Surmounting challenges with yoga

Surmounting challenges with yoga

Teaneck mother tells her story of overcoming problems through mindfulness

Dasi Jacob of Teaneck credits yoga with helping her reframe thoughts, stay centered, and develop positive attitudes. (Abbie Sophia)
Dasi Jacob of Teaneck credits yoga with helping her reframe thoughts, stay centered, and develop positive attitudes. (Abbie Sophia)

Everyone has a story.

Some are stories of joy, others are stories of struggles and sadness. The best stories are the ones about people who take their struggles and turn them into success — into stories of healing and strength.

When someone asks, “How are you today?” and that person’s day has been filled with challenges and heartbreaks, some people answer, “My day was the worst,” but other people answer with “I am blessed.” Those are the people we can learn from, and grow from.

It seems that some of these people — the ones who have taken their struggles and turned them into something positive — have turned to yoga for healing, first to heal themselves and then to heal others.

Dasi Jacob of Teaneck is one of those people.

This mother of four has taken the seemingly insurmountable challenges in her life and has turned them into lessons that help others, through yoga and mindfulness.

Ms. Jacob’s journey began when her oldest child, Moshe, who is now 19, was diagnosed with autism. He was just 18 months old then. Ms. Jacob also had a three-month-old, Benny, at the time of this diagnosis. “Autism comes in so many different shapes and sizes, making it even harder for many people to comprehend,” Ms. Jacob said. “The first 13 years of Moshe’s life were spent in major self-injurious behaviors.”

It was hard on the whole family. “I didn’t really live,” Ms. Jacob said. “I suffered through major depression and forced isolation. Thank God for my incredibly supportive friends who helped me through this journey.

“We found an amazing residential program that eliminated almost all of his behaviors, but he is still not very verbal, and it’s a painful thing to watch as a parent.”

Moshe now lives at a residential school in Boston called the New England Center for Children. “As a side note,” Ms. Jacob said, “he has daily yoga practice at school.”

Dasi and her husband, Danny, have four children; Benny, now 17, is a senior at Yeshiva University High School for Boys; her 8-year-old daughter, Adina, and her 6-year-old son, Sammy, both are at Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey.

Ms. Jacob’s story did not start on an upward trajectory then either. “Five months after Moshe started school, I gave birth to my youngest child and was diagnosed with leukemia,” she said. “I was still in the maternity ward.

“Many treatments later, I am, thank God, ‘cured,’ and living life. Surviving cancer gives great perspective in not taking anything in life for granted.” It also gives her “gratitude, for all of the little things,” she said.

“I share this all in an attempt to break through the misguided perception of perfection we see on social media,” Ms. Jacob continued. “Life throws us many curveballs and it is about how you come out at the end. We have no control over many things, but the things we can control are how we respond to the cards we are dealt.”

Yoga, which she discovered before she was diagnosed, has been an important and healing part of her life.

Ms. Jacob’s Instagram page is titled Small Shifts Yoga because, she said, “I realized all you need is a small shift in movement or mindset to make a highly impactful change, which is the essence of yoga.” The page started as a “picture journal,” but with the encouragement of some friends, she turned it into more of a public, open journal, where she shares encouragement.

“Yoga helps me stay in the present, keeps anxiety and depression at bay, and keeps my body strong, healthy, and flexible,” she said. “It helps slow down my reactions to the challenges that inevitably arise.

“I first discovered yoga as part of a fitness routine at the gym, I was attracted to the physical benefits, and I quickly got hooked on the emotional benefits. The decreased anxiety is a great remedy on days when depression hits.

“It’s good for just redirecting myself back into the moment.”

When she was diagnosed with leukemia, yoga was her saving grace. “I practiced in between rounds of chemo, when the anxiety about relapse mounted,” she said. “It helped me regain focus, build strength and get endorphins in a safe way.”

Ms. Jacob did her teacher training at Juluka Yoga in Hillsdale. “I originally took the training just to deepen my practice, but as soon as I started practice teaching I was hooked,” she said. “I knew that I wanted to help people, bring more peace and acceptance into their lives.

“As I took the training, I quickly recognized that yoga is so much more than what I had originally thought. So many tools for living — a daily schedule, different ways of reframing thoughts, and how the physical practice helps unblock emotions and allows you to live a deeper, more present life.”

Last summer, Ms. Jacob continued her yoga education and also took classes where she learned how to teach yoga to children. She worked with Nancy Siegel, an educator whose specialty is mindfulness. (Mindfulness, a term we all hear a great deal with now, is the ability to focus on the present moment, and on your thoughts and feelings, and using that focus as a calming technique.)

“I love working with teens,” Ms. Jacob said. “My most fulfilling moment recently was when one of the teens I work with taught one of the breathing exercise I taught her to her entire volleyball team.

“The benefits of yoga for kids is enormous — increased self-confidence, concentration, self-regulation, posture, body acceptance, and just an overall sense of well-being,” she said.

Recently, with the encouragement of her husband, who has been her greatest fan during her entire journey, Ms. Jacob decided to start a beginners yoga series, with a strong focus on mindfulness. “In these classes our focus is moving in a way that makes us fully appreciate our bodies. Stretching, strengthening, finding balance in a way of love, enhancing daily living. We have weekly themes, I send out optional journaling prompts and a weekly mini exercise to keep it going throughout the week.”

Ms. Jacob teaches in Teaneck, Hillsdale, and Closter, and gives private lessons in people’s homes.

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