In 1995, I took a yoga class for college credit at a university in Florida. I figured it would be an easy class. My first impression about yoga was that it was a good way to stretch. I did not think much else about it. And I did not continue my practice when that school semester ended.
In 2005, I began practicing yoga again. I did it each week in the basement of a New York City building in which I lived. Anna Hughes Dioguardi was my instructor. There was something special about the way she guided students through the practice. During her classes, I realized yoga was not just a means to stretch as I had previously thought, but a way to keep out of my head, which was a huge reprieve at that time. I also felt that yoga seemed to be a moving meditation within which I found an ability to transcend space and time. I soon developed a twice-a-week practice.
In 2006, I strayed from my yoga practice. During this time, I became lost in addiction. I was emotionally, morally, physically, and spiritually bankrupt as the result of being in denial about the nature of my dis-ease. I did not feel that I was a participant in my own life.
In 2007, my father called me one night on the phone from Florida. I was now living in Los Angeles. He told me that my mother was in the hospital. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor and given a 50% chance of living the next two years. Soon thereafter, I was given an opportunity to go home and help care for my mother near the end of her life. This shift was not easy as I suffered deeply from addiction yet I somehow managed to achieve sobriety. And I was present when the time came to hold my mother's hand as she left the physical world.
What happened next can best be summarized by the following passage from the Dalai Lama's Little Book of Inner Peace:
"When at some point in our lives, we meet a real tragedy, we can react in one of two ways. Obviously, we can lose hope and let ourselves slip into despair, into alcohol, drugs, and unending sadness. Or else we can wake ourselves up, discover in ourselves an energy that was hidden there, and act with greater clarity and more force."
After my mother transitioned, I examined my life and mortality. I looked into a mirror. I hardly recognized my own face. I realized I had spent years poisoning myself with alcohol. And I was now very sick and tired. I heard the following question arise from deep within the center of my being:
"What are you going to contribute to the world with the time you have left on Earth?"
In that moment of clarity, I chose to reclaim my life and my path to wellness began. I found recovery – one day at a time – through a program of action. I obtained spiritual tools necessary to maintain a life of abstinence and serenity. I rediscovered my appreciation for yoga through daily practice. My yoga mat felt like a magic carpet – it was a safe place to explore grief, sadness, loss, surrender, and acceptance; and it taught me courage, strength, and balance. My perspective also began to change as I combined conscious breath with mindful movement. I soon realized that the lessons I learned on my mat were applicable to all things off the mat; and the more I gave to recovery and yoga, the more recovery and yoga gave back to me. I was ecstatic. Recovery and yoga had set me free. I felt as if my mind finally cleared after years of living in a haze.
Around this time, I experienced another moment of clarity: I realized how I did not drink nor feel the need to when I helped take care of my mother. I wondered how that had happened since during that time I had no real defense against alcohol. I had no tools. I knew nothing about recovery. I was not practicing yoga. Then the answer came: being of service saved me from addiction and selfishness. I realized that the time I spent with my mother, giving love and being of service to her and my family, taught me the true power of love and service. And I knew what I would contribute to the world with the time I have left:
Give love and service to others by sharing my experience, strength, and hope with recovery through the practice and teachings of yoga.
I soon learned to teach yoga to bring its healing benefits to people who do not know about it or cannot get to it. After I completed my first teacher training certification program, I taught yoga classes to men and women in addiction recovery centers. I taught at a shelter in downtown Los Angeles. I taught at gyms and studios across Los Angeles. Then, I created 12-Step Yoga classes for men and women in recovery; these classes were donation-based in West Hollywood and open to everyone. Then, I created Strand Street Yoga; these classes were outdoor, community classes, also donation-based and open to everyone. Then, private clients appeared. Then, more opportunities followed where I was able to use yoga as a platform to share a message of recovery, transformation, and healing. I felt as if I was fulfilling my purpose in life. I was happy and healthy…until I was suddenly struck with debilitating pain in my lower back. I was unable to walk, sit, stand, or lie down without extreme pain.
I visited a doctor. I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease. To try to relieve the pain, I tried chiropractic care, physical therapy, exercise, massage, and much more, but nothing helped. Then, I visited another doctor out of desperation. He looked at my chart. He asked: “You’re a yoga teacher?” I said yes. He closed my file. He said: “You know what to do. Strengthen your core to support the affected area.”
I went home and knew I needed to focus on my own healing. I thought about which poses strengthened the lower back area. I did these specific postures every day for the next week. Each day, I felt a little stronger. And within a few weeks, the pain was entirely gone and has not returned since.
I was now convinced I was indeed on a path to wellness. I had experienced firsthand that recovery, yoga, love, and service are essential elements to living a meaningful life. And I knew that my experiences with these things would be the message I am meant to carry out into the world.
Now, it's 2020... It's been quite a few years since the events described above. And life has continued to offer many opportunities for me to learn about love and service. For example, I am now a father to a beautiful little girl. I create audio courses for a meditation app and website. I write articles regularly for yoga magazines and wellness websites. I have been interviewed about my work with yoga and recovery by Yoga Digest, Life By Me, Alignyo, Mantra Wellness, Role/Reboot, Origin, Sivana East, Sivana, Neon Tommy, Recovery 2.0, and Malibu Times. I was invited to be a yoga ambassador for lululemon and Manduka. I lead yoga retreats. I facilitate meditation workshops. My classes are available through many websites. I am writing a book now about the principles of recovery. And, thank God, I am still sober, one day at a time, for more than 10 years now.
Special thanks to yoga and meditation teacher Chelsey Charbeneau who told me in 2009 that I would become a yoga teacher someday. And when I was ready to do it, she offered her love and support to help me become a teacher. And thanks to my yoga teacher Saul David Raye, who taught me how to teach from my heart.
Some places I have taught yoga: LA Fitness and Equinox, Jade Apple Yoga, Updog Yoga, Yoga Collective, Pop Physique, Rising Lotus Yoga, Cliffside Malibu, Cast Recovery, Riviera Recovery, Agoura Power of Yoga, Strand Street Yoga, Coolhot Yoga, M6 Fitness, La Casa de Maria Retreat Center, and Four Seasons Westlake Village.