Peace Through Strength

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

Photo by Flickr user Alan Cleaver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Flickr user Macxbebe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace through Strength

Namaste!

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

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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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How I Learned to Love Myself

Name: Erin
Location: Pennsylvania, USA
Occupation: High School Student and Yoga Assistant

I guess I never really realized how lost I was until I found myself… until I loved myself.

Yoga is the reason for my loving myself. Teenage years are some of the roughest years, the time when you are searching for yourself. But in reality, that’s silly… we are one person, we are unique, we are what we are. I don’t think it’s a matter of searching as much as it is about accepting: accepting who we are and then falling in love with the way God created us. I believe that once we can do that… that is when we have “found ourselves.”

When I was in 8th grade, I came home to a dark house and all I could hear was crying. Once I made my way to the living room, my mom told me the news that my dad had passed away. My dad had been in an out of rehab, which meant he was in and out of my life. I couldn’t control the way he acted but I knew he loved us so much. After his death I was ok as I knew that everything happens for a reason and that my daddy was in heaven with Jesus.

Looking back on grades 9-11, I realize now how I tried to control everything, especially what I ate and how much I exercised. Controlling these things was the only way I could feel good about myself. I guess I controlled those things because I couldn’t control that my dad had to go.

Over the past year yoga has become something more than exercise for me; it has become a lifestyle. I used to try to control everything about myself but then my mom taught me, “Who is there to really impress?” I guess before yoga the person who I was trying to outdo and impress was myself. I was trying to “better” myself by cutting back on food, keeping up with the latest nutrition fad so that I would look not just ok, but great. But I never achieved great. Exercising nonstop and eating all the “right” foods was never enough. There was no way I could out-do myself. I was trying to control my own life instead of just going with the flow and letting God do the rest.

After a year of practicing at Evolution Power Yoga, I started realizing a change in my life. I was not sure what it was but it was contagious. I had to go to yoga. Yoga had become a part of me.

Working at a local grocery store, I worked my butt off for a year to save for yoga teacher training. Finally it came. My training was an intensive teacher training (200 hours in 18 days, 14 hours a day). I made friendships with everyone in the training, including the instructors. I learned so much more than how to teach yoga: I learned how to listen to others and how to truly be myself. I learned that I am perfect, whole and complete, just the way I am.

Once the training was over, I fully accepted my body and myself. I was so grateful for what my body had accomplished (3-4 yoga classes a day) and the surprising ways in which my body physically changed. I now feel leaner, lighter and happier, however I believe I feel that way less because of my physical nature and more because of my self-acceptance. I am so much kinder to my body now because I am so grateful for everything that it has done for me.

It is exciting and unbelievable to me that by the young age of 17, I am a 200-hour yoga instructor and a 30-hour Budokon Yoga instructor. Yet I know that this is just the beginning of my life. I have so much love, joy and passion to share with people. I receive so much enjoyment from assisting classes at my yoga studio and I am constantly learning new things.

Before yoga I thought that all life had to offer was high school, college, marriage and then life would be over. And I wondered, “What is the point of learning new things if that’s all there is?” After being in this adult world I now understand how flawed that thinking is. Life is just STARTING! And I am so excited and overwhelmed by all the opportunities that I have. I am so thankful for the strong, flexible body that allows me to be a vessel for this beautiful practice, and I never want to stop learning. I want to keep shining the light that God has given me so that I may use it to brighten the lives of others.

Erin is a senior in high school this year. She is a certified 200-hour Yoga Teacher and a 30-hour Budokon Yoga Teacher. She plans to do more yoga training and massage training after graduating from high school.




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My Yoga Story

Name: Elizabeth Anna
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: Olympic Gymnast & Medalist, Actress, Artist, Author, Entrepreneur and Yogi

I have been an athlete for much of this life, having trained in dance and gymnastics. Quite naturally, from the moment I heard of yoga, I gravitated towards it as a new form of exercise. My initial understanding of yoga was that it was a combination of stretching, balancing and holding poses, all of which I knew to provide a wonderful core work out.

I attended my first yoga class; It was a Hatha class, and there were five other people in attendance, not including me and my friend. We began with the basics and slowly moved through different asanas. As we did so, I noticed my impatience with the slow pace and the seemingly basic nature of the poses. The instructor repeatedly chose to use me as an example of the improper way to do the poses, stopping the class so that everybody could observe me doing the pose improperly. I truly never thought at the time that I could, after 20 years of training in dance and gymnastics, be used as an example of how not to do a basic downward facing dog, yet there it was. At the time I didn’t understand the finite adjustment required within the form in order for the energy and balance to flow freely within the pose.

My first experience with yoga left me feeling picked on, frustrated, annoyed and fairly stretched out. The next years saw me trying out the different disciplines of yoga, all-the-while seeking to experience the harmony and lasting inner peace that I knew could be experienced during the practice of yoga…but not yet knowing how to make it so.

Through one conscious, empowered choice, I “woke up” and life changed. I stopped smoking after many years, with no side effects, no cravings, and no desire to go back. And I realized that “Consciousness” made it so. I read a book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, by Allen Carr, and in the book the author asked me to pay attention to my breath. In other words, be conscious of my breath as I took a drag off my cigarette, be conscious of my thought and feeling as I breathed in the smoke and blew it out, be conscious of my thought before reaching to grab another one. All of the conscious attention on myself was causing me to smoke less and less as I read the book, until by the end I threw away the remaining pack. From that moment on I never desired another cigarette again. Consciousness is Supreme Presence, the calm poise of thought, feeling and action in any given moment. Destructive behavior of any sort shall not thrive where consciousness resides.

“Freedom of Peace”- artwork by Elizabeth Anna

I began meditating twice a day, half an hour in the morning, half an hour in the evening, ever conscious of the movement of my breath in and out. The inner peace and moments of harmony began to expand beyond my morning meditation session and well into the rest of my day. Bringing my conscious attention to the movement of my breath throughout the day brought the harmony of my meditation into every aspect of every day. I was practicing the living meditation.

It was around this time that I was introduced to Anusara Yoga by way of John Friend, the originator of Anusara. The understanding of the inter-connectivity of life and our eternal interaction with the Divine flowed through the very practice of Anusara Yoga. Anusara Yoga perfectly matched my new understanding and my evolving consciousness.

Yoga, the conscious breath, is the vehicle by which the light of God flows in, through us and then back out unto It’s Wondrous Self. The asanas help to gently guide this energy to specific areas of focus to purify, bless, heal and renew the body in that particular area.

What was first a stretching workout, that any gymnast or dancer could do, evolved into a dance with God, a celebration of unity. Now, I practice breathing through different yoga asanas every day, whether it be for ten minutes or 90 minutes. The practice of yoga allows me the experience of resting in the balance point between outer and the inner, the point from which all creation takes place, that place of total awareness, harmony experienced. I have found myself quite naturally incorporating simple asanas, and conscious breathing exercises at different points throughout the day, helping me to re-center, after or while working at the computer, or after listening to someone express anger or sorrow.

The conscious attention to the breath, applied throughout the day, whether walking, stretching, working, or sitting, is “The Living Yoga” experienced; the eternal dance with the Divine, Great Spirit, the Mighty I Am Presence, God. And it is from this glorious place of presence, of conscious awareness that life is meant to be lived. Namaste.

Elizabeth Anna is an Olympic Gymnast and Medalist, an actress, artist, author, entrepreneur and yogi. She lives with her husband and creative partner, Jacob Daniel, in southern California where they  produce music, create art and are currently writing a series of books for both adults & children alike. Two of the short stories can be found on their website and downloaded through the Kindle and Nook platforms. To check out their Wisdom Blog, downloadable art, short stories and music visit: www.OneDropWithinTheWave.com

Follow on Twitter @: EOTL_BettyOkino
Like the Band page on Facebook @:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/EOTL/310124985667090?ref=ts&sk=app_129982580378550

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The Living Yoga

Name: Jacob Daniel
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: DJ, Producer, Artist, Author, Entrepreneur and Yogi

Artwork by Jacob Daniel.

Allowing my own personal yoga to bubble up from within, collect in my heart and then to consciously guide it, as to how it may express through my every thought, word and action – is a much different perspective of yoga than I had when I unknowingly stepped upon this path. My first perspective, which was shared widely among western men, was that yoga was basically for sissies who couldn’t or chose not to play competitive contact sports. My first class was attended in an attempt to win the favor of someone, and had nothing to do with breath, balance, calm or deep connection with the Divine within.

As I stretched fairly easily through all of the poses (I was playing collegiate soccer at the time and was in fair shape), I was marveling at the facts that not only did these people meet in a room to stretch together multiple times a week, they were paying to stretch together. It is safe to say that I did not instantly awaken to the gift hidden within yoga.

Years passed. Yoga enters and leaves, enters and leaves. Each time a little more presence is brought to the experience, as thankfully the difficulty in actually holding some of the more advanced poses offered a degree of challenge which required focus. During those handful of experiences, which happened over about 10 years or so, yoga became less associated with stretching and became a workout, something physically demanding and strangely relaxing.

Years passed. Meditation enters my life on a wave, and I am given an understanding that there is stillness contained within yoga, it is that calm, golden core of energy that I had tapped into while playing soccer when “in the zone.” I understood why it felt so relaxing, even as I moved. As soon as I was keenly and acutely present, the stillness from within would begin to flow out and seemingly guide my movements through an outer hush. During this time yoga evolved from a workout and something physical into something mental which allowed for becoming calm and centered, each time sensing the power that rested within the deep calm.

Next came my introduction to Anusara Yoga and a reinforcement of a major change that was occurring in my life, as my understanding of God was changing and expanding. The underlying philosophy and practice of Anusara is connecting with the Divine within us, and the idea of being an extension of the very energy that is God, was rapidly expanding within my consciousness. I had recently had an experience that gave me great insight into this seemingly invisible connection to the Divine.

Artwork by Jacob Daniel.

While sitting with my love, Elizabeth, I was describing a new understanding that I was given about our connection with God. I held in my hand a large rough-cut crystal. Science has discovered that crystals have a consciousness operating within them, which causes them to grow as they do. Knowing this, I said, “…then that means that if we break a little chunk of this crystal off, we will have a little piece of the Original Consciousness, contained within the little piece of crystal. The consciousness within the little crystal is forever linked to the Original big consciousness within the big piece of crystal, by the fact that it came from there. It is forever linked to it’s Source.”

Understanding what this meant caused me to realize my connection with God, and how it was unbreakable. With this blockage in understanding cleared away, a sharp sensation like a needle pierced through my side. I instantly grabbed it as if I had been shot, yet found to my surprise that it was not painful, it simply felt as if something had been released, as if a cork was removed to allow water to flow. I laughed and cried for an hour or so, feeling a heightened vibration within.

After focusing upon this connection with God with greater regularity, it became a simple obvious knowing that was always in the back of my mind, “I have an unbreakable connection to God.”

My love and I continued our practice with a few Anusara CDs. In between sessions I would find myself stretching more and more, and breathing consciously as I stretched. I was moving based on what I felt in my body. I was allowing my body to guide me into each asana. My own personal yoga was coming from within.

Then one day I asked myself, because I had recently posed the same question to another, “What is yoga to you?” It wasn’t until I asked the question that the answer came and gave me a deeper understanding. The natural expansion of yoga in one’s life, or any spiritual practice for that matter, is to completely fill one’s life with the practice. I had never thought about it, yoga “completely” filling my life. In an attempt to understand what that could mean my imagination produced an image of what life would be like “filled” with yoga, every breath conscious, every movement deliberate. Then I realized, yoga has been the physical preparation for existing permanently within the awakened or enlightened state of being, being consciously aware always of our connection with and the presence of God, union with the Divine. Shortly after this the “Living Yoga” and the “Heart Breath” came forth.

Breathe through the heart as often as possible to experience peace and true happiness and may all paths be showered with blessings and wondrous awakening.

Jacob Daniel is a DJ, producer, artist, author, entrepreneur and yogi. He lives with his wife and creative partner, Elizabeth Anna, in Southern California where they produce music, create art and are currently writing a series of books for both adults & children alike. Two of the short stories and an essay can be found on their website and downloaded through the Kindle and Nook platforms. To check out their Wisdom Blog,  downloadable art, short stories and music visit: www.OneDropWithinTheWave.com.

Follow on Instagram @: EOTL_ElizabethAnna
Like the Band page on Facebook @:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/EOTL/310124985667090?ref=ts&sk=app_129982580378550

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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.

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

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YOGAMOMS… Where Karma Meets Drama

Name: Carla Berkowitz
Location: Miami, Florida, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Producer

Editor’s Note- Today’s Yoga Diary will take a slightly different variation on a theme from our previous entries. Miami-based yoga teacher and producer, Carla Berkowitz, has been collecting stories of transformation and healing through yoga from within her own yoga community. She is producing and presenting these stories in a web series titled YOGAMOMS. In an effort to continue to spread the word about the healing power of yoga, we present to you an introduction to Carla’s work.

Follow the journey of modern-day yogis as they live their lives, all the while trying to reach enlightenment! On YOGAMOMS, we’ll be chronicling Miami yogis as they navigate the tricky balance between material and spiritual, at the same time trying to stay centered. With many of the yogis having had difficult challenges at some point in their lives, they all found that yoga was the road back to physical discipline, mental clarity and turning the most difficult challenges into opportunities to master.

Yoga comes in many forms and styles, however, they all have one thing in common: the ability to combat the stress of any situation, whether it be previously destructive lives, divorces from abusive husbands, or not so dramatic situations as simply wanting to tap into one’s intuition or spirit. YOGAMOMS deals with work, family, love and drama. When they leave the studio is when the real challenge comes…to stay centered and graceful in the real world and to practice off the mat what they have learned in their “practice” on the mat.




Carla Berkowitz is a Yoga Teacher, an Audio Engineer and Music Producer and she has Produced 11 fitness DVDs, 3 of which are APPS. Her classes offer a “Music Driven” yoga experience: Lose your mind… but find yourself in it. Carla believes that the combination of yoga, breathing and meditation pumps the creativity, balances the body and strengthens the power of your mind. Carla’s classes specialize in balancing our opposing energies by turning obstacles into opportunities. 

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

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How I Came To Yoga

Name: J. Brown
Location: Brooklyn, New York, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Writer

Photo attributed to Flickr user elycefeliz.

My mother died of leukemia when I was sixteen years old. In the months leading up to her death, I didn’t visit her in the hospital. I went once but after sitting in my car in the parking lot for 30 minutes, I left without going in. I just couldn’t. I was not capable of dealing with what was happening.

Eventually, I’d be hurried to her bedside regardless: for fear she was not going to make it through the night. I remember the nurse coming into the waiting room quickly and saying, “She’s awake!” Next, I see my mother in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of her nose. My sister breaks down sobbing and rushes to her side. My mother is semi-hysterical, crying and exclaiming, “I am not ready to go!”

At the time, I had never exhibited much poise or depth. I tended to be somewhat hyperactive and scattered. I spent a lot of time daydreaming. Yet, in this most crucial moment, something I cannot explain happened.

In a strange flash of clarity that I have been inquiring to understand ever since, I grabbed my mother by the gown, jarring her present and bringing her eyes to mine, and said, “Mom, I love you very much and I’m going to do great things in my life and make you proud of me. I’m not going to come see you in the hospital again.”

She nodded in acknowledgement and gave me a pained smile. I kissed her on the cheek and walked out of the room. That was the last time I saw my mother.

Photo by Flickr user Kathrin & Stefan.

In the years that followed, disillusionment set in gradually. I moved from Los Angeles to New York, went to college at NYU and graduated with a degree in the fine arts. After I finished school, things got much worse. At some point I got very low, so low that I felt I either needed to kill myself or find another way to live. Fortunately, I chose the latter.

Even after making this choice, I had no idea what to do. One of the only things I could think of was going to a yoga class. I’d been exposed to yoga in college and even in those most cynical of days, I could not deny how it seemed to make me feel better. I liked that it was ancient and sacred, and about things that are important.

First, I gravitated towards an Ashtanga, power vinyasa style. The intensity suited my struggling temperament. I gained discipline and some immediate gratification but was still largely hurting myself, only now with good intention.

Then, I explored an Iyengar-based approach. I became more aware and technically proficient but the emphasis on accomplishing alignment ended up playing into a lack of self-esteem in myself. There was always another variation I couldn’t do, my shoulder was never quite rotated properly, and even though I was somewhat impressive on the mat, I was still in a lot of pain.

Ultimately, I found my way to an entirely therapeutic orientation, inspired by the TKV Desikachar/Krishnamacharya tradition. By simplifying, slowing and centering my practice on the breath, I was able to cultivate a more measured and patient mode of engagement and a different context for my practice in which I was no longer trying to transcend my difficulties but rather was learning how to ease through them and just enjoy the fact that I am here.

Photo by Flickr user myyogaonline.

I didn’t know it when I started but the course of my yoga practice has been the process of reconciling my mother’s death. It’s difficult to explain how doing breathing and moving exercises can, inadvertently, carry with them the weight of facing mortality. Something about bringing careful attention to my breath and body, the most tangible expression of the fact that I am currently alive and the very thing that will be taken away from me in death, provides an experience that lessens the burdens I carry and illuminates life’s inherent worth.

From this standpoint, overcoming the difficulties that life presents becomes a celebratory endeavor and I feel strangely grateful for my mother’s passing. The pain and sorrow I feel because of my mother’s death, still just as powerful today as when I was sixteen years old, is what led me to yoga and to a deeper appreciation for life’s blessings. My life has a deeper sense of purpose as a result.

As a teacher, I get to witness others as they often unknowingly reconcile their situations and come to the same reverence for life’s majesty. Playing some role in facilitating people’s discovery of yoga and health makes me feel that I am of some use and reaffirms everything that I hold dear.

Whenever someone comes up to me after class or drops me an emotional email to tell me how much they are benefiting from their practice, I feel the warmth of my mother’s touch and I know that I have succeeded in fulfilling my promise.

J. Brown is a yoga teacher, writer and founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. His writing has been featured in Yoga Therapy in Practice, Yoga Therapy Today and the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Visit his website at yogijbrown.com and find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/yogijbrown and on Twitter @yogijbrown.



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

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