My Journey to Wellness
I have always been a student of life. Although I fought going to school, I have always had a deep desire for learning when the knowledge could be applied in service to myself and others.
I grew up in Southwest Baltimore City near Catonsville and my best friends were my neighbors, though I attended fairly homogenous private schools across town. My earliest memories involve driving through the racially and economically divided neighborhoods of Baltimore to go to school. I was blessed with a rich family life and travel to Europe and India from an early age. At the age of 9, I witnessed the Berlin Wall coming down while traveling with my, mother, uncle, and brother in Europe and got to sit on the wall with a pick and hammer chipping away. I saw the difference between East and West Berlin and felt that chasm deep in my soul. I fell in love with the street performers throughout Europe and have fond memories of putting on my cutest face while passing around their hats coaxing passer- by to donate to the artists. I developed a desire to be an artist and have always felt a sense of altruism towards artists and those systematically oppressed. When I returned home, I began dance and theater classes at Columbia School for Theatrical Arts and quickly advanced to the advanced high school level classes by age of 11.
Blessed with a multi-national family, the humblest and sweetest grandmother from India, and close aunties and uncles in several countries, I always had intimate encounters with cross-cultural complexities. At the age of 14, I took my first trip to India and then went back the next year, in love with life and my family there. Traveling in India at that age was very transformative for me. I saw how people live and adapt to a wide variety of circumstances. I saw how people live with less material wealth but with joy and peace. I saw how every car, roadside rock, field, place of business, restaurant, and home had holy alters. Although my family there eats meat, I saw how the vast majority of the country does not, and I took up vegetarianism, which I continue to this day. Coming home to Baltimore, I started to cry a lot. The vastly different perspectives of my multinational home life versus the private school life, as well as some messy boy/girl dynamics at this age, led to some feelings of isolation in school and a deep desire to learn outside the box and to find a greater sense of purpose and service in the world.
Frequently depressed, I found a home on the couch in my high school theater teacher’s office. Instead of ever trying to “fix my feelings” of sadness or isolation, he would encourage me to “dig deeper in the garden”, giving me extra reading by Emerson and Thoreau, writers impacted by the Upanishads, and intensely rich theater roles like playing holocaust survivor Marianne in Playing for Time by Arthur Miller and Monselet in Peter Barnes’s Red Noses. He never let me off the hook on a journey inward, and because of that, I consider Michael Mcnulty my first “yoga teacher”. We studied breath, voice, movement, and maskwork. We studied what it meant to be human.
I never again found a teacher with so much wisdom and compassion who inspired me even comparably, until l met Guruji Hasu Patel at Oberlin College. As a 19 year old girl, spiritually thirsty, I found her in the Experimental College, teaching singing, tabla, and sitar to music and liberal arts college students. I was the only person to sign up for the singing course, and so she was going to cancel. However, I begged, and she began to teach me privately, essentially for free. This was a great blessing and has never left my life since. She became like the best Indian gurus, a very close relation, like family. She is one of the foremost Indian women sitar players in the world and I was lucky to find her. A few years of weekly study with her and a decade of support later, she has taught me about breathing, chakras, the healing power of Hindustani music, and most of all to follow my dreams and never to give up under any circumstances. I began meditation and set up an alter space in my bedroom where I read Bhagavad Gita daily and practiced singing. I spent my first and last year of college with her. In between, I lived in Boston, took summer classes at BU just to get credits, worked and interned at a new theater in Harvard Square, and did a semester at the National Theater Institute in Connecticut. I also interned for the National Playwrights, Puppetry, and Musical Theater Conferences and continued traveling to India every few years. Somehow I managed to graduate from Oberlin College in four years with a combination of internships and classes from three different universities.
After college, I dabbled in publishing and in theater for two years and lived a very undisciplined life, which continued to wreak havoc on my wellbeing. But the seeds of wellness were there and eventually the desire to fuse many parts of my life, culturally, artistically, spiritually, physically, and emotionally and a desire to heal myself, make stronger choices, and serve others led me to study yoga with more reverence. I was drawn to the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Dhanwantari Ashram in South India where I studied under two brilliant teachers. I had originally intended to stay for only a month, enough time to get a certificate, but the real transformation came through living in the ashram. The disciplined daily schedule and an encounter with an Ayurvedic doctor healed lifelong illnesses like chronic eczema, and the regularity of that ashram lifestyle provided an opportunity to at last focus spiritually through devotion, service, philosophical, and mental/physical yoga practices. For a year, I traveled between the ashram in India, Delhi center, and associated ashram in Val Morin, Quebec, and had the opportunity to assist my teacher in a teacher training and another teacher in a Prenatal Yoga course. The Sivananda organization became a deeply engrained and rooted aspect of my life. I also met Guruji Hasu Patel again here, who to my surprise, led some courses and performed in the ashram in Quebec!
Returning to Baltimore, all that was left in my vision for myself was continuing to study music and yoga, when possible, and share these peaceful ways of live everywhere that I got the opportunity. I received a $5,000 grant from Baltimore Community Foundation to teach yoga in underserved public schools, which I did for two years. I also taught in studios, wellness centers, and private homes. A series of “coincidences” brought about the opportunity to take over the Ahimsa Yoga Center, a studio which had less and less programs and revamp it into Baltimore Yoga Village, a community of healers bursting at the seams. Another series of coincidences led to the second studio in Mt. Washington. Aside from learning about management, running these two studios has allowed me to expand my personal knowledge in aspects of yoga less emphasized in the ashrams like anatomy and alignment (through Anusara Immersion and other courses), and to continue with chanting and Sanskrit (through Pierre Couvillion, sanskritbasics.com and “Auntyji” Hasu Patel), Prenatal Yoga for Conscious Birthing (with Janice Clarfield), Yoga for youth (through YoKid Organization), partner and acro yoga (with Jean-Jacques Gabriel), Mindfulness Meditation (with Trish Magyari) and the list goes on and on. It’s an amazing perk to be able to choose my education and bring it to me. Over the past 15 years, life has transformed from a glum search for meaning into the most joyful and rich experience of Self study and service. I am forever grateful for the many big obstacles, mistakes, and the many lessons that pushed me through to this point. In March 2012, Baltimore Yoga Village celebrated it’s 5 year anniversary. Now my greatest joys are cooking healthy food, singing, continuing study, providing service to the yoga community through hosting programs and teaching, hosting the Tibetan monks of Drepung Gomang Monastery once a year, and the Jivan Yoga Teacher Training program. Jivan means life. And it brings me great joy to create a program that integrates the teachings of yoga with every aspect of mindful living.