The Power of Change: How To Be the Best Version of Yourself

A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.

The Power of Now

Imagine that all you ever wanted and needed is already within. What would it be like to live your life fully, to be present, awake, to have energy, joy, experience awe, to be in love, to love, and to take pride in your life? 

I would like to share my transformation journey, where I learned many things. Most importantly, I learned that we all can change, to take control of our health, and to unleash the very best, most authentic versions of ourselves.  And I hope my story will inspire you!

So, for better or worst, my story begins with food addiction. However, before we embark on the journey, let me give you some stats.

  • Age: 12 picked up smoking and drinking, rolling with a pretty bad crowd.
  • Age: 16 border-line alcoholic, first near-death experience.
  • Age: 17 depressed, contemplating suicide.
  • Age: 18 moved to NYC.
  • Age: 20 diagnosed with all possible issues (weight 140 lbs).
  • Age 23: married.
  • Age 26 divorced (lost 30 lbs).
  • Age 27: met the love of my life.
  • Age 29 got into yoga.
  • Age 30 met the love of my life (re-born).
  • Age 32 started teaching yoga and wellness.
  • Age 36 moved to Colorado, learned how to ride a bike and drive a car.
  • Age 44 (weight 109) started the wellness business.
Happy Childhood.

Tashkent

“As a child, I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know.”  ― C.G. JungMemories, Dreams, Reflections

Food has been my number one addiction for some time. It offered comfort and filled the gaps within my soul. Unfortunately, these gaps were too large.  Instead of fulfillment, I packed myself with extra pounds. As a result, the endless illness and suffering became my life. 

I spent my childhood in the sunny and friendly Soviet Tashkent – the capital of Uzbekistan. The fourth-largest city in the Soviet Union.

Both of my parents had full-time jobs. They were shifting from poverty and moving towards the middle class.  So, my grandma raised me. She survived the war and hunger. My grandma loved me wholly and unconditionally. She loved to cook and feed our big family with traditional Jewish meals with Uzbek influences. The diet was rich in meat, wheat, pelmeni (meat dumpling), some fish, and pastries rich in sugar and cream.

Also, due to the warm climate, grains and legumes were abundant. As well as a great variety of fruits and vegetables: grapes, watermelons, melons, gourds, greens, berries, and figs. Similarly, veggies and fruits were always on the table but only as a side dish. So, from what I remember, my childhood was mostly about eating. I was a pretty shy and introverted child. Growing up, I remember drawing, reading, and playing in the park. I never enjoyed the company of other children since I was quite chubby, and often, others made fun of me.

Moving to Teenage Years

I moved from my grandma’s house to my parents when around ten years old. My parents had a lot of friends. They loved to have fun, go out, eat, drink, and dance. By the time I was 11, my parent’s marriage was falling apart.  Nonetheless, life was good for a while.  My folks went to restaurants, museums, theaters, and beach vacations. Not to mention, all these activities were accompanied by food and alcohol.

By the time I was 12, my dad became gravely ill. He had diabetes and was severely depressed.  To begin with, no one heard about diabetes and depression these days.  So, my dad’s illness was not appropriately treated as he started his decline. Under those circumstances, my parents were always fighting. As a result, my life became a living hell.

Provided that, I found my rescue in food and books. At the same time, I picked up a smoking habit and got my first taste of alcohol. I became aware of my sexuality.  So, all the worst boys in my neighborhood somehow became my best friends.

Eventually, my dad moved to New York. By that time, I was hooked on alcohol, cigarettes, and my fast and furious slide towards the rock-bottom. At the same time, the gap in my soul became more massive with every bite.

Growing Up in USSR

“Look at that party the other night. Everybody wanted to have a good time and tried real hard, but we all woke up the next day feeling sorta sad and separate.” ― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I’ve had many thrills since the age of 12.  At the same time, Mikhail Gorbachev became the president of the USSR. Gorbachev introduced glasnost or political openness. Glasnost eliminated traces of Stalinist repression. A lot of books that were previously banned became available, and supposedly that was the end of the ear for the omnipresent secret police.

So, it was perfect for me as I was a voracious reader with a curious mind (even though I’ve done pretty bad in school). When I wasn’t drinking, I’ve spent hours reading about philosophy, art, history, Soviet repression, mysticism, Sufism, and novels. I believe reading expanded my conscience and saved my brain cells damaged by alcohol and eventually saved my life.

One of the other perks was that Gorbachev believed in private initiative and innovation. As a result, the individuals and cooperatives were allowed to own businesses for the first time since the 1920s! Consequently, nightclubs and fancy hotels were popping up everywhere.

However, high-ranking members of the government put Gorbachev under the house In August of 1991.

Of course, I was in Moscow during the upheaval staying with a friend in the center of it all! In still recall the fear of tanks, soldiers, and an angry mob was rolling through the streets of Moscow trying to take over the city and return to Communism regime. We flew back to Tashkent in a small plane in the dark night. It was scary.  Luckily, the military regime didn’t come to power, and we were safe! But it was very unsettling. Russia will always be corrupted. After that, the first big wave of immigration was on the go.

Party Time!

Life was fast and fun-filled with drunken parties, boys, and food. I would fly to Moscow to go out dancing all night, and fly back home with a few friends I’d met along the road. On one of these trips, I stayed with one of these ‘friends’ who stole all my money and kicked me out. Luckily, I’d met a guy while waiting in line at a night club (with whom I’ve stayed for a week in the drunken haze). Eventually, I ended up on the streets, practically homeless. One of these days, I will write a book with all these stories, but there is not enough room here.

Thus, by the age of 16, I nearly died on the operating table and was addicted to booze. The first signs of deep darkness were closing in on me as I was starting to feel sad, empty, wandering the streets alone, and questioning my motivation to go on living.

I began to crave changes. I moved to Moscow, where my life got gruesome very quickly. So, I took my chanced and moved to New York.

New York Bound

“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world.” ― F. Scott FitzgeraldThe Great Gatsby

I came to New York just in time for my 19th birthday. New York was a dreamland; with skyscrapers, culture, architecture, and a variety of everything imaginable and unimaginable. It was like a dream. Unlike many other fellow immigrants, I’ve known that I can always go back to my mom. I’ve been very fortunate to have many choices in life.

I’ve learned that my dad was suicidal and nearly died. Ultimately, he recovered and moved in together with an incredible woman. However, my dad was a complete stranger to me. I hadn’t talked to him for about three years. But, I was willing to get to know him.  Af first, life was tough, and we fought a lot. I was rebellious, was still smoking, drinking, and bringing different boys home.

After a life of luxury, I found myself in a poor neighborhood living with a stranger who wanted me to get a job, quit drinking and smoking? Not to mention, my dad was fantasizing about me meeting a sweet boy to get serious about my life! In other words, pure nonsense! Also, I missed my mom terribly.  I’ve been dreaming of waking up in my old apartment with my mom is making fresh coffee every night for a year. Then, I would open my eyes, realizing it was just a dream and would cry for a few minutes before going on about my day. I slept in the bed that my father bought at the discounted store, my feet were half swollen with bug bites, and nothing would remove it.

Time to Work

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.

I came to New York with $500 and two bags. I was eligible for welfare assistance. However, showed up in the agency once. It was enough. There and then I’ve decided that I couldn’t and didn’t want to stay poor. Not Now, Not Ever!!! I needed to find work.

At first, I worked in retail stores, cleaned houses, and waited tables. I spoke very little English. I worked during the day and studied English at night. As always, food came to the rescue. I made new friends and met many great people who helped me a lot.

However, my desire to learn and excel in life fueled with my inquisitive mind allowed me to quickly expand my education and transform my skills to the New York IT market. As a result, I landed my first job as an IT consultant with a large bank.  Later, I got another offer from a brokerage house, followed by another one a few years after.

My typical “New York” routine included a host of unhealthy and body-stressing practices: hard work with little to no physical activity, poor eating habits, and cigarette smoking. Working and making money was everything to me. As a result, I was stressed and ill. At the same time, my doctors fed me with antibiotics while I fed myself with burgers.  My size 16 pants were getting very tight. Next, I was visiting the emergency room nearly every other month. Things were getting progressively worse. Finally, I could barely walk up the stairs. My face was decorated with pimples. I suffered allergies, sinuses, belly, and join aches. I was feeling like an old woman by the age of 22, and something had to change.

One more time, I was not ready to die. So, I made a choice to live.

Changing Habits

“Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this world would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be” – Anon

My work project was finally over. My mom moved to New York. Instead of jumping into another job, I took a month off and decided to travel. At the same time, I couldn’t eat much due to the horrible allergies (reactions to all the antibiotics I’ve been taking).  So, I’ve started to finally lose some weight.

A year off gave me some time to reflect on the next chapter of my life. So, I made another important decision. And, it was to change.  It’s a long road. 

Time To Get Fit!

Randomly, I picked up a few fitness magazines and got so inspired by the articles and women in fitness as soon as I got back to New York.

I wanted to be like Alicia Silverstone and kick ass like Jennifer Nicole Lee! I wanted to quit smoking, to be able to run and swim, have clear skin, and be ready to wear short skirts.

But, I was so far off.  Instead, I found myself broke in a bad marriage and the only thing I had my old friend, my journal.

To begin with, I remember writing on a pack of cigarettes: “You are my last one. I love you and thank you, but I have to let you go.”

Next, I wrote down where do I want to go from now, which I practice before embarking on any journey.

Success Goes Up and Down.

I got married at the age of 23 and found a full-time job. I was all set! I embarked upon a new regime: with determination, I quit smoking (after five unsuccessful attempts), replacing that nicotine fix with exercise that included running and working out in the gym.

But the long stint of physical idleness took its toll and thwarted I rebounded. In my attempts to improve my health, I ruined my knees, and the discs in my back gave out. My marriage was falling apart. I had my first setback. I fell in love with my husband’s cousin. She was a few years younger and just moved to New York.  We hit the New York and Miami clubs and restaurants just as if I was 16 again. At the same time, I also had another affair, causing me a lot of grief. I began drinking and eating again. This time the destination was Miami Beach. I had a blast flying to Miami, dancing all night, skinny dipping in the ocean, and meeting strangers. It was madness. This time, when I returned, I came back home with pneumonia and bad knees. My marriage was finally over. I stopped seeing my husband’s cousin and my mysterious stranger.

Finally, I saw a physical therapist who suggested trying yoga. Sometime in the year 2000, I took a first yoga class in a small Jivamukti studio, and thus, my life has begun.

Transformation Begins

People never change. The transformation is only bringing what’s already inside up to the surface. 

Photo: Anna Sheinman, CO YJC, Yoga & Rock Climbing

I courageously faced the unknown allowing myself to continue to grow and evolve. I followed my inspiration and allowed positive changes to happen. Often I stepped back into what was more familiar, my ‘other’ not so constructive state. Every time the comeback became easier. Choosing the discomfort of the unknown, inspired, unique, and finally, totally breaking out of my shallow shell is the only way to evolve. The feeling of a new part of myself emerging and coming forward was awesome. Choice, I had a choice! A choice to living dead, die young or change and embark on a new trip.

My joints were getting better. I became more active and went on my first hiking and camping trip for my 26th birthday. I finally moved into my very first apartment. I was practicing yoga daily. It helped me to be more mindful, cultivating the ability to observe what was happening internally, establishing a link between mind, body, and environment. The hole in my soul was filling in. I’ve worked with personal trainers, yoga teachers, and nutritionists for guidance.

Most importantly, I was doing daily homework. The fat started to melt away; I was getting muscle definition, and my allergies were becoming a thing of the past. I was becoming healthier and feeling most alive than ever! I was learning how to create a more balanced life for myself, continuing my education about nutrition, health, wellness, and yoga.

Lucky in Love

My husband and I in Vegas

“To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten.”― Arne Garborg

Ron and I fell in love at first sight. However, it took us some time to come together. It’s been nearly 20 years and we still going strong. After so many unrestful relationships, I can’t even tell you how critical it is to be with the right partner. So, if you are not happy in your relationships, get out as quickly as you can. Life is too short to be waisted out of love. And, don’t listen to anyone who tells you to settle for the misery. 

At the same time, I completed over 700 hours of yoga and Pilates education. Not to mention, Ron and decide to give up animal products at this time. 

We never felt like we’ve been sacrificing anything. 

Colorado Bound.

Eventually, New York city became unbearable. We wanted to be close to nature, and get a puppy! So, my husband and I moved to Colorado in 2012 adopted a puppy. My food addiction has been dormant with occasional binges and setbacks. The comeback has become quicker and more comfortable with time.

I’ve tried numerous diets for 20 years. I became a scientist with my body as a lab. I often think of myself as a garden, which continually needs attending. With proper soil and nourishment, the flowers will blossom while weeds will weave over if food is not provided. The weeds never disappear – they just become dormant.

In 2020, I finally took drastic measures by working with a plant-based nutritionist, I lost an additional 10 pounds, and is finally addiction free. 

How can you re-write your story?

1) Define Your WHY

Pick the most destructive behavior that you know of and write why you want to change. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, you might write something like this: “I want to look good in my jeans” or, “I want to be better and healthier me.” You need to have a strong “WHY.” Your journey won’t be easy. In fact, it will hurt, and it will suck. But you will endure and make sacrifices to go from your current state to where you want to go. Feel the driving force towards your desires.  Look inward and dig deep to ask yourself, “Why do I want to be [fill-in-the-blank].”  Think habits vs. willpower. Your “WHY” will anchor you and help you to build more productive habits. Just like you build muscle, your new constructive habits will take root in your day to day life.

2) Don’t play the Blame Game

You can blame your genetics, your upbringing, the government, your parents, and your friends. But this is a victim’s mentality and is not taking responsibility for your life. Who cares what you can’t change? Focus on what you can. If you are trying to lose weight, think about how you can make better choices in the grocery store, prepare a food menu for your daily meals, educate yourself about nutrition, and various diets.

3) Keep Track of Your Life

Keeping a journal and writing down your progress is essential. You can track how you spend your money, your time, see your eating patterns, and your dreams. You can use a journal or a digital copy.  

Even with all that, I still have a long round to travel. So, don’t be discouraged, keep trying, you will succeed!

4) Experience Awe

Remember when you were a kid? How exciting it was to learn, to explore, to become aware? That kid still leaves inside you. Awe is a practice. There is always something to learn. In 2019, I read David Sinclair’s book on Aging where he was talking about cells. I was astonished. Next year, I spend learning about the planets, reading Carl Sagan, and contemplating life in the universe. Whenever I go hiking, I see the connection in natural world to my own being. I feel the power of the natural world, and I can never get bored. 

5) Scared? Do it Anyway.

Courage is a muscle. Your freedom leaves on the other side of fears. I was scared of heights, so I took rock-climbing lessons. It took a while. But I persisted. Find something that you fear, and without putting your life in danger, take small steps towards your freedom. 

6) Cultivate Attitude of Gratitude 

Gratitude is another muscle. I start each morning by filling-in my “gratitude” box in my excel spreadsheet. I write at least five things I am grateful for daily. It could be something like hearing the bird-song or looking at the mountain tops, having fresh water. This is a feeling type of exercise. 

7) Change Your Input

Be careful what you eat, read, and who you hang out with. I had to change countries, friends, get out of a bad marriage, and find my new tribe to really thrive. Find books, people, music that inspire you. Surround yourself with beauty. Spend time in nature. 

8) Look For Help

A mentor or teacher can really make a difference in your life story. Don’t be ashamed for seeking out help.  I wouldn’t be a person I am today if I didn’t invest in mentors, trainers, and most importantly, surrounded myself with inspiring people.

9) Keep It Simple, Keep it Stupid! (KISS)

KISS, an acronym for “keep it simple, stupid” or “keep it stupid simple“, is a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960. The KISS principle says that most systems work best when kept simple rather than made complicated. So, simplicity should be a key goal in life’s design, and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. So, stick to simple changes. A lot of things are simple. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, you need to find a simple doable solution. For me, it was simplifying my plate, eating less, doing less. Being more efficient.

10) Turn that Fucking News Chanel OFF!

As our ancestors were hunted by large prey, a little drip of a stress hormone was pumped into their veins. Whenever they needed to run away from a tiger the flight-or-fight system was on while the rest-and-digest system was shut off – to simplify the complex mechanism on how the body reacts to real or perceived stress.  Since our minds can’t tell the difference between bad news and being chased by prey, we are constantly living in the stress mode. Personally, I refuse to watch the news, follow or engage in gossip, and remove any Facebook friends that constantly engage in sharing things that they can’t do anything about. You have to make a choice of how you’d like to stay informed. Just don’t kid yourself when you get lost in the negativity of social and news tunnel.

So, that’s it, for now, my friends! I hope my story showed you that change is possible and you can do it.

11 comments

  1. I enjoyed this so much. Wow, really relate more then I think you know. So many similarities. I held my breath when you spoke of those “bad boys” who became “best friends”. Did the same thing back when I was a teen and sadly, so did my daughter. I just ran away from home at “60”. I don’t what the fuck I’m doing at this time. You see, I left home at 17 to become a mother. I was a housewife, a cook, a cleaner, everything a mom was and is. But my self esteem was so damaged in my formative years and all I’ve known, is being a mommy. IT WAS MY ZONE. So at 60, I suffer from the “empty nest” and really not being able to identify what it means to self care. I have guilt up the ass for shit that i can’t control but feel guilt for. Ex: my 24 year old daughter who yes, is working but still not understanding you don’t wait for your car brakes to go out before you get them fixed and you check your oil to make sure you have some. Or, getting nails done before taking care of bills. I feel like I’m a failure to both kids in different ways. I just want to feel happy again. I lost the feelings. It scares me so much, like dying a slow death. You speak of yoga so much through out your stories. It seems when I think about my experiences with yoga, there isn’t the consistency of quiet “space”. I don’t know how to say, I can’t do this for you right now, I have to do this for me. And yes, I foolishly became dependent financially on my husband and beating myself to death over that to. My mantra was Clarity on my “run away drive”. I to, could write a book. But first, I have to awaken. It breaks me to see my daughter idolizing the new boyfriends Mom, ( she lives close by). She smokes weed and cigarettes and doesn’t help her financially, yet I do and I feel I’m not very respected by her either. My New York chutzpah seems long gone. It was there, but it feels like a long lost part of me. Your writings are closest thing I have right now, to a normal correspondence with another human being that talks from the heart. It’s sacred and special for me.

    • Hi Deb,

      Thanks for your kind words. I love our heart-to-heart:-)

      Hey, it is never too late to run away to have a happy childhood!

      Wow, mother at 17. I can’t even imagine. What a great responsibility?! Sounds like a rough start. But, what doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger?

      Well, I am at times very irresponsible 41-years young. But, I change my ways over and over.
      I think we all have our own paths. So, is your daughter.

      Your story is definitely a good book story!

      I hope you will find some quiet space to re-discover your beautiful self!

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