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.

We Are All Connected

HBO has a new ad running on social media that looks to be a plug for the network, but also feels a bit like a political statement, borrowed from the ancient yogic texts.

The ad reads “It’s What Connects Us.” The video that accompanies the ad portrays a variety of HBO actors and actresses saying “ah”, one at a time, until they all slowly melt together. Together their voices create the familiar tone that accompanies the HBO logo at the start of all of their programs.

It’s an absolutely brilliant use of one of the great teachings of yoga: “we are all connected”. This theme is found throughout ancient yoga texts from Yoga Sutras to Bhagavad Gita. There is so much about this idea in yoga, but the ad specifically reminds me that the sound “om”, or “aum” as it is traditionally written, is believed to be the sound of the universe working together. HBO is missing two of the syllables–it is actually pronounced “ah-oh-m”, in three syllables, but still, the meaning is similar.

When we chant “aum” in community, the result is much like the sound we would hear if flying high above the earth, listening to all beings at work and play. The constant buzz of people milling about their days creates a beautiful and meaningful vibration. It confirms that every life has a unique and important purpose.

It’s interesting to note, also, that the three syllables in “aum” each have a meaning–the A stands for creation, U stands for preservation, and M stands for dissolution. The entire life cycle in one word!

I love how this ad demonstrates the importance of perspective to recognize connection. We all need to take a step back once in a while. right?! Although each individual “ah” in the video is not particularly inspiring, as the faces blur and the voices blend, it makes a joyful noise.

Maybe you have noticed this in your yoga classes? Some classes offer three “aums”, and the first can sound cacophonous, but by the third, the sound is quite beautiful. This phenomenon occurs because we begin our chant alone, but quickly find our connection to each other through shared energy.

It’s a lot like life–so much of what we do each day can feel mundane, disconnected, and less than inspiring, especially if we do it alone. Taking a step back, however, we realize that we each have important work to do, and we begin to see that everything works together for higher purposes. Our responsibility is to stay on our unique path–yogis call this dharma–and trust the struggles, believing that everything that happens holds meaning.

Perhaps most importantly, HBO’s “It’s What Connects Us” ad reminds us that the idea of separation is an illusion. Our minds may tell us that we are alone, but the truth is that we are all connected, even if it sometimes does not seem that way. The high and the low, the good and the bad, the interesting and the boring, the beautiful and the ugly, all support the beautiful harmony of the universe. Just as the artist uses dark and light colors to define his work, the contrasts of life are necessary and beautiful forces for connection. Thank you, HBO, for this reminder.

 

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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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.

 

 

 

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.

Seek The Truth Relentlessly

Happy Friday! Your mission this weekend, should you choose to accept it, is to practice satya.

The word satya means truthfulness, but it’s meaning is further reaching than it seems. Truthfulness in word, thought, and deed requires resiliency and faith. By practicing satya, we learn to surrender our plans, so that we may have what we really want the most.

Make satya your mantra this weekend. When you feel frustrated, overwhelmed, or sad, ask yourself what is really going on. Is the reaction founded in truth?

We all have stories about who we are, and what we can or can’t do. We cling to them, because we believe they keep us afloat. More often than not, however, they drag us down.

Don’t let the story stand between you and what you might become. Seek the truth relentlessly, and do what must be done. You can do really hard things! Allow yourself to be vulnerable, and know that what you want most is waiting for you, on the other side of satya. ॐImage

photo: suepatterson.wordpresss.com

Why Does It Take 100 Days To Get Crazy Healthy?

Summer 1998–After breaking my shoulders in a car crash, I could not lift my arms above my waist. I had to ask for help dozens of times each day, to reach things I needed. What I remember most, though, is not being able to wash my own hair. Hubby washed it for me, all summer long. It was frustrating, to not be able to do something so simple, that I had hardly thought about, until I lost mobility in my upper body.

It took years of consistent yoga practice to reclaim my flexibility in my shoulders. In the beginning, I thought the goal was to get back to where I was before the crash, but I was wrong. Something even better was waiting for me, when I embraced yoga as a lifestyle.

Little by little, I reclaimed my mobility. It made me happy, and made me thirsty for more. I wondered what would happen, if I kept doing the work, and kept trusting the struggle. Could I actually be more flexible than I was before the crash? Stronger? Happier?

The more I surrendered to the poses, the greater the rewards became. Learning the poses and reclaiming my flexibility was not the end game…something even better was beyond the goal.

This is why our summer challenge is 100 days long. The best things in life are cumulative, and earned little by little. Friendships, careers, faith, health, proficiency in the arts and sports, happiness–all of these have many levels that must be acquired over time. Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras, says it best:

“It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.”

This photo, taken last month in Vero Beach, FL is a reminder of what happens when we practice crazy healthy for a long time, with awareness and commitment. There are no shortcuts to crazy healthy, only daily reconciliations with who we are, and what we want out of life.

Broken bones were my greatest barrier to reclaiming my health after the crash. What’s your greatest barrier today? No matter what it might be, there is a way to move past it. If I can do it, anyone can.

Join me for 100 Days of Crazy Healthy, and trust the process. You can start any time you’d like, but don’t put it off. Reject the voices that tell you it’s not important, it won’t work, it’s too difficult to change, or you don’t have time. These thoughts are founded in false beliefs, and bred by fear.

Seek the truth and believe that you can. Something bigger than your dreams is waiting on the other side.

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Time Matters

1391767_485484761558997_1565215455_nYoga playtime with the girlies

Did y’all hear that a little snow brought our city to a standstill last month? I was one of the thousands of people that were stuck on the road for most of the day. It took me 7 hours to travel 13 miles. Lucky for me, the gas tank was full, and I had snacks on hand, so it was not as much of an ordeal as it could have been.

Even so, it was pretty stressful to be stuck in the car for hours on end.

My journey began at 1 PM, just after the snow started. By 7 PM, I was still 3 miles from home, and really thirsty, so I stopped to buy water at Walgreens.

The store was empty, but for 3 or 4 people and a single clerk. Shoppers were quick to pick out their items, and hop in the check out line–everybody wanted to get home as soon as possible. As I paid for my water, the man waiting behind me placed a 6 pack of Milwaukee’s Best, and two bottles of red wine on the counter. Another man walked up after him, and they struck up a conversation.

“You’ve got the right idea, buddy! Stocking up for a long day tomorrow.”

It struck me as so funny, because I had been thinking along very different lines. Sitting in the car for hours on end had stiffened up all of my muscles, and my joints ached where I had broken bones many years ago. I was not thinking about getting my drink on at all…instead, I was giddy at the prospect of having an entire day at home to stretch, flow, practice arm balances, and cook healing foods.

As they say, to each his own…

But I wonder what would have happened if I had encouraged my fellow shoppers to think differently about how they spent their snow day. This crazy healthy life has taught me that time is our most valuable asset, and we must spend it wisely. Every day is an opportunity to do better, and to be better. It’s all cumulative.

So, with this in mind, I thought I’d share what we are looking forward to doing, while we are trapped in the house:

1) Learning how to cook healthy foods. The girls are learning to roast veggies, make green juices, sauté fruit, and make spiced nuts. This means our kitchen will be a big fat mess for the next few days, but it’s a price I am willing to pay. Let the dishes pile up…we’ll all be better off for it in the end!

2) Memorizing Sun Saluation B. They girls have been practicing yoga with me for a while, but our practices are more whimsical and silly, than organized. Helping them learn Sun Salutation B will teach them how to wrap structure around their personal practice. And maybe, just maybe, they will even teach their friends! We play dance music to make the experience fun, and crack lots of jokes, so it feels more like a game than a chore.

3) Talking about how yoga philosophy complements our Christian faith. I have been reading snippets of Patnajali’s Yoga Sutras to the girls for the past few weeks, and it’s started some really important conversations about their friendships, their goals, and their personal habits. Concepts like ahimsa (non-harming) help them understand to choose their words and behavior carefully, santosha (contentment) teaches them to be grateful for their blessings, and bramacharya (non-excess) teaches them the importance of everything in moderation.

These are just a few of the crazy, but healthy ways we will spend our icy days at home. I think it’s some of the best things we can do for our kids right now, because, as Andy Stanley recently said, “In the areas that matter most, you can’t make up misspent time.”

Truthfully, part of me wants to park the kids in front of the TV, and curl up in bed with a good book. Mama could use a day off, now and then, too. But I won’t. Because time matters, and those of us in the Deep South have been given the gift of a whole lotta extra time to kill this week…and my crazy healthy family is going to make the best of it.

 

Merry Christmas, Y’all


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Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you are enjoying the wonders of the season. Over here at My Crazy Healthy Life, we have been busy preparing for Jesus’s birthday party and Santa’s arrival. It’s a season that challenges my commitment to keeping life in balance, so I am using my normal blogging time to be still and reflect on what it all means.

I am not blogging right now, but I am chatting on the Facebook page for My Crazy Healthy Life. Check in with us there, and join the crazy healthy discussion. We’re talking about strategies that help us stay healthy during the holidays, healthy gifts ideas, quick and easy food ideas, and short yoga sequences (“power poses”) that can keep us on track as we wrap up 2013.

I’ll be back here writing soon, with some big plans for 2014. Until then, please know that I sincerely appreciate your interest in my blog, and I wish you and yours a very merry and healthy Christmas!

Namaste~

Amber

The 8th Discipline of Yoga: Knowing God


Before I found yoga, I believed in God when life was good, and doubted His existence when life was hard. Everyone from my minister to George Michael told me, “you gotta have faith”…so I tried, but my faith often failed me.

I was disciplined about attending church. I could cite scripture. Knew all the words to the hymns. But try as I might, I didn’t feel like I knew God. Something was missing.

Until one day, on my yoga mat, in Sean Tebor’s class at Peachtree Yoga Center in February 2003, I felt Him. I felt God with me there, in Warrior 1, telling me that I was on the right path. It was so empowering. I’ll never, ever forget it.

Does that sound crazy? It seems a little strange to put it in writing, that God speaks to me on my yoga mat, but it’s true. That’s exactly what happened that night, and what has happened countless times since. The more I practice yoga, the more I feel like I know God, and He is present in my life. And that makes me really, really happy.

This knowing of God is the eighth and final discipline of yoga. It happens when our mind, body and spirit are aligned, and we are open and available to what is happening in the present moment, without ego or judgement. This is where we find God.

Patanjali tells us that we can access samadhi anywhere, at any time. This might be true, but in my experience, samadhi takes practice. It’s the reason I meet my mat every day. Because the knowing of God is worth fighting for. And the harder I work to access samadhi, the more frequently I notice God’s presence in my life.

These days, I still go to church, read my Bible, and pray. These disciplines are the framework for my faith, and samadhi is the glue that holds it all together. The more I practice yoga–from the first discipline to the last–the easier it becomes to keep the faith. The something that was missing in my youth was yoga, and now that I have it, I’ll never let it go.

Namaste, and happy last day of National Yoga Month!

Amber

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Photo: blogs.blueletterbible.org

The 6th Discipline of Yoga: Where Meditation Begins


Believe it or not, I was in a sorority when I was in college. I proudly wore the wine and silver blue, and chanted the Pi Beta Phi creed, every monday night at Chapter Dinner:

“Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.”

I didn’t go to church when while I was away at school, so chanting these words from Philippians was the closest I got to scripture during four of the most transformative years of my life. I’d like to say that this weekly reminder to think virtuous thoughts kept me honest, but like most people, I had more than a few ungodly moments in my college days.

Now that I know what I know about dharana, the sixth limb of yoga, I wish had taken these words to heart during those years, and actually spent time contemplating what was virtuous, and what was worthy of praise, and less time losing my soul at mixers and keg parties.

The word dharana means concentration. It is the act of focusing our mind on a word, or a set of words, that we would like to absorb into our soul, in preparation for connecting with God. We practice it in savasana or seated meditation, and it really is as simple as it sounds. We tune out the world around us, and focus our minds on the mantra we have chosen to meditate upon.

Dharana is where meditation begins, and where a lot of confusion arises about whether Christians should practice yoga at all. Yoga arose from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, so it is true that dharana was originally practiced by chanting verses from eastern scriptures. But that was then, and this is now, and other religions have explored yoga as a practice that deepens relationships with God. Personally, I don’t see any reason why dharana cannot be a Christian practice.

Words are just words, and they don’t actually mean anything until we associate a meaning with them. God knows our hearts, and by focusing our mind on His words, such as peace, love, forgiveness, and salvation, we draw closer to Him.

Perhaps more importantly, I believe, with all my heart, that God wants us to practice dharana. He gave us beautiful psalms, and insightful parables, and timeless wisdom. Why wouldn’t He be thrilled if we chose to dedicate time each day to think on these things? They are powerful, and we honor Him by purposefully focusing on His guidance through the fifth limb of yoga, dhrarana.

Namaste,

Amber

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Photo: jimmiescollage.com