“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
One of my favorite poems is by Ralph Waldo Emerson “…to know even one life has breathed easier, because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.” These words are a guiding force in my life. As the physical part of my yoga practice has deepen, so has the spiritual. I believe we are all interconnect, each of us a single thread in an incredible tapestry. The Sanskrit definition of yoga means “union”. In the physical practice of yoga, it means union of breath, body and mind. In the spiritual practice, it means union with the divine, the life force that exists in each of us. We acknowledge this every time we say namaste to each other.
As a teacher I want my students, not only to be fit and flexible, but also to live their lives with a sense of overall well-being. So part of my practice as an instructor is to serve, with compassion. I try to make myself accessible, approachable, to listen without judgement, and help whenever I can, even if it’s a hug and a smile. I believe we rise by lifting others. If we are all connected, then if you’re ok, I’m ok, that’s how it works.
A big part of why I am this way, is because of the example my family gave me. Growing we did not have a lot of money, although I never felt it, because they made sure I had everything I needed. My father had skipped town early on and my mother barely made ends meet. Thankfully my grandparents we’re instrumental in raising me. Nevertheless, my family was always helping others. Always. There was never a time I can remember when they were not doing something for somebody, which they still do to this day. It made my world feel rich, abundant, regardless of any material possession.
Recently a friend gave me this One Person Can Make a Difference poem (read below) on my birthday. I held back tears, truly that someone would think of me when they saw this. Then I remembered my mission statement. It helped remind me what I was capable of, and why I started this journey. I am not perfect, far from it. The layers of struggle I’ve had to work through, sometimes by my own design, rivals the best of them. Nevertheless I am grateful for the opportunity to serve, because service is the highest form of yoga. Namaste.
The intimacy of Yoga. What does it mean? Yoga becomes sacred when you start to develop a relationship of love and respect with your body. They always refer to yoga as the mind-body connection because your mind is focusing on your body, and through that focus and attention you begin to discover that you are more than just a body. Your breath becomes your spirit, linking body and mind. Yoga is not just the connection between mind and body, it is the connection of mind, body and spirit, or shall we say “self”.
As you quiet the mind and focus inward you uncover the “self”, the presence within that has always been there, and will always be there. A presence that is infinite, boundless and timeless. A “self” which is connected to something bigger, more expansive then just the constructs of the body or mind. If you tune in with non-judgement during your practice, you will begin to feel the self. Its beauty and power cannot be measured, only felt.
That “self” is the essence of you. An essence that is omnipresent like the oxygen we breathe. We do not see oxygen, nevertheless it is always present. It sustains us. It is the same with our spirit, our self. Most of us focus outward, using judgement, material objects, titles and other superficial measures, trying to find our self-worth, when all we need to do is search within. Our self is whole, it is complete, there is nothing missing, there is nothing wrong. All of the issues we create in our head is false. I love that quote don’t believe everything you think.
Yoga is a journey through the self to the self. I have often said “music and dance saved my life, while yoga healed it”. It is true. Yoga help me find my way back to my spirit, to uncover my soul, with every breath, every twist, every warrior, and every tree. It asked me to be presence and accept myself as I am. It is that process of showing up, the discipline of being present and the commitment to care for my “self” with compassion and non-judgement. I AM HERE right now and I am ok just as I am. There are no labels on you mat, no discrimination, you’re not playing one of your many roles, it’s just you.
If you allow it, compassion will evolve and love will replace doubt, that’s when real healing begins. It is a connection through the self, to the self. So when you feel disconnected, lost or at odds with your life…find your way back on your mat. All of the answers are there, within, located in the essence that is the self.
It’s funny when students who take my yoga classes, see me for the first time teaching Zumba. They are genuinely surprised, if not a bit shocked…LOL. I get all kinds of remarks from “it’s like watching another person” or “one would never think from your yoga class…” It’s true, dance and yoga are my Yin Yang. They balance each other perfectly. They not only provide all of the necessary benefits to help keep your body healthy and fit. They also provide emotional and spiritual health and well-being. They are two-sides of the same coin.
Dance (the Yang), ignites your high energy, enthusiastic side. It is the “language of the soul”. While Yoga (the Yin) inspires beautiful focused movement which flows with breath. It is the “poetry of the body”. There is a lot of synergy between both practices. Both require focus and controlled breathing for stamina. Both develop strength in our bodies. Both help develop rhythm and coordination. Both help us to be present, and most incredibly dance and yoga unites us, as we move as one to the beat and in the flow.
Dance, as a cardio based exercise, helps our body burn calories, however more important than that, it makes our heart pump faster, which helps to strengthens it. The heart is one of the hardest working muscles in our body and perhaps the most important. Cardio from dance also creates “the dancer’s high”, it’s a process in which the body releases endorphins, known as the body’s natural anti-depressant. The natural euphoria helps heal your mind, body and spirit.
Yoga, is typically associated with flexibility, however there are greater benefits. One important benefit which is often overlooked is “breathing”. The focus on breathing throughout the practice is very important. In yoga, attention to breathing is used to helps focus the mind, relax muscles groups and build stamina in order to hold difficult poses. Yoga also builds muscular strength, creates balance and develops coordination. It is a gift to your “self”.
Spiritually both practices inspire me to no end. Both dance and yoga allow me to be a “better version” of myself. They help me connect to a wider world, and they help me heal when I am broken. Both require hard work and discipline, and while I am teaching others, they remind me that I am first and foremost a student. Emotionally, both practices help keep my keel even. It’s a blessing to navigate through life and its storms, feeling centered.
If you’re not doing one or both…..whatcha waitin’ for?
I was born in the industrial town of Elizabeth, NJ. We were surrounded by the Singer factory, the Exxon refinery, and Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal.It was an industrialized inner city. The joke was you could smell when you were in Elizabeth. I grew up surrounded by a thousand shades of grey, everywhere you looked. In an environment like this, negativity abounds, as if your surroundings are constantly confirming the bleakness of life, making you question the nature of your own existence.
Even some of the adults in my life tried to convince me that life sucked-life’s a bitch then you die. In my teens, my mother’s former boyfriend, during a lengthy philosophical conversation, told me we were actually all living in hell, literally. Honestly, he had a lot of good supporting facts to prove his argument. I started to wonder if it was true. What a dismal outlook of life, especially for a teen. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome.
Despite it all, I never stop searching for the truth, perhaps I was born with a spiritual fortitude. Amidst these harsh conditions I experienced moments of incredible beauty, and in the beauty there was truth, absolute truth. Over time, it became clear to me that life was a gift, it was The Gift. I am so grateful for that clarity. The practice of gratitude has deepen my beliefs. I remember I said to my friend, one day at breakfast, that I even welcomed pain. She sent me Rumi’s poem The Guest House. After I read it, I knew I had arrived at another level of understanding.
I’ve met people who are stuck. They’re so wrapped up in their feelings, enmeshed in the confusions they create, they just can’t see it. They can’t see that life is a miracle. If you consider for a moment everything that has to happen for your body to be alive, hundreds of transactions, you begin to see how incredible it is. Then start to extend that awareness to everything around you and you will see the miracle unfold. Life is a gift, it is an opportunity to experience, to learn, to grow, to love, to LIVE. It starts with a willingness to believe it is true and the evidence will reveal itself.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” -Albert Einstein