Uniting the Facets of Who I Am

Name: Amber Shumake
Location: Fort Worth, Texas, USA
Occupation: Yoga Therapist / Photographer / Writer / Lover

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

Photo by Flickr user ups2006.

For several years as an English teacher, I taught To Kill a Mockingbird, to my 8th grade students. My passion for the prose, I poured into the teaching of this classic. I’ll never forget the year that a student – one of my favorite suns {a pun used to describe the endearing male students who brightened my day} did the unthinkable: having read ahead of the rest of the class, he blurted out the ending, shouting, “Tom Robinson gets shot!” My mouth dropped in dismay because I was disappointed, certainly, but more so because I thought I was going to have to restrain the other students in the room from lynching him. Continue reading

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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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Under Armour Every Day

Name: Colleen Palmateer
Location: Ellicott City, MD, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher & Administrative Assistant at the Yoga Center of Columbia

 

Photo attributed to Flickr Creative Commons User Ozan Ozan.

Many years ago I went through a tumultuous time, as I grieved the loss of several people close to me, through death and broken relationships. I had two young children, and was struggling to find my way. My response to this enormous amount of stress was to put on some protective armor by closing myself off. I clung to my grief, anger, and fear. Emotionally, I shut down, and physically, my body became constricted and hard. This went on for some time, and my world became very small.

Through God’s grace and with the help of family and friends, I came to understand that this stressed-out, closed-up person was not the real me. It was just someone that I created to try and cope with a very rough patch of life. I gradually learned to trust, breathe, move forward, and take off that hard shell of armor I was wearing. I found new ways to cope, reaffirm my faith, and step back into the flow of life. I learned that sometimes holding on hurts more than letting go.

Yoga brought me home to my real self — and even now, whenever I struggle, the mat is a place of safety. My strength enables me to maintain the integrity of a pose, and then I layer on softness by using my breath. Where do I need to let my guard down a little, and where should I be more assertive? It’s a dance between the two. I love feeling the strength that the standing poses engender, the heart-opening of a beautiful backbend, a delightful twist, and finally, finally, softening into relaxation.

Photo attributed to Flickr Creative Commons User myyogaonline.

As babies, we are joyful and open, and we thrive when we’re nurtured well. Growing up, we learn that boundaries are appropriate and necessary, and a few shields go up. As life goes on though, sometimes circumstances beat us down. If we overprotect ourselves, we can lose that person we once were, and we become hardened both emotionally and physically. The harder we become, the more we withdraw. If we can break this vicious cycle and learn from it, we can recapture our true selves and maybe even a little bit of that childlike joy that was once so natural.

We need boundaries and softness. I can’t help but think of Under Armour Clothing – it protects athletes from extreme heat or cold, and yet is soft and allows free movement. It provides just the right amount of protection. Maybe we should all wear Under Armour every day!

Colleen Palmateer found peace and health through her yoga practice. She is a certified yoga teacher, registered with the Yoga Alliance at the 200-hour level. Colleen is pursuing her passion of helping people get out of pain through Doug Keller’s Swatantrya yoga therapy certification, and will pursue the 500-hour certification in 2013. Colleen is passionate about sharing yoga with others to help them relieve pain and live more joyfully. Her students learn good alignment, healthy breathing techniques, and how to relax. They also develop a greater awareness of the body-mind connection. In Colleen’s classes, students laugh, open their bodies, and find peace and rest. Colleen wishes to engage her students with the idea of having a strong body, sound mind, and open heart. Visit Colleen’s website and check out her blog! Colleen can be found on Twitter @colleenyoga.

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