How Yoga Changed My Life

Posted by Hayleigh Bailey on

Here at MalaForest a lot of our growth came from traveling the world and experiencing the immense opportunities of growth through community, meditation and yoga. The post below is an blog entry by one of our volunteers, Hayleigh Bailey. It describes her process of finding yoga and meditation and how it led her to new horizons of travel and exploration. Take a look at her amazing story.            

August 9th, 2015 I received a phone call that changed my life forever. My most recent ex-boyfriend had a diving accident, shattering his C5 vertebrae, resulting in paralysis below his collarbone. As I looked around the room when I came into the hospital room I could feel the negative, depressing energy emanating from his loved ones. It was only the first week of his recovery from injury and they had already lost hope. I understood, they were hurting, they feared the possible outcomes, and they were expecting the worst. His friends would say things like “He’s not okay.” It broke my heart, it didn’t feel right to me. He had given me so much love throughout our relationship, he treated me so well, and looking into his eyes the first time I saw him, I could see the depth of his fear of the future, and the depth of the love he felt by my presence. So, I made the decision to stay by his side and help him through the most difficult challenge he would ever face. 

I could only describe this indescribable feeling as divine intervention. It became clear to me that it was apart of my path to help him through his recovery. So I spent the next 4 ½ months living in 2 different hospitals and falling back in love with the strongest human I had ever personally met. I made it my mission to change the overall energy from despair to hope. I spent hours researching the strategies used by other spinal cord injury patients that fully recovered, and how to promote nervous system function through diet and other alternative health practices. Something that kept coming up was yoga. After dabbling in yoga and meditation over the previous 2 years, I knew of the benefits it had on my own body and mind, but there seemed like there was more, something I was missing. 

I was in college when he first was injured, but left school in order to focus my full attention on his recovery. About a month before he left his rehabilitation center his parents approached me to ask me to become his full time caregiver when he returned home. It was important to me to be a big part of his daily routine, as I felt the methods I had researched were going to be most beneficial to his overall outcome, and so did he. So I moved into their home a month later, left my current job and started taking care of him full time. School was definitely out of the question for such a big responsibility but I thought yoga might be an option in the mean time, and would also support me in caring for him. 

I started reaching out to studios to explore my options. It was important for me to find a studio that taught more than just the physical practice, infusing the 8 limbs of yoga rather than a workout class. I also wanted to find a studio that offered a Yoga Teacher Training so that I could take the course in the future. After doing some research it seemed most studios required you to have a year experience at their studio before you could enter their program so I figured I should start right away. Then I found HeartSong Yoga. The phone call with my teacher, Leslie, was just like moment I had with my boyfriend in our first moment in the hospital, everything seemed to line up perfectly and she was offering exactly what I was looking for, it was clear her program would be my next endeavor. 

She was running an immersion based Yoga Teacher Training program that allowed for a normal working person to integrate yoga into their life over a 10-month period. The first four months were specifically designed to immerse the students in yoga and the remaining 6 months were dedicated more to teaching exercises, infusing the lessons from the first four months into actual teaching skills. This meant I only needed a year of experience in general instead of a year with her because she spent the first 4 months diving deep into proper posture alignment, muscle and joint functions within each pose and the full spectrum of what it meant to live the path of yoga, on and off the mat.


The program was challenging, internally and externally, but the amount of growth I experienced was worth every single bit of hard work and more. In fact, through that hard work I learned how to unlock the door to my full potential, within my body, mind and spirit. As I progressed through the program I was given the space to learn about myself in a much deeper way than I had before. My weakness became my strengths, and my fears and doubts transformed from these intimidating, painful blockages that prevented me from accomplishing my goals and going after my dreams, to mere obstacles that I now have the tools to navigate. I started to love myself deeply, I developed more confidence and the abundance of world seemed to open up to me, more doors opening that ever seemed available before. I was now creating my path, surrendering to it, if you will. I was no longer questioning my next move, and if there was uncertainty it was okay, because there will always be another horizon after each dark of the night.

Leslie’s program supported me in making the next decision that would change my life once again, the decision to travel. Since I was 16 years old I wanted to travel the world. There was always an excuse for why I didn’t, whether that be finances, the unavailability of others to travel with me, school or whatever it may be, there was always something. Well, about half way through my teacher training I met a lovely, kind woman at a yoga festival and we quickly became friends. She told me about a yoga program in India where she received her teacher training and her story sang to me. It was so enchanting, so exotic, and seemingly life changing. She planted a seed that would soon grow into a reality.

About 4 months later I finally looked into the program online and found out that they were discontinuing the program after their last course in March of the following year. I decided to inquire anyway and sent them an email requesting information about the reasons behind the closure. Within a day I received a response explaining the change in ownership and to my surprise they had a cancellation in the last program starting in March, so there was a spot available for me if I wanted to make a deposit. It was another one of those moments, everything lined up perfectly and my heart was exploding with excitement, I knew I had to go and I was done making excuses for not following my heart. I booked it.


6 months later I was on my way to India with a one-way ticket. I left my job, my friends, my family and the most difficult to leave, my boyfriend, who was still battling the challenges of paralysis. He supported me in following my dreams and he was excited to see where this next adventure would take me. We hired new caregivers and established a meticulously designed routine to support him in the undertaking of gaining independence. Now we both had a new path in front of us, with new and exciting challenges that would forever change our future.

I spent 7 weeks in Rishikesh, India in an intensive 300hr teacher training beneath the foothills of the Himalaya mountain range, just above the majestic, raging Ganges river, or as they would say in India, the Ganga. It was an ethereal experience living in Northern India, such an exotic and spiritual place for my first experience with travel. There were mischievous monkeys everywhere you looked, lurking on rooftops above the marketplace, waiting for some fresh fruit to drop to the ground. The streets were filled with mooing from hungry cows and barking dogs, eventually the noise became a musical backdrop to the city, filling the air as soon as the sun came up. Indian tourists hustled and bustled through the market place, here to see the Yoga capital, just as I was, expect they came armed with camera phones to snap photos with every westerner in sight. They treated us like celebrities 


I remember my first walk through town, gazing in awe at the old concrete buildings, crumbling around the intricate designs carved into the outer walls. The beautiful, bright colors layering the shop doorways and covering the rolling carts selling treats. It was magical, even the air I breathed seemed different. There is just something about traveling to a new and alien place that warms your insides, causing a stirring of excitement in your heart, and it seeps out of the corners of your mouth pulling it into a constant grin. It was blissful. And the people were the most amazing part of it all, so full of spirit, their eyes deep with wisdom of their own experience below the sun. Every time you passed someone they bowed their head, sometimes places hands at heart and always saying “Namaste.” It soon began to feel like my heart had come home.

The yoga programs at the ashram I stayed in had 75 amazing students from all over the world. The opportunities to connect with people from each corner of the globe were immense. Not only that, but the conversations about yoga were rich and enlightening, each person with their own perspective, their own flavor. To be able to practice yoga everyday with these humans, and share this sacred space with them inspired so much growth within. The friendships I made will last my lifetime, even if I never see them again, they will always remain in my heart. As will the teachers, I will carry their knowledge with me where ever I may go. 

Yoga pairs so well with travel because you are thrown into an unknown environment where you are encouraged to open your heart and your mind to the uniqueness of a new culture. In yoga your path is always in the direction of within, where you are asked to open your heart and your mind to the uniqueness of who you are. And when you develop that deeper relationship with yourself, the deeper sense of love for yourself, it translates in an external way, supporting you to be accepting of others, as they too are a brush stroke in the beautiful masterpiece of life, of humanity, of all beings on Earth. Yoga inspired me to see beauty in everything, and travel showed me how much beauty there is in this world.


I was very sad to leave India, but I was on to the next adventure. Over the next 5 months I would travel to Nepal, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, the island of Bali in Indonesia and then a quick stop in Maui to visit my sister before heading back home to Portland, Oregon. Maintaining a yoga practice was definitely difficult at times, and same with finding healthy food to support my body as I moved from place to place. I naturally gravitated towards the cities that advertised yoga and healthy eating, as those were the places I felt most grounded. I nestled into places like Pai, Thailand and Ubud, Bali for longer periods of time because they supplied a nurturing atmosphere and supported my desire for yoga and healthy, vegetarian-friendly foods. It’s so important to seek places that can do this for you if you are traveling with intent to stay committed to your practice, but to also allow yourself to truly experience the bliss of travel. The hustle-bustle is all apart of the adventure and supplied copious learning opportunities, but the feeling of finally settling in a place that you can really kick your shoes off and relax is the frosting on the cake.

I could share so many more alluring stories from my travels, but I would probably just need to write a book instead of a short blog. For now, I will leave you with this, get out there and travel. Experience life for what it is, and be enchanted by its magic. And more importantly, practice yoga in new and exotic places. Make connections with the humans of this bewildering planet and treasure these friendships. Explore as much as you can and seek out the places that feed your soul. Let the adventure draw you in and be open to all the lessons the world has to offer.

The enriching wisdom my journey offered, from all of the teachers I met along the way, was just another layer on the foundation of my yoga practice. Through all the learning I soon realized I wasn’t on this yoga journey to heal others, I was here to heal myself. Through healing yourself, you will heal others, but it doesn’t happen the other way around. And as soon as you accept that, everything else falls into place. The synchronicities are no longer coincidence, and the perceived obstacles begin to dissipate, like an illusion, constructs of the mind. Everything you desire in your life is waiting for you to find your path to it. For me, my path was through travel and yoga.

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