30 Days of Kate

Name: Katelyn Martin
Location: Woodstock, CT, USA
Occupation: Recent college graduate pursuing a career in yoga as well as holistic health coaching.

Katelyn Martin tree poseAnxiety as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, “A fear or nervousness about what might happen.” However, for anyone who deals with anxiety on a daily basis, it can be described as “A royal pain in the a$$.” Having anxiety at times can be debilitating, I would know; it took me almost eight years to finally find a solution to enable me to take a hold of my life again. What is the solution you ask? YOGA!

I struggled through high school and college with anxiety. I was constantly fighting an internal battle; my mind was my worst enemy. I would spend hours upon hours creating unlikely situations in my head and sending myself into a panic about these very unlikely scenarios. Anxiety made my confidence diminish; I was unable to sleep well; I was constantly stressed out; and most of all, I was simply unhappy.

I found yoga during my junior year of college—someone dear to me had introduced me to it and I would describe it as love at first class. I began to understand that not only did yoga help me stay in shape but it also kept me grounded; each and every class spoke to me. I was coming to new realizations and revelations daily. It was one aspect in my life where I knew there would be no judgments passed. I walked into and out of every class with a calm demeanor, something that I had never truly had. I was finally at peace and content with who I was.

I graduated from college this past May with a degree in business. I was still unsure about what I wanted to do for a career, but that is common for most recent college graduates. I decided to take “30 Days of Kate” for myself. I took 30 days off from my job search and completely immersed myself in yoga, writing, reading, and learning about myself. I would not have described myself as a religious or spiritual person prior to my “30 Days of Kate,” but that all changed as well. I started to send gratitude out into the Universe, asking for guidance, and asking for help when I needed it. What I received in return at times was almost overwhelming (in the most beautiful kind of way).

I loved who I had become after only 30 short days and wanted to continue on this path of growth. I was practicing yoga both on and off that mat; I was more accepting of people, aware of my flaws, calm, and spreading kindness everywhere I went. I knew that this was the kind of career that I could wake up to every morning and love. I wanted to help people restore confidence within themselves and learn how to apply yoga into every aspect of their lives. How could I make this happen? I have now begun my journey to getting my 200-hour yoga teacher training certification, yoga therapy certification, and my nutrition and holistic health coaching certification. I am now passionate about my future and excited to be able to restore people’s faith within themselves.

Katelyn Martin bio photoKatelyn Martin is a recent college graduate who plans to pursue a career in yoga as well as holistic health coaching. Find her on Instagram at Katelyn_Martin.

 

 

 

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My Yoga Story

Name: Elizabeth Anna
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: Olympic Gymnast & Medalist, Actress, Artist, Author, Entrepreneur and Yogi

I have been an athlete for much of this life, having trained in dance and gymnastics. Quite naturally, from the moment I heard of yoga, I gravitated towards it as a new form of exercise. My initial understanding of yoga was that it was a combination of stretching, balancing and holding poses, all of which I knew to provide a wonderful core work out.

I attended my first yoga class; It was a Hatha class, and there were five other people in attendance, not including me and my friend. We began with the basics and slowly moved through different asanas. As we did so, I noticed my impatience with the slow pace and the seemingly basic nature of the poses. The instructor repeatedly chose to use me as an example of the improper way to do the poses, stopping the class so that everybody could observe me doing the pose improperly. I truly never thought at the time that I could, after 20 years of training in dance and gymnastics, be used as an example of how not to do a basic downward facing dog, yet there it was. At the time I didn’t understand the finite adjustment required within the form in order for the energy and balance to flow freely within the pose.

My first experience with yoga left me feeling picked on, frustrated, annoyed and fairly stretched out. The next years saw me trying out the different disciplines of yoga, all-the-while seeking to experience the harmony and lasting inner peace that I knew could be experienced during the practice of yoga…but not yet knowing how to make it so.

Through one conscious, empowered choice, I “woke up” and life changed. I stopped smoking after many years, with no side effects, no cravings, and no desire to go back. And I realized that “Consciousness” made it so. I read a book, The Easy Way to Stop Smoking, by Allen Carr, and in the book the author asked me to pay attention to my breath. In other words, be conscious of my breath as I took a drag off my cigarette, be conscious of my thought and feeling as I breathed in the smoke and blew it out, be conscious of my thought before reaching to grab another one. All of the conscious attention on myself was causing me to smoke less and less as I read the book, until by the end I threw away the remaining pack. From that moment on I never desired another cigarette again. Consciousness is Supreme Presence, the calm poise of thought, feeling and action in any given moment. Destructive behavior of any sort shall not thrive where consciousness resides.

“Freedom of Peace”- artwork by Elizabeth Anna

I began meditating twice a day, half an hour in the morning, half an hour in the evening, ever conscious of the movement of my breath in and out. The inner peace and moments of harmony began to expand beyond my morning meditation session and well into the rest of my day. Bringing my conscious attention to the movement of my breath throughout the day brought the harmony of my meditation into every aspect of every day. I was practicing the living meditation.

It was around this time that I was introduced to Anusara Yoga by way of John Friend, the originator of Anusara. The understanding of the inter-connectivity of life and our eternal interaction with the Divine flowed through the very practice of Anusara Yoga. Anusara Yoga perfectly matched my new understanding and my evolving consciousness.

Yoga, the conscious breath, is the vehicle by which the light of God flows in, through us and then back out unto It’s Wondrous Self. The asanas help to gently guide this energy to specific areas of focus to purify, bless, heal and renew the body in that particular area.

What was first a stretching workout, that any gymnast or dancer could do, evolved into a dance with God, a celebration of unity. Now, I practice breathing through different yoga asanas every day, whether it be for ten minutes or 90 minutes. The practice of yoga allows me the experience of resting in the balance point between outer and the inner, the point from which all creation takes place, that place of total awareness, harmony experienced. I have found myself quite naturally incorporating simple asanas, and conscious breathing exercises at different points throughout the day, helping me to re-center, after or while working at the computer, or after listening to someone express anger or sorrow.

The conscious attention to the breath, applied throughout the day, whether walking, stretching, working, or sitting, is “The Living Yoga” experienced; the eternal dance with the Divine, Great Spirit, the Mighty I Am Presence, God. And it is from this glorious place of presence, of conscious awareness that life is meant to be lived. Namaste.

Elizabeth Anna is an Olympic Gymnast and Medalist, an actress, artist, author, entrepreneur and yogi. She lives with her husband and creative partner, Jacob Daniel, 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 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 Twitter @: EOTL_BettyOkino
Like the Band page on Facebook @:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/EOTL/310124985667090?ref=ts&sk=app_129982580378550

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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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Yoga Helped Me. Now I Help Others.

Name: Stacie-Saraswati Dooreck
Location: San Francisco Bay area, California, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor & Author

Photo attributed to Flickr user dietmut.

I was blessed to be born into a family that was already introduced to yoga as it came to the west. A dedicated yogi, my father took a yoga teacher training with Swami Sachidananda (Guru of Integral Yoga), he was involved with Siddha Yoga, and when I was young, he took us to meet Swami Muktananda for ‘spiritual awakening.’

My mother and father became full vegetarians after learning of its health and non-violence benefits from the Gurus. They ate no meat, poultry, or fish by the time I was born, so I was also raised vegetarian and I have never tasted meat or fish in my life. This upbringing planted the seeds for a lifelong journey of teaching and practicing yoga.

My introduction to Hatha Yoga (the yoga of postures) began when I saw my father doing shoulder stand in his meditation room as I grew up. But my own practice did not begin until I needed it, at the age of 17.

In high school I developed chronic neck pain from working out in a gym and waiting tables. My chiropractor actually suggested yoga to treat my pain. I tried a 30-minute yoga video and by day two of doing the video, all of my neck pain was gone; no MRI needed, and I was hooked. The feeling of deep peace and relaxation I felt at the end was like nothing I had experienced before. I did that video daily throughout my senior year in high school and also as a freshman in college.

Photo by Doug Beasley, http://www.dbpics.biz

The next thing I knew, I signed up for a Sivananda teacher training, living for a month at the yoga ashram in Canada. The experience was challenging and ‘different’ for a 20-year old, but it was life-changing too. It planted additional seeds for my lifelong practice and eventual teaching of yoga. I saw yoga as something that put you on a spiritual path, gave you discipline, and was a tool for wellness and balance of body and mind.

I felt that I had to share this amazing gift with others. Soon after I returned to my college dorm, I started teaching yoga to my friends and conducting relaxation workshops for my dormmates. I watched with fascination to see how yoga helped others as it did me, and my passion for the practice grew deeper and deeper. Ever since, the learning and sharing continues.

Stacie-Saraswati Dooreck is a Certified Gentle Integral Yoga Instructor, Certified Sivananda Hatha Yoga Instructor Since 1995, and a Certified Kundalini teacher, bringing a wealth of knowledge to her classes. Stacie used chair yoga while healing from an illness and continues to share with others the benefits of chair yoga. In 2011 she was featured on CBS Ch. 4 News Healthwatch teaching “Yoga for Seniors.” In addition, Stacie is a Certified Fall Prevention Trainer for seniors and trained as an Enhanced Fitness Instructor (evidence based chair exercises and fitness for seniors including cardio, strength training and stretching). She created and leads SunLight Chair Yoga Teacher Trainings in the US and The Bahamas. Stacie is the author of the book SunLight Chair Yoga: Yoga is for everyone!, a book designed to to teach those with chronic illness, injuries, in wheelchairs or at a desk (Yoga at work) how to modify yoga so all can benefit. Stacie can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/sunlightyoga and on Twitter @sunlightyoga, @yogainchairs and @yogainsf.

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A Yoga Transformation Journey: 30 Years and Beyond

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


Name: Mary Baird (spiritual name, Mantram)

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor, Atma Center Yoga At Work Coordinator.

Photo by Flickr User whalt.

It all began in my 40’s  once a week yoga. I found yoga sometime in 1979-80. Back then, I hung onto that weekly class as my “oasis,” a welcome relief from job stress. My work was physically and mentally challenging – carrying ladders, climbing poles, running wire, repairing phone lines, and dealing with skepticism and isolation as the only woman on my crew for nearly two decades. Not exactly experiencing total transformation at this point, I would say that yoga “saved” my life! The transformation process, a process that still feels “never done,” began then as I learned to use the basic tools of yoga (asana and pranayama) to develop my capacity for self-healing.

Off the mat – yoga at work. In those “early yoga days,” it got easier to maintain my “cool” in the face of  constant verbal challenges and put-downs like “You’re taking that job away from a man who really needs it!” Or, “Who’s coming to help you with that ladder?” Using relaxation and breathing techniques to support my mental health, I’d find myself spontaneously stretching and re-positioning my body to counteract the often taxing physical demands of the job. I can remember the relief of stretching into “downward dog,” gripping the bottom rung of my ladder and breathing deeply for a few moments after too much time up the ladder, leaning out over the cable to test and connect lines in the terminal – maybe holding a side stretch in the opposite direction to balance the stress on my spine.

Developing awareness – inward bound. Though I used my yoga as “first aid” for survival, I had no daily or formal “home practice” during the first 20 years of my journey.  I did, however, develop a keen awareness that I had never before experienced — an awareness of the “state of my mental and physical self.” (It took many more years for me to become aware of my awareness – to realize how AWARENESS itself is yoga’s most fundamental gift!) In my early adult years I was very busy and externally focused on the demands and problems of the world and the people around me. A key aspect of my evolving transformation was a slow but steady shift from external to internal, beginning to experience the more subtle, deeper benefits of yoga. Knowing and healing myself became a priority. Still an activist on behalf of women and workers, I began to incorporate a broader perspective. After all, how could I change the world if I couldn’t maintain my own health and inner strength?

Moving from an early retirement at the phone company in my mid-50’s, I continued my weekly yoga – a great support as I embarked on graduate studies and other career pursuits. One thing I noticed as I approached 60 was an increased awareness of chronic aches and pains, especially low back ache and joint stiffness. I knew I needed “more yoga,” to work with my aging physical body but also to explore more deeply the philosophical and spiritual aspects of this awesome “life science.”

In the 80s and 90s I had taken classes with two excellent teachers near my west side home and kept getting their message, “There’s more here for you!”  I just didn’t know how to go about finding it. I still had not connected with the idea of a daily home practice or the personal motivation to begin.

Beyond bending and stretching Enter Satyananda Yoga® & the Atma Center on the “other side of town.” I was working with Hard Hatted Women, a nonprofit I helped start, developing school-based programs to expose children to nontraditional careers. This brought me into contact with many wonderful people. An amazing, dedicated teacher who has since become a close friend told me about this great yoga center she had discovered and suggested that I try it and that it would be worth the drive. And it was! What a great 60th birthday present, discovering a whole system of yoga, Satyananda Yoga®, deeply rooted in tradition, right in my back yard!

Daily practice and the resulting benefits. My first taste of the fruits of daily yoga took place not at “home,” but at the Atma Center where my eagerness for the “more” saw me attending classes nearly every day! The rest is history: This wonderful decade (2001 – present) has helped to solidify my deeper personal experience with a style of yoga that continues to be well-suited to my needs as an aging practitioner and spiritual seeker. The practices of meditation and mantra chanting have helped me to anchor and still my busy mind and explore my mental habits. “Freedom from the bondage of the mind” is the meaning of my spiritual name, Mantram, given to me a few years ago by Swami Niranjananda. Yoga Nidra has become a new and deeper form of relaxation to counter the stresses of life and aging and Pawanmuktasana practices have began to work on my “sluggishness” and joint pain.

Photo by Daniel Levin.

Somehow during those first few years under the tutelage of Swami Atmarupa and the other wonderful teachers, my chronic low back pain disappeared! Using my new-found intuitive wisdom, I added regular strength training sessions to my routine, combined with daily yoga to reverse diagnosed osteoporosis in my lower spine. I’ve experienced and survived accidents (one falling on ice and another “crashing” onto my tailbone in roller blades) without fractures and with only temporary aches and pains, letting me know that stronger muscles are indeed protecting my bones. Developing body awareness and a confidence in my ability to strengthen and heal myself has been an important transformative aspect of my yoga journey.

About a year into the wonderful physical and mental benefits of daily classes, I found Yogic Studies, enrolling in the first “Yoga Patha I” course offered in the U.S. Doors opened to an understanding of the roots and multi-layered components of this amazing “life science.” Finally, I received the guidance and structure I needed to begin my own home-based daily yoga practice that continues to sustain me today.

Teaching yoga – my most transformative experience. Before long, I enrolled in the first official Satyananda Style Teacher Training course, also based at The Atma Center. I thought it might be a way to “give back” some of the benefits I had received. It took me several years to complete the whole series of Yogic Studies and Teacher Training courses, but the effort taught me a great deal: (1) It’s never too late to take on a new challenge. Believe me, it has been a challenge  – not unlike enrolling in a PhD program as a senior; (2) Learning begets more seeking begets more learning; (3) The experience of teaching is the greatest teacher of all. Meeting the diverse needs and interests of my students has been a living impetus to continue on my yoga path and to continue my yoga education for as long as I am able. My motivation is enhanced by their penetrating questions, their stories of struggle and success, and the insights they acquire and share as they embark upon their own yoga journeys.

Photo by Flickr User ojoqtv.

Add to this transformational decade, the opportunity to travel to Swami Satyananda’s ashram in India where I met him and experienced his divine energy face to face. It was there that I developed a deep appreciation for the Bhakti aspect of Satyananda Yoga®. Seeing his astounding example of giving and serving others at the core of a fulfilling spiritual path, I rejoiced in an opportunity that opened for me here in Cleveland to give where the need is great. Along with two Atma Center colleagues, I volunteer to teach yoga at a center for women recovering from addiction. We use their feedback to refine our approach, finding new ways to tailor the practices of Satyananda Yoga® to the urgency of their need for tension release, balance, peace of mind, and a self-nurturing attitude. Teaching and learning in this and other classroom settings has become one of the most satisfying, shared processes.

I am eternally grateful to Swami Atmarupa, the Atma Center, and Satyananda Yoga® for offering a community-based program that has nurtured my growth into my “later years.” In the end, it is the ongoing process of deepening awareness that comes with continued practice, which constitutes the spiritual support for navigating each day with the clarity and insight that I need at this stage in my life. And the transformation continues…

Mary Baird has been practicing yoga for over 30 years and credits yoga with saving her life, during her 17 years of working as a phone line repair and installation technician, by helping her to manage the physical and emotional stresses of her job. A yoga teacher for nearly a decade, in addition to her passion for instructing yoga, Mary has had a variety of other teaching roles: Peace Corps English teacher, elementary Career Education Specialist, tutor in adult literacy, class designer and teacher at a local women’s prison among others. Mary is now an avid volunteer: she instructs for the nonprofit Yoga Academy of North America, teaches yoga to women in addiction recovery at Orca House, prepares and serves holiday meals at Orca House and annually participates in the Stand Down for the Homeless through Interact. In her free time, Mary enjoys creative writing, biking, gardening, and visiting her adult children and their children.

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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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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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Open to Grace?? Are you Serious?

Name: Bridget Lyons
Location: Victor, ID, USA…or on the road teaching in the inter-mountain west!
Occupation: Yoga Teacher, Studio Owner, Blogger, Connector and Seeker

I was just 30 years old when the pain in my back started keeping me up at night. I could “deal” as long as I was doing my thing – which, at that time, was carrying an 80-pound backpack, rowing an 18-foot whitewater raft, and shoveling snow for hours on end to build an igloo to sleep in. I was working full-time leading 30-day wilderness expeditions for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and hard physical labor was the name of the game. So was grinning and stoically bearing pain and discomfort…which I was starting to feel a lot of as soon as I stopped working and lay down at the end of the day.

So I took an office job. I bought a $1,000 mattress. And I showed up at a beginners’ yoga class in this little, concrete-floored converted office in a small town in Wyoming. I had tried yoga a couple of times in college, and to be frank, I had been bored. I left feeling frustrated about having wasted an hour that could have been better spent doing “real training.” Nevertheless, ten years later I figured I’d better give it another try since it seemed like everyone and his brother had a story about yoga alleviating mysterious back pain.

I went to class weekly, and I actually liked it. Being athletically gifted, I was able to follow directions well and get my body into a variety of different positions. And being stubborn and goal-oriented, I liked class even more when I couldn’t do something. At the end of that year, I moved from that small town in Wyoming to an even smaller town in Idaho. Ironically, this podunk mountain community had a regionally-famous Anusara Yoga studio with a Certified Anusara Instructor and a staff of other highly trained and passionate teachers. I was new in town and wanted to meet folks, and I sure wasn’t over the back pain yet, so I started hanging out there. I liked the consistency of the teachings, the specificity of the directions, and the seemingly endless challenge of new pose after new pose: Backbends! Arm balances! Handstands! And transitioning between them all – yeehaa!

Except…..these folks chanted – In Sanskrit, no less! And they kept talking about this whole “grace” thing. I wasn’t so sure how I felt about that. But, whatever, my back was getting better and I was having fun, so I just kept showing up. One class a week turned into two, two became three, and before long I was attending the invitation-only teachers’ practice – not so much because I “got it,” but because I was lucky enough to have a strong body that did as I told it to and I worked darn hard.

Somewhere in there something happened. I really wish I could pinpoint the day that transformation occurred so that I could mark it on the calendar as “my yoga anniversary.” But I can’t. Like so many shifts in life, it happened gradually, and only looking back can I identify a distinct and radical change in myself.

What happened? It’s actually hard to describe…but I think the best phrase I can provide is “I softened.” My mountain-toughened edges melted. My bitterness dissolved and left spaciousness in its wake. My New Jersey born-and-bred, type-A drive mellowed into a vision of a co-creative life purpose. I became a strong-boundaried and open-hearted friend. Checkers at the grocery store started smiling at me, and I genuinely enjoyed engaging with them. For the first time in my life, people sitting next to me on airplanes wanted to chat, and men in bars wanted to buy me drinks. Maybe it was the chanting – which of course I started to love (I should have known something was happening when I started listening to kirtan CD’s in my pick-up truck). Maybe it was the poses themselves tenderizing my physical body with their steady tough love. Maybe it was the fact that I simply stuck it out. But in all likelihood, all that “Open to Grace” hoo-ha had a lot to do with it. Once my raised-Catholic-and-ran-away-screaming self got over the occasional use of the word “God,” the little girl in me who was insatiably curious about everything spiritual resurfaced and drank up everything yoga philosophy had to offer.

Included in that offering was the idea that embodiment is amazing: That we are divine essence that has chosen to become human in order to experience the wonder that is this world; That our bodies are amazing and do amazing things; That we are “purna” – perfect, not lacking – just as we are; That life is not a problem to be solved but a gift to be celebrated; That grace is our birthright and is always there when we stop to notice it, and breathe it in; And that the practice of showing up on your mat each day is your opportunity to remember all of this and so much more – as long as you open yourself to it.

So I delved deeply into these teachings, which are just the tip of the iceberg of the exquisite and profound school of philosophy that we call Tantra. I became a Certified Anusara Yoga Instructor – a process substantially more challenging than getting my undergrad degree from Harvard. I learned to do some crazy hard poses. I bought a yoga studio – the one in the podunk Idaho town I waltzed into ten years ago. I started making decisions from my gut – and they were right. I took risks with strangers. I laughed more. I definitely cried more. Really, I just out-and-out FELT more.

Most of all, I gave myself the freedom to be nothing other than me, and the knowledge that I am simultaneously a beautiful, smart, sarcastic, bike-riding, art-making, rock-n-roll loving, 5’8” green-eyed yoga goddess AND a spark of divinity, just like everyone else. And that feels oh-so-good.

Oh yeah — my back pain is long gone too…

Bridget Lyons is a Certified Anusara Yoga Instructor and co-owner of YogaTejas in Driggs, Idaho. She began studying yoga twelve years ago in order to recover from chronic back pain caused by guiding numerous backpacking, kayaking, and skiing expeditions. In addition to healing her injuries through yoga, she unexpectedly discovered a way of connecting to grace. Bridget loves the combination of athleticism and spiritual exploration offered by the yoga practice, and her teaching and practice reflect her commitment to a strong body and an open heart. She teaches weekly drop-in classes at her studio, weekend workshops throughout the inter-mountain west, and Yoga Alliance RYT-200 trainings for students looking to truly commit to yoga.

Recently Bridget has been offering courses and trainings online as well; you can practice with her free videos and take her 7-day Yogi Superheroes Intensive at www.bridgetlyonsyoga.com. To read more of her musings on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness on the mat, go to www.bridgetlyonsyoga.wordpress.com. Connect with her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Bridget-Lyons-Yoga and Twitter @BLyonsYoga.

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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, RickPhoto.com.

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:

Cancer.
Cancer.
Cancer.

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.

Yes.”

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, RickPhoto.com.

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, RickPhoto.com.

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, RickPhoto.com.

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“Seeing” Through Yoga

Name: Krissie Jane Penney
Location: Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada
Occupation: Massage Therapist, Reflexologist,Yoga Instructor & Owner of “The Lila Centre”

Photo by Flickr user Mokarta Graphic.

I have no other way to describe my childhood or teenage years other than to use the word “lost.” I was brought up in a regular family, in a regular neighborhood and never had to go without. Even at a very young age I did know how fortunate I was in comparison to so many other children. But despite that, I was sad….

About what? Good question. I didn’t like how people were mean to other people, how money seemed to drive people to evil, how people were judged on their appearance, or how everyone around me seemed to accept all of this in almost a defeated way. Why wouldn’t anyone change these things? It seemed so obvious to me what was wrong, how could others not see it?

I can remember the moment I was told who God was. Church was not a part of my childhood nor was religion. My father had lost his father at a very young age and didn’t feel we needed to attend church as he was so angry with religion and God. I was taken to a church by some friends, to a group called awanas, an evening play group where they educated children about the Christian religion. I could not believe what I was being told. These people seemed to have all the answers, at the tender age of eight. But the more I was told the less I believed it. I mean, really – There was a giant wooden boat with every animal on it and everyone in China was going to go to hell? It didn’t seem right at all. So, I gave up on the notion and decided that all religions were some sort of brainwashing cult. In my eyes, they passed judgment on others for no reason, just like the government or teachers in school. I wanted no part of that.

As a teenager I sunk deeper into depression. I suffered from anorexia nervosa, got into drugs and excessive drinking, and even had a couple of suicide attempts. Nothing mattered: not my future, not my parents, nor my friends. I moved out of my parents’ house at age 17 and into a drug house with my at-the-time boyfriend. He was verbally and physically abusive towards me. Every day was a big party. And being in such a state all the time really made me forget what kind of world I was living in. At the time I really thought I was happy.

Photo by Flickr User Vladimir I U L.

One night we were at a friend’s house at a party. I had been drinking and we all decided to indulge in some substance abuse. I had too much. I remember sitting on a couch and thinking, “This is bad, so bad. I think I am actually going to die.” The next thing I knew I was not in my body at all but I was above everyone in the room, looking down. I looked fine, but what was going on? I had this overwhelming feeling that life was a game. And I was losing terribly. The rest of the evening was a blur. I woke up the next morning scared to death. After that moment I just knew there was something more than this world. But what? I mean religion seemed so unbelievable. So I decided to follow the “Krissie” religion. I believed in God but not religion. I didn’t want to be a loser in this giant game. I needed to make myself a better person.

I quit the drugs, which was unbelievably easy after my experience. I applied for university and off I went to the nation’s capital. I was going to show people what I had seen, I was going to open the eyes of the world and help to change it, through journalism and television. People love TV!! I really did love University. I loved Ottawa. Coming from a small town it was such a change and it was so exciting. I did very well in the year at Ottawa University.

One morning I was in lecture hall and I found it a bit difficult to focus on the board. I had to move up to the front. “Bizarre!” I thought to myself. I called my mother and asked her to make an appointment with the eye doctor, as I obviously needed some glasses. I came home and off to the doctor I went. She flicked through the lenses asking, “Better or worse?” over and over. “My goodness this is taking some time,” I thought to myself. She left the room and asked if it would be ok to look into the back of my eyes. She took her light and looked, then left the room again. “Just give me a prescription so I can go home,” I impatiently thought to myself. She returned and asked simply, “Do you have a valid driver’s license?” “Yes,” I replied. “I’m sorry. I’m contacting the DMV and having it suspended immediately. And, I’m sending you to a specialist in the city. There is something wrong.” Shock waves ran through me. I didn’t know what else to even say other than “Ok.”

I saw the specialist not long after. I am legally blind, I will never drive again, never see the overheads again…. So I dropped out of university. I couldn’t hack it without being able to take my notes or see the TV in class. “It’s called Starguardts, very rare, only three people in the province have it. There is no known cure,” the specialist had explained.

Every possible negative feeling ran through me. HATE. I hated everything and everyone. And WHY? Why me? I was trying to be a better person and this is what I get? I went back to drinking, partying and not really caring. I felt sorry for myself and anyone that might have to be around me. I worked in a local restaurant and I met some good people, but nevertheless hated the work. One of the guys I worked with in the kitchen became one of my dearest friends. He was lost like me. He was scared to come out of the closet and I was scared to live. We decided one day to go to a yoga class. I don’t much remember how or why it even came up. But, we went.

Kerry, the teacher, was my lifesaver! I was hooked after the first ten minutes. So was my friend Cory. Kerry was so calm. I left the class feeling like I was alive for the first time in two years. On my mat there was no eye problem, no pressure, no judgment. I was weak back then and had so much difficulty getting into any pose. I really did suffer through the physical part of the class. Savasana, oh Savasana. Meditation came so naturally to me. I found myself in the state I had encountered so long ago on that couch. Being able to see my life from an outside view and detach from the mess of life and take a moment in time to relax and breathe. It wasn’t scary this time, it felt right. We went every week. I just knew I wanted to do this, to teach this to people. This is how I could reach people. This is what I had been seeking for so long.

I went back to school. I became a Massage Therapist, a Reflexologist and finally a Yoga Teacher! My 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training warped my entire life into a great one. I had come a long way but this course was the cherry on top. I overcame my drug problems, my drinking problems, quit smoking, started eating healthy, let go of the unhealthy relationships and negativity around me and most importantly, I embraced myself for who I am. I did this all on my mat, through my asana. There are no words to describe the changes that occur in you once you practice yoga. It happens even if you don’t want it to, even when you think you are going for an exercise.

I know now why I lost my vision. If I had not, I would not be doing what I do today. I have helped people heal in the same ways yoga had helped me. Seven years of people I have helped. I am the owner of The Lila Centre, the first yoga studio to open in my small town of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. I work with my original teacher Kerry and three other wonderful teachers. I feel lucky, happy and blessed in ways I could never put into words. I love going to work. I am at Peace.

Krissie Jane Penney owns and operates The Lila Wellness Centre and Yoga Studio in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She currently practices massage therapy, reflexology and teaches yoga three days a week and loves every moment of her job. Krissie owns her own house, has a wonderfully supportive boyfriend and family, an amazing roommate and two very special fur babies. Words by which Krissie lives, “I Am Legally Blind and I Love Me!” She believes that everyone should feel this way and plans to help to heal people until the day she dies.

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.