I woke up this morning feeling thankful for many things in my life, and since Thanksgiving is tomorrow, it seems appropriate that my feelings coincide with the holiday.
It is difficult, and I think pointless, to prioritize all the wonderful things in my life: good friends, great pets, good health, peace of mind, two good jobs (commercial real estate and yoga instructor), a deep, spiritual faith, and a good family. However, one special thing, like a deep steady current, runs beneath all my blessings: my yoga practice.
I am so thankful for my practice, even though I have now arrived back to the starting point that initially led me to yoga over ten years ago: an injury—a torn medial meniscus in my knee. I think it is appropriate to call this my Thanksgiving Paradox.
Back then, I ran marathons and worked out incessantly in the gym.
Here is a photograph of me completing the Indianapolis Marathon in 2000.
I was so happy. I qualified for Boston that year with a time of 3 hours 15 minutes and 51 seconds: that translates to a 7 minute 29 second pace per mile. I was forty-one years old and was the 41st finisher out of 437 who competed that year.
One day while doing a lunge with a barbell, my left ankle twisted, and I tore the medial meniscus in my left knee. I told myself, no problem, a little orthoscopic surgery, a little rest, a little physical therapy, and I’ll be running marathons again in no time.
Six months after the operation, I couldn’t run more than five miles without pain in my left knee. I was frantic; I didn’t know where to turn. Someone, and I cannot remember who, suggested I try Bikram yoga. I read Bikram’s testimonial about how he healed his crushed knee (also from a weight-lifting accident) with yoga. It sounded like a good plan to me.
I was so fortunate to have walked, albeit with much apprehension, into Bikram Yoga of Louisville on Frankfort Avenue and into Shawna Spellman’s Bikram class. The physicality and challenge of the class overwhelmed me and enticed me: this was much harder than running a marathon. I was hooked, stifling heat and all.
Shawna smiled when I told her about my knee injury and told me to come to class for sixty days in a row; it would change my life. I didn’t believe her, and I didn’t attend for sixty days in a row, but I did attend four to five times a week, and, to my complete surprise and satisfaction, after about three months of this, I could run ten miles with no pain.
Over the next several years, I became a dedicated student of Shawna’s and her other great Bikram instructors like Jennifer Farmer. They taught me so much about yoga, about my mind, about my breath, about my body. I convinced my good friend Thom Blincoe to try the yoga. He did and began his own practice. Thom and I, along with another friend, Jamie Haworth, accompanied Shawna and her husband Rob to Pura Vida yoga retreat outside of San Juan, Costa Rica, on two separate occasions.
Pura Vida is an amazing place: lush setting, nice rooms, healthy food, a staff of excellent massage therapists, and nice yoga facilities. I highly recommend it. The second year we traveled to Pura Vida, Shawna invited a talented and lovely Bikram teacher from Chicago, Miryana Pahmier, to join us to teach some of the classes.
Here are some photographs from our two memorable trips.
Shawna, Jamie, and me in toe stand.
Shawna in a beautiful bow pose.
Thom and Miryana
As the years passed, I continued diligently practicing yoga. I even gave up running, and, to my amazement, the yoga itself became an instructor, and I began to learn and to understand things about myself I had never known, or perhaps, had never let myself know, simply by going to my mat and performing the breathing methods (pranayama) and the poses (asanas) several times a week.
By 2009 and my fiftieth birthday, I felt an increasing urge to extend my yoga journey, but I wasn’t sure how to accomplish this. Shawna encouraged me to go to teacher training, and I was surprised that she didn’t push Bikram training—she even suggested Jimmy Barkan. Just as I was growing, so was my teacher, and she began allowing different types of yoga into her domain.
I decided on New Years Day 2010 to participate in a worldwide challenge of doing Bikram yoga for 101 days in a row. I completed that on April 11, 2010, and when I saw this sign placed on the door of our yoga studio, I knew I had to become a yoga teacher.
I was not the only person in Louisville on such a path. Kelly Robinson, a lovely young woman, with whom I had practiced, was also following a yogic path. And so it was, Kelly and I enrolled in Jimmy Barkan’s Level I Hot Yoga Teacher Training, and we travelled together to Fort Lauderdale for a month of intensive training in June 2010, a life-changing experience for both of us.
Jimmy Barkan is an amazing teacher and a beautiful person.
Here is a photo of Jimmy teaching pada-hastasana using Masumi Ishii as a model. Look at her form—beautiful!
Jimmy introduced me to Pantanjali’s Eight-limb path, an ancient doctrine which I consider a “User’s Guide” to being a kind and loving person and contributing to the world in a positive way. He also introduced me to Paramahansa Yogananda, the esteemed Indian yogi and guru, sent to the United States in 1920 to introduce the ancient Indian teachings of yoga and meditation to the west.
Jimmy’s Level I Training co-teacher is a woman named Lisa Goodwin, who I like to describe as a true angel on earth. Lisa is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met and her immense desire to help others through yoga and life coaching is a beautiful, spiritual thing to witness. Lisa taught me how to make a vision board—another thing that has changed my life in a very positive way.
Through the vision board, I arrived at the understanding that my true calling is to be a writer. This gave me the strength to finish my first novel, Blood Brothers, which I will begin marketing next year. I have been working on the book for ten years. It is time to finish it and begin others.
Kelly and I got so much out of Level I, that we traveled back together to Jimmy’s Level II/III Hot Vinyasa Training the following October. For the advanced training, Jimmy’s co-teacher is another remarkable woman named Kelly Green. Kelly can seemingly defy gravity in amazing ways with her ability to float into a variety of arm balances, headstands, and hand stands. She is also a woman of deep spirituality and a wonderful teacher.
After my training, I began teaching at Shawna’s new studio Heat Yoga & Wellness at The Vogue. The Vogue is a shopping center I lease and manage in the heart of St. Matthews in Louisville.
In 2011, Shawna added Lauren Eirk to her roster of yoga instructors, so I began taking classes from Lauren. Lauren is undoubtedly one of the best yoga instructors I’ve ever had, so when she announced that she would be conducting her own yoga training based on her own methods called Yoga Integrated Science, Yoga I.S., I enrolled. Lauren’s teachings are based on the anatomy of the body and the ranges of motion through which an individual’s particular joint can safely travel during a yoga pose.
This past October, after teaching regularly (4 to 5 classes most weeks) for over two years, I ventured back to Jimmy’s for another Level II/III teacher training. This time, though, I let my ego get in the way of my practice. Perhaps that occurred because I am having trouble resolving how my life seems to march on relentlessly the older I get.
There were many younger people there, and I tried to keep up with them. We attended two 90-minute hot yoga classes daily, and I was having trouble keeping well hydrated. Somehow, and I didn’t feel it when it happened, but I suspect it was in a deep Lotus position, the medial meniscus in my right knee tore. The subsequent pain and loss of mobility were so familiar that I self diagnosed correctly—the MRI was an after thought.
Now I’m facing orthoscopic surgery on December 7th. I’m not worried about it, and I know I will heal quickly. I also know that I will conduct my own physical therapy (yoga).
I believe deeply this was a lesson I needed to learn and for this I am thankful. I can only hope that ten years out from this knee injury, my yogic path will have continued to blossom.
A year has passed since I posted this weblog. I constantly use my vision board as a guide. I finished Blood Brothers, self published it, and began marketing the pschological thriller through social marketing. I have made so many new and wonderful friends on Twitter, and I just wanted to repost this so that I can share a little bit about myself with all of you. I went through the sugery just fine, was teaching yoga in one week, and practicing again in three weeks. 2013 has been a year of transition for me: a good one.
My yoga practice is stronger than ever and evolving, I'm focusing on writing, and as I approach the end of the year, I feel so grateful that I am able to feel so much love in my self and in most other people. Happy Thanksgiving.