A triumphant journey through an armed robbery that almost broke my spirit and how yoga helped me find my way back.
Sometimes you have to completely lose everything in order to find out who you truly are.
It was the summer of 2005. I was fresh out of college with a new love on the rise. When I met my now husband that fateful day at a coffee shop, he ordered coffee, black. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that that simple cup of coffee would forever change the course of my life. I was a fairly typical college student, semi unsure of the future, but with big dreams and aspirations…and little direction.
As the weeks evolved and the friendship blossomed, the two of us decided it would be a great adventure to drive from Texas to Panama in search of surf and new beginnings. We starting planning immediately and before we knew it, our car was packed with basically everything we owned—and off we went, heading south.
I had always had a love for yoga. It started out as a form of exercise when I was 15. My mom had convinced me to take a class with her and I remember my very first adho mukha svanasana (downward dog). It was a sensation I had never felt before. I always considered myself an athlete, having played various sports in high school and of course, surfing, but nothing could prepare my muscles or my mind for that first downward dog. It was as if it flipped my whole perspective upside down.
As I grew and evolved from a scrappy teen into a free-spirited adult, I took my yoga practice with me. During college I even took yoga as an elective to gain a deeper understanding of all eight limbs of yoga. I remember writing my Sanskrit on note cards in preparation for my mid-term. Virabhdrasana is still one of my favorite words to say.
As I set out on our ‘Summer of Love’ tour with my new romance and a wild spirit, I remember thinking, “Thank God for yoga; I can do it anywhere.” I would use the asanas at night in our dinky motel rooms, meditate during the long car ride, and my karma with the many people that scammed us along the way.
Well, since this is an essay and not a life story, I’ll skip all the epic, amazing adventures that we encountered along the way and fast forward six years.
That ‘Summer of Love’ tour turned into a new way of life. Once we arrived in Panama we decided this was the place for us, and the universe agreed.
We ended up creating a business for ourselves in real estate and development. We built our own home, perched on a mango-filled cliff right in front of the Pacific ocean, where we watched the sun dip into the water every night. Some would call it paradise.
Our business blossomed and so did our family. We eventually married and had three beautiful jungle babies to add to our paradise. I always said that our home in Panama would be the ideal spot for a yoga retreat. I would wake up in the morning to do sun salutations and sit under the mango trees to meditate. How could so much beauty and peace have found me? Or did I find it? Either way, it didn’t last long.
On August 27, 2009, my world changed in an instant.
I was on my way home from a long overdue personal vacation. I had been a wife and mother, living in the jungles of Panama for over four years. I treated myself to a night in Panama City, were I wined and dined, indulging on sushi and expensive perfume. I had never been away from my children and I felt slightly guilty, but the prospect of a king size bed, clean sheets and A/C all to myself was more then I could deny. It was paradise.
When I arrived home that evening, I noticed a car parked down the road from our house. I thought it strange, as we lived miles from anyone, but figured it was a local person coming for a visit. We were somewhat of a novelty, being gringos with small children and all. As I walked into my living room, I saw my small children sitting on the floor, but my husband was nowhere to be found. At that point a man in a mask ran out of my room pointing a gun right at my face. Everything went in slow motion. It was like I was watching the whole experience from overhead. I was hyper aware of every movement, every thought, every breath.
Over the years I had spent a good amount of time reading about meditation and self-awareness. If there was ever a time that knowledge was to come into play, it was in that moment. I was in survival mode and I decided right then and there that if my family and I were going to die, we would do it with love in our hearts. Through the whole ordeal, I never took my eyes off my eldest son’s eyes. I just kept telling him I loved him and that everything was going to be okay.
The whole robbery lasted roughly 15 minutes, but the stress it had on us as a family took years to get over. We eventually, with great sadness, sold our house and decided it was time to move back to Texas. Over that course of time, I completely lost any passion or drive for life. I was depressed, severally stressed and suffered anxiety attacks on a regular basis.
Time had passed and we were living a new way of life, just making it through each day.
Yoga had taken a far back seat to Xanax and I no longer cared about being inspired.
I didn’t know who I was anymore, but I knew I was a far cry from the free-spirited girl that had taken a chance on love and adventure seven years earlier.
Then one day I figured I had nothing to lose, so I decided to try a yoga class. I assumed it would be a waste of time and energy and I hated leaving my kids and felt selfish every time I did. I lived each moment as if it was the last time I would see them.
I laid out my 15-year old mat, the same one I had used when I took classes with my mom. We started moving through a vinyasa. The instructor’s voice was like a soft bass that moved through my whole body. I felt a sensation welling up inside of me as I moved. It felt like I was reconnecting with an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. By the time we were in eka pada kapotasana (pigeon pose) on our mats, I was soaked in tears.
I knew without a doubt that I was right where I needed to be in my life. Dare I say, it felt like paradise? In an instant I knew I had all the answers inside of me. All I had to do now was set out on the path to discovery. My adventure in this discovery this past year has evolved just as beautifully and profoundly as a lotus flower. I have since completed my yoga training and am well on my way to opening my own studio and retreat center in Panama, where I hope to share my love and passion for yoga with my community.
But more importantly, I have evolved in ways beyond comprehension. Yoga taught me to mend broken relationships with myself and others, to deeply and unwaveringly trust my Self and manifest all of the great things this world has to offer. I went from having zero passion in life to more passion than this universe can hold. Yoga has been the greatest gift to me and every time I step onto my mat, I am reminded there is such a thing as paradise and it’s in my heart.
Alli Akard is a yoga mama to the fullest. Having recently moved back to the U.S. after a seven year hiatus in the jungles of Panama, where she and her husband raised their 3 monkey babies and continue to run their family business, she finds ways to incorporate the simple pleasures of jungle living back in Texas. As a striving yogini, story teller enthusiast and lover of all things magical she takes each day as a new opportunity to create a little more magic in the world.
Ed: Brianna B.
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