A Tribute to my Grandma

Letting the last breath come. 
Letting the last breath go. 
Dissolving, dissolving into vast space, 
the light body released from its heavier form. 
A sense of connectedness with all that is, 
all sense of separation dissolved 
in the vastness of being. 
Each breath melting into space 
as though it were the last.
– Stephen Levine

Young grandma gonzales

I sat by my maternal grandmother’s deathbed on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

She started dying 14 years ago, immediately after the death of my grandpa, her beloved husband whom she adored and followed around the world — raising their three children in Guam and Puerto Rico, as well as in several US cities — wherever his Air Force career took them. High school sweethearts, at the time of his death, they’d been married for sixty years. When he died, after a few painful years of Parkinson’s disease, dementia and ultimately lung cancer, she seemed to lose her will to live.

My aunt, daughter and I sat by her bedside, where she lay breathing lightly and barely opening her eyes. Together, we chanted Om Mani Padme Hum and then I sang the Warrior Seed Syllables. She seemed to react to the sacred sounds. She seemed to want to move but no longer had the strength to sit up.

Since I encountered yoga and the dharma, these Eastern teachings have resonated with me so much more than Christianity ever did. In fact, I left the Catholic Church at age ten and never looked back, to my mom’s dismay. I never could get on board with all the talk of saints, sin and salvation. The image of the gaunt, pale Jesus with a crown of thorns hanging on the crucifix was not appealing to me.

I cheerfully went along with First Communion but drew the line at Confession, flat out refusing to participate in the sacrament. I continued being dragged along to the dreadful hour of Mass on most but not all Sundays until I moved out on my own.

Now, love is my religion and writing, yoga and mindfulness are my daily sacraments.

Grandma’s dementia set in slowly. I remember my heart breaking as she told me probably ten years ago that she was conscious of losing her memory and expressed her powerlessness to hold on to her mind’s clarity.

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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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