The process that leads to change can be fiercely difficult. Here, yoga and meditation teachers share personal stories of the messy work of self-discovery and their best tools and tips for tapping into your own inner wisdom, love, and curiosity—so you can allow for real healing.
There’s something about physical transformation that fascinates us. We look at before-and-after photos to marvel at what a difference a month, a year, or three years makes. Kids in elementary school stare in amazement at images of the butterfly life cycle, while their parents are busy compiling digital collages marking their children’s growth over the months and years. Follow the hashtag #transformation, and you’ll find an onslaught of people losing weight, gaining weight, flexing muscles, and showing off new hairstyles. Look at #transformationyoga, and you’ll see people moving deeper—sometimes dangerously—into backbends or splits over time.
But aside from all of the changes that are visible and shareable, there are the other forms of transformation that happen entirely out of view. They’re within us. You might look the same, mostly act the same, yet there’s been a profound shift in your inner world. “Sometimes subtle transformations are the most powerful,” says yoga teacher Jennifer Pastiloff, author of On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard. “You find one day that you’re not chanting, ‘I’m a loser’ or ‘I’m a bad person’ 500 times a day. The phrases are no longer tattooed on your mind. Instead, you have moments of quiet where you realize ‘I’m enough and I’m here.’ Your internal wiring is transformed.”
Recovering After Loss
When Pastiloff was eight, her father died suddenly of heart failure, and she says she spent most of her life trying to avoid the pain of losing him: “I didn’t want to feel …
Yoga teacher Tatiana Forero Puerta, author of Yoga for the Wounded Heart, shares what she’s learned about trauma, clearing emotional patterns, and finding a vision for the future.
If at the age of 20 you would’ve asked me to imagine my life 15 years in the future, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer. I couldn’t see my life in those terms. When I looked into my future then, I simply saw a field of blackness; my potential was not just obfuscated—it was inaccessible. This is what trauma does: It blinds us. One of the effects of deep suffering, especially during childhood, is that it can rob us of our vision.
I lost my father back in my homeland of Bogotá, Colombia, when I was eight years old. The last time I saw him, he knelt at the doorstep of our apartment and gave me a tight squeeze, consoling me as I cried. He assured me he would be back from his business trip in three days’ time, but on his way home his car was hit head-on by a drunk driver. My father and three of his co-workers lost their lives that night. He was 36.
The last time I saw my mother, I was 14. I held her and stroked her balding head, and when I kissed it, I remember feeling as though I were kissing a baby’s head; it was so soft, so innocent. My mother, emaciated and childlike after a short, brutal battle with pancreatic cancer, took her last breaths in my arms. She was 40.
After leaving professional football, Townsel found a new purpose sharing yoga with communities in need.
Memorizing plays, constant body slamming, contract disputes, minimal job security, daily practices—this is the side of professional sports that the general public doesn’t often see. As a five-year-old growing up in the rough Opa-locka neighborhood of Miami, I didn’t understand the ins-and-outs of the job either, but I knew I wanted to play. Where I came from, most kids saw the entertainment and sports industries as their only paths to a brighter future. I had a natural athletic gift, so it seemed like my purpose had found me very early on. Between the ages of six and 12, I played baseball year-round until I moved to Memphis with my mother—where middle and high school coaches convinced me to add basketball and football to the mix. My student-athlete persona carried me all the way to a football scholarship at Kentucky’s Murray State University and then to a competitive roster position in the NFL with the Houston Texans.
I saw vague warning signs in college that this path I was on may not be sustainable: a stage-two quadriceps tear, multiple concussions, and misaligned hips that caused chronic back spasms—and I wasn’t even 21. The issues I would later face in the NFL weren’t so much physical, but mental: constant worrying about my job and financial security, shuffling from city to city, and that little voice in the back of my head that told me I wasn’t good enough to be playing pro football. This was, in my mind, confirmed when I was released by the Texans in 2011 to make room for players that the team had invested more money in during the …
Yes, it is possible to integrate yoga into your must-watch queue. Who says sinking into your couch isn’t self-care?
Scandal fans know actor Tony Goldwyn as the charming leader of the free world. But with the April release of Netflix’s Chambers, the formerly buttoned-up bossman has entered full-on crystal-toting territory. As mourning father Ben Lefevre, Goldwyn leans on Kundalini breathing practices and shirtless meditations to cope with the loss of his teenage daughter, Becky. The supernatural thriller unravels the mysterious circumstances behind Becky’s death and the paranormal visions that result when another girl receives her heart in an emergency transplant. Even if bone-chilling television isn’t your thing, you may still appreciate Lefevre’s commitment to sage burning.
On Yoga: The Architecture of Peace
If you haven’t yet seen this 2017 documentary based on photographer Michael O’Neill’s book of the same name, it’s time. O’Neill’s decade-long photographic exploration into the practice styles of world-renowned yoga masters resulted in the 2015 tome, which contains 200 photographs of famed yogis such as B.K.S. Iyengar and designer Donna Karan. The film depicts O’Neill’s behind-the-lens efforts to capture a diverse array of practitioners and features appearances from commentators Deepak Chopra and Elena Brower.
Few stories of struggling with mental health prove to be as uplifting as I am Maris: Portrait of a Young Yogi, a documentary that follows 17-year-old Maris Degener as she’s gripped by chronic anxiety and a near-fatal eating disorder. By the time she’d reached middle school, what had begun as generalized dread escalated to full-blown panic attacks, later mani-festing as cutting, purging, and other forms of self-harm. Rather than focus on the …
Weightlifting was wreaking havoc on my body and spirit—until I found yoga.
I couldn’t see much in the darkness, but I could smell the tanning oil that covered the toned bodies of women who were nervously clustered together in lines waiting to take the stage. As I stood there in my group, my number pinned to my bikini, I looked down at my body, which I had beat into peak physical condition, and I still didn’t like what I saw. I’m sure I looked confident in my own skin, but what I really wanted to do was to crawl out of it.
I know there are countless women who feel self-conscious about a little squish on their belly or thighs—wondering what new workout or crash diet to try—constantly worrying about making “healthy” decisions around food and exercise. For a long time, I was no different. I was insecure and constantly pursuing the “perfect” body. It was a race that I was never going to win. I was inundated by negative messages in a culture where validation, praise, and value relied on placing in competition. I couldn’t get out of the get-up-and-grind mentality. This chiseled body that kept garnering praise became an addiction.
That is exactly why—despite the three first-place fitness titles I had earned that year—I was left waging a secret war against myself and my body. In that moment in the darkness backstage, my soul was sending out an SOS. I knew something was wrong.
I left that competition and tried to go back to my life as the head strength and conditioning coach at a Denver public high school. I vowed to let go of superficial goals, obsessive negative self-talk, counting calories, incessant workouts, and all-consuming anxiety …
This new awareness made me realize that if you don’t pull out tension by the roots, it just migrates elsewhere—that boiling water has to let off steam somewhere.
I learned about “release valves” in a teacher training a couple of years ago. We were working in groups, observing other students’ mobility and looking for dysfunctional movement patterns. For example, when one of my classmates shifted into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold), you could see that her hips were excessively rotating while her spine seemed awkwardly rigid. She was able to reach her toes because, instead of sharing the load, her flexible hips were doing the work for her stiff back. I quickly started to notice how my own body was compensating for areas that were too tight, too lax, or uncomfortable.
The teacher of that particular training, Gary Kraftsow—a yoga therapist and founder of the American Viniyoga Institute—calls these compensatory release valves “avoidance mechanisms.” They help us understand which parts of us we’ve been neglecting—out of pain, weakness, injury, numbness, shame, or fear.
All of a sudden, I started to pay attention to all of the things I had been evading in my life. I noticed I had release valves at the office. I would sit through a meeting, quietly stewing about a decision I didn’t agree with, then head to my desk, venting ungracefully to anyone I ran into. I’m not proud. I was avoiding confrontation and compensating for it with toxic negativity. At home, I kept conversations about money at arm’s length. Ashamed about my debt, I preferred to hide expenses and not ask for help.
This new awareness made me realize that if you don’t pull out tension by the roots, it just migrates elsewhere—that boiling water has to …
Use this sequence to find refuge from the clutches of chronic illness.
Resting is hardfor me. I would rather be on the go, overcoming hurdles or realizing my life vision. However, it’s difficult to achieve creative goals without rest, introspection, and relaxation. The same is true in diabetes care. If you have diabetes, like me, you’re constantly connected to your continuous glucose monitor, personal diabetes manager, or insulin pump. People with this condition are plugged into a monitor to stay alive, and blood glucose readings get mixed up with who we think we are and we lose our sense of self. Every arrow on the screen, every deviation up or down leaves a residue of subtle negative emotion in the landscape of the body and mind, making it impossible to relax, because every misstep can have potentially deadly consequences.
Any person facing modern technological advances suffers a great deal from similar mind spin; diabetes is just the microcosm of the macrocosm. The disease simply accentuates the detrimental distractions that people face without diabetes. Mental fluctuations are influenced by external and internal factors. For instance, a blood glucose reading of 400 mg/dL (very high!) can be a catalyst for thoughts that can spiral out of control because of past negative experiences—any number outside of normal range may cause you to remember the last time your glucose was too high and how awful you felt. Even more subtle than the thought is the impression left by the event. You may carry judgmental guilt, stew in the past, fret about what you should have done, worry about the long-term effects, or whatever the story may be. When the mind spins, we often react instead of respond. On a physiological level, the nervous system is in overdrive. A heightened state …