Personal Evolution, One Yoga Push-Up at a Time

I was invited to be a guest blogger at Healthy Sense of Self. I had quite a few stories to tell about the theme they presented me, and I chose to talk about a 10-year-old boy who used to take class with me while I taught a studio in a nearby city. Click on the link below to get to the story:

The First Howling Yoga Video has been uploaded!!

Some friends have been encouraging me to create a video about my Kids Yoga classes for a while. Then a friend of mine, who is a videographer, illustrator, video-editor and who-knows-what-else-she-can-do, asked if she could come and film one of my classes. We thought it would also be neat to include an interview with one of my students and her mother. This 10-year-old student of mine, who has been doing yoga with me for more than one year now, agreed to share the benefits she has received from a continuous yoga practice; and you can hear and see her on the video. Meanwhile, her mom does most of the talking from a parent’s perspective.

Here is the link to the video –

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Choosing Breath Instead of Overreacting

One of the teens in today’s yoga class told me about something that happened at school that morning, and how it pissed her off. I was surprised at how the story ended as I saw no big deal on it… But, hey! It all depends on one’s perspective, right? Well… After lots of breathing in class and a long savasana, she came to me and commented, “Now I can see how breathing helped clear my mind to see that I completely overreacted to what happened this morning…”

I wish everyone in the world could learn this. I hold this vision for our future. May we learn to stop before choosing angry reactions that will just make the problem bigger instead of opening up the path to a solution. Imagine how many conflicts would be avoided if we learned this? Yes, it involves mindfulness, paying attention to what is going on inside you and around you, done without judgment. Not easy. But it’d be wonderful to learn to step back while facing some challenging situation, take a deep breath, clear the mind and be capable of making the best decision in the situation you find yourself in. I believe we all can achieve this. And so I encouraged my students in that class to try to take a deep breath before respond to anything another person said to them in a discussion of some sorts.

Another teenager said, “I wish my parents would know this as they yell at me during an argument!” That was a teaching moment since the other students were paying attention when she made this comment out loud. I said, “How about the next time this happens you invite them to stop and take a breath together? Notice I said the word ‘together’, that’s how you get your parents to try your suggestions with you.” She then looked into the distance as if she were imagining the situation in her head. Well, the seed has been planted and I hope she remembers next time some conflict comes up. Just one breath, a deep one taken deliberately; that’s all it takes to remind us to stop and maybe shift our perspective, maybe choose softer words, maybe realize it is no big deal given the bigger picture of our lives. Just one conscious breath to start with.

I have tried this in my own life and it has made a big difference. Let me know if you try it and how that goes for you. I would love to hear your stories too, so feel free to share in the comments section below.

Teen Yoga Class – “Work Hard, Play Hard”!

Today marked 3/4 of a session of eight yoga classes at this local public Middle School. I go there once a week and for the past four classes, when I get there, the students (ages 12-15) have already pushed the tables back and away from the area where our circle will be. And… *drum roll* they have also vacuumed the floor!


Why is this significant to me? Well, first of all, not every teenager gets up to collaborate with something; at least not without presenting some reasons not to do it. So, I applaud the fact that they free up the space for our yoga class, and I don’t even have to ask. They just do it! The other great point here is that it bothers them if they are on their yoga mats and there are some crumbs or pieces of erasers around them. That means they value a clean space for their bodies to be in (the concept of saucha – cleanliness, purity – shows up) and also they are aware of their surroundings, which is good progress already! The more awareness we can bring, the better. First to where we are, then eventually we move into our own bodies, discovering our muscles, the length of our bones and limbs, then diving into the big ocean of emotions, which can be a study of a lifetime itself, opening us up for self-discovery or self-study (svadhyaya).

As we went through poses today, I invited them to go through sequences first with eyes open, then with their eyes closed. One teen pointed out that it made her other senses wake up to try to help since she couldn’t see poses, yet she could hear my description of the poses and how her body would align to it. Another teen pointed that what made it even harder was that she couldn’t look at her peers to see if she had confused her right’s with left’s. A third student said having their eyes closed made the poses harder. Period. This is all part of discovering – how we operate as a person, how we rely too much on one of our senses, what to do when we need plan B, etc. Sometimes they are eager to go into the next pose (adults do that, too! Including myself…), and as I tell them a story or describe what the pose can do for their bodies, they learn to manage that inner fire (tapas) and maybe even find some contentment (Santosha) by being in that pose for a while (sometimes longer than we really want to).2015_spring_Dogline

Of course, we take time to have some fun, too. We play some age appropriate yoga games, do partner poses and also poses as a whole group. Like the one you see here – a bunch of “dogs” in line, or a line of Downward Dogs.



Finally, at the end of class, it is time for relaxation (savasana) and they get to surrender, which is not easy, given that we have been trained to do, do, do and do some more. We are not used to just being! Finding out they have the ability to surrender (related to the fifth niyama – ishvara pranidhana), and that the world will still be turning while they lie on their mats doing nothing can be an eye opener! That’s a way to plant a seed in them about taking time to stop when there is too much (sensation, stimulus, havoc, etc.) going on around them and turn within to calm down and regroup, so we can face whatever life brings from a calmer yet more capable place within ourselves.

Teaching Mindfulness Within a Yoga Class

In my yoga classes I have always tried to incorporate some mindfulness exercises; sometimes in the beginning, sometimes in the end or even both. Savasana is always a good time to bring them back to the present moment as the mind keeps working, essentially doing its job. Nowadays I also do it in the middle of class, when I sense there is some opening for a short lesson on mindfulness or for introducing some mindful technique while performing a yoga pose. Depending on how open the students are at that moment, they will absorb the new skill right there. If they are not, they might remember what was said in a pose later when it comes to mind or they decide to show someone else (parents in case of little kids) that pose.

The way mindfulness gets explained needs to be tailored to different age groups. Of course I would not talk about the prefrontal cortex or amygdala in the middle of a yoga class, even for adults (I try to keep them present and I believe those words could be an invitation for people to zone out!), but examples according to the students’ ages can be presented and made easy to understand or recreate. Like the yoga poses, as a teacher, we need to drop any expectations that all the students will get it on the first, second or hundredth time… Our job is to present the lesson, and the students take what they are ready for.

I taught a yoga class at an Elementary school on the other day and, toward the end of class, while they were lying on their backs for a pose, I asked them to look at the ceiling and notice new things they had not seen before. We sat down and shared what they noticed. When performing the pose on the second side, I asked them to look at the ceiling again, notice what their friends shared and maybe even notice other things no one had mentioned. We then sat and shared some more, giving a chance to those who did not share anything on the first side. Of course, about two of them never shared anything because they were distracted with their hair or looking at their neighbor during that time. For adults, I tend to ask them to focus on feelings and sensations in their bodies while in the poses. For teenagers, I would recommend something in bICS_WP_20150126_002etween the two examples I just mentioned.

I came across an article today and thought it was worth mentioning here. Check out item #4 suggesting to drop the expectations, just like I mentioned in the second paragraph above. This article is geared toward parents, but I believe it can help kids yoga instructors get an idea or two on how to implement mindfulness in their classes.

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.” – Abraham Maslow

Practicing Ahimsa on Earth

Ahimsa, or Non-violence, is one of the yamas (“ethical living” goals) from the Yoga Sutras and can be applied in many different levels.
When I go back to this beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I used to go during my teenage years and see garbage spread all over it, I can’t help it and start cleaning up. Was I the one who trashed the place? No, I would never do that! I could never hurt a place that means so much to me! But even though I was not the one trashing it, myIMG_0195 way to practice ahimsa toward this beach is to clean it up as much as I can while I am visiting, which I’ve been doing for a while. I carry big trash bags (one is attached to my waist in this picture) as I go to the beach and always come back with more than I expected. But I believe that, little by little, we can make the world a better place…
In what ways do you practice ahimsa toward this beautiful living being – our planet Earth?