I grew up an angry child in Chicago, one of four, the second born and often referred to as the wild child. My father would often say “I never let the grass grow under my feet.” I was always on the move and really, nothing much has changed.
At age 13 I found out my mother was sick from the disease her father passed away from and as a result became an angry teenager. Moving through high school wearing all black, warding off potential friends, and doing my best to be as unapproachable as possible, I landed myself in a cycle of depressive thoughts and personal abuse. I began my regimen of medications to tame my tormented mind. At age sixteen I was taking antidepressants, sleeping pills, and Adderall. Though I did not sort out my life’s frustrations, I did get motivated enough to finish beauty school and high school at the same time and land a job at my dream salon by age eighteen.
My salon life consisted of hours and hours of standing, late night alcohol and drug fits, and a whole lot of drama. My mood began to decline and my body was not far behind. Standing all day in inappropriate shoes and a series of repetitive movements for ten hours a day left me with debilitating back pain and constant joint pain.
Why Don’t You Try Yoga
A client of mine, probably sick of listening to me complain about my back, neck, and joints, invited me to a yoga studio where she had cured herself from pain. It was a Bikram method Hot Yoga class.
I was not sure if I was immediately hooked but I did continue to come for practice without fully understanding why. Just weeks into my practice and my body was responding. Within a year of practice I was off all my medication and dedicated to a new way of health – free from toxic habits.
“Yoga is like a geologist for the soul; it can show you where to dig, and what to dig for, but the digging you must do yourself…”
In 2009, I left my salon job, sold all my belongings and left for India. I had very little income, very few possessions, and was more full of life than I could ever remember being. I was constantly practicing. There was not a single day that went by that I was not on my mat. I knew where I had been once before and vowed never to end up back there. Yoga was the answer.
Yoga was the Answer
In 2010 I went to Bikrams training. In 2011, after three years of taking part in the yoga asana competitions, senior teacher Mary Jarvis opened her doors to me. I would spend the next 7 years traveling to see her at her school or workshops where she changed my spine and improved my understanding of the possibilities of practice.
“It’s not your history but your presence on the mat that matters.” Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois
The first time I visited Mary in San Francisco, it was just her and I. I stayed up the street from the school, would walk down for my three classes a day, and stay for hours of “homework” in between. She instructed me to drink only green juice to keep my energy up, which is what I did. I spent the next two years keeping up this routine of only juice, constant practice, and regularly visiting my teacher. I placed first at a number of regional competitions in Illinois and Texas, national competitions first and second place, and international competition placing second and forth.
Making sense of the Chaos
In September 2013, I was living and teaching in Australia. At two in the morning less than a week after landing in my new home, I received a call from my family saying my father was diagnosed with ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. I knew that my father had known his diagnosis for a while and waited for me to leave the country to share the bad news. This was always his version of taking care of us, keep the bad as far away as possible. I knew I had to move back to Chicago sooner than later to be present for his last years. In 2014 I moved back to Chicago and in 2015 my father lost his battle with ALS. We began the agonizing process of making calls, sharing the news, and funeral arrangements. With plans to collect the attire my siblings and I planned to wear to the funeral, I set out on my motorcycle to cross state lines. On my way to pick up my helmet, I was hit on my bike and landed myself in the hospital with broken bones, a bloody face, and a collection of injuries just two days before my dads funeral.
Death does a lot to a family, accidents do as well. It was not until these both happened at the same time that I realized how disconnected I had become from my family. My siblings and I didn’t understand each other anymore. We were all our own beings, living our own lives, independent of each other. Now, with the passing of the only thing that really kept us together, we were a mess.
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” Carl Jung
Im laying in the ER, covered in blood, operating on pain killers, and confused as to what had just happened when I received a call from my sister on the hospital phone. The first thing she yells over the line is, “You are never getting on a bike again!” No “How are you?” no “What happened?” Just the anger and rage of a family member who just lost her father and almost lost her sister.
Seeing it now, I realize the reactionary place she was operating from and why, but at the time, it was not what I needed to hear. I was devastated, alone. I reverted to age 6, I just wanted my daddy.
Yoga Continues to Give Me So Much…
After a messy hospital stay, being told I wouldn’t walk again, a day of surgery, and a few visits from some perfect friends, I was able to convince the doctors to let me go for my dad’s funeral. Unable to operate off of morphine, I pulled it together enough to not pee my pants at me fathers grave site.
Two weeks after the accident, I was able to stand up alone, meaning I was going back to Hot Yoga! Equipped with my walker, a chair, my crutches, and a cane, I did my practice. It was the hardest class I had ever taken and included not a single posture. I was so happy. Months of this equalling years of healing, and I can now create all kinds of postures I never thought I would. Yoga healed me once again.
Come current day 2018, in my 30s, depression, a motorcycle accident, the loss of both of my parents, the break down of my family, the constant movement from city to city, and divorce, I would not be where I am spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or physically if it was not for my Yoga practice. I could not possibly give up on my practice when it continues to give me so much. I am hopelessly devoted. There is not a single thing I would give up for it. It is life and I have so much more to live.
“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.” B.K.S. Iyengar
Gifted with these experiences, I continue to share the beauty of practice in the Bikram, Vinyasa/Ashtanga, Pranayama and Meditation methods of practice with attention on healing and awareness about processing life. You can find me teaching classes, workshops, retreats and teacher training courses around the world. Follow my schedule at www.giannayoga.com and email me for info on events on [email protected].