I attended my first yoga class in 1995, during a period of illness. I was surprised to realize that I was pain free when I left the class. That single class launched me onto a course of regular yoga practice and yoga instruction that completely transformed my life and allowed me to heal.
Yoga and taekwondo have been fundamental to my physical healing and personal development. The fusion of the two practices into Sijahk Yoga has been truly transformational for me. As I’ve shared Sijahk Yoga with others, it’s become apparent that the combination also provides other practitioners with a well-rounded practice that develops mental and spiritual wellness, as well as physical fitness. My goal is to introduce all practitioners of Sijahk Yoga to their own inner strength that can be reclaimed through this powerful practice. All one needs to do is SIJAHK!
Later, I became certified by the Himalayan Institute Teachers Association and have been teaching yoga for over 16 years. I am also a licensed professional counselor and stress management specialist for the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease.
My background in counseling psychology made me an ideal fit to also become involved in yoga therapy. I have attended trainings with some of the premier yoga practitioners in that field, including Judith Hanson Lasater, founder of the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, CA, as well as Yoga Journal magazine. I am also a level one graduate of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, and trained in that practice with Karen Hasskarl, one of the integral developers of that therapy. Additionally, I have trained with Amy Weintraub of LifeForce Yoga®, and I am a practitioner of Sonia Sumar’s Yoga for the Special Child®. I have integrated these skills and experiences into my yoga classes, which all contain therapeutic elements to help my students reconnect and heal.
Then in 2009, my life was totally thrown off course. While waiting at the deli counter at the local grocery store, I experienced crushing chest pain that knocked me to the ground. I feared I was dying and passed out. Fortunately, I awoke to two kind strangers telling me that I would be all right and an ambulance was on the way. A battery of tests at the hospital found that I hadn’t had a heart attack – and that my heart seemed to be working very well. However, I remained very dizzy and unable to shake the chest pain. Two days in the hospital led to the discovery that I had a large pericardial effusion (fluid around my heart). Fortunately, I responded quickly to the medical treatment without needing to have my pericardium surgically drained.
Even after the hospital discharge, my life was no longer my own. It was shocking to be bedridden after seemingly being at the pinnacle of my health. Luckily, support from family and friends got me through this difficult time. Plus, I found that my yoga practice sustained me daily. Initially, I was unable to do the postures, but the meditation, relaxation, and imagery healed me. I struggled for two more years trying to determine why I would continue to accumulate fluid around my heart and to experience the accompanying chest pain.
By the grace of God, in the fall of 2011, I was referred to a rheumatologist who suspected that I had celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack itself when gluten (found in wheat, barley, and rye) is consumed. It can lead to a variety of health-related issues, including thyroid disease, osteoporosis, cancer, as well as pericardial effusion. In November of 2011, I began my journey of healing by adopting a gluten-free diet and joining my husband and sons in their taekwondo practice. Since then, genetic tests have determined that I do not have the gene for celiac disease. Nevertheless, my doctors agree that I have a gluten sensitivity, so I continue to thrive on my gluten-free diet.
To this day, I am uncertain whether my dietary changes or the taekwondo contributed more to my healing! Having a background in non-violent yoga, I was pleasantly surprised that I found taekwondo so enjoyable. I attribute my increase in strength, endurance, and self-confidence to my taekwondo practice. At the same time, I discovered that my extensive yoga background supported and strengthened my taekwondo practice. The two disciplines complement each other very well, and this complement led me to organically create a unique blend of the two disciplines.
Late summer of 2012, I began to incorporate taekwondo into the yoga classes I was teaching. By October, I had dubbed the resultant practice Sijahk Yoga™. I began to teach the first of the ten forms in the practice in December 2012.
Sijahk means “to begin,” and in Sijahk Yoga we begin with the body. When we begin with limbering and strengthening the body through yoga, we can then start to turn inward. By turning within, we increase our self-awareness and begin the process of self-inquiry. With this new found awareness, we have the power to uncover and break through obstacles that may be holding us back from embracing and living our strength.
Sijahk Yoga consists of ten levels of forms, each centered around a single yoga pose and a unique emphasis on strength. For example, the foundation of the Goddess form is the Goddess yoga pose, and the form invites students to “Ignite Your Strength.”
Participants can earn belts upon mastery at each of the ten levels, as in other martial arts practices. Sijahk Yoga incorporates many other healing, meditative, and strengthening elements such as self-defense basics, taekwondo kicks, board breaking, Reiki, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT, or “tapping”). Students of Sijahk Yoga have reported feeling “empowered,” “energized,” and “grounded,” as a result of their practice. They have also reported improved muscle tone – even in “problem areas,” such as the core and buttocks – as well as increased overall fitness.
I teach Sijahk Yoga in several locations in the Greater Pittsburgh Area. We teach the forms in traditional classes as well as within a series of “Yoga Adventures” that also feature an element of daring, such as rappelling or zip lining, to further help our students face and overcome fears.