• Creating Illness: Healing through awareness

    Healing is an inside job, no one can heal you if you are not holding a true and complete desire to heal yourself.  Those of you familiar with my work have heard me say this over and over again. Healers are amazing conduits for healing to occur, I say that as someone who is trained in both Usui & Karuna Reiki almost 20 years ago. It’s how I started to become aware of the Subtle Energy Body. If you keep reading, I’ll explain how we can receive a healing, think we’re healed only to get sick again.

    The fault for the re-occurrence is not with the healer, it’s with the recipient’s lack of awareness to how the energy body works, as well as the lack of understanding as to how our thoughts and emotions (beliefs) play an integral part in how our reality is created which becomes our life experience. Once you understand the relationship between your thoughts, emotions and actions to your energy body you can heal and never get sick again.

    The energy of pain and suffering is low and very dense in its vibrational state.  It’s much easier to get momentum going with low vibrational thoughts, it’s like tossing a snowball down-hill, it builds on itself and becomes very difficult to manage or stop. If you create enough of these lower level thoughts and emotions, over time, you can get locked into a cycle of pain and suffering which then becomes a mental / emotional state of being we get locked into called victim-hood mentality which can make it almost impossible to escape.  The lower dense energy of our emotions locks us in to a feeling we run continuously, it becomes a drug and we are addicted to it because it’s the only way we know how to feel.  The more you stay in these lower vibrational states of pain and suffering the easier it becomes to create more.  It’s like being stuck on a hamster wheel, with no escape so you keep creating more.  Higher vibrational thoughts are harder because they are more uncomfortable for us to try to have if we are used to being in a lower state where we feel “nothing ever works out for us or this is just my rotten luck.”

    We are only going to barely skim the surface talking about how we create illness but it’s a good start. If you find yourself getting triggered reading this it’s ok, just breathe.  It’ll all make sense as we go. Awareness is the key, we must be aware of what we are creating through our thoughts, words and actions because that’s what’s creating our experience in our reality.  It’s important to remember that nothing is happening “to us” but rather “for us” in order to help us shift.  No one is setting us up to fail, our soul chose all of this to understand what it feels like to move through and transcend darkness into light to heal.

    Having created Cancer in my body back in 2000’, I was abruptly catapulted onto my path of self-discovery because my life goal of attaining success at my job was suddenly shifted and now solely about healing my body. I was not going to “get it” with the first cancer event in 2000’, it was going to take a reoccurrence in 2004’ to shake me awake. That’s when everything changed, I changes as I became more aware of what was still needing my attention with regard to change.  When I started to look at how I was living, thinking and feeling my life was suddenly heading in a new direction.  I was on a quest to figure it all out. I was someone who needed to know the “how & why”, which can be a challenge at times but in this case, it was my blessing.  It brought me deeper into awareness of myself and through my process I became a critical thinker.  I remember knowing I could not put anyone else in charge of my healing, it was my job.  I remember knowing this with every fiber of my being and looking back now I see I was not even close to where I am now in awareness but it’s a process and I was off to a good start. Since that second dance with cancer it’s been a never-ending search for the truth in how / why we become sick.

    Through my process of self-discovery, I read hundreds of books on all thing’s energy, the body and emotions, I’m well versed in everything Carolyn Myss, Louise Hay, Debbie Ford and the list goes on but in truth there was always something missing. Even after all the work I had done, starting back in 2000’, it still wasn’t clear why we got sick or how we could heal. Why can some people consume nothing but junk food and live to be104 years old and a health fanatic dies at 40, it never made sense. My work has been based on healing the whole and not the illness because to me that’s like applying a band aid when stitches are needed. The same is true with therapy, it keeps you locked in a loop never really resolving the problem which is the generational patterning, programming or Karmic loop cycle playing out because everything is at the soul level. It feels good in the moment, but that deeper resolution never seems to come… only more separation of self as you struggle to make sense of yourself / your life / your past and most importantly what you could’ve done better to prevent it. The nature of the illness is not really about anyone or anything else, it’s about you and your “perception” of you.  Healing is an inside job; it has nothing to do with anything outside of you. If you take a few minutes more and keep reading, I’ll explain what I’m talking about.

    My work is based on helping people resolve their emotional trauma in order to assist them in their process of healing.  This past year was filled with crazy “pop up” health anomalies, some easy to resolve and others needing a deeper process. Many people called within several days of each other for help with UTI’s and just as many for kidney / bladder stones and now skin problems (including hair loss). In all my years doing this work, assisting people in finding their place of wellbeing through reversing illness and pain in their body I don’t think I’ve had such an eye-opening moment. The intensity of the energy we’re experiencing is bring a lot of emotional stuff to the surface needing to be healed / released.  Resistance to change is the number one catalyst of physical pain / illness. When we are in resistance to letting go our body responds with pain or/and illness.  The resistance is in our thinking process.  Our thoughts snowball and gain momentum which then creates a desire for our emotions to marry the thoughts.  Thoughts and emotions go hand in hand.  Because they are denser than thoughts it’s almost impossible to have one without the other.  The imbalance has us emotional over what we are “perceiving” in our reality as our truth, which is often times not even close to what is really true but we fail to realize that because the density of our emotions has already locked us onto the hamster wheel and we slowly spiral out of control creating anxiety and fear or anger as the first step in creating illness.

    I’ll break this down for you in case you’re not familiar with how illness is created. What all health issues have in common is thoughts, emotions and actions marrying together and being brought into the body through the electromagnetic field through the aura and finally into our physical body. It all starts with our thoughts (electric) and emotions (magnetic) which are our beliefs, followed by our actions.  When emotions are not resolved they imprint in our electromagnetic field. The electromagnetic field locks in these time imprints as memories, these are known as timelines which anchor into our electromagnetic field which causes a build-up of density which is created by our emotions. We imprint that timeline through our emotions, so we have now embedded a memory of how we felt in that moment. We carry it with us and keep referring to the memory / emotion of that particular time(line) and over time the density builds creating a distortion in our energy field.  Eventually it weakens our field which then creates a tear or a hole where our personal energy (chi) leaks out.  This weakens our physical body over time and if nothing is done to correct the situation, we develop an illness.

    These emotional imprints or timelines as they are is why it’s so hard to let go of something painful from your past such as relationships.  It doesn’t matter how old / new it is, once we create an emotional imprint it’s with us until we’ve have had enough and release it.  We have a timeline with each person, situation etc. in our life.  Gaia also holds timelines known as the Akashic Records, they are a record of everything our soul has experienced across all timelines, dimensions and parallel realities.  This is the experience we have of being multi-dimensional. Gaia holds all of this information for each human, It’s the collective experience or collective consciousness and we in our physical form have the individual experience.  Every time we think of a situation to which we have an emotional connection / tie, we perceive it through it’s timeline and it will feel fresh, like it just happened as we replay it in our emotional body because of the strength we give it through our thoughts, and actions.

    Our emotions are the powerhouse, they magnetize our past to us. We have learned, throughout our life to master the art of creating emotions to go with events in our lives that have brought us joy and sorrow. The emotions connected to sorrow have been trained by us to occur each time we are triggered into recalling that emotional event / situation / relationship from our past.  Emotions and thoughts give power to our beliefs.  This is the key in resolving illness.  We must develop awareness in order to see what we are creating in each moment.  This is how we can develop a present moment state of being.

    Every illness / issue in the body is an imprint in the electromagnetic field via these timelines. On a soul level certain illness can be built into what we’re here to experience as a soul in human form.  This is called “Generational Patterning”, cancer is an illness the soul group as a collective might choose to experience. There are many reasons why we create illness, in the case of Generational Patterning it’s to heal the family lineage for the soul group, sort of like ending the pattern or behavior that was never resolved by other family members.  When you heal it the generations after you do not have to deal with it, so they won’t create it.  I healed the cancer in my family by owning my healing process.

    Now that we’ve touched on how illness works within timelines, we can understand the other part in the equation of healing our body through how we handle these timelines which are really our “memories” of the experience we’ve had.  Since memories are held onto by our human thinking mind and we see that we are creating the pain and suffering by continually dipping back into our past experiences and pull that memory along with those feelings / emotions front and center, then we start the fueling process giving fire to it through our thoughts. This is why the pain feels fresh & present, we recreate it over and over again and again by not realizing we do not need to relive / rehash it.  When we see this and realize that everything that occurred in our past is merely a “representation” of who we were then at that time we will realize we do not need to review it.  Part of this process revisiting our wounds is our belief that we did something wrong or that something could’ve been done differently when none of that is true.  Everything occurs exactly as it’s meant to in order to create the experience needed to move us forward in order to move out of our state of stuckness.  Crisis is notorious for giving us our wake-up call.

    Now we can look at why it’s hard to let go of pain and suffering. Our bodies hold a unique frequency to us. Our frequency is related to our electromagnetic field.  Our field, just like our chakras, spins which is known as an oscillation rate.  The oscillation rate gives us the frequency at which we vibrate, thus known as our “vibration”.  Since pain and suffering is at a lower vibration, each time we recall that painful thought we connect back to that lower vibration to match that imprinted timeline of the memory of that situation.  In doing so we bring ourselves back to that moment in time creating more density in our energy field through our emotions… our emotions are magnetic and dense.  Our felid is spinning at a slower lower rate creating an imbalance and instability in our state of being.  Our ability to create illness in our physical body is only one part of the equation, it’s what we do with that energy / emotions we are recalling and feeling back into.

    The second part of this equation holds as much importance to how we create illness because it has to do the timelines imprinted to the Earth.  The Earth also has a frequency that has an oscillation rate which creates its vibration just as we do.  Gaia is currently ascending her consciousness and raising to 5D and is in the process of shedding 3D.  We still carry 3D in our field which is why it’s important to do our work so we can be in vibrational alignment with Gaia.  Our whole existence 3D is where we created these experiences, we played in polarity and duality which gives us the experience of something being good / bad, right / wrong etc.  It’s the perfect environment for our soul to work through understanding the human experience.  Looking at cancer again, in our experience Gaia is holding an imprinted timeline cancer and we are holding an imprinted timeline in our field we activate the imprinted timeline in our field and match the same imprinted timeline Gaia holds of cancer.

    The important thing to understand here is that instead of just our emotional/ mental energetic timeline imprint being held by Gaia we are not tapped into the “billions” of people that make up the cancer timeline imprint Gaia who may be struggling just like us, same emotional status as us and we feel it all.  This collective consciousness dealing with cancer is now added to the cancer we are feeling into trying to heal so it magnifies our emotions, thoughts and actions. This is referred to as the “collective consciousness”.  This is likely to add to the emotions you’re already feeling. This is why it can be difficult for some people to handle an illness.  They feel overwhelmed because it’s not just their emotions they are dealing with.  I remember my grandfather had stage 2 cancer and was gone in a matter of weeks.  He was overcome with the fear of dying.  He held his fear and, unintentionally, the fear of the collective consciousness.  I never held fear, I knew I wasn’t going to die from cancer because I was supposed to use it to open to this work.

    Tuning into the collective timeline of an illness can leave us in a state of greater overwhelm than if we were left alone with our emotions, this one of the number one reasons we don’t heal, or we heal and experience a reoccurrence. It’s a loop cycle because of the duality and polarity held on the Earth. When someone heals and stays healed it’s because their thoughts, emotions and actions have shifted out of that patterning, known as a belief system, which let’s go if that timeline and healing occurs. That timeline collective could have hundreds of thousands or millions who are feeding the same emotional energy experience along with their thoughts to that collective timeline which then amplifies your experience with that illness that is now needing to be dealt with by you. Many of the collective timelines are generational imprints, holding the potential for them to be activated by you through any crisis in your life over time. We create our reality in every now moment, it’s a currency exchange of vibration. We need to start thinking about how we are spending our energetic (vibrational) currency. We did not come here to suffer. We came here to live an abundant life. We stay stuck through our thoughts and perceptions that this is the way it must be, this is not true.  Do you know your beliefs are not yours, they don’t belong to you?  They are actually handed to you and you just believe you need to incorporate them into your state of being and own them.

    Let’s talk about those three illnesses I mentioned way back in the beginning.  We can’t go into the remedy since each individual requires something unique in their own process, but I’d like to breakdown a few of the more common issues I’m seeing right now, from an energy perspective, to show you how illness is created.  When there is an event that creates emotions, many can participate which becomes the collective experience.  We can look at how our thoughts, emotions and beliefs create the story for what takes place in our body. Remember, I’m giving you what I perceive as the underlying energetic component of each. (Disclaimer, I am not a Dr. If you feel you need medical attention and a Dr is required, please see one).

    Let’s start with UTI’s. They are Root / Sacral chakra based and have to do with urinating or lack of because of the bacterial infection. This is an emotional situation of being “pissed or pissed off”. The Bladder is involved, and that energetic component is “retention”. The UTI causes burning and pain when you urinate so we need to look at “anger”. This is usually towards another. In most of the cases I see it’s towards the opposite sex. Being pissed off at someone, having to suck it in, or hold it in. Usually there’s an issue with confrontation when the Bladder is involved. Being burning mad.

    Next are Stones, kidneys first, they are also about anger but here they are, mad all this time and never actually “giving shape” to their anger which now becomes lumps of undissolved anger. The kidneys crystallize the “criticisms, failures and disappointments”. I see this a lot with childhood issues, feeling like you got the short end of the stick that life didn’t work out the way you thought. It’s also in some big “desire” not playing out the way they had planned, the failure anchors in. It’s in the solar plexus so it’s about feeling a lack of empowerment and being judged mostly by yourself.

    Next we have Cysts, which are about running the same story about themselves or their life over and over. I thought I had done all the work after the second time I had cancer in 2004 but in 2013 a cyst popped up in the exact location of the cancer to show me that although I made the changes to my thoughts and emotions I still had an area I hadn’t cleared so I didn’t create cancer again but I did create a cyst showing up to let me know there was still work to be done.

    The Bladder Stone is the same anger creating the stone as in the kidneys (see above) however this is the “Bladder”, so this is about “FEAR”, retention, holding things in, mostly from the past or childhood. I see this in people who don’t like confrontation. It’s in the sacral chakra so it’s about not feeling like you’re enough. I see this where people can’t let go of a grudge they’re holding from their past. They have a difficult time communicating feelings.

    Finally, we have skin which is associated with the root chakra. Any skin issues, alopecia included, are about distress or emotional stress such as jealousy or anger that is being “reflected out” since the skin is like the mirror to our soul. I’ve seen this occur when someone was cheated on, in babies who came through a challenging birth and hold fear, as well as in difficult divorces, difficult living situations, work etc. Skin is also associated with the lungs and heart chakra, so there’s grief or fear playing a role as well. For every thought & emotion (action) there is a reaction creating a “step 1” awareness that you are out of balance through the beginning of physical pain. Thoughts and emotions that are left unattended run amok and create imbalances in the electromagnetic field which then magnetize to the same timeline imprint of the Earth and that creates the feeling of “stuckness”, pain and / or despair.

    I know these are trying times were in as were being pushed to our limits being asked to see the bigger picture and the gold paved road on our path leading to our future which is sometimes challenging to see. Most issues can easily be resolved with self-work, but they will persist if no action is taken because they are being magnetized by the collective imprint through Gaia. I had cancer twice, it opened me to new heights in my work and provided insight I never believed possible in order for me to work at new levels with my clients.  The cyst gave me the awareness I needed to see how I created all of it and if I created it, I could heal it.

    It’s time for “self-care” my friends, it’s all about you. Health issues will keep reoccurring until you take action by making yourself a priority. The more knowledge you have about how your energy body works the better you will become at navigating around these health issues and generational imprints which, will reduce your chance for illness. I hope you’ve found this information supportive to you. It’s always my intention to hold the highest vibration for expanding awareness in how our reality can be more easily navigated and healing can occur. As you can see it all starts with YOU. You are the catalyst for your own healing and the conduit for your own love. It all starts with you. Please love yourself in ALL you do, maybe now seeing you deserve the healing you really want so to kick it up a notch and activate that true DESIRE locked within and over everything / everyone else love YOU more!!!  Be the support you are seeking from others, invest in you.  You deserve it!

    Maria Deesy

    Maria is an Energy Intuitive, Ascension Guide and Wayshower working within the energetic blueprint of both Gaia and her clients to access and assist in transmuting trauma at all levels. Maria’s also able to read to solar frequencies of the cosmos and can provide insight Into the energies presenting in order to better navigate our physical experience during our Ascension. Her work supports the awakening process of humanity. Connect with Maria on the following sites: website, blog, Instagram, or twitter. Copyright©2020 MariaDeesy.com


  • Spanish Yoga Classes in L.A.

    For most us sharing our yoga practice with loved ones is a wonderful & beautiful bonding experience that is almost second to none. For some of us it’s a bit more complicated, although I share my experience with anyone who seems the slightest interested in it, it’s been hard to bring my Spanish speaking community around to a private practice, let alone to a studio class.

    As a Yoga Instructor in South Los Angeles which has one of the most, if not highest, percentage of Spanish speakers, it has been surprising how difficult it is to find an all-Spanish yoga class. For the past 5 years I have been offering restorative and beginners’ classes in English and Spanish. While 90% of my classes were filled with English speakers, I found out that the majority of the students that only spoke Spanish were also there experiencing their 1st yoga class.

    These Spanish speaking yogis were usually over the age of 30 and were being brought in by their children who were mostly college students.  Often times when talking to them after class and asking if the practice was what they were expecting, I found myself having the same conversation, how this one 75 min practice was not at all what they were expecting. Besides the obvious comfort of taking a class in Spanish, these yogis always tell me how they experienced the ‘delicious’ slowing down of their thoughts and ‘real’ rest of their bodies.

    As a Mexican immigrant living in South L.A. I’ve lived this experience. I’m grateful and fortunate for being able to practice all over Los Angeles and the world. This practice is still a novelty with Spanish speakers in L.A. and is seen as something that is only done by the type of people you typically see on magazines, however those that do make this a consistent practice realize that all you have to do is show up to feel and see the benefits of Yoga.

    In Los Angeles the economic gap that you see between the South and the West side is something that I don’t know will ever be closed, but nothing compares to the grounding and humbling feeling of walking into a yoga studio where lululemon is not the status quo. What I do know is that all these Spanish speaking yogis feel empowered and included by this practice because they see all the different skin colors, body types & their neighbors engaging in a communal winding down of mind and body.

    Holding space for each other in a such a diverse Spanish speaking city, can be a challenge. Mexicans, central and south American people are themselves culturally diverse, and have their own indigenous practices that mirror Yoga. Most times these are lost in the unintended assimilations to life in the United States. I have had lengthy conversations over the similarities in these practices, and how Yoga has helped us decolonize our bodies and strengthened our connection to these indigenous practices that were lost and mostly destroyed by colonizers. For me, sharing space to heal through this practice and tuning in to the calls of our ancestors makes holding all Spanish classes unmeasurably valuable and necessary.

    The Synergy and embodiment of yoga is fully expressed, felt, and needed in these all-Spanish Yoga classes.

    By Rita Ortiz

    Rita Ortiz is a Mexican – American, Mother, Wife, Army service woman, and 200 hour certified Hatha Yoga Teacher. She has been teaching at The Tree, an all donation based Yoga Studio, in her sometimes rough and misunderstood hometown of South LA for the past 5 years. A full time Fashion Technical Designer her focus has changed from creating garments to creating a space for this practice where she can offer her community rest and peace by becoming an owner in a Yoga Cooperative that will offer yoga and wellness-equity to her community.

    NOTE: This post is part of a collaborative media series organized and curated by Omstars in collaboration with the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and WOC + Wellness intended as an honest, thoughtful and holistic exploration of intersectionality, wellness and sustainable action with the intention of creating sustainable social change.

  • The Yamas: Ahimsa, Non-Violence

    Ahimsa is the first of Patanjali’s Yamas, or the Yogis’s ethical and moral guidelines towards society. Directly translated as “non-violence”, we can also understand Ahimsa to mean non-harm, compassion, mercy, peace, and love towards all beings. Patanjali called this practice of Ahimsa ‘Mahavrtam’, or the Great Vow which sincerely resides within the Yoga practitioner’s heart. Without Ahimsa, we cannot progress along the path of yoga.

    This principle is the driving force behind the yogi’s daily decisions and behavior. From the food they eat, to the clothes they wear, products they use, and how they interact with others, they try to remember Ahimsa in every moment. This is the primary reason why most yogis follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. They make the conscious decision to not harm any other living being, or indirectly contribute to the pain and suffering of any being, including animals being raised in industry. We can all do our best to not add to the suffering of animals, the environment, or any other living being. Think about where your food is coming from, and whether it’s being sourced sustainably and responsibly. If you choose to use meat products, take a moment to thank the animals who sacrificed their lives for your nourishment before you eat your meal.

    In our interpersonal relationships, we should do our best to practice Ahimsa, especially when we are dealing with a person we may find difficult. Notice when you start to have negative thoughts or feelings towards someone – whether it’s someone you live with, a neighbor, a public figure, or a stranger. Instead of wishing them harm, send them thoughts of metta, or loving-kindness. Wish for them to be happy so that they may themselves be free from suffering, both for their own benefit as well as for the benefit of all others whom they come into contact with. This will make them more tolerable and hopefully one day, enjoyable to be around!]’

    Though the Yamas are meant to be ethical guidelines towards society and other beings, contemporary yoga scholars also discuss the importance of practicing Ahimsa towards oneself. They say you must do this first in order to extend this feeling of compassion towards other beings. In ‘The Yogi Assignment’, Kino MacGregor says “Start by ending the violence in your own life. Cultivate an attitude of acceptance, tolerance, and compassion for yourself… make peace with yourself.” Only once you do this, can you begin to extend Ahimsa towards other beings and the universe. Notice times throughout your day when you engage in harmful thoughts or actions towards yourself. Instead of being hard on yourself, and telling yourself all the reasons why you “aren’t good enough,” practice self-kindness, self-love, and self-respect. When you begin to think something negative towards yourself, immediately let it go and replace it with one of love and kindness. Only then can you truly treat others in this way.

    Metta Practice

    Engaging in the practice of metta, lovingkindness, is a powerful method to practice Ahimsa towards yourself and all other beings. Start by calling to mind someone you care for deeply, who automatically brings up a feeling of love within your heart. It could be a romantic partner, a parent, a friend, or even a cherished pet. Envision this being, and offer them the following mental wish: “may you be happy, may you be peaceful, may you be free from suffering and harm, may you be filled with love.” Repeat this contemplation for a neutral person (someone whom you neither feel positively or negatively towards), a difficult person, and yourself. Conclude by offering these wishes towards all beings, human and non-human, throughout the entire universe.

    Take a few minutes to journal or contemplate the following:

    How will you practice Ahimsa towards yourself and others today?

    By Barri DeFrancisci


    Barri was born to move. From childhood through her early adult life, she studied ballet intensively with renowned teachers across the US, Russia, and Israel. Barri received a BA in Dance at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA, and performed professionally with Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company in Israel and Dissonance Dance Theatre in Washington, DC. Barri discovered Yoga in high school, and started practicing regularly. It not only improved her balance, strength, and flexibility, but also taught her tools to calm her mind, love her body, and ease the stresses of daily life. She received her 200 hour certification from international Ashtanga Yoga teachers Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldmann at Miami Life Center. In December 2019, she traveled to Mysore, India, where she studied for an extended time under Ashtanga Yoga Paramaguru, Sharath Jois. Barri takes pride in not only dedicating her life to teaching, but also continually being a student. Follow Barri on Instagram!

    This blog was originally posted on yogibarri.com.

  • The Womxn Vote

    When we think about women in politics, or women’s involvement in social or political movements, it’s usually boiled down to a pretty rigid take on white, cis feminism. These views rarely take into account the voices of more marginalized populations, and minimize the impact of more mainstream and palatable feminism which is in-turn the white feminism we’re used to seeing when it comes to elections and legislative decisions. We now know that feminism without intersectionality is white supremacy.

    We created The Womxn Vote after witnessing the lack of outreach to Black Trans Womxn. Not only are politicians, representatives and legislation not taking into account the needs and rights of trans individuals, but there is an egregious lack of representation, and understanding for individuals who have any involvement or experience in these communities. The Womxn Vote has grown to reflect the needs of all womxn. To educate womxn, and their allies, on voting issues and candidates that promote intersectional equity and justice.

    When we think about the issues affecting womxn, we think about the needs of all. Asian, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, White, Non-Binary, Cis, what and/or whomever you choose to identify as or with. We are ready for a system of government in which representatives know that they indeed do work for the people.

    We recognize the need and want for change, but also the resistance to acknowledge what that truly means. We know that in life it is easy to see and not do. But we are here to encourage you to make the change for not only yourself but for all versions of yourself that live in this world. We ask that as women you take up the mantle to express yourself fully and objectively. Now is the time to ask the hard questions. When we think about the 2016 election and see that 53% of white women voted against the interest of ALL Womxn, it becomes clear that they instead chose to turn a blind eye to mothers, daughters, BIPOC women, survivors of sexual assault, queer individuals, and those living in poverty or as an immigrant. We must look with an honest lens and understand that either they are gravely misinformed of the issues, or simply do not care. What we have found in regards to white women is that if the issues don’t reach into their homes and lives, they remain unaffected, and complacent. We see this currently with the protests that fill our news feeds and we have seen it historically from women’s suffrage to slavery.

    As womxn and allies, we are tasked to look at all the parts of us and see how they connect to those who we may have felt “other than”. It is not a task of simply helping people, but seeing ourselves in others, seeing the issues that affect trans, non-binary, and non-white individuals as issues that affect us ALL. We must come to the understanding that we are not changing the course of history for someone else, but for ourselves.

    Modern feminism starting from the fight for the right to vote, it grossly misrepresents and sometimes completely erases the the contributions of Black, Indigenous, Non-White, and Non-Cis womxn. Even some of the milestones and organizations heralded for women’s progress are steeped in prejudice against underrepresented and marginalized womxn, and almost never address the layer of non-binary or trans womxn. We ask you to go further than whether someone is Republican, Democrat, Independent, etc. Dig deeper into what their records are when it comes to the issues of ALL womxn, their families, and their allies.

    Our hope is to cultivate a collective at The Womxn Vote of voters dedicated to fighting for a more intersectional, equitable and just world for all. Through this collective, we invite you to be passionately and unapologetically womxn. To educate yourself, your community, family, allies, on voting issues with the goal of becoming the most informed and powerful voting collective yet – for the 2020 election and beyond. Empowering individuals who are informed, engaged, and prepared to bring change in their communities that benefit all womxn.

    When it comes to this education, it is imperative to focus on anti-racist and anti-sexist policies and highlight politicians that support womxn and their allies. And while we step into our power as womxn together, we acknowledge the need for men to join the fold and let their voices be heard, because as we know womxn’s issues ARE men’s issues. We see the importance of calling in those who may not understand the full spectrum of intersectionality in feminism and politics, by calling attention to the issues and individuals who may be missing the mark. It’s all part of the education, and we’re standing on the precipice of change, ready for you to join us.

    While some have arrived at the realization that we need to dismantle systems of oppression in all areas, the need is for all people to arrive and not only accept this work on an individual level, but also the legislative level. This is how we make true and lasting change for our society. We are dedicated to using our voices and our votes to make the world a more fair and equitable place for all. One of the most impactful ways to do this is to ensure issues affecting the most marginalized are amplified and those communities are supported by all of our efforts. Mobilizing womxn and their allies around their vote is the most powerful thing we can do and we are here to do it. In this age of constant news and and information overload, our work is to pull up, educate ourselves and others creating considerable change in how we advocate for legislation that protects and liberates all.

    Join us at www.thewomxnvote.com. Help spread the word to your loved ones. Amplify the collective’s voice. We are fighting for an intersectional President and a Senate that works in the interests of all people. This will not be the last part of our work, but rather the beginning of a complete and total awakening to the issues on both sides of the aisle, and a dismantling of systems in place that hide the patriarchal and white supremacist undertones beneath the veil of whitewashed feminist politics. www.thewomxnvote.com @thewomxnvote

    The Womxn Vote is excited to share this much-needed work with other communities. We know now, more than ever, is the time to combine wellness with activism. They both need each other.This workshop is 2 hours and includes 45 minutes of guided yoga, 45 minutes of content on intersectionality and identity and then 30 minutes of sharing and Q+A. 

    By Stephanie Wallace & Yemie Sonuga

    Yemie Sonuga has spent the last half decade expressing her love through yoga. She is a 200-hour RYT yoga teacher, and a forever student. Yemie teachings are based in Vinyasa, Meditation, Dharma Yoga, and Visualization. Her approach to teaching is one of encouragement. Empowering you to believe in yourself, allowing the dismantling of fear, and the re-imagination of your true self. She has taught yoga across Canada and the US. Yemie offers a weekly Zoom class, as well as group Visualization sessions. Yemie is one of the founders of The Womxn Vote. She holds a Masters Degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire. Her offerings can be found here, follow her @yemiesonuga.

    Stephanie Wallace is a yoga and meditation teacher, healer and activist based in Brooklyn, NY. She holds a 500 hour certification with the Yoga Alliance, is a reiki practitioner and guides lunar-based ritual practice, helping to lead individuals back to themselves through intention, introspection and intuition. For the past six years, Stephanie has taught yoga + meditation in studios, schools and nonprofit organizations, bringing an element of understanding and compassion for individuals from, and throughout, all walks of life. As a trauma-informed teacher, she infuses this approach into all aspects of guidance in order to create truly safe spaces for individuals to experience their practice. Stephanie is proud to be one of the founders of The Womxn Vote. You can find Stephanie on Instagram at @stephiejane and @littlemoonmystic, and learn more about her offerings at littlemoonmystic.com.

    The Womxn Vote is a collective of womxn voters who are dedicated to fighting for a more intersectional, equitable and just world for all. We focus on educating womxn on voting issues with the goal of becoming the most informed and powerful voting collective yet. Our voter education focuses on anti-racist and anti-sexist policies and politicians that support womxn and their allies. Learn more at Www.thewomxnvote.com @thewomxnvote on IG and here.

  • Om Tattoos & Cultural Appropriation (4 min read)

    You’ve most definitely seen the famous Sanskrit symbol for “Om” used in various places, such as jewelry, clothes, and even jokes about it on television, social media and in films.

    When I ask a group of 20 preschoolers if they’ve done yoga half of them arch their backs rigid, cross their legs, squeeze their hands shut tight and say “ommmmmmmm” in a funny voice.

    When 2 and 3 year olds telegraph yoga this way, it is safe to say this sacred sound has pervaded our entire culture.  Since the presence of the Om symbol is seen virtually everywhere, what we get is degrading of its meaning. The symbol and all it stands for has lost its touch, its sacred meaning. Many people simply don’t understand its originally intended use and instead rep it as a cool lower back tattoo for the wrong purposes and places. If we want to use this symbol, we must understand and respect its true origin and meaning. So let’s dive into what it’s really about…

    The Om symbol represents what is necessary in Vedic thought; it is one of the most sacred mantras in the Dharma. It means unity with the highest, a combination of spirituality and physicality. It appears at the beginning and as well as at the end of multiple Sanskrit prayers. This deep and powerful symbol refers to life and the whole universe.

    “The syllable Aum, which is the imperishable Brahman, is the universe. Whatsoever has existed, whatsoever exists, and whatsoever shall exist hereafter, is Aum. And whatsoever transcends past, present, and future, that also is Aum.” ~ The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal by Swami Prabhavananda and Frederick Manchester

    Cultural appropriation is a long-standing problem that waters down the depth of meaning to which we often turn a blind eye. By definition, it is known that cultural appropriation is taking a fragment of a culture of which we are not a part and using it for our own purposes or benefits, without honoring the culture that brought that noun/thing/meaning to life. If you’re a bit confused on the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, learn the differences here.

    Om is so much more than just a symbol.

    “Om is pure unitary consciousness, wherein awareness of the world and of multiplicity is completely obliterated. It is ineffable peace. It is the supreme good. It is One without a second. It is the Self. Know it alone! This Self, beyond all words, is the syllable Aum.” ~ The Upanishads: Breath of the Eternal by Swami Prabhavanand
    Unfortunately, the appropriation of a foreign culture is often done among privileged people. If you’re thinking about getting yourself a tattoo with the Om symbol, think why do you want to use such a powerful, sacred sign? How do you connect to this symbol and what does it mean to you? If you want to connect to yoga, and are a die-hard yogi, might there be better ways to appreciate the yoga culture.

    Get creative! Perhaps you can tattoo something personally inspiring to you. You can tattoo animals, poetry, the rising sun, but perhaps rethink about such a meaningful spiritual and religious symbol. Imagine a person out there with a cross tattoo, who doesn’t believe in Christianity but wants to embody the teachings of Jesus? A bit strange of a choice to label yourself with that religious symbol.

    Also in the Hindu faith it is often considered problematic and disrespectful to place sacred symbols on parts of the body such as the feet or near private parts.

    It helps to be fully aware of the power and cultural relevance of this symbol, and embedded in the culture to be able to tattoo such patterns. But ultimately it’s up to you… and I want you to THINK about why you are getting one, and how you will react when people ask you if you are Hindu; because spoiler alert, they will!

    The existence of the Om symbol does not date back to a couple of hundred years ago, but rather several thousand years. This is cultivated in a given culture, worshipped and understood by its people.

    Western culture often underestimates the history and power of such significant things. So much in the West is commercialized. Therefore, it is no wonder that Vedic practitioners and many Indic religions are outraged at our use of a sacred symbol to advertise a better yoga studio, a beer or a new sweatshirt design. We should respect such a distant and sacred culture, and stop spreading a fallacy of said culture, in a misunderstood and mindless manner.

    If you TRULY feel attached to the Om symbol, and want to rep it as a tattoo, please know its true meaning and feel attached to what it represents. And definitely choose a place on your body that respects the symbol’s religious integrity. Remember what Om (A-U-M) means:

    “Ahhh” expresses the creation of the universe and everything that is physically connected to it, and unites you with your ego. This syllable allows for an experience of the total existence of the world.

    ”Ohhhh” is a syllable that expresses the energy of the whole universe and your mind model. This sound unites you with your inner understanding that there is something beyond your physical body. It makes you feel light, good and balanced.

    “Mmm” embodies the energy of the whole world, the thoughts and beliefs that created you. This portion of the sound connects you to the universe, cultivating a feeling of connection between everything and everyone around you, equally.

    Given the exact meaning of the mantra pronounced, think about how you want to worship this symbol and how it will make you feel by having it marked on your body permanently. Will your beliefs change in 40 years?? Comment your thoughts below if you have an Om tattoo!

    For more on this guest author, visit https://www.susannabarkataki.com/ to read other blog posts on cultural appropriation of yoga.

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    By Susanna Barkataki

    Deepen and Honor your Yoga Practice Here

    An Indian yoga practitioner in the Shankaracharya tradition, Susanna Barkataki supports practitioners to lead with equity, diversity and yogic values while growing thriving practices and businesses with confidence. She is founder of Ignite Yoga and Wellness Institute and runs 200/500 Yoga Teacher Training programs. She is an E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist with International Association of Yoga Therapists (C-IAYT). Author of the forthcoming book Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Yoga Practice. With an Honors degree in Philosophy from UC Berkeley and a Masters in Education from Cambridge College, Barkataki is a diversity, accessibility, inclusivity, and equity (DAIE) yoga unity educator who created the ground-breaking Honor {Don’t Appropriate} Yoga Summit with over 10,000 participants. Learn more and get your free Chapter from her book on indigenous roots of trauma informed yoga at embraceyogasrootsbook.com/  Complimentary masterclass to embrace yoga’s roots without appropriation: www.namastemasterclass.com

  • Don’t Be So Hormonal: Cycle Syncing 101

    Do you suffer from the symptoms of excess estrogen: Acne, bloating, irritability, fatigue, insomnia, low libido, infertility, period problems?  Well, you aren’t alone! Upwards of 80% of women report having severe symptoms of PMS each month.

    As women we are often not told much about our cycles from the git-go. If you are like me, my mother handed me a box of tampons and we never spoke about periods again. With so many women in the dark, this matter builds in importance. We live in a patriarchal society, where business, decisions and daily habits are formed based on the male hormonal cycle. Male hormones produce and leave the body on a 24 hour cycle, whereas female hormones take 28-30 days to rise to their peak concentrations and then drop, ultimately leaving the body during menstruation ( I know, this fact blew my mind too).

    In a single month, your body undergoes some pretty serious changes. Your hormones fluctuate which stimulates not only blood loss, but mood shifts, energy changes and the grim reaper of your social life: ACNE! As if that wasn’t enough to have you running to your bed for the entire week…There’s more!

    Your monthly cycle has four unique phases, each phase bringing different physical and emotional strengths [or weaknesses] to the surface. The rise and fall of hormones promotes vastly different dietary needs from week to week, so to think that we can continue to work, eat and live the same, daily, is to say that a computer should function the same everyday regardless of how much rubbish you’ve downloaded over the years. Our bodies are one giant bio-computer, constantly working to regulate our systems and bring us back to homeostasis. If we continue to “download” [re: eat, live & work] the same old rubbish, our systems will start to crash. Thus promoting, those pesky PMS symptoms along with a slew of other health issues. As your cortisol (stress hormone) levels rise while reading this, know that you are in control and this information will only help to revolutionize the way that you live, work and prioritize your daily habits. NOW ONTO TO THE GOOD STUFF! Get out your notepad, you’re about to get learnt!

    The Follicular Phase: 7-10 days

    Hormonal Focus:

    Estrogen and Testosterone are at low levels and slowly begin to increase in concentration. This hormonal shift in the body, tells the brain to be open to new things, to be creative and to set your intentions. Focus on trying something new in the bedroom, in the gym and at work for a healthy head-space.

    Food Focus:

    Fresh, vibrant, light foods will make you feel more energized during this phase. You will have just finished menstruation and will need to recharge the body for the next cycle. Plenty of veggies, lean proteins, sprouted beans and seeds and nutrient dense, energy-sustaining grains like buckwheat.

    Exercise Focus:

    • Workout: Try something new to mix up your routine: dance, cardio, zumba, pilates, or a rigorous yoga practice!

    • When: Mid-day – your estrogen will be low and your cortisol levels will be just right for a challenging cardio burst.

    The Ovulatory Phase: 3-5 days

    Hormone Focus:

    Testosterone begins to surge, which drives desire, and then drops. The verbal and social centers in the brain are stimulated by these shifts, so if you have been holding out on asking for that raise or having an important conversation with your loved one, wait no more, ovulation in here!

    Food Focus:

    In order to make sure that your body is metabolizing and eliminating any excess estrogen, raw veggies (a.k.a fiber) are a must during this phase. Fruit is another key component of the ovulation phase for their high levels of glutathione, which promote vascular and antioxidative well-being for your ovaries. Think lighter grains like quinoa and corn for added sustenance.

    Exercise Focus:

    • Workout: High impact workouts are best during this time… think: interval training, soul cycle, group workouts, etc.

    • When: Early morning – you’ll have tons of energy during this time of the month, so take advantage of that natural high! Your testosterone is higher during this phase, so whatever you do, feel free to go all out!

    The Luetal Phase: 10-14 days

    Hormone Focus:

    In the first portion of this phase you might find yourself needing more comfort. This is because your body begins to produce progesterone, which is your bodies anti-anxiety hormone, think natural valium! You will likely have energy to burn in the first few days of this phase as you shift from ovulation into menstruation. Take time to be light-hearted and meet-up with friends.   In the second half of this phase, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone reach their peak concentrations and begin to fall to their lowest levels just before menstruation begins. This rise and fall often promotes PMS-like symptoms and although these symptoms are common, they are not necessary. Practice self-care + nesting in the back-end of this phase to avoid irritation.

    Food Focus:

    Emphasize foods rich in B-Vitamins to resolve sugar cravings. Eat plenty of leafy greens to boost your calcium and magnesium while reducing fluid retention + aiding in the elimination process to come. Adding roasted or baked root vegetables allows for the liver and large intestine to flush out estrogen more effectively.

    Exercise Focus:

    • Workout: Pilates, yoga

    • When: Keep it early during the first half, and then transition into the early evening. You might still feel full of energy during the first days of your luteal phase, so feel free to keep kicking butt in more intense workouts early in the day. But if you start to experience PMS symptoms in the days before your period, it’s time to tone it down and switch to Pilates or strength training in the early evening. Restorative (yin) yoga before bed can also be hugely helpful in combatting issues like moodiness and bloat.

    Menstrual Phase: 3-7 days

    Hormone Focus:

    Progesterone plunges, which causes the uterine lining to shed ( a.k.a your period).  Hormone levels then quickly decline to their lowest concentrations. This drop creates super-communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Because of this communication you are able to create a better understanding of how you feel about situations and the best course of action moving forward. Schedule time this week for reflection + review and allow yourself to turn inward to think about what you want for the future.

    Food Focus:

    Since your body is working hard in the elimination process, focus your diet on foods that add nutrients. Proteins, fats and low glycemic index veggies and fruits such as leafy greens, nuts + seeds and beans + legumes keep your blood sugar steady while adding in fiber and antioxidants. Seafood, kelp and nori help to remineralize your body with iron and zinc, which you lose during menstruation.

    Exercise Focus:

    • Workout: Walk OR yin/ restorative yoga – keep your workouts mild, even if you’re not feeling major discomfort.

    • When: In the evening when you are winding down from your day

    If you are a woman on the go OR loathe cooking, check out my easy-peasy hormonal smoothie recipes! They will get you everything you need without the hassle!

    Bottom Line:

    While this all may seem overwhelming at first, it is in our nature to ebb and flow with the cyclical pattern of the environment. The more you begin to learn and understand your hormones, the more you will be able to honor your own internal cyclicality. This is the key to maximizing your success, balancing your moods and living a PMS free lifestyle, all while frolicking through the forest harvesting berries (okay, you don’t have to do that last part, but just know that you can, because that’s how good you could feel!) With this newfound knowledge, it is my hope that you feel empowered to educate yourself in order to be and do everything you were already doing, but BETTER! Share this information with the women that you love to help lay the foundation for a rising epidemic of educated and empowered females.

    Key Take-Aways:

    1. You aren’t supposed to have PMS!

    2. You are supposed to feel fabulous every single day ( yes, even if you are on your period)

    3. Be patient, as you move into a deeper state of knowing + internal bliss!

    By Emily Cox

    Emily is a yoga teacher turned holistic healer. She has a passion for getting upside down and being involved in her community. She is a licensed Holistic Nutritionist and Ashtanga Yoga Instructor with more than 10 years of personal practice and 6 years of teaching experience. She started her own wellness business in 2017 where she preaches the power of personalized nutrition to all of her clients! She specializes in gut health and hormone harmony and believes that with the right guidance, tools and motivation we can all take back the reigns of our health through sustainable yet systematic practices!

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  • Suryanamskar (Sun Salutation) – Reverence for the teacher

    Suryanamaskar also know as Sun Salutation is a dynamic sequence of poses which is done as a ritual before starting the asana practice. The practice of these sequential poses is a form of dynamic meditation, which also helps in strengthening the limbs and increases the awareness of the body.

    Suryanamskar is a way to pay respect to the Sun God ‘Surya’, which sustains and preserves life. The Sun God is depicted riding a chariot with seven horses, which represents seven days of the week. The twelve wheels of his chariot are a representation of the twelve months in a year. ‘Surya’ with his bow drives away the darkness and gives light of life and knowledge. The Sun God was the teacher of great Sage Yagnavalkya and granted him Vedic wisdom.

    Lord Hanumana was the mighty general of Lord Rama’s army and led him to victory in his war against King Ravana. He was born with extraordinary strength and powers.

    Since childhood he was spellbound by the radiating energy and light of the sun and almost consumed the sun thinking it was golden glowing fruit, when his mother stopped him. When Lord Hanumana grew up he was curious to learn everything about the world and gain knowledge about all that existed. Lord Hanumana kept searching for a teacher who could help him learn and satiate his quest for knowledge and wisdom. Much dejected he went to his mother and asked for her guidance. His Mother ‘Anjana’ asked him to reach out to the Sun God and seek wisdom from him, because the sun sees everything that happens in the world and that ‘Surya’ would be able to share everything he had observed.

    Following his mother’s advice Lord Hanumana went to Sun God and put forth his request to learn everything Sun had observed. But ‘Surya’ declined Lord Hanuman’s request stating that he was too busy as he was always moving and he if stopped to take out time to teach, the world would fall out of balance.  Hanumana was so eager to learn that he convinced ‘Surya’ that he would not be required to stop to teach. Hanumana told him that we would travel with him and the Sun God could continue teaching him as he moved. Hanumana decided to ride alongside the Sun God’s chariot everyday so that the Sun God could teach him as he travelled. ‘Surya’ reminded Hanumana that the heat and glare will be unbearable if he stayed close to him, but Hanumana was determined to learn from his teacher was willing to make the sacrifices for gaining knowledge and wisdom from the Sun. Sun God was overwhelmed with Hanuman’s devotion and started teaching him. Both spent years together and ‘Surya’ would teach Hanumana each day as the travelled together. And then came a time when Hanumana had gained immense wisdom from his teacher and was ready to leave and take on his duties.

    Before leaving his teacher Hanumana requested Surya if he could do anything for his teacher in return of the knowledge that was given to him. Surya asked Hanumana to use all his wisdom, knowledge and strength for the benefit of the world and that would be his ‘Guru Dakshina’ (a fee or a gift that a student gives his teacher out of love and respect for making the student wiser).

    Hanumana felt so indebted to ‘Surya’ his teacher for all the teaching that he performed an elaborate ‘Namaskar’ (a gesture of respect made by bringing the palms together before the chest and bowing) as mark of immense respect for his teacher. This elaborate sequential namaskar came to be known as Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation) as it was performed by Lord Hanumana to pay respect to his teacher the Sun God.

    The Suryanamaskar reminds us to stay humble each day, because there is always something to learn towards becoming better. Lord Hanumana was born with supernatural strength and powers beyond the ordinary yet he chose to learn from Surya and took up all the challenges that came along the way because he was keen to learn. True learning happens when the ego is set aside and one submits oneself to one’s teacher with faith and devotion.

    By Ankur Tunaak

    Ankur Tunaak has been an Ashtanga yoga practitioner for over a decade, studied with Shree M. Vishwanath who was one of the first students and nephew of Shree Pathabhi Jois. Also, an alumnus of Bihar School Of Yoga, one of four premier Yogic Studies Institutions in India. Ankur is a storyteller and photographer, currently teaching yoga in New Delhi, India. Portrait photography by Ankur Tunaak.

    Read More Yoga Stories by Ankur Tunaak

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  • Intersectionality & Yoga

    Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. May all beings be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, and action of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and freedom for all. – Be here and Love.

    It is time to live in the reality that Yoga and Intersectionality are intertwined. Find the spiritual
    crossroads of the life you so desire on our mats, and apply them in your everyday lives

    Yoga in itself is a life built on intersections. We know this, we live our lives moving through the
    paces; we struggle and grow through the day to day to find meaningful purpose. We do this
    daily work to combine our physical bodies, spiritual bodies, and mental bodies. We know there
    are crossroads between our celestial and metaphysical channels. And the goal is to find the
    bridges between the things that make you, you, and connect that to the energetic points that
    surround us.

    Intersectionality is the crossroads between Gender Identity, Socioeconomic Status, Race,
    Sexual Orientation, Religious Beliefs, Lived Experiences (including trauma), Political
    Orientation. Yoga is the crossroads between physical, mental, and spiritual practices including
    but not limited to breath control, meditation, and bodily postures.

    Once we know one, we know the other. The work on the mat teaches us our ability to navigate.
    To understand one side of the spectrum, whilst being engaged in another. It is important for you
    to realize that you are already familiar with this work. You now must adjust the tools in your
    beautifully built tool box-sphere to be applied to the dismantling of white supremacy. Your anti
    racism work is an everyday practice. Schedule time in your day to build the foundations of this
    work! It must first start at home, it must start with you!

    Take into account the culture of yoga is not just the individual, but the community. We ascend
    ourselves into the astral plane, leaving the constructs of the breathing body, to traverse to an
    energetic plane to connect ourselves to the universe.

    Adjust your thinking. The time of who is worthy of the gifts of enlightenment, has passed. To
    ascend you must be as connected with yourself as you are with everyone else. If there is
    suffering in the world, a part of you is also suffering. You can not be connected to your practice
    as you continue to ignore the micro and macro pains and sufferings of all.

    White culture thrives on who is deserving. The feeling that ‘I am the one that is deserving of this
    space’ is your racist systematic programmed mind. There is no ‘I am worthy if someone else is
    unworthy’. This is the place to start your work. The answer is that we are ALL deserving.
    Recognizing this hostility is so familiar that it may have become second nature -so innate that
    you don’t see it for what it is. Know when you come from this space you are already lesser than,
    and the journey will be unnecessarily longer. Then ask yourself why you are ok with that? I
    encourage you to observe yourself.

    By Yemie Sonuga

    Yemie Sonuga has spent the last half decade expressing her love through yoga. She is a 200-hour RYT yoga teacher, and a forever student. Yemie teachings are based in Vinyasa, Meditation, Dharma Yoga, and Visualization. Her approach to teaching is one of encouragement. Empowering you to believe in yourself, allowing the dismantling of fear, and the re-imagination of your true self. She has taught yoga across Canada and the US. Yemie offers a weekly Zoom class, as well as group Visualization sessions. She holds a Masters Degree from the Royal Scottish Conservatoire. Follow her on Instagram

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  • How Injury Brought Me Closer to the Purpose of Yoga

    I attribute yoga taking over my life to the moment I started practicing Ashtanga yoga mysore style at Miami Life Center. It affected everything, not just the 90 minutes in class. I fell hard (still falling) for this practice and mysore style was a gateway to a whole new world. That is, until about 4 months into my new found high. I fell off my bike. Nothing too serious, but enough for me to determine I couldn’t practice yoga until I was fully healed. I fell on my right arm and hurt my elbow so it was difficult to put weight on it, like in downward facing dog. I thought if I can’t downward dog I have no business walking into a mysore room.

    I took about 3 months off, more than I probably needed to. Losing the momentum of practicing 3 times a week made it really hard for me to get back to the mat. I’ve come across students with similar experiences. Getting back on the mat after stepping away for the first time is sometimes harder than coming to the mat in the first place. You would think the opposite, especially after experiencing the life shifting results from a regular practice, that you’d come running back.

    If you want to know the benefits of practicing yoga, stop practicing. I’m pretty sure I got that one from David Swenson. But its so true! It points to the slow subtle shifts that yoga creates on a deep level, which then slowly work their way to the surface. You won’t notice how much has changed from one day to the next, but if all of a sudden you stop practicing and those yoga benefits stop making an appearance in your life, the sharp contrast in how you feel and show up in the world will tell you. Yoga works in quiet sometimes mysterious ways.

    When I was off the mat those months, I felt the tamas, apathy and heaviness coming back into my body and mind. I was more emotional, getting lost in sadness and doubt (my go to’s). The crazy part was that before yoga I never thought of these things as the lack of yoga, but as my nature, a part of who I was and never considered living without them. It was a big shift for me. I now saw those physical, mental and emotional states as changeable by a yoga practice.

    My practice had become a space for me to tune in, which I soon realized allowed me to show up as a better and more present person for the rest of my day. I didn’t realize at the time that I didn’t need to do a downward facing dog in order to have that. But the mysore room and the teacher provided me with a clearly defined space and time to tune in. And most importantly a method and path to support me through that process. I didn’t know how to move through this process alone, much less that I was so eagerly searching for a path most of my life. When I found this path, I sank into it without fully realizing that I had finally found what I was searching for. Having a teacher, a class holding me accountable, expecting me to show up for that space was really important for me at the beginning. Which makes this less about blaming myself for stepping away when I was hurt, and more about understanding and compassion for my journey as a beginner.

    When I got back into the mysore room 3 months after I fell off my bike, I felt like I had taken 2 steps back. Starting up again took so much effort, so much tapas and fire to burn through the stagnation that had taken over. It was an important part of my journey, going through that physical, mental and emotional effort and discomfort. Once I got through it, the daily ritual of this practice and tuning in was further ingrained in me. Since then I’ve had unbroken regular practice, nowadays 6 days a week for asana.

    Fast forward 4 years and I run into a shoulder injury. There was pain when I lifted my arms over my head. I couldn’t do the first movement in Ashtanga yoga! Which of course brought on all the reactions – sadness, frustration, doubt whether I would even practice yoga again. But this time I knew better. I wasn’t going to stop coming to the mat. My practice needed to drastically change from intermediate and part of third series, to heavily modified standing postures. I went from practicing asana for 90 minutes to 20. At this point I realized those 90 minutes were really useful as it took me some time of being on the mat to drop down to the undercurrent. So I looked for other tools to keep me on the mat each day a bit longer than 20 minutes.

    I found pranayama (the practice of controlling the breath) through one of my teachers, Mark Linksman. It become my main practice while my shoulder was healing. It was such a beautiful time for me as a yoga practitioner. I continued healing the body through minimal movement, not allowing stagnation to take over and I opened up to a new pathway into the practice of yoga, into focusing inwards. Pranayama is incorporated in the Ashtanga system, but to practice it on its own gave me a closer look into the self-transformational power of the breath. I explored more precise ways of working with it that could be translated to deepen an asana practice.

    It’s so interesting to notice how as I spend more time on the mat, my ideas about what I think is right or wrong changes. The context of my practice changes because my perspective gets a bit broader. It’s as if I can look in from a further stance and get a more complete view of Ashtanga Yoga, or yoga in general for that matter. I imagine it’ll be like this for the long haul of this path – I’ll keep taking another step back, and keep seeing pieces I was blind to before because they weren’t yet in my view.

    This time, as soon as my shoulder healed I was there, present and ready to slowly move back into a longer asana practice. This time without the heaviness I had the first time coming back from an injury. I had maintained a practice so I never really left. Creating a practice with a different form allowed me to better understand through firsthand experience the purpose of yoga, regardless of the tools used. It wasn’t to perfectly execute a shape with our bodies but to create a space to observe ourselves, to sit in awareness. Lucky for us we’ve been given more than one way of doing this, teachings that have been passed down through many generations, through lineage.

    I was also given an opportunity to witness the healing potential of the primary series of Ashtanga yoga. Moving slowly through heavily modified standing postures and then into primary series little by little facilitated my healing process, coupled with some physical therapy exercises. I wasn’t doing the traditional full expression of primary series, but to me is was complete and perfect. I had the opportunity to revisit the foundations and refine basic technique. It’s since then become a big focus in my practice – continuously going back to the basics. While I was healing it helped me establish movement patterns that more efficiently built strength and flexibility while doing a very beginner practice. Mentally, I learned to tap into a beginner’s mind, looking at something for the hundredth time with a unbiased perspective. As I moved back into a more advanced practice, my body felt good and strong because of the time I spent more intimately understanding basic movements.

    I often see students get caught up in the external conditions set for the sequence, holding on to them as truth, thinking if it weren’t followed perfectly it meant they weren’t practicing Ashtanga yoga. The context of Ashtanga yoga is much broader than the postures – another lesson I picked up from these experiences with injury. The postures are there as tools for a more holistic and spiritual purpose. They bring us into our bodies, something tangible to feel what’s present. They give us a single point to focus on, and they give us a mirror to observe ourselves by. And yes the conditions set to execute an asana are important, such as place your hand here, breath in here, but they can be accommodated to work with a student’s situation, like a physical limitation for example, and still maintain the intention of yoga.

    We can expand the context of yoga by modifying a posture, incorporating seated breathing or seated meditation, staying in one posture for 10 minutes, the list goes on. There are different doorways into yoga and therefore the pathways along the way may look different, in the same way that my personal journey through this practice will look different than yours.

    I had two different experiences with injury and came out with my own lessons and conclusions, which I get to share with you here. Not to tell you what to do but to let you know that there are different paths within this path and it’s important to find your own way. I’ve used the experiences and knowledge of others to help inform what and how I choose to explore. To then evaluate and integrate the lessons learned from my own personal experience. The result is as many expressions of yoga as there are humans, and that’s a beautiful thing.

    By Monica Arellano

    Practice LIVE on Omstars with Monica Arellano

    Monica Arellano is a Level 2 Authorized teacher in the Ashtanga Yoga Method; a formal blessing received by her teacher R. Sharath Jois in Mysore, India. She first connected to the practice of yoga in 2010, looking for a more peaceful way of being. When she found her way to Miami Life Center in 2014 she began a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice and soon after completed a 2 year apprenticeship program under Tim Feldmann. Today she continues to practice, teach and travel regularly to Mysore, India to learn yoga directly from the source. Monica’s teachings are informed by the knowledge carried on from her teachers and the first-hand experience from her daily asana and meditation practice. Her classes emphasize the breath, alignment, and methods of concentration; in hopes of exploring the deeper experience of asana and the resulting expression in each student’s unique and mind. In this space, she believes we can deconstruct unhealthy patterns, facilitate healing on many levels, and find our way back to the most honest version of ourselves.

    This blog was originally posted on monicarellano.com

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  • Simple Ways to Teach Ashtanga Yoga with a Trauma-Informed Lens

    There are many reasons you may choose to teach Ashtanga from a trauma-informed lens. The stories of sexual assault regarding the father of Ashtanga Yoga, Pattabhi Jois, has left many in the Ashtanga community confused, angry, sad, and questioning the safety of continuing to practice within the Ashtanga community. While some are still asking for the lineage to be reshaped by the Jois family, the process of healing has largely been in the hands of individual teachers, students and communities.   

    For all those who have experienced the power of Ashtanga to help with addiction and trauma, bring health to the body, release suffering and awaken the spirit,  Ashtanga is worth saving.  Ashtanga can be reconnected to the roots of yoga where non-harming is the key component of an 8 limbed system that leads to freedom.  Trauma-informed teaching can help the community heal and prevent some of the problematic behaviors that create environments where abhorrent behaviors thrive. Diversity and inclusivity is another reason to teach Ashtanga from a trauma-informed lens. The yoga community has been grappling with how to diversify practice spaces as they have realized that most yoga classes are filled with skinny, White, affluent women. 

    Often when people of color are asked about why they don’t attend class, the answer is, “I don’t feel comfortable.” Some of this discomfort can be linked to trauma. From a young age, many Black people were taught that, if they are to survive, they have to act differently around White people. Even now, when unarmed Black people like Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake are murdered by cops, many White people ask, “What did they do wrong?”   However, when Dylann Roof, a White armed male, kills 9 Black people worshiping at church, the cops bring him in alive and take him to Burger King. People want to know about his troubled past because surely he has a good reason for killing innocent people. As a Black woman,  this society taught me that I had to constantly fight to show that I am one of the “good” Black people who can comply and fit into a society that centered White as inherently good and Black as inherently bad.

    This dynamic doesn’t just stop when a Black person steps into a yoga class. A class full of White people tends to inherently be White centered. The languaging, the music, the jokes, the locations, the pose choices, the culture of the studio will continue to center White people.  For a POC, this can be triggering and continue the trauma that they deal with on a day to day basis. A trauma-informed framework, along with diversifying the space, being anti-racist, and taking a deep look at systemic oppression and its effects on POC, may help. The last reason, I will mention in this post, is that, as teachers, we are not involved in a student’s day to day life. We may or may not be aware of traumatizing events from the past or even from that morning. Operating from a trauma-informed framework acknowledges the shared human experience of pain and suffering. The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali says “suffering, that has not yet come, should be avoided.” The journey to healing belongs to the student. However, as the teacher, you can help mitigate, at least in our yoga space,  the suffering that has not yet come. 

    A trauma-informed framework acknowledges that harm has been done and that the community and/or student is actively embarking on the process of recovery.  The teacher, through a relationship with their students and the community, learns the signs that a student may have been triggered or that community harm has happened and they respond immediately.  The teacher actively works against re-traumatizing the student or the community. 

    Before we continue, let us define trauma. Trauma is a disturbing event that is so overwhelming that the person cannot cope with or integrate the feelings and emotions from the experience. It is important to understand that something can be fine for you but completely traumatic for someone else.  It is also important to understand that trauma is not limited to “big” experiences like war, sexual assault, or childhood abuse. It can happen in day to day interactions such as someone constantly hearing comments about their weight, a gay man being sneered at when he walks down the street, a Black person experiencing systemic racism, and off-color remarks about a woman’s body at the office water cooler.  It is not about how you would have felt in that situation, it is about how that person felt and how it affected them.

    When someone tells you something traumatized them, it is not your job as the teacher to judge them. It is your job to help create an environment that is not re-traumatizing and allows them to comfortably practice yoga.  Lastly, have compassion for yourself. You will get it wrong sometimes. Acknowledge it, make amends, and come up with new and creative ways to work with students in the future. The list below is not exhaustive and only a starting point for creating a trauma-informed Ashtanga space for your students. 

    Establish clear and transparent practices, policies, boundaries and procedures

    When students know what to expect and what is expected from them and the reasoning behind the process, policies, and procedures, they feel safer.  Policies and procedures around reporting abuse, injury, racism, sexism, ageism, etc lets students know that you take these issues seriously which makes them feel safer and gives them a clear way of reporting violations and communicating when they feel harm has been done. This also prevents the culture of silence that happens when students, who are not the victim, protect the perpetrator and invalidate the victims. They are more likely to speak up, help, and support the members of the community that have been harmed. Gone are the days of Gurus playing mind games with students. Practices like withholding poses to “teach a lesson”  or leaving students guessing about why you did or didn’t give them a certain series is re-traumatizing.  

    Give the student a voice through the offering of choice

    Traumatic events usually involve a loss of agency.  The teacher can be a part of the process of helping a student find their voice and rediscovering trust in themselves and the world. The practice must be put in the hands of the student. This does not mean that the student does whatever they want with disregard for their own safety and the efficacy of the method.  Practice becomes a collaborative process where the student can slowly move towards elements that are effective at a speed and pace they are comfortable with. For example, for some students, closing their eyes makes them feel unsafe. It takes away their agency to see what is going on around them and to act accordingly. Instead of insisting that the student closes their eyes the first class, the teacher can, over time,  help the student feel comfortable and invite them to close their eyes as they feel safe.

    Another example would be a pose that a student is visibly uncomfortable with. Say you ask a student, in a Mysore one-on-one setting, to do chaturanga and you can see their eyes start to dart around the room looking for an exit, their breath speeds up, they start wiping their sweaty palms on their shirt, and their speech patterns change. These are all signs that the student is being triggered. From a trauma-informed lens, the teacher may pause instruction and have an open, clear, and transparent conversation on what is coming up for the student and how they can help. They then give the student the choice of doing chaturanga or other options that will help them build the strength for chaturanga. As trust is built, the student may choose to give chaturanga a try.  In a guided class, the teacher can give some other options and discuss it with the student later.  

    Another way to give choice is to announce, at the beginning of class, that students should feel free to make the adjustments they need. Talking with students before giving them the next pose or the next Ashtanga sequence, getting them involved in the process, and asking before adjusting or touching a student also gives them agency.

    Avoid loud noises, a loud voice or tempo changes

    The melodic, even tempo of a guided Ashtanga class is perfect for calming the nervous system. Avoid yelling at students from across the room.

    Power with not power over

    There is no teacher without a student and there is no student without a teacher. The teacher/student relationship is a shared nurturing experience. Yes, the teacher has more knowledge and experience with the subject but they are initiating the student into that same lineage of wisdom with the intent of giving them the same amount of power and agency. For example, if you stop at a gas station and ask the attendant for directions, you stop, listen and learn, not because they are better than you, but because they have the information you need. On a soul level, you are equals. The same is true for yoga. The student respects the process of transmission and that the teacher knows more than them on this one subject, but on a soul level, you are equals. 

    The same is true with student-to-student relationships.  Teachers should avoid creating hierarchies within the classroom.  This one is tricky and requires some vigilance. It can show up as teachers spending more time with  “advanced students”, lots of fanfare when students accomplish something that a teacher considers “advanced” or using “advanced” students as models for what the poses should look like. It can also happen in reverse, spending lots of time with students because the teacher views them as less advanced and needing more help. Instead, a teacher might consider identifying the unique places where each and every student needs help and being attentive to the students when they arrive at that point in the practice. The students understand that the teacher is looking out for every student and helping them where they need it. It is clear and transparent. Also, helping a student in the same spot every day creates a consistency that trust can be built on. 

    Another way to share power is through the placement of the teacher in the room. If the teacher is on a stage or standing over a student giving an assist or instruction, there is this sense of power over.  Even if a teacher is using the stage to be able to see everyone in the room, they should have times in the class where the students are invited to share space at the same level as the teacher. This could be walking up and down aisles or spending time with students at eye level before and after class.  If a teacher is having a conversation with a student in a floor pose, if possible, they should come to the floor or squat down and get close to the same level as the student. 

    Stay in your lane

    Unless you are a mental health professional, it is not your place to diagnose or provide treatment for trauma.  This seems intuitive but it can be tricky. Trying to treat trauma can show up in saying things like, “let it go”, “we are all one” “suck it up” and “do it anyway”. As teachers, our job is to help create an environment conducive to the process of yoga and healing. It is the students’ job to heal as they get ready and in a way that is right for them.  Be okay with the fact that some students are outside of your wheelhouse and you may not be the teacher for them.

    Help Shanna Small raise money to help those in recovery from addiction, trauma, and systemic oppression. Please donate or purchase a t-shirt from her non-profit, Yoga For Recovery Foundation.

    By Shanna Small

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    Shanna Small is a writer and Yoga teacher who speaks to the intersectionality of Yoga and social justice.  She has practiced Ashtanga Yoga and studied the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois.  Shanna’s finds joy in making the Ashtanga practice accessible for all.  She studied with Amber Karnes and Dianne Bondy and is Yoga For All certified. She is a regular contributor for Yoga International, Omstars and the Ashtanga Dispatch.    She teaches diversity and inclusivity as well as accessibility trainings and workshops. She is a founding member of Yoga For Recovery Foundation, a non-profit that helps those recovering from addiction, trauma and systemic oppression.  For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.  Photo Credit: Wanda Koch Photography

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