Finding Balance After a Stroke

Name: Barry Hurchalla
Location: Florida Treasure Coast
Occupation: Retired auctioneer and antique dealer

Barry Hurchalla Warrior 2My story began in 2009. I was 65, recently retired, and in good health – until I wasn’t. I was always a ‘sometimes’ runner, biker, hiker, and tennis player, but I started to notice my belly expanding. No, not a beer gut; turns out it was fluid accumulation from my liver not working the way it should. It was a genetic thing. I won the lottery: Two mutant genes triggering a protein deficiency. Goodbye, liver!

I’ll skip the details about my long illness and resulting surgery, but I have to call out the wonderful doctors and nurses at New York Presbyterian Hospital. They wouldn’t let me die, in spite of the many times I emotionally gave up. I also met a great guy, a Buddhist monk from the Zen Center for Contemplative Care, who helped me keep it all together at the hospital. And of course thanks to you, elderly man in Georgia, for becoming an organ donor.

In December 2009, I set out with my new liver. By that time, I had been in and out of the hospital since October. I spent another three in the hospital and at rehab, thanks to a post-operative stroke. Finally, in February 2010, I was free. My daughter and her husband welcomed me to their home, without a second thought, to recuperate. But I honestly just wanted to die. I weighed 111 pounds (I’m 5’7”), and I had apparently left my muscles at the hospital. I needed a wheelchair to move more than 20 feet. I couldn’t balance properly; I had vertigo just standing up.

After three months of my daughter Stacy’s whole-food cooking (and my Chinese son-in-law’s home-made favorites), I was able to get around with a walker and, on good days, just a cane. I was freezing my ass off up north at Stacy’s home in New Jersey and just wanted to get back home to Florida.

I made it back home in May, still using a walker and a cane. But unfortunately I wasn’t enjoying my “new” life. I’m a widower and I wasn’t able to do the things I most enjoyed to keep myself occupied. I didn’t have the balance to ride a bike, or the visual acuity to drive a car at normal highway speeds. The stroke had thrown something out of whack. Doctors weren’t sure, but suspected a neurological issue has disrupted my vision.

Then Stacy threw out something new to think about. She had been practicing yoga for several years on and off, and thought I should try a class. We went to her local community center for a family yoga class. We left my cane in the car, so as not to alarm the teacher.  I held Stacy’s arm instead, and we made it to the mat.

I managed the mat work without too much of a problem, but could hardly stand – just no balance there. But I enjoyed being able to move again, even in a limited way, and I also enjoyed the camaraderie of the class. Stacy and I went four times, to different studios, during my visit. I had been embarrassed by my physical limitations and because I seemed older than everyone else there, but the teachers I met were so understanding – a nice feeling. Yoga really is for everyone.

Then I saw an ad for a donation yoga class at my county library. I started going weekly and getting stronger. I met a fellow in that class who was 79. Not an exception – just the closest mat. Classes were mixed: about a third younger people, a third maybe 40-55, and a third old farts like me. A woman in that class told me about another class at a church nearby. Two classes in one week – it seemed like a lot at the time, but I was ready to commit to my practice.

Barry Hurchalla camel poseThere I met Dari, my mentor-to-be, who had been practicing yoga for more than 45 years, a vegetarian for more then 35 of them. I thought she was around my age, but it turned out she was 85 incredibly healthy years old. I started to take notice! You can see where this is going. I practiced my yoga, however weak I was, for the next year, twice a week. I continued to grow stronger. Yoga motivated me to improve my diet; I gave up meat and coffee. Once borderline hypertensive, my blood pressure is now well within a normal range, without medication.

It’s now the summer of 2013, and yoga is a huge part of my life. The doctors and nurses at New York Presbyterian saved my life, and yoga makes it worth living. I’m practicing now almost every day at Living Yoga in Vero Beach, Florida, with Elise Mahovlich and her great group of teachers. Yoga may not give me eternal life, but it will let me enjoy the years that I have left. It helps everyone, the once-a-week people and the regulars. I’ve never heard a discouraging word.

When I finally told my teachers about my medical history, they were amazed at how much I can do. And people who know me have told me how much they’ve noticed changes over the past year – even those who knew nothing about my illness. My doctors feel the same way; my primary physician said, “I’ve never prescribed yoga, but it seems like it’s working for you.”

My balance has greatly improved. The cane is long gone. I can even do bakasana – for 10 seconds, but still – and am working on headstand (salamba sirsasana). I’m considering teacher training next year, to help others like myself who need a hand in healing. Maybe you’re also ill, or overweight, or just getting older – just know that yoga is for you. It’s waiting for you.

I might have limited years left in my life, but they’ll be fun ones, thanks to yoga. It was sunny today in Florida. I drove my Can-Am motorcycle to the farmer’s market then went up to the pool for a few hours. I rode my bike. I went to yoga class. Life is good.

Barry motorcycleBarry Hurchalla is a 68-year-old retired auctioneer and antique dealer living on Florida’s East Coast. He moved there a decade ago from a pre-Revolutionary stone home in Pennsylvania, where he made his living selling and auctioning antiques. A dedicated yogi, he also enjoys biking and fishing.

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“Lyfe” and Breath

Name: Joy (Kathryn) Lanzerotte, MA, LPC
Location: Prescott/Phoenix, Arizona, USA
Occupation: Licensed Integrative Counseling Psychologist, Yoga Teacher, Public Speaker

Joy anjaneasanaTo breathe prana, life force energy, is all you have to do. For me this was apparent when I embarked on my yogic path 23 years ago. Movement follows breath. I ended every yoga class with “all you have to do is breathe.”

Then my breath was taken from me.

Despite being a healthy vegetarian, avid yogi, and holistic health aficionado, I gasped for breath through a persistent cough. It was July, in Phoenix, Arizona- everyone coughs and gasps, right? Under the care of a naturopathic physician, I had a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia.

Upon receiving the results of my x-ray, my doctor advised me, “You have a collapsed lung, a pneumothorax. Go straight to the ER.”

I was told to be prepared to spend the night. I was in danger and was not to drive. What? I was trying to comprehend that my breath was hazardous to my health. I entered the ER and waited. The attending doctor, a surgeon, confirmed that my lung was collapsed and had been for at least two and a half months. There was a jelly covering it and my trachea had shifted. He showed me the x-ray.

“How have you survived gasping for air, coughing, and the pain?” he asked, bewildered.

The pain of a collapsed lung was nothing compared to the pain I endured during the insertion of a chest tube. There was not enough morphine, prayer, or meditation that could allow me to escape the invasion of this foreign object into my body. I kept asking, “How can this be? I am not a smoker. I know how to breathe.”

I was admitted to the hospital, to the surgical floor.

Day 2

The doctor informed me that a black spot was discovered on my lung. I became faint. The doctor grabbed a cold cloth for my head.

I have a collapsed lung with a black spot?!!”

The doctor told me that my body would react with sensitivity to all medical attempts to restore my breath. He also said, “One thing IS certain: you know how to breathe. No one walks around with a collapsed lung for two months.”

A second chest x-ray confirmed the black spot. I required surgery. People live with one lung. But apparently not people like me, as I would always live a compromised life. I was given the following options: 1. Go home with a mini chest tube, 2. Go home, take some time, and return to have a chest tube reinserted, or 3. Have surgery to remove the jelly, and hope the lung inflates.

Day 3

Surgery, a flat lung, no breath, chest tube, dry cough. What is the message? It was my first surgery, a major organ, and I was frightened. Surgery was delayed, increasing my anxiety, which worsened as I gasped for breath.

Day 4

The doctor arrived as he did every day. Then he informed me, “You have Valley Fever. You have had it for some time. It invades your immune system, but your knowing how to breathe has prevented you from facing an unbelievably life-threatening illness. Valley Fever can kill.”

The doctor was right, my entire being reacted negatively to the surgery. If things were not grim enough, my body was swollen like a huge Macy’s balloon. I was enormous. My skin was stretched in every direction and when touched, made the sound of Rice Krispies. The medical staff came to view my body, touching my skin to hear it snap, crackle, and pop.  Guided imagery, chanting, meditation… nothing distracted my mind from the sights, sounds, and pain of this horrific disease.

Day 5

The pulmonary specialist, also amazed at the sight of the flattened lung with the jelly, shared the treatment for my illness. It was similar to chemo drug therapy. It would make me sick, disrupting my digestive system. I wanted to heal naturally. My surgeon encouraged me to try a low dose of morphine to allow my body to rest. He said I was fighting for my life with little, if any, reserve.

The days passed but nothing changed. One nurse took her breaks to visit me, to chant and offer me guided imagery. There were more blood tests and x-rays, but nothing changed.

Day 10

My partner contacted a high priestess/minister, seeking guidance. He saw I was giving up, letting go. Unbeknownst to me, they contacted friends, colleagues, and my global email contacts, to partake in a healing ceremony, which was scheduled in two days.

Day 12

Friday, the day of the ceremony, people gathered in my room. They came in silence, leaving items on my bed and flowers- lots of flowers. Before the one o’clock hour, the high priestess leaned into my space and whispered, “Is there anything you want to say, some thing or someone with whom you want to make amends? Anything you wish you had accomplished or completed in this life?” 

“No,” I responded, “if I were meant to finish my book or dissertation I would have.”

Then she asked, “If you live, what do you want?”

“I want to go to Italy to eat and drink as much as I want.”

At the 13th hour, for 13 minutes, the high priestess asked everyone to assist with breathing the breath of life into my lungs, to be held in the Goddess vessel. She asked them to pray, chant, meditate, or give hands on healing to source their higher power. I sat cross-legged in the center of a bed with handrails, supported by tubes, and the breath and prayers of all gathered in spirit.

Silence embraced the room. I was ready to go, to face death. The light was bright and freeing, I felt seven, innocent. My “lyfework” here on earth was complete. The ceremony ended and I was alone.

Day 13

The next morning, another chest x-ray was ordered. Hope waned, the hospital wanted the bed, and my partner was losing patience. We waited. My surgeon arrived to remove the chest tube. He smiled and said, “You are going home, your lung is re-inflated enough to remove this tube.”

Was it a miracle? Did I die? Was I going to breathe without a device?

YES! At four that afternoon, we left the hospital, my home for 12 days. I was not to drive for two months nor fly for three more.

In October of 2006, a pulmonary specialist discharged me from treatment. He said, “Go and live! Go to Italy, fly a plane, do inversions, handstands, regain your life. You have endured the most serious Valley Fever trauma.”

Joy Lanzerotte by treeNOW

I’ve waited almost 13 years to the day to share this story. I have not wanted to relive any part of it nor the challenges. I continue to teach and practice yoga, emphasizing breath, not just asana. I maintain a life-long commitment to holistic health and wellness and never accepted any medication other than herbs and acupuncture.

I have total respect and deep felt love for my naturopath, my cousin, and surgeon who came to my room every day. I am eternally grateful to my goddess high priestess/minister and to all those who gathered around my bed and universally to breathe life into my body, mind, and soul.

Joy Lanzerotte bioJoy is a licensed counseling psychologist, a former university professor and a yoga teacher for over 2 decades, with 4200 hours of training. She has taught throughout the United States, at numerous health spas, and has been one of the teacher trainers at Avalon Yoga and Art in Palo Alto, CA. She was selected by the Arizona Yoga Association as the featured teacher, 2010. Currently she teaches yoga in Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona and nationally. Find Joy on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LyfeworksByLanzerotte. The business name LYFEWORKS™ was inspired by Joy’s father. Growing up he’d teach her, “Life is work if you live it, but life works if you live it.”  Joy changed the “I” to “Y” because the “Y” represents that YOU are responsible for your choices. 

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From Postpartum Depression to Yoga

Name: Lindsay Farnworth
Location: Utah, USA
Occupation: Mother

Farnworth and baby17 months ago I gave birth to my first child: a beautiful, blue-eyed little boy with serious eyebrows pulled in toward the bridge of his nose and a scrawny body. As I held him in my arms after a quick but difficult natural birth, I didn’t feel the way I expected. Watching the movies and hearing stories from other women, I thought I would feel this overwhelming attachment and love for my newborn babe. Where was that magic feeling to connect us for eternity?

A few weeks went by and emotions ran high for me. I felt myself tumbling toward a dark chasm and while my fingernails scraped on rock to avoid it, the fall was inevitable, and I found myself tumbling into depression. It wasn’t constant, but every time I felt my feet fall out from under me, I was lost.

And I couldn’t figure out why. My son was healthy. He smiled at me. He knew my voice. He obviously loved me. I loved him too, but it was a love that grew over time. It wasn’t immediate the way everyone says it is.

I learned very quickly that I was experiencing postpartum depression: a very dark, terrible place that I could not escape. I received counseling but refused the meds. Medication is not a bad thing, but I felt this was a journey my soul was crying for me to experience, not to numb.

Every day, I felt the desire to do yoga. I ignored it. Then, a few months into my suffering, I decided I was worth it. I got up early, found a great yoga practice on Hulu, and did it. It was focused on the heartbeat.

My heart felt at peace. The movements were sometimes impossible, especially without a teacher there to help me, but I used the difficulty to challenge myself to be present. I had to focus on where I was at that particular moment. Meditation afterward also brought me to the moment at hand—not thinking about the kitchen that needed to be cleaned or the bottles that needed to be washed. I was just me lying on a sticky mat in the corpse pose, palms facing upward, legs relaxed, feet hanging loosely.

Doing yoga has improved my flexibility. It has made it possible for me to breathe better. Before, I could barely do a moderate hike; this past weekend I hiked twice and only lost my breath once going uphill. My body is changing. Where fat once hung, I can feel muscle peeking through. It is an awesome feeling.

But above all, doing yoga has improved my sense of being. It has healed my broken soul. It’s almost as if yoga and meditation have given me the ability to climb out of the dark chasm and into the blue sky—a sky that matches the color of my son’s eyes. Eyes I adore the way only a mother can.

Lindsay Farnworth yoga matYoga has healed me. The journey is not over yet. In fact, it’s only just begun, but I am getting closer and I will continue to cherish the way the sticky mat embraces my lonely feet.

Lindsay Farnworth bio1Lindsay Farnworth currently lives in Utah with her husband and son. She has a degree in Creative Writing, enjoys gourmet food, cooking as well as eating, and is a novice yogi. She is discovering new ways to enjoy life every day on her blog, http://livingromantically.wordpress.com.


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A Journey of Remembrance

Name: Natalia Chaparro
Location:
Bogotá, Colombia
Occupation:
Yoga Teacher & Health Coach

Natalia arm balanceThroughout my journey I have encountered amazing teachers, beautiful beings, and challenging situations. Even though at many times it was difficult to perceive, it has all been part of a journey towards my own heart; a path of recognition of the Divine in all of its manifested forms; a process that has been teaching me to dance the full spectrum of life’s rhythms: sometimes joyful, other times melancholic and sad.

Now that I have the chance to reflect on all that has unfolded, I see gratitude arising towards circumstances and people that I used to consider the source of my wounds. I can see that the people and situations that I used to blame were actually the ones who pulled me to this path. Perhaps without the presence of painful experiences I would not have had the need to look for something bigger. “Life shakes us to wake us,” so today I appreciate all of the pain and fear that I experienced in the past.

In order to provide some understanding of how I feel now and the meaning that yoga has in my current life, I will start from the beginning of my story. It could have been different- in the end it does not matter. But my story is yet one more example of what yoga and its magic can do!

When I was born my mother was a flight attendant. She traveled the majority of the time, so I grew up spending most of my time with my father or by myself. I have three brothers and being the only girl I always had a feeling of responsibility: I was clearly the feminine, loving caring figure at home.

Many times I felt (still do) like my mother’s mother, which was somewhat awkward and sometimes difficult. But nevertheless I got used to it and that was how I grew up.

When I was seventeen years old, my parents got divorced. It wasn’t a mutual agreement, nor a peaceful and mature decision. Quite the opposite. To my eyes it seemed a chaotic situation, full of pain, crying, and disrespectful words. At that point I felt like my world was ending. My ground felt shaky and I was really scared! I wanted to be there for both my mother and my father. I felt the need to take care of everyone, except for myself.

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney,

Photo by Flickr user h.koppdelaney,

In reality it probably wasn’t that bad, but at that point my system collapsed. I started having a lot of dark and negative thoughts. For months I spent most of my time sleeping, trying to deny my pain. I remember that I never told my friends or spoke a word to anybody about my feelings. I had a deep desire to die, and my body clearly read the message, so it started executing my orders.

I got very sick. I lost almost 20 pounds and as I would only eat sugar cookies, my pancreas started to fail. I was diagnosed with insulin resistance, which doctors described as a very serious condition. I was so weak that I remember I spent hours lying in my bed, feeling how small I was, how little space I occupied and how much I wanted to completely disappear.

My parents forced me to go to a psychiatrist which didn’t had any impact on me. I just went to listen to her speech without being touched by her words.

One day, one of my aunts, who has been a yogini for a long time, told me about a very nice and wise Swami who was visiting Colombia and she suggested that I meet him. For some reason that I still don’t understand, I agreed and went. I just went with no expectations at all. It was a Kriya Yoga weekend workshop. When I first arrived, the smiling people and the peaceful and joyful ambiance seemed very far from my inner reality. But I stayed anyway.

We did some chanting and a lot of guided pranayama. All of a sudden, something inside of me shifted. It was like a recognition of something, of an inner light. I felt touched by pure love, and for a moment, my sense of isolation and fear vanished. It was as if in my breath, in my silence, and in the pulsation of my heart I could hear the sound of life- the music of creation inviting me to keep being part of it. Everything happened really quickly and I didn’t even have the time to fully process the experience at that moment. I just went back home, but it was evident: something was different. I was seeing everything through a different lens. I suddenly realized that life was beautiful just as it was and that I really wanted to be a part of it.

After that experience I started a very intense and dedicated sadhana (spiritual practice). It was as if my practice was food to my soul. All of the pain, the fear and contraction started to slowly move, allowing me to keep walking with more ease.

My whole system understood that I was safe and so the connections with life became stronger. My insulin resistance improved. Contrary to what I had been told by my doctor, I got well without the use of any medicine other than yoga and healthy food.

In the beginning I thought that yoga would be a solution, some sort of medicine and the answer to all of my questions. Actually I was quite wrong. As one of my teachers says, “yoga does not give any answers, just better questions.” I can actually say that it hasn’t made my process any easier, just more intense and profound.

If you ask me if yoga has changed my life, I would say that not only did it do that, but it continues to do so every day.

Natalia Chaparro hanuman beachEvery time I step onto my mat, there is a new revelation, a new opportunity to experience the embrace of something bigger, the ocean of pure consciousness of which I am part.

My practice is a consistent reminder to embrace life fully- an everyday invitation to be engaged and grounded in the present moment just as it is. It’s not that yoga fixes nor changes my reality. What it shifts is my way of perceiving and being part of that reality. It gives me the tools to face obstacles. What I do on the mat empowers me to take responsibility for myself and most importantly to remember who I really am.

For me, this path of constant awareness has been a journey towards my own true self. Through this journey, I have been able to establish an intimate relationship with every aspect of who I am. My mat has become a sacred space where both my light and shadow get to dance and unfold.

Natalia Chaparro seatedNatalia Chaparro, a native Colombian, began practicing yoga over a decade ago. Her consistent and intensive practice was combined with her veterinary studies, both of which left her motivated by her immense love of animals and her fascination with the magic of the living organism. Upon finishing her veterinary career, she met her yoga teacher B.J. Galvan, who introduced her to the world of Anusara Yoga. Since that time the flow of Grace has brought to her path marvelous beings who have left their mark on her with their powerful teachings. The opportunity to learn and share the light with teachers such as John Friend, Sianna Sherman, Douglas Brooks, Kelly Haas, BJ Galvan y Tulku Tsori Rinpoche, has ignited Natalia’s desire to serve and follow this path of learning. Natalia recently graduated from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and is now working as a women’s nutrition and health coach. She is currently living in California, where she has been studying Tantra with her teacher Laura Amazzone, and completing her 500-hour teacher training with Noah Maze.

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The Body I was Born With

Name: Sarah Bretton
Location: Portsmouth, United Kingdom
Occupation: College Lecturer

I have danced all of my life. It was rewarding for a while, but my body suffered greatly: I pushed it beyond my limits and forced it into shapes that were in-organic and painful. I was ok at dancing: I managed to get a scholarship to Laban, a contemporary dance school based in London and then won a competition to study at the Martha Graham School in New York, which was an enriching experience. I am ever grateful for the experiences I had at these schools and respect all those who passed on their knowledge to me. However, once I embarked on the professional dance path after my training, I learned that there is a world of anxieties that come with this otherwise beautiful art form.

I found that there is an unspoken law in the dance world, a law that relies on the performer possessing a variety of certain character traits with which I just couldn’t personally connect: a degree of narcissism and arrogance, to be competitively motivated, and there is an ever present jealousy and ego as well as the obvious critical judgment, both internal and external. The emptiness came quite early on for me. I attended an audition where the choreographer wanted to take a Polaroid of our bodies and faces before learning any movement. A decision was made early on about which body types should go and which should stay. Lots of auditions are like this. They don’t tell you this at dance school.

At dance school I was surrounded by a rich variety in body shape: petite ones, curvy ones, short legs, long torsos, willowy bodies and so on…. But in the real dance world? You must look a certain way to even get through the door. My body wasn’t long enough, lean enough, strong enough, thin enough, pretty enough for this or that choreographer, and I started to feel that my body had let me down. I worked hard and tried to get the right kinds of jobs, but rejection is a difficult thing and I punished myself. The negativity that I had experienced was so toxic that my mind and my body fell out of sync and eventually I began to feel a pull away from dance as my mind told my body that it wasn’t good enough.

My sister moved to Nashville, Tennessee ten years ago and I have been visiting since. Through a friend from dance school, I’d heard of a successful yoga teacher, Carly Mountain, who is based here in Sheffield. Carly suggested that when visiting Nashville, I should visit a studio called Steadfast and True Yoga and to look out for the owner, Gillian St. Clair. Walking into the studio, I felt Gillian’s energy as soon as I entered the room, and I knew from that moment that I wanted to dedicate myself to the practice. I didn’t know what the moves were, the language or the etiquette, but I knew that I felt an overwhelming urge to give, to yield to the mat, and to flow with the energy in the room.

At first, I felt a familiar anxiety, which came from my previous dance training; my body is in space and is waiting to be judged on its performance. However, after stepping onto the mat I realized that the anxiety was fading away as Gillian spoke to the group and said, “Today you are going to work with the body you were born with” …and my whole self just relaxed with peaceful relief. After being told for most of my life that my body wasn’t good enough, someone had finally said that my body was ok! And what’s more, we were going to embrace that individuality. During class she reminded us to be honest with our bodies and if it hurts- to rest, to get to know our bodies and learn to listen to what it needs. She encouraged us to let go of yesterday, to not think about next week, and instead to live in the person we are now and focus our bodies and minds into the present moment, in the harmony of the room.

Gillian taught me to let go of past anxieties and heavy unpleasant experiences. I cried that day. When I left the class I was lighter, happier, and clearer than any other day I have had on this planet. Gillian calls herself a renegade in yoga. Most of her body is adorned in edgy, striking tattoos, she plays an eclectic blend of the music she wants to play, she says sometimes you need to cuss, and other times you should sit and discuss. I found that she had a talent to listen carefully to the energy within the room and to read the metaphysical and physical responses from us and adjust her class accordingly. Gillian was there, she was present and at a time of emptiness within me, it meant the whole world.

Sarah Bretton leapingOver the years I have holidayed to Nashville and every time I bring a friend, or more recently my husband, and take them to a class of Gillian’s. Every one of my friends cried their first time! I don’t think Gillian’s desire is to make you cry! But the guidance that she shares is so intimate and personal that afterwards you feel so much clearer, kinder, and the feeling of being connected to something bigger than yourself, a higher plane of existence….. bodies and minds become released of their tension. Gillian definitely has a gift and I feel completely blessed to have been guided by her.

When I returned to the UK I was a little disappointed with the lack of yoga classes available to me in my area. Most of the classes are taught in gyms with no real guidance or spiritual offerings. I would read the yoga verses alone, but my body urged for something more so I purchased Short Forms by David Swenson and committed to practicing every day in my lounge. Kind yogis have uploaded various video demonstrations of Richard Freeman on YouTube and I have enjoyed practicing his style, but I really missed the energy of other people in the room during my practice. Maybe it’s my disciplined background in dance but I felt that I also missed the guidance of a teacher encouraging me and leading me through.

During one class, Gillian came over to my mat to assist my alignment in tripod position and she said “your body wants to go into headstand” and I thought to myself…“ok! Well I shouldn’t let my mind talk my body out of it.” It’s still a bit shaky but when I did it I felt so happy! My mind and my body united and I was totally blissed out.

I think a lot of people might think that dance lends itself well to yoga as there are similarities in terms of body positions. But as all yogis know, it’s not all about the acrobatics. Yoga definitely made me more symmetrical after years of anatomical abuse but what I gained from yoga, which I never got from dance, was the inner balance. I’m not talking about core strength, I’m talking about inner kindness and positivity; telling yourself that you deserve a healthy energetic body and that it is beautiful in every shape you do, whether it’s in savasana or something complex like scorpion. I don’t feel competitive as I did with dance. I don’t feel I need to compare myself. Obviously I would like to be able to hold my headstand for longer but yoga has taught me breath and patience and for the first time, I’m working with the body I was born with and enjoying its evolution every day.

Sarah Bretton headshot

Sarah Bretton is a 33-year old college lecturer who lives in Portsmouth, South East England. Sarah lives with her husband Paul, pet cat Ripley, and beagle Harper. Sarah will be embarking on the FRYOG foundation course in Yoga this September under the guidance of Victoria Bedford.

 

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Broken to Whole: A Journey of Transformation

Name:             B. Grace Marie Bullock, PhD, E-RYT, Certified Viniyoga Therapist
Location:        Eugene, Oregon, USA
Occupation:   Mind∞Body Therapist, Editor, Author, Research Scientist, Yoga Instructor

I literally could not breathe for 11 years. The air in Los Angeles left my asthmatic airways distressed and exhausted. At one point I ended up at UCLA Medical Center for days, pumped full of drugs and under the threat of being put on a respirator. I walked away, determined to never go back.

I moved away from Los Angeles later that year to attend a doctoral program in clinical psychology in Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley. Liberated from the toxic air, I set out to renew my passion for running. I was living in Track Town USA after all, and running seemed to be the perfect antidote for the stresses of grad school.

crutches cropped

Photo attributed to Flickr user Tony Crider.

Within weeks my left tibia was fractured. No sooner would one fracture heal then another would emerge for no reason. Over the course of graduate school I was in and out of casts and crutches, as one by one bones would fracture or break. I was no longer running. Metatarsals would break from stepping out of my car, or off of a curb. My doctor at the university health center believed that I was suffering from osteoporosis, a bi-product of years of being on and off of high doses of prednisone to treat my asthma.

My first Dexascan revealed what I had feared – my bone density was two standard deviations below the mean for my age. Essentially, I had the bones of an 80-year-old woman. My years of exercise and healthy eating had not mitigated the destructive effects of years of using steroids to treat my asthma. I could no longer run, skate, ski, or engage in any other bone stressing activity. My bones were so brittle that any insult placed me at risk for a serious injury to my hips or spine, let alone the rest of my body. A life long athlete, I felt physically and emotionally broken. My primary coping mechanism for life stress was gone, and depression set in.

I took up cycling with a vengeance, and hit the weight room even harder to try to increase muscle mass and bone density. I began a daily regimen of biophosphates, calcium, and Vitamin D. My bones continued to break. In 2007, a repetitive stress fracture nearly cut the upper portion of my left femur at my hip in half. A lack of bone mass made my femur bone inoperable. I spent over seven months on crutches. I’d even nicknamed my orthopedist “Dr. Doom,” because it seemed as though the story became progressively worse as time went on. After an interminable period of inactivity and despair, I returned to yoga. I had attended yoga classes for a number of years, but was a yoga jock and a savasana dasher. “Real” people didn’t have time to lie around and do nothing.

This time around I could barely move my atrophied leg. I had to sit. I had to listen. I had no choice. In those weeks of silence on the mat, I discovered the practice of yoga. I observed the subtle transformation from feeling stressed out to peaceful and grounded, an experience that eluded me during my years of striving for the perfect pose. It soon became apparent that I needed to learn more, and enrolled in a year long yoga teacher training program.

Grace side angle poseThe study of yoga philosophy and principles for teaching and practice had a profound effect on me. I was fascinated by the yamas and niyamas – particularly the idea of ahimsa. The idea that we bear a responsibility to do no harm to ourselves as well as others was liberating, particularly after years of pushing myself to exhaustion and illness. I could forgive my perceived weaknesses, failures and inadequacies, and operate from a place of compassion and loving kindness. With practice, I was able to open myself to shraddha, and to surrender my grip on life.

This shift also changed the way that I viewed the process of therapy. For years I watched as my clients suffered, engaged in cycles of self-punitive thoughts and behaviors, just as I had. I realized that most of us are detached from our bodies and our inner divinity, and are locked in an endless spiral of doubt, angst, striving, and stress generation. Yoga seemed to provide a different way of thinking and being that shifted those samskaras, or patterns. It offered a holistic model of healing, as opposed to considering the mind and body as distinct entities. Compelled to understand this mind body connection, I dove further into the teachings and practices of yoga and studied to become a Viniyoga therapist. I discovered the therapeutic practices to be profound, vast, and incredibly powerful.

In years of practicing and teaching yoga, and building a private practice in which I integrate evidence-based psychotherapy with affective neuroscience and yoga therapy, I have experienced a profound physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation. Yoga has taught me to honor the light within all beings, including myself. I am tremendously blessed to witness the metamorphoses of my students and clients, each of whom approach their practice with courage and determination. They are my inspiration.
Grace and her dogMy personal evolution has taken many forms. Pranayama practices have strengthened my lungs, freeing me of the dependency on medication to breathe. Meditation has grounded me in my body, and my life, allowing me to embrace the ebb and flow of events with compassion and loving kindness. I have learned that life happens, and that we have the opportunity to respond with compassion, and in the spirit of ahimsa. Remarkably, even though I stopped taking medication for osteoporosis over two years ago, my bone density continues to improve. I have not broken a bone in six years!

The wisdom of yoga in all of its forms has transformed my once broken being into a vessel of strength. The journey has been miraculous, and I am filled with gratitude and grace.

Grace hugging dogB. Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT is a mind∞body therapist and editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. Her clinical work and research link evidence-based models of psychotherapy with affective neuroscience and yoga therapy. Grace is dedicated to teaching yoga to individuals of all ages and ability levels, creating practices that foster health, strength, empowerment, and stress reduction. Her life and classes are infused with playfulness, humor, compassion, and unbounded enthusiasm. After struggling with illness and injury for many years, Grace approaches each day with gratitude for the blessing of being alive and present. She strongly believes that each of us has the ability to heal our physical and emotional wounds, and to create lives of peace and joy. Her life is devoted to cultivating a better world one breath at a time.

Learn more about Dr. Bullock’s Mind∞Body Therapy practice, research, writing and more at http://www.mind-bodytherapy.com, follow her on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/DrBGraceBullock, or write her at bgracebullock@mind-bodytherapy.com.

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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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Love is Stronger than Fear

Editor’s Note: I have just had the supreme pleasure of spending the entire weekend in a series of yoga workshops with master teacher, Desirée Rumbaugh, and I must tell you that in addition to being an extraordinarily gifted teacher, Desirée is one of the most vibrant, joyful, spunky, and playful human beings I have ever encountered. She is a living example of someone who truly embodies a spirit that shines so brightly from the inside out. Please bear that in mind as you read her incredible story. It is my great honor to share it here. ~ Jeannie Page

Name: Desirée Rumbaugh
Location: Southern California, USA
Occupation: Yoga Teacher

Desiree and her sonOn October 18, 2003, I returned to Phoenix from teaching a yoga workshop and was greeted at the Sky Harbor airport by my father and two brothers, with the news that my 20-year-old-son, Brandon, and his 19-year-old girlfriend, Lisa, had been shot to death while camping overnight. They were sleeping in the back of her mother’s pickup truck in BumbleBee Arizona, about an hour north of Phoenix, AZ in celebration of their one-year anniversary.

When they didn’t show up for work on Saturday morning, we all knew something must be wrong, but they weren’t discovered until Sunday. There was no robbery, no apparent motivation, and although it was broadcast to the country on CNN and America’s Most Wanted, the case was never solved.

Des kidsI am very fortunate that I have another child, Jessica, my beautiful daughter. This was a devastating loss for all of us. An unthinkable tragedy. An unimaginable pain.

My deepest sadness and fear at the time of this tragedy was that I would never again know joy. I feared that my life would always have a tone of sorrow. I set out on a mission to work in the direction of reclaiming my joy and reason for living. My spiritual journey had officially begun and after almost two years, and thousands of frequent flyer miles, landing into the open hearts of friends and strangers, I realized my son’s death could renew my own life and purpose.

I have been practicing yoga since 1987. I was certified in Iyengar yoga in 1994 and in Anusara Yoga in 1999. Since that time I have been traveling full-time, teaching yoga workshops and retreats all over the world.

I believe it has been the steadfastness and inner strength I have learned directly from my yoga practice that has enabled me not only to survive, but thrive. For the first two years, I was in so much emotional pain that I couldn’t help but share it in my workshops. I shared my grief openly with my students and many of them thanked me for being an example of someone not afraid to be real and true to her feelings.

I travel full-time teaching yoga and believe it is a healing mission for me to go out and share what I have learned about regaining joy after such tremendous loss.

Desiree dancer's poseI would like to let more people know that there is a way to mentally, emotionally AND physically transform the pain and suffering of the past and truly regain motivation and a sense of peace. My healing process was also assisted by a terrific counselor and the teachings of Abraham-Hicks’ principles of the law of attraction. After all these years, it has become clear to me that the union of the human experience with the knowledge of the Divine presence within has helped me to embody the feeling of joy and freedom that it seemed this tragedy had taken away.

The power of Yoga is immense and priceless. I am grateful.

Desiree bioDesirée Rumbaugh is an internationally recognized yoga teacher with unquenchable enthusiasm for life, love, and healing. She blends playful humor with an authentic inquiry into the nature of being to help her students discover their own power, courage, and beauty. Her passion for teaching both the art and the science of yoga is fueled in part by her own experience recovering from deep grief as a bereaved parent. For Desirée, yoga has been a life-saver emotionally as well as physically. With longtime studies in Iyengar and Anusara Yoga, she brings 25 years of experience, experimentation, and creativity to her ever-evolving, outside-of-the-box style of teaching. Desirée travels the world full-time sharing her compassion and her joy with others interested in the transformational power of yoga. She has produced a DVD series entitled “Yoga to the Rescue” and is a regular contributor to Yoga Journal, having also appeared on its cover. Desirée supports the Art of Yoga Project serving teenage girls in the juvenile justice system. She lives with her husband in southern California. Follow Desirée on Facebook here and on Twitter @desireerumbaugh.

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10 Simple but Profound Ways that Yoga Changed My Life (and can change yours)

Name: Tanya Kemp
Location: South Africa
Occupation: Entrepreneur

Tanya Kemp Patanjali quoteI started practicing yoga for the first time on my Wii Balance Board with Wii Fit Plus. I was getting over the brutal ending of my five-year relationship and my Wii console offered me some desperately needed escape from endless thinking and analyzing. I soon figured out that the Yoga practices on Wii Fit Plus helped quiet my mind even more than skateboarding or basketball, and soon I wanted more…urgently. My brother joked at the time and said I was like an addict – ‘chasing the white light.’ He was right in some ways – I was chasing the white light – the Divine white Light that Yoga would bring into my life.

Fast forward a few years and yoga is now such an integral part of my life that I don’t know how I ever survived without it. These are the lessons yoga continue to teach me every day:

1. Every day is an Opportunity for a New Beginning: My yoga practice is different every day. Poses that are hard on one day are manageable or even easy on another. I just have to accept what is happening on the mat for me today. I appreciate what I have on each given day…and know I can start again tomorrow.

2. The Value of the Pause: A friend once described me as ‘quick thinking – fast talking.’ Having a million-miles-an-hour-mind has its perks, but when that chatter becomes destructive, it’s hard to stop the snowball effect. Yoga taught me to pause and be still. I appreciate nothing more than those golden moments when I am moving, fluidly, in a dreamlike state, aware only of the flow of my own breath. Finally, my mind gives it a rest and I become free from its bondage.

3. Expression of my Soul: Savasana has become an amazing opportunity for an encounter with my true self. Seated meditation is still a challenge for me but in savasana I connect with my soul. I don’t think, but things come to me: insights into myself and I am left in awe of what is in my heart.

4. Fear Paralyzes: Challenging postures taught me that my fears and doubts paralyze me. When I doubt, I fall out and when I’m scared to fall, fail, or get hurt – I just don’t do anything. It’s my strategy in life too. So now I fall, I get hurt, and I get up….because it’s so important to DO something – and when it doesn’t work out the way I planned – it’s never as significant as I thought it would be.

5. Release and Let Go: In a posture, when you hold on, you tighten up, constrict and contract, and there’s little room for moving forward. Sounds a bit like life – surprise surprise! Letting go of what you don’t NEED is essential to move forward. The tension is self-inflicted – I just need to become aware of it…and then release it.

Tanya Kemp warrior pose6. Love Thy Body: The way yoga has me seeing my body, is that we’re a team. All my organs, cells, glands, and me – we have a little support group going on. I look after them, they look after me. We chat and listen and I learn so much from all of them because this body knows endlessly more than I could ever fathom. We heal each other, every day.

7. Acceptance: My practice teaches me to be at peace with what is, even if it’s not exactly how I had envisioned it. I will be on a mission to conquer one of my nemesis postures, without progress to get excited about, when suddenly, without warning, I will get into another posture for the first time. Just like that. For every pose that has eluded me, yoga has given me another just as lovely instead.

8. My Endless Potential: I have expanded my body in yoga in ways that had me realize how much more there is to me. It’s a journey during which I am expanding my body, my potential, and my understanding of the limitlessness of being human.

9. Physical Body Improvements: I am no spring chicken but I’m in better physical shape than I have ever been. I am strong and I am healthy. No diet, no starvation, no extremes – just me and my ‘support group’ doing the work as a team!

10. Happiness: Yoga has made me happy. I get an intense sense of joy when I roll out my purple mat and get into that first downward facing dog. I come home – I’m centered and peaceful…and happy. I am being with what is. I am.

Dear Yoga – Thank You.

Tanya Kemp bio photoTanya Kemp is a qualified Psychologist, Social Worker, Life Coach, Neuro-Linguistic Programming Practitioner, Yoga Student and Teacher and Yoga Therapist. Through Tanya’s Yoga Business: Heal. Love. Yoga, she expresses her heart’s song in yoga, well-being, personal development and acceptance, improving people’s quality of life, and mobilizing (mass) action to make the world a friendlier place to be – one act at a time, one person at a time, one day at a time. Join Tanya, and Heal. Love. Yoga’s Journey in sharing Yoga and making a contribution to the world returning to its true spiritual nature. Follow Heal. Love. Yoga on facebook and on Pinterest.

 

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