Katrina Survivor Stories

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This lesson of impermanence has been most applicable to those families uprooted by Katrina. Read their stories or submit your own to share with the yoga community.

your stories

Yoga instructor Adam Koffman had been teaching in New Orleans for the past four years when Hurricane Katrina decimated his city....Adam fled New Orleans on Saturday, August 27, when Katrina had just entered the Gulf as a category one hurricane. "My friend insisted that we evacuate," Adam recalls. "But like most New Orleans residents, I wanted to wait to see what would happen before making the move." Adam is thankful that he left that afternoon. "My friend and I drove eight hours to Atlanta, arriving there at 2 a.m." Sunday morning, Katrina turned into a category five hurricane.

A week later Adam flew to Los Angeles to be with family and friends. Those who survived the hurricane have been displaced all over the country. "I feel great sadness every day when I think about how my friends and students have been scattered," he explains. "New Orleans is unlike any other city I've experienced in terms of how close the community was, but now I am discovering a new community of friends amongst the yogis of Los Angeles."

Upon hearing that Adam was returning to his native Los Angeles seeking peace and shelter, Ginner Biddle, owner of Bala Yoga in L.A., extended an invitation for Adam to make Bala Yoga his new home...Ginny saw this an opportunity to bring her own yoga practice into practical life—what the ancients called karma yoga.

"There is something incredibly powerful about feeling connected to such an ancient practice. "Yoga is about union, about being connected to those around us and to ourselves. As Adam faces the challenges of rebuilding his life in Los Angeles, I wanted to offer him a place where he can teach in a loving and supportive space."



Adam now teaches six yoga classes a week at Bala Yoga. Ten percent of the proceeds from his classes will be donated to the Red Cross.

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"Hi my fellow yogis.. I lived in Biloxi, Ms and have lost my home to the hurricane. In that I lost all of my props, books, music. I was wondering if you knew any companies that might be willing to donate supplies. I am going to have to rebuild and start over and at the time I don't know where. Being a yogi is who I am and I know that when I know where my base will be I will be teaching. Talk about learning detachment."

Breath by breath,


Felicia McQuaid


yogamamaom@aol.com

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"I am a yoga teacher in a small town in Missouri. I have a son and daughter-in-law in the USAF stationed at Keesler Air Force base in Biloxi, Ms. When my son called to tell us that they were being evacuated to the base shelters we didn't think much about it, afterall, this was the third hurricane that he had been through since being stationed there. When I got up Tuesday morning I didn't rush to turn on the news, I just assumed that everything was okay. I don't watch alot of news so I hadn't been tracking the storm. Finally I decided to turn on the TV and see what was going on and the first thing I heard was that Biloxi had been hit the hardest and that Keesler Air Force base was severly damaged.

My husband and I could not reach him on his cell phone so we decided to go to the base website and see if there was any information. It said that the base had sustained a direct hit and was severly damaged. We heard on the news that they were asking people to stop trying to call on cell phones because we were not going to get through and it was disrupting the emergency communications. At that point there was nothing to do but wait.

Several tense hours went by......no word. The news reports were getting worse and worse. Fianlly late that day my son was able to patch through and get in touch with us to tell us they were okay. I know that in the hours after the hurricane until we received word, was the worst time in my life. I think that not knowing if your children, or any other family member, is okay is the worst feeling in the world. I went through this for just a few hours, I know there are some who over a week later have no idea where there family members are. It's heartbreaking.

In order to keep me away from the TV, I decided to take action. In addition to being a yoga teacher, I am also a seamstress. I sat down at my embroidery machine and made a bunch of support ribbon pins. I have been selling them for $5.00 a peice and sending the money to the American Red Cross. If any one is interested in purchasing a pin please contact me at kat@activekatyoga.com. As a mother of a survivor, I KNOW how important it is to get everyone's lives back. Please help in any way you can. Please keep your thoughts and prayers going, this is not going to be an easy fix, once the media attention has died don't let the help die."

Kat

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"Yes, we are grieving for all the disaster and suffering in our beloved home of New Orleans. It's been a shocking event for everyone who lives in New Orleans. My family lost their home and we have heard there was significant flooding on the street where my wife and I live. We are hopeful that our yoga studio - Wild Lotus Yoga - may have escaped with minimal damage. Our hope is that the studio wasn't flooded, that wind damage was minimal and there hasn't been any looting. All of our teachers evacuated safely and are now scattered across the country. We have been praying for all our neighbors who suffered so much in the aftermath of the storm.

We are being told that it could be three months or more before we can return home. Because I can't go home right now to teach and run the studio, I have decided to embark on a kirtan concert tour of yoga studios across the country to help raise funds for my family, for the hopeful resurrection of Wild Lotus Yoga, and for The Red Cross. There's so much
to sing for. I've already received many invitations from yoga studios and the schedule is being put together as we speak. We are leaving today for our first kirtan benefit concert in Asheville, North Carolina, will be in the Northeast through mid-October and then touring the West Coast in late October and November. ...Folks can find out more about the tour at http://www.seanjohnsonkirtan.com and about Wild Lotus Yoga here.

When Katrina hit, we were nearly finished with an extensive
renovation, doubling the size of our second classroom. The weekend we evacuated, our local weekly published the results of their annual "Best Of New Orleans" poll and we were named 'Best Place To Take A Yoga Class In New Orleans' for the third year in a row. The future of New Orleans is unclear right now, but our hope is to be an integral part of a renaissance there after this tragedy. I've been thinking a lot about a line from a wonderful Rumi poem called "The Guest House" lately: 'Even if a crowd of sorrows comes and violently sweeps your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.'

Thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers."

Om Shanti

Sean Johnson

Founder, Wild Lotus Yoga

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"We are all fine here and still up and running. I think however that we are about the only yoga center left in this region of the world right now! Our area was just a little west of the center of the storm and so we were mercifully spared...

We would be happy to welcome displaced yoga students and teachers from any of the hurricane affected regions to our center. And it is our policy that classes for these students be free of charge for as long as they are with us."

Namaste


Meredith Wright


Kundalini Yoga Center of Houma

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"See the website for Veterans for Peace. It really is worth your support. What they're doing in Covington (near New Orleans) is a miracle! What this government hasn't done is simply bad karma. No ifs ands or buts. Let's meditate on that."

Michelene Landseadel

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"As a New Orleans native I have experienced many hurricanes in the past twenty five years. Never could I have imagined anything like this. About four years ago I left New Orleans to break away from my party minded lifestyle so many New Orleanians live day to day. I decided to move to Hammond, a small town 50 something miles north of the Big Easy, to begin my college career. Yoga slowly became a huge part of my life, and eventually I was drafted by my yoga teachers to begin teaching.

When Katrina was nearing the shores I figured it would be much like all the other hurricanes I've witnessed in my lifetime. My close family members and myself stayed ten miles north at a friends home to wait out the storm. Never could I have imagined that thirty foot high oak trees would be ripped from the ground by wind before my eyes, or that those trees would knock out power and water and highways. I felt the wind push me around and watched shingles fly off roofs like leaves.

The day after the storm I was able to make my way back into town to see my apartment and check out the power and water situation there. To my surprise the entire roof was ripped off the apartment building I rent in. The good news was that I had water! We heard a report on the radio that life was not sustainable in south east Louisiana, and so we decided to leave.

My father in Marietta, GA took the four of us in. We figured it would be better to get out of there than be four more people scrounging from water, food, and support. I have spent countless hours thinking about the tragedies at home, and wondering if the Yoga School in Covington (that I hold so dear to my heart) was still standing. It broke my heart to see on the news how so many people at home were suffering while I was in the comforts of my father's home. For the first time in my life I have felt guilty for having a bed to sleep in, hot food to eat, water to drink and a hot shower to bathe with.

It has been wonderful to visit with my father and five brothers and sisters I see only every two years or so. It has truly enriched my life to know a home away from my home. Deep in my heart I miss my home. I want to go home and help rebuild and get things back to normal.

I have had the opportunity to volunteer at the Red Cross Shelter near here. It is good to see people still smiling and joking after they have lost everything and been through hell to get here. I feel useless most of the time I spend there, but hopefully my presence helps some.

This experience showed me how much my yoga practice and the study of yoga philosophy has helped me deal. I was able to practice detachment in a major way. I left behind all my belongings, besides a few changes of clothes and my mat. Even my car is sitting unattended at my apartment building. I have not heard from many of my friends from New Orleans or Hammond. I do admit I miss them, and all of my wonderful yoga students.

I know that when I return on Saturday life will be back to it's hectic quasi-normality, but that is the kind of chaos that keeps us evolving and growing. I will have missed teaching two weeks of (18) classes, not to mention attending all my academic courses at Southeastern Louisiana University. I will have to immediately find a new apartment to make my home. I will have tons of make up work to do. I will have many lessons to plan to heal the hearts and spirits of my students.

I don't know how I will do it, but as a New Orleanian I will make it somehow. We survive, no matter what. I will continue to live everything: the love, the intensity, the sadness, and the struggle."

Bianca Chumley

bianca6040@yahoo.com

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"This time last week, I was safe in Little Rock Arkansas, having to evacuate the day before with my yoga mat, two teenage boys, my 25-year old parrot, and my fat cat from Slidell, LA.

As we waited with uncertainty to the fate of New Orleans, Slidell, Mississippi and surrounding areas, I found comfort in my meditation, my asanas and my readings of Yoga Journal. My family commented on how calm I was and how great I was handling such a drastic change in my boys and my life...

I recently found out that my home is still standing with minor damage. My losses were comparatively few. And as everyone adjusts to their temporary new home (and schools) I was keep my yoga practice near and close to my heart."

Namaste,

Donna Penny

Slidell, LA


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"My two friends and I (all New Orleans school teachers) evacuated together to Lafayette, LA. where we had the key to a small unfurnished room. When we got there the room was full of roaches and w/o a stick of furniture except a dirty mattress on the floor. I slept in the car for 3 nights. Each morning we went to the local bakery "Southside Bakery" to have coffee and stare at the TV.

On the 3rd. morning the young owner came over to our table and offered us his house. It made all the difference having a clean bed and a place to cook and wash our few clothes and try to figure out what to do next. I am forever grateful to this young man.

francara@att.net

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"Namaste. Greetings from Laurel Mississippi. I signed up with the disaster effort two weeks ago and have been in Mississippi for almost that long. I am a RYT in Integrative Yoga Therapy. I am also a certified counselor and signed up for mental health. So far my yoga teaching has been with my small group of co workers. We spend long days and are helping Gulf residents deal with the paperwork of getting immediate relief. I have had moments of intense sense of gining and oneness in allowing myself to bear witness, to listen to peoples stories of loss, of fear. We try to do a practice daily it is not always feasible due to work hours and living conditions which are great but not always appropriate for asana class. I am blessed to be here."

laura hardesty

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"My husband and I and my son from Houston have made 2 trips to Biloxi ferrying supplies and helping with clean up at family homes. I have a brother who only has a slab left. He and his wife are teachers and they are homeless and fighting the effects of the stress while trying to teach.
My parents (89 and 85) lost most all their possessions as 8 feet of water roared through their home. It is still standing (miracle?) but we cleaned out about 6 inches of horribly smelling mud. Still working on that. There were parts of other houses in their yard and in their house we found furniture that did not beling to them. Most family pictures were destroyed which is sad in that my parents have been married for over 60 years and Dad was retired military pilot with many decorations and medals still to be found. To see them looking at the rubble and knowing they were thinking that their entire life record had been washed away. BUT - there were so many blessings in all this. We have about 35 family members there in the area and ALL are safe. Most family homes are repairable and most still have jobs (though not all).

I think the most wonderful experience of this whole tragedy is to see the way people along the Miss. Gulf Coast have stood tall and cared for their own. We did not hear ONE complaint about government laxity, or cries of prejudice. EVERYONE is helping each other. No color or ecomomic barriers. So sad to see other places caught up in this waste of precious energy.

Spiritually the Ms Coast is rallying and no one wants to be called a VICTIM They call themselves survivors.
Some businesses are already opening and though there are some shortages everyone I talked with seemed to be managing with whatever was available. The organizations that were giving out food, clothing, and supplies were doing a fantastic job. The few glitches that were occuring were understandable under the circumstances and no one voiced any frustrations because of them. The local newspaper THE SUN HERALD as of this date is still giving papers away.
The residents stand in long lines for everything but no one is complaining. The citizens are grateful for the efforts of police, military, and relief workers. NO ONE in my hearing has voiced negativity.

I realize that there are many who are suffering from PTSD (some of my family as well) but I am confident that they will rally as they put some time between themselves and the event. Most people seem to be able to voice their saddness and no one is discounting any feelings of depression.
I personally am so very thankful for the safety of my family and the way they have stood tall through this experience. And for the extended family from all over the country who have sent money and supplies to be used for the needs of family and others.

We will be making another trip to the area in 10 days with more hard to find items (such as fly paper! - the biting flies are horrible!) and we will continue to be part of the clean up and rebuilding. It is a blessing to be useful in times like these. It certainly puts priorites in order!
Lastly but most important are the continuing prayers of people all over the world. The positive energy is felt everywhere and it is causing healing on a moment by moment basis."

ncs@nancysonnier.com

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"I am a Chicago native, who, up until two years ago, lived in Pass Christian and had a yoga studio in Bay St Louis. This last several weeks have been some of the most grueling I have ever endured. Remaining close to many people there, it has been hard waiting for word, much less the frustration with the media and our government and just wishing I could be there to help. The people there are like none I have ever met and I learned so much from them. I learned how to slow down. I learned how to be nice again. I learned how to care.

My time on the coast was one of the most important points in my life - away from everything that I knew, I grew tremendously. My life would not be the same had I not gone down there with my ex. We left Chicago in six days to be with my ex's estranged father who lived in Pass Christian. What I consider to be my official pratice began when I moved there - it helped me to adjust and remain calm during the major changes we both were going through.

One thing leading to another, my massage therapist/instructor, Magnus Eklund opened Mind & Body Inc in April 2000 which eventually led to three studios on the coast, Mind & Body Inc, Mind & Body of Ocean Springs and Mind & Body in the Bay. We were the first studios on the coast. None of the three of us were from the coast, but for different reasons had been brought there. It was not always easy at first, but worth every minute. We all learned so much about ourselves, about others, about love. I returned to Chicago to be with family and begin my Master training with Rod Stryker. Cheryl Catranbone (M&B of Ocean Springs) recently relocated to Washington, DC, an Anusara affiliate, soon to be Anusare Certified. And Magnus recently moved the studio and reopened Mind & Body Inc.

After the storm he heard the studio was gone - he was going to stay in Jackson where he and his wife had evacuated. However, the studio is intact and he has or will begin holding classes. We had a great community there and I know the divine intervened so that the people that were brought together through the studio could come back to support each other. Unfortunately, Bay St Louis was not so lucky. However, my friend Sally Weber who took over when I left is still there and I hear her building is ok, but not sure about classes.

Thanks for being here, this is the first time I have been able to write any of this down since the storm. You were with me when I first moved there - I still have all my issues. I have more to say, but not right now. I saw the article on small towns and I hope that maybe one day you'all will revisit and add the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
And Magnus and Sally could use everyone's prayers while they continue spreading the word. Or if anyone wants to help, I think Magnus may be using the studio as some sort of relief station.
If not for my practice, I do not think I would have gotten through all this.
Thanks again for being here and listening.

missmoonmiaden@msn.com

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"I am a yoga instructor in Baton Rouge, La., just 50 miles from New Orleans. I, like so many other people in this storm ravaged area, am trying to cope with a very strange and new way of life.

When the storm hit on Monday, August 29, my husband, son, and in-laws from New Orleans rode it out like so many other times before. This one was very different. This was the storm forcasters had been predicting would devastate New Orleans. The predictions could not have been more true. Approximately 1 million people are now displaced. The capitol city of Louisiana, Baton Rouge, with a population of about 450,000, overnight grew to an estimated 700,000-800,000. One can just imagine the logistics of this situation.

I feel like I am doing what I can, assisting in one of the local shelters,and donating an apartment's worth of furniture and provisions to a family who lost their home. I am also continuing to teach my yoga classes at one of the local YMCA's. Sometimes I lose my focus when I am stuck in traffic for an hour {a jaunt that would have normally taken 15-20 minutes}, but then I stop and realize that my family's together,and we have a great home with food, beds, clean water, and electricity. Our lives have changed, but overall, we are blessed. It's about living in the moment and taking one day at a time."

Namaste


kcdecastro@cox.net

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