"I am the hero of this story." – Maria
Maria’s story is one of faith and perseverance. Her story begins in Seoul, Korea, where she was born. She looked after herself and her younger brother for years until her absentee mother finally put her up for adoption at age eight. Later, living a new life in NJ with her adoptive family, Maria was diagnosed as bi-polar at age twelve. In effort to emerge from a young life filled with instability, she left home at age fifteen. Strong-willed and fiercely independent, Maria has never been a follower.
It’s hard to imagine that Maria, now a paragon of balance and restraint, spent her younger years plagued with addiction and drug abuse. She knows the struggle of emerging from the darkness of de-toxing and staying clean for eighteen years. It’s extraordinary that the broken and abused body of a drug addict can house the most powerful spiritual connection if there is enough faith.
Maria first dabbled in yoga as a teenager. She rediscovered the practice after her marriage of twelve years came to an end. About this Maria says “there’s a place and a reason for every person that comes into our lives.” They had three beautiful children together, but she could no longer be what her partner needed. Following her divorce, Maria undertook a yoga training program as a spiritual and mental journey to heal herself. She also committed to three years of celibacy. What she never expected was to later guide so many others on their own journeys through the physical practice of yoga.
Addiction takes you to the worst places – places that live on into sobriety. Maria believes that internal growth and healing can only result from embracing the darkness within. She says “being open to the darkness allows you to be open to the light.” Her daily yoga practice allows her to be vulnerable; it is a coping tool. Thankfully, Maria has been in recovery for 18 years. Maria is tiny but her body is a temple of mental and physical strength. She is a warrior.
Maria’s entire back and right arm are awash in subtle grey shaded work. These many tattoos look integrated into one beautiful grey sheath covering her right arm and draping down her back, much like the most elegant body armor you’ve ever seen. All of Maria’s struggles and self-learnings are illustrated here. It’s a storybook of self-awareness.
A lotus flower blooms across her back– a symbol of purity. At the center of this flower sits a girl with half of her face hidden. The sun rises behind the girl. It is miraculous how flowers find the strength to grow through the darkness of the dirt up and into the light of the sky. The closing of every day is marked with a sunset. And each sunrise is a renewal. A chance to begin anew. Maria completed this narrative piece when she was 18 months clean.
Quan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion is rooted on Maria’s right forearm. Her name means “one who regards, looks on, and hears the sounds of the world.” She stayed behind on the threshold heaven to help those in suffering. Maria draws strength through her prayers to Quan Yin, Goddess of Compassion. "Faith" is written in simple script below Quan Yin. Of this Maria says, “Faith, faith, faith. Have it. Make it strong and present in your life.”
Maria plans to continue on her left arm with work inspired by mandala art. Sanskrit for “circle” or “complete,” mandalas are a Buddhist meditative tool representation of the universe.
Simplicity and comfort is at the core of Maria’s style. I find her wrapped in beautifully draped layers to teach class. She has an elegance of style that compliments her body. Her long jet black locks are always tied up in bun and I’ve never seen her wear a stitch of makeup. She is unfussy and she is authentically herself. And that's all she needs to be because the natural beauty of her presence is always there in the moment.
She has a love for classic American vintage style of the 50s and 60s era. Maria lives in the style genre I would describe as a blend of Audrey Hepburn's refinement with James Dean's laid-back and rebellious attitude. When she shops, it is for t-shirts online or interesting finds at smaller retailers. Not surprisingly, she enjoys the search for unique pieces. The silver ring she wears is a lotus flower. Maria prefers to shop for jewelry and accessories through socially responsible fair trade organizations. Her mala beads, made from the seeds of the rudraksha tree, were gifted to her from a Hindu client. Said to offer the protection of Lord Shiva, as well as healing benefits, Maria uses these beads for spiritual prayer.
Maria has a few body goals. Using her yoga practice, she is working towards gaining more flexibility and openness in her shoulders and back. Developing strength in her core is another focus in her practice. She is committed to a vegan/gluten free diet for overall health and wellness. It is a consistent goal of hers to be more conscious of what she puts into her body. All of these diet and training improvements will assist her in building the strength and endurance she needs to complete her first mud run later this year.
Maria possesses an open and accepting disposition, finding inspiration in both the positive and negative thoughts, words and actions of others. It is her belief that everyone has something to share with the world. We make a choice to remain receptive to the people that surround us. Maria encourages people not to have expectations of how others should live. Through this way of living, she says people inspire her to "do more, strive to be a better person, be more grateful, stay humble, forgive more often, love without limitations and expectations and live life to the fullest in every second and every moment."
Maria’s three children are her spiritual leaders.
Embracing inversion. You have to have faith in your body to let yourself lose control of it.
Photo Credit: Brian Motzenbecker at Simply Photography simplyphotographynj.com
Written By: Elizabeth F. Murphy
Clothing and Accessories: model's own