My Journey Towards Becoming a Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist

Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Blog - Sarah Bustamante

When I first began practicing yoga in 2005, I was in the midst of what I would describe as an early-life crisis. I was in my mid-twenties and had just cut myself off from an emotionally abusive relationship that ended with me being granted a victim protective order. The mental effects left me feeling as if I were a mere shell of a person. Any clarity of mind or harmony I once felt with the universe was lost in what I felt to be a short- circuit between my mind and body. This disconnect was literally causing my body to become inoperable, manifesting itself most intensely as panic attacks and as a rare neurological voice disorder called adductor spasmodic dysphonia. My throat felt as if someone had taken a death grip around it, leaving me sounding like I was being strangled to death anytime I’d open my mouth to speak. Instead of a clear, steady stream of sound, each word I spoke sounded like a series of interrupted dots and dashes. This was my wake-up call and a pivot-point in my life.

As I sought help from a laryngologist and a voice specialist, I found that the medical community has yet to understand what causes the voice disorder and therefore treats only the symptoms through periodic injections of botulinum toxin (Botox), administered by needle through the esophagus and into the muscles surrounding the vocal cords, causing temporary paralysis to ease the spasms. Injections would need to be administered once every three months for as long as I wanted to maintain a new-normal sounding voice. I did this one time before I made the decision to get to the root of the problem, not just treat the symptoms. I had a hunch that whatever was causing my voice problems had something to do with the state of my emotions and my relationship to myself and that the healing process should begin from the inside out.

I had just recently returned to college as an art major and decided to enroll in a semester-long hatha yoga class. Around the same time I sought out a local buddhist meditation class that met once a week at a local library. Hatha yoga taught me how to listen more closely to my body and to delve deeper into the source of the tension, while buddhist meditation taught me how to eradicate negative thought processes and maintain clearer thinking. When combining both practices, I began to feel a profound transformation taking place. What began as two separate avenues merged onto my yoga mat at home where I began spending more and more time moving and practicing internal listening. The more I practiced, the more my inflictions seemed to melt away. As my panic attacks nearly ceased and my vocal spasms settled into an improved and more tolerable baseline, a personal revelation sprung into being. I had a sense of waking up to a new me, or perhaps reintroducing myself to a part of me that always existed under the turmoil. As a result, I took a deeper interest in how thoughts could physically affect the body and this led to my eventual change in college majors, from art, to psychology.

Shortly after changing my major, I sought out a volunteer position in a branch of my school’s Student Counseling Center called the Stress Reduction Clinic where I was offered a paid position as its sole operator. The space I worked in consisted of computers, each housing the latest biofeedback technology for stress reduction called emWAVE by HeartMath. It was my responsibility to assist incoming students by hooking them up to a heart monitor and showing them how to use the meditation software. As a result, they were able to practice various breathing exercises, thereby reducing stress by visually seeing how their heart rate variability fluctuated in response to how they breathed. In addition, I was also given the opportunity to teach a stress reduction series which included topics such as breathing meditation, guided imagery, progressive relaxation, body awareness, music therapy, and participation in a walking labyrinth.

Throughout my studies, I consistently used psychology as a tool to understand more fully, the relationship between mind, body, and that part of us that is somehow beyond thinking. Almost every paper I wrote related back to effects of stress and meditation on the physical body. I took a special interest in humanistic psychology, focusing mostly on mindfulness, positive psychology, learned optimism, neuroplasticity, self-actualization, cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavioral therapy. I joined a research group and launched an experiment using EEG (electroencephalogram) recordings to monitor whether increasing alpha wave amplitudes in the brain (associated with wakeful relaxation) through guided meditation, decreased symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia. Though inconclusive, I learned a lot about the process of research and decided I would prefer a more direct approach in working with holistic healing.

At that time in my life, I had no idea that yoga therapy even existed. I knew I was passionate about yoga, meditation, and psychology, and had witnessed the first hand effects in my own life of how they could combine to promote healing, but I had no idea that a modality had already been developed, putting this process to work. When I found Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, I knew I had found my calling.

When developing Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, Michael Lee combined his knowledge of yoga and psychology, pulling from the wisdom of ancient yogis and the work of humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers. Along with his own personal story of healing and transformation, Michael developed a yoga experience that could be delivered in a way that increased self-awareness in a very precise way with a very simple process. What began as an experience in triangle pose, with his friend as a witness, expanded out into a one-on-one healing modality that was later found to have similar benefits when adapting the technique to more specialized groups as well as more general, and sometimes walk-in, yoga classes.

Thinking back to that pivotal point in my life, I think of how beneficial it would have been to receive Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy when I was at my weakest point. However, I realize now that no matter where a person is in their life, whether recovering from trauma, seeking a deeper connection to self, or wanting to find more meaning in life, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, no matter which approach you choose, provides a space where you can slow down, turn inward, and regain trust in your inner guidance.

Today, I am a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Teacher who works with students in the context of a class and am working towards my certification as a one-on-one practitioner and group facilitator. Driven and inspired by my application of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy in my own life, I support students in finding, trusting, and acting upon their own unique inner wisdom in order to feel balanced and whole again.

To attend a Phoenix Rising Yoga class in Oklahoma City, OK., please view my class schedule at