• Breath is Life

    Breath is directly linked to life force energy. Yoga often uses the word prana which refers both to the breath and to the vital energies of our body. As we move breath through the body, we also move Prana. The steadiness, fullness and depth of our breath reflects the same characteristics of that vital flow of energy.

    The practice of pranayama, the fourth limb of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is the practice of intentionally directing the movement of the breath. It requires practice to become aware of our breath and to direct it intentionally. As we focus our attention on the movement of our inhales and exhales, our awareness is drawn inward to experience ourselves on a deeper, less distracted level. So how does this benefit us? What are the effects of breath control?

    On the physiological level, breath is literally life. The oxygen we take into our bodies through breath is processed through our lungs and heart into our blood where it is transferred throughout the body to every single cell. Within the cells, oxygen is the catalyst for the chemical reaction that creates energy, it keeps our cells alive. Our cells breathe. Breath equals prana equals life. The more effective our breathing, the healthier our bodies are on the cellular level. The health of our cells affects the well being of the entirety of our anatomy: our abdominal organs, our brain, our muscles, bones, skin, blood… literally everything.

    While breathing is something that happens naturally without our effort it is also something that we can control, direct, and manipulate. It can happen on the subconscious level as well as the conscious level, a function of the autonomic as well as the somatic nervous systems. It is the only system in the body like this. The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic, our fight, flight, or freeze response, and parasympathetic, our rest and digest function. You may easily observe how the breath responds within these two functions. When we are stressed, experiencing some extreme emotion or circumstance, our breath becomes quick, forceful, possibly erratic.

    When we are at rest, calm, and peaceful, our breath slows, and lengthens, even quiets. Our breath responds to our state of mind and emotions. This relationship also exists in the reverse. Our nervous system is affected by our breath. By intentionally slowing, lengthening, deepening the breath, we send a message via the diagram and vegas nerve throughout our body that all is well, we are safe, we are at peace, slowing the heart rate and initiating relaxation. Through the breath, we can control the state of our minds and emotions, we can control our experiences.

    In our asana practice, we are increasingly challenging the steadiness of our breath. The first layer of an asana practice, especially a vinyasa method, is the breath. The breath establishes a rhythm and dynamic, and we then layer movement over it. Ideally the movement and positions of our bodies do not alter the pace, rhythm, or tone of our breath. Of course, this is difficult, this is the challenge, this is the point. We are intentionally creating increasingly intense situations for our nervous system and then requiring our breath to remain steady, requiring our nervous system to remain steady. This practice over time lengthens the space between impulses, allowing us the time to make intentional discriminative choices of response rather than pre-thought reaction. Establishing control of breath affects the experience of our nervous system, allowing us to grab the reins of our impulses, directing thought and eventually life force energy.

    Pranayama practice similarly creates a challenge for our nervous system but instead of maintaining an even steadiness of breath, it varies the rhythm and pace of breath, working with retentions and alternating the use of the nostrils. By challenging the extremes of breath, it challenges the experience of the nervous system and asks us to remain calm, remain at peace, remain in control. Physiologically, it strengthens the muscles of respiration and increases lung capacity which improves the efficacy of the function of breathing.
    New research is still being done on the breath, particularly how it affects our brain and its functions. One recent study I’ve heard about focused on different mindfulness practices, like yoga asana and meditation.

    They found that the common link that resulted in neurological benefits was the attention to the breath. Another breath study of epileptics came to a similar conclusion, they observed that different types of controlled breathing activated different regions of the brain, noting that simply focusing on controlling the breath may be the key. Our focused intention lights up otherwise un-accessed parts of the brain. A third study I recently came across was related to how breath affects the cleansing function of brain fluid. The fluid of the brain is meant to draw out impurities and toxins to be filtered and released from the body. The depth and breadth of the breath seemed to increase the volume and effectiveness of this process which has implications for diseases like Alzheimers.

    The breath is our link between the conscious and subconscious mind. It is the communication between our body’s experience and our mind’s awareness. It is connection. The breath supports the vitality of every key cell in our body, affecting the functionality of every system. It is the force that drives vitality, prana. It is life. Giving attention to breath in our yogic practices provides deep and broad benefits to our body, mind, and spirit.

    By Angelique Sandas

    Practice Ashtanga with Angelique on Omstars

    Angelique Sandas is a life long student of movement and the interconnectedness of mind body and spirit. It began with gymnastics and dance, initiating her love of movement, the body’s natural way of expressing ideas, emotions, and experiences. Angelique received her B.A. in dance from the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1999. It was during these years that she was first introduced to yoga. In yoga, Angelique’s relationship with movement developed new depth and meaning. Movement became a path to profound inner transformation. She was inspired to share what she was learning and felt drawn to teach. In 2003, Angelique traveled to Thailand to study with Paul Dallaghan in the Ashtanga yoga system as taught by K. Pattabhi Jois and received her teaching certification. She has also studied pranayama and yogic philosophy with Sri O.P. Tiwari of the Kaivalyadhama Institute, India and received advanced anatomy and adjustment training from David Keil. Until 2007, Angelique taught and practiced in Chicago. She then moved to Miami Beach where she worked closely in the Ashtanga method with her teacher and mentor Kino MacGregor as well as Tim Feldmann and Greg Nardi at Miami Life Center. Angelique ran the Mysore program at Shanti Yoga Shala in Philadelphia, PA in 2012 – 2013 and Delray Yoga Shala in Delray Beach, FL. 2014 – 2016. Currently, Angelique runs a Mysore program Ashtanga Yoga Palm Beach at Yoga Path Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, FL. She remains a dedicated instructor and a devoted student of yoga, growing into the potential of the spirit through it’s physical expression.

  • Demystifying the Mysore Method

    And even if you have some knowledge of what Mysore is, the idea of taking a class may be a bit intimidating.  I totally understand. It is hard to anticipate what you are in for when you think about taking your first Mysore class. However, it really is a very welcoming and inclusive form of yoga practice even for beginners. Maybe especially for beginners. Allow me to clear up some of the haze around the mysterious Mysore Method.

    I teach the Mysore method of Ashtanga Yoga.  Have you heard of it? If you practice any yoga technique you have probably heard of Ashtanga, but Mysore may be a mystery.  And even if you have some knowledge of what Mysore is, the idea of taking a class may be a bit intimidating.  I totally understand. It is hard to anticipate what you are in for when you think about taking your first Mysore class. However, it really is a very welcoming and inclusive form of yoga practice even for beginners. Maybe especially for beginners. Allow me to clear up some of the haze around the mysterious Mysore Method.

    First of all, let’s be clear on what Ashtanga is. Ashtanga Yoga is a vinyasa method. Vinyasa refers to the synchronizing of movement to breath. Breath is the first layer, a steady flowing of in and out, setting the pace and dynamic of your yoga practice. The body’s movement is layered over the constant rhythm of the breath. In a vinyasa method, such as Ashtanga, the postures, moments of stillness, are linked by transitional movement sequences. Every breath has an assignment, either to maintain and deepen the experience within the posture or to transition from one posture to the next. In this way, the mental connection to the practice can remain unbroken. From the first inhalation to the last exhalation, the practitioner is asked to stay focused, stay engaged, stay in their yoga.

    Practice with Angelique LIVE on Omstars

    Ashtanga is a vinyasa method that has a set sequence of postures. You do the same postures in the same order ever time. The sequence is progressive in that each posture is built on the information received from previous ones. There are six series of postures, each one more challenging than the last. The first is referred to as Primary Series, also Yoga Chikitsa, yoga therapy, and is intended to rehabilitate the body. The postures address the main areas of the body: spinal column, hips, knees, shoulders, as well as the internal organs. The intention is to assist in healing old injuries, correcting chronic patterns, and bringing the body to its most optimal neutral state. The second series, referred to as intermediate series, or Nadi Shodana, is a practice of nerve cleansing. This practice deals with purifying the energy channels of the body. The third series and beyond continue to challenge the physical body and the subtle bodies of energy, mind, emotion, and spirit in increasingly deep and intense ways. Each series can take many years to learn and fully integrate. Most practitioners find a lifetime of benefit within the primary series alone. A handful may venture into the intermediate series and only a few work their way into the advanced series of Ashtanga Yoga.

    Mysore then is the traditional self-practice approach to the Ashtanga technique. It derives its name from the city in India, Mysuru, where it developed and where the current head of the lineage continues to live and teach. In a Mysore class, each student moves independently, according to the timing of their own breath, through the sequence of postures as they have learned them from their teacher. The teacher moves through the room, giving assistance, instruction, and guidance as needed on a one on one basis. This method requires a commitment of time and effort. Frequent and consistent practice results in deeper understanding and greater connection to the work of the yoga. It is considered to be a daily practice that includes one day of rest per week, rest on the full and new moons, and rest for women during their monthly cycles.

    When a student new to the practice begins, the teacher provides a lot of attention and instruction, teaching them the beginning sequences of the practice, bit by bit. They do not need to know anything about Ashtanga to begin, they don’t even need to know anything about yoga! The instructor meets them where they are and teaches them the practice at the pace that best suits them. Every practitioner is different and this method honors that. The teacher determines the student’s readiness to progress deeper into the challenges of the practice. As the student mentally integrates the order of postures and physically integrates the information of each pose, the teacher gives them more information; more poses, building slowly and intentionally through the series.

    Practice the Primary Series with Angelique on Omstars

    The nature of the method allows for a significant amount of independence for the student. They are required to memorize the order of postures and to flow through them according to that memory. They are also given the space and time to give attention to areas they struggle with. A student may do one posture two or three times to work on obstacles before continuing through the sequence, or may stay a bit longer in order explore an experience. There is opportunity for each student to do the work they need to do in order to best receive benefit of the practice.

    This method also allows for a relationship to develop between student and teacher. A good teacher of Ashtanga Mysore is assessing your progress as it projects forward into the days, weeks, months, even years to come. They are aiming to develop a program that will help you navigate the practice according to your specific strengths and weakness. Trust grows in this relationship based on an understanding and empathy from the teacher and a knowledge that the teacher has themselves gone through the same process. The student is tasked with finding their teacher, the person they connect with, can trust, and allow the overall guidance of their practice.

    Ashtanga Mysore can be an incredibly transformative yoga practice. The set sequence allows for a daily checking in of progress and the fluctuations caused by…well, life. If the practice remains the same, day to day, what changes? We do. Our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual states are subject to fluctuations. This is natural. The consistency and structure of the Ashtanga method is the framework within which we can become aware of and assess these fluctuations. As we develop understanding of how our lives affect us, we can make choices. We can learn to respond intentionally rather than react impulsively or out of habit. The set sequence also allows for muscle memory to develop, freeing the focus of the mind to enter a more meditative state. When we no longer have to think about what pose comes next, we can fully immerse in the present, in the sensations of the posture and the thoughts and emotions that arise. We can find and cultivate the inner witness of the present moment, the self that observes and can remain steady within the swirl of distraction. When the self can be at peace, no matter the intensity of the posture, the self can also be at peace no matter what challenges are encountered off the mat.

    By Angelique Sandas

    Angelique Sandas is a life long student of movement and the interconnectedness of mind body and spirit. It began with gymnastics and dance, initiating her love of movement, the body’s natural way of expressing ideas, emotions, and experiences. Angelique received her B.A. in dance from the University of Minnesota, graduating in 1999. It was during these years that she was first introduced to yoga. In yoga, Angelique’s relationship with movement developed new depth and meaning. Movement became a path to profound inner transformation. She was inspired to share what she was learning and felt drawn to teach. In 2003, Angelique traveled to Thailand to study with Paul Dallaghan in the Ashtanga yoga system as taught by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and received her teaching certification. She has also studied pranayama and yogic philosophy with Sri O.P. Tiwari of the Kaivalyadhama Institute, India and received advanced anatomy and adjustment training from David Keil. Until 2007, Angelique taught and practiced in Chicago. She then moved to Miami Beach where she worked closely in the Ashtanga method with her teacher and mentor Kino MacGregor as well as Tim Feldmann and Greg Nardi at Miami Life Center. Angelique ran the Mysore program at Shanti Yoga Shala in Philadelphia, PA in 2012 – 2013 and Delray Yoga Shala in Delray Beach, FL. 2014 – 2016. Currently, Angelique runs a Mysore program Ashtanga Yoga Palm Beach at Yoga Path Palm Beach in West Palm Beach, FL. During her 2011 visit to study in Mysore, India, Angelique received Authorization to teach Ashtanga Yoga. She remains a dedicated instructor and a devoted student of yoga, growing into the potential of the spirit through it’s physical expression.

  • Interview with Angelique Sandas

     I practice to learn about who I am, why I am that way, and to become the best version of myself that I possibly can. I teach because this practice has been so significant for me and I believe it can also be beneficial for others, I have to share what I know! I feel obligated to help make the practice available to all who seek it, it is my duty and honor.

    Describe your personality in three words. 

    Task-master. Nurturer. Seeker.

    Where are you from and/or where do you live? 

    I grew up in the MidWest but have lived in South Florida for a while, now specifically West Palm Beach

    How long have you been practicing yoga and why did you start practicing yoga?

    My first experiences with yoga were whiles studying dance in college. I became a committed practitioner around 2002 when dealing with a deeply broken heart.

    What is yoga to you?

    Yoga is a method of developing self- awareness so that you can choose self-transformation.

    How did you feel after your first yoga class and how do you want students to feel after they practice with you?

    I took several yoga classes in different techniques with different teachers until I found the one that fit.  I truly believe there is a method, an environment, a teacher that is right for each of us and we only need to keep seeking until we find that match.  I want people who come to my class to feel inspired to find their practice, or if they find it with me, to feel supported, to feel like they found something special that works for them.

    What impact has yoga had on your life? Who were you before you started practicing and how have you changed, evolved and transformed?

    For me, the results we at first obvious – I saw myself becoming for thoughtful, more conscious of those around me and my actions. Then, as time moved and I continued to practice, the effect fas more subtle but no less profound. It’s one of those things you don’t realize is happening until you get some perspective to look back, or are tested in some way and see that you are behaving differently,  or are thinking differently about a thing. You ove through your world with more consideration, with more empathy and connection, with more strength and acceptance, with more awareness and intuition.

    Join Angelique’s LIVE classes on Omstars

    Why did you decide to start teaching yoga and what makes a good yoga teacher?

    I really do feel like this has been a sort of calling for me. My experience in dance, teaching dance and choreography, my natural interests in the body, psychology, etc – it all led to yoga. within a year of committing to my practice, I knew I would teach. I honestly can’t imagine any other path. What makes a good teacher? That is so hard to answer. I could dig in and it would take days to get all of my thoughts down on paper – and in the end it might not mean much to anyone but me. Generally a good teacher is also a student. Through our own practice we learn so much. We learn also from each student we interact with. A good teacher has to always be willing to adjust as they receive new data. We can’t know everything and we can’t possibly know what we don’t know. As soon as a teacher thinks they have nothing else to learn, they have lost something.

    What style of yoga do you practice and what makes that style most effective? Do you have a teacher in your style of yoga?

    I practice and teach Ashtanga Yoga. The Mysore method in particular is a very independent way of practice, while at the same time allows for a deeper teacher student relationship to develop. This relationship provides the basis of trust for a student to be willing to challenge themselves, to venture into new territory, to face unknowns. That is where the growth lies. I mostly self-practice these days but I do consider my teachers to be Kino MacGregor who I worked closely with for many years, and Paramaguru R Sharath Jois, the current head of the lineage, who I try to practice with as regularly as I can!

    What has been your biggest struggle and your biggest milestone in the practice? 

    My biggest struggle is also my biggest milestone. Becoming a mother. Motherhood was ego-annihilating. And that really what we are trying to do in yoga right? Become aware of the trappings of our ego-self, the limiting labels, the attachments and aversions, the boxes. Motherhood shatters all of it. All of the ways you identified to be “self” become distorted or cease to exist all-together. I navigated those early days of motherhood as I tried to regain some sense of self on the yoga matt and it all failed, over and over again, until I realized that I was trying to be something I no longer was. I had to surrender to a new way of being and this opened up so much by way of my yoga practice. While my physical capabilities seemed atrophied, my yoga became stronger.

    What is yoga favorite yoga pose and why? And what’s your least favorite yoga pose and why?

    Generally I enjoy deep back bends – they are intensely liberating. Strength postures are always challenging and I don’t enjoy them much – especially if they are new.

    What has been the most inspirational moment you’ve experienced as a yoga student?

    I am inspired by my teachers and fellow practitioners. This community of people is incredible.

    And how about as a teacher?

    I am constantly inspired by what I observe in my students, their experiences with this practice. I see people discovering themselves everyday – that’s amazing!

    Practice with Angelique on Omstars

    Why do you practice? Why do you teach?

    I practice to learn about who I am, why I am that way, and to become the best version of myself that I possibly can. I teach because this practice has been so significant for me and I believe it can also be beneficial for others, I have to share what I know! I feel obligated to help make the practice available to all who seek it, it is my duty and honor.

    What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    My favorite changes depending in what I am going though, where I am in my practice, or in life. One that has stayed with me for a long time and comes from a former teacher is “If it is challenging, growth is inevitable” Another comes from Nisargadatta Maharaj “I am that” So simple and so vast.

    What is the single most defining issue facing the global yoga community today?

    The desire/effort to define what yoga is. Can it be defined in a way that suits everyone’s understanding? I don’t know, can it?

    What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you as a student and as a teacher?

    I’ve had so many falls and crashes and “fails” as a student that those events all blend together in my memory and no longer have the power to embarrass me. Same as a teacher – I have made many missteps, numerous. At this point I try to only learn from them and move on. There is no one major embarrassing thing that comes to mind.

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    Specific suggestions would depend on the type of interest the reader has. First identify yourself as someone who is interested in philosophy, history, biographical stories, yoga as healing, anatomy and kinesiology, etc. There are so many branches of learning available within this practice and nowadays, there is so much material out there.

    What is your dharma, your life mission?

    Healing. I consider yoga to be a practice of healing, and as a teacher it is my purpose to facilitate that process and effort for my students.

    What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

    There is a practice for everyone. If you are not sure where you fit, keep trying classes, teachers, studios, until you feel supported and inspired. There is a yoga for you, a practice that will feel right and there you will begin to receive the benefits.

    Are there any current projects you’re working on that you can tell us about?

    I’m currently excited about my new Live class on Plankk Studio App with Omstars! It is a beginner’s journey into Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series and I am having a lot of fun with it! I love breaking things down and looking deeply into the intelligence of the practice. I am also working with some fellow Mama yoga teachers in my community to establish supportive workshops and classes for new moms. Getting back into a yoga practice after having a children can be daunting – not to mention the challenges of simply adjusting to a life of motherhood! We are reaching out to support women – it takes a village! I am also going to be beginning a series of clinics with teachers working on asana adjustment training. I love working with other teachers so I’m really looking forward to it.

    Watch Seek Up interview with Kino and Angelique

    Aside from your fantastic course on Omstars, do you have a favorite class that you’d like to share?

    I actually really love some of the non-practice features of Omstars. The travel, food, fashion, and especially, the interviews. We all come to a yoga practice and yogic lifestyles with our own stories. Sharing these stories is a wonderful way to feel connected.

    By Angelique Sandas

  • How to do Marichyasana B

    Marichyasana B of the Ashtanga Primary Series is one of what I call “Birthday Cake Poses”. It involves specific ingredients that must be added in the proper order, at the appropriate time, for the recipe to work. The process is essential to honor the intention of the posture.

    The first ingredient is the lotus posture. Without lotus, it is really just a version of Marichyasana A. So take your time with your lotus position, finding release in the hip, checking in with the knee, bringing that foot high across the other leg, heel positioned within the line of the pubic bone and belly button. Once you have a workable lotus – perfection is not required, just something that is not painful and gives you space to work the other leg – lean back into the hands so that you can draw the second leg up, heel to sit bone. This moment may reveal some resistance in the hip, acknowledge that and navigate a path through it. If the hip is not too intense, rock your weight forward and diagonally toward the lotus leg. Eventually you want to feel secure in this foundation, the thigh of the lotus leg and the foot of the other side, that sit bone lifted. This is the baking phase of our recipe. Settle into your foundation, sit with ease. If you are still holding on to the planet to avoid falling back, then work here for a while. Next take a forward fold over you lap, reaching around for the bind just as in Marichyasana A, first arm around the upright knee, the other tossed behind the back. Got the bind? Frosting! Lastly, enjoy your dessert, finishing with a deep fold, forehead or chin to the floor. Breathe.

    If you rush this posture, you may end up with some distorted version with no integrity. Step by step process draws your awareness to places of resistance and thus places to work. When the full expression is reached it will feel like it makes sense, you will feel ready for it. No hurry! And always honor injuries, especially in the knees. It is certainly acceptable, even encouraged, to modify the lotus during a time of injury.

    By Angelique Sandas

     

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  • Tiriang Mukha Ekapada Paschimotanasana Pose Breakdown

    This seated position of Ashtanga Primary Series works with the internal rotation of the hip and knee as well as deep plantar flexion of the foot. Many sensitivities can arise here as we rarely put ourselves into this type of alignment in daily life, but it is important as a counter to the many positions of external rotation we do in our yoga practice.

    To identify your body’s particular resistances, access one movement at a time. You will feel it most intensely wherever you are tightest. From a seated position, begin by flexing the knee in the parallel, closing the joint as much as possible, heel to sit bone. Then rock yourself towards your extended leg, lifting the pelvis on the bent knee side to allow space to drop the thigh across the midline of the body, finding adduction and internal rotation, and tuck the foot back along side the hip, toes pointed behind you.

    You may feel strain in the ankle here if you have reached the limit of your plantar flexion. If this is the case, you an put a rolled towel under the ankle to lessen the pressure and stretch. Draw the bent, internally rotated leg in to touch the extended leg, knees together. There is a tendency here to have scooted the lifted side of the pelvis back in space, so check to see that the pelvis is squared off, knees aligned with each other. If you are already feeling resistance in the hip or knee, you may want to stay here, keeping the hand to the floor for support. If not, begin to send the lifted sit bone back down into the floor to ground. This will deepen the rotation at the hip and the knee so go slowly and honor your limit. If you are able to anchor through both sit bones, fold forward.

    Tippyness is the point here! The tipsiness of the posture directs your awareness to where you need to work. Internally rotate the extended leg to help send energy towards the center. Hug the inner thighs together, draw the femur bones into the hip sockets. In the fold, draw the bent leg and the same side ribcage towards each other. The urge might be to push the knee into the floor, but play with this lifting energy allowing the thigh and torso to hug together. Then, finally, let go of what you don’t need (shoulders tense up, anyone?) and relax as much as possible, without falling over!

    If you struggle with this posture, be patient. For some, it can take many years to find ease and comfort in Tiriang Mukha Ekapada Paschimotanasana. The key to to identify your resistances as they arise and address them mindfully and thoroughly. This is an iceberg posture – most of the effort and exploration is happening below the surface, with subtle changes. Stay present, do the work.

    By Angelique Sandas

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  • A Time To Listen

    We are living in a challenging and powerful time. A bright light is being aimed at our shadows of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia, prejudice, violence, and hate. These elements of our nature have always existed, though sometimes they have changed forms, sometimes hid from view, sometimes remained visible but ignored. Systemic, institutionalized oppressions are being identified and called out. Claims of injustice are beginning to be taken seriously. Evidence via phone cameras brings horrors that have always been experienced by some to the consciousness of the many. Groups are collecting, unifying to bring about change. What certainly may be an increase in hate and violence recently is coinciding with greater illumination of what has always been there.

    The marginalized populations have always known. Women have always known the degree to which they experience harassment, assault, manipulations of power dynamics. People of color have always known that systems of racism were alive, well, and strong. Trans people have always been aware of the dangers they face when confronted with fear and ignorance. Oppressed people are gaining agency in spaces where they had little or none. Now, those of us that have never been affected personally are becoming aware. And now, we are faced with choices. We can continue to bury our heads in the sand, deny and fight the truth, or we can join this building wave, support the voices demanding justice and change, contribute our efforts to something important and right.

    My two children are biracial. While I think of myself as someone who always believed in equality, a feminist and anti-racist, having children that are directly affected by racist ideologies and institutions has certainly made it personal – to a degree. My first son was born six years ago, and at the time I had an idealized view of interracial relationship, and the biracial offspring born of them. My immediate community was diverse and had been for years. I had minimal negative experiences related to my relationship, my friendships, my work, etc. Of the very few I had, I was able to package them up as isolated, fringe, and atypical. Discussions in my personal life or online that became racially charged were a place that I felt comfortable standing up, speaking out. I would passionately share what I believed and then move on with my life.

    As the Black Lives Matter movement gathered strength, and my boys got older, and a new president was elected, I found myself speaking out less and listening more. I began from a place of desire to identify, to myself and others, as non-racist, or anti-racist. It took a while to recognize how self-serving that desire was, and that it literally benefited no one but myself. I decided to only offer my voice when it would benefit the conversation, when it would positively contribute to the fight. In conversations where I used to know exactly what to say, I found myself at a loss for words. I don’t want to say the wrong thing, to offend, to appear ignorant, or arrogant. I felt helpless. And I think this is appropriate. This has been a part of my process. I gradually came to recognize that I, as a white female, will never, ever know what it is like to exist in our culture as a man, as a person of color, as a non-cisgendered person. I came to acknowledge when and where my voice is not needed, not beneficial, not helpful. As I found myself in spaces, both virtual and real, where important conversations were being had, instead of speaking, I learned to listen.

    I listened to the points of view of bigoted, ignorant, racist people. I listened and heard their beliefs, I learned of their pain, fear, anger. I learned what I shared with them, how I was like them. I listened and learned from the privileged, from the saviors and light workers. I learned that people don’t feel comfortable exploring and acknowledging their darkness – that of their culture and that of their soul. I listened and learned from POC. I came to recognize how little I knew, how little I understood, and how great was my own participation in, and benefit from systems of inequality and dynamics of power and marginalization.

    I am still immersed in this process, but through listening I am coming to acknowledge when my voice should stay silent. There are organizations and forums and conversations where the voices of POC are strengthening and getting louder and finally being heard. In these spaces, my voice is not needed, or wanted, or beneficial. There is nothing I can add to the conversation from my perspective, from my life experience, that produces anything beyond a salve to my own white guilt and sense of helplessness. In these spaces, I can offer myself as a soldier at their command, an additional hand set to a task. I can offer myself as a support to their work.

    There are places I have decided I can affect change, where my voice can be heard. It is in conversations with other white people. There are spaces where POC are not invited, where their voices are silenced. Those people that would not hear a black person, might hear me. A message that would be resisted if coming from a person of color, might seep through the barriers when spoken by me. When I am in a white dominated space and racism is present, my voice needs to be heard. For too long, we have been silent as our uncles tell inappropriate jokes, when we observe our boss passing up qualified employees because of their name, when a random comment by a stranger in line at the grocery store is said a little too loudly. These are the places we should be speaking. Our silence is complicity.

    Each day that passes and my boys get older, I become more and more unsure of how to raise them in this world. I mentioned above that this issue has become a personal one only to a degree. I am limited in my understanding of what they will experience by my whiteness and my gender. I have no idea how they will experience the world as children born of such different truths as mine and their father’s. What I can do now is listen: To the world as new voices and truths rise to the forefront, and to my boys, as they begin to share their world with me. Their experiences will form their truth and will inform my reaction which will, in turn, influence their reality. I will make mistakes, I have already made so many. But if I listen, I may continue to learn something along the way.

    A spiritual practice, like yoga, asks us to be present. To face our challenges, to sit in difficulty and just breathe. We aim to find steadiness and peace in our discomfort, pain, and ugliness. As you struggle to find your place in this time of change and activism, I ask you to take this method of self-study beyond the mat. Stay in moments of discomfort, pain, and ugliness. Don’t avoid the darkness, in fact, seek it out. Join Facebook groups that you wouldn’t otherwise be a part of. Go to community meetings. Go to social venues that stray outside of your usual. Have conversations with people different than you. Stay, breathe – and listen. As you absorb the truths of another’s experience, you will learn where you fit. You will learn how to apply your unique circumstances, perspective, skills, and talents to something important.

    By Angelique Sandas

    Practice With Angelique On OMstars