Exploring Softness Within My Strength

Name: Kristi Johnson
Location: London, England
Occupation: Forrest Yoga Teacher

I remember my first yoga teacher training like it was yesterday. I didn’t feel like I was flexible enough to be a yoga teacher. I was struggling my way through the morning intensives, surrounded by ex-dancers, flinging themselves in and out of everything without a decent warm-up. My body chugged and screeched alongside them as I muscled my way through. Signing up for the training felt like a decision I had made against my own best judgment.

At some stage during the training I was called to the centre of the group and asked to demonstrate Chataranga. I went in and held it, strongly. As everyone ooohh-ed and aahhh-ed I continued to hold it. My muscles were pumped and my mind determined to keep the shape for as long as it took, to demonstrate “perfection.”

It was in this moment that I acknowledged my “strength,” and identified with it as my driving force.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Within my first year of teaching, I was partaking in a class and got badly injured. The teacher stood on my back leg in a lunge, pressing down hard and fast, which resulted in a herniated disc in my low back. I was in absolute agony. I couldn’t even stand up straight in the beginning. Every footstep sent nerve pain down my entire left leg for almost a year.

Being so firmly routed in my quest to be strong, and hold everything together, I pushed myself through it. I was teaching on average 22 yoga classes per week, practicing intensely every day, and indulged in spinning classes, boxing classes, and boot camp classes several times a week as well.

My practice sucked. I would grit my teeth through Wheel Pose after Wheel Pose, as my teacher barked at me to use my legs more, tuck my tailbone more, to trust him, it was the only way to heal. I was feeling pretty burnt out, in my practice, in my teaching, and in my life. I literally felt like I was on a treadmill, running hard and fast, but going nowhere. I knew that something had to change, and I truly questioned whether to go on and hone my skills as a teacher, or walk away from teaching all together.

Many of my friends and fellow teachers had studied with Ana Forrest and raved about her. I wasn’t convinced that holding a pose for a long time, being still, and breathing into my genitals was really my thing. Regardless, I took their advice and signed up for her Advanced Teacher Training in Hong Kong, where I was living and teaching at the time.

On day one of the Advanced Teaching Training, I introduced myself to the circle of trainees in such a bubbly, confident, and convincing manner; even I was fooled. As soon as I began to share my injuries with the group I fell apart, unexpectedly, into a puddle of tears, while mildly hyperventilating. Everything that I had bottled up, even my fear of crying in public, came to a head all at once. I went from not having cried for a very long time, to a blubbering mess for nine days straight.

I can’t explain exactly what happened, but something had shifted, in a big way.

My journey from then on became an exploration of softening—a huge learning curve for all things in my life. Forrest Yoga was a pillar of support in this sense, and as I have discovered, feeling supported plays a crucial role in my ability to soften and be vulnerable. The intents woven into the Forrest teachings like “Work Struggle Free,” and “Feed Your Spirit” became solid building blocks in my quest to embrace and honor softness and vulnerability.

I had always seen softness and vulnerability as a great weakness.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Kristi Johnson photographed by Karen Yeomans, specialist in Sports, Fitness, Health, Well-being and Yoga Photography. Based in London.

Forrest Yoga being strong, grounding and intense, fed the intensity junkie in me, but required deep feeling breath, and an element of softness to hold the poses for any length of time. Without these ingredients, I found, it is just a great big struggle.

Simple exercises like sitting on the side of my bed each morning as soon as I had woken up, with closed eyes, and a deep breath, were golden. To feel into what my spirit needed that day, reconnected me with my intuition, and knitted my spirit back together—a spirit that felt like it had been left somewhat in tatters.

Moving on, my personal mission to embrace softness and vulnerability, has shone a great big light on the immense power that comes from weaving in these elements. I feel super strong, but in a different way.

I can hold a solid Chataranga, but that strength no longer fully defines who I am.

I feel my power, and know that it lives in my spirit, my intuition, my heart, and in my vulnerabilities as much as it does in my legs, arms, or abs.

Finding softness within my strength is still a daily practice. I move much more slowly, in all areas of my life. I teach much less. I don’t numb myself out with ridiculous amounts of exercise, and I am no longer getting burnt out from my teaching. My teaching feeds me greatly, and I am hugely grateful that I did not walk away from it.

The place where my softness and strength meet is where I am committed to sharing from right now. I feel stronger, more grounded, and more vibrant than I ever have and I’m committed to empowering others in the same way.

Kristi Johnson Bio picKristi first discovered yoga in her native country of New Zealand. She traveled to Hong Kong and China in 2003 where she explored more deeply the physical, emotional, and spiritual practice of yoga. Kristi taught at PURE Yoga in Hong Kong, gathering a rich amount of experience teaching group classes, privates, and workshops, while furthering her training with teachers from all over the world. She experienced her first Forrest Yoga teacher training with Ana Forrest in 2010 and from then has never looked back. Kristi currently lives and teaches in yoga studios in London and Europe, and assists Ana Forrest in trainings and workshops around the world. You can also find Kristi’s Forrest Yoga classes online at Movement For Modern Life. Connect with Kristi here:

Website: www.kristimaeyoga.com
Blog: www.kristimaejohnson.tumblr.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/people/Kristi-Mae-Yoga/100011147582087
Instagram: www.instagram.com/kristimaeyoga/

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The Downside of Being One Tough Mother

Name: Michelle Marchildon
Location: Denver, Colorado, United States
Occupation: Author, Columnist, Yoga Teacher & General Rabble Rouser

“I’m tough, ambitious, and I know exactly what I want.
If that makes me a bitch, okay.”
Madonna

I’m with Madonna. I can be kind of a bitch. And I’m mostly okay with that.

I can be the most loyal, loving and best friend you could ever hope to have. But do not get me wrong; I am one powerful, strong, fierce, and fearless woman and if that makes me a bitch, well I’ll take it.

It’s taken me years to get to this place where I could say I was powerful. Years, and a steady practice of yoga. As a woman, it is not a popular path to be strong. It will cost you a prom date. It will cost you friends. It will make you the target of many people who are uncomfortable with female power, some of which are females.

Michelle Marchildon yoga poseIt even cost me my first marriage. But that relationship, which I call my starter marriage, was probably worth giving up. That’s because I was in it with my starter self, the one that was afraid of her power.

I remember the day my ex-husband announced he was leaving me. We went to a family counselor, who looked at us over his wire-rimmed glasses and said, “Why are you leaving this marriage? Are you not worried about your wife?”

“I’m not worried about Michelle,” my ex said. “She is very competent. (pause) V-e-r-y  Com-pe-tent.” He was practically spitting the words.

So there it was. My dirty little secret was now out in the open. I am competent. In fact, I might be one of the most capable people on the planet. However, this marriage disaster was not entirely my ex’s fault as I don’t believe he was truly married to me. He was married to my starter self.

I spent years being a little weak so the boys would feel in control and the girls would be my friend. I smiled, a lot. I hid that I was often the top student in class and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. Now I’m an Ivy League grad, and believe me, that does not get you friends in the yoga world. What gets you friends is Handstand, and I kind of suck at Handstand.

And although I was good at playing the game of being a little less, it wasn’t ‘me.’ It took me years to shed my fears about being powerful. And it took a steady practice of yoga which helped me uncover my inner badass.

Eventually, I got divorced. I changed careers. I made a ton of money in sales. And I met a man who said to me, “Go get ‘em and I will carry your bag.” So I married him.

What are we afraid of?

Women who are powerful are not liked. We get hate mail from anonymous internet writers who say we are bitches. We are told we are not yogic because we speak up and out against injustice.

If the “yogic” path is to sit in silence, let everything go and be a little less, then perhaps I am on a different path. Because my practice helped me find my voice, and I’m not about to get quiet and play nice now.

I come to the mat to rediscover the woman I know lives inside me, fabulous, intelligent and beautiful. And if that is what society calls a bitch, then so be it.

I would rather spend the end of my days being exactly who I am, than trying to be someone else. You cannot hide forever. And when you come out of your own closet, you can be brilliant. This is living stronger and with your true purpose in life. It is so much better to be authentic, than to try to be popular, and I’m mostly okay with that.

Michelle Marchildon bio photoMichelle Berman Marchildon is The Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, author, and yoga teacher. This blog is based on an excerpt from her book, Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for Elephant Journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and other yoga media. She is an E-RYT 500 Hatha teacher with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co. You can find her blog and website at www.YogiMuse.com. And you can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com.

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How Yoga Saved Me From the Worst Mistake I Didn’t Make

Name: Ashley Josephine Herzberger
Location: Wichita Falls, Texas, United States
Occupation: Lifestyle Entrepreneur & Yoga Instructor

Photo attributed to Flickr user aadl.

Photo attributed to Flickr user aadl.

In 2009 I was well on my way to accomplishing the thing I’d thought most about for my first 21 years of life. I was going to graduate from college with two degrees, both of which were categorized as high distinction due to my 3.9 GPA.

As I was preparing for my senior year, I had done everything that I possibly could to prepare myself for a successful life in the “real world.” I’d just returned from spending eight weeks interning for a boutique public relations firm in London. I had work experience (international, no less!), a stellar work ethic, the good grades to prove it, and dreams of one day owning my own public relations firm. I was going to be a bigwig media executive.

Around that same time, I started suffering from some serious chest pain. I had started practicing yoga fairly consistently after completing a second 90 days of P90X, and I thought yoga would help me to maintain my physique. Unfortunately my chest hurt so badly that it hurt to breathe, so I knew that yoga was definitely out of the question. Having recently fallen in love with the practice, I was disappointed.

I was also frustrated and scared that I was suffering from such incredible physical pain. The doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong – they kept telling me everything was fine.

Everything was not fine, despite how it appeared on the surface. In fact, everything was wrong.

I was super stressed. My drive to succeed had pushed me to the edge, and I was only 21 years old. I remember thinking to myself that somewhere along the way I had really screwed up. But it wasn’t my fault because I was doing everything everyone expected me to be doing and I was doing it well. I was a superstar in someone else’s life.

After my chest pain (a symptom of my extreme stress and nothing more) subsided, I dove into yoga even more. I have the recession to thank for giving me a slight reprieve in finding a corporate job. I found one, but for a yoga company rather than for a big PR firm.

In a small way, yoga saved my life after just a few months of practice. The awareness I developed to listen to my body led my mind to ponder a different career path. Little did I know there was no turning back.

Ashley Josephine peacockBecause I worked for a yoga company, I had the opportunity to take a Teacher Training program at a discount. A huge knowledge junkie, I was excited to take it for myself, but also knew that it would help me to better represent the company. I was in the marketing department after all. I didn’t go into the Teacher Training with an intention to teach afterward. I went in with an open mind, willing to see what would happen.

It became quickly apparent that I was meant to be a yoga teacher. I denied it for a while because yoga teachers don’t make much money; at least all of the yoga teachers around me seemed to struggle day in and day out to make ends meet. That wasn’t the life I wanted. I was still hanging on to dreams of luxury resorts, fancy dinners, and high-profile events from my “Big Girl” PR career track.

Teacher Training certainly helped me to deepen my practice with yoga. I became immersed in the philosophy and mindset practices and some more things started to shift. Opportunities appeared in my life at just the right time to set me up for a big leap of faith, which I took in the spring of 2012.

At this time, I decided I didn’t want to work for someone else and I set out on my own as an entrepreneur. I still had my marketing hat on, but it was a major accomplishment to let go of a steady paycheck and decide that I was going to fend for myself. The old Ashley would never have done that. Yoga made me believe that I was strong, smart, and capable.

Ashley Josephine green malaIt has been almost a year since I left the safety net of society. My dedication to practice has helped me come into even more alignment with who I am and what I was put on this Earth to do. It’s not marketing.

The entrepreneurial bug bit me hard, but it would never have had the chance had I not ventured into the yoga forest.

Yoga changed my life in a profound way. My practice pointed me back home. The journey down the wrong road was causing me a lot of pain and unhappiness. Without yoga, I would never have had the strength to follow my passions and live my dream.

I strongly believe that yoga practice gives you everything you need to succeed as you. It’s the education you’ll never receive in the classroom because it teaches you about your strengths, weaknesses, passions, personality, preferences, and aversions.

Once you start to harness that knowledge, it’s up to you to show up in this world and make a difference. It’s my hope that I can do that by empowering young women to reconnect with their own souls and to live the life they deserve. It is yoga that got me to where I am today, and yoga will continue to guide my way for the rest of my life.

Ashley Josephine bio
Ashley Josephine Herzberger currently shares her love of yoga in Wichita Falls, TX, and the surrounding area, through classes, workshops, and on her blog http://ashleyjosephine.com. Her conviction for the spiritual aspects of practice have inspired her to build an online studio of women to support one another in their quest to reconnect with body, mind and soul. Sign up for her weekly Wellness Wednesday newsletter to receive short yoga videos and inspiration for living an authentic life.

 

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A Yoga Story

Name: Allison Foster
Location: Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, USA
Occupation: Yoga Instructor 

When I started teaching classes in Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, I began to have people approach me to say they would love to try yoga, BUT… (you fill in the blank.)

Some have never gone to a yoga class and worry about how they will look. Others worry about not being flexible. Some think they aren’t “yoga-types” even though they have always wanted to try it. A few aren’t sure they want to practice next to someone who has been doing yoga for a long time. Most just don’t know what to expect. So I wanted to take a few minutes to tell you about yoga from my perspective, why I teach and what yoga means to me.

I, like many, found my way to yoga because I wanted to reduce stress and improve my body-build strength and develop flexibility. And I, like many, found that yoga not only did those things, but…So. Much. More.

Since I began a regular practice, yoga has steadily changed my life. I am stronger and more flexible, but not just in my body. I am able to approach my life more honestly and more clearly than ever before. I have reduced stress, but not just because I feel more relaxed. I breathe deeper and love deeper too. I am more alive.

I realized that my yoga practice is a metaphor for my life and that setting intentions on my mat— to be patient, to create space, to be disciplined, to be compassionate, to be present— often lead to those things showing up in my life as well. I discovered that yoga is powerful.

I also realized that yoga is about the connections we have to each other. It’s about NOT judging a book by its cover and it’s about recognizing that each and every one of us is more than we seem. It’s about love.

Last summer, I was on vacation and stopped by a small studio to take a yoga class.  When I walked in, the instructor had just finished a private lesson with a little girl and was talking to her mother. I don’t know anything about this little girl except what I observed in the few moments I was with her.

She was blind. Her facial features weren’t typical. One leg dragged behind her as she walked. She wasn’t quite able to make her body do what she wanted it to do.

And she was beautiful.

Her little soul glowed so brightly, it was almost as if she didn’t have a body to house it.

As her mother paid for the session and talked with the instructor, the little girl sat on a bench singing to herself. And when her mom walked over to get her, she put her tiny hand in the palm of her mother’s, lifted her face to her and said, “Mama, I want to come back. We danced in the waves together.”

That’s yoga.

Join the dance.

Breathe deeply. Love fully. Be vulnerable. Be strong. Let your soul shine. These are the guiding principals behind Allison Foster’s approach to yoga. Practicing for eight years and teaching for five, Allison has discovered that we are all yogis at heart. Since earning her 200-hour Yoga Alliance Certification with Sarla Nichols in 2008, Allison has continued to search, learn and share yoga with others. One of Allison’s favorite quotes from Marianne Williamson vividly points to why she shares her love and knowledge of yoga with others: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” Follow Allison on Facebook here.

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The Logic of Having No Expectations

Name: Brown Vagabonder
Location: Toronto, Canada
Occupation: Part-time Yoga Instructor

Photo by Flickr user mikebaird.

One thing that yoga has taught me is the precious logic of having no expectations. In my younger, yoga-free (awful) years, I used to have high expectations of everything. You would imagine that I excelled in everything and did everything better because I expected more. But I know now that my quality of life was worse when I had higher expectations. Having high expectations in any aspect of my life resulted in me never being satisfied with anything around.

I wasn’t satisfied with my life in any way, shape or form: my job, my friends, my body, my family, my possessions, my car, my anything. I didn’t complain about it, because I didn’t really see any point in it. But I was dissatisfied. It was a soul-sucking kind of dissatisfaction – which you try to fill up with worthless items like clothes and shoes, lots of partying and drinking, and lots of unhealthy junk food.

I started yoga as a fluke. My friend was going to a hot yoga class, and I joined her, expecting nothing major. The first time I did hot yoga nothing happened. I didn’t have an epiphany. I didn’t love it. I actually disliked the class as it informed me that I was grossly out of shape, unable to stay in the hot room for the whole 1.5 hour class. I had to leave the class several times to cool myself down (even though they had repeatedly told me not to leave the hot room during the class).

Photo by Flickr user Amre Ghiba.

I didn’t do yoga again for a couple of years. It wasn’t until I came back from my MBA course and started doing yoga regularly that I actually reaped the benefits of yoga. Once I started a regular practice, I realized that yoga gave me what nothing else in my life was able to give me: the sense of satisfaction with the way my life was going. It was a deep-seated sense of satisfaction, the kind that is so deep within, it is immoveable. Unshakeable. I have moments of doubt, or anxiety or any of the other dark emotions, occasionally. But my core is so strong; that satisfied core is so strong, that these little pesky moments of darkness cannot shake that core. It doesn’t do a thing to move me. I am infallible. I am strong.

I also realized that instead of having high expectations, I now have none. Of course I want to have a good life filled with happiness, joy, family, friends, love, yoga, travel and great food. But I do not have high expectations of anything. I do not expect to have a great day at work when I go in, I do not expect to have a great night when I go out dancing, and I do not expect to have a great meal when I go out dining. I expect very little.

Photo by Flickr user Muffet.

So whatever I receive is always far beyond anything I might have expected. It always exceeds my expectations.

I find that just due to that one little tweak in my personality, the quality of my life has actually gone up, instead of down. I imagined the opposite, but I find that I am more satisfied with life than ever. And my life keeps on getting better and better. Even without expectations, everything in my life is improving.

I cannot wait to see where the yoga journey takes me in the future, but I know that it is going to be a glorious place, with sunshine and joy. I know it in my heart, and I can hear it on the wind.

Brown Vagabonder is a 28-year old yogi with high aspirations and low expectations. She loves to travel, do yoga, and eat foods from all around the world. Her goal is to become a full-time traveler, using her blogging and yoga skills to pay for her travels. Check out her blog at brownvagabonder.com.


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

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.