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The Journey Within

#HerStory with Dhawi Pienta

Though I had lived in Toledo during my college years at UT, adjusting to the cultural differences and settling into the new life here in Toledo as a permanent immigrant from Indonesia was completely something new to me. Looking back, experiencing a grieving process of leaving my family, friends, and home country permanently that seemed to cause me a mild depression and extreme self-consciousness of being a stranger and a foreigner in this country was something I didn’t know I strongly struggled with. But I knew I always felt so disconnected from myself internally and I missed a large piece of happiness inside.

Not until the Summer of 2003, I stumbled upon the door to a long journey that would change my life forever. I went to my first yoga class without any expectation or even images of what it would look like, but I instantly felt a deeper sense of calmness and connectedness to myself that made me want to keep coming back to that space. Since then, it was the beginning of my journey and I have never looked back. In some ways, I believed that yoga had found me that day and saved my life at the time I needed it the most. Even though I worked in a corporate world, I also had tried to become an entrepreneur at some point, and I had raised a wonderful family, I kept searching for my own happiness, stability in a deeper sense of trust and connectedness to myself.

Week after week, month after month, year after year, whenever I show up on top of my mat, I could feel that it’s the only place I could surrender to a timeless space that allows me to be who I am with everything I have in that present moment. It allows me to experience all that shows up in my physical, mental, and emotional realms, and to let it all just be.

Fast forward to the year 2014, the consistency of my yoga practice through the years had brought me to another level of confidence that I never thought I had before. So I decided to deepen my personal journey by taking the 200Hr Yoga Teacher Training, and another 100Hr YTT right after. Slowly I began to feel more and more comfortable being in my own skin to share this practice with others because I knew how it had saved and changed my life in many ways. So I started teaching yoga classes a few days a week at Yogaja Yoga and Toledo Yoga, and I wanted to give other people the chance to try and experience their first yoga practice with me, in the hope it would affect their lives in some ways too.

The more I practiced and taught yoga, the more I couldn't resist the urge to walk in this path even deeper and answer the calls to follow my passion and keep pursuing my purpose in life. Then in 2015, I met my first Ashtanga Yoga teacher, Taylor Hunt, right exactly on my 40th birthday. It’s too good to be true when they say “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” because I couldn't believe it really was not meant to be. Since then, I have taken a year-long Ashtanga Yoga mentorship program under his guidance in Columbus, Ohio, along with a few other Ashtanga intensive programs and workshops led by many different teachers.

Through this experience of being a yoga student, not only did I gain knowledge inside and outside of this Ashtanga lineage, it gave me the courage to bring home the gift to start our own Ashtanga Yoga community here in Toledo. In October 2016, Ashtanga Yoga Toledo (AYT) was born, and it is the first and only traditional practice of Ashtanga Yoga available in Toledo as it was originally taught in its birthplace in Mysore, India. We started as a small group of students practicing together before sunrise a few mornings a week in the beginning, but before long, it became a daily practice and our AYT community continued to grow and thrive in supporting each other’s practice goals and struggles. To this day, we are not just a community, AYT is a family.

While I continued teaching and sharing this traditional Ashtanga Yoga practice here in Toledo, my personal journey as a yoga student myself also continued knocking on more doors of opportunity along the way. I have had the utmost gratitude to be able to travel around the world and meet many other amazing Ashtanga Yoga students and teachers to practice with, study, and learn from through the years.

But, ultimately, this practice has led me to the one place that many Ashtanga Yoga students and teachers are heading to where it all began, to Mysore, India. In 2019, I have finally made my trips to study and practice directly under my teacher, R. Sharath Jois, the grandson of the founder of Ashtanga Yoga himself, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, twice in that year and stayed for 3 months in total. My trips would have not been possible if I didn't have the love and support from my family and my AYT community. For that, I’m beyond humbled and grateful. In return, I know I will only continue to be a student of yoga while sharing my practice with others who want to reap the benefits of this life-changing practice.

One of the main reasons why I keep practicing yoga is so that I can show up at the best version of myself, not only to my students and my surroundings but most importantly, to my family. My journey would have not been the same without the love, trust, and support that my husband (Dave) and my son (Devyn) provide me all along. They have been my foundation from the beginning, my anchor for everything that I do. Not only do they teach me so many lessons about life, but they also give me the utmost opportunity and experience to be a wife and a mother for the rest of my life. So many things have changed since we got married almost 21 years ago, even now that Devyn is almost 16 years old, it will only keep improving for many years to come. In my heart, I am beyond blessed that I would have never been able to take it for granted, even if I want to, how grateful and honored I am to be a part of my amazing little family who lets me follow my passion and be authentic the way I am in this world.

Every day, when I’m on my mat, I could not help to witness the changes that this yoga practice has brought me a glimpse of happiness, acceptance, and gratitude for being who I truly am, and it only continues to grow from the inside. The practice has helped me navigate the life that I am no longer defined by the person I was almost 20 years ago. It is a long journey within where I finally feel like I belong, a home no matter where I am. As I have gained self-awareness and trust that my heart will always lead me in the right direction, my purpose in life will only continue to grow to be of service to others through this yoga practice.


Dhawi was born in Jakarta, Indonesia. She graduated from UT in 1998 with a BA degree in Communication. She permanently moved back to Toledo in 2000. Besides practicing and teaching Ashtanga Yoga, she is currently studying Ayurvada and recently completed Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies. Since the pandemic, Dhawi is still leading the Ashtanga Yoga Toledo and teaching her classes in a private setting.

Photo credits:

Headshots photos by Mary Wyar for Yogaja Yoga

Yoga poses photos by Sneha Kondapally - Mysore, India.

**Thank you, Dhawi for sharing your story.

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