The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Name: Rachel Wolfe
Location: Winnetka, Illinois, USA
Occupation: Artist and Gallerist

Nearly every aspect of my current life can be attributed to practicing yoga. The sheer presence of my being on this planet owes a deep debt of gratitude for those who channeled the yoga asana, the dhyana and pranayama practices, those who shared their knowledge, those who brought yoga to the west and to the teachers that have touched my life.

I was born into life a vivacious and curious child. But early on, the first bouts of digestive woes and sleeping trouble began disrupting my bliss. I can recall feelings of unregulated currents of energy running through me. I was easily overwhelmed, exhausted and frequently moody. Around my transition from childhood to adolescence, I encountered a two-year span of insomnia. The insomnia doubled the effects of the mild anxiety I carried, resulting in panic attacks that would lead me to believe I was dying. This trifecta was compounded by the deep depression that grew from the darkest spot within my soul. All of this happened before the age of 16.

During this time, a therapist suggested I try yoga and meditation to help me sleep at night. I was also encouraged to keep up the writing and art I had begun doing as a means to even tolerate being in my body. While it seems dramatic to me now, this story was an intense reality for me at the time.

Photo by Flickr user Mokarta Graphic.

I was always looking for a way out, a way out of the feeling of wanting to die, the feeling that dying was a better option than feeling, and I got that way out. I was placed on medication and careful observation after my family found out I had been cutting myself. The medication numbed every inch of my being.

I was attending yoga classes at the local park district and I was loving how I was able to achieve the postures with ease. I felt good at something, and therefore good for something, despite feeling nothing. And if it wasn’t for the yoga, then I might very well be medicated now, but something inside of me was speaking up and asking me to clear out my body. I’m glad that I listened.

Coming off of my meds threw me into a high that I have yet to ever experience again. Yoga became a means to keep my muscles soft after the daily six-mile runs, as well as a philosophical pursuit to satisfy my insatiable appetite for theory and life understanding. The breathing techniques allowed me to sleep at night without waking. As I felt better and more balanced, I realized later how fast I was running away from everything, including food. The disordered relationship that developed resulted in a thinner than thin body and worried my family, yet again. At this point, I fancied myself living off of air or ascending into some spiritual realm. My yogic studies were one sided, as I had yet to discover the grounding qualities of a yoga practice.

I’m not sure how I was able to balance myself out after existing in the lowest low a person can go and swinging up and nearly off into the stratosphere. The only mainstay besides my art and writing practice was yoga. It was always there for me. Later I would discover that my family and the entire Universe were rooting me on the whole time.

Signing up for a Yoga Teacher Training was the catapult I needed to ground me, balance me and ultimately bring me to the bliss I remembered as a very young child. The training taught me that all those years of self-study were actually worth something. I was more knowledgeable than I thought I was. As I began to share my knowledge and experiences with others, I quickly learned that I am more capable than I thought I was. Yoga brought me from the depths of suicidal depression and anxiety, through the highs of mania to a place of balanced empowerment, that at one point I was assured I would never have. But here I am, living proof that yoga can heal some of the deepest and most challenging wounds to heal.

Bringing my full attention and awareness to this training must have set off some deep ripples in the Universe because during and after the training, the positive and exciting transitions grace my life. The serendipity, the synchronicities are astounding and daily. I used to dream of living a life like the one I live today. And on this day, it occurs to me what happens when I practice yoga, or when anyone does for that matter. Yoga changes the stories you tell yourself. Any experience I have encountered in this life has been centered on emotion and feeling. Simply by reinterpreting or rewriting my story, I can then feel that story and therefore live that story. There’s no amount of obsessive thought that can effectively do this rewiring. Yoga does the work, as long as I bring my full awareness to the practice. The more attention and intention I have drawn inward, the richer my experiences flow outward.

Some days I find myself wanting to run away from my mat or let my hips flop open when I know I need to hug them in. These indicators are reminders of the shadow life I once led, the story of despair I was telling myself. It is an incredible feeling of empowerment, triumph and ceaseless desire to share my new story as I feel every part of my being and life experience, through yoga. We are everything we need, and yoga is the guide.

Rachel Wolfe was raised in a small town outside of Chicago. She completed a Bachelor of Art in 2006 and a certified Yoga instructor in 2012. Rachel has been exhibited and published nationally and internationally as a photographer and writer. Her second publication is in progress. Rachel is currently based on the Northshore of Chicago, traveling for assignments, commissions, study and fun. You may connect with Rachel on Facebook. Learn more about her projects at www.rachelwolfe.com and follow her artist process on Howlya, her blog.


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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 www.yogaofdevotion.org.

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 margaret@14blackpoppies.com.

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True Knowledge is Miraculous

Name: Om Prakash Singh
Location:
New Delhi, India
Occupation:
Project Sales Manger

Durga Puja- Photo by Flickr User Matthias Rosenkranz.

My name is Om Prakash Singh. At the young age of four I was sent to live with my maternal grandparents for my studies. I would return home to my birthplace once a year to visit my parents. Even as a child I had a strong inclination towards worship and prayers. Being Indian, Durga Puja was celebrated with great enthusiasm at my grandparents’ house. My grandfather was a high profile person in administration and my grandmother was a generous householder with a strong sense of spirituality. Though she was not educated, she was the one that taught me my morning prayers. 

I enjoyed my life living with my grandparents and I acquired a solid education. I graduated from St. Paul’s School in Begusarai, Bihar, India with good grades and I then moved from Begusarai to Patna to further my education. I passed my Intermediate exams and went on to graduate from Magadh University in Patna. At a very early age I married a beautiful lady named Vandana, but as I had no earnings, it became difficult to support my small family. To earn money, I began teaching English and science to the students. But in the midst of all of this, bad relations began to develop with my maternal uncles and it completely altered my way of thinking.

ISKCON Temple Delhi- Photo by Flickr user wieland7.

Seeking answers to my personal struggles, one day I went to Delhi and I visited the ISKCON Temple. There I listened to a lecture given by the Chief Editor from The Telegraph. After listening to him and the way he answered questions, I was motivated to learn his way of living. But, I had fallen into a bad drinking habit of whiskey and wine on a daily basis. At this time I had a business working with architectural glass, but that began to fall apart with my lack of awareness and my increased indulgence in alcohol. After coming into dire financial hardship, I began to move from place to place in search of money, but my drinking habit continued.

After struggling for a very long time, I finally retreated back to ISKCON Temple and started listening to the lectures given each week by different saints. I started chanting the Mahamantra. In the beginning that was very difficult. I put all my work on hold for three months and dedicated myself to practicing chanting and reading spiritual books on a regular basis. Gradually, I began to enjoy the chanting and I learned to practice chanting by myself and did so day and night for several months.

Mantra chanting became my habit and I continued this for a long time, getting deeper into the practice. To complement my chanting practice, I began practicing pranayama, specifically Anulom Vilom, at night. While everyone else was asleep, I would practice my pranayama from midnight until 3:00 in the morning. My intuition became powerful and I began to see visions. My thoughts began to reveal truth and my knowledge of spiritual Indian scriptures became stronger and stronger. I began to understand Karma Yoga and Dhyana Yoga. My practice and my faith became stronger and stronger and my body and mind began to purify. I could see the burning candle of my soul.

One day, at the age of 31, I was in my village of Raillie with my parents. At this point my mind was fully submerged with thoughts of the Almighty. Everything seemed beautiful. I could find no wrong. Everything was right. I could see that everything was created by my Lord, the Almighty. I began to love all living entities and worried of even treading on the ants beneath my feet. In search of the divine, I went to the ancient village temple and I prayed for my soul to be revealed to me. 

Photo by Flickr User exper.

That night when I came back to my house I went to sleep on the top floor, beneath the open sky. I started chanting on beads and gradually began to practice pranayama. All of a sudden I was lost in great meditation. Someone came near me and pulled my hand. I felt the touch and my eyes opened. I saw that I was standing in front of my body. I was afraid and wanted to shout for help to my mother but my whole body was like a log, lying there and watching the incident. As I tried to move, I suddenly disappeared and my body became normal again. I quickly got up; I felt fresh, rejuvenated and young. I was so excited with this out of body experience that my practice grew even more intense.

Then one day I was traveling by train from Patna to Delhi. That day the train was delayed for six hours at the station at Mughal sarai. It was night time and there were many passengers in sleeper class. My body began to heat up and I developed a fever. The faith was so strong within me that I started chanting mantra on my beads and just after one hour my body temperature was normal.

From that point on, I began practicing this healing method on myself. Now I never get ill and I am able to feel the functioning of my whole body organ. If any pain arises, I can feel the organ where the pain resides. I concentrate on that organ for some time for it to be healed with vital forces and become healthy again. And I can feel the results.

This is all the power of mind. So, pay careful attention to your mind and try to discard all negative thoughts, and instead infuse your mind with the knowledge and wisdom of the Vedas.  You will start loving this world as it is.

Born in Begusarai, Bihar, India, Om Prakash Singh was nourished physically and mentally by his maternal grandparents. Wanting to lead an independent life guided by his feelings, his grandparents helped him to understand the laws of nature and how they apply to human behavior. He ultimately decided that the mind has the power to create the future person. Om Prakash Singh is a graduate from business administration and is currently working as a project sales manager in the architectural glass industry. His ambition is to seek peace for all mankind.

Edited by Jeannie Page.


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

How Yoga Changed My Life

Name: Nicole DeAvilla
Location: Marin County, California, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Bestselling Author of The 2 Minute Yoga Solution

My first introduction to yoga was a Yoga for Dancers Workshop while I was in college at UCSC. The instructor gave us stick figure illustrations of the routine. Then one of those unexplainable things happened: I began practicing the sequence, every day. I had never set out with the intention of practicing yoga regularly, let alone every day. It just happened. Depending on how much time I had, I would spend anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours practicing. I did this for at least a year.

Later, after I had graduated from college, I found myself living in San Francisco. At this time, I was not practicing yoga nor dancing and I found myself in a lot of pain and going into a downward negative spiral. After learning that I had practiced yoga in college, a colleague of mine named Cheryl (her name is now Nayaswami Lila and she went on to be an assistant and cook for Nayaswami Kriyananda.) suggested I try yoga classes at a place called Ananda.

Ananda San Francisco was offering a teacher training course and something inside of me just told me that I had to take the course, that it would be my lifesaver out of the pain. I had no intention of teaching yoga, however something was strongly telling me that it was what I needed to do for my own healing.

I was the youngest person in the class and with my dance background I was physically able to master the asanas more easily than most of the others. However, I very quickly learned that my deficiency was elsewhere. It so happened that this group was very advanced in yoga lifestyle, philosophy and meditation – probably more than the usual yoga teacher training group.

I allowed myself to be open-minded about all that I was learning; it was new and very different to me. I decided that rather than judging everything during the course, I would experiment and try all of their suggestions. Gurus and miracles, meditation, karma and reincarnation were all new concepts to me and I had to work hard at opening my mind to these esoteric ideas.

I had back pain up and down my spine and at times radiating down my arms and legs. Interestingly, practicing even some of the more advanced yoga postures helped me to feel better. However, sitting still for meditation was the most painful thing I could do – excruciatingly painful.

Among the many nuggets of wisdom taught by my teachers, Dhyana, Ram and Pranabha, was that if a person meditates on the eyes of a true guru or saint that they will be blessed – even if they are only meditating on a photograph. One afternoon I desperately wanted to meditate. Having experienced little tastes of meditation in class, I knew I wanted more of its nectar. But every time I tried, I ended up meditating on a worsening pain.

On this day I thought that if I meditated on the eyes of a saint or guru that perhaps I would be blessed to be able to sit and meditate. The only problem was that I didn’t think I had any pictures of a saint or guru. Then I realized that I had a copy of Nayswami Kriyananda’s book, The Path. His photo was on the cover. “He’s a saintly man.” I thought to myself. “I will look into his eyes.”

I set myself up for meditation, I placed the book in front of me, and I prayed and looked deeply into Swami’s eyes. I began by alternating looking into his eyes with closing mine and visualizing them as I practiced the techniques that I was learning. It took tremendous willpower to keep the focus as I sat. As it usually did, the back pain was creeping up on me. I kept willing myself to stay focused on the eyes and as I did I asked for help. After a time, something happened that I can only describe as a miracle: I no longer felt any pain whatsoever. I had transcended the pain and gone deeper into meditation than I ever had before.

When I came out of the meditation, however, my back pain was not cured. It was still there but that momentary experience of being pain free made a believer out of me. Curing the back pain altogether is another miracle story for another time.

I went on to finish the three-month Yoga Teacher Training program. Though I had not intended to be a yoga teacher, the very next day after I graduated with my yoga teaching certificate in hand, I was teaching a yoga class. Nearly 30 years later, I am still teaching yoga and loving every second!

Nicole DeAvilla lives in Marin County, California with her husband and two teenage children. In addition to living, researching, writing and teaching about yoga and yoga lifestyle, she enjoys hiking, being creative and spending time with friends and family. Having been inspired by her own mentors and having felt the support of a yoga community in her own growth, she wants to give others the same opportunities. She is passionate about making yoga accessible to all people and providing support for them through The 2 Minute Yoga Solution book, community and events and The 2 Minute Yoga Club. Find Nicole on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/2MinuteYoga and www.Facebook.com/nicole.deavilla. Tweeting at: @NicoleDeAvilla. Join Nicole for Twitter Chats #Yoga4Moms, #Yoga2DStress, #4YogaTeachers and #YogaSFBay.

Edited by Jeannie Page.

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

Yoga Black Belt

Name: Lisa A. Tyler
Location: Ellijay, GA, USA
Occupation: Kripalu yoga teacher, life coach, artisan, organic farmer & more

Photo attritubed to Flickr user carderel.

They say when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. In 1995, I was a newly divorced Mom, jaded by love and life, burning out from a 50-hour-a-week marketing job. The one outlet I had for stress relief was a martial arts class. Punching and kicking practice bags, then pulling on gloves to spar with big bouncer type guys, I was always scared but determined to stand up for myself. I kept getting winded (and wounded) during the sparring sessions, and heard that yoga had something to do with breathing. So I signed up for a class in order to become a better warrior.

The instructor, Margo, floated in wearing white gauzy cotton and a serene smile. In contrast, I was decked out in black lace spandex, wearing an inch of makeup, jewelry, and an attitude. Just beneath the surface, I wore a full suit of armor to cover my heart and emotions. She led us through Warrior 1 and 2, familiar martial arts stances that I cockily used to compare myself to the other students. Some of them appeared to be struggling . . . weaklings!

At the end of class, Margo invited us to go home and sit in silence for five minutes or so, just to see what might happen. I set my egg timer for exactly five minutes and sat cross-legged in front of my patio window. Closed my eyes. Took a deep breath. And started sobbing. It was the first time in years, maybe decades, that I’d allowed myself space to feel. To connect. To just be.

A voice came from inside me – not from my head where I usually talk to myself, but from the depths of my Being. It said “You are on the path. And it is the right one.” The floodgates really opened then, as old wounds broke open and tears washed everything cleaner. The guilt I’d felt about divorcing lessened. Compassion took its place. I knew that I was on the right path. And this knowing has carried me ever since. I left that job and that city, and became a healer using massage therapy, energy work, and coaching to help others move through their wounded places.

Margo and I remain good friends, and I eventually became certified to teach yoga and meditation in addition to martial arts. She told me once, “I knew from that first day that you were a yoga teacher.” I asked in amazement, “How did you ever see through my disguise?”

Lisa A. Tyler, a long-time Kripalu yoga & meditation teacher, practices in the serene forests of Northern Georgia. Her inspirational blog Overtly Simple is dedicated to folks who also wish for a simpler, more sustainable way of life. Living in a 285 sq. ft. cabin, Lisa repurposes materials into hand-crafted items such as crocheted yoga mat bags. She offers life coaching to yoga teachers and students. To learn more, contact OvertlySimple@yahoo.com.

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