Growing up in a difficult household there seemed to be only two options; Find a substance that makes you forget about life or stay in denial and bury the issues.
I begged to differ, always being unusual, always believing there was another way. There is.
I believe strongly in angels and a higher power because I’ve witnessed things with my own eyes that tell me it’s real. But my definition of god is not an average definition of god, it is god in my own sense. I’ve felt connected to the universe and this higher power since I was a child. I went to a Catholic grade school, Ukrainian Sunday school, was an alter server, and was raised on Buddhist philosophies (although practicing what was being preached hardly occurred). I remember sitting in church having a completely different idea of what god was to me, but I knew he was there. I think I knew this more than any other kindergartner. I would talk to the universe (god), and he would usually respond in 2-4 business days. Thank god.
All of the religious “stuff” got me through difficult times, living in a difficult neighborhood, but it was yoga that brought everything together. At the age of 12 my family and I had finally moved to a safe, clean suburb. I had been taking a class with the YMCA for girls my age. One of the activities we did was yoga. Yoga was not popular, like it is now, back then. The other girls weren’t into yoga, they thought it was weird. The same girls also thought I was weird when I would bring cucumber-seaweed sushi rolls to middle school (in the 90’s, it was way more weird), so their opinions didn’t phase me much. I was always different. With yoga, I thought it was some kind of magical practice that only monks in burgundy robes could do in some far away temple. Sure I was confusing countries, and culture, philosophy and religion, but I was 12. I thought it was magic.
Not much happened with yoga from ages 12 – 15. I bought myself a yoga/pilates VHS tape when I was 13. By age 16 I began taking a yoga class at the YMCA. It was ran by a women in her 70’s and housed students 60 years and older. I fit right in. My teacher and I got along so well she would ask me to help her with the class. I was one of her few students who had a great interest in not only asana practice, but also readings, chants, and history. They all got a kick out of it, but I was just being honest. By 18, I knew I wanted to learn to teach yoga. At 19 years old, I began looking for yoga retreats and places to gain a certification in teaching. I found one beautiful place only an hour away, but sadly never made it to visit. Life was still rocky, finances were tight, and I use to give up on the things I wanted to do in order to care for others.
When I was 21 years old I was completing the final Spring semester of my undergraduate degree. I was taking yoga as an elective. Our professor scheduled a trip to an Ashram as apart of our final grade. It was funny, to me, how he sold the trip, “We’ll be going to an Ashram, which is a spiritual place of study so don’t get scared, it sits on 85+ acres of land, we’ll do a little hiking, meditating, and some yoga, we’ll have some vegetarian food, and call it a day.” I could tell he was trying to tame the true depth of what an Ashram is because it would intimidate the students. They might think he was bringing us to a voodoo ritual circle or maybe going to convert us to vegan hippies. But I knew exactly where we were going, and I couldn’t wait, knowing the opportunity was finally here. Nothing could stand in my way from going on that trip, even a lousy boyfriend who told me to write the paper instead of going (that was our alternative to the trip). Normally, I would have listened to him because he was extremely jealous, and tried to stop me from doing many things out of his own insecurity. Normally I would have listened because it avoided an argument. There was nothing standing in my way this time. My guru was giving me signs, I just didn’t know I had a guru to give me signs.
At this point I had been learning, and practicing yoga for 5 years, more if you include the DVD of the lady in a spandex leotard and tights. I was ready to take it to the next level, a retreat.
Upon arriving at the Ashram we pulled up to a white picket fence, and my jaw nearly dropped. It was Ananada Ashram, the place I had been trying to get to for 3 years. I hadn’t even put two-and-two together when our teacher said we were going to an Ashram.
I don’t think there was ever a student in Professor Daniel’s class who was more excited, more intrigued, and more blessed to be on that trip, than me. (Daniel, is also now a dear friend of mine and with whom we work together on many Jedi type yoga adventures).
When you grow up with nothing, you appreciate everything, but this was more than a gift. It was the universe aligning itself with me, for me. I may have had much taken away from me growing up, but there I was being given something profound.
After that retreat, I knew Ananda Ashram is where I would complete my teacher training. Just days after graduating college, and a few months after my initial trip to the Ashram, I was immersed in Ananda’s first ever yoga teacher training program. The story of how I actually made it to the program is a whole other story in itself. The fact is, I almost didn’t. I almost didn’t make it to the program on about 10 different accounts. So many reasons why I couldn’t and shouldn’t go. But I did. Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, Guruji, my guru, had been looking out for me for many years as he has all of his students. It was that Spring he must have known I was ready for these ancient teachings.
(Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati of Ananada Ashram)
I’ve carried my yoga and meditation with me on subtle plains since I was 12 years old. It took another 10 years to become a teacher myself. Throughout my history with yoga, I have used it to help me through tragedy, loss, mistrust, sadness, anger and joy. I only consciously knew I was doing yoga throughout the day, everyday, during the last few years, but it was over a decade that I had really been allowing this healing science into my life. That is how yoga works, that is what is meant when you hear that you should practice yoga off your mat as well as on it.
Live your yoga. It isn’t easy, and many times you won’t want to, but this is a practice that will never leave your side. If you’ve found it once, you’ll find it again, we all do. It will shake you up, and it will break you down, but it will be your only friend during times in need. It will be a true friend, one that shows you more about yourself than anyone else. It will hold your hand as you accept new beginnings from your realizations. Yoga is for everyone, it is for every-body.
I once thought yoga was magic, then I realized it was just yoga, but now I realize it’s just magic.
Thank you to all of my teachers over the years, I love you all.