I Ain’t No Expert…

Name: Emma Todd
Location: Sunshine Coast, Australia
Occupation: Artist, Mama and Student

Emma Todd raysMy new neighbour is a yoga teacher, “or almost,” she says, with laughter shining from her being. I could not only see the sound, but I could feel it in every atom of me, the moment she threw her head back and laughed. Looking back I realise that was when I was first hit by her invisible positive power … her yoga rays. I’ve been infected ever since that moment.

Not that I’m any stranger to yoga. For over 20 years now, I’ve been a haphazard practitioner of Sun Salutations and other asanas featured in magazines I’ve happened to flick through in various waiting rooms. These gorgeous, glossy pages would magically find their way into my bag and have become a little worn and creased and faded, like me. The pages remained in my possession like talismans even though the asanas are memorised by my body and soul. Extended periods of disciplined practice, when I swore to yoga like a new love that this could and would not ever end (because it felt so darn good), were followed by long bouts of yoga droughts where the only practices were hedonism and procrastination in all things. Eventually, with a flabby mind, I shyly hobbled or skulked back to my mat and breathed through each position with love and acceptance and surrender—and always, yes always, within a day or two, I wondered where on this Earth I’d been.

Something mysterious happens the moment I step onto my mat, even when I feel a little tired or uninspired. But every time I finish, I am awake, renewed, and present again. Perhaps the times when yoga disappears from my life in the physical form are just as important and necessary as when it is present, like yin and yang, light and shade, sweet and sour. I can never appreciate something fully till it disappears; I can never see something properly when it’s always the same. Balance has been a dance on a tightrope, filled with high drama, danger, and safety at some point off in the distance. If only I could get there. I’ve come to long for some gentle and sustained harmony, just as I begin to redefine what freedom is.

Emma Todd balanceSo I guess I don’t know all there is about yoga, and I don’t profess to be an expert or highly skilled at it—but with the likelihood of sounding very, very corny, it makes me want to be a better person.

When I’m breathing, I’m alive. Once I begin yoga again after a hiatus, I realise it’s like I haven’t been breathing at all.

When I was told that I had to stop yoga for a period after surgery on my eye, suddenly, despite being sloth-like in mind and body, I was deeply alarmed that I would never be able to do downward dog again. My, did I protest too much. The idea that I may never practice yoga again EVER was inconceivable. I realised how profoundly important yoga is to me and that I needed it in my life.

I guess yoga hasn’t really transformed me. It is transforming me continually, and as time passes and years come and go, I want to embrace yoga more and more. As this slow-moving journey continues, I find I want to go deeper and deeper, not through knowledge gained, but through the greater freeing of my mind—freedom through the physical expression of my body, freedom of my soul through the return to my body, to the return of being present, here and now. Freedom, always, freedom.

A life spent roaming, often fleeing darkness, the promise of hope somewhere new, this time starting over, again and again. The profound dream once had of horses galloping across a broad, unfolding terrain, feeling the earth creating itself, rumbling up through my bare feet, my heart beating hard and fast; feeling the pounding of the earth as the hooves of a hundred brumbies spill out across that wild terrain, mains flying and nostrils flared, getting closer and closer, my ridiculous joy rising with the chorus of their galloping and I long to run with them. I ache to join them running through this place, this world being born, and everything reaches a crescendo of bliss as I experience the beauty of freedom.

“This is freedom,” my soul says, throwing her horse head back and laughing as she runs, her mane flying like kites and I know this is it.

And I don’t know why, but I turn my back on this magnificent scene, and hop into a black plastic garbage bag, with a rectangle cut out for my eyes to see only the clouds in the sky, and I begin to suffocate.

The dream has haunted me. Full of unparalleled bliss and profundity, and a sour ending where I choose to rob myself of breath, I have tried ever since to avoid suffocation, only to seemingly meet my destiny on the path I choose to avoid it. Yet yoga is the path I consciously take now to walk, dance, run in any way to freedom, and it has come from being still and breathing deeply. And it is here I find myself, each day now, breathing, nostrils flaring as I arch my head back and my hair falls down my back and I search for that place in my dream, and occasionally I think I glimpse it.

I choose to hop out of that plastic bag and run with all the wild horses.

 

Emma Todd bio photoEmma Todd lives with her daughter near the ocean where every sense is magnified. Although flirting non-committally with yoga since she was a teenager, last year saw her having to confront her eye health head on and undergo major eye surgery to attempt to stop further loss of sight. A bridge she never wished to cross, ultimately it has been a beautiful awakening that has set her firmly on the path of continuing self-awareness and taking care of her health and well-being. Yoga is now an established part of Emma’s work-in-progress life. Emma is dedicating herself now to her art, wishing to “inspire creatively and be creatively inspired,” as well as commencing the journey to become a Hawaiian Massage practitioner this year. You can find Emma and her art here: https://www.facebook.com/boheme.em.

 

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Yoga and Heart

Name: Steve Abel
Location: Louisville, Colorado, USA
Occupation: Senior Technical Writer and Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT)

“Your next heart attack will be your last.”

Drugged stupor, lying in a hospital bed – still, I heard that.

And I wanted to scream, “NO!”

But, I didn’t.

Quiet – I learned to be quiet.

“We need to operate – you may only have two or three more years unless we operate, ” Delivered in the professional doctor voice.

Of course, if that is the choice.

And, the picture changed.

An afternoon of heart surgery, doctors swearing, drugs making me float.

And, the picture changed.

Stent out of the groin, finally; still pain in the leg and the back, and then:

“You are lucky – you have collaterals. Only about 30% of heart patients do, you grew your own bypass. And you are too healthy for bypass surgery. So – lose the weight, start a regular exercise program, take the meds, manage your stress. And come back in five years. You should have five years. And we will have better tools, we will do the surgery again, we will fix you up.”

I leave the hospital, with five years at least.

I am numb, sick, depressed, and- I go back to work. I have to work. I have to take care of my family: three children, wife, and… I will not relive grandfather’s story.

I know how bitter children can be when growing up without a father.

I know my Dad.

So I start cardiac rehab: exercise, diet change. One other patient there, my age, 34; my buddy in rehab, so young, to be so sick — but — I am.

And thank God for nurses, for priests, and for a priest that pushed me into therapy. Because although the the heart disease lived in the heart –  it began in the mind.

Depression, repressed anger, anger turned inward, grief, fear, loss – loss of who I was, and – I was not happy there.

Working, always working, never enough money for the family, never good enough for the job – I can do more, I can take on more, and then — I cannot.

Now — the — work — is — to — heal — this — disease.

I — HAVE — to — HEAL. So – I start more work, now on me, and

The picture changed.

Reversing Heart Disease, by Dr. Dean Ornish – a book of hope: Low fat diet, exercise, yoga, and support for the emotional journey.

And she listens, my therapist. The first time, the FIRST TIME in my life, that I felt heard, that I felt cared about- warmth of an embrace without touch.

And she says, “You need to take care of yourself, to continue to take care of others.”

And that carries me a while longer. For – if I care for you, will you care for me?

Of course, it does not work that way, sometimes. Perhaps – ever. Perhaps…

So what does taking care of myself involve? And – there is this yoga, maybe a teacher can help me with the shoulder pain, the back pain, the hip pain, the …. pain. And I go for a few lessons, and I learn. No, I begin to learn

To breathe.

And – I take breath into my fervent prayer — Just let me live until my youngest gets out of high school.

So – my children kept me alive, you see. The therapist’s question, as we were talking about suicide, “Is there anything you care about? You really, really care about?”

Yes – my children. My children saved my life – and — I breathe.

And I practice, a few poses — for years. And — I begin — meditation.

Stress relief — and — more…….

Steve Abel sunsetFor me, blessedly more. I am reaching up and out, on my knees, and

A touch comes, a taste of the infinite, and

The picture changes.

Pushed into exploration for ministry, the question “Priest or deacon?” And I frustrated my priest – I could not, would not choose…Until four years later, a new priest, and he says, “Your first ministry is to your family.”

And – I go with that, to serve family.

You give to children with no expectation of return, as father – hah – and even more as grandfather.

And – the picture changes.

Dean Ornish workshop, 15 years later: instead of doctors scoffing now, I have become mainstream: Yoga, restorative yoga, every day for a week, and I am hooked. First time, easing the back pain, easing the hip pain, easing the shoulder pain…

I am hooked.

What can yoga offer? I begin to read, and seek a yoga therapist, and

The Secret Power of Yoga, by Nischala Devi, and

I go deeper.

And – the picture changes.

I touch – new joy, new insight, new frames of seeing, of thinking, of moving.

And – perhaps – I should explore teaching? Share this, with other cardiac patients. But I am not flexible, I am not strong, I am not….. And, a yoga therapist’s words —- “You have the heart for it.”

And — I begin, and stop, life interrupts forcefully, and then – begin again.

Dad is gone. I may not have much more time.

And – complete teacher training, in tears, with tears, and — I am getting stronger.

And

I have a teacher in me.

Needs practice, just keep

Practicing

Keep showing up, and

See – where it will lead.

The journey – is finally – starting to get

Exciting.

I am glad to be here

Now.

Just here, just now

Is enough.

Breathe.

The picture changes.

Yoga – is the uniting of consciousness in the heart.

Breathe.

Steve Abel bioSteve Abel began his yoga journey with a commitment to ahimsa and Ishvara Pranidhana in his teens, although he would not have used those terms at that time. The next big step was his diagnosis of stable angina and severe coronary artery disease in 1988. That began a healing journey with yoga, starting with a few restorative poses from his first teacher, and breathing and meditation, practiced for 15 years. The journey deepened further with guided practice for a week (2 restorative classes a day) and a layoff in 2003. That led to a move and a new teacher, and she led him to the sutras (The Secret Power of Yoga, by Nischala Devi). Steve began teacher training in 2007 and completed a 200-hour program in December of 2012. His list of teachers on this journey continues to grow, and he is grateful to them all. Steve now teaches restorative classes and just completed training in the Yoga of the Heart program. His intention is to work with cardiac patients and others dealing with serious illness; to share the love, joy, and peace that he has found through regular, sustained yoga practice.

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The Logic of Having No Expectations

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

Photo by Flickr user mikebaird.

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

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

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

Photo by Flickr user Amre Ghiba.

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

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

Photo by Flickr user Muffet.

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

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

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

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


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