I still remember the day when I received the frantic message from my mother, asking me to return to the hotel where we were staying on our visit to Taipei, Taiwan. I was slightly annoyed, as I was in the midst of shopping a clearance sale in bustling downtown Taipei. I rushed back to the hotel, "What happened?!!", I asked. Never in a million years did I expect to hear what she was about to say next. Not only did it change the course of my life, it changed the course of many lives.
On June 7, 2013, my cousin Grace died in a freak car accident on the way to a bachelorette party in New Orleans with three other girlfriends. She wasn't the driver and was the only fatality. She was only 25 and was due to leave for Law School in just two weeks. For being the only child, Grace was like a sister to me. Grace was an avid yogi and had been teaching yoga since her college years. I could go on and on about how perfect Grace was. The best I could describe Grace is that she was the perfect embodiment of yoga teaching, on and off the mat. She was loving, kind, and compassionate. She was an angel. When I moved back to Texas two years later after working overseas for nearly a decade to give emotional support to my aunt, uncle, and Grace's little sister. I found myself at a loss and directionless. Everyone was grieving in their own way, myself included. Yet, I didn't want to admit that I was "susceptible" to grieving. I lost my dad at a young age to a drunk driver on New Year’s Eve just a few days after Grace's birth, I was certain that I had grown numb and callous to human emotions. Yet there I was, searching high and low for traces and memories of Grace. I started doing yoga fervently - against doctor's advice at the time due to my previous spinal injuries. I didn't care. All I knew was that Grace had always recommended doing gentle yoga for my chronic back pain. I always blew her off....and I felt an incredible amount of guilt for that. I also felt perhaps I was the unlucky common denominator that caused the freak car accident in both cases. The grief and guilt of my dad’s untimely death that I had never dealt with and suppressed for 20 plus years also came back ten fold. The load of both became too unbearable, I was a mess. Not only was I an emotional wreck, I was also suffering from chronic pain, which led me to an abyss of anxiety, depression, and subsequently substance abuse. Amidst everything, I continued to do yoga and even pushed myself to get my 200-HR certification - after flunking four times and finally got it on my fifth shot.* Everyone thought I had gone mad. Well…I was. It was also my own weird way of grieving the loss of Grace. Ironically, I lost the initial steam of teaching yoga after I got certified. It was the spiritualism in yoga philosophy that I fell head over heels in love with – the part of yoga that is generally not taught or emphasized in western yoga classes. My dream of pursuing a career change in teaching yoga took many twists & turns and pivots before the ideation of Yama Living came about. The biggest change I had to make was blatantly obvious…You guessed it!! I had to get clean. I won’t bore you with all the gritty details of how I hit my rock bottom, because that will be a book in itself. However, I will say that after I cleaned my act up and called my teacher Lex for a very lame attempt at making amends for perpetually being late and nodding off in his class (I froze on the phone and all that could come out of my mouth was “I am sober!!”). Lex paused for a brief second and said almost with a sigh of relief, “you’re sober?!!” “YES!!” I shouted, expecting a good job speech and a pat on the back. Instead, in his usual calm demeanor, Lex gave me a one-worded spiritual advice – “M-E-D-I-T-A-T-E.” This one word started me on an internal spiritual journey for the next two years, where in the interim I had a major 4-level cervical reconstructive surgery and fusion. It was an extremely dangerous surgery and I had to come to terms with my relationship with death. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t until then did I learn how to live. I still don’t do everything I need to do; I am human after all. However, I do understand now that the only things in my control and that I am responsible for are my own actions and how I react to things. These days, yoga helps to ground me. The teaching of Yama - First Limb of Yoga, teaches me how to live and helps to keep me sober. Without Grace, I never in a million years would have been introduced to yoga. I started Yama Living for two reasons, first is to help spread the teaching of yoga through compassion act – as it was so freely given to me; second is so that Grace’s legacy could live on.
In Memory of Grace Annabel Lee
"It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." - Ernest Hemingway
* I don’t recommend anyone popping pills and getting high while getting your certification. I have a very patient and a highly respected yoga teacher. He opened the very first (and many afterwards) stand-alone yoga studio. I also later found out that my favorite author, Ram Dass was one of his spiritual teachers. It was a pure stroke of luck that I enrolled in his class. He showed me the art of yoga on and off the mat through his actions, by how he treated me – compassion with open heart. No one would have put up with me back then. Instead, he kept encouraging me to come back and finish.