• Conscious Changes with Yoga

    Yoga is the reconciliation of polarities and a deep understanding of our inherent wholeness.
    As we cultivate a personal practice, no part of us gets left behind. A re-membering of the fragmented versions of ourselves is initiated.

    I get on my mat to sort myself out…


    Interoception. Have you heard of it?

    According to Psychology Today, interoceptive awareness is the awareness of inner states and fluctuations; the process of receiving, accessing, and appraising our internal climate. Often these internal processes are relatively automatic and unconscious (i.e. they can continue without conscious effort, like breathing, heart rate variability, etc.). The more we practice yoga and embodied awareness, the more we can engage with the process and become active agents in our own everyday experience.

    In other words, we can consciously re-program our system through intentional practices of yoga. Wanna know how? Simple (and not so simple):

    Notice the breath, the respiratory system.

    How do you feel when your breath is fast and shallow? How do you feel when your breath is slow and steady?

    Notice how the pace of the breath impacts our felt experience. Faster, shallower breathing correlates with a hyperaroused sympathetic nervous system (i.e. fight or flight).

    Slow steady breathing correlates with the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest).

    As we begin to consciously slow down the breath, we begin to signal to the nervous system that calm is possible and that we can be peaceful while confronting challenge. This awareness places us as a co-pilot in our operating system, one that can assess, regulate, and impact our perceptions, actions, and ultimately our beliefs of what is possible.

    Rewire the Nervous System (Neuroplasticity).

    The basis of neuroplasticity is that “neurons that fire together wire together.” That is, new neural pathways are being built all the time.

    What we place our attention to becomes stronger. What we don’t pay attention to gets pruned away. Use it or lose it.

    How does this apply to yoga?

    Simple, when we focus on the breath and how particular actions, poses, and challenges impact our nervous system, we can consciously re-direct our attention into the processes that we can manage: our thoughts, our physiological responses including tension, breath rate, and eventually our posture.

    Another way to say this is: notice when you confront a challenge …

    • How does your body respond?
    • Where do you feel it?
    • Do you notice tension building up?
    • Do you notice particular thought loops or patterns arise?
    • How does your breath differ in times of difficulty vs. ease?

    If we are to consciously work with the concepts put forth by neuroplasticity, we would purposefully attenuate to the present challenging experience. For example, instead of unconsciously flooding the body with tension, old thought patterns, and quickening the breath, notice the opportunity to reprogram and rewire a new pathway, a signal of ease, autonomy, clear headedness, and deepening of the breath.

    If we shift our response to challenge and expand our perception of reality beyond the automatic, unconscious looping mind, we can dramatically alter the state of ease or dis-ease in our body. Felt experience pierces the rigidity of the mind.

    Acceptance and Integration.

    Yoga is the reconciliation of polarities and a deep understanding of our inherent wholeness.

    As we cultivate a personal practice, no part of us gets left behind. A re-membering of the fragmented versions of ourselves is initiated. We take all of our experiences and harness them; we learn to not ignore, deny, or harbor on them.

    Thus an integration of dichotomy is possible (our present/ future selves; the seen/ unseen; etc.) and we can situate ourselves in this generous present moment. Our embodiment becomes richer in the present, it is not stuck in the past. As this happens, we bolster and infuse vitality into every source of power we have access to. That is, we fine tune how we listen, how we perceive, how we move, and become so tuned in, so aware that slowly, day by day, we begin to feel, know, and engage in ways that are highly integrated, creative, and free.

    By Marie Belle Perez Rivera

    Marie Belle Pérez Rivera, PhD, is an educator, artist, community leader, and practitioner of yoga and mindfulness. She currently resides in Washington, DC and travels and teaches yoga, mindfulness, and critical thinking throughout the United States, Caribbean, Latin America, Spain, and Bali. Marie Belle has focused much of her professional and academic career on the roles that psychology, culture, and empowerment play in health, resilience, quality of life, and emotional well-being. She considers herself an anthropologist of movement: delving deeply into the heart and roots of classical yoga and meditation practice while also keeping a panoramic perspective that includes academic research in science, astrology, nutrition, and personal experience. Find out more about her on her website.

    Image by Bhikku Amitha from Pixabay

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  • Interview with Marie Belle

    Yoga is the understanding that there is no separation. As a practice, I use movement, asana, meditation, and breath to step into that current of just knowing, being, and allowing any transformation to take place as it needs.

    Describe your personality in three words.

    Chill. Driven. Receptive

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

    I am from Puerto Rico, currently living in DC

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

    I started practicing yoga in 2007 right after the shootings at Virginia Tech. I started as a way to mindfully move into my body and begin to trust and come back to life.

    What is yoga to you?

    Yoga is the understanding that there is no separation. As a practice, I use movement, asana, meditation, and breath to step into that current of just knowing, being, and allowing any transformation to take place as it needs.

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

    I felt super tall and light and like I just achieved something within myself. I wanted to return as soon as possible. I would love my students to feel more centered, empowered, and alive.

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

    Yoga has completely transformed my life, my movements, my profession, thought patterns, relationship dialogues, everything really. I was very much a scripted person before yoga; I wanted to always be seen a particular way and I followed cultural norms to the best of my abilities. I fulfilled all my expectations with school and profession (I received a Ph.D. in Psychology and Graduate Certificate in Women’s Studies), and still felt empty. Once I found yoga, I slowly started integrating all aspects of myself: the athlete, the teacher, the artist, the hermit, the seeker. I feel more integrated and complete without any cultural scripts.

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

    I started teaching donation only classes as a side gig to raise money for a non-profit. At the time I was training to Bike Across The US for MS, and wanted to support their mission. Gradually I got asked to teach more and more classes and I just kept saying yes.  A good yoga teacher is one who practices, spends time alone daily, checking in with her/him self, body, system, deepest wisdom. One who is receptive, kind, and clear.

    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 Ashtanga mostly, Dharma every now and then, and my version of Yin and Restorative. I don’t think one is most effective for everyone, but for me, Ashtanga works. It demands more and more of me all while showing me all my potentials and all the ways I limit and sabotage myself. It’s a super powerful and transformative practice; very demanding, unforgiving, and inspiring all at once. It has helped calm and regulate my nervous system in ways no other practice has. I also love Dharma Yoga, I see it as a perfect complement to Ashtanga’s straight lines and structure. Dharma yoga invites me to be more devotional, less rigid, calmer, and receptive; more curvilinear. I love and practice Ashtanga Yoga with Tim Feldmann, Faith Scimecca, and David Robson. I practice Dharma Yoga with Dharma Mittra.

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

    Injury and dogma.

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

    I like any hip opener and back bends. They’re just so crucial in helping me remain spacious and grounded and receptive.  My least favorite yoga pose: I can’t think of one. 

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

    Healing from injury, healing from heartbreak, learning to accept myself, and love my body.

    And how about as a teacher?

    Seeing my students move beyond limitations just from a simple comment or them learning how to do something they never thought possible.

    Why do you practice? Why do you teach?

    I practice because it calls me. I love the practice. I don’t have particular goals, I just really love being in silence with my breath and body, observing how I calibrate and change; understanding the microcosm gives me some insight into the macrocosm.  I teach because I love it. I teach from where I practice. Practice has taught me self-referral, self reliance, self respect. All of these can be cultivated, refined, and practiced daily.

    What’s your favorite yoga quote or mantra?

    My favorite yoga quote is from the Yoga Sutras 1:14.  In order for your practice to be grounded and of the earth, it must be done consistently, for a long period of time, with devotion.

    Do you have any recommended yoga reading?

    I like anything by Dharma Mittra, Mooji, Jack Kornfield, Anodea Judith, Caroline Myss, Tara Brach.

    What is your dharma, your life mission?

    To live and share in the experience of realizing who we are in whatever form it takes- for me it’s in the form of practice and teaching. Living and sharing the process of realization via the practice through teaching.

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

    Enjoy it. Learn as much as you can. Trust yourself. Be receptive.

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

    I have developed my own school, Roots Love Yoga, as a way to share more deeply with students. I offer 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, 300 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, Yoga Workshops, Retreats, Classes, Online Coaching and Mentorships.

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

    I like all of the Yin classes by Anamargret Sanchez.

    By Marie Belle Perez Rivera

    Practice with Marie Belle on Omstars

    I am grounded in a daily Mysore and Dharma yoga practice. I also love and train hand balancing, rock climbing, and dance; all of it is intuitive movement. It’s all love. I am happy to offer yoga classes, movement retreats, workshops, and intensives in the United States, Bali, Costa Rica, Mexico, India, Europe, and the Caribbean. My life calling and practice has led me to travel the world and immerse myself fully in yoga and meditation through villages in India, Indonesia, Portugal, the crisp blue Caribbean waters, and the heart of Miami Beach. With extensive training as a Psychologist in Social Emotional Development (Ph.D.), Women’s Studies (Graduate Certificate), Reiki, Magnified Healing, and Oneness Awakening, my classes utilize a keen awareness of the intellectual, emotional, and energetic body to empower those who practice consistently, for a long period of time, with devotion. I offer universal intimacy, full of love, honor, and a sweet mix of playfulness, integrity, and discipline. To connect with me, make sure to follow my ongoing journeys via Instagram and Facebook.