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.

How Yoga Teacher Training Changes Lives

Westside Yoga Teacher Training Graduate Liz Jin shares her story of transformation!

Contrary to popular belief, Yoga Teacher Training is not just for people who want to teach yoga. It is a comprehensive course that is designed to pride a broad view of the power of this practice, perfect for anyone who wants to understand the fundamentals of yoga, as well as those who want to teach the practice to others. Topics covered include anatomy, physiology, pose alignment, energy management, philosophy, and much, much more.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my YTT experience lately, as we prepare for our next 200 Hour RYT yoga teacher training Westside Yoga, this fall. I will be co-leading the training with Rebecca Galla-Jones, along with some of our experienced teachers, and some very special guests from our yoga community.  Preparing for the course, and talking about it with our students, has reminded me that YTT was the beginning of all of the major health transformations in my life.

When I first got into yoga, almost 20 years ago, I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I was recovering from a life-altering car accident at the time, and was living with a lot of chronic pain. My first yoga experience felt impossible–everything hurt and I had to rest a lot. But I did what I could, and I was shocked that, afterwards, I felt less pain.

There was also this happiness thing. After class I felt happier, and more hopeful, than I had in quite some time. Maybe ever. I left that first class knowing that I would do this practice for the rest of my life, and I still feel that way today.

Back then, though, actually practicing yoga was really hard. I struggled a lot, but it was something I just knew I had to do. I added yoga classes to my weekly routine, never missing a Tuesday night class. As my gym added more classes, I put those on my schedule as well. I also started practicing in the mornings at home, with videos and TV shows. As I grew more comfortable on the mat, I was sick less often, and I had a lot more energy.

Daily yoga practice was life-changing. I noticed that the more I practiced and studied the meaning of yoga, the more the pieces of my life fell into place. I felt more confident, more empowered, and more ALIVE than I had ever been. My friends could see the change in me, but it was hard for them to understand what had happened. The power of yoga is difficult to put into words, and much easier to understand in practice.

Unfortunately, there were few easy ways for people to practice yoga back then. One day I had this funny thought: “If no one else is going to teach, than maybe I should.” It seemed ridiculous, to say it outloud to my husband: “I think I should be a yoga teacher”. We both giggled the first time I mentioned it.

But that thought turned into a calling I could not deny, and THAT is why I walked into LA Fitness and applied to be a yoga teacher. They didn’t care that I had never taught yoga before, and I didn’t care that the class only paid $17. It was just something I felt I had to do; it gave me purpose.

So…it was 2001, when I taught my first class, and there were no RYTs, no Yoga Alliance, and certainly no standards for yoga teachers. The manager at the gym didn’t take me seriously at first–at least not until I started filling my classes, and the members demanded more yoga on the schedule.

My Tuesday and Thursday night classes grew quickly in the months that followed, and it was exciting, but it also made me even more nervous about my teaching. Am I teaching this right? What if someone gets hurt? What if I get fired? My fears grew, week over week, so when I saw an ad for YTT in Yoga Journal Magazine, I jumped at the chance to get certified.

I applied to Peachtree Yoga Center in the summer of 2002, and began training that fall. I’ll admit I was intimidated at first, but it was clear that the struggle was there to serve me. Those long weekends of training added more to my life than I ever could have imagined.

It was during YTT that this practice really came alive for me. I discovered why yoga makes me feel so happy (samadhi, or bliss, is actually one of the eight disciplines of yoga), and learned new ways to add yogic techniques to my life. As I embraced yoga philosophy, and applied it to my life, I figured out how to control my migraines without medication, and finally got off the painkillers I had taken for years. I learned how to breathe more effectively, think more clearly, and be more of the person I always hoped to be. It deepened my faith, and made me feel like everything really is going to be ok. Most importantly, YTT gave me the background and confidence I needed to teach others in an effective and inspiring way.

Looking back now, YTT was, by far, the most empowering experience of my entire life. It opened my mind and my heart to possibilities that I never would have considered otherwise. Ask anyone you know who has completed YTT, and I expect you will hear the same.

The truth is that yoga is for everyone, and this training can help everyone. No matter what you have been through or what you are facing, learning how to apply yoga to your experiences can improve your life. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Yoga is the teacher, and it will call to you when the time is right. Answer the call, and give yourself the gift of becoming a true yogi.

We are thrilled to be leading Yoga Teacher Training on the Westside of Atlanta this fall. The course will run from September 8, 2016 -December 17, 2016 at Westside Yoga, and students of all levels and backgrounds are welcome. Feel free to contact me if you are interested, and I’d be happy to help you get started. Or if you just want to follow our adventures in YTT, like us on Facebook and find us on Instagram.

Much love,

Amber

 

Photo by Jamie Annarino at Westside Yoga

 

 

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.