The Pain

The Pain 2966 1608 Gayl Walder Yoga

Hi everyone! I’ve been blown away by your responses to my story about my explant journey and my road back to health. Currently, I am recovering from my surgery, and working on getting my strength back. I’m doing my best to respond to all of your questions and comments, but I’m still not able to move as fast as I’d like to, so I appreciate your patience. Soon, I’ll also be posting an update about my life post-surgery, since so many of you have been asking about what my life is like now that I’ve had my toxic breast implants removed. Please keep in mind that I’m not a doctor, but I’m definitely here to answer any questions you might have about my experience. Today, I wanted to leave you guys with a poem I wrote in the middle of my struggle with chronic pain. I think it’s so important to share our experiences, good and bad, because it helps everyone remember that we are not alone.

THE PAIN – by Gayl Walder

I’m wearing my P.J.’s, I crawl into bed
There are a thousand thoughts racing through my head

My body is in pain and it hurts to breathe
I cry to myself while I pray for some reprieve

My “to-do list” keeps growing – papers piling high
I once was so organized, now all I can do is sigh

When my kids call me,
I pretend I am fine
I don’t want them to know I continue to decline

I feel so alone as I hold so much in
I just keep crying, then cover it up with a grin

I lose things, forget things, or sometimes I don’t care
It’s hard to keep up at this pace
When I feel such despair

I’m great at wearing masks,
So most people do not know
my body and soul are aching
this energetic girl now moves slow

It’s hard to believe this has gone on for much longer than a year –
The amount of time I’ve spent on tests and doctors
Has me in a state of fear

I’m in touch with my body and for that I am quite proud
I have the knowledge to say to doctors, “No more of your meds are allowed!”

I will try be patient as I wait for my explant date –
I will keep thinking positive thoughts
And trust the hands of fate

We are all in this together – though sometimes we feel alone
Crying uncontrollably, we need to acknowledge how much we’ve grown

♥️Gayl Walder

Gayl Walder Yoga Surgery Illness Recovery

A Chapter From My Story

A Chapter From My Story 1920 1440 Gayl Walder Yoga

Everyone has a story. Sometimes we live in our story forever. Sometimes, we can’t wait for the next chapter – or even the next book – to begin. We always learn from each story, and what we choose to do with what we’ve learned can have a huge effect on our lives. What I’ve learned is that you can ignore the lesson, acknowledge the lesson, or learn from the lesson — the choice is ultimately yours.

My story is complex. I never realized this until I was forced to take a deeper look at the role I was playing in my life. For as long as I can remember, I have been a caretaker, a fixer, and a pleaser. There is nothing wrong with these roles, but what I’ve noticed about myself and other women who identify with these roles is that often times we lose ourselves in them. Sometimes, it’s not even intentional; we just happen to put ourselves last. Our stories are all different: for some, music is the focal point of their story. For others, making money or having power becomes the entire plot of their story. For me, yoga and meditation are the key players in my story, and these tools have given me the greatest gift I could ever ask for: the ability to be in tune with my body, mind, and spirit. Yoga taught me how to be mindful, present, strong, focused, determined, flexible — the list goes on. Yoga taught me that life does not always go as planned, and the way that we react, adapt, and live our truth shapes us into who we are. When I discovered yoga over 20 years ago, I also discovered a sense of inner strength and a mind-body connection that has guided me to where I am today.

That mind-body connection has been instrumental in my healing story – a story that is deeply personal to me. While I have shared this story with some of you, many of you don’t know the full scope of my journey with my health. Today, I want to share this story with you, because it could save your life or the life of someone you love.

In 2007, my beautiful mom was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine mammogram revealed a malignant lump in her breast. After her diagnosis, my mom also did genetic testing, which in 2007, was not very common. She tested positive for the BRCA 2 mutation – a diagnosis that would change my life forever. After my two sisters and I did our own genetic testing, it was revealed that they tested negative while I tested positive for the BRCA 2 mutation.

Following our diagnoses, my mom and I each had our twelve-hour surgeries six months apart. We both had double mastectomies, full hysterectomies, and reconstruction all at once. When I think back to April 23, 2008 — the day of my surgery — it’s all a blur. I lost my grandmother and father-in-law a month apart, my mom had had her surgery just before, and the stock market crashed, which had a major impact on many people including my own family. Even after all of this loss, my focus was what it always was: I constantly told myself, I need to get better so I can be a good mom and take care of my kids. I need to get better so I can be a good wife, sister, daughter, and friend.

The constant guilt that I felt – combined with my need to please – kept me from being grounded and in the moment. I could not concentrate on the trauma I was experiencing in my body because I could not be present with what was truly going on in my body. I never thought about the changes I’d experienced in my body before, and I never thought twice about the fact that my breasts were about to go through another dramatic change. I simply did what I was told when it came to my reconstruction surgery. All I could think about was how I was determined to get my strength and flexibility back. I wanted to be able to move as I had before. I wanted to be there for other people, and I wanted to continue my yoga practice.

One month after my surgery, I slowly began my yoga practice again; however, this time it was different. I had a whole new body awareness, and moved slowly and mindfully, as though I was a beginner again. Little by little, I began to build up my strength and open up parts of myself that had been stuck. Although parts of my body felt resistance, I was just happy to be able to move again, and not be so consumed with worrying about breast cancer. So, for the next ten years, that’s how I lived my life. I tried to wipe out the trauma I’d experienced by dedicating as much time as I could to taking care of my family, educating others on the BRCA mutation, teaching yoga, and always finding special time for myself on my yoga mat. I was looking forward to a future without pain and worry – at least, that’s what I had hoped for.

Almost ten years later, in August 2017, I woke up one day to find that my hands and wrists were swollen and inflamed. Both of them ached with an intense pain that came out of nowhere. The pain got worse, and for a short time, it affected my ankles and knees and neck. I felt sick all the time – like I had an insidious flu that would not leave my system. Almost immediately, my mind went back to my breast surgery. Could something from that traumatic event be triggering what was happening now? Could the pain I was experiencing be from lymphedema? When I asked my doctor, he said it was highly unlikely that I would be having a reaction to a surgery from 10 years before. I felt discouraged and I began seeing various doctors, hoping to find answers. I was in so much pain and did not know what to do. Every doctor gave me a different diagnosis, along with wanting to put me on different medications with terrible side effects. I refused and sought alternative therapy. I went to an acupuncturist who referred me to a therapist and a TCM (a traditional Chinese medicine doctor who prescribes herbs). I went to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, and came home with no diagnosis. I continued to see my chiropractor that I had been seeing for 3 years, and he also agreed that something was very wrong with my body, yet the source of the ailment was undetectable. I decided to continue exploring alternative medicine, and went for Ayurvedic treatments for 2 weeks. I felt a little better; however, something was still very off.

In spite of my endless appointments, I still performed all of my duties as a mom. I moved one of my daughters into her new university, and the other to a new state to begin her first job. I continued to move at my normal fast pace, but I felt exhausted and weak, and I couldn’t ignore the dark feeling that something was terribly wrong with my body. I started a file called “mystery illness,” and that file turned into a big box. I saved every doctor’s report, every disc from every MRI, and every lab report. Luckily, through my yoga practice, I was able to be in tune enough with my body that I knew something was wrong with me, despite my doctors’ inability to properly diagnose my illness. My doctors offered to prescribe me with steroids and other drugs, but I knew in my heart that their diagnoses were wrong, and that taking the drugs they prescribed would be like committing treason against my own body. So, every day, I would meditate, practice yoga, and try to exercise outside. My once somewhat normal life was now comprised of commuting, sometimes for hours, to at least four doctor’s appointments per week and getting tested for every kind of disease. I had countless MRIs, CAT scans, PET scans, and blood tests. No diagnosis would show anything specific: the only thing I heard repeatedly was that my body was inflamed, which meant it was trying to fight some unseen aggressor. When I met a doctor, I would usually cry as I told my story. I would say, “I am Gayl, and I am a healthy person. I never get sick, never complain, and I feel like I am dying. This is not me, and I want to be me again.” I cried every day, usually in the shower or bath: the only place in the world that my very cold body could get warm, and the only place where my family could not see me unravel.

During my long journey to discovering the root of my illness, I also experienced an unthinkable level of social isolation. I felt like I could not talk to friends and family, because it took so much energy to lie and pretend that everything was okay. It was too difficult to try to explain how I felt, or the fact that no one could tell me what was wrong with my body. I did not want to hear the opinions of others who had no idea what I was going through. I couldn’t even look at social media because it made me so sad to see my friends in their beautiful yoga poses while my own once-strong body was just getting weaker.

I kept my illness from my parents for several months because I did not want to worry them. My sister, Marci, was my only sounding board, and I am so grateful that she let me cry and tell her how bad I felt on a daily basis. I was in so much pain, and I was beginning to run out of options. From February 2018 to July 2018, I was seeing a rheumatoid arthritis doctor and began to take Prednisone, Mobic, and a 30 minute monthly infusion of Orencia. Aside from my face swelling from the Prednisone, nothing changed, so I stopped taking anything at all. In July 2018, I went to Israel with a group of women, and for the first time, I felt as if a few pounds of the tremendous weight I was carrying had been lifted. When I returned home, I really started to decline. The pain was unbearable, my glands felt swollen, and my chest hurt every time I took a breath.

I practically lived in sweatpants, because I could not button my jeans or pull up my leggings. I could not even open a water bottle because my wrists hurt so badly, and I had to use my elbows to squeeze a tube of toothpaste. I had not done an arm balance in almost a year, and when I practiced yoga, I needed special props to support my wrists. It was impossible to do planks or push-ups, and once again, I felt like I was retraining my body as if I were a beginner. I had no energy, yet I could not sleep. I knew I had my family counting on me, including my two little dogs, Kobe and Roxie. I went to see my internist (who I’ve known for over four years), and during our meeting he said, “Gayl, I don’t like to see you like this. This is not you.” We decided I would try RA medications one more time even though I was extremely against them. At this point, I was desperate.

So, for four months, I went every week and received injections of Methotrexate and Orencia. I cried every time. I hate shots more than anything, and they make me so emotional. What was worse was that the shots did nothing, and I did not even feel a tiny bit better. With my immune system shut down from the shots, I felt so weak. I could not go visit my daughter for the very first parents’ weekend at her university, so my son and husband went without me. In January, I went to meet with my RA doctor, and told her I did not feel better. She asked me to try a biologic: another shot with even more side effects. I cried, and against my intuition, I consented to Enbrel. I came home after the shot with eyes that were blown up and swollen, and my whole body itched. I called my sister crying, and I told her I was done. I would not take any more prescription medicine. I took a Benadryl, went to bed, and woke up in pain, but I was at peace knowing I would no longer be taking medications that were not going to help me anymore.

Since the very first day I felt pain in my wrists, I had that gut feeling that my illness stemmed from my surgery in 2008. However, this time, I was not willing to ignore my body or my intuition again. I found a group called Breast Implant Illness and Healing by Nicole, and spent hours and hours reading what 60,000 other women were experiencing. (There are now close to 80,000 in this group) It was so inspiring that we could support each other and answer each other’s questions, but most of all, it was so wonderful knowing that I was not crazy, and I was not going to die. My body had actually been fighting my implants for years, but I thought the symptoms were from being tired, having four kids, moving across the country, never resting, and fulfilling my duties to my family. Finally, after finding this support group, doing my own research, and spending years struggling to get the pre-op and post-op records from my plastic surgeon, I finally confirmed why I had been so sick: my breast implants were slowly poisoning me from the inside out and were destroying my lymphatic system. My strange, phantom illness finally had a cause. Through my strong meditation practice, I decided to have my breast implants removed, no matter what the outcome was. Every morning, I would silently remind myself, “You can do this, Gayl. Don’t stay in bed; you are going to be ok.” I would close my eyes, and visualize my body healed, healthy, and strong – just like it was before my first surgery all those years ago.

My healing story is so hard for me to write about, largely because it is still going on; however, this experience is a chapter in my story I will never forget.

I wanted to be sure to share my journey in detail to help anyone else who might be going through acute, chronic pain. More than anything, I want to inspire others to take full responsibility for their own health, and to listen to their bodies. Inflammation and pain are only the symptoms — not the cause — of so many diseases. Even though we have an incredible medical system in this country, there is still so much that doctors do not know, and there is still so much that can be improved. I urge you to constantly listen to your own body, and to take charge of your health. As women, it’s far too easy to fall into the trap of putting everyone before ourselves, but our own bodies and lives are just as important as our families. I want to move forward in my life as an example of someone who is able to take care of her family, but who is also able to take care of herself. The first step in true self care is rooted in listening, and in creating trust in ourselves. I hope my story can inspire you to connect to your own true intuition, and to always listen to your inner voice — because that voice is more powerful than you know. My inner voice is what saved my life, and I know yours can save your life, too.

On Tuesday, May 7, 2019, I had my surgery to remove the implants that were placed in body 11 years ago. I did not know what the outcome would be, but I did know that, for peace of mind, it was something I needed to do. Today is May 12, 2019, and although I am sore and emotional, in the last five days, I have slowly become alive again. It is almost miraculous. Most of my pain in my joints is gone, my eyes are white instead of grey, and every morning when I awake, I feel like I can take the deepest breath – that deep, life-giving breath that I used to feel every single day. I am so incredibly grateful to once again be full of life and possibility.

Please feel free to share this, and please be sure to always ask for and keep the medical records after any surgery or procedure you may have. While we have an amazing healthcare system, we cannot forget that we must take full responsibility for our own health. Also, please feel reach out to me. I have a long journey ahead of me, and I want to share anything I can to help you when it comes to listening to your body. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I know my story just gets better from here.


Stay tuned for the next chapter…

Living In The Moment

Living In The Moment 2100 1494 Gayl Walder Yoga

How Do We Truly Live In the Moment?

You hear it all the time: “You just need to live in the moment,” “Let go and live in the present,” “Live your life right here, right now!”
But how do we actually live in the in moment? This command is such a general statement, yet it is also very complex.  For each of us, “Live in the moment” will mean something entirely different depending on our unique situation.
Firstly, we must understand why living in the moment is so important. The truth is, life goes by incredibly fast. I know that for me, every year of my life seems to pass with increasing speed. As my children grow, the moments seem to escape me: my duties as a wife, mother, writer, and teacher can overtake my life, and make me feel like I’m being taken on a wild journey instead of being the leader of my own journey. Making a commitment to live in the moment gives me the time and space to choose my reactions, instead of recklessly responding to people and events. Living in the moment allows me to enjoy the process of my life instead of rushing towards some far off goal. And, living in the moment allows me to be the woman I want to be: I can simultaneously find joy in my life while confronting the more difficult components. I can be an excellent mother, wife, writer, and teacher instead of letting those roles dictate my reactions.
However, one thing is very clear: when I make a commitment to live in the moment, peace effortlessly overrides overwhelm, joy overtakes frustration, and clarity vanquishes uncertainty. While your own life might look very different from mine, here are a few simple ways you can start living in the moment today.

Take a Break From Tech

One of the most simple ways we can start living in the moment right now is by putting our phones down, or maybe even turning them off altogether! Have you ever sat with a friend, child, parent, spouse, boss, significant other, or even an acquaintance, and noticed that she is not really listening to you or understanding you, all because she’s on her phone? Perhaps the tables are turned, and you are the one on your phone, not really giving others the attention they deserve. We have all been guilty of this in one way or another, and sadly, many do not realize the consequences it has on our relationships, our emotions, and our connections with others.
Let’s start with our younger generation: many children and adolescents have social issues because they are not sure how to have a face-to-face conversation with peers, and even with adults. While the inability to connect in real life can be the result of more serious issues such as non-verbal learning disabilities, it can also be a result of overly immersing our children in technology. The permanent plug-in undoubtedly isolates us, and can keep our children from learning the essential skills they need to build their own communities. By being an example for our own children and making a decision to only use technology for scheduled, focused periods, we can inspire them to connect in real life, and find happiness in nature or by moving their bodies.
On the other hand, many of us have lost important friendships because we were never able to speak to our friends, and we know how difficult it is to maintain a friendship with depth and meaning through texting alone. I feel sad when I call a loved one or friend and they never answer the phone. Instead, they will only text me. I truly enjoy good-old-fashioned eye contact and speaking to people in person. I like to see people smile, and if they are wearing a frown, maybe there is a reason why. We don’t notice these things in a text. We can’t always feel pain, or pick up on something in a text.
If we choose to take a break from our phones and laptops, we can really make a connection to the people around us, and inevitably, we end up living in the moment!

Move Your Body

Movement can ground us in the moment immediately, because it forces us out of our heads and into our bodies. Have you ever felt so busy that your heart rate speeds up and your breathing becomes rapid? Maybe you haven’t even realized the changes in your body because you are moving too quickly through your day and processing the world at such a fast pace.
Ironically, movement is the antidote to time that moves too quickly! When we move, our breathing regulates, we connect to our bodies, and we feel our blood pumping through our veins. Our whirlwind of thoughts immediately dissipates, because we can only think about the movement we are engaging in! Yoga is my preferred form of movement, and I cannot even begin to describe the peace that my practice gives me. It’s so easy to discount making time to work out when we are so busy, but I’ve learned that, when I can commit to my yoga practice on the days where I’m my busiest, I can find more peace in the moments I would usually react to negatively.
Next time you feel like you are overwhelmed or like things in your life are moving at a speed that’s out of control, make the time to move. It could be as simple as throwing on your running shoes and going on a run outside, or making the time to do a yoga class online. You can even set up a yoga session via Skype with me!

Choose What You Love About the Moment

This is the most simple piece of advice I have to share; however, it is truly the most difficult one to implement. When our world is moving at the speed of light, or if things feel too hectic to relax, we must make the conscious choice in every moment of our lives to choose a few things we love about the situation we are in. If you feel overwhelmed by motherhood, choose to focus on the fact that you created incredible children, and that you get to teach them to be the best versions of themselves. As mothers, we are truly making the world better, because we are responsible for making a more compassionate, intelligent, and forward-thinking population.
If you feel overwhelmed by your romantic relationship, make a mental shift to focus on the things you adore about your partner. If you feel overwhelmed by work, think about the things your job allows you, such as a salary in which you can fund your life, a community of colleagues, and the opportunity to contribute to something bigger than yourself.
This process is certainly easier said than done. However, the benefits are revolutionary. Choosing love in every moment, no matter what, gives us the opportunity to be in control of our own reactions, and therefore, in control of our own life. When we surrender to love no matter what the situation is, we truly are living in the moment.
Play around with these three ideas, and see what it feels like when you surrender to the moment you’re in right now!

Saying Yes to Adventure

Saying Yes to Adventure 2942 2180 Gayl Walder Yoga

Here’s What Happened When I Said Yes to Adventure

A few months ago, my oldest friend Michelle (we’ve been friends for 40 years) told me I had to apply to take a trip Israel with a women’s group. She took this trip 5 years ago, and said it was life-changing. I actually noticed the powerful effect the journey had on her as soon as she arrived back home.  It was as if she glowed from the inside out – like she had a secret to life that the rest of us were missing out on. However, because I was still struggling with my health issues, I was very hesitant to take the trip myself. I also did not know how I could possibly travel to another country with people I had never met before.  And, most importantly, I had never been to Israel or Europe, or even considered journeying to these places, because of a story I have told myself for so many years: I can’t leave my family.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve told myself that my family needed me.  And because I believed that my family needed me, I was afraid of what would happen if I traveled on my own and left them behind.  As a result, I became a side character in my own movie, and my family was the star.
Don’t get me wrong: I have an incredible life.  My children like it when I do things with other moms, and they are supportive when my husband and I go out with our friends. But, I still enjoy being home and being available to my children.  I know that kids grow up too fast, and there are always challenges that I want to support them through.  However, the consequence of this is that my daily to-do list is never ending, and the amount of hats I wear has increased throughout the years.
I do have cleaning help, but there are just certain things no one can do for me. I enjoy driving my son to school and picking him up whenever I am able to. I enjoy cooking and organizing, and I actually like going through paperwork – filling out forms for kids, schools, charities, organizations, and bills is just something that others cannot do for me. Also, the kind of love and support I give as a mom and wife is a tool that no one else can provide for my family.  I am the CEO of my home, and one that you can’t put a price tag on, because my job lasts for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What I have discovered is that even though I love what I do, I have been so stuck for so many years. I am stuck, because I am so used to giving to everyone, that I always put myself last. This is no one’s fault; not even my own. We become creatures of habit: we have patterns that we engage in for so long that we don’t realize we are even engaging in them! There is a Sanskrit word, Samskaras, which translates to “habits” or “patterns,” which sometimes can be very hard to break.
After examining my beliefs and my fears, and after looking at my own Samskaras, I knew it was time to try something new.
I interviewed for the Israel trip that was being organized for the fall, and found out over 120 women applied while there were only 41 spots available! October seemed far away, but I suddenly got an email explaining that the trip organizers were in deliberation about the trip and choosing who would go. They told me another group was going in July, and said I could go with that group, but only if I could give my answer by the next day.
I discussed this with my husband, and told him I that I needed to go.  I explained to my family why it was important that I’d be traveling alone.
I took the final step, and I told the ladies in charge I was saying yes to Israel! I woke up the next day, and felt happier than I had felt in years. At my core, I am a happy and positive person, but this was a different kind of happy. It was like a spark was lit inside of me, and I felt as if I had a new purpose. Every day since I said yes, I have become a little more excited. What made it even more special is that my family was happy for me.
My kids have all been to Israel, and they wanted me to experience what they did. Some of their friends live in Israel now, for school and for other reasons, and I I can see and almost feel how happy they are there. I am excited to visit with them.
So today, I began a new chapter in my life…the unknown. I’m on the plane to Israel to share 8 days with 16 women I have met only once at a group meeting. We have an itinerary that is quite full. We will be visiting different parts of Israel, experiencing culture and tradition; along the way, there will be spiritual talks and growth groups, but above all else, there will be a sisterhood. I will be with women who are there for a similar reason, yet we all have our own special reasons for embarking on this adventure. I have many: self-love, discovery, letting go, sharing, opening up, exploring, and most importantly, healing my mind, body, and soul by just taking care of me. For the first time, I will do my best to take care of Gayl, and trust that everyone will be okay. I have surrendered, and I have no plan; I’m just excited to see what the next chapter has in store for me .
Perhaps the next chapter will be called “adventure.”
Please stay tuned for updates from my travels!
And please be sure to always say yes when an adventure comes your way!

Love Never Ends

Love Never Ends 1920 1440 Gayl Walder Yoga

I met Pete several years ago in my yoga class I taught at Equinox. He was warm, friendly, and inspired by everything around him. No one would have been able to tell that he had been through unimaginable tragedy. Pete’s daughter Alexa was intelligent, funny and creative – and, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor at three years old.

Alexa underwent multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and clinical trials. However, Alexa was still able to live the life that so many other children enjoy: she went to dance class, gymnastics, sleepover camp, and had amazing friends. Alexa passed away shortly before her tenth birthday, exactly one year after she created an original artwork that reads, “Love Never Ends.”

To honor Alexa’s life, I want to share her incredible and inspiring message with as many people as possible by designing a very special journal embossed with Alexa’s message. I have been humbled and moved by Alexa’s father, and his ability to emotionally triumph in the face of something that most of us cannot even imagine. A percentage of the Love Never Ends journals will be donated to her special fund which directly supports the Pediatric Brain Tumor Program at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital.

From now until the end of April, I will be donating a percentage of every journal on my website to her cause! Journaling is a big part of my life, and I hope you will make it a big part of yours especially because these journals remind us all that love is eternal, and that love will always connect us to those who we have lost.

All journals come in a gift box with a pen. There are very limited quantities of each! Thank you… ? #LoveNeverEnds

ANNIVERSARY DATES: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Affect Us.

ANNIVERSARY DATES: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Affect Us. 1500 1000 Gayl Walder Yoga

Have you ever noticed a change in how you are feeling? Specifically, in your mood, your emotions, or your energy level? Have you ever realized that this shift in your personality happens at the same time each year? If this is the first year that you have noticed something different about you – if your sleeping patterns have changed, if you are having dreams or flashbacks, if you are feeling sad, or if you don’t fee like your usual self, make a note of the date that the feelings began. In the years to follow, you may realize there is a pattern, and that, no! Nothing is wrong with you!

For as long as I can remember, I have experienced these shifts at different times in my life. I began to connect the dots, and read and research what I was feeling. This is when I learned what anniversary dates were.

Recently, anniversary dates have come to be known by other names: the anniversary reaction or the anniversary effect which occurs when unique sets of unsettling memories, thoughts, or feelings occur on the anniversary date of a traumatic event or significant experience. A natural disaster, the date of a miscarriage, an accident, a major surgery, the birthday of someone who is no longer alive, or the date a loved one who has passed away are some examples of traumatic experiences that many of us have gone through.

On April 23, 2008, I went into the hospital for a major surgery. A week before the surgery, I attempted to write a letter to my four children, and became overcome with such emotion that I was not able to complete this task. Not knowing what to do, or how to deal with my emotions, I hired professional cinematographers and had them videotape a yoga practice. This practice was like my lifeline. I had no idea what I was doing, or why I was doing it, but it was like a moving meditation that struck me at my very core. I did not know what my body would be like after my surgery, or if my body would move differently afterward. I was terrified. It was like an artist painting for maybe the last time, or a musician playing the guitar for possibly the last time, an athlete playing in their possible last game.

I am grateful that today, I am okay. During that 12-hour surgery, something intangible happened. Even though I’m not quite sure what exactly happened, I woke up very weak, but with a sense of strength that I had never felt before. I have always been a very private person – sometimes to a fault. Through my journaling, I have recently learned that I was taught to keep things to myself, and never to share private things with others. I agree to a certain extent that there are certain things I don’t need to shout from a mountain top, but I also believe certain things need to be shared, as it helps our own healing process and may also benefit others who are going through something similar. I know that, by sharing my experience, I can help others to not feel so alone.

What I have noticed is that, every year around the first week of April, there is a shift inside of me on all levels. Some notice. Most don’t. But I always do. I have no regrets that I had a double mastectomy, a full hysterectomy, and reconstruction all at once. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and carried the BRCA 2 mutation, and after genetic testing, I found out that I carried the mutation as well. Yes, I had my surgery before Angelina Jolie, and 10 years ago, it was still new, and many people still do not really know a lot about it. Still, I have no regrets, and I feel healthy. However, I often find myself asking, “Why does my mind trigger these flashbacks, and change of moods?” The reason is that my surgery was still an incredibly traumatic experience. I went under anesthesia, and I had to surrender, and just give in to whatever would lie ahead. It was painful, it was life changing, and there was a sense of loss; yet, I’ve never had time to grieve this loss. Why? Because I was too worried about everyone else, especially my kids, and getting our life back to normal, so I just kept going, and doing what I could. Maybe I was not ready to emotionally deal with what I needed to deal with. Maybe I will never fully understand what happened. What I choose to do each year is to acknowledge my feelings, journal my thoughts, and share a little with others. I post the 5-minute YouTube video I made before my surgery, and I watch it once a year. When I watch it, I see the fear on my face that I am feeling. I see how open my shoulders once were as well as my thoracic spine, but I also see that I am much more connected to my body and soul 10 years later. I have much more awareness of my alignment, as well as my breath. I will never forget April 23, 2008. I will never forget all the wonderful people who supported me, who were there for me, who lifted me up when I was down, who sent meals to our family, and who listened to me cry when I was in pain. There are too many names to mention, but you know who are, and you will always be embedded deep in my heart.

Thank you! For the tenth anniversary of my surgery, I am posting the video below. If you’ve gone through anything similar, I hope it makes you feel less alone, and helps you understand that you are stronger than anything that stands in your way.

Everyone Has a Story: Here’s a Chapter from Mine

Everyone Has a Story: Here’s a Chapter from Mine 1500 1000 Gayl Walder Yoga

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved to write. When I was younger, I diligently kept journals, but back then, they were called diaries. Sometimes, I knew what I wanted to write about, and other times I felt stuck in my life and my emotions. But, once I put my pen to the paper, my ideas came pouring out of me. Writing about my day grounded me in my experience. Writing about my emotions gave me clarity and serenity.

However, as I grew into an adult and became a wife and mother, my life got busier and busier. My days were not only filled with my own activities and responsibilities, but with my children’s as well. By the time I was able to sit down and unwind, I was too tired to write. My sense of self began to decay; I tucked my emotions away and left them buried deep inside of myself.

I have moved fourteen times in the last twenty-five years. Three of those moves have been in the last three years. I always joke and say, “I am a professional mover,” and although I have become quite efficient in regards to packing and organizing, through my journaling practice, I have also realized the effect that all of these moves have had on my body, mind, and spirit. To sum it up, it was almost impossible to stay grounded when I was always in a state of transition. Ever since this last move, I simply could not ignore my need to write. In the middle of a huge transition for my family and myself, I made it a priority to journal for at least five minutes – every single day. Now, writing has once again become an irrevocable part of my life. It has become a grounding force in the face of so much change. It’s allowed me to connect to a part of myself that’s often shrouded from other people.

Sometimes, when I speak out loud – no matter what I have to say – I often feel like I’m not heard. I have always been soft-spoken, and I’m still working on learning how to project my voice. When I write in my journal, not only do I feel heard – I feel validated. We are often our worst critics, and journaling has opened up a new chapter in my life: one on self-love. I have met many women in the last few years who feel similarly. The truth is, women are experts on playing so many roles and wearing so many hats that we lose our true selves in the midst of all of the various identities we are expected to acquire. People start depending on us and expecting us to perform excellently in a multitude of ways. Whether it is a job, a spouse, a significant other, children, parents, or even a pet, we subvert our own needs for the needs of someone else. We think about ourselves last, or, sometimes, we don’t even think about ourselves at all! As women, we lead by example, so when we forget about ourselves, other people in our lives tend to follow suit. Then, the inevitable happens: one day, we wake up and we feel stuck or unimportant.

When was the last time you truly connected to yourself?

This is why you must keep a journal. Journaling can help us access the parts of ourselves that we’ve hidden away under our responsibilities, the expectations others put on us, and our never-ending to-do lists. What I’ve found that’s helped me the most in my journaling practice is the process of keeping different journals for different things, and one exercise I recommend to everyone – male or female – is to write down one positive aspect of yourself every single day. One day it maybe a single word, one day it may be a sentence or even a paragraph. You never know what you will discover! You may even end up writing a book.

When I journal, it is a release. It helps me to sort out my feelings and emotions. There is something about writing everything down – it’s a process of owning what you have to say and getting it off of your chest. I’m a private person, and although I do yoga, meditate, hike, walk, and eat healthfully, I’ve discovered that I still hold so much inside. I’m a great communicator, and I am good at helping others to express themselves, but I’ve learned how to bury a lot of my emotions so deeply inside of myself that oftentimes, I’m not even aware that I’m doing this! Some recent health issues (which I will share in more detail at a later time) forced me to slow down. I could not perform my usual activities, and my pen and journal became my release. Many thoughts and emotions, as well as memories, resurfaced. For the first time in my life, I could not exercise. Writing was the only way I could move.

Sometimes, it’s scary to slow down and just be with ourselves. Inevitably, we work harder, we work out harder, we cook more, clean more, do more, plan more, and before we know it, we are moving at the speed of light, never stopping for what we truly crave. Suddenly, we feel depleted, tired, overloaded, and as if we can’t get anything done. I know this process firsthand.

Journaling will allow you to find your inner light.

When I started journaling, I was able to find my light again. This time, the light shined from my deepest core to the outer layers of my being. What I mean by this is that journaling comes from the soul. It allows you to be raw, real, and to own what you are feeling. What I have discovered through my journaling is that I am loud, strong and powerful. I hope to transfer some of that into my voice, so when I speak, I am not only heard, but people want to hear more of what I have to say. Who knows? Maybe, through my writing, I can become a voice for others who are in the place I was in. And, if I can help others find their brilliance, beauty, power, and their voice, they can pay it forward, and inspire others to do the same. I believe that each and every one of us has the power to create a spiritual domino effect.

However, big changes all start with one thing: taking the time to journal every single day. I know that carving out a few precious moments for yourself will allow you to connect to your deepest wants and desires. Undoubtedly, journaling will help you develop your voice, and connect to your inner power on a daily basis.

I have recently designed some journals. The words and colors all came to me in a meditation, and I hope that they inspire you. Please stay tuned, as a very special journal will be honoring an amazing person. I’ll give you a clue: love never ends!

The Eight Fold Path

The Eight Fold Path 1500 1000 Gayl Walder Yoga

When I began my Yoga journey-over 20 years ago, I remember first hearing the words, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” I never forgot those words, and I never understood how my mind would calm down and stop thinking, but miraculously, it did.

What begins as a physical practice for many eventually evolves into something so much more. It begins slowly – little things that once bothered us don’t seem to be such a big a deal. How we react in different situations begins to change, how we think, how we act, how we love, and how we live are all affected. I believe it is important to understand that there are eight limbs of yoga, and out of those eight limbs, Asana – the third limb – is the only physical limb. One of the most important lessons we can learn are the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Yoga is the union of the body, mind and spirit. The physical and emotional. Yoga teaches us equanimity. How to stay calm in the middle of chaos. The Eight Limbs of Yoga are the inner workings of the mind along our journey to find inner peace. I think that when these are broken down, it helps to give an understanding of what each individual goes through at different times in their lives. Since each individual is unique, these experiences are different for everyone.

The Yamas and the Niyamas are the first and second limbs of the Eight Fold Path. The Eight Fold Path is the Buddha’s code of ethics (or written guide) which will help you on your journey in life.

Social Discipline or observances is the foundation of how we treat others. In simple terms, these are the things not to do. The NIYAMAS: Individual Discipline or observances is the foundation of how we treat ourselves. Simply put, these are things we should do.

I truly believe that I live a yogic lifestyle, and have been guided by these principles in one way or another. I follow the Golden Rule, and always try to see the good everyone and treat others as I would like to be treated. I also try very hard to take care of myself.

The poses, the breath, the emotions, and the challenges we face on our yoga mats are stepping stones for when we step off our mats into the real world. How do you treat yourself? How do you treat others? How do you handle stress, change, or things that don’t go as planned? How do you stay calm when you feel like your world is falling apart? How do you get “unstuck?”

The information below is what I feel is so important to understand. Your Yoga practice will evolve, and you will feel happier and more at peace within yourself, which in turn will rub off on others.

Definition of Yoga

In Sutra 2 of the first chapter, Patanjali has defined Yoga as

योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः॥२॥ “yogascitta vritti nirodhah” (Sanskrit)

“Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff”

– translation by Swami Vivekananda

In subsequent Sutras, Patanjali explains that once the mind is properly restrained, then the “seer” or the “soul, the true self” can rest in its own true nature. Further, as long as the mind is not under control, it continues to assume the form of the “vrittis,” or the perturbations in the mind and these vrittis become the cause of human suffering. In simpler terms, what this definition tells us is that we can be peaceful and happy when we can control the mind; or else, the mind continues to control us, and we stay in a state of suffering.

Ashtanga Yoga (Eight limbs of Yoga):

The Eight Limbs of Yoga as defined in the second chapter are as follows:

Yamas (self restraints): The Yamas are guidelines for how to interact with the outside world at a social level. The five Yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (abstinence), Aparigraha (non-hoarding).

Niyamas (observances): The Niyamas represent guidelines for self-discipline. The five Niyamas are Shoucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Swadhyaya (study of the scriptures and self-study), and Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender to God). Together, Yamas and Niyamas provide an ethical and moral code to be followed so the aspiring yogi can establish an adequate moral foundation for his/her spiritual journey.

Asana (posture): Asana refers to the seated posture which should be steady and comfortable so the yogi can sit and meditate for long periods of time.

Pranayama (breath control): Pranayama, which literally means stretching or expansion of prana, the vital life force, involves breath control and helps train and prepare the mind for dharana (concentration).

Pratyahara (sense withdrawal): Through pratyahara one gains the ability to withdraw the senses from their objects thus achieving perfect control over the senses.

Dharana (concentration/focus): Dharana involves focusing the mind on a single object of concentration for long periods of time.

Dhyana (meditation): When there is an uninterrupted flow of the mind toward the object of focus, the yogi enters the state of meditation.

Samadhi (total absorption): Finally, when even the self-awareness of the mind disappears and only the object of meditation shines through, this is called the state of Samadhi. It is only in the highest stage of “Samadhi,” called the “Nirbeeja Samadhi” (seedless Samadhi) when the mind is fully under control and brings the yogi to a state of perpetual peace and tranquility.

The main focus of Patanjali is controlling the mind and subduing the fluctuations of the mind, called ‘chitta vrittis.” Once the mind is calm and peaceful, one gets established in his own true nature: Yoga Sutra Study.