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 if everything you ever wanted or needed was already within you. What would it be like to live your life fully, to be present and awake, to have energy and joy, to experience awe, to be in love, to love, and to take pride in your life?
I would like to share the story of my life, my transformation journey, in which I learned many important lessons. Above all, I learned that change is always possible. No matter who you are, you can take control of your health and unleash the very best, most authentic versions of yourself.
How I am becoming the Best Version of myself?
“I am far too busy enjoying life to be limited by acting my age”
― Feda Jónasdóttir Herman, Happiness in Living Color
- Age 12: picked up smoking and drinking, rolling with a pretty bad crowd.
- Age 16: borderline alcoholic, first near-death experience.
- Age 17: depressed, contemplating suicide.
- Age 18: moved to NYC.
- Age 20: diagnosed with a myriad of health conditions (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 32: started teaching yoga and wellness.
- Age 36: moved to Colorado, learned how to ride a bike and drive a car.
- Age 44: I started my wellness business (weight 109).
- Age 45: I paid off my home and switched to a plant-based diet (weight 105).
A Happy Childhood
“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. Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections
I spent my childhood in the sunny and friendly Soviet Tashkent – the capital of Uzbekistan. The fourth-largest city in the Soviet Union. Many of us think of Central Asia as the most remote place. Yet, the people of Uzbekistan see themselves as at the center of the world. Uzbekistan has a long and bloody history. One of the most notorious leaders of Uzbekistan was Timur. Supposedly one of the Genghis Khan’s descendants.
Both of my parents had full-time jobs. As they were moving from poverty towards the middle class, my grandma raised me. She had survived the war and hunger. My granny loved to cook and feed me big hearty Jewish meals with Uzbek influences. I can still remember the smell of pancakes — the taste of the homemade raspberry jam with butter. My grandma also cooked delicious reach meaty meals and pastries rich in sugar and cream. She considered veggies and fruits as a side dish.
From what I remember, my childhood was a lot 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.
I moved from my grandma’s house to my parent’s when I was about ten years old. My parents had many exciting friends, and they loved to have fun, go out, eat, drink, and dance. Life was good for a while. We 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 11, however, my parent’s marriage was falling apart.
When I was 12, my dad became gravely ill. He had diabetes and was severely depressed. Since no one knew about diabetes and depression those days, my father didn’t get proper treatment. His decline was fast and furious. On top of that, my parents were always fighting. As you can imagine, my life became a living hell.
I found my rescue in food and books. I picked up a smoking habit and got my first taste of alcohol. I became aware of my sexuality. 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 food, alcohol, cigarettes, and a fast and furious slide towards rock-bottom. The gap in my soul became more massive with every bite.
Growing Up in USSR
For my 12th birthday, a new and fearless leader, called Mikhail Gorbachev, became the president of the USSR. Gorbachev introduced glasnost or political openness. Glasnost eliminated traces of Stalinist repression. Many previously banned books became available, so it was perfect for me, as I was a voracious reader with a curious mind. When I wasn’t drinking, I spent hours reading about philosophy, art, history, Soviet repression, mysticism, Sufism, and novels. I believe reading expanded my conscience, saved my brain cells damaged by alcohol, and eventually saved my life.
Gorbachev also 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. But, after a few years of ruling mother-Russian, high-ranking government members put Gorbachev under arrest in August of 1991.
At the same time, I was in Moscow. I was staying with a friend in the center of the upheaval. My family and friends had a real scare as tanks rolled into the capital of the former USSR, soldiers, and an angry mob moving through the streets of Moscow trying to take over the city and return to the Communist regime. The angry and hungry mob is trying to blame someone for their misfortunes. So, we flew back to Tashkent in a small plane in the dark night. It was a terrifying time. Luckily, the military regime didn’t come to power, and we were safe. Yet living in Tashkent became more unsettling. After that, most of my friends immigrated to Israel and the USA. But, I was not ready yet.
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 nightclub (with whom I stayed for a week in a drunken haze). Eventually, I ended up on the streets, practically homeless. I will write a book with all these stories one of these days, but there is not enough room here.
By the age of 16, I had nearly died on the operating table and was addicted to booze. The first signs of deep darkness were closing in on me as I started to feel sad and 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 a chance 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 Fitzgerald, The 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 immigrants, I knew that I could always go back to my mom. I’ve been very fortunate to have many choices in life.
I learned that my dad had been suicidal and nearly died. Ultimately, he recovered and moved in with an incredible woman. Yet, my dad was a stranger to me. We didn’t talk for three years, but I was willing to get to know him. At first, life was tough, and we fought a lot. I was rebellious, 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 and 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 dreamt of waking up in my old bed with my mom making fresh coffee every night for a year. Then, I would open my eyes, realize it was just a dream and cry for a few minutes before going on about my day. I slept in a bed my father bought at the discount store, my feet were half swollen with bug bites, and nothing would make them go away.
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, I showed up at the agency once, and that was enough for me to decide 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, so I studied it during the night. As always, food came to the rescue. I made new friends and met many great people who helped me a lot.
My desire to learn and excel in life, fueled by my inquisitive mind, allowed me to quickly expand my education and transform my skills to enter the IT field in New York. 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 dosed me with antibiotics while I dosed 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. Eventually, I could barely walk up the stairs. My face was decorated with pimples. I suffered allergies and had sinus, belly, and joint aches. I was feeling like an old woman by the age of 22, and something had to change.
For the second time in my life, I was not ready to die. So, I chose to live.
“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 working stint was finally over. My mom had moved to New York, so 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’d been taking), so I finally started to lose some weight.
A year off gave me some time to reflect on the next chapter of my life. I made another important decision: a decision to change. It would be a long road.
Time To Get Fit!
As I got back to New York, I randomly picked up a few fitness magazines and got inspired by the articles and women in fitness. 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 able to wear short skirts.
However, I was far off from my goals. Instead, I found myself broke in a bad marriage, and the only thing I had was my old friend, my journal.
To start my journey, 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 I wanted to go from there, which I now practice before embarking on any journey.
Success Goes Up and Down.At the age of 23, I was married with a full-time job. I was all set! With determination, I embarked upon a new regime: I quit smoking (after five unsuccessful attempts), replacing my nicotine fix with exercise that included running and working out in the gym.
But my long stint of physical idleness took its toll and caused me to rebound. 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 when I fell in love with my husband’s cousin. She was a few years younger and had just moved to New York. We hit the New York and Miami clubs and restaurants as if I was 16 again. At the same time, I also had another affair, causing myself 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 my first yoga class in a small Jivamukti studio, and thus, my life began.
People never change. The transformation is only bringing what’s already inside up to the surface.
I courageously faced the unknown, allowing myself to continue to grow and evolve. I followed my inspiration and allowed positive changes to happen. While I often fell back into my old comforts, getting back up became easier every time. Choosing the discomfort of the unknown and finally breaking out of my shallow shell was the only way to evolve. The feeling of a new part of myself emerging and coming forward was amazing. I had a choice! A choice to live dead and die young or to change and embark on a new journey.
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 be more mindful, cultivating the ability to observe what was happening internally, establishing a link between my mind, body, and environment. The hole in my soul was closing up. I worked with personal trainers, yoga teachers, and nutritionists for guidance.
Most importantly, I was doing my daily homework. My fat started to melt away, I was getting muscle definition, and my allergies became a thing of the past. I was becoming healthier and feeling more alive than ever! I learned how to create a more balanced life for myself and continue my education about nutrition, health, wellness, and yoga.
Lucky in Love
“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 are 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 relationship, get out as quickly as you can. Life is too short to be waisted out of love. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to settle for the misery.
Eventually, I completed over 700 hours of yoga and Pilates education. Ron and I decided to give up animal products, and we never felt like we’ve been sacrificing anything.
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 had been dormant with only occasional binges and setbacks.
I ended up trying numerous diets over the past 20 years. I became a scientist, with my body as my lab. I often think of myself as a garden that needs continuous tending. The flowers will blossom with proper soil and nourishment, while weeds will weave over if food is not provided. The weeds never really 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 to this day, I am finally addiction-free.
The Power of Change: How To You can Be the Best Version of Yourself?
1) Define Your WHY
Pick the most destructive behavior you have 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 a 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.
3) Keep Track of Your LifeKeeping a journal and writing down your progress is essential. You can track how you spend your money, your time, eating patterns, and dreams. You can use a physical journal or a digital copy.
Even with all that, I still have a long road to travel. So don’t be discouraged; keep trying, and you will succeed!
4) Experience Awe
Remember when you were a kid? How exciting was it to learn, to explore, to become aware? That kid still lives 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. The next year I spent learning about the planets, reading Carl Sagan, and contemplating life in the universe. Whenever I go hiking, I see the connection in the natural world to my own being. When I feel the power of the natural world, I can never get bored.
5) Scared? Do it Anyway.
Courage is a muscle. Your freedom lives on the other side of your fears. I was scared of heights, so I took rock-climbing lessons. It took a while to overcome my fears, 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 hearing the bird song or looking at the mountain tops, or 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, and 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 the person I am today if I didn’t invest in mentors and trainers, and most importantly, surround 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. We should avoid unnecessary complexity. 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 F****** News Channel 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. Since our minds can’t tell the difference between bad news and being chased by prey, we are constantly living in stress mode. Personally, I refuse to watch the news and follow or engage in gossip, and I remove any Facebook friends that constantly share negative things that they can’t do anything about. You have to choose how you’d like to stay informed. Just don’t kid yourself when you get lost in the negativity of social and news tunnels.
That’s it for now, my friends! I hope my story showed you that change is always possible, and you can do anything you set your mind to.