Saturday, July 13th marks 8 years cancer-free for me. I was diagnosed with Stage 2/3 Triple Negative Breast Cancer at the age of 35. As I went through a vigorous clinical trial that included 4 different kinds of chemotherapy, two surgeries and radiation, I truly had to look deep within my soul. As my outer image began to transform with hair loss, IV scars and other side effects from chemo, I chose to take a hard look at myself in the mirror and accept this certain transformation. Initially, I tried to hide myself from the external world, behind a wig, behind fear and anger, but eventually with the love and support I had all around me, I threw my wig off and stood proud, warrior wounds at the forefront.
I have always been a curious person and that same curiosity led me with grace straight to my yoga mat 13 years ago. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted or who I truly was, but I was pretty sure I knew what I didn't want and could not continue moving in the direction I was headed. My yoga practice was still very new and I threw myself into teacher training in a purely physical way. I took an unexpected detour along the way and landed deep into the truth about myself and the scary realization that I was missing Spirituality in my life.
In Brene Brown's book Rising Strong , she defines Spirituality as this:
"Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to one another by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and belonging. Practicing Spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose to our lives."
The truth was, I couldn't even connect to myself, I felt alone and definitely lacked self-love and a sense of belonging.
This is my Second Act.
Through yoga, I slowly began to open up the doors to my Soul's Gate, to step inside and see what was there, without harshness, without the squeeze of self-judgement, but simple self-inquiry and reflection. I had to look into the depths of my solitude and often, it can be a messy place for some of us to come face to face with.
Today, my personal practice of yoga has truly evolved into the exploration of seeking and speaking my inner truth. As an Experienced Yoga Teacher, my students often express that they feel a deep spiritual connection in my classes, they feel that my classes make sense in their bodies and that they can relate to my offerings as well as walk out of class feeling that they truly belong to something. I want to make a difference in my work. Your yoga practice should feel like the biggest reward you can offer yourself. I want my students to take what they learn from me and apply it to their everyday life, to live consciously and aware that their actions, reactions, and interactions truly matter.
If you really feel your body move to the steady and mindful rhythm of your breath, you will find certain transformation in your life and your yoga practice just like I did in front of that mirror 8 years ago.
From a yoga perspective, this is the work we do, aligning and finding balance in our energy centers through Asana (Posture) and Pranayama (the regulation of breath through certain techniques and exercises). In Hinduism and Buddhism, a Chakra is an energy point in the spiritual body. Chakra is a Sanskrit word literally meaning wheel or circle. In a deeper sense, the word describes the whirlpools of energy located along the central axis of our bodies, within the "deep" spine.
When we bring awareness to our Chakras, we remain curious and ask ourselves the direct question, "What is your weak point? What is the part of your body where the stress goes?" For many of us, that shifts from one day, one moment to another. Emotion is "energy in motion" and each time we come to our mat, we need to honor and respect what our individual need's are in that given moment. We need to "listen" to what our breath and body are telling us and feel gratitude for exactly how things are.
Our words and actions have this amazing power to heal when we speak this inner truth to ourselves.
While undergoing Breast Cancer treatment, I remember how much I resisted the support from friends and family initially and how exhausting it was. One day, my Father in Law finally said to me, "Amber, why don't you accept help now and when you are better, you can help others in return?" This was a big relief to me and gave me permission to find peace. It is that big inhale on your yoga mat that allows you to receive.
Now, with a big exhale, I give.
My business of amberbyoga and my representation as a KiraGrace Warrior Ambassador has allowed me to give back. My yoga students and colleagues continually inspire me and because of their support, we have raised and donated $825 in the last year to various charities. Every October, I lead a donation-based charity class for Breast Cancer Awareness and last year we raised over $3500. I am honored to share my story and help inspire others as a feature writer in the book, Structure & Spirit by Karen Fabian. I continue to lead retreats and workshops but most importantly, I share what I love each and every week with my students and local community.
My work with KiraGrace has allowed me to represent everything that I love in this world by wearing their beautiful clothes, dedicating myself to building a compassionate community and bringing people together in celebration of yoga, connection and grounding each other in love and belonging.
I am not sure what my third act will bring, but I will continue to stay curious, make some mistakes, learn from them, and continually show up on my yoga mat.
Amber will be teaching a breast cancer charity class on 10/4 at the Emilson YMCA for those interested!
(Cover Photo by Annie Fuller, blog photos by Stephanie O'Neill Photography)