My Journey Back to Myself

The Yoga Diaries is proud to present the winner of the
Montezuma Yoga transformation story contest:

 

Name: Leah Johnson
Location: Colorado, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

Costa Rica BeachA little over two years ago my life started again. I had moved to a small jungle town in Costa Rica thinking that I would only be there for three months to learn some yoga and Spanish—but little did I know what the Universe had in store for me.

I was always curious about yoga but I could never seem to get myself to take a class. It wasn’t until almost five years ago that I began to know the value of my body. As most people who go through life and the motions that come with it, I had some injuries growing up but never anything that would make me think twice.

In March 2010, a bus ran a red light and hit me in my car. With adrenaline rushing through me, I had no idea how my life had just changed. I sustained injuries to my leg, shoulder, neck, and a hell of a lot of whiplash; but the biggest doozy of them all was my mild traumatic brain injury. I couldn’t handle going to dinner with friends or hearing my mom walk into the house with her heeled boots on. I couldn’t walk without my leg shaking for more than five minutes, and at any given moment I would forget what I was talking about with people. I was very proactive in my treatment and the Universe was definitely looking out for me because it brought into my journey people that helped guide me in the right direction. Without them I am convinced that I would never have been brave enough to take a chance and ultimately start my yoga journey.

After two years of solid treatment and more or less starting to take chances on myself again, I decided to make up for my lost study abroad opportunity. I found a small vacation school in the jungle beach town of Montezuma, Costa Rica. I decided to study Spanish and yoga. Honestly the yoga was my way of maintaining all of the hard work I had put into my physical health. I had no expectations of what this thing called yoga was and in the end I am thankful for that. I couldn’t hold downward dog for five breaths without my shoulder screaming and all I could think was, “What the hell did I get myself into?”

Slowly but surely I kept at it and I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was I liked about the practice. My body was aching, I was tired, but I loved my teacher, Dagmar Spremberg, and our conversations after practice, so I kept going back. Then one day we were in the middle of a sequence and I remember so clearly her giving a cue to Warrior II when all of sudden I had a clear image of myself teaching yoga in a park back in my hometown in Colorado. I felt empowered, strong, and curious. I told Dagmar what had happened and her response was simply for me to do a yoga teacher training. The next thing I knew I was doing a month-long immersion program and once again the Universe had been conspiring all along.

Leah Johnson wheel croppedI can’t explain what it feels like to be broken down and built back up all in one breath, but I know how it feels and my teacher Jaqueline Chiodo (with whom I did my 200-hour teacher training) did just that. Chakras, chanting, Ayurveda—my whole world was opening up and it felt right. I felt connected and I felt as if I had tangible words to describe things I had felt my whole life. Suddenly I was a teacher. What? Me? This is crazy. I returned home after being gone in the jungle and while I was trying to figure out my next steps, I offered up free classes to finish up my certification. Free classes led to privates, privates led to being busier, and low and behold I got a job at another studio, and I had students with whom I was connecting just as I had done with my own teachers. And here we are two years later. When I say “two years,” it seems like a long time but then when I play back everything I am amazed at all that has happened! I’ve led retreats in both Colorado and Costa Rica, and I can’t seem to get myself away from trainings because I’m a nerd at heart and love to learn, and am continually a student.

As it has for many, the physical practice was what brought me to my mat, but it is not what has kept me there. It has helped me to reconnect with myself and every day I ask myself how it is that I can take my practice off of my mat. How can I find my breath in the midst of the chaos? How can I appreciate the fact that I GET to do this practice, not that I have to? I am walking, breathing, living so yes, I GET to move, to breathe, to flow, and what a beautiful thing that is. The truth is, yoga has brought out so many why’s for me. Why it is I don’t do well around negative people. Why when I haven’t been to my mat for too long or I have stopped taking five minutes for myself that my injuries flare up and I feel clouded and frustrated. It all comes back to my breath and being able to connect. The connection, the held space for change and transformation—that is what my journey with yoga has brought me so far. I know I’m still just at the beginning of it but what a journey it has been. I am forever grateful to my teachers and my students for the lessons I learn every day.

I love to teach. I love to connect. I love that I have the privilege of seeing the other side of yoga, both on and off the mat. I love that I have found a foundation to come back to when I feel like I’m in chaos. And I love that I always have my breath. Lord knows I am still working on my transformation, but my mat is a tangible place to go when I need it—to take chances, to trust that every practice is different from day to day but in the end it is worth every single breath I take.

Leah Johnson bioLeah was born and raised in beautiful Colorado where she has the privilege of teaching and connecting with people daily. Although she has a travel addiction that sweeps her off to the jungles of Costa Rica or to visit friends whenever she can, she loves that Colorado is her home. She is a RYT 500 Vinyasa yoga teacher and hopes to have her own wellness center one day. When she’s not teaching she is with family and friends and most likely having a few laughs and a dance party.

 

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How Forrest Yoga Changed My Life

The Yoga Diaries is proud to present the winner of the
Forrest Yoga transformation story contest:

 

Name: Kaitlin Morris
Location: Riverhead, New York, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

When I was 13 years old, I was trying desperately to accept and love myself. Having determined that I was officially “too fat,” “ugly,” and generally not conforming to what I perceived to be the ideals of my peer group, I joined a weight loss group and began to exercise with my mother’s encouragement. Although my parents were loving and supportive, I interpreted their support as criticism—I had to be thinner, smaller, and quieter. I had to get better grades in school and pick up more slack around the house.

A few years passed … I lost 35 lbs by taking my weight loss plan to an extreme, sometimes eating as little as 1,000 calories a day and exercising vigorously on a daily basis. Seeing these changes in my body and attitude as positive, I made other positive changes in my life. I stopped slitting my wrists, I began to help out my parents more with the household chores, and I began to work harder at school to improve my grades.

It was about this time that I decided that I wasn’t enough. Even though I had lost weight, even though I seemed intelligent and well-adjusted, I still wasn’t good enough. Taking this painful conclusion to heart, I began to exercise more and seek out alternative ways to tone and strengthen my body, whipping it into a shape that I could accept. I tried weights, aerobics, cardio machines, and, luckily, yoga. I tried an inexpensive yoga class geared towards beginners at my library and I began to notice changes not just in my posture but also in my thought patterns. As I continued the practice, slight decreases in anxiety and stress, negativity, and improvements in my self-esteem were my surprise rewards.

I kept taking yoga classes through the years, but eventually the stress of college and other aspects of my life somehow expressed themselves as a desire to lose more weight, to go further, to seek a more distant “edge” physically and mentally. I began to lose faith in yoga, feeling bored and injured by the level of instruction and styles of yoga available at the time. I considered giving it up completely, favoring more physically challenging exercises instead to further reduce my body to a tight nub of muscle and skin.

I decided to branch out, to seek other styles, and to look for new teachers. Somewhere along the way, yoga had left me looking for something deeper, something that was missing. I was sick of checking my watch throughout class as I waited for that “yoga elevator music” and the dull, simple poses to end. I was sick of flowery language and cues that didn’t make sense. I was sick of, as a biology student, knowing more about alignment and health than my teachers. So I bought a membership at a studio further from my house and began to search for whatever it was that had become lost along the way.

On a rainy FKaitlin Morris backbendriday in October, I chose to skip my obsessive cardio exercise. Instead I took a yoga class labeled “Advanced” on the recommendation of another yoga instructor who also enjoyed a good challenge. It was here that I found what I had all but given up hope of finding—yoga that physically, intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally came together with my body and my mind and melted into my soul.

With the first round of abdominals, I was hooked for life. I could feel something, deep inside, that I had never felt before, something that no other physical or spiritual path had ever given me a touch of. I felt like I would be okay, like I was good, like I had come home to somewhere safe and warm.

The class was my first Forrest Yoga experience, and I spent the whole time alternatively laughing and crying. As I drove the long way home, I knew that I had found my saving grace.

That summer, the teacher of that class opened her own yoga studio (Good Ground Yoga in Hampton Bays, NY) even closer to my home, and I had the unbelievable opportunity to practice Forrest Yoga with her several times each week until this day.

I felt my life unfold, new opportunities arose, and I leapt at them. I took more difficult, intimidating college courses. I finished my undergraduate degree. I cried through savasana as I felt my sister’s hands in mine, healing from her sudden death years before.

My eating disorder became something that I could work through with the breath, consciousness, and the new-found courage that the practice gave me. I thought about it long and hard, and then I took the leap.

Kaitlin Morris handstand croppedHere I am, now teaching yoga myself, no longer sure that I will die any day and be better for it. Now I have the hope, strength, love, and power that only Forrest Yoga could have given me. I have the tools to not only face life with my head up, but also to carve the life I choose to live. I can recover, I can heal, I can connect, and I am capable of anything.

That is what practicing Forrest Yoga did to change my life.

Kaitlin Morris bioKaitlin took her first yoga class at age 13, hoping to ease anxiety while trying a new workout. Initially skeptical, she quickly learned to love yoga and began to use the practice to handle the stress of college, the intense grief of losing her sister, and the raw struggle of healing from an eating disorder. In 2011, she took her first Forrest class with Leslie Pearlman and was hooked for life. When Leslie opened Good Ground Yoga in 2012, Kaitlin moved in and never left. Kaitlin now teaches at GGY and several other studios. www.kaitlinmorrisyoga.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.

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Ganesh Has Many Titles

{Winner Essay of The Yoga Diaries / Rebelle Society contest:
Did Yoga Transform Your Life?}

 

Name: Terry Schifferns
Location: Gibbon, Nebraska, USA
Occupation: Writing Instructor

Ganesh has many titles: The God of Beginnings, The Remover of Obstacles, The Lord of Thresholds, Ekadanta or Bowing to the Truth. Ganesh is never far from Mooshak, his companion the mouse. The mouse has been my totem animal for the last 20 years. But that is a different story. This is the story of Ganesh or when you are ready the teacher appears.Ganesha2009 was a difficult year for me. The year began with my blood pressure spiking and debilitating dizzy spells, a headache that lasted a month, and endless doctor appointments for endless tests, which would later (much later) be diagnosed as six TIAs, Transient Ischemic Attacks (mini strokes). On March 1st my longtime best friend Cher died and my mother died unexpectedly on April 4th. I cried a lot. I went to work like a remote control robot. I graded papers. I went to more doctor appointments. At home, I cried in the shower. I cried at night. I cried when I watched commercials on TV. I cried when I sorted through the medical bills. But I went to work every day.

I had started yoga just a year earlier. So I went to yoga. Every week I went to yoga. Every week I’d set my intention, and every week I’d end up crumpled on my yoga mat in child’s pose weeping. My yoga teacher and companions were kind and compassionate. I made it to the last day of my teaching semester, and I cried for a week straight. I went to yoga twice a week that summer. I read Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed. In the story, the main character visits a therapist who has a statue on her desk of Ganesh, “Remover of Obstacles,” “Destroyer of Sorrows.”

I remember thinking about how much I needed my own Destroyer of Sorrows.

That week I walked into yoga, unrolled my mat in the same place I’d been unrolling my mat all summer, and there beside me on the wall was the same tapestry I had been weeping beneath all summer, a tapestry of an elephant with a small mouse at his feet—Ganesh. All summer Ganesh, The Destroyer of Sorrows, The Destroyer of Obstacles, The Lord of Thresholds had been right there beside me, transforming me. That was when I first believed that yoga was the path to my new beginning.

Terry SchiffernsTerry Schifferns teaches writing at Central Community College in Nebraska. Look for her smack dab at the bottom of the Platte’s big bend in the middle of Nebraska dancing with Sandhill cranes each spring.

 

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