by Monique Parker
Fourteen months ago, Carrie Leven, an archeologist with the Carson National Forest Service and yoga novice, started attending my community classes at the gym in Questa with the admirable dedication of a seasoned aspirant. Fast forward over a year later: she will receive her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Certification at UNM-Taos this December, and, on top of that, she is already nearly half way through her 500-hour Yoga Therapy Certification.
“After doing yoga for a year I feel transformed physically and mentally. I feel calm, clear-headed, with things falling into place without my effort,” said Leven, who attends two to three yoga classes a week. “I remember my first class with Monique. At the beginning she said something like, ‘Bring your attention away from the outside world and begin to draw your awareness inward—toward your breath.’ It resulted in such a peaceful and connected state that I was hooked.”
Diagnosed with osteoporosis, Carrie read that yoga could help in building strong bones. She started taking yoga with me in July of 2011 with this in mind, as well as to compliment her other activities: Zumba, ice-skating, and the hiking required in her job. “In addition to gaining flexibility, strength, and balance, I’ve also gotten a lot of psychological benefit from practicing yoga,” Leven added. “The chanting is definitely a big part of it. The more I chant, the calmer I feel. I’m not so reactive to situations.”
Last year Leven had a noticeable bump on the back of her neck where vertebrae were compressed. She experienced stiffness, a hunched posture, and frequent numbness in her arm and hand. “I sit at the computer a lot, writing archaeology reports,” Leven explained.
The asymmetrical yoga exercises have helped her to keep her spine elongated, which has reduced the pain she was regularly experiencing. “I noticed last month that my neck has lengthened and my posture has improved significantly. Even the bump on my neck is almost gone,” said Leven.
One position that has helped her realign her upper body is using “cactus arms”, where the arms are bent at the elbows and pulled in towards the ribs in postures such as warrior. Other positions that helped increase the mobility in her back are seated twist and cobra (a prone facing back bend), which she practices daily.
“Yoga has helped me to know myself better. I hope to share what I’ve learned about yoga with others,” she said. Anyone who knows Carrie will tell you her words are golden. Always willing to lend a hand or help somebody who is less fortunate, it comes as no surprise that Carrie was nominated as one the “Remarkable Women of Taos”.
At a young age, Carrie’s parents instilled in her the value of community service through their local Catholic church. “My mom and dad still do a lot of charity work to feed and clothe the poor and homeless,” she said.
Carrie volunteers for a number of causes. She and husband Monte Doeren help to raise awareness about the cost of war with Taos Veterans for Peace, a non-profit group that meets weekly at the Metta Theatre. On weekends and after work she and local volunteers are rebuilding the St. Anthony’s Church in Questa, one adobe brick at a time. And she writes war memorials for the Daily Kos, a liberal political blog.
“I’ve written nearly 100 war memorials. Publicizing American war fatalities is my protest of war and prayer for peace. I write the memorials to remember and honor the soldier who died, and for their families and friends who might read it,” she added.
The first war memorial Leven wrote was for her friend Joey Gallegos, who died in Iraq almost three years ago. Joey had asked her to write a memorial for him in case he died there. “I’ve had family members thank me for writing about their loved ones. It means a lot to them that a stranger would care enough to take the time to write about their son or daughter or spouse.”
What is remarkable about Carrie Leven is that she not only practices yoga now out of conviction for the physical and psychological benefits, but that she consistently models for our community a pleasant disposition and true charity.
“I like that everybody can do yoga,” Leven said. “You can always find 20 minutes a day, whether in the morning, at the office, before bed, or any time you feel stressed, sore, tired, or stiff, to breathe and reinvigorate your mind and body.”
*First appeared in The Taos News on September 20, 2012