Three Things I Learned When I Almost Died

 

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Celebrating my birthday with family and friends in the spring of 1998–one of the few times I actually left my bed, while recovering from a near fatal car accident. 

Nineteen years ago today, a man named Freddy saved my life. Freddy was an EMT–the first to arrive at the scene of a devastating car crash. I was severely injured in the crash, and the doctors who cared for me after said it was a miracle that I survived. I had to be resuscitated three times, and was rushed to a nearby hospital in the minutes that followed. I was in critical care for eleven days, before being moved to regular hospital room.

The impact broke bones all over my body, including my C2, my shoulders, my collarbone, and my pelvic bone. I spent three weeks in the hospital afterwards. It took that long for me to get stabilized, learn how to walk again, and finally breathe without artificial support.

I was heavily medicated during the recovery, and because of the meds (or maybe it was the closed head injury?), my memories are blurry at best. What I do remember vividly from that time, however, is the excrutiating pain in my side from the chest tube that was inserted above my right ribs. I also recall tears streaming down my face, as the nurses forced me to stand up and walk around my hospital room. I remember doubling over every time I had to cough, or my family tried to make me laugh, because my broken ribs were stabbing my insides. The rest, however, is pretty foggy.

I do have clear memories of coming home from the hospital, though. I had limited mobility, and time dragged in the three months after my release.

The recovery process was brutal. I had a lot of support, thankfully, from my family, our church, and our friends, but it was still overwhelming.  I wondered how life could ever be the same.

I eventually made a full recovery, although I still live with some chronic pain. The thing that helped the most?  Discovering the healing discipline of yoga. I found yoga (or maybe it found me?) five months after almost losing my life, and it transformed me forever.

That first class was ridiculously difficult, but when it was over, I felt like a completely different person. I knew I was onto something, and started practicing yoga every day at home, with videos. In the next few months, yoga slowly helped me reclaim my strength and my flexibility. I suddenly had muscles where I had not had muscles before–YASS! People said I looked strong, something I had never been told before. And, I actually felt strong, physically, mentally, and spiritually–stronger than ever before. My moods improved, and I finally felt happy again. I fell in love with meditation, and learned some pretty cool new ways to breathe. The more I practiced yoga, the happier I felt, and I wondered why I hadn’t tried this before?

Looking back, I feel like I finally have perspective on the journey. I was given a second chance at life, and in the process learned three important lessons:

1. Life happens in the present moment. Prior to the crash, I spent a lot of time lamenting the past, and worrying about what might happen in the future. But, being stuck in bed, unable to move, for months on end, I could think of nothing but what was happening right then and there. It changed my brain, to be entirely focused on recovery, taking life one breath at a time. As I got into yoga, the message was the same–be here now, because the present moment is the only thing you can control. As I learned how to be more present, I felt more connected to my life and the people around me than ever before.

2. We are all connected in our struggles. Before I got into yoga, I was hyper-aware of my struggles, and how they affected me. I thought I was the only one who felt this way or that. By taking yoga classes, though, I started to see that everyone is struggling in some way–even the people doing crazy handstands were breathing and shaking! I realized that yoga is hard for everyone, and it’s pretty much a metaphor for life. Everyone struggles with something in life, and it is important to look for these similarities, more than our differences. Yoga philosophy teaches that any idea of being separate is merely illusion. We are all the same at our core.

3. We can’t get happy, we can only be happy. During my recovery, I often thought, “I will be happy when I am fully recovered”. But even after the doctors gave me a clean bill of health, I was still incredibly depressed, and focused on what I had lost. Except when I was on my yoga mat. I felt happy during yoga, because my teacher taught me to quiet my mind, and be the witness to what was really happening. To look for the beautiful more than the ugly. Both coexist always, and we can be happy simply by controlling our thoughts. We have the power to choose happiness in every moment, and push away the thoughts that don’t serve us. Connecting with the bliss within is where it’s at!

Almost two decades have passed since the crash that almost took my life, and a lot has changed. I am grateful to be alive, and inspired by the lessons I have learned. I challenge you to put them into action–foster awareness, seek connections, and choose happiness. There’s so much waiting for you on the other side, and most of it is better than you ever imagined.

~Namaste and love to all~

FullSizeRender 8.jpgOur family 19 years later, with Rev. Don Harp, one of the many angels who flew to my side, offering support and love after the crash, and beyond.

Seek The Truth Relentlessly

MONDAY MANTRA: Seek the truth relentlessly.

We all have stories about who we are, and what we can or can’t do. We repeat the stories so often in our mind, that we start to believe that they are the ultimate truth. I’m not strong enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m not good enough, and so on and so on. It’s an endless cycle, and the more we repeat the story, the more it sticks to our perception of who we are.

Until we recognize that the stories in our minds are limiting, and self-imposed, we can never realize our full potential. The only way to become who we are intended to be, is to examine the story, and get rid of the parts that don’t serve us.

What are your stories? Which are founded in reality, and which are not? Don’t let the story stand between you and what you might become. Seek the truth relentlessly, and do what must be done to be happy, even if it seems impossible. We are all capable of so much more than we know. Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and believe that what you want most is waiting for you, on the other side of the truth. ॐ

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Feed The Faith, Question the Belief

MONDAY MANTRA: Feed the faith, question the belief.

As a new year begins, we feel a renewed sense of hope for what lies ahead. We make resolutions to do better, and be better, but what can we do to ensure that we actually become a better version of ourselves this year?

Our best hope for transforming our lives is getting to the root of how we make choices. Are our decisions founded in faith, or founded in belief?

Faith is who we are and what we know at our core; the undeniable truths of our lives. I like to think of faith like the roots of a tree, because faith grows strong from the inside out. No matter how intense the storm, what we know for sure will never change. When we are connected with our faith, we feel free and happy. Everything is exactly as it should be, and we can do anything we set our mind to.

Belief is that which is founded in ego–it can be easily swayed by the world around us, like the leaves and branches of a tree. Belief emerges from our experiences, and is influenced by the expectations and ideas of others. Because belief grows strong from the outside, and forces its way inward, it can make us feel imprisoned, and incapable of change. We might know that we can change because of our faith, but because we have given power to belief, we are not able to live up to our resolutions.

Through the practice of yoga we learn the value of satya, seeking universal truths, and being truthful, in every situation. Satya encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to question our beliefs, and to invest in that which is undeniable. We are worthy. We can grow stronger. We can control our responses to the world around us. These are all things that can no one can take away from us.

As you make plans for an amazing year ahead, remind yourself to feed the faith, and question the beliefs. Watching your thoughts will open new possibilities in your life, and faith will empower you to make those dreams come true.

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I Am Not My Circumstances

MONDAY MANTRA: I am not my circumstances.

Sometimes life is so wonderful, that we believe this is how it always should be. Sometimes life is overwhelmingly difficult, and we wonder what we did to deserve such challenges.

Throughout our lives, our circumstances are constantly changing. As our situations change, our minds label what is happening around us as good or bad. We believe that life is good when things go the way we want, and life is bad when things do not unfold as planned. Our analysis of what is happening founded in perspective, and not necessarily truth. And because analyzing our experiences is engrained in our thought patterns, our conclusions often bleed into our opinion of ourselves. In the process, we can damage our self-esteem, our motivation, and our judgement. We cling to a temporary and false sense of who we are, founded in that which is fleeting.

In order to be happy—truly, sustainably happy–we must anchored that which never changes. We must remember that, although circumstances are always changing,  who were are at our core can never change. Our essential, authentic self is created at birth, and we remain that same person through our entire lives.

Think about who you were at age 5, age 15, age 20. What made you, you? Has that changed?

You will face many trials–everyone does–but the challenges are there to refine you. They are your greatest teachers, leading you to become more of who you are intended to be.

Stay present through the good and bad times in your life, and never forget what makes you, you. Circumstances are simply part of your journey. Nothing that ever happens can change your essential self.

 

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Rejoice In The Way Things Are

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MONDAY MANTRA: Rejoice in the way things are.

There is an important distinction between happiness and excitement. So often in life we think, if I only had this or that, I would be happy. The truth is that we already have everything we need to be happy.

Happiness comes from being connected to who we are. It is the byproduct of believing that everything is exactly as it should be. Good things happen, bad things happen. It all works together to teach us to appreciate the blessings in our life. When we are grateful, we feel happy.

Happiness is very different than excitement. Excitement is what we feel when when we achieve a goal, or receive something that we feel we are lacking, such as a new car, a promotion, an invitation to a party.

Unlike happiness, excitement is not sustainable, because it is dependent on circumstances. Happiness is only dependent on self-awareness. It is what we feel when see ourselves with clarity, and remember that we each serve an important, unique purpose in the world.

At our core, we all want the same things–to know that we are seen, that we are heard, and that we matter.  This is what makes us happy, and it’s not something that we can buy or be given. It lies in how we see the world.

When we believe that we already have everything we need to be happy within, the whole world belongs to us.

The Other Side Of Fear

MONDAY MANTRA: Everything you want is on the other side of fear.

Fear is the great deceiver. It amplifies our doubts and toys with our imagination. The more we believe our fears, the less likely we are to take risks, and the more limited we become in our lives.

Fear and faith are like weeds and flowers in a garden. If we feed them both, both will grow…but the weeds will ultimately overtake the flowers. However, if we do the work to eliminate the weeds, clearing space for the flowers, what is beautiful will ultimately flourish.

The next time you find yourself wrestling with fear, push the negativity out of your mind, making room for good thoughts to grow. Doubt the fears, and believe in the possibilities. Tell yourself that life is limitless–you will never know how big your life might become, until you try.

 

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Trust Your Struggle

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MONDAY MANTRA: Trust Your Struggle

One of the highest values in yoga is the concept of tapas–the heat that is created through refinement. Tapas is created when we stay in a difficult pose, even though we think we want to release it. The heat that builds through this resistance serves us by making us stronger, wiser, and happier.

The chatter in our minds can make it difficult to create tapas. It is human nature to avoid that which is difficult. We cycle through all kinds of stories–it’s not important, I’m not in the mood, I don’t want to do this. But…if we step outside of our thoughts, and push through the resistance, we see new opportunities to grow stronger in our bodies, minds, and hearts.

Trust your struggles instead of avoiding them. Ask yourself: What might be waiting beyond the challenge? There is joy in overcoming. A sense of pride and resilience that can only be achieved by working through difficulties with intention, awareness, and the belief that everything is possible.

 

 

 

We Can’t Get Happy, We Can Only Be Happy

MONDAY MANTRA: We can’t get happy, we can only be happy.

What’s the one thing everyone wants in life?

We all want to be happy. We chase happiness, as if it is a material possession that we can claim as our own. We think if I only had this or that, I would be happy. If only I was richer, thinner, or smarter, I would be happy. The longer we wait to “get happy”, the further out of reach it seems.

The truth about happiness, though, is that it is not as elusive as we think.  It is not a thing to be chased, but a state of being that we choose. We are, at our core, already happy. Our bliss might be hiding behind our attachments to the past, or our fears about the future, but happiness is always within, waiting to be revealed.

All we have to do to connect with our inner joy is learn to quiet the chatter of the mind. Be the witness to our thoughts, and practice non-attachment to outcome. In so doing, we realize that our thoughts are the only thing standing between us and happiness.

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Be Here Now

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MONDAY MANTRA: Be here now.

The only way to be truly happy is to live in the present moment. The worries, doubts, and fears that rule our minds are often founded in repetitive thoughts of prior traumas, and uncertainty about what lies ahead. These are things we can not control. The only thing we can control is the here and now. If we set aside thoughts of the past and future, and commit our focus to the present moment, we see our lives with greater clarity. We find new freedom in how we think, and we accept that the our life is not what happened yesterday, or what might happen tomorrow. Life is what is happening in the here and now.

Change The Story

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MONDAY MANTRA: Change the story.

In yoga, one of the highest values is satya (truthfulness). The concept of satya is far-reaching; it teaches us to honest with ourselves, as much as we are honest with others. It also encourages us to seek the truth in every situation, and recognize that sometimes the things that feel like a burden, are actually our greatest opportunities for happiness. What we want most is often waiting for us on the other side of the work we avoid.

Try practicing satya the next time you find yourself resisting the thing you know you need the most. Whether it is your yoga practice, work that is cumbersome, or a relationship that is difficult. Ask yourself if it is truly negative, or could there be a beautiful opportunity for growth in the very thing you are trying to avoid? Surrender to the truth, and make the choice that best supports your long-term happiness.

It Is What It Is

MONDAY MANTRA: It is what it is, but it will be what you make it.

Our minds are constantly labeling our experiences as good or bad–this is human nature. But what would happen if we simply accepted experiences as they are, instead of judging them? This is the true purpose of yoga. Learning to still the mind so that we can find freedom in how we feel, how we think, and how we move. When we let go of judgement, and embrace what is, we realize that we already have everything we need to be happy.

100 Days of Crazy Healthy Week 8

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100 Days of Crazy Healthy is not your typical health challenge! It is based on my personal experiences with getting healthy–a cumulative process that changes our daily habits incrementally.

However, because these changes are small and incremental, it can be easier to discount their importance, than it would be to make significant changes all at once. Don’t let your mind fool you! Keep moving forward with these small changes, trust the struggle, and believe that these crazy healthy habits will change your life, one week at a time.

For Week 8, we add back strengtheners, as counterposes for our core work. Practiced daily, these poses will improve your posture and balance, as well as boot your immunity.

I’ve included the full list of daily habits here, but you can page down to item #6 to learn more about our back work. These exercises should take less than 2 minutes to perform.

Do you have questions about 100 Days of Crazy Healthy? Feel free to email any time, or leave your comments below.

Good luck with Week 8! Let me know how it goes!

Namaste~

Amber

Daily Habits For Week 8

1. Upon waking, scrape your tongue from front to back with a spoon, or tongue scraper. This will remove the ama (toxins) that have built up in your mouth over night. Rinse your mouth with water, being careful to not swallow any of the water, and brush your teeth afterward. Read more about the powerful practice of tongue scraping here.

2. Drink 12 oz. of warm, filtered water, before consuming food. You may add lemon or lime to the water if you would like.

3. Enjoy quinoa with fruit and nuts, or a crazy healthy smoothie, for breakfast every morning.

4. Practice 5 B series Sun Salutations, moving intentionally on each inhale and exhale, as shown in the photo from Week 1. Don’t rush, and don’t think about anything besides the breath and the pose. This will feel difficult, if you are new to yoga, but reject this idea in favor of doing the work. For those who have practiced yoga before, doing 5 Sun Salutations every day may feel boring–do it anyway and trust the process. Play the music you love, or use my playlists on Spotify. Make it a moving meditation. Changes will happen on such a deep level in your body, that you won’t even be aware that you are being transformed. It’s a beautiful thing! It is preferable to practice in the morning before showering, but this may be done at night, if necessary. Do whatever it takes, to complete this task every day! Don’t allow yourself to crawl into bed at night, until it is done. It takes me exactly one minute to complete a B Series Sun Salutation, using full inhales and exhales, and it should be the same for you, so this is a 5 minute exercise.

5. Practice 3 minutes of core work every day, comprised of 100 bicycles, 20 toe touches and 6 plank exercises. The bicycles may be broken up into 5 sets of 2 or 2 sets of 50–doesn’t matter as long as you do 100 each day. The same is true for toe touches and planks…break it up if you can’t do them all at once. This may be done after sun salutations, or any other time during the day. No matter what, don’t go to bed at night, until you have completed this work.

To perform bicycles, lie on your back, and bring your right elbow to meet your left knee. Move intentionally, and on the breath, exhaling as the elbow reaches toward the knee, inhaling as you release the crunch. Count every time you reach the right knee to left elbow. Do not let the knee come forward of the hip.

To perform toe touches, lie on your back, with legs straight. Stretch arms overhead, and then lift feet and hands to meet each other, keeping arms and legs straight. Move slowly and intentionally, and take breaks as you need them. Always exhale as you crunch and inhale as you release.

To perform planques, begin in Down Dog, then bring knee-to-nose, knee-to-elbow, and knee to opposite elbow. Shift your hips forward to bring shoulders over wrists. Hold each for 20 breaths (or two sets of ten breaths each), and make sure you do them on both sides of your body.

6. After practicing your core work, roll over to your stomach, and practice poses to strengthen your back. Stretch your arms forward, and legs straight back. Lift your right arm and left leg, lengthening forward and back, and hold for 20 breaths. You may break this into 2 sets of 10 breaths if you wish. If you feel pain in your lower back, lower your arm and leg until you feel balanced. Remember, it doesn’t matter what the pose looks like, as long as you are meeting resistance and breathing into it. Lower limbs to the ground, and repeat on the other side, also holding for 20 breaths. Next, lift both arms and both legs at the same time. Try to relax the lower back, and let the hands and feet lift as they reach. Note: the photo above shows the pose performed with palms facing the earth, but I prefer to practice these poses with palms facing each other. Both are correct, so you may decide which is most effective for your purposes.

7. Eat raw or roasted veggies with a healthy fat for your afternoon snack. Some examples would be celery with almond or peanut butter (organic if possible), bell pepper strips with hummus and organic olive oil, asparagus roasted with grape seed oil and sea salt, spring mix with avocado, lemon and sea salt, or roasted sweet potatoes with grape seed oil and sea salt.

8. Practice Pigeon Pose, for one full minute on each side. Remember, the more you move your front foot forward, the deeper the stretch. Find your edge, and breathe into it. The back leg should be straight back behind you, and the hips are level.

9. After practicing pigeon on both sides, practice Cobbler’s Pose for one full minute. Keep your back flat, and reach the heart forward, for maximum effect. You may use your elbows to press into your thighs, to deepen the stretch.

10. Eat a vegetarian soup or salad for lunch. Prepare it (or order it) with the intention of maximizing your nutrient intake.

11. Find daily inspiration to keep fighting the fight on my Facebook page. I will share quotes, and ancient wisdom to support the habits we are You can do this! It may seem too difficult to some, and too simple to others, but either way, trust the struggle. Don’t think, just do. I’m here to help, so please don’t hesitate to email your questions.

*Crazy Healthy Smoothies are balanced meals, prepared with awareness and intention to fuel the body. We include pure fruit juice, sweet and sour whole fruit, greens, healthy fat, and protein, for an energizing start to our day. It helps to think about smoothies from an ayurvedic perspective: how many flavors can we fit into one meal? Mixing sweet and sour fruits with bitter veggies, pungent nut butters, and spicy herbs (think ginger and cayenne) can help us start the day off feeling energizing and ready to tackle the world. Learn how to make Crazy Healthy Smoothies here.

 Photo: http://www.jillianhessel.com