Yoga – The Greatest Gift

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

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

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Uniting the Facets of Who I Am

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

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

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

Yoga Saved Me. More Than Once.

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

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

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

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

Photo by Flickr userJLM Photography.

Photo by Flickr user
JLM Photography.

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga to the rescue!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Enter the Lion: My First Steps in Forrest Yoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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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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Discovering the Inner Truth Through Yoga

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

Photo by Flickr user AlicePopkorn.

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

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

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

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

Photo by Flickr user dkshots.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bending Towards the Sun

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

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

Photo by Flickr user heraldpost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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