One Woman's Journey Toward Yoga

In the mid 70's I was right out of college and my life as an "adult" was about to begin. I had a job, a wonderful boyfriend, a dream and a desire. I was going to continue my education, get my doctorate in psychology, and then get married, raise my kids, and be happy.

Psych studies intrigued me! The minds' capacity to help — or to hinder — left me endlessly wanting more skills, more know-how, and greater expertise. I wanted to help my fellow man and really make a difference. Well, seek and thou shall find. In my case, I got an apprenticeship at Creedmore State Psychiatric Center. What a journey! Even the sounds in that place spelled agony. The thing was, there was no skill, tool, or technique I'd been taught that seemed to make things much better there. And I wasn't being taught what I needed to know while continuing my education in school either. Frustrated and disillusioned, I knew there had to be more.

For balance, I'd head out to a dance class, or study with my martial arts teacher and I really loved to ski...hard.

It took just a couple of years ‘till I felt the first twinges of pain. My back was often tender. My knees "went out." I looked busy and successful, with a house and two kids besides all the rest...if only this nagging in my body would just go away...

Pain dragged me to my initial visit with the doctor, who offered the dreaded diagnosis of "overuse injuries." How could this be? I had been encouraged — applauded — for my skill in classical ballet from the age of 5! Next there was gymnastics, sports, aerobic dance. I worked hard. I was good. And I was still so young! Then lurking behind my pain was the singular fear — "how was I going to find my way if I couldn't even move?"

A friend recommended yoga. Now, you have to realize that yoga in the 70's and 80's was weird territory. I had taken some classes at my local Y a few years before, and thought the teacher there was out of her mind. She talked endlessly about herbal tea and nirvana, and the movements were so awfully SLOW! Nonetheless, with the specter of knee surgery, and the recommended back brace looming, I decided to take the plunge again.

I had heard that yoga could open a person to some life altering experiences. I also knew that there was a mental component to the practice, I just didn't think I'd get there drinking tea.

Skeptically, I set out to find freedom from my pain. The first of my new teachers was masterful. As he invited the class to breathe, he said to me — off handedly, mind you — that the breath I was taking was only survival breathing. Yup, just enough to keep me from dropping dead!

Now, there's an interesting thought... and it felt reassuring on some level to have the awareness that I had a choice in the matter. It dawned on me that the practice of conscious breathing, "pranayama", was actually the relationship we have with energy, and that I had the possibility, indeed the invitation, to become a far more conscious, awake and aware partner with LIFE! My previous self was looking at others, helping others, whatever-ing others. This new self was looking inward, and it was a completely unique experience.

Over time, as I began to breathe with my pain, the most amazing thing happened. It began to shift, to pulse, to dim, and then fade.

I was hooked! What better, more fulfilling, practical study could I engage in? This was the study of the infinite possibilities inside of...ME!

That moment of realization changed my life direction. I switched my area of schooling from mind, to bodymind. The postural practices of asana, or "hatha yoga", and the breath practices of pranayama slowly brought me into relationship with the six additional branches of yoga that comprise a life study.

Called "The Eight Limbs", they are:

Asana, the practice of physical postures leading to health, flexibility, balance and strength in each of the bodies' systems.

Pranayama, specialized breath techniques that increase the capacity of the body to experience radiant health and super-conscious states of awareness

Yama, the practice of clarity and truthfulness and cleaning up negative thinking.

Niyama, cleaning up your outer environment, creating sacred space and honoring the rituals that connect you with Nature and the Divine.

Prathyahara, releasing the need for constant stimulation, entertainment and sense satisfaction.

Dharana, the practice of concentration, mental strength and focus.

Dhyana, mindful meditation becoming the observant witness who truly lives the present moment.

Samadhi, the eternal oneness you feel with any and all aspects of life when pure love is experienced.

It was in the presence of all eight limbs that I found the answer to my quest. It was a quiet transition, a light, gentle breeze, but I recognized it when it happened. I found how to live.

My life work has changed dramatically since that first introduction. I took bold steps into the unknown and created the career of my dreams. I had to let go of people and beliefs that stood in the way. I had to look crazy to some, unrealistic to others. I certainly had to withstand the tests that were planted firmly on the path, but my pain is gone, my children are safe, and in my 30 years of practice, I've come up with some interesting insights from a life that continues to be well lived.

1. Wherever you go, there you are (you've heard this before) and there is nothing more important in life than getting to know yourself.

2. Breath IS life! Take in as much as you can, and let go with ease.

3. Your thoughts are a choice. So is what you do with them.

4. Make time for miracles. It's always easier to just open the door than to have it beaten down.

5. Listen to your body. Feelings of peace and well-being will show up as health. Negative or conflicted feelings will manifest in "symptoms."

6. You each have your own unique genius. You can best access its' wisdom in the quiet moments, so learn to meditate, and listen up!

7. There is no better than Here — just different.

8. Being is different than Having. You can BE whatever you desire when you simply choose to be.

9. Release your need to understand. You can use technology before you understand how the circuits are wired. It's the same with yoga. Just do it.

10. Yoga is a practice. Practice makes perfect. Without practice, it's just a thought, so get in gear and begin your practice now.

May the road rise to meet you, and the wind be always at your back.

Gael Chiarella, founder of Yokibics®, holds a degree in psychology and theology, and was classically trained in ballet. Her passion for holistic medicine led to certifications as a yoga therapist, crisis intervention counselor, fitness trainer, hypnotherapist, and bodyworker. In 1992 she began to actively incorporate the outdoor experience as sacred journey into the growth of her Mindbody Fitness Program. Gael has been an author, public speaker, professor of yoga and Yokibics at Hofstra University and spokesperson for body centered spirituality. In 1997 she received the honor of Woman of the Year in Nassau County by the Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her meditations are part of the Relaxation Company Yoga Masters Series.

Gael Chiarella

Gael Chiarella Return to top of page

Gael Chiarella Alba, RYT, began a professional study of yoga, meditation, and alternative medicine in 1978. Her work is based on the eight limbs of yoga, a study that led her to found the Yokibics® I...

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