environment, something that was important to me at the time. I left there with a one-month unlimited pass. I shared with the staff my goal to become familiar enough with the yoga practice to be comfortable on the retreat. They assured me that one month would give me a good grounding and they recommended that I read Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha by Swami Satyananda Saraswati. In addressing the relevance of yoga today, Swami Satyananda remarks that “Physical and mental cleansing and strengthening is one of yoga’s most important achievements.” This resonated with me.

I approached this month of introductory yoga practice with zeal, attending class 3-4 times per week. I began tracking all of the various poses I was learning. Studying with a variety of instructors, I listened intently to their explanations of the physiological connections between mind and body. I began standing taller with my heart high and with my shoulders down my back. Unsolicited, my massotherapist remarked that I was standing taller and more aligned. I was feeling ready for the retreat.

I left my job of seven years the last week in January and attended this retreat the first week in February. The retreat was one of the most intense experiences I have ever had and was transformative for me indeed. The physical challenges of the hiking and yoga coupled with the mental challenges of the cleanse took me to a place I had not yet visited in my lifetime. The cleanse evoked a great deal of emotion for me and I then began to understand what Swami Satyananda meant when he said “The body and mind are not separate entities, although there is a tendency to think and act like they are. The gross form of the mind is the body and the subtle form of the body is the mind. The practice of asana integrates and harmonizes the two.”

I left the retreat in a very harmonious state. I returned home at midnight one night and despite the time difference, by 9:00 the next morning, I was in the yoga studio at the Atma Center. I felt a craving for the yoga practice that is hard to describe.

I now do yoga 3-4 times a week. I do high-intensity strength training at least once a week and I power walk/jog twice a week. Both my strength training and my aerobic activities have been intensified by my yoga practice. The core strength I have gained from yoga has allowed me to engage in my strength training in a way that was not possible before and the results are palpable. In addition to the physical training, I have changed my nutrition to include a move toward a more plant-based diet.

I believe all of these changes have contributed to a mental acuity that I was missing. My heart is open. I feel balanced, renewed, rejuvenated and happy. My kids tell me I am aging backwards. I was given a gift and I now know that out of loss can come renewal.

Nan Zieleniec is a human resources executive living and working in Cleveland, Ohio. Professionally, Nan focuses on helping companies create and sustain workplaces that allow the human capital of the firm to optimize their productivity and contribute to the success of the organization. Nan is currently in transition and seeking her next leadership opportunity within an organization that promotes work-life balance and recognizes how the company benefits from an energized workforce. In addition to yoga and other exercise, Nan enjoys live music, gardening, cooking and the warmth of family and friends. Nan has been active in the non-profit and civic community as she believes that giving back and helping to repair the world are obligations each of us has as we occupy our place on this Earth. Nan’s two children are a constant source of pride, inspiration and joy. Nan can be found on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/nanzieleniec.

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The Yoga of Weight Loss

Name: Jean Merlen
Location: Dunkerque, France
Occupation: Pharmacist

First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jean, I am a French pharmacist, and living in a country with a very rich food culture, I have struggled with weight issues for years. So, when an old friend of mine introduced me to Bikram Yoga, I could not imagine how much my body would be transformed in only six months.

My first introduction to yoga, prior to my Bikram practice, was with a really inspiring Anusara Yoga teacher in my hometown. That first yoga experience was very surprising to me, as I felt so good after classes, something I had never felt after any other sport classes.

Later, when my friend invited me to join her for a Bikram Yoga class, I asked around to find out more about the practice. Few people had heard of it, and among those who had, I heard some negative impressions about the heat, the franchise concept, etc. But despite any negative feedback I received, I decided to trust my friend and give it a try. She thought I’d leave the hot room (aka “the torture chamber”) after a couple of postures, but I stayed! And even better, I made it to the end of class and then enjoyed savasana… What a shock!

At the end of class, my friend came over and gave me a hug. I then went into the shower…and I cried, a lot. They were tears of joy I guess. As I sometimes say, my body realized way before my mind how much this yoga was exactly what I needed at this time.

Before the experience, I was 308 pounds. My friend and I took classes four days in a row, and as a beginner, I was quite proud! But once I returned back home, I waited a couple of weeks to repeat the experience, mainly because of lack of time (there is no Bikram studio less than 1 hour from my home). But once I did it again, the benefits were so great, that I tried to make the journey to the hot room at least once or twice a week. Six months later, I had lost about fifty pounds. And I’ve done this with only Bikram Yoga and by eating healthier food. I did not do this with any fad diet, medicine nor with surgery.

Hatha Yoga, Anusara Yoga, and most of all Bikram Yoga really allowed me to understand the true meaning of “union” (after all, that’s what “Yoga” means right?). The yoga really helped my body and mind to reunite. It helped me to simply remember that I was strong. With six month of regular (but not intense) practice, I’ve lost weight, I have gained much more balance and flexibility, and my mind is much clearer than it was.

Bikram Yoga is just yoga, no more no less. Maybe it’s not everybody’s yoga, but it’s exactly the yoga I needed. In order to avoid dehydration from all of the intense heat and sweating, I learned to drink more water than I ever had before. And all of that sweating helps to rid my body of unhealthy and unwanted toxins.

I wanted to share my personal experience, especially for people who might have weight issues, because it is clear to me that yoga helps you to drink more water, to eat better (I now crave fruits and veggies instead of sweets and fat!), and to get back into balance and comfort in your own body. Weight issues create discomfort, then you get used to dealing with frustration, and the judgment of others makes you judge yourself in the worst possible way. Bikram Yoga has helped me to get rid my life of all of this negativity and to regain my confidence.

I have so much gratitude for the dear friend who introduced me to this real life treasure of Bikram Yoga. Please friends, always remember you ARE strong, much stronger than you think. You deserve the best for your health, and even if you have no other issues than a couple of extra pounds, I encourage you to give it a try. And keep in mind Patanjali’s lessons: loving kindness, compassion and joy! Have compassion for yourself and be patient with your transformation. Don’t let frustration get the better of you, as frustration is a block to transformation! And most importantly, love yourself and remember that we all have beauty and strength inside… sometimes we just forget it.

Edited by Jeannie Page.

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The Alchemy of Yoga

Name: Natalie Almond
Location: Sydney, Australia
Occupation: Yoga Teacher at The Living Room Coogee

At the age of 25 I was feeling rather unwell but every time I went to the doctor with a drastic bronchial, asthmatic cough they would test my lungs only to say that they were as healthy as an athlete. I looked well with a healthy tan and a very muscular body.

My problem was that I was obsessive in everything that I did from working hard, playing hard and training hard. I was in a complete burn out.

One day the doctor decided to give me a complete overhaul and found that I had a few liver disorders which I will not name as it is not part of my life anymore. He also discovered that I had sciatica down my entire right leg. The sciatica caused me a lot of pain and grief and a very sore mid to lower back. The doctor suggested I also see a psychiatrist as he said I was depressed.

One week later I met John Burke, a yoga teacher and healer of the Tantric tradition. In just the first visit with him, he knew of my ailments and of the party recreations in which I had been partaking. He placed his hand above my liver and asked if I could feel the heat. He then did the same over my kidneys and I could feel them absolutely burning. He proceeded to tell me that my entire filtering system was burnt out, hence the depression. (The doctor had diagnosed the liver problems but the specialist had concluded that there was nothing wrong with my kidneys.)

John told me that obsession runs in my family heredity and he explained that while it is very difficult to change an obsessive personality, you can change your obsessions to more healthy ones. This, according to him, would be my key to transformation. John told me not to wait until I stopped my behavior but to start coming to yoga and experience a natural high. He explained that by feeling this natural high, I would not feel any need to take drugs nor to continue with this hardcore and damaging lifestyle.

I continued working with John by having regular healing treatments, taking herbs and practicing yoga. John also taught me to create a relationship with my organs by talking to them every day; and by telling my obsessive spleen to slow down and my lazy liver to pick up, I began to heal and feel.

During one healing session, I had a visualisation of a dark-haired boy in a dark room. This boy was very scared to go outside. Outside, a blonde-haired, overactive boy started to skip down a hill, but in his over-excitement he tumbled down, landing at the door of the dark-haired boy. He beckoned for the boy to come outside and the dark-haired boy’s mother encouraged him to go. The boy reached his hand out and touched the blonde boy and he immediately felt the warmth of the sun. The blonde boy took the hand of the dark-haired boy and they both skipped off in harmony, the blonde boy relaxed and the dark-haired boy confident. According to John, this visualisation represented the fact that my liver and my spleen were now in balance.

I once recounted this story to my father (who died two and a half years ago of liver cancer) and he told me that his brother had painted a picture of a boy in a dark room just before he too had died of liver cancer- but unfortunately he didn’t get a chance to paint the other boy.

I say this to illustrate that we have the power to change things that are stamped in our DNA. Most of the men in my dad’s family died of the same dis-ease. But I am living proof that we can change these genetic stamps and now my children and the next generations will no longer hold that stamp.

Photo by Flickr User Ralph Buckley.

I went back to the doctor for the same tests I had originally had, and this time one liver problem didn’t show up at all and the other had became an antibody. The doctors of course found this hard to believe and said it must have been a misdiagnosis.

Because of this miraculous healing transformation in my own life, I learned, and have now been teaching for 20 years, this style of yoga called ‘Alchemic Yoga,’ a system devised by John Burke from the ancient Tantric traditions.

I recently met a Tantric Baba who took one look at me and said “a true alchemist is one that has healed a disease,” and then smiled at me.

Natalie runs The Living Room and is very passionate about her unique teachings. Natalie has been practicing yoga for 23 years and teaching for 18 years. With an athletic background she realized “fit and healthy” was created by yoga more than any other physical exercise she had tried.

With a great need to heal herself she learned a lot about bodily functions. Natalie realized the pH balance of the body is an important part to all healing, and is all related to Ha -Tha, sun-moon, male-female, yin-yang, liver-spleen, acid-alkaline and mind-body. Bringing the two sides (left – right) of the body into balance, the posture is corrected, the pH is balanced, along with the mind and body, and this allows the soul to reside in a comfortable body with a radiant spirit. This was the beginning of her training in Alchemic Yoga.

Natalie’s healing keys are: strong belief in visualization and creating a deep and meaningful relationship with the body and organs by talking to them with true intent. She understands that the emotional state is vital to our health of body and mind. Natalie has taught people with chronic fatigue, HIV positive, anxiety, depression and many other ailments with considerable success and people of all ages from 3 years old.

Edited by Jeannie Page.


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The Logic of Having No Expectations

Name: Brown Vagabonder
Location: Toronto, Canada
Occupation: Part-time Yoga Instructor

Photo by Flickr user mikebaird.

One thing that yoga has taught me is the precious logic of having no expectations. In my younger, yoga-free (awful) years, I used to have high expectations of everything. You would imagine that I excelled in everything and did everything better because I expected more. But I know now that my quality of life was worse when I had higher expectations. Having high expectations in any aspect of my life resulted in me never being satisfied with anything around.

I wasn’t satisfied with my life in any way, shape or form: my job, my friends, my body, my family, my possessions, my car, my anything. I didn’t complain about it, because I didn’t really see any point in it. But I was dissatisfied. It was a soul-sucking kind of dissatisfaction – which you try to fill up with worthless items like clothes and shoes, lots of partying and drinking, and lots of unhealthy junk food.

I started yoga as a fluke. My friend was going to a hot yoga class, and I joined her, expecting nothing major. The first time I did hot yoga nothing happened. I didn’t have an epiphany. I didn’t love it. I actually disliked the class as it informed me that I was grossly out of shape, unable to stay in the hot room for the whole 1.5 hour class. I had to leave the class several times to cool myself down (even though they had repeatedly told me not to leave the hot room during the class).

Photo by Flickr user Amre Ghiba.

I didn’t do yoga again for a couple of years. It wasn’t until I came back from my MBA course and started doing yoga regularly that I actually reaped the benefits of yoga. Once I started a regular practice, I realized that yoga gave me what nothing else in my life was able to give me: the sense of satisfaction with the way my life was going. It was a deep-seated sense of satisfaction, the kind that is so deep within, it is immoveable. Unshakeable. I have moments of doubt, or anxiety or any of the other dark emotions, occasionally. But my core is so strong; that satisfied core is so strong, that these little pesky moments of darkness cannot shake that core. It doesn’t do a thing to move me. I am infallible. I am strong.

I also realized that instead of having high expectations, I now have none. Of course I want to have a good life filled with happiness, joy, family, friends, love, yoga, travel and great food. But I do not have high expectations of anything. I do not expect to have a great day at work when I go in, I do not expect to have a great night when I go out dancing, and I do not expect to have a great meal when I go out dining. I expect very little.

Photo by Flickr user Muffet.

So whatever I receive is always far beyond anything I might have expected. It always exceeds my expectations.

I find that just due to that one little tweak in my personality, the quality of my life has actually gone up, instead of down. I imagined the opposite, but I find that I am more satisfied with life than ever. And my life keeps on getting better and better. Even without expectations, everything in my life is improving.

I cannot wait to see where the yoga journey takes me in the future, but I know that it is going to be a glorious place, with sunshine and joy. I know it in my heart, and I can hear it on the wind.

Brown Vagabonder is a 28-year old yogi with high aspirations and low expectations. She loves to travel, do yoga, and eat foods from all around the world. Her goal is to become a full-time traveler, using her blogging and yoga skills to pay for her travels. Check out her blog at brownvagabonder.com.


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