Yoga: Gateway to A New Life

Conscious Choice / Darlene E. Paris

How Three Chicagoans' everyday lives evolved into extraordinary journeys.

"I was a madman," says Vincent Hunihan who worked for nearly 15 years as a trader in the Treasury bond pit at the Chicago Board of Trade. "I'd get up in the middle of yoga class like I was going to the bathroom, then I'd sneak into the office and call the trading floor to find out what was going on."

In those days, Hunihan was an adrenaline junkie. "I enjoyed chaos in my life. I thrived on it," he reflected. "If my head contained an imaginary body of water, I loved when the waves were rocky." But when yoga came into his life, the churning waters became calm. "I really like it this way," says Hunihan, whose conscious evolution into mindful living began when he enrolled in his first yoga class 18 years ago.

"I was a swimmer who kept getting injured," says the 51-year old Hunihan who swam competitively for many years. "I would go to the health club and work out, but I would get injured just by lifting weights." Then someone told him that yoga might help build his upper body strength. So Hunihan enrolled in a yoga class. Once he began practicing yoga on a regular basis, he not only strengthened his upper body, but he also resolved to examine the way in which he'd been living his life.

"Yoga gives people a shift from their everyday consciousness," says Todd Jones, senior editor at Yoga Journal. "Often," Jones explains, "yoga practice is the only time many of us slow down enough to drop into a deep awareness of our bodies which can be a doorway to even deeper truths about ourselves."

Like Hunihan, there are those who turn to yoga as a way of staying physically fit, yet, often, the more they practice the postures, they find that they're not only shaping up their bodies, but they're also fine tuning their minds and spirits.

Becoming Whole

According to yogic thought, we come into this world with patterns of doing the same things in the ways. "By practicing yoga we begin to recognize patterns that no longer serve us," says Joan Budilovsky, who's an international yoga teacher, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Yoga and lives in Oak Brook. "We learn that it's not about changing another person, place, or thing."

Elizabeth Graham's (not her real name) introduction to yoga was a rude awakening. Her life became more unsettled when she first began practicing 12 years ago. Graham now knows that the turmoil she experienced was actually a sign that she was ready to release aspects of her life that no longer worked for her.

As her yoga practice unfolded, the 35-year old Graham recognized that she was in an abusive relationship and had a history of attracting abusive lovers; she also realized she attracted abusive situations in her job as well. "As I reflect upon my life, I realize that I was attracting all of this abuse to myself. It was the way I was thinking about myself," she says. "I needed to recognize this and realize that this was no longer ok for me."

Because of the breakthroughs she had through her yoga practice, Graham managed to finally leave her husband after three years of physical and emotional abuse. "You become less and less comfortable in the situation," Graham says. "Your energy shifts and you're no longer able to be around the same people or in the same situation. You're growing, shifting, and evolving. Your vibration is rising ever so slightly; you're able to become more clear."

Her insight into the causes of her abuse has inspired her to become a yoga teacher, a Reiki Master -- a healer who uses light touch therapy to balance energy centers in the body, and pursue a career in Traditional Chinese Medicine. "It's all about making lifestyle changes to heal yourself. It's all about becoming whole."

Break Down...Break Through

Hunihan, the former bond trader, says that his yoga practice also led him to re-examine his lifestyle. After more than 20 years of working in the trading pit, this ex-navy man slowed down long enough to see how much he relied on alcohol and drugs to make it through his hectic days. He also realized how the booze he drank and pot he smoked affected his ability to love. "My heart was completely shut down," he says. "That's what made me so good at trading. If I lost 50 grand, it was no big deal. I was like 'fuck it. What's next?' You can't just sit there and cry," he says. "I drank and got high so I wouldn't have to feel."

Then Hunihan hit rock bottom, "I lost everything, " he says. For the last four years of his career, he didn't make any money so he lived off his savings until it ran out. "It was hard for me because so much of my identity was wrapped up in money," he says. "I went through a huge ego dismantling -- a humbling. I used to be the master of the universe. I used to have plenty of money, so much that I could afford to take four months off each year to go on a vacation. Now I had less money than the guy bagging groceries at Treasure Island. "I was no different from him, " Hunihan says.

Finally, Hunihan received a phone call from a longtime friend who had heard about his hardships. The friend asked to meet him at a bar they used to frequent in Chicago's financial district -- but on this day Hunihan wouldn't be leaving the bar wasted. The friend told Hunihan he had two choices: he could order a drink, in which case the friend would never see him again -- or he offered to help Hunihan dry out at an alcohol and drug rehabilitation center. Hunihan agreed to go. "It was the best thing that happened to me in my entire life."

Today, Hunihan still works in the financial district -- but not as a trader in the pit. He teaches yoga in an empty conference room at the Chicago Board of Trade and will soon open a yoga studio there called Akal (Awareness) Yoga. He believes he's offering people who work in the financial district something more valuable than money -- peace of mind. "At first I felt funny returning to the Board of Trade. I felt like I couldn't make it as a trader," Hunihan says. "But from time to time, I'd see people I used to work with and they would congratulate me. They'd say 'Man, you've made it! I'm still chasing money and I'm tired. But you've done it. You've gotten out. You're free!"

The most challenging, yet rewarding, class he teaches, however, is one he organized for people receiving treatment at a substance abuse center. "I understand them," he says. "When those students get it, it's like a light bulb goes off. They realize there's a body connected to their mad minds. They get the mind, body, spirit connection."

Hunihan, now sober for more than three years, does not have the material wealth he used to, but he's more than happy with his new life. "I've never had the inner peace that I have now," he says. "I don't have the void."