Mary Beth O.

Yoga gives a former criminal prosecutor a new way to support individuals and communities.

For 18 years, I was a criminal prosecutor, trying homicides and sexual assaults. I was essentially the voice of the victims, telling their stories in the most impactful way in order to create, with each case, another small measure of justice and safety. It was deeply meaningful work, but it required me to lock away a certain aspect of myself in order to be this hard, driven person.

I had practiced yoga before and had been to Kripalu, but when I came in 2008 for a program with Stephen Cope, it was a turning point. I realized that it was time for me to make a change. I left my job that same year, and came back to Kripalu for yoga teacher training in 2010. I’ve been teaching ever since, and my work is still about empowerment. Before, I served as the voice for others; now, I get to help others find their voice. When I was a prosecutor, my mission was to build healthier communities, and I’m still doing that, in a whole different way.

I work with three primary populations: teenagers, frontline providers, and the elderly. I have four children of my own, and I spent many years in juvenile court, so working with adolescents is a calling that’s close to my heart. I teach in community colleges, private schools, and low-income schools, sharing the tools of yoga and mindfulness. We can shore up academic skills all day long but, until we build that container of resilience, students will continue to fail, because they haven’t changed their thinking and their beliefs. How wonderful would life be if we all got that message early on that we are valuable, that we are not alone?

As a trauma thriver (not just a survivor), I have a visceral understanding of how the Kripalu approach can increase well-being and functionality for those with post-traumatic stress disorder or who face vicarious trauma every day—military veterans, therapists and their clients, law enforcement and other frontline providers. When yoga can help you sleep through the night or feel joy in your body again, that is incredibly powerful.

My father, who had Alzheimer’s for 10 years before he died, was in many ways my greatest teacher. During my time as his caretaker, my yoga practice took on new meaning, adding depth and presence to the process of aging and dying, and expanding the notion of living life fully to include embracing frailty, loss, and permanent physical separation as part of the natural cycle of life. Today, I bring the lessons of that experience to my work in assisted living facilities, where I teach chair yoga, meditation, and yoga nidra.

A home ideally roots you and frees you. Many of us call Kripalu home. Over the years, yoga has allowed me to rediscover my indomitable spirit, and opened me to the wonder and mystery of life. My education taught me how to make a living, but Kripalu taught me how to live.

—Mary Beth O., Easthampton, Massachusetts