Broken to Whole: A Journey of Transformation

Name:             B. Grace Marie Bullock, PhD, E-RYT, Certified Viniyoga Therapist
Location:        Eugene, Oregon, USA
Occupation:   Mind∞Body Therapist, Editor, Author, Research Scientist, Yoga Instructor

I literally could not breathe for 11 years. The air in Los Angeles left my asthmatic airways distressed and exhausted. At one point I ended up at UCLA Medical Center for days, pumped full of drugs and under the threat of being put on a respirator. I walked away, determined to never go back.

I moved away from Los Angeles later that year to attend a doctoral program in clinical psychology in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley. Liberated from the toxic air, I set out to renew my passion for running. I was living in Track Town USA after all, and running seemed to be the perfect antidote for the stresses of grad school.

crutches cropped

Photo attributed to Flickr user Tony Crider.

Within weeks my left tibia was fractured. No sooner would one fracture heal then another would emerge for no reason. Over the course of graduate school I was in and out of casts and crutches, as one by one bones would fracture or break. I was no longer running. Metatarsals would break from stepping out of my car, or off of a curb. My doctor at the university health center believed that I was suffering from osteoporosis, a bi-product of years of being on and off of high doses of prednisone to treat my asthma.

My first Dexascan revealed what I had feared – my bone density was two standard deviations below the mean for my age. Essentially, I had the bones of an 80-year-old woman. My years of exercise and healthy eating had not mitigated the destructive effects of years of using steroids to treat my asthma. I could no longer run, skate, ski, or engage in any other bone stressing activity. My bones were so brittle that any insult placed me at risk for a serious injury to my hips or spine, let alone the rest of my body. A life long athlete, I felt physically and emotionally broken. My primary coping mechanism for life stress was gone, and depression set in.

I took up cycling with a vengeance, and hit the weight room even harder to try to increase muscle mass and bone density. I began a daily regimen of biophosphates, calcium, and Vitamin D. My bones continued to break. In 2007, a repetitive stress fracture nearly cut the upper portion of my left femur at my hip in half. A lack of bone mass made my femur bone inoperable. I spent over seven months on crutches. I’d even nicknamed my orthopedist “Dr. Doom,” because it seemed as though the story became progressively worse as time went on. After an interminable period of inactivity and despair, I returned to yoga. I had attended yoga classes for a number of years, but was a yoga jock and a savasana dasher. “Real” people didn’t have time to lie around and do nothing.

This time around I could barely move my atrophied leg. I had to sit. I had to listen. I had no choice. In those weeks of silence on the mat, I discovered the practice of yoga. I observed the subtle transformation from feeling stressed out to peaceful and grounded, an experience that eluded me during my years of striving for the perfect pose. It soon became apparent that I needed to learn more, and enrolled in a year long yoga teacher training program.

Grace side angle poseThe study of yoga philosophy and principles for teaching and practice had a profound effect on me. I was fascinated by the yamas and niyamas – particularly the idea of ahimsa. The idea that we bear a responsibility to do no harm to ourselves as well as others was liberating, particularly after years of pushing myself to exhaustion and illness. I could forgive my perceived weaknesses, failures and inadequacies, and operate from a place of compassion and loving kindness. With practice, I was able to open myself to shraddha, and to surrender my grip on life.

This shift also changed the way that I viewed the process of therapy. For years I watched as my clients suffered, engaged in cycles of self-punitive thoughts and behaviors, just as I had. I realized that most of us are detached from our bodies and our inner divinity, and are locked in an endless spiral of doubt, angst, striving, and stress generation. Yoga seemed to provide a different way of thinking and being that shifted those samskaras, or patterns. It offered a holistic model of healing, as opposed to considering the mind and body as distinct entities. Compelled to understand this mind body connection, I dove further into the teachings and practices of yoga and studied to become a Viniyoga therapist. I discovered the therapeutic practices to be profound, vast, and incredibly powerful.

In years of practicing and teaching yoga, and building a private practice in which I integrate evidence-based psychotherapy with affective neuroscience and yoga therapy, I have experienced a profound physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation. Yoga has taught me to honor the light within all beings, including myself. I am tremendously blessed to witness the metamorphoses of my students and clients, each of whom approach their practice with courage and determination. They are my inspiration.
Grace and her dogMy personal evolution has taken many forms. Pranayama practices have strengthened my lungs, freeing me of the dependency on medication to breathe. Meditation has grounded me in my body, and my life, allowing me to embrace the ebb and flow of events with compassion and loving kindness. I have learned that life happens, and that we have the opportunity to respond with compassion, and in the spirit of ahimsa. Remarkably, even though I stopped taking medication for osteoporosis over two years ago, my bone density continues to improve. I have not broken a bone in six years!

The wisdom of yoga in all of its forms has transformed my once broken being into a vessel of strength. The journey has been miraculous, and I am filled with gratitude and grace.

Grace hugging dogB. Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT is a mind∞body therapist and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Her clinical work and research link evidence-based models of psychotherapy with affective neuroscience and yoga therapy. Grace is dedicated to teaching yoga to individuals of all ages and ability levels, creating practices that foster health, strength, empowerment, and stress reduction. Her life and classes are infused with playfulness, humor, compassion, and unbounded enthusiasm. After struggling with illness and injury for many years, Grace approaches each day with gratitude for the blessing of being alive and present. She strongly believes that each of us has the ability to heal our physical and emotional wounds, and to create lives of peace and joy. Her life is devoted to cultivating a better world one breath at a time.

Learn more about Dr. Bullock’s Mind∞Body Therapy practice, research, writing and more at http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com, follow her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DrBGraceBullock, or write her at bgracebullock@mind-bodytherapy.com.

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The Downside of Being One Tough Mother

Name: Michelle Marchildon
Location: Denver, Colorado, United States
Occupation: Author, Columnist, Yoga Teacher & General Rabble Rouser

“I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want.
If that makes me a bitch, okay.”
Madonna

I’m with Madonna. I can be kind of a bitch. And I’m mostly okay with that.

I can be the most loyal, loving and best friend you could ever hope to have. But do not get me wrong; I am one powerful, strong, fierce, and fearless woman and if that makes me a bitch, well I’ll take it.

It’s taken me years to get to this place where I could say I was powerful. Years, and a steady practice of yoga. As a woman, it is not a popular path to be strong. It will cost you a prom date. It will cost you friends. It will make you the target of many people who are uncomfortable with female power, some of which are females.

Michelle Marchildon yoga poseIt even cost me my first marriage. But that relationship, which I call my starter marriage, was probably worth giving up. That’s because I was in it with my starter self, the one that was afraid of her power.

I remember the day my ex-husband announced he was leaving me. We went to a family counselor, who looked at us over his wire-rimmed glasses and said, “Why are you leaving this marriage? Are you not worried about your wife?”

“I’m not worried about Michelle,” my ex said. “She is very competent. (pause) V-e-r-y  Com-pe-tent.” He was practically spitting the words.

So there it was. My dirty little secret was now out in the open. I am competent. In fact, I might be one of the most capable people on the planet. However, this marriage disaster was not entirely my ex’s fault as I don’t believe he was truly married to me. He was married to my starter self.

I spent years being a little weak so the boys would feel in control and the girls would be my friend. I smiled, a lot. I hid that I was often the top student in class and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Now I’m an Ivy League grad, and believe me, that does not get you friends in the yoga world. What gets you friends is Handstand, and I kind of suck at Handstand.

And although I was good at playing the game of being a little less, it wasn’t ‘me.’ It took me years to shed my fears about being powerful. And it took a steady practice of yoga which helped me uncover my inner badass.

Eventually, I got divorced. I changed careers. I made a ton of money in sales. And I met a man who said to me, “Go get ‘em and I will carry your bag.” So I married him.

What are we afraid of?

Women who are powerful are not liked. We get hate mail from anonymous internet writers who say we are bitches. We are told we are not yogic because we speak up and out against injustice.

If the “yogic” path is to sit in silence, let everything go and be a little less, then perhaps I am on a different path. Because my practice helped me find my voice, and I’m not about to get quiet and play nice now.

I come to the mat to rediscover the woman I know lives inside me, fabulous, intelligent and beautiful. And if that is what society calls a bitch, then so be it.

I would rather spend the end of my days being exactly who I am, than trying to be someone else. You cannot hide forever. And when you come out of your own closet, you can be brilliant. This is living stronger and with your true purpose in life. It is so much better to be authentic, than to try to be popular, and I’m mostly okay with that.

Michelle Marchildon bio photoMichelle Berman Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, author, and yoga teacher. This blog is based on an excerpt from her book, Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and other yoga media. She is an E-RYT 500 Hatha teacher with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co. You can find her blog and website at www.YogiMuse.com. And you can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com.

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How Yoga Saved Me From the Worst Mistake I Didn’t Make

Name: Ashley Josephine Herzberger
Location: Wichita Falls, Texas, United States
Occupation: Lifestyle Entrepreneur & Yoga Instructor

Photo attributed to Flickr user aadl.

Photo attributed to Flickr user aadl.

In 2009 I was well on my way to accomplishing the thing I’d thought most about for my first 21 years of life. I was going to graduate from college with two degrees, both of which were categorized as high distinction due to my 3.9 GPA.

As I was preparing for my senior year, I had done everything that I possibly could to prepare myself for a successful life in the “real world.” I’d just returned from spending eight weeks interning for a boutique public relations firm in London. I had work experience (international, no less!), a stellar work ethic, the good grades to prove it, and dreams of one day owning my own public relations firm. I was going to be a bigwig media executive.

Around that same time, I started suffering from some serious chest pain. I had started practicing yoga fairly consistently after completing a second 90 days of P90X, and I thought yoga would help me to maintain my physique. Unfortunately my chest hurt so badly that it hurt to breathe, so I knew that yoga was definitely out of the question. Having recently fallen in love with the practice, I was disappointed.

I was also frustrated and scared that I was suffering from such incredible physical pain. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong – they kept telling me everything was fine.

Everything was not fine, despite how it appeared on the surface. In fact, everything was wrong.

I was super stressed. My drive to succeed had pushed me to the edge, and I was only 21 years old. I remember thinking to myself that somewhere along the way I had really screwed up. But it wasn’t my fault because I was doing everything everyone expected me to be doing and I was doing it well. I was a superstar in someone else’s life.

After my chest pain (a symptom of my extreme stress and nothing more) subsided, I dove into yoga even more. I have the recession to thank for giving me a slight reprieve in finding a corporate job. I found one, but for a yoga company rather than for a big PR firm.

In a small way, yoga saved my life after just a few months of practice. The awareness I developed to listen to my body led my mind to ponder a different career path. Little did I know there was no turning back.

Ashley Josephine peacockBecause I worked for a yoga company, I had the opportunity to take a Teacher Training program at a discount. A huge knowledge junkie, I was excited to take it for myself, but also knew that it would help me to better represent the company. I was in the marketing department after all. I didn’t go into the Teacher Training with an intention to teach afterward. I went in with an open mind, willing to see what would happen.

It became quickly apparent that I was meant to be a yoga teacher. I denied it for a while because yoga teachers don’t make much money; at least all of the yoga teachers around me seemed to struggle day in and day out to make ends meet. That wasn’t the life I wanted. I was still hanging on to dreams of luxury resorts, fancy dinners, and high-profile events from my “Big Girl” PR career track.

Teacher Training certainly helped me to deepen my practice with yoga. I became immersed in the philosophy and mindset practices and some more things started to shift. Opportunities appeared in my life at just the right time to set me up for a big leap of faith, which I took in the spring of 2012.

At this time, I decided I didn’t want to work for someone else and I set out on my own as an entrepreneur. I still had my marketing hat on, but it was a major accomplishment to let go of a steady paycheck and decide that I was going to fend for myself. The old Ashley would never have done that. Yoga made me believe that I was strong, smart, and capable.

Ashley Josephine green malaIt has been almost a year since I left the safety net of society. My dedication to practice has helped me come into even more alignment with who I am and what I was put on this Earth to do. It’s not marketing.

The entrepreneurial bug bit me hard, but it would never have had the chance had I not ventured into the yoga forest.

Yoga changed my life in a profound way. My practice pointed me back home. The journey down the wrong road was causing me a lot of pain and unhappiness. Without yoga, I would never have had the strength to follow my passions and live my dream.

I strongly believe that yoga practice gives you everything you need to succeed as you. It’s the education you’ll never receive in the classroom because it teaches you about your strengths, weaknesses, passions, personality, preferences, and aversions.

Once you start to harness that knowledge, it’s up to you to show up in this world and make a difference. It’s my hope that I can do that by empowering young women to reconnect with their own souls and to live the life they deserve. It is yoga that got me to where I am today, and yoga will continue to guide my way for the rest of my life.

Ashley Josephine bio
Ashley Josephine Herzberger currently shares her love of yoga in Wichita Falls, TX, and the surrounding area, through classes, workshops, and on her blog http://ashleyjosephine.com. Her conviction for the spiritual aspects of practice have inspired her to build an online studio of women to support one another in their quest to reconnect with body, mind and soul. Sign up for her weekly Wellness Wednesday newsletter to receive short yoga videos and inspiration for living an authentic life.

 

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Love is Stronger than Fear

Editor’s Note: I have just had the supreme pleasure of spending the entire weekend in a series of yoga workshops with master teacher, Desirée Rumbaugh, and I must tell you that in addition to being an extraordinarily gifted teacher, Desirée is one of the most vibrant, joyful, spunky, and playful human beings I have ever encountered. She is a living example of someone who truly embodies a spirit that shines so brightly from the inside out. Please bear that in mind as you read her incredible story. It is my great honor to share it here. ~ Jeannie Page

Name: Desirée Rumbaugh
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

Desiree and her sonOn October 18, 2003, I returned to Phoenix from teaching a yoga workshop and was greeted at the Sky Harbor airport by my father and two brothers, with the news that my 20-year-old-son, Brandon, and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Lisa, had been shot to death while camping overnight. They were sleeping in the back of her mother’s pickup truck in BumbleBee Arizona, about an hour north of Phoenix, AZ in celebration of their one-year anniversary.

When they didn’t show up for work on Saturday morning, we all knew something must be wrong, but they weren’t discovered until Sunday. There was no robbery, no apparent motivation, and although it was broadcast to the country on CNN and America’s Most Wanted, the case was never solved.

Des kidsI am very fortunate that I have another child, Jessica, my beautiful daughter. This was a devastating loss for all of us. An unthinkable tragedy. An unimaginable pain.

My deepest sadness and fear at the time of this tragedy was that I would never again know joy. I feared that my life would always have a tone of sorrow. I set out on a mission to work in the direction of reclaiming my joy and reason for living. My spiritual journey had officially begun and after almost two years, and thousands of frequent flyer miles, landing into the open hearts of friends and strangers, I realized my son’s death could renew my own life and purpose.

I have been practicing yoga since 1987. I was certified in Iyengar yoga in 1994 and in Anusara Yoga in 1999. Since that time I have been traveling full-time, teaching yoga workshops and retreats all over the world.

I believe it has been the steadfastness and inner strength I have learned directly from my yoga practice that has enabled me not only to survive, but thrive. For the first two years, I was in so much emotional pain that I couldn’t help but share it in my workshops. I shared my grief openly with my students and many of them thanked me for being an example of someone not afraid to be real and true to her feelings.

I travel full-time teaching yoga and believe it is a healing mission for me to go out and share what I have learned about regaining joy after such tremendous loss.

Desiree dancer's poseI would like to let more people know that there is a way to mentally, emotionally AND physically transform the pain and suffering of the past and truly regain motivation and a sense of peace. My healing process was also assisted by a terrific counselor and the teachings of Abraham-Hicks’ principles of the law of attraction. After all these years, it has become clear to me that the union of the human experience with the knowledge of the Divine presence within has helped me to embody the feeling of joy and freedom that it seemed this tragedy had taken away.

The power of Yoga is immense and priceless. I am grateful.

Desiree bioDesirée Rumbaugh is an internationally recognized yoga teacher with unquenchable enthusiasm for life, love, and healing. She blends playful humor with an authentic inquiry into the nature of being to help her students discover their own power, courage, and beauty. Her passion for teaching both the art and the science of yoga is fueled in part by her own experience recovering from deep grief as a bereaved parent. For Desirée, yoga has been a life-saver emotionally as well as physically. With longtime studies in Iyengar and Anusara Yoga, she brings 25 years of experience, experimentation, and creativity to her ever-evolving, outside-of-the-box style of teaching. Desirée travels the world full-time sharing her compassion and her joy with others interested in the transformational power of yoga. She has produced a DVD series entitled “Yoga to the Rescue” and is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal, having also appeared on its cover. Desirée supports the Art of Yoga Project serving teenage girls in the juvenile justice system. She lives with her husband in southern California. Follow Desirée on Facebook here and on Twitter @desireerumbaugh.

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10 Simple but Profound Ways that Yoga Changed My Life (and can change yours)

Name: Tanya Kemp
Location: South Africa
Occupation: Entrepreneur

Tanya Kemp Patanjali quoteI started practicing yoga for the first time on my Wii Balance Board with Wii Fit Plus. I was getting over the brutal ending of my five-year relationship and my Wii console offered me some desperately needed escape from endless thinking and analyzing. I soon figured out that the Yoga practices on Wii Fit Plus helped quiet my mind even more than skateboarding or basketball, and soon I wanted more…urgently. My brother joked at the time and said I was like an addict – ‘chasing the white light.’ He was right in some ways – I was chasing the white light – the Divine white Light that Yoga would bring into my life.

Fast forward a few years and yoga is now such an integral part of my life that I don’t know how I ever survived without it. These are the lessons yoga continue to teach me every day:

1. Every day is an Opportunity for a New Beginning: My yoga practice is different every day. Poses that are hard on one day are manageable or even easy on another. I just have to accept what is happening on the mat for me today. I appreciate what I have on each given day…and know I can start again tomorrow.

2. The Value of the Pause: A friend once described me as ‘quick thinking – fast talking.’ Having a million-miles-an-hour-mind has its perks, but when that chatter becomes destructive, it’s hard to stop the snowball effect. Yoga taught me to pause and be still. I appreciate nothing more than those golden moments when I am moving, fluidly, in a dreamlike state, aware only of the flow of my own breath. Finally, my mind gives it a rest and I become free from its bondage.

3. Expression of my Soul: Savasana has become an amazing opportunity for an encounter with my true self. Seated meditation is still a challenge for me but in savasana I connect with my soul. I don’t think, but things come to me: insights into myself and I am left in awe of what is in my heart.

4. Fear Paralyzes: Challenging postures taught me that my fears and doubts paralyze me. When I doubt, I fall out and when I’m scared to fall, fail, or get hurt – I just don’t do anything. It’s my strategy in life too. So now I fall, I get hurt, and I get up….because it’s so important to DO something – and when it doesn’t work out the way I planned – it’s never as significant as I thought it would be.

5. Release and Let Go: In a posture, when you hold on, you tighten up, constrict and contract, and there’s little room for moving forward. Sounds a bit like life – surprise surprise! Letting go of what you don’t NEED is essential to move forward. The tension is self-inflicted – I just need to become aware of it…and then release it.

Tanya Kemp warrior pose6. Love Thy Body: The way yoga has me seeing my body, is that we’re a team. All my organs, cells, glands, and me – we have a little support group going on. I look after them, they look after me. We chat and listen and I learn so much from all of them because this body knows endlessly more than I could ever fathom. We heal each other, every day.

7. Acceptance: My practice teaches me to be at peace with what is, even if it’s not exactly how I had envisioned it. I will be on a mission to conquer one of my nemesis postures, without progress to get excited about, when suddenly, without warning, I will get into another posture for the first time. Just like that. For every pose that has eluded me, yoga has given me another just as lovely instead.

8. My Endless Potential: I have expanded my body in yoga in ways that had me realize how much more there is to me. It’s a journey during which I am expanding my body, my potential, and my understanding of the limitlessness of being human.

9. Physical Body Improvements: I am no spring chicken but I’m in better physical shape than I have ever been. I am strong and I am healthy. No diet, no starvation, no extremes – just me and my ‘support group’ doing the work as a team!

10. Happiness: Yoga has made me happy. I get an intense sense of joy when I roll out my purple mat and get into that first downward facing dog. I come home – I’m centered and peaceful…and happy. I am being with what is. I am.

Dear Yoga – Thank You.

Tanya Kemp bio photoTanya Kemp is a qualified Psychologist, Social Worker, Life Coach, Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner, Yoga Student and Teacher and Yoga Therapist. Through Tanya’s Yoga Business: Heal. Love. Yoga, she expresses her heart’s song in yoga, well-being, personal development and acceptance, improving people’s quality of life, and mobilizing (mass) action to make the world a friendlier place to be – one act at a time, one person at a time, one day at a time. Join Tanya, and Heal. Love. Yoga’s Journey in sharing Yoga and making a contribution to the world returning to its true spiritual nature. Follow Heal. Love. Yoga on facebook and on Pinterest.

 

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Present on MY Mat

Name: Rebecca Fisher
Locations: Fort Worth, Texas, United States
Occupation: Senior at Texas Christian University

Photo by Amber Shumake.Due to my hectic schedule, I had been missing my 8:30 yoga class so I decided I needed to figure out which evening classes were going to work into my new “big-girl job” life. On this particular night, I walked into the studio and the class was full. I made my way to the back of the class and two lovely women made room for me.

I looked up from my mat and there was a woman who was my child’s second grade teacher. She knew me when I was happily married, a stay-at-home mom, the school’s PTA president, a beautiful time in my life before my marriage fell apart and I was thrown away, to be replaced by my best friend. My ex-best friend still works at her school.

Along with the teacher’s instructions, my inner dialogue went something like this:

Teacher: “Come onto a block and go inside.”

Me: “Oh no. Please do not let her see me. I want to run from this room. What if she recognizes me? What am I going to say? Am I really going to say, ‘I am great? I lost two of my kids. I miss them but they live with Michael. You remember him; I am sure Veronica talks about my family’….Wait! Maybe she does not recognize me.”

Teacher: “Come into your breath.”

Photo by Amber Shumake.Me: “I cannot breathe, Amber! I am in pain. The pain is flooding in. Tears are starting to form. Oh gosh, what if Amber calls me out in class? Will she say my whole name? Wait! I am safe. She is not going to use my married name. I can be invisible. I will not stand out. I will just blend in. Amber is talking about my neck and tension. Ugh, can she feel my tension?”

I finally shook off the inner dialogue and I had a break through. How many times have I listened to my teachers speak about staying present on your own mat? I have never known what the heck they were talking about! I decided to stop the inner voice that was not serving me. Could I let it go?

Then the dialogue went like this:

Teacher: “Bring your shoulders straight up to your ears.”

Me: “I left a situation in which I did not feel love. I have made it through college and not any college, but I chose a college which has challenged me and made me step out of my comfort zone. I have met amazing friends and people. I am a badass and she probably has no idea who I am. I am going to enjoy this class and smile. I am going to stay on MY mat, not her mat. I will focus on my breath and not on thoughts that do not serve me. I will smile and I will have a great class. Can I focus on my core the whole class and lift my toes? I can do it!”

Rebecca Fisher coreWe continue through the neck releases and I hear the teacher say, “Let’s lie back, core work!”

Me: “Woo-hoo!”

I smiled. I had a great time! I held my handstand for ten breaths. I got my big old head under my ankle in head to ankle prep. I stayed on my mat and my teacher even commented on my smile.

75 minutes flew by! I was present the whole time on my mat. And it was a beautiful class.

I left Karmany Yoga that night, a strong, happy badass!

Rebecca Fisher bioRebecca Fisher is currently a senior at Texas Christian University, graduating in May, 2013 with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She is a mom to three wonderful boys. Rebecca describes herself as obsessed with Forrest Yoga and is working on spreading joy to her friends, family, as well as to future friends. She enjoys writing and hopes that her words heal a heart or bring a smile.



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Edited by Jeannie Page.
Yoga photos by Amber Shumake.

The Dance of Breath

Name: Paulina Julián
Location: San Francisco, CA
Occupation: Yoga and Spanish Instructor, Writer, Life-long Student

paulina dancing warriorAt 17 my life was pretty full. I was a high school student, editor in chief of a literary magazine, a professional ballet dancer, a college applicant, a seeker of romance, a perfectionist, a daydreamer, and an anorexic.

My life felt like a fast freight train, going at full speed with a ticket to a destination of which I was unaware. I woke up in the mornings with a highly altered pulse, ready to jump up and take on the world in a rush.

It seemed my mantra at that time was “do everything, say yes to everything, and do it quickly, for you might run out of time.”

On one of my high school summer breaks, I decided to advance my ballet career by attending an intensive ballet camp, with rigorous teachers and other professional dancers. I felt a deep passion as I set out to class each day, and I relished the rush of adrenaline every time my body moved in unison with the piano music. And yet, along with this passion, there was also the accompanying urge to achieve a perfect ballerina’s body, a compelling drive to attain more in life in order to feel satisfied with who I was. I constantly looked at myself through the eyes of one for whom nothing is enough, and for whom there were plenty of reasons to be unsatisfied. I compensated by taking more dance classes outside of my regular schedule, practicing extra hours, and making more plans for advancing my dance career.

My body finally gave in. It was during a rehearsal for an important performance. My dance partner lifted me, and as I landed, my foot twisted and my Achilles tendon tweaked. I cringed for a moment, looking worriedly at my foot, and impatiently at my body for not keeping up with the beat.

Art by Gibran Julian (www.gibravo.com)

Art by Gibran Julian (www.gibravo.com)

“Just keep going,” said the teacher. “This is not the time to stop.” And so, I did. I kept going on my fast train, as my pained body and self-disappointed mind danced along.

Finally the time came when my foot could no longer hold me up on pointe shoes. I reluctantly went to the doctor and after a thorough checkup and x-rays he said the words I had been dreading all this time: “You need to give yourself time to rest and slow down.”

In panic I asked, “But, will I ever dance again?” I felt my entire life and self-image crumbling down to pieces.

“Maybe, maybe not.” said the doctor. “But for now, it’s time to stop.”

I cried endlessly for the next month, as my sore foot and leg lay immobile in a cast, and the life I had planned for myself started to turn in front of my eyes. For years I had taught my body the art of dance. It taught me, in generous return, the art of surrender.

When enough time had gone by that I could walk again, something had shifted inside. I had given myself (or life had pushed me to give myself) the time to look at my life from a quiet -and physically still- standpoint. There was an unexpected sense of serenity in letting go of my expectations. Beyond the fear and nervousness, a deep longing for “something else” was slowly arising.

A good friend of mine saw the sudden change in my passionate drive, and out of compassion (and a bit of worry for my suddenly quiet state), invited me to a meditation and yoga retreat. I figured I that I had nothing to lose. So I packed up my bags and headed for the weekend retreat.

As I sat down to meditate for the first time in my life, I felt myself “arriving” in my body. I felt my healing foot, the sore muscles on my back, even my worked- up brain. Although I had been a dancer for many years, it was like meeting my body for the first time. It was my own body, not the body I had been urgently trying to fix and improve. And then I came upon a long-time companion, so present and yet just now meeting for the first time: my breath. A turning point.

Now, looking back at myself as a teenager, I realize I am not that much different. I treasure art, dance, writing, seeking new vistas, growing, overcoming limits, and seeing things from new perspectives. I am still passionate, and I am definitely still a perfectionist! And yet, yoga has allowed me to let go of the extra baggage that shrouded this passion.

Paulina yoga pose As I move through asana, my ballerina self is present, however she now follows not only an outer music beat, but also the inner, quiet rhythm of breath. Although I never achieved the ultimate perfect body of a ballerina, yoga inspired a new respect and gratitude for my body. Although I didn’t get into the Ivy League college that I wanted, I met the love of my life at my second choice college. And, although things usually don’t turn out exactly the way I plan them to, yoga teaches me every day there is a sacred flow in life: filled with surprise, with wonder, with love.

And during those moments of rush and stress, I now catch myself in the old freight train. Yoga reminds me that I can ask for it to stop; I can step off, pause, and reconnect with my heart: where I can be, where I am enough, and where all is perfect, in its own perfectly unexpected way.

Paulina bio with Dan and kittyPaulina Chandani Julián, originally from Guadalajara Mexico, recently moved to San Francisco with her dear husband and lovely kitten. She is a dedicated yoga and meditation practitioner and loves to write and learn. Above all, she cherishes family, friends and Nature with all her heart, and is a firm believer that life is a cool, rare, and sacred gift.

Paulina shares her inspiration at Now is the Time for Yoga, and she teaches Yoga in Spanish at Yoga Garden, San Francisco.


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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.

Do you have a story of healing or transformation through yoga? The Yoga Diaries™ wants to hear it. Click here to submit your story.

Find The Yoga Diaries™ on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TheYogaDiaries.

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

Breaking Patterns

Name: Anonymous
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Occupation: Mother, Wife & Yogini

Photo by Margie Woods Brown.

Photo by Margie Woods Brown.

I’ve learned a lot of amazing things on my mat, with incredible Forrest Yoga teachers and friends in my community. These women are inspiring; sharing and being authentic in the quest for wholeheartedness and vulnerability. Yes, vulnerability. It’s something most people let shame them, yet on our mats we sweat out more than just the toxic substances in our bodies. We sweat them out of our hearts and minds.

As Brené Brown says, by giving a voice to your story it can no longer shame you. We are talking about her book in our bad-ass group of women that comes together weekly to commune on our mats, sharing laughter, our thoughts and dinner afterwards. I’ve decided to drop my sh*t story and let go of the shame that I have allowed to hold me back. So here goes a bit of authenticity for ya: I am a foodaholic. I have let myself eat to numb out for too long. I am done. Really done. Not just “ok, yeah I do this and it sucks but I will stop…for a while,” but Really. Effing. Done. Continue reading