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: and 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.

The Yoga of Everyday Life

Name: Anonymous
Location: Berkeley, CA, USA
Occupation: Student

Photo by Flickr user @kim.

Racing around the Oakland International Airport feels far from my comforting “om” space. “Do I have my photo ID? Do I have my confirmation number? Did I pack my liquids? Am I staying present?” My mind jumps from checking my luggage and getting my boarding pass to wondering if I will get through the security line by Christmas. Finally my body catches up to my mind and I find myself in the security line.

The way the line wraps around makes me uncomfortable — too much awkward eye contact. I notice my self-judgment and insecurities coming up. “Why is she looking at me? Do I really look that weird at 5am? I wonder if it looks like I’ve been crying…God, why don’t you take a picture, it will last longer!” Far from compassionate and patient, I reach the security officer who approves my ID and ticket. “Take a breath.”

Now, the rat race to take off the shoes, remove the jacket, take out the laptop. “Darn, the old couple beat me to the x-ray machine! Will my purse come out the other end before I do? What if someone steals my bag or my wallet or something?” Now I walk into this strange contraption that  looks like a new technology for x-rays. “Is this harmful? Can this cause cancer?” And then I come out the other end. A long sigh of relief. I gather my things and put my shoes on: I balance on my left leg, bring my right knee to my chest, and tie the shoelace on my right shoe. I do the same for my other leg. I then arrive at the gate and wait in line to board.

Photo by Flickr user Kelly Loves Whales.

This is yoga. From my balancing posture, to my quickening heart rate; from my reminder to breathe, to my concern about how I look; from my mistrust in others, to rushing through the process only to end up waiting in a line. The whole experience is yoga. Have you not felt any of these feelings and sensations during a yoga class? Perhaps you felt that you were not flexible, or forgot to breathe, or wished for the end of a pose, or felt like people were judging your ability or your appearance. From our hardships to our successes, and all of the seemingly mundane activity in between, yoga is life.

In my Forrest yoga teacher training I saw many people suffering. Yearning for some momentary relief, I saw people desperately seeking answers to their problems. And all of us wanting to arrive at the light at the end of the tunnel- the tunnel of death, destruction, addiction, and despair. And at the end of the yoga training, nothing had really changed for me, and I became disappointed. I stopped practicing yoga all together for several months. And then I slowly let it back into my life, and now am practicing Ashtanga Yoga, Mysore style.

The answers I was seeking finally began to percolate into my consciousness. Now, at the other end of the tunnel, I look back, forward and right where I am and I see the same things I had seen before: death, destruction addiction, and despair. But now I also see life, creation, love, and passion. And more importantly, I see that these aspects are not different and we cannot have one without the other.

Photo by Flickr user rabiem22.

Someone close to us may pass away, but only so that another beautiful soul can experience this life as well. We might suffer addiction, but perhaps we are blessed with this ailment so that we are especially motivated to learn methods of non-attachment and renunciation in our treatment. We might despair over the end of a relationship, but only so that we may grow stronger in our individual strength and fortitude and learn more about our deep desires and passions.

We see suffering so that we may also see compassion; we see hate so that we may love more. All of these are faces of the same coin. And yoga is breathing through the process and staying present with the beauty of emotion that is the human condition. Yoga is every experience- from the difficult to the easeful. And if we remain present through this life, using practices like yoga, we may soak up all the wisdom and pleasure it has to offer.


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