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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The Alchemy of Yoga

Name: Natalie Almond
Location: Sydney, Australia
Occupation: Yoga Teacher at The Living Room Coogee

At the age of 25 I was feeling rather unwell but every time I went to the doctor with a drastic bronchial, asthmatic cough they would test my lungs only to say that they were as healthy as an athlete. I looked well with a healthy tan and a very muscular body.

My problem was that I was obsessive in everything that I did from working hard, playing hard and training hard. I was in a complete burn out.

One day the doctor decided to give me a complete overhaul and found that I had a few liver disorders which I will not name as it is not part of my life anymore. He also discovered that I had sciatica down my entire right leg. The sciatica caused me a lot of pain and grief and a very sore mid to lower back. The doctor suggested I also see a psychiatrist as he said I was depressed.

One week later I met John Burke, a yoga teacher and healer of the Tantric tradition. In just the first visit with him, he knew of my ailments and of the party recreations in which I had been partaking. He placed his hand above my liver and asked if I could feel the heat. He then did the same over my kidneys and I could feel them absolutely burning. He proceeded to tell me that my entire filtering system was burnt out, hence the depression. (The doctor had diagnosed the liver problems but the specialist had concluded that there was nothing wrong with my kidneys.)

John told me that obsession runs in my family heredity and he explained that while it is very difficult to change an obsessive personality, you can change your obsessions to more healthy ones. This, according to him, would be my key to transformation. John told me not to wait until I stopped my behavior but to start coming to yoga and experience a natural high. He explained that by feeling this natural high, I would not feel any need to take drugs nor to continue with this hardcore and damaging lifestyle.

I continued working with John by having regular healing treatments, taking herbs and practicing yoga. John also taught me to create a relationship with my organs by talking to them every day; and by telling my obsessive spleen to slow down and my lazy liver to pick up, I began to heal and feel.

During one healing session, I had a visualisation of a dark-haired boy in a dark room. This boy was very scared to go outside. Outside, a blonde-haired, overactive boy started to skip down a hill, but in his over-excitement he tumbled down, landing at the door of the dark-haired boy. He beckoned for the boy to come outside and the dark-haired boy’s mother encouraged him to go. The boy reached his hand out and touched the blonde boy and he immediately felt the warmth of the sun. The blonde boy took the hand of the dark-haired boy and they both skipped off in harmony, the blonde boy relaxed and the dark-haired boy confident. According to John, this visualisation represented the fact that my liver and my spleen were now in balance.

I once recounted this story to my father (who died two and a half years ago of liver cancer) and he told me that his brother had painted a picture of a boy in a dark room just before he too had died of liver cancer- but unfortunately he didn’t get a chance to paint the other boy.

I say this to illustrate that we have the power to change things that are stamped in our DNA. Most of the men in my dad’s family died of the same dis-ease. But I am living proof that we can change these genetic stamps and now my children and the next generations will no longer hold that stamp.

Photo by Flickr User Ralph Buckley.

I went back to the doctor for the same tests I had originally had, and this time one liver problem didn’t show up at all and the other had became an antibody. The doctors of course found this hard to believe and said it must have been a misdiagnosis.

Because of this miraculous healing transformation in my own life, I learned, and have now been teaching for 20 years, this style of yoga called ‘Alchemic Yoga,’ a system devised by John Burke from the ancient Tantric traditions.

I recently met a Tantric Baba who took one look at me and said “a true alchemist is one that has healed a disease,” and then smiled at me.

Natalie runs The Living Room and is very passionate about her unique teachings. Natalie has been practicing yoga for 23 years and teaching for 18 years. With an athletic background she realized “fit and healthy” was created by yoga more than any other physical exercise she had tried.

With a great need to heal herself she learned a lot about bodily functions. Natalie realized the pH balance of the body is an important part to all healing, and is all related to Ha -Tha, sun-moon, male-female, yin-yang, liver-spleen, acid-alkaline and mind-body. Bringing the two sides (left – right) of the body into balance, the posture is corrected, the pH is balanced, along with the mind and body, and this allows the soul to reside in a comfortable body with a radiant spirit. This was the beginning of her training in Alchemic Yoga.

Natalie’s healing keys are: strong belief in visualization and creating a deep and meaningful relationship with the body and organs by talking to them with true intent. She understands that the emotional state is vital to our health of body and mind. Natalie has taught people with chronic fatigue, HIV positive, anxiety, depression and many other ailments with considerable success and people of all ages from 3 years old.

Edited by Jeannie Page.

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