It was 1996 and I was living in Fort Lauderdale finishing up my degrees, working full-time and I was stressed out! One day while sitting in traffic I prayed for something to help me. I felt like my life was spiraling out of control.
About a week later I was in a little Unity church I attended on Sundays which sat on the edge of the intercoastal waterways. On my way out that day I noticed a small poster on the wall that read, “Yoga class, Saturdays, 10am – noon. By Donation.” I decided then and there to try it. I had no idea what yoga was and no idea the impact that decision would have on the rest of my life.
In my very first class I knew I had found something special, something that could help me. I also had a feeling that this may be something I would teach some day. I had always been into fitness; as a kid I was a gymnast; in the 80’s I taught aerobics; and in college took body building classes. Wherever I lived I continued to workout and stay in shape. In fact, one of the main deciding factors to move to Florida was so I could skate on the beach all year round!
In that very first class I realized how tight I had become over the years. After all, I was only in my 30’s but my 73 year old teacher, Mataji, was way more flexible than I was. I knew she had something I wanted so I continued to attend her class every Saturday for the next 3 years until graduation.
When I returned to Michigan in 1999 I discovered Namaste Yoga in Royal Oak and started practicing Ashtanga with Veronica Zador, the founder. Two years later I quit my Graphic Designer job in Detroit and decided to give the yoga teaching career a go. After finishing my 4 month long 200 hour teacher training at Namaste I moved to Minnesota and opened my first yoga studio called, “Moksha Yoga”. It was a great success. But after 4 years of teaching 20 classes per week (over 2000 yoga classes) I was burnt out and needed a break. So following in the footsteps of my first two teachers I temporarily closed my yoga studio and took off on the adventure of my life-time. I went to India!
A friend and I took off on a very long journey to the deserts of Rajasthan to explore sand castle cites and take our first camel ride. We took an even longer train ride back down South 10 days later to land in the Southern town of Mumbai. We visited the Gate of India, sat with a group of students to listen to teachings from a local saint named Ramesh Balisikar in his private apartment, and went shopping for scarves in the market.
After a few days we met up with another friend at the train station and we were off to explore the jungles of Kerala. On the train we were invited to a traditional Kerala wedding and told that our presence would be a holy gift to the bride and groom. We received hugs from Amma, the hugging saint, at her Ashram on the backwaters, chanted Ram Ram Jai Ram at Papa Ram Dass’s Ashram in Karnataka, and visited a holy city on the banks of the Arabian Sea where dolphins swam in the wake of our small wooden boat.
Two weeks later it was time to go solo. This time on the train back I headed way North to work in one of Mother Theresa’s Orphanages in Gujarat, the city where Gandhi was born. Five days into my week of selfless service I crashed and nearly burned. (read more in my upcoming memoir). Working with children of India was one of three goals I set for myself for this journey. Working at Mother Theresa’s was very difficult but incredibly rewarding. The children had suffered so much and I did not speak their language. I consoled with smiles and hugs. One child clung to me each time I entered the room. She was around 2 years old and had cigarette burn marks on her small innocent body.
It was time for my next goal, to practice Yoga in the yoga capital of the world, Rishikesh. I had discovered the International Yoga Festival on the internet and saw that a teacher from the U.S. would be there, so I signed up. Rishikesh is a magical city set in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains on the River Ganges, the holy river. To bathe in it was to purify your soul.
My third goal was to take a meditation course. A friend I traveled with had told me about these 10 day silent retreats that were supposed to be life changing. They are offered all around the world and are by donation only. I found a retreat center not far from Rishikesh. So, after the festival ended I headed even further North by rented driver.
The meeting place was filled with students from around the world. After chatting and sharing stories about our travels throughout India we all packed into the vehicles they had sent for us. We drove through the narrow streets of Dehradun, went across a small river and through white palace looking gates. This was the beginning of my practice of Vipassana.
The meditation brought wholeness and healing to every part of my being. I dove deep into the unknown, having no idea what I was getting myself into. I liked it that way! when it was over I felt cleansed and wide open. My meditation roommate had a house and she invited a few of to stay with her there. Two days later my new Vipassana friends and I hiked the foothills of the Himalayas in our new state of bliss. We roamed through open rolling fields, crops where we saw women in colorful silk clothing handling large farming tools to sow the land. It was surreal.
Our guide ran off after hearing some commotion from the locals while we sat by the edge of a clear stream to eat our bagged lunches. He returned to report that a group of monkeys were surrounding us and planned to commandeer our food! That evening we gathered at her house to eat and sing songs and share our meditation experiences with each other.
A week before my journey ended I received an email saying that my Father had been diagnosed with stage four cancer. That’s when I realized that this entire trip had been preparation for what was surely to be one of the most difficult experiences of my life.
Upon my return to the States I moved directly back to Michigan to help care for my Father. It was April 4th, 2006. He passed away after a good fight in November. I was proud to be by his side during his experience of sickness and death and have grown immensely from that experience. India also taught me that living outside the comfort zone is where true awakening happens. This is Yin Yoga.
Teaching yoga has helped me discover my truth, my passion and strength, as well as my self-worth. Yoga woke me up and helped me move forward on my path. It opened my mind and body and showed me that anything is possible, if you believe it. Yoga has taken me around the world to meet amazing people and see incredible places. Yoga did save me. It saved me from my self, from what others had told me to believe about the world, my body and my potential. It helped me crawl out of the small space I thought I was stuck in and jump head first into a world filled with possibility!