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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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.

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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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 and find him on Facebook at and on Twitter @yogijbrown.

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Blessed to Be Me

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
The Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Name: Almitra Hakeem (spiritual name, Shantibindu)

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor

I’m writing on this beautiful summer weekend as I spend time with my personal Sadhana (practice) which includes nurturing all of the forms of my being: spiritual, mental, physical, emotional and energetic. All of my tools are valuable instruments: sound, breath, awareness, movement and stillness. With regular classes and yogic studies I have learned and remember that the wisdom of Satyananda Yoga® teachings is exactly what is needed in my life, learning and teaching circles. I’m feeling very blessed to be me right now.

The place to which God sent me, after a loud inner cry for help, was Atma Center. I’m grateful to have a long-term relationship with teachers who hold space for me to grow, and I’m living in a space of awareness that growth doesn’t happen overnight but rather little by little, over time.

“No one else can do your growing up work for you,”  Swami Atmarupa would say, all these years giving me a gentle nudge forward. I wouldn’t be living in the space of grace without my teachers at Atma center, teachers who have introduced me to and taught me how to use our awesome God-given inner tools: awareness, breath, life force, meditation, subtle movements, sound, and many more.

Over the last fourteen years, my yoga practice has moved me from being 75% insane, 70% in pain, 80% physically blind, and an emotional basket case, to being a more calm, less stressed person with normal vision. And from my teachers I have experienced unyielding patience; they have never given up on me, they have invested in and had faith in me, and they have always seen in me that which I thought could not awaken. This has brought me great healing. I continue to learn, to grow and to improve every day. I see this. My heart is full of gratitude. Om.

Shantibindu has worked in the movement arts for years, with extensive experience in dance and Tai Chi. She first encountered yoga in a book store in her early twenties and remembers it as something “that looked weird and made me feel really good.” Shantibindu led programs in dance and movement for children in local libraries, and this experience makes her particularly effective at teaching yoga to kids and teens. When asked why she teaches yoga, Shantibindu responds that she has “an unyielding desire to assist myself and others in attaining greater awareness of living a harmonious life. Satyananda Yoga® practices move each practitioner closer to that awareness.”

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From Spirits to Spirituality

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
The Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Prior to August, 1997, the location at 2319 Lee Road in Cleveland Heights was a state liquor store. That’s right – the kind of corner shop where beer, wine and harder alcohol are sold to those sometimes going to celebrate, but more often going to soothe their souls, numb their pain, or otherwise “self-medicate.” For one reason or another, the store closed and the space stood vacant until Beverly Singh took it on a few months later.

Beverly was a nurse anesthetist, already with 25 years experience in the field, when she decided to take a month-long leave of absence from the hospital following one of those really bad days at work – emergency C-sections, docs not responding to pages, on her feet for long stretches of hours, no bathroom breaks. At the end of the night, when some younger doctor misreported a series of events, blaming Beverly for something he failed to do, she’d had it.

She went home and meditated. She had learned meditation techniques several years earlier while struggling with physical symptoms that baffled doctors. They suspected she might have lupus, since she felt pain throughout the body and experienced chronic fatigue. Luckily, however, a close friend and yoga teacher came to visit her, teaching simple physical, breathing and meditation practices. Within a few weeks, Beverly regained most of her health and continued her study of yoga, growing healthier and stronger as she did. She then began to offer classes in these timeless techniques out of her house.

It didn’t take much meditating for her to realize that she’d much rather open a health and wellness center rather than continue working in the emotionally toxic environment of the hospital. She took a leave of absence, and before the month was over, she had signed a lease on the former liquor store. She had a vision to serve the community of Cleveland Heights with various natural health methods. On August15, 1997, she opened the Atma Center, named after the Sanskrit term for True Self.

When the center first opened, it consisted of a large retail area that carried an extensive stock of vitamins, supplements, homeopathic and alternative wellness products. Various practitioners, such as massage therapists, an acupuncturist, and a chiropractor rented private rooms to see patients and clients. A small studio in the back housed yoga classes. Beverly, known to her students by her Sanskrit name, Atmarupa, taught about five classes per week, while other teachers rented space and taught other styles of yoga or other holistic practices such as Thai-Chi and Qigong.

Within two years it was apparent that Atmarupa’s Satyananda Yoga® classes were so popular that she condensed the retail area to create a second yoga studio. She also trained a couple of teachers in this style of yoga to help cater to the growing number of students. By 2004, the center was holding between 30 and 40 Satyananda Yoga® classes per week. However, the roof was beginning to leak and the landlord was not taking proper action. An entrepreneur at heart, Atmarupa bought the property and proceeded with a general renovation.

The community celebrated a grand re-opening in January 2005, at which point nearly all traces of the former State Store were gone. In its place now is a small retail area with yoga books, yoga supplies and other items to support students’ practice. There are two yoga studios that can hold up to a total of 55 practitioners on mats, or over a hundred attendees for concerts and lectures. A library offers hundreds of resources on yoga, spirituality, and various methods of natural health maintenance. At the back, a modest office area houses a handful of employees along with two affiliated nonprofit organizations founded by Swami Atmarupa: the Yoga Academy of North America, which is one of four accredited Satyananda Yoga® academies worldwide, and the North American Gurukul, which spreads awareness of this style of yoga through retreats and teaching tours.

To this day, over 300 students walk through the doors of the Atma Center every week. The business on Lee Road continues to offer the soul-soothing that the community seeks. However, rather than numb their pain with liquor, people now come to learn how to relieve their bodies of chronic discomfort in holistic, natural ways. Many come with plenty to address: arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease and auto-immune diseases are not uncommon among the students attracted to this style of gentle, health-focused yoga. This is where the true transformation takes place at this address, within the minds and bodies of the local residents. And if any of them happen to leave the location with a six-pack, it is only thanks to the abdominal strengthening postures extensively taught in the foundation classes.

Atma Center was the first Satyananda Yoga® school in North America. Thanks to its programming over the last 15 years, there are now Satyananda Yoga® teachers across the USA and in over a dozen countries worldwide. Currently, the center offers over 30 weekly classes in physical yoga practice, breath work, meditation, relaxation, chanting and more. It has served thousands of students ranging from infants in Mommy-and-me classes to 80-year-old seniors and prides itself on offering safe, accessible yoga to EVERY body, regardless of age, body size/shape, state of health or physical ability. Please connect with the Atma Center on Facebook here. This story was written by Omkar / Olga Chwascinska and Donna Caputo.

All photos courtesy of the Atma Center.

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Balancing Act

This week’s Yoga Diaries are being presented in honor of the 15th Anniversary of
the Atma Center of Cleveland Heights, Ohio.

Name: Betsy Warner

Location: Cleveland Heights, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Insurance Agent

Photo by Flickr User john.schultz.

I used to think I had a stressful life. After all, I was busy. I was running a small business, I had a wife and two kids, and my 85-year-old mother-in-law had recently moved in with me. As I aged and added more layers of stress to my life, I managed to juggle a little faster and beat myself up a little more because I felt like the worst multi-tasker on Earth.

At the end of last year, my life changed drastically. Suddenly I wondered how anything that had come before had ever felt stressful.

Let me preface my story by saying I have an amazing wife. She’s a runner, she meditates, she eats well, she’s joyful, she’s smart, she’s funny, and she’s taught me an immense amount about enjoying life. So it was more than a shock when we learned last November that she had a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer. Without notice, we were thrown into a world that is known only to those who have been there; a world of more questions than answers; a world of Western Medicine and more appointments than I thought possible; a world for “other” people. Yet here we were.

Photo by Flickr User TipsTimes.

First, the shock was so intense that neither of us could function very well. We went from appointment to appointment, but the rest of our life was on hold. We sat down with the doctors and set up a schedule for treatment that would take us through most of the year. We had no idea how horrid the treatments would be, and how much suffering she would go through. It was all so incredibly overwhelming that finding anything normal about our days seemed impossible.

I’d heard over and over again that the “caretaker” has to take care, and it didn’t take me long to understand why. So I went back to my on-again, off-again yoga practice. It brought a needed respite in an otherwise chaotic existence. My wife hadn’t been able to work since the diagnosis, so I took advantage of some free classes I was able to find, and supplemented with a home practice and one class a week at the Atma Center. I don’t think I was feeling able to cope, but I was feeling able to be present.

And then, before the shock had worn off, we had more news that seemed so improbable it was absurd. I found a lump in my own breast. The lump turned out to be nothing, but the mammogram revealed some calcified cells that worried the doctors. After an inconclusive biopsy I had a surgical biopsy. Waiting for the results was torturous, and when the news finally came I learned that I, too, had cancer. We would need to proceed with a lumpectomy to look for “clean margins.”

Had this happened six months earlier, it would have been the most stressful thing to happen to us in years. As it was, I just wanted to get through it so we could put that behind us and focus on my wife’s treatment. Oddly, we laughed about mine being the “good cancer.” It was detected early, and needed very little follow up. But after surgery I was unable to bear any weight on my arms or lift them over my head for weeks. So I kept it simple. I remembered the breathing practices and started doing them daily. I was able to do some restorative poses. Then I remembered the balancing poses, and I worked whole practices around them. The metaphor was so obvious, but those were the poses that made me feel like I could keep my life on an even keel. Gradually I was able to get my strength and flexibility back, and I resumed classes.

When the Atma Center offered a special on summer passes, I snatched it up. I’ve been to 2-4 classes a week since I bought the pass, and I still do at least a brief home practice most mornings. Through all of the insanity that has transpired in my life in the last eight months, I’ve actually felt less overwhelmed than I was before this all happened. I’ve been able to give up the idea of multi-tasking rather than beating myself up about it. I’ve managed not to stress out about the ridiculous stack of medical bills we have compiled. I’ve been able to appreciate what amazing gifts we have in our life. I’ve been thankful beyond words for the help we’ve received from friends and family.

By the time you read this, my wife will have finished what we hope is her final treatment for cancer. And I can’t imagine going back to my pre-cancer “normal.” I can’t say all of this is due to yoga, but I can’t imagine how I would have gotten through this year without it; and not just gotten through, but be in it and appreciate it in all of its complexity. And though I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, through it all I have learned and grown and come to know joy in the midst of intense sadness. I have come to really appreciate that each day is truly a gift. As I continue to evolve on so many levels in my life, I am grateful to have yoga to help keep me grounded, present, and yes, balanced.

Betsy Warner is an insurance agent in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. She lives with her wife, two daughters, and her mother-in-law. She likes to walk her dog, hike, bike, camp, garden and sing. She’s been practicing yoga since 2004, both with a home practice and a variety of classes, mostly in the Satyananda style. Betsy can be found here on Facebook.

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A Bhakti Story

Name: Margaret Bacon
Location: San Francisco, California, USA
Occupation: Writer

Photo by Flickr user Nick.Allen.

Walking to yoga one morning, I was dismayed to see the sidewalk being torn up, right outside the building I was entering. “This is nice for yoga,” I commented to my friend, Takako, over the jarring drone of a jackhammer.

Inside the studio where Angela Pashayan was leading a class in the Yoga of Devotion, the jackhammer penetrated the walls, rising from the street below. It might have been dulled from its two story climb, but it was still loud enough to be annoying and Angela had to raise her voice as she led us into meditation.

There was no ignoring the aural distraction outside the window, yet remarkably, without yelling, Angela was able to speak loudly enough for us to hear her. Instead of competing with the grating noise from below, she encouraged us to use the vibrating sound as a tool of focus; to break up stuck thoughts in our minds and loosen tightness in our bodies.

As we progressed into asanas, Angela guided us to “jackhammer” away resistance. The imagery was empowering as I imagined petty worries turning into dust. I felt the stiffness in my right shoulder being chipped away, dissolved to bits like the cement on the sidewalk, the ache eased and no longer of service. In warrior, the jackhammer’s steady plummeting actually helped me sink into the powerful pose, drawing strength from the incessant hum, breaking through my own self-defensiveness.

When we reached savasana, the jackhammer suddenly stopped, as if in reverence to the dead of corpse pose. Tears of release flowed as I lay on my back through meditation. Like the old, stuck cement, I was able to break up and throw out old aches and pains, resentments and frustrations that needed to go. Everyone agreed that the class had indeed been a powerfully moving one.

Photo by Jason Wyman.

In her classes, Angela often talks us through affirmations in the unique Bhakti practice that she has developed. She encourages us to set our intention in prayer pose, to acknowledge our past when looking back in twists, expressing gratitude for where we’ve been. Reaching up and out in warrior, she guides us to look forward and reach out for our intention, to see it and realize it at our fingertips. And, just as the jackhammer was a tool to tear up the sidewalk, that day Angela used it as an instrument in her teaching. What would normally have been an annoyance in any yoga class became the sound of healing. In parting, Angela encouraged us to use all external distractions as implements in our yoga practice.

One of the things I most appreciate about Angela’s classes is the imagery and visualizations she presents which work as affirmations for me. Two years ago, I was diagnosed with coronary artery disease and had to have a procedure to remove and prevent further artery blockage. I saw Angela soon after I got out of the hospital, tired, bruised and a bit depressed. I also felt somewhat defeated that, as an advocate of holistic health and a physically active vegetarian, I had to undergo such drastic treatment. I was also angered by all the medications I’d been prescribed. In addition, I wondered if, despite all my efforts to live a healthy lifestyle, the arteries would again become clogged. My cardiologist had explained that my condition was hereditary and that my liver produced excessive cholesterol.

Angela gave me a CD of “healing music” and visualization. Knowing my background in swimming she told me to visualize myself swimming through my arteries to keep them clear. Hers was some of the best medicine I took. I continue to listen to the CD, I continue to use the visualization and I continue to practice yoga. I’m feeling very well these days and have been able to cut back on medication. My cardiologist told me that if all her patients practiced yoga she’d be out of business.

The metaphor of the jackhammer from that class has stayed with me for a long time, just as yoga stays with me long after I have come out of an asana. For that reason I am devoted to the Yoga of Devotion.

Angela Pashayan is the founder of Yoga of Devotion, a philanthropic yoga organization serving the needs of children worldwide. For more information, please visit

Margaret Bacon is a writer of Okinawan and Anglo (English, Irish, Scottish and French) ancestry. She was born in Okinawa, Japan and grew up mostly in Southern California with bouts in Florida, Mississippi, Singapore, England and Scotland. San Francisco has been her home longer than anywhere else and she continues to reside near Ocean Beach with her family which includes four cats. In addition to writing, Margaret is the co-founder of 14 Black Poppies, a community arts and wellness organization. She also knits, practices yoga, works with clay, and tries to garden in the fog. You can reach Margaret at

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The Lucky

Name: Shannon Paige
Location: Boulder, Colorado, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher / Teacher Trainer and the Founder of Om Time Yoga and Anjali Restorative Yoga

Photo by Rick Cummings,

I remember being told I was lucky.

I remember not feeling lucky. I remember feeling angry.

I remember being: 21, newly married, vegetarian, non-drinker, non-smoker with my whole life ahead of me. I remember my strong body, strong will, and strong plans for the future as a doctor. And then:


The day I found out Cancer had taken up residence in my abdomen, on my cervix and in my plans, was a day I slipped into a withdrawal from life that was more secretive and numbing than I can almost stand to recall.

Photo by Flickr User whatmegsaid.

I told no one. I hid.

I deleted voicemails from the doctor’s office imploring me to call, to make a plan, to take action of some sort towards saving my life. I sat withdrawn into the seat of myself, the space of routines, as if that Monday were the same as any other: classes, lab, errands, work, homework, housework, horses fed, and sleep.

Tuesday, I woke up and made it the same.

Wednesday, the same.

Thursday, same.

Two weeks passed, secrets intact.

No doctor’s calls were returned. I oddly felt that if I perhaps refused it all, refused it as real, it would dissolve itself into the power of my plans. One night, while cleaning the barn and massaging all the many needs of the horses to be put up for the night, the phone rang. I closed Daisy’s stall door behind me and stepped through the dim light to the dusty barn phone.

Upon saying hello, my mother blurted out, “Oh, thank God!”

Mom? Are you alright?”

Shannon, I had a dream. Oh, thank God! I had a dream that you… You… You were very ill and, well… You died.”

I was stunned into an awkward silence. The once familiar, comforting smells of the barn, the hay, the grain, the musky horse scent itself, all started to assault my senses to the point of nausea.

The word “died” pierced the bubble of my secrecy and suddenly the word “Cancer” stepped from the bubble into the real and demanded my attention like a screaming child. I felt the embodiment of fear and at that moment knew I needed my mommy. Mom called me back from the long pause, which to her must have been insanely awkward and terrifying.

I responded to her, “Mom, I have Cancer.”

My mom fell silent. No gasp. No tears. She simply fell into my silence that held those words finally spoken. I have no idea how long we sat there, hundreds of miles apart.

I was not alone in the barn that evening. In the intense quiet that sat between my mother and me on the phone, my husband swiftly finished his chores. He never looked up. He slid from Dolly’s stall, latched it thoughtfully, neatly stacked a couple feed buckets, peeled off his gloves and left them palm to palm four feet from me on the ledge by the barn door. He stepped out into the night and shut the stable door behind him, closing forever any mistaken air of intimacy between us.

My mom was the first to speak. I cannot recall the first several words as they seemed to be lost in this fog of my mind; then followed a series of questions from my mom and limited answers from myself. The fog in my head began to part with every word I uttered out loud.

No, I did not have a plan.

No, I had no idea what stage of Cancer.

No, I did not know how I got it.

No, I did not know the prognosis.

No, I had not even returned the nurse’s frantic calls.

No. No. No.

This cannot be actually happening,” I murmured through the settling dust of barn’s dim light.

Well, it seems as if yes, it is happening. You need to deal with what life deals you or whatever is dealt to you eventually deals with you.” She spoke so sagely, so calmly, so confidently. I knew though, she would get off the phone and curl up in her own darkness, a mother’s worst fear of losing her child, now a possibility. I knew her tears would fill the entire night’s air. Hearing the first choke in her voice, she stated, “Now, go talk to your husband. Call the doctor in the morning. Go get some information. Call me the second you know anything and create a plan.”

I hung up the phone knowing two things: one, I already had a plan; and, two, this piece was not part of it.

Photo by Flickr User grongar.

I dragged the heels of my worn boots slowly across the old barn floor to the stable door. I looked back across the precisely piled hay, the rows of stacked grain buckets and neatly ordered tack. I exhaled at the straightforwardness of it all, then flipped off the lights and stepped from the order into a chaotic cold future I was sure I did not want.

The night was icy and crisp and I felt it harden a part of my soul as I walked the 100 yard stretch between barn and house, alone. Alone, I walked into the house. Alone, I found my husband watching television.

The pair of us sat together, yet oddly separate, and held the fragile space between the flashes from the television screen and the rush of words from his show. I did not interrupt. I could not ascertain the jumble of his possible feelings from my own. I sat on the edge of the couch and waited. There was so much to say.

Miles seemed to stretch between us.

How could I even begin to apologize for holding this horror back as a secret for me alone to bear? I needed to start with an “I am sorry for not sharing the horror that was insisting its way into our newly established life together,” but the words would not come. Before I could explain these or any of my feelings of fear that were strangling my ability to deal with the rational decisions that must be made towards my survival, before I could even take off my coat and find myself wrapped in his arms, he spoke.

I do not want to talk about this again. You’ll be fine.” With that, he snapped off the television and walked from the room. I heard him slip from his clothes and climb into bed.

I sat there, in the dark, alone.

Alone, I went to the first appointment and alone I went to all those that followed. Alone I had to ask the doctor, “Are you serious?”

Are? You? Serious??

I kept saying the words over and over again wondering if this kind, old doctor could really be telling me that at 21 years old I could die.


No, my heart countered, I could not die. I had too many plans! How could I be sick? I remember cataloging the reasons why I could not be sick: I did not look sick, I did not feel sick, I did not act sick, I did not go to class every day like I was sick, I did not care for my horses like I was sick, I did not pedal my bike miles and miles a week like I was sick, I did not swim like I was sick, and I did not dream like I was sick. In fact, I was described by those who knew me as “with it,” “radiant,” “strong,” and “most likely to succeed.” Adding all of those things together, I continued to ask whether or not there could be a mistake.

I mean, sure, I was tired, but what American girl working her way through college en route to medical school is not tired?

The doctor remained stoic and painfully serious. He spouted off my condition, my prognosis, and my very uncreative treatment options as if he were ordering his usual sandwich for lunch.

Sh*t. Sh*t. Sh*t.

Cut. Cut. Cut.

Was not the Doctor’s oath, “First, do no harm?”

He wanted my pound of flesh: my ovaries, my uterus, my woman-ness OUT. Into the space left behind, he wanted to pump noxious chemicals and radiation. Following this plan, he stated coldly, I “should” be fine.

Oh, and then he said, “You are lucky.”

If I was “lucky,” would not I have skated through all of life Cancer free?

I was not lucky. I was angry.

An enormous question of the most significant obvious proportions bubbled up within me and spat through the stoic discourse he was replaying over and over again for my benefit. Since I clearly was a classic case of denial, “No uterus means no kids, right?”

Correct.” How he did not roll his eyes at the obvious question of a pre-med candidate, I will never know. Perhaps it was from delivering this news on a frequent basis and dealing with shock at similar repetition.

You can always adopt.”

Let me be clear: I never wanted kids. I had too many plans to want kids. A Peace Corp doctor does not have kids; she changes the world in other ways. I wanted to leave my mark in those ways. I wanted to travel and travel and travel and a child in tow would have compromised that freedom. So, I married a man who did not want kids. In the blueprint of my future, I had clearly, already, and completely ruled children out of the plan.

So, why this? Why now? Why this unbelievable line of questioning crossing my brain, my heart, and my lips? Should I not hand them over my uterus and a thank you card for securing a “birth control free” future for me?

In that moment, life got very hard. Everything I thought I had planned to the “T” came into question. Everything I was sure of just a month ago was now cataclysmically unsure.

Do I just want what I cannot have? Am I just mourning the loss of my feminine powers with the loss of my womb? I questioned my soul. She did not answer. Perhaps she could not answer. I think she was as stunned as I.

The plans I have spent an entire life dreaming into order shattered around me, within me and beneath me. I began to feel sick. I began to feel fear. Questions were growing inside me at the same rate as the tumor.

What are my other options?”

There are no other options. Miss. I am not here to negotiate your options. I am here to state your plan to optimize your survival.” He stared me down. I felt smaller and smaller with every breath I could not breathe.

I scheduled the surgery only to cancel it from home hours later.

I begrudgingly did some research and found another doctor. He was nice enough. He was gentle enough. But most importantly, he was creative enough to buy me some time with my uterus. He agreed to some options the other doctor had not offered. There were several marginal surgeries, not recommended, but potentially effective enough: take the tumor off and leave the uterus, and follow it with an aggressive chemotherapy, an experimental drug. I might end up sterile anyway, but at least it was a gamble of sorts. He even suggested that perhaps my boldness could save other women and their unborn children for years to come. He agreed to let me keep the uterus I was unsure I ever had any plans of using.

Photo by Flickr User Peyman.

It seemed as though the day after the first surgery, the rain came. I remember that spring being the grayest spring I had ever seen. It just would not stop. Every day was a more dismal shade of gray. Several rainy weeks and painful surgeries later, a shower drain full of the hair that was once on my head, and a growing intolerance for anything I once considered food, I began to feel my bitterness growing against each gray dawn that followed the night.

Still, I got myself up and out of bed every morning and made myself choke down some toast and peppermint tea. I would sit and watch television and cry until I had to head into the clinic for a treatment or go make a feeble attempt to sit through a class or two. I would cry for lives on television that seemed so simple. For every emotional situation that arose, every illness, every loss, the story seemed to wrap itself up thoughtfully in 30, 60, or 90 minutes. I longed to wake up from this dream and find out my life was really a sitcom and I had just missed some lines.

I cried for hours throughout the morning. I cried for the pain in my body, the loneliness in my heart, and the seemingly cold silence in my soul.

I cried for the marriage that was slowly dissolving itself into memory, as he avoided me and I avoided me. There was less and less “we” to even avoid.

I cried for the energy I used to feel driving me in the direction of my dreams.

I cried for all of that energy rerouted in order to fake smiles to my husband, muster cheery voices to ensure my family I was on the mend, and convince everyone that, indeed, I was surely “lucky.”

I wondered if I would cry forever.

At the end of that rainy, tear-stained spring, I found myself sitting like a shadow in the doctor’s office; nauseated and limp, I awaited my fate.

Well, it is not working. Our options have ceased to present themselves as viable. We need to schedule a full hysterectomy and follow with a course of radiation.” The doctor stated this as he filtered through some papers on his desk. He did not even look at me while he delivered the news. I felt like an after-thought’s after-thought.

No,” I muttered, “There must be another way.”

I am sorry,” he looked up from the papers and into my eyes, “We’ll give you all of the pain killers in the world little girl, but you are not going to make it unless the uterus comes out. If you refuse this surgery, you will die.”

Vomit boiled up inside of me. The foul volume of anger, fear, and frustration rose within my being and then angrily found its way out of my system, spraying across his desk, his papers, and his plans.

You’re fired,” I spat. The nurse fought back laughter, as she collected me and my things to steady me on my way out the door. She walked me to the ladies’ room and cleaned me up. She stayed with me and held me while I cried and cried and cried.

Upon leaving that office for the last time, I felt a surge of desperation flow through me. I needed my mommy. Upon returning home, urgently wanting connection with her, I returned to the scene of the crime. I walked into the barn and called her.

I told her of my loneliness and my hopelessness and the words the doctors all shared. She helped me gather my feelings and then she spoke, “We’re going to see the Pope.”

Huh?” I thought.

It was not a completely random statement. My minor was in Roman art and archeology. Perhaps she was trying to get me to a place of inspiration so that I would continue to fight. Further, my mother was a former Catholic and was perhaps turning towards a God she once felt as a strong presence in her life. Granted, she was kicked out of the Church over 20 years prior for divorcing a man who refused to uphold the sanctity of their marriage. Maybe she wanted to pick that bone in person and knew that I would gladly go to battle for her. Or, perhaps, the desperation to try anything to save her daughter’s life was softening her anger at God and the Church.

The next several weeks were a blur of preparations and growing excitement. It was the first time I had felt inspired in months. Though the chemo’s nauseating effects were still prominent in my system, I packed, I planned again, and I hoped.

My mother’s growing faith and generosity held me in my fragile state. She drained her savings along with her fear in the hope that this Pope could work a miracle. I saw her step from fear into belief as we walked from the plane into a power space of antiquity. Perhaps my mother was right. Perhaps a holy place could bring about a miracle. Perhaps I would be healed.

We toured Rome for 10 days. We saw into every corner of the place. We saw every sight and statue and column. We laughed and ate pizza and sipped wine in amazing alley restaurants we could not find the next day.

Wednesday finally came and we loaded ourselves onto a bus for the Vatican. Wednesday is the day that the Pope blesses the world. I was thrilled to learn that if you are a devoted Catholic, the world starts over at noon on Wednesdays. We walked across black obsidian cobblestones. We gazed up at all of the looming statues that lined the buildings binding Saint Peter’s square, with eyes wide in disbelief at the magnitude of beauty around us. The square is enormous and can hold tens of thousands of people. One building had a long red banner hanging down from a window that clearly indicated that this would be the spot from which the Pope would address those gathered.

Photo by Flickr User Rubber Dragon.

Where do you want to stand?” My mother asked me.

I looked around at the entire square and the sheer number of buses pouring people into the space. My eyes fell upon a group of young Polish nuns who were clearly giddy with excitement at seeing the pope. I guess the Pope to them is like Sting to me. They were abuzz with the anticipation of fans at a rock concert. I expected them to light candles and do the wave.

There! If he is going to see anyone, he will see them!” I grabbed my mother’s hand and we walked towards them. We set up our little camp and waited. The sun began to heat the marble beneath our feet and the people began to fill in all the spaces that were once air around us.

Noon struck. The Pope came to the window and waived. He spoke and blessed in nine different languages. When he spoke in Polish, he acknowledged the women to our left and they went crazy, jumping up and down and waving at him. He spoke of love and peace and kindness. He spoke for about an hour and then made his farewells and slid from the window back inside. It was over.

My mother spun me towards her and questioned me deeply, “How do you feel?”

She was not worried about the heat, she was inquiring into how one feels when one has been bestowed the grace of divine, miraculous healing.

I did not feel any different. I felt the same. Apparently nothing happened.

Photo by Flickr User Valerie Everett.

Her strength of newly reclaimed faith was about to be shattered, when the world around me began to spin. The world within me began to spin. I grew dizzy from my feet to my face. I crumbled beneath myself and headed to the earth. My fall was stopped by an older nun. She knelt on the ground with me and held me across her lap as my mother scrambled towards me with her water bottle. I was half in and half out of the world.

The nun smiled gently, stared into my eyes with hers, glowing with compassion. Dobra,” she spoke as she traced the sign of the cross on my forehead. She passed me thoughtfully over to my kneeling and sobbing mother who held me close to her.

In an instant, the flurry of people exiting the square and the heat swelled around us. Several young nuns helped walk us toward our bus, steadying me on my legs. My mother and I looked and looked around and could not see the older woman who had caught me from my fall. She had vanished.

Sitting on the bus, sipping water, my mother spoke, “Dobra means ‘good’ in Polish.” How interesting that my mother, though a woman of Polish descent, knows very few Polish words. But she knew this one.

Good.” I wondered what she meant. I did not feel good. I did not look good. The situation of collapsing in a crowd is not generally a good thing. What did she mean? We flew home a few short days later.

Once home, I cracked deeper into myself and continued to feel more and more withdrawn. The energy of answering the basic “How are you” and watching a person’s face fall when I answered them honestly took its toll in such a way that I initially started lying. I would respond with a quick “Great, really feeling on the mend,” “stronger every day,” “the chemo is working!” You believe they want these words. You believe that cancer should not have them as a victim too. They take these words and smile and with pity, look past your swollen eyes and do not believe a word of it.

After a while, you feel as though the lies are not serving them. So you stop answering the phone. Eventually, those closest to you stop asking and start holding your hand, silently screaming for help from a God they simultaneously question for his cruelty.

In the worst of it, before Rome, I went to a support group for individuals living with Cancer. I met some of the most amazing and inspirational beings on the planet. They would speak, with bald heads a-shining, about how Cancer has changed their lives and how they no longer sweat the small stuff. They would very clearly describe how every day is a gift. They would talk about how “lucky” they were. No matter how bad things got for them, they held grace in a moment they referred to as “now.”

The larger part of me wanted to scream “BULLSH*T” at the top of my lungs and point out the injustice they had been dealt. The smaller part of me hid in the back, cried, and was unwilling to engage in conversation. I returned to the group only a handful of times more. The smaller part of me was stronger. I contemplated for hours how these people could cheerlead for Cancer in their lives. Cancer shattered my sense of self. Cancer shattered the “me” I knew so clearly and the “me” I knew I wanted to become. Cancer was even challenging the child I never knew I might somehow possibly want.

I recounted this in the initial meeting I had with the new Grandma-type, Birkenstock-wearing, Boulder oncologist that agreed to take my case. I believe that this goddess, with a flowing gray mane, saved my life in this first meeting. She saved my life not by pulling out a vile of magic potion locked up in her top drawer, reserved for only the most depressed and pitiful of cancer patients.

Instead, she saved my life with her ears. She listened to me.

She listened well past the amount of time I am sure she had scheduled for me. Once I found myself talking to her and delving into the silence of my soul, I could not stop. My soul sprang forth and it had a lot to say. My soul and I had a lot of tears to cry. After I was out of tears and words and Kleenex, she spoke and her words blanketed me in comfort, Life never goes as planned. Twenty-year olds learn this the hard way, and do you know that they are called when they learn this about life? Thirty. Let’s get you to thirty.”

First, before we discuss any medical plan, we need to get you to stop feeling so sorry for yourself. We need to connect your heart and mind back to your body.”

Yes, Cancer sucks; however, I feel strongly that this life needs you to be of service to someone other than your anger and fear.”

I swallowed hard.

Medically, your previous treatments show you to be in remission. As renegade as those treatments were and against protocol, congratulations! The danger is, with Cancer, no one can really tell you why one cell suddenly shifts its memory and decides not to die and becomes Cancer. Oddly too, we have no clear answer as to how we turn that cell’s memory around. I do know, however, that for us to keep you in remission, we have work to do.”

She stepped from behind her desk and padded her well worn cork soles over to a file cabinet. She pulled from a drawer an amazingly overstuffed file. She planted it steadily on the desk and pronounced, “You are going to start volunteering and you are going to take yoga.”

I flipped through the fat file she slid in front of me and marveled at how many brochures for saving the world this woman had collected. I was drawn to an organization’s pamphlet that had a child on a horse, grinning ear to ear, with the horse led by two proud adults on either side. The organization was local and it focused on teaching children with disabilities how to horseback ride. By learning to ride, these children connected deeper into a joy of self and an integration of mind, body, and spirit not previously available to them.

Those kids will change your life,” she said as she observed me reading the inside of the colorful flyer.

I looked up meekly and smiled weakly.

She walked me to the door and handed me a card and a schedule to a local yoga studio. The business card was for a surgeon, “just in case.” She was direct, but not too direct. I liked her.

I found myself awake the next morning at least hopeful that the heaviness of the depression would be absent. No such luck. I found the gray weight of fear and anger and sadness still intact. I made a deal with myself to call the organization for which I would be volunteering and schedule my orientation. I further made a deal with myself to check out this recommended yoga thing.

Over my tea, I perused the yoga class schedule and list of class descriptions. I have always been very athletically inclined. I played sports as child, I took dance and gymnastics in school, rode horses my whole life and raced my bike as an adult, so when looking at a yoga schedule, I passed right over the “beginning” classes and the “level one” classes and headed straight to the “level two” and “intermediate” offerings. How hard could they be, right?

I dragged myself into the car and headed to the studio. Once there and in the door, I noticed that people were all filing into the studio around me carrying their own mats. I did not have a mat. I saw this immediately as a great reason to go home, right? The instructor saw me and offered me hers. She helped me get signed in and placed my mat on the floor.

She gave a brief introduction with a philosophical flare about the ending really being the beginning and a connection of all things to all things. She then instructed us to lie down on our mats and close our eyes. I felt a wave of connectivity and relaxation roll over and through me and I fell instantly and deeply asleep. I awoke to a rhythmic collection of thuds and looked around to some gentle smiles. Everyone was flowing one posture to the next on their mats in a fluid precise dance of arms, legs, and breath. I scrambled to my feet and attempted to follow along.

Easy, it was not. The postures were complex and the postures linked one to the next were so difficult to coordinate to the breath. I was exhausted as we lay down again for the final resting pose, although I made a deal with myself to stay awake this time. This rest was inspiring; I felt the moving of my cells inside in concert, doing their jobs with vibrancy and grace. I had not felt vibrant and graceful in months and months. Emerging from the rest posture many moments later, I acknowledged that I felt refreshed. I walked from the studio straight on a search to buy my own yoga mat.

Photo by Flickr User tiffany assman.

Every day I went to yoga and people began to smile at me. I began to smile back. No one smiled past my eyes with pity. Here I was regarded as well rather than sick. Here I was becoming more and more well. Sickness was becoming a memory.

I enjoyed seeing my new doctor for tests and follow ups and discussions. I enjoyed telling her about my volunteer work walking the horses while the children with autism rode and thrived. I enjoyed telling her about my first yoga class when I arrived to a level two class prepared to be bored out of my skull and was instead challenged beyond belief! I realized that her prescription was beginning to work, I was beginning to “enjoy” again.

Her smile at the end of my tales gently turned into the most compassionate pause in time. I knew something was about to be said that was not what I wanted to hear. However, I felt strangely prepared. I felt strangely centered. I felt my soul reach forward and hold my hand.

It appears as though the Cancer is fairly determined. Let’s talk.” She did not drop her eyes from mine. I nodded and held her gaze.

Yes, let’s talk.”

We talked for a long time about the effects of the surgery and what our limited options were for removing the uterus given the nature of the Cancer’s return. We spoke at length about the options of this drug over that drug and what radiation might feel like. At the close of the meeting, we had woven a plan. From the back of my day planner, I drew the card of the surgeon she had handed me, “just in case.” This man was now the one who would hold the delicacy of our newly woven plan. I felt ready to trust.

I sat before his desk the following afternoon. Nice desk. I made a mental note to myself to not throw up on it. I saw many smiling faces of women and children shining back at me from the numerous pictures he had adorning the walls of his office. Interesting, I thought to myself, this is where I remember degrees and accolades had been posted for other doctors; he was clearly inspiring a different type of confidence.

He stepped into the office and I melted my gaze from the photos slightly embarrassed as if I may have been invading his doctoral privacy. He just smiled at me in the same steadiness that the women and children in the photos smiled at us both. I felt held in a collective smile.

He was young. He was very young. He wore a CU sweatshirt and scrubs and carried an enormous latte. He did not sit behind the desk across from me, but rather sat on the edge of the desk immediately in front of me.

We talked easily about many things: school, my hopes, my dreams, and finally my fears.

What are you really afraid of?” He asked me this in response to the laundry list of fears I had just shared with him.

From concealment into full revelation, the answer came forward from my lips, “I do not know, maybe everything.”

Do you think that is why you have been so determined to keep your uterus? With the uterus gone, you are more likely to live a long, healthy life not knowing.”

I answered back, “Well, what about love? What about loving and letting others love me and not knowing if I will live or die?”

He looked through my eyes and spoke, “What about love? Love as hard as you can.”

From this, we talked about kids and possible adoption and my volunteer work at the riding center. He was right, if I really loved children and it really was my calling, I would find a way. A uterus, does not a mother make. We talked about yoga and this growing connection I was feeling between my heart, my mind, and my body.

As we talked, I began to merge my past forward into my future. I felt suspended on the fabric of NOW and I began to want to live in a space of not knowing. I began to feel the nameless fear fall silent into the pencil thin shadows cast by the light of this revelation. I began to breathe a deeper breath.

I left his office with a surgery scheduled as an appointment I would keep. I sat in the car in his parking lot and thought and thought. I think I sat for hours. I thought about the person I was before the diagnosis, the person I became through the process of fighting the disease, and the person I could choose to become once I became committed to participating in my own survival. The bitterness melted, as the heat of the sunshine warmed the car and my awareness warmed my heart.

I drove to my yoga class and began to move. I creatively moved between one pose and the next as the breath led the way. A sense of calm rolled through me as the next breath came and the next and the next.

I felt “lucky.”

I have been Cancer free now for years and years. I left the pre-med track and began wholeheartedly to study yoga, comparative religions and their art and I find myself studying still. I delved from yoga teacher training to yoga teacher training and I continue to practice, study, and teach every day. I feel blessed to have met some of the most amazing life explorers on a completely different path than I ever thought I would walk.

Photo by Rick Cummings,

I felt the strength to say goodbye to one marriage and hello to another. The man I drew into my heart is a man whom I love every day as hard as I can. I have no idea what tomorrow will hold, but today is pretty incredible.

A couple of years ago, my sweet husband and I sat together, hand in hand, on our yoga studio floor before our philosophy teacher and the topic of miracles arose. My ears perked up at the sheer mention of miracles and the questioning of miracles. What did happen to me in the square of Saint Peter? My mother found her faith strongly that day. She was as certain as the day is long that there was an unseen force that knew to plop a nun, or an angel, right next to me to catch me as I fell and remind me of my intrinsic goodness. She believed in a miracle that resulted in the word “remission” upon my return to the United States.

I wondered. No one was ever able to tell me what plunged me into remission when the doctor was so convinced he could hear my death rattle before I decorated his desk with my breakfast. Was it luck that I am still alive? Was I really just lucky? Similarly, after meeting the most compassionate doctor that set me on the path to self-love and wellness, no one could ever tell me why I started to come out of remission. Was it luck? Was I really just lucky?

I wondered. If the nun was luck, or rather a miracle, do miracles have time limits? And if so, when will mine expire? Did I do something to unseat luck or piss it off to initially get cancer? What would happen if there were no certainties in the world at all and every time you lit a match, it was not fire you got, but a random miracle: sometimes fire, sometimes rain, sometimes bananas, sometimes monkeys, and sometimes glue. I bet we would eventually stop lighting matches.

I wondered. Perhaps there is no plan, no design, just luck. However, the wondering in me no longer raised fear, but rather an ever more interesting level of faith. I did not know. I found that I was strangely comforted by not knowing, but instead believing in the good and feeling a warming to effort in the direction of the good.

Shook from my mental wanderings, our professor began to speak, and to discuss “miracles.” He began a story:

There was a television interview of a Belgian bike racer in the Tour du France. The racer was not favored to place or to win. He had some horrid days of hanging on and flattening a tire here and there and then out of the blue he had a day of exceptional performance. He won the stage and amazed the on lookers. Everything seemed to go his way. The very next day he flattened and lost time, in fact, he lost a lot of time; however, he did not give up and came across the finish line dead last. The reporter questioned him on his inconsistency. He asked if it was a miracle the day prior. The racer looked at him and shook his head.No, sometimes you just have the lucky and sometimes you don’t. You still have to pedal. Yesterday, I had the lucky. Tomorrow, I hope I have the lucky.’”

That I ever got Cancer in the first place was certainly not good luck. I could not praise it; what an awful and terrible disease. However, it radically changed the direction of my life. Cancer made me want to quit and lie down and melt into the memory of my dreams. It shook me off my plan and opened me to the possibilities of more than one plan. It opened me to the creative evolution of the revolution of all of the time I might have on this planet.

Photo by Rick Cummings,

In that moment, on that studio floor, an epiphany was born to me that drew my life deeper into itself: today, I have the lucky. Life is a creative and organic dance of “The Lucky.” I am so blessed. I have one more day. I have the ability to love as hard as I can and direct my life in the direction of my dreams, as long as I do not give up. I have no idea what may happen to me and those I love as time flows through itself; however, I am not afraid. It was not a child that I needed to bear, it was not a doctor that I needed to become, it was a life purpose that was fighting its way from the source of me to the surface. A love of life bubbled from inside of me into experience and into existence. Life, through me, wanted to prove how strongly it desires to live. I am grateful. I am engaged in the daily experience even more so than before. Perhaps through the lives I now touch, I can inspire this insight. Today, now, I have the lucky.

Living fully as an author, sacred activist, motivational speaker, dedicated teacher of Shiva Rea’s Prana Flow, and founder of Anjali Restorative Yoga; Shannon Paige is an expressive student of the symbolic nature of Tantra and mystic poetry. She interweaves her student’s unique purpose driven inspiration into the divine play of body and breath to unlock the secret wisdom held within the heart. Her classes are dedicated to a sense of mystery and wonder within a vinyasa of self-honoring, self-cultivation, and radical self-participation. Shannon is the founder and director of om time yoga centers, tours, teaches and speaks nationally and internationally. Shannon can be found here on Facebookand on Twitter at @shrishrishri.

Bio photo by Rick Cummings,

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