How Yoga Awakened the Teacher in Me. ~ Michelle Bartolo

Via elephant journal
on Oct 10, 2012
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Source: via Colortude on Pinterest

In sharing my battle from escapism to truth, I bare all…

After leafing through so many yoga teachers’ bios, it dawned on me that where they’ve been and who they’ve trained with served little purpose. Those teachers who actually got down to the nitty gritty about how yoga stepped into their lives, what lead them there, is what really resonated with me…

My parents both passed away when I was seven; it was traumatic, and it wasn’t an accident. My father was very mentally unwell all of his life and one day decided he couldn’t live with, or without my mother. A tragic love story.

For years I’d thought it was just a bad dream; every morning I’d wake up and think they would be there. I learned at a young age that nothing is forever.

Kids at school were asking lots of questions. The truth was just too intense to share, so I fed them lots of lies. This ‘lying’ continued throughout my life because the real story was too shocking, not easily shared. I also found the more I talked about it the more it took me back there, and it wasn’t really a nice place to go back to.

 So I buried it.

For years after their death I felt like I was walking around in a bubble; it just felt so surreal that they weren’t around anymore. My brother was 18 at the time and became my legal guardian; a huge responsibility for someone so young but he was amazing. Funnily enough I think my childhood was more privileged than my siblings’; I had much more freedom with such a young caregiver, and in the first few years there was more peace in our home.

I also had a strong sense for others who were suffering; I always was and still am referred to as the ‘sensitive’ one in the family. This empathy gave me the desire to want to help others in my later years, which though I didn’t realize at the time, helped me too.

So from a young age I learned that everything can be gone in just a ‘snap!’ I embraced the idea of ‘live everyday as if it were your last’ with a vengeance. I tended to spend time with those who felt good to be around as much as possible— just in case it would all be over tomorrow. That can be a little overwheming for some people.

I learned to forgive fast and fell in love often and hard. I still do! Then, I find I’m over it all even faster.

I wanted to experience everything I could. Some antics were healthy; others, not so much.

I was living on my own at a young age, in University but also working in Toronto’s downtown bar scene. It was there that I was introduced to a lot of the ‘underground’ parties. Initially, I felt free from years of buried questions and emotions. Then later on it became a form of escapism. I felt like a victim, an attitude which gets you nowhere but down.

I landed in the world of drugs and alcohol and everything came up; I was like a volcano spewing out all that lava, and it felt great! I had a new found freedom—I indulged more to let out more. I danced, wrote, painted, it was endless. (N.B. In my familia we were raised to keep our ‘voice’ hushed. Bury everything—the good ol’ Catholic way *cringe*).

It felt like all of these antics were helping me to unearth everything I had buried deep down, but not in a progressive way.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not promoting taking drugs. There are healthier ways to ‘open up’. This was just the path that I chose to take. Every Up has it’s Down.

Be it right or wrong, good or bad I can see the benefit of it all, as well as the downside. Certainly this lifestyle isn’t one you can live for long without some repercussions.

Fast forward to my 30th birthday. Wham bam! I decided it was time for a lifestyle change. I found myself wondering where I was going in life; I had no direction, no answers and it terrified me! So I stopped everything all at once: bye bye drugs & alcohol, so long nightclubs and parties.

My body went into shock; all of a sudden I wasn’t feeding it what it was used to getting. I fell into a deep depression for six months; it was the scariest place I’ve ever been. I often pondered ending my life and would hope for my mattress to just swallow me up. I  would imagine standing on the edge of a cliff, knowing I wouldn’t have the courage to jump, but also knowing that if someone was willing to push me, I would consider it.

Initially the doctor put me on antidepressants which just made everything feel worse; I felt foggier and just dreadful. I was in such a deep dark hole that for months I couldn’t see even a twinkle of light. I knew couldn’t take these pills any longer. I remember secretly flushing them down the toilet—I would not let them be the end of me.

Then I found a natural healer and this was the beginning of my journey to healing. It was through natural therapies that she began to try and unblock me—and she said I had many blockages. I remember her punching me hard in the chest just to get some reaction out of me, I was completely numb. She did su jok on certain pressure points, acupuncture and reiki; they were helping a bit, but not enough. At this stage, chocolate made me feel the best; it became my new addiction, hence gaining ten kilos and feeling even more crappy about myself…

But it was all part of the ride.

So a friend suggested trying yoga. I was always into fitness, but yoga? Whateverrrrrr. I thought it was a lame excuse for doing exercise. I was the biggest yoga skeptic. All the same I decided to give it a go, and once I found my teacher there was no turning back. It really did help me let go of everything that was wrong for me. It taught me a gradual process to healing. I learned to let go of things one at a time instead of kicking it all out in one go.

I even remember going into a few morning yoga classes after heavy nights of partying; my teacher was open enough to know what I needed. I felt so horrible during class, dizzy, nauseous and then soooo much better afterward. So much so that I didn’t want to go partying on the nights before yoga so I could get higher in class, naturally.

It helped me connect with feelings that I had buried deep down and long ago, but in a safe way, through awareness. I started journaling again.

Yoga became my new thing. I hit as many classes as I could. My diet started getting healthier and I was more gentle with my body/mind. I started losing weight and feeling great! It really happened so much faster than any other type of healing I’d tried. My body/mind responded so quickly to it. I stopped smoking cigarettes and marijuana.

Then I travelled and bumped into old friends with old habits, and I caved.

Yoga was still in my life but I got back into smoking marijuana and hashish on a daily basis. I was chronic. I’d wake to a joint for breakfast and smoke them like cigarettes throughout the day. I always believed I would never quit; I didn’t want to. I couldn’t imagine hanging out with people who didn’t smoke.

Gradually over the years, it came to a point where the more yoga I did the less I smoked. I met different people who didn’t smoke and that made it an easier transition. It all happened so naturally, where at one stage I was smoking chronically, then once per week, then once per month, then perhaps once every 6 months. Then none. This was a four year transition.

There have been times when I wondered if it was still something I missed doing. Today I find that I don’t miss it at all. I don’t feel the need to escape anymore because through yoga I have found the peace inside of me. Yoga taught me that it is completely natural to have your ‘setbacks’ and to not get hung up on them. I got back on the right track. What’s the other option? To just give up?

The time had finally come for me to let go completely. Not feeling the need for anything ( but yoga) was one of the most freeing feelings ever!

So this is how yoga came into my life and how it has helped me. It awakened the teacher in me. It’s made me want to pass yoga on soooo badly to others, but I hold back cause I remember how much I despised having anything pushed on me. I hope that perhaps this will help any of you with similar issues.



You can find me at I surf through life and Yoga has taught me to ride every wave and enjoy every high and low, and barrel through all that comes in between. I’m a rebel at heart and follow my gut. I love man not less but nature more, my voluntary beach cleaning group is called That’s Rubbish and we’re makin’ the change we wanna see in the world. LOVE YOUR MOTHER(EARTH). You’ll catch different sides of me, I like to rip up a few dance floors on the occasional weekend, rollerblade as fast as I can down thee biggest hill I can find with lots of cars beside me, ’cause if you’re not livin’ on the edge your takin’ up too much space! I don’t eat animals and I believe we should treat others as we would want to be treated, so please don’t eat me!! 😉 Keeping It Light and finding my peace is my aim always. Inhale Freely, Exhale Forever


Editor: Jennifer Townsend

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45 Responses to “How Yoga Awakened the Teacher in Me. ~ Michelle Bartolo”

  1. michelle says:

    thanks muchos muchos to the editors for guiding me on this article and helping me dig deeper, and thanks to all of you who find the time to read it. Pura Vida 😉

  2. Michele Serle says:

    What an amazing, open and honest piece of writing. You can visualise the soul journey into awakening the heart.
    This is yoga.
    Thank you for sharing, hope to read more. A true inspiration.

  3. Kim says:

    Nice one Michelle.
    I didn't know much about you at all really, did I?


  4. Thank you Michelle for such an honest, insightful and open hearted article.

  5. Nadine says:

    Great story & very inspiring! Grateful for having people like you in my life <3

  6. mau says:

    I only ever attended one lesson with Michelle but it was the best yoga lesson I’ve ever been to (and I was heavily pregnant). I admire her even more now I know more about her. What an inspiration!

  7. Sarah says:

    Amazing sharing of your experience and the challenges you faced, that I know were so hard for you. Xx I personally remember you going through some of what you mentioned & it’s really interesting from where i stand to objectively look back on your story & how it unfolded at the time and realise that the journey you experienced all makes a lot of sense. I am very happy that it has led to where you are now! Blessings 🙂 xxxx

  8. Lianne says:

    Wow. What a story. Thanks for inspiring! You’re the best! x

  9. Louisa Pucci says:

    Dedicated yoga practice has transformed my life…the healing power of being here now and listening in to our own truth takes tremendous courage… thank you for sharing a beautiful and heartfelt account of your journey!
    sometimes we just need to be reminded to remember that we are pure free forever…
    tut tvum asi
    in darkness and light
    in love and gratitude

  10. Karl says:

    Thank you for sharing your personal journey with us Michelle. I am still feeling the benefits of the yoga retreat you conducted on the island of Gozo last year and I look forward to signing up for another of your retreats in 2013 via your website.

    Thanks again for sharing. x

  11. Rorysound says:

    Fab piece of writing… very open, honest and brave.
    You've only got one…. you may as well enjoy it!

  12. Zoya says:

    What an inspiring piece of writing – I can feel your open heart, free mind and lots of love to Life! It's interesting how many of us ger awaken to yoga and spirituality after connecting with death experience of some sort ( it was my little brother's in my case)… All that you'd been through have made you such a great yoga teacher you are!

  13. michelle says:

    thanks for the support all of you! overwhelming in a good way, after writing this I feel even more open…thanks to elephant journal once again for the guidance and all of you who have always supported me through thick and thin *curtsy* 😉

  14. Akiko says:

    Your article has a voice. A teacher in you tunning up a voice of truth well, appriciate to hear it.
    Thank you Michelle! Xxx

  15. Nick says:

    An inspirational account from a very open perspective. Thank you for sharing.

  16. Anna says:

    Thanks Michelle !!! I would be as brave as you! …
    As a student I have much to grateful to you. You will arrive get far !!!
    Sure that it has been a difficult way, but you arrived a good result. Congratulations !!!

  17. Anna H says:

    Michelle – your honesty is inspirational. Thank you for sharing your journey and yoga with us. x

  18. anne-sophie says:

    Bravo Michelle pour ce bel article, et morceau de vie, tu es celle qui me fait découvir le yoga, ton yoga and I love it!

  19. Sean says:

    I think its important to share stories like this. It takes great courage to open up and tell the world your truths. This story provides an example of just that kind of courage, the kind that the world and its people need more of. Its also good to hear that our individual problems are not singularly our own, that we have commonality, even if the stories are far more exacting in their difficulties. Thank you Michelle. I look forward to more of your truths. xx

  20. Liana Dovgala says:

    Our paths crossed many years ago and although you had pain inside – your eyes shined – the seat of your soul stayed true throughout those turbulent years. Your strength grounded you even when the path was dark. Yoga is the light you were searching for …… gives us freedom to feel, move and breathe……….Jai!!
    It took guts to write this Mich……..way to go!

  21. Karina Borg Olivier says:

    Great story Michelle.. thanks for sharing. Very well written to the editor. Look forward to following your future journey! Amazing xx

  22. Andrew says:

    Really enjoyed Michelle's article. it is always good to have things written from the truth and the heart

  23. laydowninthetallgrass says:

    Dear Michelle,

    Congratulations…it's a beautiful piece, full of your heart and soul. Thanks for sticking with it and for digging deeper.
    Warm wishes,


  24. Karima D. says:

    I have an immense respect for you, for your beliefs and following your dreams. You know the true meaning of it.

  25. Marybeth says:

    thanks for sharing Michelle. Such an honest and brave writing. Hope to read more from you.

  26. Marcus says:

    Didn't know any of this. Great story, great article.

  27. mathieu says:

    amazing amazing amazing !!! Xeba love XXX

  28. Elizabeth says:

    Brave journey Michelle, thanks for sharing your story and your strength with all of us!

  29. Joey wong says:

    Great story Michelle. Thanks for opening up and letting people know that story inside of you. Love and peace to you.

  30. Monica says:

    Thanks for having the courage to share these painful yet enlightening episodes of your life. I'm sure they'll be of aid to others in a similar situation. I've only been to Michelle's yoga classes so I can't really compare with other teachers of yoga. What I can state, however, is that the way Michelle teaches yoga has me hooked so much so that even when I don't attend lessons I still try to incorporate it in my days. Michelle has taught me Yoga on and off the mat and that really has altered the way I experience life. I admire and am proud of her a lot for how she has managed to come out of her past victorious and the way she manages to touch the life of others lightly yet deeply through yoga. Thanks a lot for sharing, Michelle, and for the way you try to make the world a better place to live in. You've made a big difference in my life!

  31. Nathalie D Demajo says:

    I have practised yoga on and off for the last twenty years …. I have been taught by many different teachers … ( too undisciplined to keep it up alone) .. and Michelle s approach to yoga and how she teaches it has always resonated well with me … and I would recommend her to everybody.

    I have known you and your story for many years now .. I always felt honored that you could share it with me … and I feel that this article you have so poignantly bared to all has truly freed you up even more … there is no other way than forward … your practise can only get better and better after this …

    Namaste my friend … shine on Bella !!

  32. michelle says:

    thanks for the continued support and comments…

  33. yogainberlin says:

    Hey Michelle, thank you so much for sharing your story. i had no idea how bad you were, that is probably one of the reasons why I like the story (and you) so much – it gave me courage to be more open about my own history which I until today I rarely share.. A very big thank you from the bottom of my heart and I hope to read more from you.

  34. MaryKwan says:

    Great story Michelle, thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your future journery!!

  35. Gale Laporte-Bartolo says:

    As an in-law family member, I am enveloped with a sense of pride and inspiration after inhaling and internalizing each one of your powerful words Michelle…words filled with honesty and a very deep sense of who you are…and who you've always been…a fearless heart filled with a strong spiritual self…there is nothing more vital to success and happiness than an inner freedom that we all strive to achieve in our lifetime…you're there… and your brother Louis and I congratulate you and wish for you many more accomplishments and positive stops along the way, so that you may spread the "Yoga" light on others as you journey on…
    Sister…you are just spectacular!
    We love you 41 (forever and once more)

  36. Irene says:

    Thanks fort sharing your story Michelle! it is great to know that yoga is capable of such amazing things. We just need to give it a chance! xx

  37. Jeni Caruana says:

    Honest, brave, open, inspiring – everyone has already said it all…… I'd just like to add that Michelle is THE VERY BEST yoga teacher EVER. There's something in her voice that just makes it all alright. I fall in and out of my practice, and that's alright too. I turn up with a hangover, and now I know why she smiles! Been there…..!
    I am SO looking forward to her yoga retreat in Gozo next month ……. bliss!
    Namaste Michelle! XX

  38. Weronika says:

    Thank you for sharing your story Michelle. It's so inspiring, encouraging, just beautiful! Hope to read more from you!

  39. Antje says:

    Dear Michelle, Reading your life-story is probably one of the best Yoga classes "off the mat" I can imagine. And how much do I love your yoga classes on the mat!. Thank you!!

  40. Jeremy says:

    Thanks for sharing the your journey through this life, sometimes its hard to face the truth and easier to try to escape, but the greatest freedom comes from accepting the truth, and having the courage to change. Look forward to reading more from you.
    Namaste _/_

  41. Dave says:

    Didn't think I could possibly respect you more for who you already are, but the honesty and openness of this article has proven me wrong, yet again.

    ~ Your green giant

  42. […] How Yoga Awakened the Teacher in Me. ~ Michelle Bartolo […]

  43. Mary Coulson says:

    Hey honey!! Congrats to you!! I am so happy that you've found what makes you happiest!! You are a beautiful person, always smiling, and ready to enjoy life to the fullest…I always loved that about you!! Hope we can see each other again one day soon and enjoy a yoga class together and catch up on LIFE…love you lots & thanks for sharing…xoxox.

  44. michelle says:

    hey ya, longa time! thanks for reading…miss you lots…next time i'm home i will def be in to all xxx