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Everything Shapes Us

Everything Shapes Us are words I find truth in. These words are printed on the front of one of my favorite journals pictured here and was a gift from a dear friend when I completed my yoga teacher training at the age of 51 in 2012. I had been working on my yoga teacher training in fits and starts. I was working full-time, raising children, and trying to fit it into my busy life by doing an occasional weekend training here and there.

Becoming a yoga teacher had been a long-held dream and one I hadn’t quite committed to fully until 2011. Experiences in my life helped guide me towards a new way to show up in my life. Yoga helped my life take a different shape and not only in a physical sense.

A catalyst for leaping wholeheartedly into my yoga teacher training was the death of my beloved sister, Kristy in 2011. I had introduced her to yoga and we both had embraced yoga as a healing modality. She had lived with cancer for 12 years and had taught yoga in her last few years, but passed away before she was able to complete her 200-hour RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher).

I had begun this yoga journey and I was ready to commit to finishing my training. I changed gears from the weekend trainings through YogaFit and I signed up for a 9 month continuous program where I earned my 230-hour RYT. This program through the Yoga Center of Minneapolis was not just about yoga fitness. It was a well-rounded program of hatha yoga and taught through a specific lineage of teachings inspired by Tirumalai Krishnamacharya. He was an Indian yoga teacher, scholar, and healer in ayurvedic medicine. I graduated in October 2012 a year after Kristy's death. I did it for both of us.

I had grown to love yoga and how it helped shape and literally save me. I learned how to breathe deeply into every aspect of my life, how to try to let go of things not meant for me, and began to learn how to surrender. Breathing deeply aided my increasing ability to stay calm, centered, and peaceful. I began to practice mindfulness meditation on and off the mat. Yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual practice for me. All aspects (8 limbs of yoga) assisted me in navigating the challenges I was facing in my life.

Yoga has been a common healing thread and lifeline for me. It has been woven into the very fabric of my existence throughout the last 20 years. I was literally on my knees surrendering to all of the illnesses and deaths that were occurring around me and in my family. I could not control any of it. I needed tools to help me stay afloat in a world where I could have just as easily drowned.

When I see this journal I get the same warm feeling in my heart as I do when I walk into my garden or see my yoga mat and meditation cushion laid out ready and waiting for me. They are invitations and reminders of things I love that have shaped my life in positive ways and taught me how to practice self-care. Gardening, yoga, meditation, and writing are all essential tools in my life that grant me access to my inner world.

Inside the front cover of the journal my friend added a beautiful quote, "Once you get over the fear then it's a cinch, she said. And then she leaped into a mountainous and unexplored region of her heart." I have come to understand the power of letting go of fear and the incredible vastness and wisdom of my heart. Listen and follow your heart. She knows the way. She will always guide you to the truth of you.

This particular journal holds a sweet significance and where I began to write down things that inspired and touched me deeply on my yogic path. It came into my life during a time of great transformation. Life is filled with beginnings and endings. Joy and sorrow. Yoga helped me stand in the center of it all.

When I jot something inspiring down in my journal there is a subtle alchemy that is quite magical. The sacred act of physically writing down words that inspire or dwell in my heart has become an essential part of the way I add depth and seasoning to the essence of me. My dreams become manifest by sharing these words. The song of my heart travels outward on the unseen life force that pulses from my heart and travels through my veins out my fingertips and spills forth onto the page. An act of connecting invisible heartstrings from my heart to all I encounter.

I write down yoga sequences, meditations, and breathing techniques that I learned and wanted to share. Many pages have become filled to overflowing with musings, prayers, and dreams. It is a journal filled with tiny treasures that sparked beautiful ideas.

I opened a random page today from this journal and I am reminded of a chakra balancing meditation to practice at the end of the day that I learned from yoga teacher, Anodea Judith's teachings.

Lie down on your back on your yoga mat with your eyes closed.

“Breathe in and notice,

where was your conscience today?

Become aware of your awareness beyond your thoughts.

Become that silent witness.

Breathe in and out and settle into the peace of this deep awareness.

What was your vision for your day?

What came to pass?

What inspired you?

What did you see today that you had not seen before?

Allow all of the sounds around you to settle into one sound

and let it lull you into quiet and listen deep into your core…”

Ah, such rich and exquisite words. This taught me to not only be aware of the power of my intentions, but it taught me how to feel the awareness resonating in my body deep down on a cellular level. What were my intentions at the beginning of the day and did they follow the same intent throughout my day?

We always have a choice as to how experiences can shape us. Is it negative or positive? I can honestly share that my life has evolved in the most beautiful and unpredictable ways by learning to surrender. I surrendered to the deconstruction of who I thought I was and what I thought life and death and the 1,000’s of experiences in-between the two were all about.

Don’t misunderstand me, the evolution and reconstructing of my life has not been easy. Many heart-wrenching and heart-opening encounters I had no control over dismantled my life and shook me awake from the inside out. They cracked my heart wide open, but that is how the light was able to shine in and out of me.

I am continually learning to lean into my life and to trust the natural unfolding. I had to stop getting in the way of that evolution. I am allowing my life to evolve into a clearer vibration of my soul. Part of that journey has been on a purple yoga mat. (purple is the color of transformation and forgiveness). Or on a turquoise meditation cushion ( turquoise is the color of freedom).

Yoga helped me create space in my body and my mind. It taught me to live in the present. It taught me to stand tall with my shoulders back and to face everything in my life in a new way with love, purpose, strength, and awareness. Never forcing anything, but allowing, softening, surrendering, and to breathe deeply into what life is and to what life had to offer.

It also taught me to peel back the layers, like an onion, what I had placed over my heart for protection over the years. Protection from what? We need to feel, to touch the places deep within us that have become tender wounds. They long to be healed and brought out into the light to be revealed, acknowledged, forgiven, transformed, and most importantly LOVED.

Those tender places in our hearts have much to teach us if we only get quiet and listen. When we choose to dive into our vulnerabilities and share them with others it helps us to connect more deeply with ourselves, each other, and we can heal our lives from the inside out. To feel the truth of us is to heal.

Yoga helped me to quiet my mind. We have 60-70,000 thoughts a day. What are your thoughts creating and telling you on a daily basis...moment by moment? Change your thoughts and you can create new neural pathways in your brain and find new solutions.

There is much to glean when I listen to the wisdom of my intuition and of the quiet voice rising up from my sweet, sensitive, heart. I honor that wisdom and I give her a voice. Small murmurings that began as a nudge to go this way or that way. Those nudges turned into a slow flow. A slow flow that was barely an audible trickle now roars ferociously, wanting, needing to be acknowledged and unleashed. A mighty, untamed ruby river of feelings and emotions willing to overflow its banks into freedom and surrender. One just needs to tap into that divine feminine wisdom and watch the magic and the miracles flow forth unbidden.

The catalyst for practicing yoga and becoming a registered yoga teacher was the amalgamation of experiences I had undergone in my life. Yoga helped me immensely process my grief, loss, and many challenges that came my way. I began my yoga journey at Lifetime Fitness by attending a class at the invitation of one of my neighbors twenty years ago. I found yoga to be extremely challenging both mentally and physically. I really did not know anything about yoga when I began this journey. I am so glad that I said, “yes,” to that invitation.

I remember looking around during class and listening to the teacher’s cues and attempting poses, twisting, bending, and stretching in all four directions. I started to notice my thoughts…”I am not flexible. I can’t touch my toes. I can’t breathe.” I was holding my breath as I tried to get into and out of certain poses. I was noticing my thoughts and they were not kind. It was all movement and breathing in new and unknown ways and I found myself wondering, “Is my arm supposed to shake this much? Am I even doing this pose correctly? What did the teacher call this pose? Triangle pose?”

My mind was anything and everything, but quiet. I didn’t know how much more of this yoga I could take. I had quite a few negative judgments ruminating and taking up space in my mind. I was thinking, “I can’t do this. I hate yoga. I hate this teacher. I would look at the clock and think OMG how much longer is this class? On and On and On went my negative thoughts like a runaway freight train roaring down the tracks into a bottomless abyss of my own making.

Then came relief at the end of class with the final relaxation pose. This pose can be very challenging for people who do not like to rest or it may be a struggle to be still for 5-10 minutes. I found it to be amazing. The pose is called savasana (pronounced shuh-VAH-suh-nuh) or corpse pose. You lie completely still on your mat on your back, eyes closed, legs and arms splayed out from your body and relaxed. Palms facing upwards. Your breathing comes back to normal and all of the energy you just exerted comes together to integrate within your body. Ah, I loved the quiet and the settling down of my mind, my body, and my breath. I loved this pose. I could get used to this. Maybe I don’t hate yoga. I guess that teacher wasn’t that bad after all. Maybe I will come back to class and try yoga again. And so my yoga journey began...

I began to attend a weekly class, and then two or three times a week, I started to notice subtle changes in me that I liked. My judging thoughts began to diminish somewhat. My physical body began to become more flexible and I was getting stronger. My mind became quieter and my thoughts became more flexible. I noticed how I felt after class and how the great feeling stayed with me off the mat and followed me into my day. I wanted to know why when I left a yoga class it felt as if I had just gotten a massage on the inside and the outside of my body. There was a calm, but heightened awareness that I felt.

I began to read more about why yoga made me feel so great. The hard work and magic of yoga had shifted my life and I loved it even though it is still challenging. Yoga was a way to gather up all of my scattered parts and bring them back to the center of my being and helped me to feel whole. I met myself on the mat. Yoga is a gift you give to yourself. Every yoga class is a practice. Life is a practice.

My yoga journey was helping me with processing the breast cancer diagnosis my sister, Kristy, had gotten in her mid 40’s. All of the memories of what I had witnessed with my mother and what we all had experienced were coming up again in my thoughts and it was overwhelming to face it again now with my sister. I had intimate knowledge of the ravages of mind and body that breast cancer took on my mother and my family. I was also aware of the fear that can lurk in the dark recesses of one's mind.

My mother had battled breast cancer when I was 15 and that changed how I viewed life and my own health. Breast cancer was oftentimes a fear in the back of my mind. Especially when I would go and get a mammogram. I would feel fine until the tech doing the testing would begin to ask me questions about my family history. Then the tears would begin to form in the corners of my eyes. I would start to think, am I going to get breast cancer?

I used to take my mom to her chemotherapy and radiation appointments. Whenever I would witness my mother’s scarred body it sent shivers throughout my body. It still does when I think of her. I remember it all. The place on her chest where her breast used to be. The black marks on her chest where the doctors targeted her radiation treatments and the hollowed out area under her arm where lymph nodes and muscle had been surgically removed. I would think about how the chemotherapy had destroyed her veins on the inside of her arm and left the skin on the outside of her arm an angry red color, puffy, and dry. These treatments ravaged her tiny body, but unbelievably not her spirit.

I will never forget my mother’s incredible strength and her ability to stand tall in her unwavering faith that she would be ok and she never fell down into victim consciousness or despair. She took everything in stride or she was a master at hiding everything she felt about her body and her life. Honestly, it was probably a combination of both. My mother lived to be 87 years old and she did not die from breast cancer.

Now, my sister had been diagnosed with breast cancer. The statistics were 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer. There were 8 girls in my family. Was Kristy the 1 in 8? My sister’s breast cancer went undiagnosed for 2 years. Hers did not show up in a mammogram. It was not a lump or a mass. Kristy’s breast cancer was dimpling on her skin in a starburst pattern.

We lived 12 hours away from each other, but we were close and talked often over the phone. We were raising children around the same ages and we would share our challenges and our triumphs. We could laugh and cry together. Yoga had become a lifesaving tool for me during this time. It was helping me navigate my life in a new way. I was better equipped to handle all of the emotions and the grief I was feeling.

I loved the quiet time on the mat before and at the end of an hour long class. It was the gift of an hour I gave to myself several times a week. My yoga mat became a sacred space for me. A place to quiet my mind, send quiet prayers out to the universe for my sister, myself, and our families. A place I gathered up strength to handle life’s unfolding. Yoga did not take away my grief or any challenges in my life, but it helped me to view life through a different lens.

I had been practicing yoga for a year or more. They needed teachers at Lifetime. I looked into taking training through YogaFit. I signed up for a YogaFit Level 1 weekend training that was in a town an hour north of where I lived. It was long, exhilarating, and exhausting at the same time. I did not feel equipped to teach after one weekend of 20+ hours of training. But I enjoyed what I had learned and had deepened my knowledge and it had enhanced every aspect of my practice. I was proud of myself for stepping outside of the proverbial box.

There was so much more to yoga than I could learn in a lifetime, let alone 1 weekend, but it was a good place to start. I was able to practice at home if I could not make it to the gym. My practice was becoming deeper and more important to me. Yoga had saved me and I wondered why more people were not practicing yoga. It could not take the cancer diagnosis away, but it helped me walk the breast cancer path again with renewed strength, compassionate understanding, and resilience.