It’s so easy to ask one’s self, why me?
When I hear that question, even if it’s inside my own head, my response is always the same, if not you, then who?
There are many times in our lives we might ask ourselves that question, usually it’s during a time when things are just not going ‘as planned’ or how we ‘expect’ them to go, but there is lesson one right, let go of expectations and plans. I believe that when those things happen that the Universe, God, Spirit or whatever we want to call it, has another plan for us and while we might see it as an obstacle or a stumbling block it really is the beginning of our growth and most times, in a major way. The change, transformation or shift, while not obvious at first becomes the beginning of a life changer and if we allow it, if we don’t resist it and we take what happens as part of our journey and learning experience, it will become our greatest lesson and even sometimes reveal to us our purpose.
Many of us have heard the quote “The difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them.”
Life does throw us stumbling blocks and with each one we are given a choice, we are given the option to ask ourselves these questions, what is this here to teach me? What can I learn from this moment, from this bump in the road what is this here to show me? How can I allow myself to be utilized in a way that might help someone else? At least that is what I hear when I come upon the stumbling blocks in my path, which DO become my stepping stones through life.
When I was diagnosed some 11 years ago with MS, after a long time having been un-diagnosed and misdiagnosed, I could never have known then what looked like the biggest stumbling block would become, 17 years later from the onset, I can clearly see why I ‘stumbled’ into this disease, why I accepted this assignment of living with Multiple Sclerosis.
I say ‘accepted the assignment’ because I do believe we accept these things that come into our present lives, whether it be through Samskara (Sanskrit word meaning-impressions / lessons are the imprints left on the subconscious mind by experience in this or previous lives, which then color all of life, one’s nature, responses, states of mind, etc)…or it’s simply just what we are here to do, but have not yet learned or discovered why yet.
I could never have known 11 years ago, when I first began an online support group for those living or being diagnosed with MS, that would be the moment of discovering my passion which would lead to my purpose.
I began an online support group, to reach out as far as I could, simply to try to help anyone who might be going through the daunting process of getting diagnosed, my goal was to help guide them through the mundane process, hopefully saving them years of the same thing that I went through myself, not getting diagnosed and progressing in the disease. I met so many friends during those years that I ran that site online, many of whom are still friends with me today and for that I’m so grateful.
My journey of finding my passion and purpose didn’t stop there, I became a patient advocate speaking to others who have MS and how to live well with it and then eventually I began taking yoga, oh and that’s when the journey took a huge turn, I had NO clue what getting on my yoga mat for the first time some 9 years ago would bring to me.
It’s dawned on me that one can possibly see the yoga mat as a stumbling block, (something that one might think they can’t do) it’s not easy to approach even the idea of yoga especially when living with an unpredictable disease such as MS, or any chronic illness or injury for that matter, it can seem intimidating at first, simply because we have yet to learn that it’s not about anyone else’s practice but our own, we haven’t learned yet what yoga really means and to then to be in a room with others who are already familiar with the practice can seem especially daunting.
Crazy things happen when one is either suggested to do yoga or we might entertain doing yoga, the ego kicks into high gear, it starts to speak up, that crazy voice inside our heads trying to convince us that this is silly, you can’t do this, or even better, what the heck is this going to do for you? Well what didn’t it do for me? My mat, which seemed like a stumbling block at first became my stepping stone. It became the place that I first sat still and discovered inner peace, where I discovered that I can actually be one with my mind, body and spirit and the MS that was so noisy, first became quiet, it’s where I found balance, yes, not physical balance right away, but emotional and spiritual balance and yes eventually some physical balance. It became that space that I couldn’t stop returning to because it felt so good, I didn’t know why and I didn’t need to know why. Being on my yoga mat was like a magic carpet and eventually that magic seeped into my life, off of the mat, into my home life, when I was driving, sitting in traffic, waiting on long lines and especially when I’d have a flare up, instead of focusing on the fear, I learned to go to my breath and focus there.
After practicing for 4 years, the invite to participate in a teacher training was offered and after a lot of thought, and self doubt, (ego telling me that there was no way I could remember what was going to be taught), I took the training with absolutely NO intention of teaching…ah but the Universe knew better, there was a bigger plan, not only did I learn, was I able to retain the information taught to me, then I realized that I did want to teach, but not to the general public, there are plenty of awesome teachers out there who do that. I wanted to do something different, I have a gift of knowing what it’s like to live with MS, an invisible at most times, chronic illness and I knew what yoga can do to help those living with any disease or condition but especially MS and I wanted to bring yoga to those who are living with MS, gift it to them as it was gifted to me. Granted at the beginning I was afraid to actually teach (ego trying to convince me that I wasn’t good enough, sure enough, wouldn’t remember what I was taught, all self doubt),so I began a Free Yoga for MS Program with two amazing yoga studios who offered out their space and time to give free yoga to those living with MS, however I would only demo until eventually I was pretty much forced to get in front of the room and find my voice, it didn’t come easily but eventually it came. I began teaching and learning through my students as I taught and it was great!
Then as things would happen with a disease such as MS, I had a relapse, a stumbling block, the worst one ever and after being in the hospital and rehab coming home to limited PT, what brought me back was the same thing that taught me so much, my yoga practice, one pose every day until I built my strength up. It was as simple as sitting firmly in staff pose literally working to flex my feet and point my toes evenly up towards the ceiling, pressing my thighs into the ground and oh yes, grounding down through my sit bones while sitting up tall, holding myself up at the same time without losing my upright posture…staff pose (dandasana) soon became my greatest challenge, but with time I did it, then it was plank (top of a push up), holding it as long as I could, engaging every single muscle in my body, waking up all of my muscles that had become atrophied during the relapse. In time I came back and learned so much more about myself than I had known before, learned so much more that I could take back and share with people, the one major lesson is to never give up.
MS relapse’s ‘look’ like stumbling blocks, however they are stepping stones, they come into our lives for a reason, we can ask why me, why now but then the answer is, if not you, who and if not now when? Is there ever a good time? No there isn’t, but that’s the funny thing about life, we can’t ‘plan’ out every moment and yes life throws us stumbling blocks but these blocks are placed there for us to learn, to find out our strength and then to take what we learn and share it with others…
“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” Maya Angelou
I’ve since discovered my passion and my purpose, I love to learn and I love to share what I learn, I teach, I advocate, for myself and for others. I try my best to help those who are newly diagnosed. I get the absolute joy of sharing the practice of yoga with others living with MS or any chronic illness and I get the amazing gift of seeing the shift, changes and growth as their practice unfolds for them as it’s meant to.I have MS for a reason and it’s a good reason, if I didn’t have it, if I wasn’t ‘living’ it, I couldn’t understand and I couldn’t be of service in the same capacity that I am now. It’s been a gift, having MS, I’ve said that before however I clearly see it more than ever now.
When life throws me a stumbling block, I ask myself, what is this here to teach me? What can I learn from this moment, from this bump in the road?
I listen for the lesson, then I stare right at it and step on it and then over it …because, the only way out is through….
Lisa Bachrach Zeankowski
11 years ago today, the mystery of all of the symptoms that I was having for the previous 6 years was solved, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. 17 years ago was my onset of this disease. 17 years later I am so completely grateful and blessed, I have learned so much in all of these years as well as I’m grateful for the gifts MS has brought to me. I have met and befriended so many amazing people, I found out that I am so much stronger than I ever thought I was, and not just physically, but mentally. I have discovered that our inner strength is everything and we are not our bodies nor are we the disease or challenges we face. I found out that I have more love and compassion than I ever thought possible and my awareness to the needs of my body as well as the needs of others has heightened tremendously.
MS has taught me self love and self respect, it’s taught me that we need to really listen to our bodies as well as become the very best advocate for ourselves and yes, for others…MS has taught me to live vicariously, fully and totally in the moment and to appreciate every moment, the present is all that we really have and nothing past matters and the future is always uncertain so why worry about it? It has taught me how to handle situations with grace and that we really are not in control, but we are in control of how we prepare and how we react to situations.
MS gave me the gift of being able to stay at home with my kids to raise them and be involved with their school needs as well as their personal needs. MS shares my body with me and we have learned how to co-exist, however MS does NOT define me by any means, if anything it has shown me just how strong I can be and how we (me and this disease) can teach others.
MS is an amazing process and journey, not one to be taken for granted and truly if one chooses to, they can look at their diagnosis as a gift and choose how we are willing to live. I chose to live well and in the best way I know how. I am grateful for the lessons, we have had our ups and downs for sure but in each experience there was a lesson to be learned and one to be shared and taught to others.
I have become an advocate, an activist, a yoga practitioner and a teacher and I have discovered that my true passion is to help others and hopefully bring to as many people as I can the gift that yoga has to offer. I wish to be able to continuously show people through my actions that we are not our bodies but we are spiritual beings living a human experience and that yoga is such a natural way of helping ourselves, mind body and spirit.
My passion is to hopefully inspire as many people as possible to embrace whatever their challenge or obstacle is and open up the opportunity to bring yoga to their lives so that they might experience what I have. Yoga really saves lives as well as shifts how we look at the world and ourselves. Yoga teaches us to live in the moment and to be still and to listen to the amazing silence between our thoughts, as well as it teaches us to listen to the needs of our bodies and yes, yoga has saved my life, in more ways than one and if it weren’t for MS, I’m not sure if I might or might not have found Yoga and all that it has to offer us.
So today I celebrate my 11th year since being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and I celebrate 17 years since my life began to shift and change. Happy Anniversary to us! The journey and the lessons will continue and until the day a cure might be found, we will love each other with the greatest unconditional love we can share.
To quote one of my favorite inspirational teachers, Deepak Chopra, “You can believe the diagnosis but you don’t have to believe the prognosis.”
Today is a celebration of my life and that’s how I am embracing this day that changed my life some 11 years ago and it really did change it for the better Namaste Lisa Bachrach-Zeankowski
Santosha~ Contentment is the second Niyama in the 8 limbs of Yoga We all would love to come to this place of contentment, in the yoga philosophy, otherwise known as Santosha. I believe that for the most part, I have found this place within my life and it all began the day I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.
Although this might sound odd to most, but it’s when something throws you off or pulls the rug out from under you, a series of events begin to happen. This series of events can either take you to a place of contentment or a place of fear. There are always two paths one can choose to take, I chose contentment, however, at that time I had no idea that was the path I was about to embark upon.
Santosha involves the practice of gratitude and joyfulness offers, attempting at your very best to maintaining calm no matter what, keeping equanimity through all that life offers or even throws at you. This state of mind does not depend on external causes, whether physical, mental or an act of God.
~So how did I come to my Santosha~
After I was diagnosed, I called the National MS Society, I was on a mission, I started my first MS walk team, began an online support group and pretty much surrounded myself with only those who understood what it was like to have MS. Apparently all of this external keeping myself active, surrounding myself with a lot of MS only activities kept a very strong focus on this disease which now began to define me. I went every year having a relapse on my diagnosis date and sunk into the pity party that most know as the MS blues. I kept on going though, each year doing the MS walk, being a team captain, raising money, going to conferences, running my online support group, met wonderful people, however it was all about Multiple Sclerosis. I had no idea who Lisa was, if someone asked me to define myself or tell them about me, back then, I’d have said, “I’m a mom, I’m so and so’s girlfriend, I’m an ex wife, I have MS. I had no hobbies, no outside interests, I was a book with blank pages.”
It wasn’t until November 2007 that something in me decided it was time to change something, I didn’t know what it was, but something had to give. I didn’t feel ‘balanced’ and I don’t mean that in a physical way. I started a search for a yoga studio, figuring this will help with my balance and strength, little did I know just how much it would help, and so much more than physically. Once again, I had no idea what was in store for me once I sat down on that yoga mat.
I sat on my mat for the first time in January 2007 and haven’t stopped doing yoga since. Something happened that day, I can’t quite put it into words, but there was a shift of energy, there was ‘balance’, not physical balance, the balance I found came from deep within me. There it was that moment, my aha moment, I found out that inner peace, balance and empowerment doesn’t come from outside of us, it comes from deep inside of us. We can do everything for everyone, raise money, educate others, totally give of ourselves, however if you don’t discover who you are, if you don’t find peace within, there can’t be contentment. Without that state of mind all of your actions are not coming from a place of ‘gratitude and joyfulness’, it’s coming from a place of fear, you’re on auto pilot. Finding out who you are, taking care of you, before you start helping others is of utmost importance. What’s that saying? “You can’t help anyone else until you help yourself first.” How true that is.
In August of 2008 I had my first Healing and Moving for a Cure 3rd party fundraiser, named after two of my friends mom’s who passed away of complications of MS, with the money raised from this fundraiser, we started a program at the National MS Society’s Long Island Chapter for home health aide assistance, This program is called The Kathleen Valachi~Catherine Caldarella Memorial Fund Home Health Aide Assistance Program. We have had this fundraiser now every year since 2008 and look forward to repeating it every year until the day nursing homes are no longer used in lieu of homecare for those living with MS.
I am still an active member and team captain of the NMSS LI Chapter and collectively my team and I have raised over $50,000 over the past 8 years since I’ve been diagnosed and all money raised during the MS walk also goes towards my program within our chapter. Since being diagnosed I have been a patient advocate for Biogen Idec and have spoken at several MS informational events, bringing real life, “how to live well with MS”, stories to those just like myself.
In June of 2010 after 3 years of taking yoga as a practitioner my friend and yoga teacher, Laurie Ahlemann , felt that I was ready and recommended that I enter into her teacher training program at Long Island Yoga School, and study to earn my 200 hour yoga teaching certification. I had no intention of teaching, I went in just to deepen my practice, so I thought.
I am very proud to say that I completed my training, and have since started a Free Yoga for MS program. This program takes place at Simplicity Yoga Studio at Kings Park and Absolute Yoga Studio in Woodbury with an evening program being worked on as well at another location, soon to be announced. Without the generosity of these studio owners, Rosanne Sihler, Leslie Luft and all of those who give of themselves by volunteering to teach this program wouldn’t be possible.
When I graduated my teacher training in June, my attitude towards not wanting to teach had shifted, like so many other things along this journey. What began as a ‘deepening’ of my practice took on a new life. This teacher training was a gift to me, how does one repay a gift? You gift it back…My gift back is to bring yoga back to those living with MS, like myself, to show them that if they too believe that they can, that anything is possible.
Today if someone says, Lisa, how do you define yourself? I’m a happy empowered, balanced woman, who practices yoga (not just physically, it’s a way of life), reads, loves to laugh, has a great sense of humor, finds it very rewarding to help others. I have 3 children, one of whom is in college, I happen to have MS and I’m doing great!
I truly believe if those we bring yoga to, within the MS Community, can spend just a moment on their mat, like I did 4 years ago and sit quietly, even if it’s just to breathe, leaving the MS outside that door of the studio and find out who they are, if they can go within and maintain calm, if they can somehow find it within themselves to keep equanimity through all that life throws at them at one time or another, then perhaps, if only for that hour on the mat, they too, will find their Santosha