The Ungrateful Prom Queen

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be someone I wasn’t. And, what’s worse, I didn’t even know I could be anything other than what I thought I was. I didn’t know I could be happier, but I felt like I could – and I should. My stress level was out of control, trying to be someone that not only met, but consistently exceeded others’ expectations. At first it felt like I was doing well accidentally (winning awards, getting straight A’s, and surrounded by friends) but eventually it became harder to maintain a record of excellence. But, this was my identity. I pushed through. Vulnerability isn’t “cool” in any setting and I didn’t want to appear weak or incapable. No one wants to hear, “I can’t handle/don’t want to take this on.” There is a reputation to uphold, grades to get, positions to win.

I was Prom Queen. Did you know that? However, I was also Class President the same year, which made me also” Chief Prom Planner.” Unlike most girls my age, I dreamed of watching the moment I was creating for the King and Queen play out; from their crowns, to their walkway, slow dance and even the variety of roses for the Queen’s bouquet. I never dreamed of being the one on the dance floor, the one receiving the crown and bouquet. The moment was beyond surreal. And, in the end, I felt somehow disappointed. I never had my moment of pride for creating the perfect moment for others. My own strange dream, or vision of what “would” happen never happened. And, somehow, I haven’t been able to feel good about that title ever since.

It’s funny and eerie, the amount of control the brain has in navigating our lives. Connotations, or neuro-pathways, reinforce our initial impression which is based on the “story” we ourselves have created. Soon enough, we create a narrative around our increasing sense of reality or opinion on a certain issue. (Political parties, for example, representing our personal narrative of what is “right” and “true”.) The stronger the neuro-pathway, the easier this idea or thought comes to the front of our minds, automatically assimilated into our personal narrative and view of reality. We can give conscious awareness to break a certain thought pattern, or perhaps a new stronger neuro-pathway of opposing view emerges from self-study, or education. Our emotional reality and even material reality (where/when/why we take action) is dictated by our inherently formed thought patterns.

Prom Queen = shame, embarrassment, undeserving. This is one of many possible realities.

This moment has passed along with many others like it. I could have been more malleable, more open, more willing to participate with, rather than against, the unfolding events before me. I could have enjoyed, thrived, allowed myself to fill with joy, awe and gratitude; but I didn’t.

So next time, I decided, I’m going to be ready.

Well, next time is now.

In an incredibly serendipitous series of events and countless misfortunes along the way, I have found myself with an amazingly compassionate and lovable pitbull – and a yoga studio…In Florida. That’s: I have a yoga studio in Florida.

After ten years in Boston and LA combined, I am back at “home” with my parents living in North Port, FL where the air is clean, the water is warm and the yoga is damn good. I’m bringing LA love and Northeast academia to SW Florida to bring traditional yoga to the people. It’s such a gift, despite any sacrifices along the way. My journey is just beginning. And, it’s my job (in yoga) to recognize that.

There is an opportunity to be grateful in every moment, not just the momentous ones. Regardless of how much you have or how much you’ve received in life, our mental wellness or self-regulation dictates our attainment of happiness. The oh-so-elusive purpose, light and self-compassion that drives every person forward can be found and maintained through practiced awareness cultivated through yoga practice.

Perhaps my “Ah-ha” moment was the idea that I could ever be unhappy in the face of magnificence. I needed to find out why and how I could find more value in every experience in my life. A journey in yoga ensued and I haven’t looked back.

Happiness isn’t in the yoga. It’s in the ability for a person to forgive themselves. To love, challenge and care for themselves. And, to learn to love all others.

I’m proud and privileged to commit to working toward this sense of discovery full-time. It’s a dream. I hear my heart say: Be present. Rejoice. The universe hears all that sh*t you’re throwing out there. Just be. Be happy.

Go easy on yourself. And know that others – even the seemingly “perfect” out there – are going through a similar process. We all just want to be in community, accepted just the way we are. Start with yourself (= meditation, yoga, self-care) and the rest will come.

Woo! Exhausted and exhilarated. So grateful for all those who have supported and stood by me along the way. The journey continues at North Port Yoga

 

xo Love,

Amy

Recovery through Ritual

This past Monday, I finished a cross-country adventure with my dog, Shakti, in a very solid 6 days, 5 nights.

The decision was only slightly less of a shock to me than it was to close friends and family. I needed a change. I saw myself slipping into unhealthy patterns. Following the nurturing replenishment of family and friends in my hometown, I allowed myself to consider and prioritize my own needs. To do this, my ego needs to step aside. Sadly, this has meant leaving behind relationships that I had come to cherish, that nourished me. Sacrifices are made when we endure change. And, I’ve learned, we can’t always know that the outcome is worth the struggle. But when we make a decision with our own best interests at heart, I believe you can’t go wrong. With this blind trust, with myself and Shakti in mind, we have arrived in Florida. We are home.

Packing up my apartment in Los Angeles and venturing across the country has reminded me of an important and enduring aspect of yoga tradition that I have found useful in my own life. When everything is turbulent and it’s impossible to see to the other side, or during a period of calm, in the eye of the storm, consistency of practice – or rituals – endure and cultivate grounding. Despite the whirling winds and monsoon rains that welcomed us on the final stint of our journey, breath stilled my mind and subtle reminders kept me present and grounded.

I mean this literally, that deep breaths seemed to arise from my chest and mouth even before I consciously recognized a potential threat. Breathing through it in this way, occasionally glancing down at the mala wrapped around my wrist, or switching over to mantra music when I felt my nerves were creeping too high, I strived to maintain balance and equilibrium (mentally and physiologically) with effortless intention.

I think of these as “passive rituals,” material items or bodily techniques (i.e. asana, pranayama) that are consistent and instigate a particular notion of familiarity, grounding, contentment, or peace. Like psychological triggers using symbolism, mundane objects or physical techniques can have a positive affect on our mental and physiological being regardless of personal perceived connotation. Assimilating traditional Eastern symbolism into my daily life – or whenever I choose to refer to the item or repeat the task – has proven to maintain contentment, calm and determined vigor whenever needed, even and especially in moments of crisis. As I told my parents while gripping my mala in post-hurricane storms in Florida, “I’ll be there soon, come hell or high water!”

As I settle in to my new temporary home at my parent’s house, I am also reminded of deliberate or “active rituals.” The day following my arrival, a process of settling in began. Unpacking the first items from my car, I hung Tibetan prayer flags reading “Om mani padme om,” a traditional mantra honoring and emphasizing the importance of devotional practice, along the top of a hutch in the kitchen. A subtle but poignant reminder of my intention to cultivate peace and tranquility any place I reside.

That evening, I burned sage stored inside my brass singing bowl from India, atop the nightstand in my new room. I stored my mala, recently bought from a holistic yoga studio in Berkeley, where a great friend from school now works, in a dish by the door along with several gems and other jewelry to remind me of the beauty in stillness and the strength of my roots. I keep an affirmation card from my dear cousin reading, “I am wise. I seek answers within myself,” in a visible place in the corner of the room. Running out in the rain to steal back my bolster (large pillow) from the car, I look forward to re-kindling a daily mediation practice with the help and encouragement of these symbolic reminders. I sit atop my bolster during my morning coffee and bring it into a quiet space to sit comfortably in meditation, allowing my knees to fall below my hips supporting my lower back. All of these are either active or passive rituals representing my intentions and motivating my endurance in an effort of blind trust that everything will be okay.

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While “passive rituals” include objects we might see or activate with subtle or sub-conscious awareness, “active rituals” encompass any process during which we set a conscious intention. This may be as simple as lighting a candle, burning incense, lighting sage, sitting in silence, listening to mantra music, or even writing thank you note’s or calling a dear friend who may benefit from your active attention. There are no limits to what can be conceived in these moments, cultivating creativity, focus, compassion and peace.

For the first time in my life, I’m not sure where I’m headed. But I whole-heartedly know (despite my nagging ego) that the journey is worth enduring, that it is worth the sacrifice, and that all I have to gain is more than I can presently imagine.

I’ve learned in truth that if you can imagine it, you can have it. Doors open when we set genuine intentions for ourselves. I never bought into this psychological logic more than now. Anyone can have anything they can put their mind to, because anything we can dream has the power to be gradually cultivated through conscious awareness, endurance and self-compassion. With the creation and proliferation of new thought patterns, it becomes easy to see how the object(s) of our desires are attainable through opportunities and options we may not have considered before.

I know there are many I cherish in my life right now who are enduring a process of healing from loss, betrayal, deception, or hurt. I besiege us all to remember that everything is impermanent. Nothing is forever. Periods of pain will subside, and ultimately the only guarantee is that our lives are what we make them.

So much love to those enduring loss. I send daily love your way. Slowly, slowly I too am recovering through ritual.

In the future, I plan to share a post on “yoga for healing” encompassing the physiological significance of specific asana and pranayama practices that provide a tangible method for processing and relinquishing grief, loss, and other forms of residual trauma.

Enduring love. Namaste,

Amy

 


 

Mantra Music to inspire:

 

On being REAL

This week, my work is in the height of its expansion – breaking through a concrete wall on the South side of the building to create new work stations for employees working on a highly confidential project. As a result, there is no parking, no air conditioning, increased noise level, and low morale.

Is there ever a better time to practice yoga?

Yet, a lot of people seem surprised when I share that my own practice nowdays doesn’t always contain asana postures. In fact, finding myself in an unfortunate conglomerate of transitional life circumstances, asana is the last thing my body or mind feels fit to undertake. And that’s okay. Here lies my yoga: non-judgement during my own process of flux, transition, and hardship, and instead a self-awareness of what I do need. Be it rest, time with friends, or a glass of wine – it is all okay. Part of yoga, as we know, is being compassionate and empathetic toward your neighbor, particularly during times of hardship. This same rule applies to yourself. Forgiveness and understanding can reduce and virtually eradicate stress.

Today I was three hours late to work. I overslept my alarm, tried to anticipate but miscalculated my boss’ needs, and had to bring my pup to doggy care to allow myself the time to make up the additional hours at the end of the day. At one time in my life (not too long ago), I would have experienced physical pain in my chest, a headache, nausea, and perhaps even hyperventilated over my inability to meet my employers’ expectations. My identity was absorbed in others’ view of me, particularly that of my employer. But not anymore.

For better or worse, I’ve undergone a transformative process through yoga by erasing and re-scripting my personal narrative to one of understanding, of self-care, and of compassion. There’s still work to be done to adopt unconditional self-love (I too have my days…), and carry this understanding into all aspects of my life. But I will say, I no longer have anxiety attacks and it’s not the meds (because I’ve tried those too). Rather, it was my willingness time and time again to stop and say: What will really happen if I do this? What is the worst case scenario? And I was surprised to see time and time again, that the thing I feared the most was others’ opinions of me. Yet, they had no idea who I really was or where this decision was coming from. Trusting myself to make the best decisions for me and remaining open-minded to criticism, communicative with all parties, and transparent about my intent – I’ve found that the worst case scenario rarely comes true. And, if it does, I know in my heart that I did the best I could, and we can’t please everyone in this life.

Nina Simone  (featured above) says in a song, something like, “If we spend our lives trying to please everyone, we’ll die still trying.” Putting ourselves first in daily decision making is something I feel strongly about. Because only you know where you’re at, and only you have to live with the consequences. Go easy, be compassionate with yourself, and you’ll find the same compassion and caring – with practice – translates into everything you do.

I also feel the need to say: Please feel for your friends and for yourself when you confront one of those rare, but severely disruptive challenges in your/their life. “Coming out of numbness,” as I’ve previously referred to it, is a slow process of untangling the psyche from self-absorption. During trauma our psychology is innately bound by the need to survive the casualty at hand (at least this is how our body and nervous system registers drastic change); and thereby we are likely to find ourselves at a loss for the usual social aptitude or casual lightness that she/he may have previously enjoyed.

When trauma or crisis occurs, we go into survival mode. Parts of our brain that are unnecessary for our survival shut down and those that are most pertinent go into hyper-productivity mode. Meeting my own needs and those of others I directly care for (children, pets, elders) is my top priority. Recognizing social signals and norms to protect the feelings of others, emotional intelligence in an external sense, aside from recognizing signs of danger through hyper-vigilance are not necessary for survival. This is when you might notice a friend has “changed” or gone off their rocker. Nurturing, love, patience and forgiveness heals all. Judgement, condemnation, or agitation causes separation and hurt. There is a method to the madness, and time does heal all. But it’s not always so clear when you’re the one stuck in a fog.

Forgive, forgive, forgive and your life will be so much richer. Forgive yourself, forgive others, and strive to understand your enemy. Then, and only then, are you on a path of yoga.

Easier said than done, but it starts with your relationship with you. I’m still working on mine. Knowing my boundaries and recognizing my flaws without internalizing them to a point of pain or self-destruction. Acknowledgement without internalization. Awareness without judgement. We’re here to learn and grow. Don’t stand in the way of your own process.

This is a valid reflection of my own process over the past several months and as I continue to re-find myself as an individual, a woman, a professional, a yogi, a friend, a sister, a daughter. There is room for growth in every role we play, but ultimately we should strive to be the same throughout. To have the same light shine and to let our flaws show true so we may learn from them, grow from them, and leave them behind – as a snake sheds its skin. I look forward to the day when I can finally show my true colors again. Until then, I am an eager slave to my own process, to an understanding of my and others evolution as painful and unpredictable; however, impermanent.

This too shall pass. Stay with it, stay with yourself, stay with me.

So much love,

Amy

 

Challenging Concepts of the “Western Yogi” Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga

Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga
By: Vivi Vallin, M.A.

I am currently in a yoga teacher training at a studio in East Los Angeles called People’s Yoga. They are the first yoga studio in this particular area of Los Angeles and are going to be celebrating their two-year anniversary in the coming weeks. People’s Yoga prides itself in making yoga accessible to the community of East Los Angeles. Classes are affordable, some are bilingual or in Spanish, there are classes for families to practice together, many of the instructors are people of color and the studio is accessible via public transportation. This year they offered their first 200-hour yoga teacher training. The others in my cohort are also people of color. All different backgrounds and ages but sharing the experience of what it is like to be a person of color who has been drawn to yoga on their own healing journey. As we learn about yoga together, we also share our experiences of feeling excluded, navigating being undocumented, being a queer person of color, how yoga is viewed by our families, and how we view injustices every day. We have a space in yoga to integrate our cultural and ethnic identities and experiences from that identity. This process is powerful.

On a personal level, I believe practicing yoga brings you closer and closer to your authentic self. Although yoga did not originate in Mexico, practicing yoga as a Mexican-American has brought me closer to my own culture’s healing practices, my roots, my history, and my family. I think this is because of yoga’s ability to cultivate self-awareness and self-love. In yoga, we embrace all parts of ourselves. From this space, I can see that a yoga practice brings individuals closer to who they really are. Each of us is unique. Our stories and experiences are unique. If we allow space to share and unite these stories, the experience of each of us will be richer and more full.

Black, white or brown (or however you identify) – we can all be united in our experiences of trauma, pain, sadness, joy, happiness, and gratitude. These are universal human emotions that link us together. We can heal together.  As we move toward this ideal, we still need to acknowledge that there is a need for safe spaces to heal for marginalized groups. It may look like a yoga studio that opens in East Los Angeles. It may look like a workshop about traditional Mexican healing practices. Each community should have the right to access safe spaces to provide wellness and healing, individually and together. Each community should have the right to choose the practices that will help them heal. Healing movements and leaders historically emerge from within their own community. In this case, as fellow brothers and sisters in color and among all throughout Los Angeles, our shared role is to respect and support this work for authentic and accurate cultural representation in any way we can.

BLACK YOGA TEACHERES ALLIANCE

When I heard about the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) I was excited and wanted to learn more about their work. The group was founded in 2008 and first began as a social media group. The goal was to create a safe space for teachers, students, practitioners, healers and enthusiasts to discuss yoga, share resources and create community. They wanted to create a place to explore the many paths and types of yoga, while also incorporating the authentic spirituality that black yoga teachers bring to the practice of yoga.

The BYTA provides their collective community with resources about teacher trainings, educational programs about yoga, scholarship opportunities and yoga publications. It also launched its first national initiative named Yoga as a Peace Practice: Redefining black lives and restoring peace and pride in our homes and communities. The initiative includes offering curriculum to yoga teachers so that they can take action by offering yoga, meditation practices and yoga based on lifestyle philosophies among those who are victims of violence (BYTA.com).

Since 2008, the group expanded and will be holding its first major retreat and conference in August 2016. The speakers being highlighted are black yoga instructors who have been leaders in this movement for a long time. The BYTA wants to celebrate and highlight these leaders that do not often get the recognition and space to share their wisdom and experience. The conference information describes that there will be an emphasis on the experience of being black in yoga and in this nation, as well as spaces to share and heal in community.

The Black Yoga Teacher Alliance currently has a Kickstarter Fundraiser organized by Jacoby Ballard of Third Root Community Center. The fundraiser aims to raise enough money to support 10 scholarships to black yogis who otherwise would not be able to attend the conference. A second goal of the campaign is to have 1000 white yogis donate to support the campaign. This would be a sign of support and send a powerful message that these types of safe spaces and events are important.

I donated to the BYTA scholarship fund because I support their efforts to create safe space for and to celebrate black yogis. They are not only sharing yoga but also leading the way with national initiatives that use the practice of yoga to engage with major issues such as violence and victims of violence, especially in black communities. I encourage those of you who are part of a yoga community to also support by donating to the scholarship fund, finding out more about the BYTA and/or attending the conference to learn more about their work first hand. Their efforts and contributions to the broader yoga community are valuable and are contributing to breaking stereotypes of exclusivity in mainstream yoga.

 

BYA logo

 

See what the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance is up to, get involved or donate here.
Photo Cred: BYTA.com

Challenging Concepts of the "Western Yogi" Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga

Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga
By: Vivi Vallin, M.A.

I am currently in a yoga teacher training at a studio in East Los Angeles called People’s Yoga. They are the first yoga studio in this particular area of Los Angeles and are going to be celebrating their two-year anniversary in the coming weeks. People’s Yoga prides itself in making yoga accessible to the community of East Los Angeles. Classes are affordable, some are bilingual or in Spanish, there are classes for families to practice together, many of the instructors are people of color and the studio is accessible via public transportation. This year they offered their first 200-hour yoga teacher training. The others in my cohort are also people of color. All different backgrounds and ages but sharing the experience of what it is like to be a person of color who has been drawn to yoga on their own healing journey. As we learn about yoga together, we also share our experiences of feeling excluded, navigating being undocumented, being a queer person of color, how yoga is viewed by our families, and how we view injustices every day. We have a space in yoga to integrate our cultural and ethnic identities and experiences from that identity. This process is powerful.

On a personal level, I believe practicing yoga brings you closer and closer to your authentic self. Although yoga did not originate in Mexico, practicing yoga as a Mexican-American has brought me closer to my own culture’s healing practices, my roots, my history, and my family. I think this is because of yoga’s ability to cultivate self-awareness and self-love. In yoga, we embrace all parts of ourselves. From this space, I can see that a yoga practice brings individuals closer to who they really are. Each of us is unique. Our stories and experiences are unique. If we allow space to share and unite these stories, the experience of each of us will be richer and more full.

Black, white or brown (or however you identify) – we can all be united in our experiences of trauma, pain, sadness, joy, happiness, and gratitude. These are universal human emotions that link us together. We can heal together.  As we move toward this ideal, we still need to acknowledge that there is a need for safe spaces to heal for marginalized groups. It may look like a yoga studio that opens in East Los Angeles. It may look like a workshop about traditional Mexican healing practices. Each community should have the right to access safe spaces to provide wellness and healing, individually and together. Each community should have the right to choose the practices that will help them heal. Healing movements and leaders historically emerge from within their own community. In this case, as fellow brothers and sisters in color and among all throughout Los Angeles, our shared role is to respect and support this work for authentic and accurate cultural representation in any way we can.

BLACK YOGA TEACHERES ALLIANCE

When I heard about the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) I was excited and wanted to learn more about their work. The group was founded in 2008 and first began as a social media group. The goal was to create a safe space for teachers, students, practitioners, healers and enthusiasts to discuss yoga, share resources and create community. They wanted to create a place to explore the many paths and types of yoga, while also incorporating the authentic spirituality that black yoga teachers bring to the practice of yoga.

The BYTA provides their collective community with resources about teacher trainings, educational programs about yoga, scholarship opportunities and yoga publications. It also launched its first national initiative named Yoga as a Peace Practice: Redefining black lives and restoring peace and pride in our homes and communities. The initiative includes offering curriculum to yoga teachers so that they can take action by offering yoga, meditation practices and yoga based on lifestyle philosophies among those who are victims of violence (BYTA.com).

Since 2008, the group expanded and will be holding its first major retreat and conference in August 2016. The speakers being highlighted are black yoga instructors who have been leaders in this movement for a long time. The BYTA wants to celebrate and highlight these leaders that do not often get the recognition and space to share their wisdom and experience. The conference information describes that there will be an emphasis on the experience of being black in yoga and in this nation, as well as spaces to share and heal in community.

The Black Yoga Teacher Alliance currently has a Kickstarter Fundraiser organized by Jacoby Ballard of Third Root Community Center. The fundraiser aims to raise enough money to support 10 scholarships to black yogis who otherwise would not be able to attend the conference. A second goal of the campaign is to have 1000 white yogis donate to support the campaign. This would be a sign of support and send a powerful message that these types of safe spaces and events are important.

I donated to the BYTA scholarship fund because I support their efforts to create safe space for and to celebrate black yogis. They are not only sharing yoga but also leading the way with national initiatives that use the practice of yoga to engage with major issues such as violence and victims of violence, especially in black communities. I encourage those of you who are part of a yoga community to also support by donating to the scholarship fund, finding out more about the BYTA and/or attending the conference to learn more about their work first hand. Their efforts and contributions to the broader yoga community are valuable and are contributing to breaking stereotypes of exclusivity in mainstream yoga.

 

BYA logo

 

See what the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance is up to, get involved or donate here.
Photo Cred: BYTA.com

Challenging Concepts of the "Western Yogi": Part II

By: Viviana Vallin, M.A

The story about how yoga came to be this way is both simple and complex. In a way, it feels like our nation has corrupted traditional yoga. Yoga in itself is a practice of self-awareness, self-inquiry, and self-liberation. It is not inherently exclusive or discriminatory. But, one might say that yoga in the U.S. is just highlighting what is already present in America in terms of a superior body image and commodification.

I recently attended a workshop about cultural appropriation led by Roopa Singh. If you have not read some of her work yet, start here. She is a leader and scholar in exploring these types of questions about yoga in the west and how to honor the history and foundation of traditional yoga. She founded the South Asian American Perspective on Yoga in America (SAAPYA).

During her talk and the conversations that occurred afterward I started to see how we are talking about something much bigger than yoga. America was founded on a white supremacist and capitalism system. In this system, Roopa explains that wellness has also become a commodity. It has become something that is purchased, and therefore is not available to everyone equally. This system makes us believe that there is not enough wellness for everyone. It is a commodity that has been absorbed in inequity, and is disproportionately representing Whiteness.

Yoga has become a wellness commodity that is expensive financially and hard to access for those who are marginalized by society. As an example of this, in my thesis survey many of the people who practice yoga first learned about it through a college course. There is a common tie between access to higher education and access to yoga. The people of color who have been able to find yoga this way are also those who have been able to navigate themselves in spaces where they are commonly the minority. It does not mean, however, that they do not experience the same internalized doubt and fears about not feeling welcomed as their excluded counterparts.

I myself found yoga when I was in college. In some of the studios I have practiced in Los Angeles, I have often looked around and thought about all of the people that never get the opportunity to have this luxury. Even if they would not choose yoga, I found myself mostly concerned with a lack of awareness and opportunity amog many to dedicate time and money in one’s own health and well-being.

In this larger system that benefits only a small portion of our nation, we not only exclude  many from accessing wellness practices, but also increase their toxic burden. In many communities of color you will find higher levels of environmental pollution, limited green spaces, lack of access to fresh food products, increased presence of toxic factories, etc. (Don’t believe me? Google: I heart Wilmington campaign, and see what one community did to fight again exactly that.) I would argue that these communities are then the ones that should receive the most wellness support. Not less. Yet there are very few yoga classes available in communities of color in Los Angeles (i.e. South LA, West Adams, Inglewood), while cities like Silverlake and Santa Monica have an abundance of classes to choose from concentrated within blocks of each other.

You do not have to focus on the yoga studio to see examples of how our society (perhaps unintentionally, but quite actively) works to exclude and marginalize some, and protect and benefit others. I have seen this in higher education, in graduate school, in environmental and conservation groups, in coffee shops that move in to neighborhoods with prices that blatantly exclude those who have lived there their entire lives; and even in trendy restaurants where the majority of the staff are undocumented workers.

The difference is that if we follow the yoga philosophy, yoga can become a tool to help us become aware of ourselves and our role within this larger. Using greater self-awareness, we can move through our lives making choices that align with yogic values and our own values. Roopa posed a powerful question during her talk, asking us, “Who are You Within Yoga?” I would also add: “Who are You Within this System?” How will you use your yoga practice to think and act in the face of injustice, inequality, and violence?

Changing the larger system that has been in place since the birth of the nation is a large task to take on. I think there are a few places to start which are available now. First, let people of color share their experience and tell their stories. (Like I’m doing here…) Often when I share my thoughts about mainstream yoga being exclusive, I have been met with resistance about whether that is a true experience. After my thesis presentation at LMU, I was approached by two white men who had further questions for me. The first asked about whether yoga was in fact becoming more accessible through home videos and the Internet. The second asked about taking yoga outdoors, and whether it was gaining more popularity in parks. Both of these ideas have some truth and significance in recognizing the forward evolution of yoga in the West. Yet, I felt both of these men ultimately missed the point of my presentation.

People of color should not have to use the Internet or find a class in a park in order to have access to yoga and the health benefits they can experience from a regular practice. It also does not change the fact that they are being excluded from the studio experience. Everyone deserves the opportunity to practice in a place where they have an instructor to guide them safely and to build community. If you hear someone telling you that they feel excluded, listen and believe them. Their story does not threaten yours.

Second, we can all support organizations within yoga that are prioritizing people of color and other marginalized groups. This work is important because it allows people of color to share spaces where they feel safe to talk about this experience and to celebrate themselves. It is not about exclusion of others. It is about the support to break through the doubts, fears, and traumas of living within a system that is working against you.


 

Photo Cred: Venice Family Clinic Irma Colen Yoga Class (2014), Culver City, CA

Part III to be released June 22nd…
By: Vivi Vallin, M.A.

On a personal level, I believe practicing yoga brings you closer and closer to your authentic self. Although yoga did not originate in Mexico, practicing yoga as a Mexican-American has brought me closer to my own culture’s healing practices, my roots, my history, and my family.

 

 

 

Challenging Concepts of the “Western Yogi”: Part II

By: Viviana Vallin, M.A

The story about how yoga came to be this way is both simple and complex. In a way, it feels like our nation has corrupted traditional yoga. Yoga in itself is a practice of self-awareness, self-inquiry, and self-liberation. It is not inherently exclusive or discriminatory. But, one might say that yoga in the U.S. is just highlighting what is already present in America in terms of a superior body image and commodification.

I recently attended a workshop about cultural appropriation led by Roopa Singh. If you have not read some of her work yet, start here. She is a leader and scholar in exploring these types of questions about yoga in the west and how to honor the history and foundation of traditional yoga. She founded the South Asian American Perspective on Yoga in America (SAAPYA).

During her talk and the conversations that occurred afterward I started to see how we are talking about something much bigger than yoga. America was founded on a white supremacist and capitalism system. In this system, Roopa explains that wellness has also become a commodity. It has become something that is purchased, and therefore is not available to everyone equally. This system makes us believe that there is not enough wellness for everyone. It is a commodity that has been absorbed in inequity, and is disproportionately representing Whiteness.

Yoga has become a wellness commodity that is expensive financially and hard to access for those who are marginalized by society. As an example of this, in my thesis survey many of the people who practice yoga first learned about it through a college course. There is a common tie between access to higher education and access to yoga. The people of color who have been able to find yoga this way are also those who have been able to navigate themselves in spaces where they are commonly the minority. It does not mean, however, that they do not experience the same internalized doubt and fears about not feeling welcomed as their excluded counterparts.

I myself found yoga when I was in college. In some of the studios I have practiced in Los Angeles, I have often looked around and thought about all of the people that never get the opportunity to have this luxury. Even if they would not choose yoga, I found myself mostly concerned with a lack of awareness and opportunity amog many to dedicate time and money in one’s own health and well-being.

In this larger system that benefits only a small portion of our nation, we not only exclude  many from accessing wellness practices, but also increase their toxic burden. In many communities of color you will find higher levels of environmental pollution, limited green spaces, lack of access to fresh food products, increased presence of toxic factories, etc. (Don’t believe me? Google: I heart Wilmington campaign, and see what one community did to fight again exactly that.) I would argue that these communities are then the ones that should receive the most wellness support. Not less. Yet there are very few yoga classes available in communities of color in Los Angeles (i.e. South LA, West Adams, Inglewood), while cities like Silverlake and Santa Monica have an abundance of classes to choose from concentrated within blocks of each other.

You do not have to focus on the yoga studio to see examples of how our society (perhaps unintentionally, but quite actively) works to exclude and marginalize some, and protect and benefit others. I have seen this in higher education, in graduate school, in environmental and conservation groups, in coffee shops that move in to neighborhoods with prices that blatantly exclude those who have lived there their entire lives; and even in trendy restaurants where the majority of the staff are undocumented workers.

The difference is that if we follow the yoga philosophy, yoga can become a tool to help us become aware of ourselves and our role within this larger. Using greater self-awareness, we can move through our lives making choices that align with yogic values and our own values. Roopa posed a powerful question during her talk, asking us, “Who are You Within Yoga?” I would also add: “Who are You Within this System?” How will you use your yoga practice to think and act in the face of injustice, inequality, and violence?

Changing the larger system that has been in place since the birth of the nation is a large task to take on. I think there are a few places to start which are available now. First, let people of color share their experience and tell their stories. (Like I’m doing here…) Often when I share my thoughts about mainstream yoga being exclusive, I have been met with resistance about whether that is a true experience. After my thesis presentation at LMU, I was approached by two white men who had further questions for me. The first asked about whether yoga was in fact becoming more accessible through home videos and the Internet. The second asked about taking yoga outdoors, and whether it was gaining more popularity in parks. Both of these ideas have some truth and significance in recognizing the forward evolution of yoga in the West. Yet, I felt both of these men ultimately missed the point of my presentation.

People of color should not have to use the Internet or find a class in a park in order to have access to yoga and the health benefits they can experience from a regular practice. It also does not change the fact that they are being excluded from the studio experience. Everyone deserves the opportunity to practice in a place where they have an instructor to guide them safely and to build community. If you hear someone telling you that they feel excluded, listen and believe them. Their story does not threaten yours.

Second, we can all support organizations within yoga that are prioritizing people of color and other marginalized groups. This work is important because it allows people of color to share spaces where they feel safe to talk about this experience and to celebrate themselves. It is not about exclusion of others. It is about the support to break through the doubts, fears, and traumas of living within a system that is working against you.


 

Photo Cred: Venice Family Clinic Irma Colen Yoga Class (2014), Culver City, CA

Part III to be released June 22nd…
By: Vivi Vallin, M.A.

On a personal level, I believe practicing yoga brings you closer and closer to your authentic self. Although yoga did not originate in Mexico, practicing yoga as a Mexican-American has brought me closer to my own culture’s healing practices, my roots, my history, and my family.

 

 

 

A Foreshadowing…..

It is my pleasure to precede the release of a work by my dear friend and fellow grad, Vivi Vallin, which will grace this page in three parts – the first of which will be released on Wednesday.

The whole point of A Year in Yoga is to challenge contemporary thinking and explore alternative traditions, to ideally arrive at a new way of being – that we each choose for ourselves – that is whole, fulfilling and brings us joy. In this endeavor, we MUST confront discomfort, recognize our vices and create different channels through which we can navigate the world.

One of the most important “vices” is one’s relationship with and identity of oneself and others, (encompassing body image and personal bias). Recognizing difference, not as “diversity” but as different shades of a flower bloom; each color and shade equally beautiful and equally cherished. This is how we can all jointly see the world with joy.
In an effort to support and draw attention to the emergence of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, I defer to a scholar with much more insight to share than I on an important evolution in what contemporary “yoga” is and can be. I hope you’ll tune in on Wednesday to read part I of III of her inspiring work….

Stay tuned! In the meantime, here’s more about Vivi…

 


Viviana Vallin is a yoga teacher, naturalist and LPCC trainee in the field of mental health.  She is passionate about finding the intersections of traditional therapy, yoga therapy and nature therapy to provide wellness support to individuals and communities in need, especially those who are marginalized and under-served by our nation.

Viviana worked as a Teacher Naturalist with the Audubon Center at Debs Park for 2 years, and was then promoted to Education & Outreach Manager. In this role, she created and led programming for K-8 students, teens, adults and families in the community to connect to the nature that was in their own neighborhoods, and learn about how to become stewards of these special pockets of green in Los Angeles. Viviana was selected as a Toyota Together Green fellow while at Audubon to lead her project entitled Empowering Communities: Building Capacity Through Youth Leadership Programs. The emphasis of the project was giving teenagers from communities of color the tools and knowledge to lead their own initiatives of change by engaging their communities in a place-based conservation project. Viviana strongly believes that individuals have to care about the nature in their own backyards first, in order to build a relationship with nature which will lead to changing behaviors for the betterment of the planet.

Viviana left Audubon to complete her education at Loyola Marymount University, and in May 2016, she graduated from the Masters in Yoga Studies program at LMU. She was simultaneously enrolled in the Masters in Counseling program at LMU and plans to complete her second graduate degree over the summer months. Viviana is currently completing an internship at Open Paths Counseling Center in Culver City as one of their bilingual therapists; a community mental health organization which provides accessible services to diverse clientele. Viviana works with a client load of 8-10 Spanish-speaking individuals per week and has co-led the Spanish parenting class as well. Viviana will complete her internship at Open Paths in December and plans to register for her intern number with the BBS at this time.  Her focus in mental health has been working with clients who suffer from addictions, eating disorders, and trauma.

Beginning in September 2015, Viviana began working as a yoga therapist at Reasons Eating Disorder Center located in Alhambra, CA. As a yoga therapist, she leads restorative yoga sessions at both their hospital intensive program and the residential house located in Pasadena, CA. Viviana creates a class which aims to help clients reveal a new relationship with their body, focused on the meditative aspects of yoga and learning to listen to one’s own body. This approach aims to redefine what a client might typically think about yoga (as exercise) and instead creates a practice of self-inquiry and supports processing emotions and thoughts which arise in their treatment process. Viviana has also led yoga for a girls residential program for Optimist Youth Homes & Family Services in Highland Park. This population of girls included at-risk youth who had been mandated by the court to be placed at Optimist Youth to support their academic learning and emotional/social needs, after challenging circumstances early in their life.

Viviana has trained to support individuals experiencing trauma through their yoga practice including attending the Yoga for Trauma: Mind/Body Resources for Working with Marginalized Communities Conference in Seattle, WA (2015) and the Recovery 2.0 Move Beyond Addiction Conference (2015). Specific counseling courses in trauma, crisis, multicultural, and addiction have also provided rich knowledge for working with clients with these specific needs.

Viviana is incredibly excited to continue to find ways to connect yoga, mental health and nature. Each practice on their own has been shown to provide healing and health benefits to the practitioner, but the combination of the three practices allows for a deeper engagement with the individual and the potential to shift the way in which they interact with the world.

 

 

Midnight Glory

This week, I am preparing to graduate. That means it has been not only one, but two years in yoga since I started this venture in writing…

I have no words, and I have so many. But, the greatest piece of knowledge I’ve likely received is a broadened awareness of myself, and of the world. I no longer feel that I need to fit into a box. In fact, I am even more intent on creating my own – but, now with a sense of foundation and roots, from and through which I can really flourish (instead of flounder…)

I have learned that there are no ‘rules and norms’ that guide our lives and our rituals. Only the things we allow to affect us, do. Knowing this – and really, truly believing it – we can experience freedom from everything, and everyone. Freedom in decision-making, in self-validation, and even in self-nurturing (through practices like yoga, that teach us to care for ourselves).

There is no normal. Our world is made of so much difference, and yet we’re all so interconnected, and interdependent. A teacher once told me, “At the root of every issue is a lack of love.” By believing this, and bringing a willingness to openly share love, there can be a solution, to anything. It’s so silly, and extremely idealistic; and yet, in my experience, it is absolutely true. Love changes everything. If you bring sincere friendship, empathy and compassion into any type of environment, it will flourish. From hospitals to prisons, universities and rehab centers – love, it seems, cures all.

There are no norms, there are no rules. There is only you, and this; and ideally, love.

But, that part’s up to you. First to find in yourself, and then to unabashedly share.

You can.

 

In love,

Amy

You Belong Here

“There is nothing to fix. Each one of us is made to fit our lives. Precisely. The measurements are exact. The tailoring is to a tee. The height. The width. The depth. It’s perfect. We need not ever struggle to fit into the fabric of ourselves…”

My favorite astrologist, Chani Nicholas, beautifully integrates her advanced wisdom of constellations and universal constructs to bring a meaningful voice to the motion of the cosmos. Another Full Moon. What can it really mean? Regardless of the literal efficacy of horoscopes, there is meaning, inspiration, motivation and strength to be derived from knowing that we are but one small piece of this world, and we are not alone.

This week, Chani divulges on the Full Moon in Virgo, as each full and new moon presents an important variable for the most subtle aspects of our world – including and especially our moods, our thought fluctuations, our consciousness. She brings simple awareness to the fact that we are all connected, and important. I find myself taking her words to heart each week, and hope you might find they fill your heart during this Full Moon as well…

You Belong Here

There is nothing to fix. Each one of us is made to fit our lives. Precisely. The measurements are exact. The tailoring is to a tee. The height. The width. The depth. It’s perfect. We need not ever struggle to fit into the fabric of ourselves.

We are all complex, paradoxical, flawed. As we fumble, topple and blunder our way out of the messy cocoon of unconsciousness (an ever-evolving, never-ceasing emergence), we do so perfectly also.

But we worry that we are wrong.

We fear we are ill-shaped. We fret that we were a mistake. We wake in night sweats, covered in panic’s perspiration. We question the meaning that makes us. We second guess our nature. We refuse our resplendency. We want to be another. We are taught to be other. We want to be in accordance with life, but we tend to attack our own.

Not fitting is excruciating. It’s excruciating as long as we try to fit. Or fix. Or make different our distinct markings. If we added up the hours spent counting the things”wrong” with us, we would be buried under a heap of lost time. What could we do with the energy otherwise? What life can we steal back from what the internal naysayers took? What will we do when we discover that we are as we were meant to be.

Have you ever felt this way? Lost, lonely, lacking. I know I have, more than once…and regardless of the “truth” it’s safe to say that believing that you already fit, and that you’re already perfect will bring much more happiness and bliss than you could hope to find any other way. When I practice believing in my own perfection, I find that I am perfect – there is no more pressure to change. But, when I do get lost in what others say or think about what I should be, should say, or should look like, I find I drop deeper and deeper into my own confusion and withdrawal. I get tired, quiet, and frustrated. I feel sorry for myself.

What I’ve found is that being yourself is liberating. Believing in your own innate goodness, believing that you don’t have to change for anyone, is a gift that no one can take away from you. And it’s a gift that only you can give yourself. Try it. Live yourself, love yourself and be free from outside perception. When you forget or begin to waver – as is human nature – come back to your own perfection. I hope you might find that loving your own unaltered integrity is the satisfaction and belonging that we’re all really searching for. Inner peace. Liberation. Acceptance.

Time and time again, I forget I have nothing to prove. But thanks to Chani’s words this week, I remember, and can strive to come back to this place time and time again.

It’s already in you.

Happy Full Moon! May you find peace and blessings in every corner you explore in the coming month and always.

// Find more and/or sign up for weekly (free!) horoscopes from Chani at her website: http://chaninicholas.com/