Peace

Name: Debbie Verdicchio
Location: Dover, NH, USA
Occupation: Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist

Sexual violence happens to people of any age, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion and ability. One in three women is sexually assaulted in their lifetimeit’s an alarming statistic. At the age of 42 I became a part of that statistic. I never thought in a million years that I would be a survivor of a drug-facilitated, felonious sexual assault. I had no idea how much my life was going to change that humid June morning as I sat alone in an emergency room waiting to be examined. This violent crime was going to challenge my strength as a daughter, niece, aunt, friend and a women. With the support of family and friends I reported the assault a few days later.

As the summer went on, I suppressed any memory of what had happened, lived my life and tried to move on. My family was amazed by how well I was handling this and they waited for the ball to drop. By the end of the summer the man who sexually assaulted me was arrested and charged with aggravated felonious sexual assault. The story hit the media and more women came forward with similar encounters with the same man. This nightmare that I tried so hard to forget was now real and my life began to spiral out of control; I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown and my family encouraged me to seek help and counseling. Unfortunately, this man never stood trial for the crimes he committed against me and other women. He eventually pleaded to a lesser degree of simple assault and walked. As a result, I plunged into a dark tunnel of depression and anxiety.

That traumatic event that shook my core years ago started a negative trickle effect in my life. I battled demons for years. I was on and off of antidepressants and saw different therapists for interventions, all which helped only minimally. I wasn’t at a good point in my life. I was unhappy with my personal and professional life. I had a 20-year career as an Early Childhood Educator, but my career had hit a road block and I felt overworked, underappreciated and treated unprofessionally. I didn’t feel challenged in my job and I knew I needed a change. Something had to give. I spent countless nights laying in bed crying and worrying about what direction my life was headed. I had no idea where to begin to find the peace, happiness and balance that I was so desperately seeking.

Debbie Verdicchio yogaIt wasn’t until the fall of 2013 that things began to change. A co-worker of mine was doing this challenge called Bikram’s Biggest Loser 3.0 and she convinced me to join her at the studio in Portsmouth to take a class. Before that point I had never heard of Bikram Yoga, the 26 postures, nor the heat. I took the class and thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” During my first class I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe and I lay on the floor the entire class, wiping the sweat off my head. But after class I felt amazing and slept like a baby that night. I went back a few times after and then stoppedI didn’t return for a long time. Actually, it was almost a year until I returned to the hot room.

With the encouragement of two co-workers who had done the Biggest Loser challenge before me, I decided to try this challenge myself. I’m not going to lie, the first few classes sucked! I thought to myself, “What the fuck did I get myself into?” I definitely struggled the first couple weeks of practice; I struggled with my body and the way I looked. After a month of practicing I noticed the health benefits of practicing Bikram Yoga. I noticed changes in my body, I was gaining more flexibility and strength and my clothes fit better. Physically I felt better. I didn’t feel as tired and the plantar fasciitis that was giving me pain in my right foot was resolved within two weeks of practicing. A visit to my doctor showed that my cholesterol and blood pressure were down and I had lost weight.

Being a full-figured women, I’ve struggled with my weight and body image for most of my adult life. But for the first time in my life I have learned to love myself, curves, rolls and all. I found a community where I am accepted for who I am and no one is looking at me or judging me because of my size. The more I practiced, the less I struggled with my body and the way I looked. I remember taking a class with Jaylon, the owner of Bikram Yoga in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and he said something that stuck with me and I will never forget, “There is no judgment in here today.” I began to realize that I wasn’t alone in my struggle and that others were battling the same uphill battle as me. This was very comforting to me.

As I approach a milestone birthday, I am at a point in my life where I am supposed to be. Everything began to fall into place. I love my job as a Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist and it’s very empowering to help others. I’m probably the happiest that I’ve been in a long time and I credit this feeling to practicing yoga. I feel strong, I feel supported and I feel peace.

Debbie Verdicchio HeadshotDebbie Verdicchio is a Child Care Resource and Referral Outreach Specialist with Childcare Aware of New Hampshire, a Child Care Resource and Referral Program through Southern New Hampshire Services.  She is an advocate to help stop sexual and domestic violence in her community. She resides in Dover, New Hampshire with her dog, Max. Find Debbie on Facebook here and on Twitter @debbiev315.

 

 

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Out of the Forrest. Into the fire.

Name: Lizzy Nichol
Location: London, UK
Occupation: Health coach and Forrest Yoga teacher

Lizzy Nichol yoga poseI am teaching a yoga class in the style of a chicken.

I am not a yoga teacher…yet. So just the “teaching” part is challenging enough. In front of me, the other trainees are laughing so hard they fall from their down dogs onto their knees.

I walk through the line of mats clucking and squawking, red faced, teetering between humiliation and hilarity. Between tears of laughter and tears of everything and anything else.

Just when I think it can’t get any worse, the trainer who decided I would teach chicken-style whispers in my ear, “Don’t forget to flap your wings.”

This is a typical afternoon on Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training. Think of it like the yogi military. First you must be broken down before you can be rebuilt. The breakdowns happen daily. Only now more than a year on do I see that yes, I have been entirely rebuilt.

A day or two after that chicken class, I am teaching again. Only this time I am to bark orders like a sergeant major.

Only I cannot do it.

Suddenly I would rather teach 100 more sequences as a chicken than just this one in charge.

I start. I stumble. And then I cry.

There is a saying in Forrest Yoga – “Never waste a good trigger.” Over the remainder of the training I began to unravel the knot I unwittingly located deep inside myself when asked to be a sergeant major – When I was triggered.

Turns out it’s been there since 1988.

I am five years old. My teacher, a young, French, willow-the-wisp woman named Miss Allport is standing in the middle of the classroom screaming my name.

EL-IZ-A-BETH!

The class holds its breath.

I don’t remember the transgression. But I can make an educated guess: I am talking, loudly, when I should be listening. I have declared, loudly, that the exercise she has set is dull. I have told someone, loudly, I think they are stupid and how they can do whatever they are doing, better. I am being a bossy little so-and-so.

There’s the word. “Bossy.”

The first time someone called me bossy was the first time it occurred to me that that, perhaps, was what I was. And clearly this was not a term of endearment. Clearly this thing that I was was undesirable. Clearly I needed to change.

So “bossy” and all its accoutrements went into a box – A box that I would fill over the years with other labels. Arrogant. Loud. Judgmental. Selfish. Each time I nailed it firmly shut.

Twelve years later I would stand in front of a quarter of my school as an appointed head of house and mumble through my curtains of long hair, looking down at my feet.

By accident, it seems I had also put confidence, self-esteem, authority and leadership into that box. Along with all my opinions. Along with my voice.

There was a new willow-the-wisp in town.

Now I am sitting in a circle on teacher training, another twelve years on. The talking stick is moving steadily, minute by excruciating minute, towards me.

[Forrest Yoga rules – whoever has the talking stick will speak uninterrupted for their allotted three minutes on a given subject before passing it to the next person.]

Kneeling, I press one end to my heart and begin.

I tell them about that kid in the classroom. And the girl with the long hair. I tell them how I have realized – just at that moment – that I have been running from my own voice since I was five years old. That I became a writer so I could speak without speaking. And wrote for brands, in voices not my own. I say that I seem unable to form an opinion, sitting permanently on any and every fence. I say that I thought I was an introvert who could pretend to be an extrovert, but perhaps I’ve been an extrovert all along. An extrovert in hiding.

On the last day of training we hug and cry, fearful of going back to our lives where the hard work will commence. Where we must make good on our intentions. Where we must build our broken-open selves back up.

I didn’t know if I would teach. If I could. I had insight now, but I still did not have a voice. I did precisely nothing about becoming a teacher …

Until four things happened in quick succession.

February: My teacher asks me if I would like to assist a class a week.
March: A friend asks me to cover her classes at a well-known studio.
April: I find, audition for, and get, a teaching job in a studio.
May: I fall into (and in love with) a public speaking training program.

Lizzy Nichol cobra poseIn the months just gone I have stood on stage in front of 80 global executives from a well-known charity and spoken for an hour. I have gotten to the final of a speaking competition telling a story about my Grandpa. I have sold out a retreat and designed a workshop. I have been on a radio show. I have branched out from blogs to tele-seminars. I will give my new opinions to anyone who asks, or will listen. And I have taught many Forrest Yoga classes.

It is less than three years since I stumbled on Ana Forrest’s book, Fierce Medicine, at the London Yoga Show and read it cover to cover in days, appalled, entranced, and certain I had found my practice.

I could never have predicted then, that in finding my practice I would also find my voice.

Lizzy head shotLizzy Nichol is a health coach, writer and Forrest Yoga teacher. She helps women reunite with their bodies and get the energy and confidence they need to do awesome stuff with their lives.

 

 

 

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Learning to Become a Vessel

Name: Kim Stanley
Location: Fort Wayne, Indiana, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

During teacher training we were taught that we need to be a vessel for our students. Our teacher guided us through this process and the group did quite a bit of self exploration and cleansing. These exercises were specifically designed to clear out some of our own baggage and free up some space. You can’t be a vessel when you are full of your own crap, right? Practicing forgiveness, laughing, crying, and maybe a little screaming are all great preparation for new teachers.

When we accept this immense responsibility to teach others the practice of yoga, we need to be prepared for our class to bring in anything and everything: failed relationships, body issues, past or present abuse, all the garbage that we humans try to compost into our darkest places and hope that it will slowly decompose. Instead, it usually simmers just under the surface and sometimes, an intense practice gives it just the extra heat it needs to boil over. With all of this barely contained energy in the room, teachers have to be ready to catch the overflow. If we are constantly spewing out our own drama, we may not be prepared to bring in and hold still, what our students may need to release.

Fortunately for me, my particular teacher felt very strongly about our role as vessel and I had tried to listen intently as she described to us what we might have to do. However, I had never actually experienced this phenomenon for myself until last week and I was not as prepared as I had thought…

One of our students, someone I have known for a couple of years, showed up at a class I was subbing and appeared to be a little out of sorts. When I asked her how she was doing before class I was totally unprepared for her answer. She very simply and quietly told me that they had lost their child the day before. As you can imagine my heart dropped to the floor; I felt dizzy; my hands went to my face; time stoppedall of the normal human reactions to horrifying news. Once the room stopped spinning and came back into focus I thought, “Hey, this is not your pain; buck up and be here for this person!”

I don’t know how but she managed to keep it together with just a small tremble in her lip. We hugged and while I was holding her I tried to will my energy to take on some magical power to just envelop her like an opiate. But unfortunately I don’t have that or any magical power.

During class I was consumed with how I should act with this student in the room. My heart was breaking for her and on top of queuing poses, I was concerned that I would say the wrong thing and cause her to burst into tears. About mid-way through our practice, that word “vessel” finally floated into my swirling thoughts and I tried to convince myself that I was being one. I knew I needed to empty out some space to allow her room to do what she needed but I was still holding on to my own junk. I had to get rid of the idea that I had to come up with the perfect words to soothe her, or bring in the perfect pose to somehow release her pain in a physical way. I just needed to be a vessel. A container. A safe place for her to do whatever it was she needed without my own dirt, my desire to be the hero, muddying up the water.

The good newswe made it through class with neither of us having a complete breakdown; maybe a few slowly released tears and some deeper than usual sighs. The bad newsI will still struggling with making this all about me. I wanted to come up with the gesture or words of wisdom after class that would fix the problem; as if it were something that could be fixed. As I am still far from enlightenment, I tend to manipulate every event to answer the question, “how does this affect me?” But I knew, in my thinking brain, that this was definitely not about me. How did I get my heart and my gut, the non-analytical parts, to get on board? This was about a fellow yogi, friend, human suffering an unbearable loss and if I was going to help at all I needed to stop trying to be the superstar. I do not posses mystical powers of healing or clever words that answer the mysteries of life. The only skill I possess is to hold some space free and clear for my students to feel safe. That role as vessel had to trump my thinking brain’s need to save the day.

I let the student divulge as many of the details as she wanted to and tried not to press her for facts. Again, be a vessel Kim, not a siphon… She told me her family had been at the hospital all week, apparently their ordeal had gone on for a few days. After so many hours of crying and sitting in a hospital waiting room feeling totally helpless to help the one person for whom she felt totally responsible, she needed to just come to yoga. She didn’t want to go home and sit anymore. She wanted to take some deep breaths and stretch her tired body. And she knew she could come here. She knew that she would find support, a few words to calm her spinning mind, maybe a few hugs, maybe a dimly lit room with quiet peaceful music. Whatever she was looking for, she felt she could get it here.

With that I started to think about what an amazing place this is! This studio, this larger vessel, is apparently so safe and so comforting that people who have had the worst thing in the world happen to them feel okay to enter and are even drawn to be here. How incredible that this studio, and others like it all around the world, have become a haven where you can take a few breaths even after your very worst day.

The yoga community is what makes this place sacred and inviting. We are doing our small part with our little lives, in our little town, to connect to the bigger world energy. For just a brief moment, every day, we move beyond the individuals that make up this group and became something larger, that thing that is closer to yoga. We make a tiny step toward getting rid of the duality that we insist is part of our human condition and instead, share ourselves through vulnerability; maybe, in this instance, vulnerability in the knowledge that one day this could very likely be us. Tragic things happen all the time. We don’t know what’s coming next but man, it feels a tiny bit better to think that we have a vessel; a safe comforting home-away-from-home to come to if we need it.

Life is beautiful picAfter the class, I was speaking to another teacher about what had happened to our friend and we were both amazed at the student’s poise and level of control. I mean, she was clearly shaken to her core but she was still, for the most part, keeping it together. As parents, we imagined we would both be sobbing, heaving messes unable to speak to anyone let alone attend a yoga class.

Later that week the student shared with me a phrase that someone had said to her at the showing. She said, “It will never be the same but it will get better.” She jokingly added, “I want it to get better now.” We chuckled and I knew that I was witness again to what a truly strong, brave, beautiful person she is and that as usual, the student had taught the teacher. I hoped that I could continue to grow and learn to work on becoming a true vessel and that in time, I too, will get better.

Kim StanleyAfter 12 years as a student, Kim finds the most beautiful thing about yoga to be its adaptability to everyone. No matter your age, physical ability or state of mind, you can be a part of something awesome. Kim completed her 200 RYT from Pranayoga School of Yoga and Holistic Health and is working towards her ERYT. In 2012 she took a leap of faith and left a well paying, but soul sucking job as a software project manager to follow her passion and teach full-time. Yin Yoga is her true love but she also really digs Heated Prana Flow classes. She has a B.S. in Organizational Leadership and lives in Fort Wayne with her very understanding husband, two gifted children, two old dogs and two crazy cats. You can find her teaching schedule at kimstanleyyoga.com or yap about yoga with her on facebook.com/KimStanleyYoga or twitter @kimstanleyyoga.

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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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“Lyfe” and Breath

Name: Joy (Kathryn) Lanzerotte, MA, LPC
Location: Prescott/Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Occupation: Licensed Integrative Counseling Psychologist, Yoga Teacher, Public Speaker

Joy anjaneasanaTo breathe prana, life force energy, is all you have to do. For me this was apparent when I embarked on my yogic path 23 years ago. Movement follows breath. I ended every yoga class with “all you have to do is breathe.”

Then my breath was taken from me.

Despite being a healthy vegetarian, avid yogi, and holistic health aficionado, I gasped for breath through a persistent cough. It was July, in Phoenix, Arizona- everyone coughs and gasps, right? Under the care of a naturopathic physician, I had a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia.

Upon receiving the results of my x-ray, my doctor advised me, “You have a collapsed lung, a pneumothorax. Go straight to the ER.”

I was told to be prepared to spend the night. I was in danger and was not to drive. What? I was trying to comprehend that my breath was hazardous to my health. I entered the ER and waited. The attending doctor, a surgeon, confirmed that my lung was collapsed and had been for at least two and a half months. There was a jelly covering it and my trachea had shifted. He showed me the x-ray.

“How have you survived gasping for air, coughing, and the pain?” he asked, bewildered.

The pain of a collapsed lung was nothing compared to the pain I endured during the insertion of a chest tube. There was not enough morphine, prayer, or meditation that could allow me to escape the invasion of this foreign object into my body. I kept asking, “How can this be? I am not a smoker. I know how to breathe.”

I was admitted to the hospital, to the surgical floor.

Day 2

The doctor informed me that a black spot was discovered on my lung. I became faint. The doctor grabbed a cold cloth for my head.

I have a collapsed lung with a black spot?!!”

The doctor told me that my body would react with sensitivity to all medical attempts to restore my breath. He also said, “One thing IS certain: you know how to breathe. No one walks around with a collapsed lung for two months.”

A second chest x-ray confirmed the black spot. I required surgery. People live with one lung. But apparently not people like me, as I would always live a compromised life. I was given the following options: 1. Go home with a mini chest tube, 2. Go home, take some time, and return to have a chest tube reinserted, or 3. Have surgery to remove the jelly, and hope the lung inflates.

Day 3

Surgery, a flat lung, no breath, chest tube, dry cough. What is the message? It was my first surgery, a major organ, and I was frightened. Surgery was delayed, increasing my anxiety, which worsened as I gasped for breath.

Day 4

The doctor arrived as he did every day. Then he informed me, “You have Valley Fever. You have had it for some time. It invades your immune system, but your knowing how to breathe has prevented you from facing an unbelievably life-threatening illness. Valley Fever can kill.”

The doctor was right, my entire being reacted negatively to the surgery. If things were not grim enough, my body was swollen like a huge Macy’s balloon. I was enormous. My skin was stretched in every direction and when touched, made the sound of Rice Krispies. The medical staff came to view my body, touching my skin to hear it snap, crackle, and pop.  Guided imagery, chanting, meditation… nothing distracted my mind from the sights, sounds, and pain of this horrific disease.

Day 5

The pulmonary specialist, also amazed at the sight of the flattened lung with the jelly, shared the treatment for my illness. It was similar to chemo drug therapy. It would make me sick, disrupting my digestive system. I wanted to heal naturally. My surgeon encouraged me to try a low dose of morphine to allow my body to rest. He said I was fighting for my life with little, if any, reserve.

The days passed but nothing changed. One nurse took her breaks to visit me, to chant and offer me guided imagery. There were more blood tests and x-rays, but nothing changed.

Day 10

My partner contacted a high priestess/minister, seeking guidance. He saw I was giving up, letting go. Unbeknownst to me, they contacted friends, colleagues, and my global email contacts, to partake in a healing ceremony, which was scheduled in two days.

Day 12

Friday, the day of the ceremony, people gathered in my room. They came in silence, leaving items on my bed and flowers- lots of flowers. Before the one o’clock hour, the high priestess leaned into my space and whispered, “Is there anything you want to say, some thing or someone with whom you want to make amends? Anything you wish you had accomplished or completed in this life?” 

“No,” I responded, “if I were meant to finish my book or dissertation I would have.”

Then she asked, “If you live, what do you want?”

“I want to go to Italy to eat and drink as much as I want.”

At the 13th hour, for 13 minutes, the high priestess asked everyone to assist with breathing the breath of life into my lungs, to be held in the Goddess vessel. She asked them to pray, chant, meditate, or give hands on healing to source their higher power. I sat cross-legged in the center of a bed with handrails, supported by tubes, and the breath and prayers of all gathered in spirit.

Silence embraced the room. I was ready to go, to face death. The light was bright and freeing, I felt seven, innocent. My “lyfework” here on earth was complete. The ceremony ended and I was alone.

Day 13

The next morning, another chest x-ray was ordered. Hope waned, the hospital wanted the bed, and my partner was losing patience. We waited. My surgeon arrived to remove the chest tube. He smiled and said, “You are going home, your lung is re-inflated enough to remove this tube.”

Was it a miracle? Did I die? Was I going to breathe without a device?

YES! At four that afternoon, we left the hospital, my home for 12 days. I was not to drive for two months nor fly for three more.

In October of 2006, a pulmonary specialist discharged me from treatment. He said, “Go and live! Go to Italy, fly a plane, do inversions, handstands, regain your life. You have endured the most serious Valley Fever trauma.”

Joy Lanzerotte by treeNOW

I’ve waited almost 13 years to the day to share this story. I have not wanted to relive any part of it nor the challenges. I continue to teach and practice yoga, emphasizing breath, not just asana. I maintain a life-long commitment to holistic health and wellness and never accepted any medication other than herbs and acupuncture.

I have total respect and deep felt love for my naturopath, my cousin, and surgeon who came to my room every day. I am eternally grateful to my goddess high priestess/minister and to all those who gathered around my bed and universally to breathe life into my body, mind, and soul.

Joy Lanzerotte bioJoy is a licensed counseling psychologist, a former university professor and a yoga teacher for over 2 decades, with 4200 hours of training. She has taught throughout the United States, at numerous health spas, and has been one of the teacher trainers at Avalon Yoga and Art in Palo Alto, CA. She was selected by the Arizona Yoga Association as the featured teacher, 2010. Currently she teaches yoga in Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona and nationally. Find Joy on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LyfeworksByLanzerotte. The business name LYFEWORKS™ was inspired by Joy’s father. Growing up he’d teach her, “Life is work if you live it, but life works if you live it.”  Joy changed the “I” to “Y” because the “Y” represents that YOU are responsible for your choices. 

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From Postpartum Depression to Yoga

Name: Lindsay Farnworth
Location: Utah, USA
Occupation: Mother

Farnworth and baby17 months ago I gave birth to my first child: a beautiful, blue-eyed little boy with serious eyebrows pulled in toward the bridge of his nose and a scrawny body. As I held him in my arms after a quick but difficult natural birth, I didn’t feel the way I expected. Watching the movies and hearing stories from other women, I thought I would feel this overwhelming attachment and love for my newborn babe. Where was that magic feeling to connect us for eternity?

A few weeks went by and emotions ran high for me. I felt myself tumbling toward a dark chasm and while my fingernails scraped on rock to avoid it, the fall was inevitable, and I found myself tumbling into depression. It wasn’t constant, but every time I felt my feet fall out from under me, I was lost.

And I couldn’t figure out why. My son was healthy. He smiled at me. He knew my voice. He obviously loved me. I loved him too, but it was a love that grew over time. It wasn’t immediate the way everyone says it is.

I learned very quickly that I was experiencing postpartum depression: a very dark, terrible place that I could not escape. I received counseling but refused the meds. Medication is not a bad thing, but I felt this was a journey my soul was crying for me to experience, not to numb.

Every day, I felt the desire to do yoga. I ignored it. Then, a few months into my suffering, I decided I was worth it. I got up early, found a great yoga practice on Hulu, and did it. It was focused on the heartbeat.

My heart felt at peace. The movements were sometimes impossible, especially without a teacher there to help me, but I used the difficulty to challenge myself to be present. I had to focus on where I was at that particular moment. Meditation afterward also brought me to the moment at hand—not thinking about the kitchen that needed to be cleaned or the bottles that needed to be washed. I was just me lying on a sticky mat in the corpse pose, palms facing upward, legs relaxed, feet hanging loosely.

Doing yoga has improved my flexibility. It has made it possible for me to breathe better. Before, I could barely do a moderate hike; this past weekend I hiked twice and only lost my breath once going uphill. My body is changing. Where fat once hung, I can feel muscle peeking through. It is an awesome feeling.

But above all, doing yoga has improved my sense of being. It has healed my broken soul. It’s almost as if yoga and meditation have given me the ability to climb out of the dark chasm and into the blue sky—a sky that matches the color of my son’s eyes. Eyes I adore the way only a mother can.

Lindsay Farnworth yoga matYoga has healed me. The journey is not over yet. In fact, it’s only just begun, but I am getting closer and I will continue to cherish the way the sticky mat embraces my lonely feet.

Lindsay Farnworth bio1Lindsay Farnworth currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She has a degree in Creative Writing, enjoys gourmet food, cooking as well as eating, and is a novice yogi. She is discovering new ways to enjoy life every day on her blog, http://livingromantically.wordpress.com.


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A Journey of Remembrance

Name: Natalia Chaparro
Location:
Bogotá, Colombia
Occupation:
Yoga Teacher & Health Coach

Natalia arm balanceThroughout my journey I have encountered amazing teachers, beautiful beings, and challenging situations. Even though at many times it was difficult to perceive, it has all been part of a journey towards my own heart; a path of recognition of the Divine in all of its manifested forms; a process that has been teaching me to dance the full spectrum of life’s rhythms: sometimes joyful, other times melancholic and sad.

Now that I have the chance to reflect on all that has unfolded, I see gratitude arising towards circumstances and people that I used to consider the source of my wounds. I can see that the people and situations that I used to blame were actually the ones who pulled me to this path. Perhaps without the presence of painful experiences I would not have had the need to look for something bigger. “Life shakes us to wake us,” so today I appreciate all of the pain and fear that I experienced in the past.

In order to provide some understanding of how I feel now and the meaning that yoga has in my current life, I will start from the beginning of my story. It could have been different- in the end it does not matter. But my story is yet one more example of what yoga and its magic can do!

When I was born my mother was a flight attendant. She traveled the majority of the time, so I grew up spending most of my time with my father or by myself. I have three brothers and being the only girl I always had a feeling of responsibility: I was clearly the feminine, loving caring figure at home.

Many times I felt (still do) like my mother’s mother, which was somewhat awkward and sometimes difficult. But nevertheless I got used to it and that was how I grew up.

When I was seventeen years old, my parents got divorced. It wasn’t a mutual agreement, nor a peaceful and mature decision. Quite the opposite. To my eyes it seemed a chaotic situation, full of pain, crying, and disrespectful words. At that point I felt like my world was ending. My ground felt shaky and I was really scared! I wanted to be there for both my mother and my father. I felt the need to take care of everyone, except for myself.

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney,

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney,

In reality it probably wasn’t that bad, but at that point my system collapsed. I started having a lot of dark and negative thoughts. For months I spent most of my time sleeping, trying to deny my pain. I remember that I never told my friends or spoke a word to anybody about my feelings. I had a deep desire to die, and my body clearly read the message, so it started executing my orders.

I got very sick. I lost almost 20 pounds and as I would only eat sugar cookies, my pancreas started to fail. I was diagnosed with insulin resistance, which doctors described as a very serious condition. I was so weak that I remember I spent hours lying in my bed, feeling how small I was, how little space I occupied and how much I wanted to completely disappear.

My parents forced me to go to a psychiatrist which didn’t had any impact on me. I just went to listen to her speech without being touched by her words.

One day, one of my aunts, who has been a yogini for a long time, told me about a very nice and wise Swami who was visiting Colombia and she suggested that I meet him. For some reason that I still don’t understand, I agreed and went. I just went with no expectations at all. It was a Kriya Yoga weekend workshop. When I first arrived, the smiling people and the peaceful and joyful ambiance seemed very far from my inner reality. But I stayed anyway.

We did some chanting and a lot of guided pranayama. All of a sudden, something inside of me shifted. It was like a recognition of something, of an inner light. I felt touched by pure love, and for a moment, my sense of isolation and fear vanished. It was as if in my breath, in my silence, and in the pulsation of my heart I could hear the sound of life- the music of creation inviting me to keep being part of it. Everything happened really quickly and I didn’t even have the time to fully process the experience at that moment. I just went back home, but it was evident: something was different. I was seeing everything through a different lens. I suddenly realized that life was beautiful just as it was and that I really wanted to be a part of it.

After that experience I started a very intense and dedicated sadhana (spiritual practice). It was as if my practice was food to my soul. All of the pain, the fear and contraction started to slowly move, allowing me to keep walking with more ease.

My whole system understood that I was safe and so the connections with life became stronger. My insulin resistance improved. Contrary to what I had been told by my doctor, I got well without the use of any medicine other than yoga and healthy food.

In the beginning I thought that yoga would be a solution, some sort of medicine and the answer to all of my questions. Actually I was quite wrong. As one of my teachers says, “yoga does not give any answers, just better questions.” I can actually say that it hasn’t made my process any easier, just more intense and profound.

If you ask me if yoga has changed my life, I would say that not only did it do that, but it continues to do so every day.

Natalia Chaparro hanuman beachEvery time I step onto my mat, there is a new revelation, a new opportunity to experience the embrace of something bigger, the ocean of pure consciousness of which I am part.

My practice is a consistent reminder to embrace life fully- an everyday invitation to be engaged and grounded in the present moment just as it is. It’s not that yoga fixes nor changes my reality. What it shifts is my way of perceiving and being part of that reality. It gives me the tools to face obstacles. What I do on the mat empowers me to take responsibility for myself and most importantly to remember who I really am.

For me, this path of constant awareness has been a journey towards my own true self. Through this journey, I have been able to establish an intimate relationship with every aspect of who I am. My mat has become a sacred space where both my light and shadow get to dance and unfold.

Natalia Chaparro seatedNatalia Chaparro, a native Colombian, began practicing yoga over a decade ago. Her consistent and intensive practice was combined with her veterinary studies, both of which left her motivated by her immense love of animals and her fascination with the magic of the living organism. Upon finishing her veterinary career, she met her yoga teacher B.J. Galvan, who introduced her to the world of Anusara Yoga. Since that time the flow of Grace has brought to her path marvelous beings who have left their mark on her with their powerful teachings. The opportunity to learn and share the light with teachers such as John Friend, Sianna Sherman, Douglas Brooks, Kelly Haas, BJ Galvan y Tulku Tsori Rinpoche, has ignited Natalia’s desire to serve and follow this path of learning. Natalia recently graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and is now working as a women’s nutrition and health coach. She is currently living in California, where she has been studying Tantra with her teacher Laura Amazzone, and completing her 500-hour teacher training with Noah Maze.

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The Downside of Being One Tough Mother

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are we afraid of?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo attributed to Flickr user aadl.

Photo attributed to Flickr user aadl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Name: Tanya Kemp
Location: South Africa
Occupation: Entrepreneur

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Yoga – Thank You.

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

 

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