Love is Stronger than Fear

Editor’s Note: I have just had the supreme pleasure of spending the entire weekend in a series of yoga workshops with master teacher, Desirée Rumbaugh, and I must tell you that in addition to being an extraordinarily gifted teacher, Desirée is one of the most vibrant, joyful, spunky, and playful human beings I have ever encountered. She is a living example of someone who truly embodies a spirit that shines so brightly from the inside out. Please bear that in mind as you read her incredible story. It is my great honor to share it here. ~ Jeannie Page

Name: Desirée Rumbaugh
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

Desiree and her sonOn October 18, 2003, I returned to Phoenix from teaching a yoga workshop and was greeted at the Sky Harbor airport by my father and two brothers, with the news that my 20-year-old-son, Brandon, and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Lisa, had been shot to death while camping overnight. They were sleeping in the back of her mother’s pickup truck in BumbleBee Arizona, about an hour north of Phoenix, AZ in celebration of their one-year anniversary.

When they didn’t show up for work on Saturday morning, we all knew something must be wrong, but they weren’t discovered until Sunday. There was no robbery, no apparent motivation, and although it was broadcast to the country on CNN and America’s Most Wanted, the case was never solved.

Des kidsI am very fortunate that I have another child, Jessica, my beautiful daughter. This was a devastating loss for all of us. An unthinkable tragedy. An unimaginable pain.

My deepest sadness and fear at the time of this tragedy was that I would never again know joy. I feared that my life would always have a tone of sorrow. I set out on a mission to work in the direction of reclaiming my joy and reason for living. My spiritual journey had officially begun and after almost two years, and thousands of frequent flyer miles, landing into the open hearts of friends and strangers, I realized my son’s death could renew my own life and purpose.

I have been practicing yoga since 1987. I was certified in Iyengar yoga in 1994 and in Anusara Yoga in 1999. Since that time I have been traveling full-time, teaching yoga workshops and retreats all over the world.

I believe it has been the steadfastness and inner strength I have learned directly from my yoga practice that has enabled me not only to survive, but thrive. For the first two years, I was in so much emotional pain that I couldn’t help but share it in my workshops. I shared my grief openly with my students and many of them thanked me for being an example of someone not afraid to be real and true to her feelings.

I travel full-time teaching yoga and believe it is a healing mission for me to go out and share what I have learned about regaining joy after such tremendous loss.

Desiree dancer's poseI would like to let more people know that there is a way to mentally, emotionally AND physically transform the pain and suffering of the past and truly regain motivation and a sense of peace. My healing process was also assisted by a terrific counselor and the teachings of Abraham-Hicks’ principles of the law of attraction. After all these years, it has become clear to me that the union of the human experience with the knowledge of the Divine presence within has helped me to embody the feeling of joy and freedom that it seemed this tragedy had taken away.

The power of Yoga is immense and priceless. I am grateful.

Desiree bioDesirée Rumbaugh is an internationally recognized yoga teacher with unquenchable enthusiasm for life, love, and healing. She blends playful humor with an authentic inquiry into the nature of being to help her students discover their own power, courage, and beauty. Her passion for teaching both the art and the science of yoga is fueled in part by her own experience recovering from deep grief as a bereaved parent. For Desirée, yoga has been a life-saver emotionally as well as physically. With longtime studies in Iyengar and Anusara Yoga, she brings 25 years of experience, experimentation, and creativity to her ever-evolving, outside-of-the-box style of teaching. Desirée travels the world full-time sharing her compassion and her joy with others interested in the transformational power of yoga. She has produced a DVD series entitled “Yoga to the Rescue” and is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal, having also appeared on its cover. Desirée supports the Art of Yoga Project serving teenage girls in the juvenile justice system. She lives with her husband in southern California. Follow Desirée on Facebook here and on Twitter @desireerumbaugh.

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Bending Towards the Sun

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

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

Photo by Flickr user heraldpost.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Living Yoga

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

Artwork by Jacob Daniel.

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

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

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

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

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

Artwork by Jacob Daniel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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There Is No Such Thing As Paradise

Name: Alli Akard
Location: Buda, Texas, USA
Occupation: Yoga instructor / mom / adventurer

It was the summer of 2005 – fresh out of college and a new love on the rise. When I met my now husband that fateful day at a coffee shop, he ordered coffee, black. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that that simple cup of coffee would forever change the course of my life. I was a fairly typical college student, semi unsure of the future, but with big dreams and aspirations…and little direction. As the weeks evolved and the friendship blossomed, the two of us decided it would be a great adventure to drive from Texas to Panama in search of surf and new beginnings. We starting planning immediately and before we knew it our car was packed with basically everything we owned and off we went, heading south.

I had always had a love for yoga. It started out as a form of exercise when I was fifteen. My mom had convinced me to take a class with her and I remember my very first adho mukha svanasana (downward dog). It was a sensation I had never felt before. I always considered myself an athlete, having played various sports in high school and of course, surfing, but nothing could prepare my muscles or my mind for that first downward dog. It was as if it flipped my whole perspective upside down. As I grew and evolved from a scrappy teen into a free-spirited adult, I took my yoga practice with me. During college I even took yoga as an elective to gain a deeper understanding of all eight limbs of yoga. I remember writing my Sanskrit on note cards in preparation for my mid-term. Virabhdrasana is still one of my favorite words to say.

As I set out on our ‘Summer of Love’ tour with my new romance and a wild spirit, I remember thinking, “Thank God for yoga, I can do it anywhere.” I would use the asanas at night in our dinky motel rooms, mediation in the long car ride and my karma with the many people that scammed us along the way.

Well, since this is an essay and not a life story, I’ll skip all the epic, amazing adventures that we encountered along the way and I’ll fast forward six years. That summer of love tour turned into a new way of life. Once we arrived in Panama we decided this was the place for us and the Universe agreed. We ended up creating a business for ourselves in real estate and development. We built our own home, perched on a mango-filled cliff right in front of the Pacific ocean, where we watched the sun dip into the water every night. Some would call it paradise. Our business blossomed and so did our family. We eventually married and had three beautiful jungle babies to add to our paradise.

I always said that our home in Panama would be the ideal spot for a yoga retreat. I would wake up in the morning to do sun salutations and sit under the mango trees to meditate. How could so much beauty and peace have found me? Or did I find it? Either way, it didn’t last long.

On August 27, 2009, my world changed in an instant. I was on my way home from a long overdue personal vacation. I had been a wife and mother, living in the jungles of Panama for over four years. I treated myself to a night in Panama City, were I wined and dined, indulging on sushi and expensive perfume. I had never been away from my children and I felt slightly guilty, but the prospect of a king size bed, clean sheets and A/C all to myself was more then I could deny. It was paradise.

When I arrived home that evening, I noticed a car parked down the road from our house. I thought it strange, as we live miles from anyone, but figured it was a local person coming for a visit. We were somewhat of a novelty, being gringos with small children and all. As I walked into my living room and saw my small children sitting on the floor, my husband was nowhere to be found. At that point a man in a mask ran out of my room pointing a gun right at my face. Everything went in slow motion. It was like I was watching the whole experience from overhead. I was hyper aware of every movement, every thought, every breath.

Over the years I had spent a good amount of time reading about meditation and self awareness. If there was ever a time that knowledge was to come into play, it was in that moment. I was in survival mode and I decided right then and there that if my family and I were going to die, we would do it with love in our hearts. Through the whole ordeal, I never took my eyes off my eldest son’s eyes. I just kept telling him I loved him and that everything was going to be ok.

The whole robbery lasted roughly fifteen minutes, but the stress it had on us as a family took years to get over. We eventually, with great sadness, sold our house and decided it was time to move back to Texas. Over that course of time I completely lost any passion or drive for life. I was depressed, severally stressed and suffered anxiety attacks on a regular basis.

Time had passed and we were living a new way of life, just making it through each day. Yoga had taken a far back seat to Xanax and I no longer cared about being inspired. I didn’t know who I was anymore, but I knew I was a far cry from the free-spirited girl that had taken a chance on love and adventure seven years earlier. Then one day I figured I had nothing to lose, so I decided to try a yoga class. But I assumed it would be a waste of time and energy and I hated leaving my kids and felt selfish every time I did. I lived each moment as if it was the last time I would see them.

I laid out my 15-year old mat, the same one I had used when I took classes with my mom. We started moving through a vinyasa. The instructor’s voice was like a soft bass that moved through my whole body. I felt a sensation welling up inside of me as I moved. It felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. By the time we were in eka pada kapotasana (pigeon pose) on our mats, I was soaked in tears. I knew without a doubt that I was right where I needed to be in my life. Dare I say, it felt like paradise. In an instant I knew I had all the answers inside of me. All I had to do now was set out on the path to discovery.

My adventure in this discovery this past year has evolved just as beautifully and profoundly as a lotus flower itself. I have since completed my yoga training and am well on my way to opening my own studio and retreat center in Panama, where I hope to share my love and passion for yoga with my community. But more importantly, I have evolved in ways beyond comprehension. Yoga taught me to mend broken relationships with myself and others, to deeply and unwaveringly trust my Self and manifest all of the great things this world has to offer. I went from having zero passion in life to more passion than this Universe can hold. Yoga has been the greatest gift to me and every time I step onto my mat, I am reminded there is such a thing as paradise, and it’s in my heart. Namaste.

Alli Akard is a wife, a mother, an adventurer and a yoga teacher. Her journey with yoga connected her with her true self, and then when life unexpectedly met her with a time of darkness, it was the yoga that brought her back home. Alli and her husband own and operate Panama Coast Property, a real estate and development company in paradise, on the coast of Panama. They are currently working on developing a yoga studio and retreat center, so that they may share their paradise with others. Alli can be found on Facebook here.

Edited by Jeannie Page.

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