Dawn Yager, 36, transferred to Coastal Carolina University from Ball State University in Indiana in 1998, in pursuit of a degree in neuropsychology. Somewhere along the way, she experienced a paradigm shift and left during her senior year to enter the Kriya Yoga Seminary in Chicago, the culmination of years of study under the late Goswami Kriyananda, founder of the Temple of Kriya Yoga there.
She became an ordained swami in 2012, taking on the name Swami Ambikananda.
Many know Yager as owner of Shanti Yoga in Myrtle Beach, which has been open for eight years.
“Bringing an individual intellectually and emotionally back into balance is my focus,” she said. “About seven years into taking different courses and starting to train with psychotherapists, I started to realize that I wanted to rewire the brain instead of covering up the feelings.”
Although she sees the importance of psychoanalysis, medication and behavioral therapy, she said she takes the yogic approach to psychotherapy - using the breath and the body as tools to rewire the brain.
“I work with people that a lot of the times are experiencing a great deal of suffering that they kind of brought on themselves through lifestyle, habits or whatever it may be. We are all addicted to something,” she said, adding that she works with people to allow themselves to experience suffering through the body and to learn tools to still their minds.
“Therefore, their lives become easier because they know how to manage external suffering.”
Through the practice of yoga, Yager said she has seen many people come out of depression, anxiety and fear.
“Everything inside of you is good and whole and sweet and peaceful,” she said. “So anything that you feel that is not that tells you how far away from your center you have moved.”
She admits that some of the techniques she uses are not always comfortable and that she is not always kind.
“I use these techniques to bring you back to a state of wellness. The reason that it works so quickly is because it is so uncomfortable.”
Yager had been teaching all over the Grand Strand before Shanti Yoga came into the picture – in parks, on the beach, the YMCA or perhaps a student’s house.
“People were literally following me to all of these places, and they were getting sick of it. A group of them got together, took me to lunch and basically gave me the money to open the space.”
The space is a product of the teachings and not a product of business – although Yager ran many retail outfits in the past.
“You can own a studio and hire teachers, or you can basically put doors on your heart,” she said. “You run it, you own it, you teach it and you love it – all of that. This is my path and I can’t do anything else. My heart won’t let me.”
Classes at Shanti Yoga include all levels of expertise.
“I only hold open-level classes. In one class, you will literally see somebody laying on the floor, gasping for air – and the next person rocking a handstand. The issue isn’t how much or how little you know,” she said. “Your issue is whatever you walked in with. So some people are tense, some people are depressed or have anxiety. Some people don’t work hard enough and some people work too hard. People don’t always like it, but if they hang with me for two months, they are shocked at how far they have come.”
In July, Yager will be speaking in the Chicago area at the Institute of Noetic Sciences’ 16th international conference. Noetic sciences are defined by the institute as “a multidisciplinary field that brings objective scientific tools and techniques together with subjective inner knowing to study the full range of human experiences.”
“I am one of the ‘up and coming noetic scientists,’ bridging the gap between spirituality and science.”
Shanti Yoga has been connected with the Native Sons Salt Games since its inception three years ago, and will return this weekend with Morning Beach Yoga.
“This is kind of the one time of year that you see what we are doing outside. Our students finally get some fresh air. We get people who walk up off the beach and just put their towel down and start practicing. It’s really fun, and I think the students know I’m going to be having a little more fun,” she said.
Yager also studies under Sri Dharma Mittra at Dharma Yoga Center in New York City.
“I am taking yogis there on an upcoming retreat,” she says.
She lives in Myrtle Beach with husband Brian Yager and two daughters – Nya, 12, and Cheyenne, 14.
Know of a local with an interesting job or career that should be given the Working 4 a Living treatment? Contact Roger Yale at email@example.com.