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 was that yoga was a good way to stretch. I did not think much else about it. Ten years later, I began practicing yoga again. This time, 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 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 the ability to transcend space and time. I soon developed a twice-a-week practice. In 2006, however, I strayed from my yoga practice. During this time, I became lost in addiction. I found myself to be emotionally, morally, physically, and spiritually bankrupt. This was the result of years of being in denial about my dis-ease. I did not feel that I was a participant in my own life. Needless to say, I hardly practiced yoga; I hardly did much of anything. In 2007, I received a wake up call: literally, my father called me one night on the phone from Florida. He told me that my mother was in the hospital. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She was given a 50% chance of living the next two years. Soon thereafter, I was given an opportunity to help care for my mother near the end of her life. This shift was not easy. I white-knuckled my way into a brief period of sobriety to do what was right. Then, I got to hold my mother's hand when 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 passed away, 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; I was now very sick and tired. I heard the following question arise from within the deepest part of my soul:
"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. My path to wellness began. I found recovery, one day at a time. I obtained spiritual tools necessary to maintain a life of abstinence and serenity. I rediscovered my appreciation and love for yoga through daily practice. My mat became a safe place to explore grief, sadness, loss, surrender, acceptance. My practice taught me courage, strength, balance. My life changed quickly as I combined conscious breath with mindful movement. Lessons learned on my mat were applied to all things off the mat. The more I gave to recovery and yoga, the more recovery and yoga gave back to me. I was ecstatic. I felt as if my mind had finally clearly after years of living in a haze. Next, another moment of clarity came: I realized I did not drink nor feel the need to when I helped take care of my mother. I wondered how something like that happened since during that time I had no real defense against alcohol other than prideful willpower which had failed me in the past time and time again. This next thought became the cornerstone of a new set of beliefs I would begin to live out in my life: Being of Service saved me from addiction and selfishness and morbid self-reflection. I realized that the time I spent with my mother, being of service to her and my family, taught me the power of seva, or selfless service. And I knew what I would contribute to the world with the time I have left:
I would give love and service to others by sharing my experience, strength, and hope with recovery and yoga.
I soon learned to teach yoga to bring its healing benefits to people who don't know about it or can't 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 yoga at a shelter in downtown Los Angeles. I taught yoga 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. Next, private clients appeared. Then, many 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 struck with debilitating pain in my lower back. The pain was not new, as I had been feeling aches here and there throughout the previous year, however I figured the pain was muscular as learning to teach yoga was a very physically challenging process. The pain did not subside though after I completed my training program; it only worsened. I finally visited a doctor when I was unable to practice or teach yoga without extreme discomfort. I was diagnosed with Degenerative Disc Disease. To relieve the pain, I tried chiropractic care; exercise; massage; anything and everything to manage the pain. Nothing worked. Then, another doctor suggested I already knew the solution: Yoga. He told me to strengthen my core to support the affected area. He told me it was no coincidence that I had just learned anatomy and yoga so I now knew how to do exactly what needed to be done to heal myself. I went home and used yoga poses to strengthen my core. Within weeks, the pain was gone. I was convinced I was indeed on a path to wellness. I was humbled to experience firsthand that recovery, yoga, love, and service were essential elements of my life, and that my experiences with these things would allow me to carry a message to others so that they could also be transformed.
Now, it's 2018... It's been quite a few years since the events described above.... I'm guessing I've probably taught somewhere near 10,000 yoga classes ... Plus, life has continued to offer other opportunities to learn about love and service: I am a father of a beautiful daughter. 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 worldwide through various websites. I created an online meditation course. I am still sober. I get to help other people find their purpose in life. I am writing a book about my experiences with yoga and recovery. I get to live a beautiful life one day at a time, one pose at a time, one breath at a time. And, most importantly, I have a relationship with a God of my own understanding who guides me and allows me to do everything I get to do.
Special thanks always to my teachers Chelsey Charbeneau (who told me I would become a teacher someday and then helped me do it) and Saul David Raye (who taught me how to teach yoga from my heart).
Some places I have taught yoga: multiple LA Fitness and Equinox locations, 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.