Autism Awareness for the yogi

In April of 2009 I walked into a studio and stepped onto a yoga mat.

In April of 2009 – I was utterly broken.   I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep – I couldn’t do anything except for drink more wine, get more angry & feel more sorry for myself.

My perfect – beautiful – 16 month old baby girl had just been diagnosed with autism – and my heart was utterly broken.

I needed to be “healed” or “fixed”….or something.   I was searching for that something to make me whole – and to make me forget all the sadness.

SO – I stepped into a new studio and onto a yoga mat.

I was instantly in love with the breathing – the moving – the intensity, and the silence.   For the first time in a long time – the sound of screaming in my own head stopped.   I was able to escape to another place – and to forget my crumbling world – if only for 90 minutes.

As my journey with yoga began – so did my journey with Autism.

This “condition”- I only had heard of on the news or in the movies – came in and took over the life of my child.

A once – very happy, interactive & responsive baby – was now a toddler that screamed constantly – didn’t speak at all – slept only 2-3 hours per night – didn’t respond to her name, wouldn’t let me hold or comfort her and seemed locked away in her own world.

I quit my corporate job and became of full time “Autism-mom”.

I shuttled her from therapy to therapy, doctor to doctor. We traveled coast to coast – trying to find the right autism doctor for her, and we stopped taking vacations so we could afford the best of the best for this child.

All the while – I kept up with my yoga – 5 or 6 days (and sometimes) 7 days a week at the studio. It was the only way that I kept from completely shattering into a million pieces.

Even if I had only slept 2 hours the previous night – I knew that during those 90 minutes – I would be able to find the peace, solace & healing that I would need to get through the remaining 22 & ½ hours of the day.   During those 90 minutes – I would surprise myself with the things my tired body was able to do – just by coming back the next day and trying again.

During all of this – I also found TACA (Talk About Curing Autism) – and a wonderful group of families & children coping with autism.

It was at TACA that I found other moms who became my fast friends – and started to hold my hand as I walked down this road.

Here was a network of people who were able to give me a glimmer of hope for the first time in a long time.   This group held support group meetings, seminars from autism doctors and therapists, picnics and parties – just for families and kids with autism.   I stopped feeling so sad and alone all the time.

With lots of love, help and support – my daughter began to make slow progress. She began to open the door into our world – just a little. I began to see the twinkle in her eye that had been missing for so very long.

After a few years – we made the decision that I would go to yoga teacher training – and begin a career as a yoga teacher – so I could continue to give my daughter the attention and care she needed (and teach the yoga that had helped me change my life!).

During my teacher training – my relationship with yoga changed dramatically. It was no longer a source of pure “escape” – but a place that became more about “pure acceptance”. Finding that path to acceptance was the key that unlocked the door to actually living my life – instead of trying to escape it all the time.

Learning acceptance of my body, my strengths, my limitations, my flaws & my shadow self – was a process that was just beginning on my yoga mat.   It was vital to me – if I was going to teach.

Suddenly – It wasn’t during the most technically difficult yoga pose – or most physically demanding practice where the “yoga” began, it was shining a light on all of those “shadows” within myself that the real yoga began.

Through the yoga – I realized that learning acceptance of my daughter was the larger picture for me.

How could I truly love this child if I couldn’t accept everything about her and every single hair on her head?   Even if it was the most painful thing in the world – I couldn’t keep running and escaping.

In my physical yoga practice, I could force myself into different poses that my body wasn’t ready for just yet – and I would get hurt.

And if I forced my daughter to be someone that she wasn’t – if I denied her autism – if I denied who she was for just one moment – I would get hurt, and so would she.

We have been living with autism for the last 5 years.

It has been the hardest thing I have ever dealt with in my life.

My daughter is 6 years old and cannot speak a sentence – even though we have had countless hours in speech therapy.

My daughter cannot communicate her basic needs to me – and often cries and screams in frustration.

In public – we often get stares – as she makes strange noises to block out the sensory input that overwhelms her mind and her body.

It is really really hard – and sometimes I just want to take her and run far far away.

But we don’t stop showing up – trying – accepting and loving her just the same.

And I haven’t stopped doing yoga either. In fact- teaching yoga has changed my life even more for the better.

Yoga is most definitely about healing. Yoga is most definitely about transformation.

But, for me, yoga is truly about acceptance of just this moment – just this breath – and what we have in front of us – just right now.

Yoga can do amazing things for people, and has done amazing things for me.

But instead of something that helps me escape my life, yoga helps me live my life.

Yoga reminds me that if I keep showing up, and I keep trying every day – things will change – healing will happen & light will illuminate.

My daughter teaches me that these things will happen when they are supposed to – and not on my schedule.   So in the meantime – all I can do is show up, shine my light – and breathe.

Shine on my friends.

Click HERE for more information on TACA – and how you can help.

Finding your Dharma….A mom’s journey to yoga

First of all…..What is Dharma?

Short description – When you live your true purpose and give your gifts fully, you are fully alive and living your fullest potential – your Dharma.  Some people might say it is your God given purpose.

How many of us can truly say we are living our Dharma?

First of all – let me say that I am not a certified spiritual guru – a perfect human being – or anyone else qualified to tell anyone how to live their life.

I am just a mom – who loves doing yoga – teaching yoga – and also happens to have a 5 year old little girl with autism.  Hopefully I can weave all these pieces together to bring relevance back to my topic.

Let me back up to 4 years ago yesterday….April 16 – 2009.  This date is really imprinted on my mind…..and probably always will be.

My 15 month old baby had stopped talking & communicating 2 months ago – and seemed more and more disconnected from all of us.  She had developed completely typically – hit all developmental milestones – and then started going in reverse at 13 months.  I was in denial – because it just seemed like a bad dream that I might wake up from one day.

On that chilly day in April – we made our first visit to a developmental pediatrician.  I let my husband do the talking – because I was incapable of being honest with myself – let alone any professionals who might slap a label on my child.

So my husband talked – the doctor observed her – took tons of notes – and I sat there drinking coffee and nursing a terrible hangover.  (Wine was my “medicine” at that time for disconnecting from the situation.)

We left with a diagnosis of PDD.NOS (she was too young for the autism diagnosis at the time – but did get it the following year) – apraxia, sensory processing disorder – and were told that she would most certainly have life long difficulties and limitations.

Now I will stop right here and say – if you are looking for the “feel good” story of the year – where the child recovers completely and is now in mainstream school….this might be the wrong blog for you to read.  It is still a good story – just not the one where the kid plays piano in a concert hall or sings on a cute you-tube video or something like that.

Every year presents itself with new challenges and heartaches.  She still struggles to talk – and when she does – only 15% is understandable…..even by me.  She doesn’t notice people unless she knows them – and she has had trouble sleeping for the last 4 years.  Some nights we only get 2 hours of sleep – if that.

We spend most of our money on therapies – food (a very clean diet) – and diapers.   Yes – a 5 year old who isn’t potty trained.  Not for lack of trying!

We spent the first 2 years after her diagnosis thinking that we could “cure” her.  Exerting our will on her – flying across the country to see different doctors – spending thousands upon thousands of dollars for medical interventions and therapies.

When we had little or no results – we just blamed ourselves – each other and God.  Speaking solely for myself – I was (and sometimes catch myself going there) – bitter – angry, cynical and jealous of people who had “typical” kids.  Even jealous of people who had kids with Aspergers.  Such a terrible way to live your life – and I do not recommend it.

At some point during all this insanity – I found yoga.  I started going every single day….and I started to have “releases”  (still do some days!) – …I would break out in tears during savasana.  During the silence – during the moments in between the moments – I would start to feel.

As days of yoga turned into months and years – the tears became joyful.  I became more thankful – less bitter – less angry.  I started to heal a little bit.  I stopped comparing myself to others as much (still working on this one daily) – and most of all – I stopped comparing my child to others (definitely still working on this!).

I fell in love with this new way of looking at myself, my child – and the world.  The yoga was helping me!  How oh how could I get more!?  (Me – always more is better! 😉

One day I decided I wanted to teach, and after much thought and support from my husband – I went to training.

Through training I went through a lot – emotionally & physically.  I had to keep letting old ideas die – and be OK with it.  I had to find acceptance for my body – for my life – for my child.   Sometimes I would go through a weekend of physically exhausting training on 2 hours of sleep.  Then there was the fact that I was terrified that no one would want me as a teacher for 10,000 reasons in my own head.

And then one day it happened.  I was in front of a class teaching people.  TERRIFIED.  I stumbled a little on my words – kept going as smoothly as I could – while inside I was shaking and trying to evoke to Gods to carry me through the class.

And then the class was over.  I got smiles – thank you’s – hugs……”when do you teach again? where else do you teach?”   They must have been talking to the wrong person….?  But they were talking to me.  The quirky gal walking around – speaking softly and asking people to relax and feel their breath moving them.

I was on a CLOUD!  Was this my Dharma?  I didn’t have any idea – but it surely felt like it.  A new level of transformation and healing has been happening in my life.  My daughter – by living her Dharma – and just being herself isn’t “holding me back” anymore.  Woah – wait a second – did I just realize that it wasn’t all about me?

Truthfully – my daughter is the light of my life and I wouldn’t change a hair on her head – even if I could.  (Let me also give props to prayer & meditation on that last comment)

This autism journey is truly the hardest thing I have ever had to deal with in my life.  But it has gotten better – some days it is beautiful – some magnificent – and some heartbreaking.  The truth is that I can actually see the beauty now – and not only the pain.

Stepping outside of myself and sharing something I love (yoga) – helps clear things up even more.  Is that my Dharma?  I don’t know.  But it sure feels right from the bottom of my heart – so I will keep doing it today.

-Jai Baghwan

Good vs Bad – old ideas and finding my truth…

It happened a month or so before I finished my teacher training.

I was in class with one of my favorite teachers (and most certainly a mentor) – and I was trying to stabalize my shoulders in headstand. I started getting a little pain in my right shoulder and a panicky feeling in the bottom of my stomach.
She was encouraging me – giving me small assists – and I exploded – “I have a bad shoulder!” – and immediately came down.
Very gently – she sat down beside me – looked me straight in the eye and said “Don’t ever say anything about your body is ‘bad’ again.”

Those words really struck something deep within me – and I immediately nodded in response and sank into child’s pose….trying to hold back tears.
Her words really hit me like a ton of bricks.
My entire life – I have fought with self esteem issues – weight – and constantly not feeling “good enough…athletic enough…smart enough”.
I have told myself so many lies over the years – and based my self worth on numbers on a scale. I have certainly been guilty of looking at my body as “bad”. Where is the truth in any of that?

Yoga has really helped me to begin to find my truth and stabalize a little in so many ways. Because of my yoga practice and lifestyle, I have maintained a healthy weight for the past 4 years.
And when you are told as a 7 year old – that you are overweight – put on diets by your father – and made fun of for most of your childhood and teenage years for being the “fat” kid….this is a huge deal.

But I must add- that this has been (and will continue to be) – a journey. I wake up some days and feel like that 7 year old who was terrified to go outside and play for fear of being made fun of or judged. Thankfully – I have my yoga mat – amazing friends – and a spiritual life to help center me and bring me back to my truth.

During my teacher training – all of those old demons were really awakened – and the lies flooded my head again. “How can you be a yoga teacher if you don’t weigh XXX- no one will want to take your class.” “You aren’t a good yogi if you don’t……insert LIE here…..”
It was really hard – and I really struggled a lot in those 6 months with my view of me.

Since I have started teaching – there has begun to be a major healing for me.
I am finding freedom in learning to let go of what I “believe to be true” – vs. what is actually true.
Stepping outside of myself – teaching others to find their center – to breathe – to be OK in the moment with where they are right now – helps me more than I can ever explain.
I pray that I will have the opportunity to teach a student that their body is not “bad” -as my teacher did with me.
When you can have such a paradigm shift – it is life changing.

Will I have days where those “old ideas” pop up? Absolutely. Do I have to believe those lies? Absolutely not.

Hope this made sense to someone somewhere!

Jai Baghwan!
Sarah - age 7