Become an Indestructible Warrior of Love

The majority of my yoga classes take place on a wooden platform jutting out over the shoreline, with a majestic view of the lake and the three volcanoes along the southern shore. (Shout out to Hostel del Lago in San Marcos La Laguna!)

In just about every practice I’ve led this year, I’ve been including pranayama and sound healing before final relaxation. Asana (postures) are important, but there is a depth of inner peace and transformation that is reached when pranayama and chanting are incorporated in daily practice.

Sometimes, we’ll do the consonant or vowel sounds for the crown, heart, and root chakras, in different orders depending on the day. Or, I’ll lead the students through the seed mantras for all seven of the main chakra points.

I always encourage people to join in with their voice if they feel comfortable, or just to listen, because I can clearly remember feeling freaked out by Sanskrit chanting at age 21.

I also love playing with the warrior syllables from Tibetan Buddhism. My beloved friend and yoga teacher, Paola, introduced them to me some months back in a sauna ceremony. They are amazingly powerful and beneficial.

The five warrior syllables are AOmHungRam, and Dza. Each represents a quality of realization.

Seed syllables contain the essence of enlightenment. It is subtle, not grandiose, this uncovering of the thick multitude of layers of conditioning. Yet, it empowers us to connect more and more with our true nature—pure awareness.

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What Yoga Isn’t.

Originally published on elephant journal.

“Yoga is the mere or sheer participation in the wonder of Life as it is already perfectly given.”
~ Mark Whitwell, Yoga of Heart

The word “yoga” has become popular, mainstream and confused.

The question for today is: are we practicing actual yoga? Or are we making our yoga yet another item on our endless task list, an appointment in our weekly agenda after which we can go back to being miserable?

Are we creating spiritual practice just to have something to do or to attain enlightenment or flat abs or the perfect life?

The teacher is within. A guru can light the path, but only the yogi can walk that path.

Every yogi has her own practice.

There are as many yogas as yogis.

Yoga isn’t asana.

Yoga isn’t meditation.

Yoga isn’t ethics and morals.

Yoga isn’t studying the Gita or the Sutras.

“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.” ~ Sharon Gannon

Yoga isn’t a lifestyle; yoga is life.

Yoga is not a lineage. Yoga does not require any particular equipment, apparel or paraphernalia. Yoga is not just on the mat. Yoga is not just in a studio. Yoga is not just formal practice.

Yoga isn’t the conscious inhale and exhale.

Yoga isn’t perfect balance.

Yoga isn’t New Age relaxation.

Yoga isn’t flexibility.

Yoga isn’t mindfulness.

Yoga blesses us with well being and freedom from inflexibility, weakness and chronic imbalance. Freedom from rigid beliefs about life, God and our own bodies and abilities.

Yoga is the dance of the soul, the root of the smile, the hollow center inside the space that fills the heart.

Yoga isn’t exclusive.

Yoga isn’t expensive.

Yoga isn’t a business or a marketplace or a commercial for the happy, healthy, mindful life.

Yoga is who we are and always have been.

“Yoga must be adapted to our needs, and no standardized approach will work.” ~ Mark Whitwell

We mustn’t integrate Yoga into our lives—that would be impossible, as it is already integrated. What we can do is learn certain movements, exercises and breath techniques for our body type and personality. What we can do is meditate and cultivate mindfulness and heartfulness throughout our days and years on the planet.

Yoga is realization that we are the energy to live fully, serve others and give love, kindness and compassion to all beings, including ourselves.

We are practicing everywhere, all the time, whether we know it or not.

Yoga is union.

Union of what?

Not the little self to the Big Self. Not the ego to the divine. Those are already connected, and there is no way of separating Us versus Them or me versus God.

We are nature, and nature is us. Yoga helps us realize that.

Mindfulness for Beginners: Anchoring to the Present Moment

anchorMindfulness is more than awareness of the present and “letting go of the past and future”—it’s a daily practice that helps us develop loving kindness and compassion, as well as equanimity, patience and focus.

When we think of “meditation,” we often visualize a person sitting in lotus position with their fingers perched on their knees in a certain mudra. This is one of thousands of ways we can meditate. Mindfulness meditation can be practiced in any moment, during any and every activity (or non-activity, such as sitting, lying down or standing still).

Formal practice blends into informal practice over time with intention and effort.

We become more present and feel more alive in this moment, right here, right now.

The simplest way to meditate is by finding an anchor to keep us in the present moment.

Here are some suggestions:

Candle flame/fire
Mandala creation/coloring
Listening to Music
Sounds in the environment
Writing (stream of consciousness)

The possibilities are endless! What other ways can we keep anchored to ever-changing present?

“If you think you’re free, there’s no escape possible.”Ram Dass

Read the full version on elephant journal.

Yoga, Movement & Literacy

Yoga helps students of all ages increase strength, flexibility, coordination, posture and endurance. It also improves concentration and can have a calming effect.

Yoga teaches us to look at challenges in a different way, and it helps us cultivate patience and perseverance in the face of struggle, instead of giving up.

Thousands of schools and other institutions worldwide are implementing wellness programs involving yoga. When I taught third grade in an Austin, Texas public elementary school, every morning in my classroom began with a few minutes of yoga postures on the carpet at the front of the room. I also taught my students how to meditate. We started with 30 seconds and built up to about three minutes. In Guatemala City, I practiced mindfulness at the beginning of each class with my ninth grade writing students, sharing various techniques with them, from breath awareness to visualization to focused meditation on a song.

Studies have shown yoga to improve behavior, physical health and academic performance, as well as self-worth and to reduce feelings of helplessness and aggression, and in the long term help emotional balance.

By learning and practicing the relaxing, attention-focusing techniques of yoga and meditation with students, we can give them tools for taking ownerships of their minds and enable them to concentrate on reading and writing, both for school and for pleasure.

My own history with yoga dates back to when I was just an adolescent myself. At twelve, going on thirteen, I started practicing, covertly, in my bedroom, by myself, in the evenings after dinner and before doing my homework. Yoga taught me body awareness. It taught me to pay attention. It helped me gain flexibility, balance and strength, not just of body but of mind, too. Of spirit… well, that would come with time.

In college, I started getting more into yoga. After taking my first yoga class, a one-hour Sivananda practice led by a woman named Brenda who is now known by her spiritual name, Lila, I decided, definitively, that I would become a yoga teacher, too.

Years later, when I become a professional elementary teacher, I naturally wanted to integrate yoga into my classroom procedures.

Why practice yoga with children?

Yoga enhances focus and facilitates meaningful learning and teaching moments.

A key factor in literacy is focus. Readers and writers must maintain their attention on the text, actively engaging with the words on the page as they read, thinking critically and processing information to express their ideas and feelings clearly as they write. Once students are calm, focused and engaged, they naturally become more receptive to learning and interacting with each other, as well as with the literature they are studying.

Yoga and literacy and learning go hand in hand.

Our modern world of rapid cross-cultural communication is the environment in which we now read and write, teach and learn.

Thanks to the Internet, the media and other communication technologies, we are exposed to more information than ever before in human history. With little to no training or formal education, we can see how we are different from other peoples in other cultures. However, only by reading, writing and developing literacy, can we understand why those differences exist — and that diversity makes life more, not less, beautiful.

Movement is about moving our bodies and moving our minds. Movement is yoga. Movement is mindfulness. Movement is moment-to-moment. Movement is a way of living.

Where have you traveled? What books have you read by authors from distant cultures? What are the most memorable foreign films you’ve seen? What international websites do you frequent?

By studying literature, students develop understanding of human conflict and have the chance to experience empathy for the humans that struggled so with negativity in the forms of prejudice, genocide and abuse.

By practicing yoga, we get to know ourselves and understand our range of emotions and experiences; it is a chance for us to develop compassion for ourselves and all beings.

Do you practice yoga? If so, why? How? What is yoga? What is mindfulness? In what ways can we empower ourselves and one another to slow down, focus and think critically?