yogisheart is pleased to present Ana Aparicio Calderon, one of our new scholarship recipients!
Ana has chosen Jamie Surya Yoga in Sparkill, NY to practice at for a year.
A very special thanks to the Teachers at Benjamin Franklin Middle school in Ridgewood, NJ for making this scholarship possible!
We come to yoga to breathe. It’s not the kind of breathing that we do during off hours but a special kind that we save for our time on the mat. One of my favorite teachers once said that “yoga is an invitation to the deeper architecture and not about the gross outer form”. I agree but would like to add that the beautiful manifestation that is the gross outer form is symbolic of that deeper architecture within, and thus plays along wonderfully in our journey of self-discovery. Without it we could not flow, we could not stand on our hands, and we could not feel the sensation of our deepest breath carrying us from one pose to the next.
That special kind of breathing we do in yoga is quite literally uplifting. I remember the first time I learned to synch my movements with my breath I felt like I was flying. Of course, I was focusing on how much higher my arms flew up into the air as I stretched my fingers to the sky in a Sun Salutation, but once I learned how to ride the exhale down to the ground to touch my toes I suddenly felt buoyant once again. From that moment I was hooked on breathing. On the inhale I felt full and powerful, on the exhale I rejoiced in the ride as my body contracted and pulled my insides in tight.
My Dad has a favorite saying- one of many if you know my Dad- that goes, “simple doesn’t always mean easy”. Breathing is a simple concept but everyone knows it’s definitely not always easy. Why does it take some of us so long to discover the power of our breath? Furthermore, why is it always the first thing to go when it’s the best thing to do? When we’re scared we hold our breath in-we hoard it and keep it bound, holding it close to our chest like a child. Then we find out everything is okay and we let out a sigh of relief as if the world is safe enough for us to be a part of again, so we breathe. In yoga one of, if not the sole, teaching is to use the breath as your power, as your motor if you will, and one thing that is always accessible because if it is not then you’re simply not alive and breath is a gift that is only granted to the living.
There are times when in yoga I forget that I’m not using my breath and I use only my physical strength to power through and then the reminder comes when I feel that heavy, crushing weight like gravity just descended upon me for the first time. Then there is a rush of air into my body that fills each crevice, ignites every cell, presses the imaginary on button and suddenly I’m weightless again. Our breath has the magical power of erasing fear and doubt and being a most reliable alchemist. And because it’s always better to quote someone who said it better than yourself, here is the Dalai Lama XIV on breathing, “As you breathe in, cherish yourself. As you breathe out cherish all Beings”.
~ BY: KATHERINE OAKES
I come from a family of athletes, hard core hikers, cross country skiers, black belts, and marathon runners. Normal dinner conversations at home move seamlessly from “What are you reading in class?” to “And how many miles are you up to this week?” For me, joining a sport was no question. I had played soccer since I was five, dabbled in Karate for a few years, played softball, basketball, and ran around the block when I felt the urge. As a kid, I couldn’t wait for the day when I would be old enough to cross country ski the 54 km American Birkebeiner with my grandfather, run the Flying Pig Marathon with my aunt, sprint obstacle courses with my dad, jump hurdles with my mom, and hike across the Appalachian Trail with my siblings.
I feel I was called to start a yoga practice last year when my aunt took me to a class with her. I was beginning to train for my first half marathon, and because I thought of yoga as an hour of forced glorified stretching, I took her up on her offer expecting nothing short of some much-needed limbering up. I don’t remember specifics about the class, but I do remember that the entire sixty minutes I stood, sat, knelt, leaned, and crouched on that mat I couldn’t stop thinking, “Why have I never done this before?” When I walked out of that studio, feeling taller, calm, and for the first time in my life, balanced, I knew that for me to complete my half-marathon training, I needed to incorporate yoga into my schedule.
Over a year later, never did I imagine that I, someone who considered herself a “serious athlete,” would find myself setting up a yoga mat in my New York City apartment every morning before eating my oatmeal. But that’s what I have done the past several months since I moved here, that is until I received the Yogis Heart scholarship. Now I can continue to hone my practice in a studio with other like-minded yogis, taking that one hour five times a week to strengthen my whole body, mind, and spirit. For me, yoga combines all three into one session on the mat, whether I’m in my apartment squeezing in a fifteen minute routine before showering in the morning, or I’m in a class of twenty at a yoga studio. I always learn something new about myself.
For me yoga is both personal and communal. Before receiving the Yogis Heart scholarship, I largely practiced in my living room, on my pink razzmatazz mat either alone, with a DVD, or with my roommate. This worked for me, and for a time was enough to satisfy the need for a yoga practice. But after taking a full week of classes, I realized why yoga needs to also be about community. Moments like watching people balance on one foot, push themselves into bridges, and kick themselves into handstands inspires me to fire that extra thrust into my own core and pull myself up to a pose.
Last Saturday, after taking a class each day five days in a row, I decided to give myself a day off. Something strange happened. I felt … off. My body wasn’t in sync. My mind seemed cloudy. My spirit felt agitated. When I got up to get a glass of water, my legs felt clunky and heavy, my neck felt stiff, and my lower back felt almost too straight.
I took out the faded yoga mat in my living room on auto-pilot, planning to stretch my legs and do some seated twists to limber up my body, but before I knew what was happening, I had moved through one sun salutation, at the end finding myself happily in downward-facing dog. The vertebras in my spine clicked into place, my neck hung low, and I pressed my fingers and palms into the ground, firing up my arms. This is what my body needed. And that’s when I realized just how much of a positive effect five days of yoga had done to transform myself from the way I walk to get a glass of water to the way I want to begin my day. It was realizing how much my body asked for it on a day when I wanted to give myself a rest that I began to truly understand with gratitude and excitement the physical, spiritual, and mental impact the next year of my practice will bring.
Each time I step off my mat I am different. Sometimes that difference isn’t a huge spiritual awakening. Many times all I feel are the small victories like finally reaching the ground in my split or pushing myself deeper into a chair pose. I can’t help but think that if I can take a breath and deepen my Warrior 2 or slow my chaturanga dandasana, then maybe I can run an extra mile in my training, walk the few blocks home after a long day at school, and even finish the next chapter of the novel I’m writing. And that small word maybe, that little hope of encouragement, makes me feel like I can just a little bit conquer the world.
I still run, bike, cross country ski, hike, walk, swim, and sometimes do a little sparring. I will always be training for a race of some sort, and when the dinner discussions at home or on the phone with my family revolve around whether or not I want to bike across Wisconsin next summer with my grandfather, I will probably say, “Yes.” But now, every step I take begins on a rectangular mat and a loud, resounding Om.
by Breanne LaCamera
Why I keep unrolling my mat.
Yoga and I were not an immediate click. In fact, it took me quite a few months of strong suggestions from my mom and friends before I considered a class. I was in a phase of my life where I only considered it a work out if I was in a full sweat and it could be classified as “cardio”. To me, yoga seemed like a glorified nap, and naps were unacceptable for my lifestyle.
A year and a half later, I am now doing yoga four to five times a week and embracing every moment of it. It took several months after I first began, to realize how much it was affecting my daily life. A sense of calmness and self-acceptance began to develop and has continued to evolve.
At first I was only taking hot yoga classes, and I tell people all the time, DO the hot yoga if that’s what gets you to start. I graduated from not practicing yoga, to practicing only hot yoga, to now welcoming any kind of yoga because I realize how far past the work out it goes for me now.
In the past year, I have found so many inspiring teachers and wonderful studios that I truly love going to. I leave each class feeling physically and mentally healthy and fulfilled. Through practicing, I also get a sense of compassion for others. I love when I look next to me and a guy who looks to be about my dad’s age and can barely reach his toes, is sweating his way through it. That inspires me, people who are taking a stand for themselves and their overall wellbeing. Yoga helps me challenge and get real with myself. The more I breathe through the uncomfortable poses in class, the more I learn to handle the uncomfortable situations outside of class with grace and respect.
I also realized recently, that no matter what my mood brings, I want to take yoga. If I am feeling excited and full of energy, of course I want to go to class. If I am feeling tired and feel sluggish, usually I know yoga will help. If I feel like an emotional storm, then I definitely want to go. The treadmill did nothing of the sort for my emotional well being.
Not only is yoga a personal journey, it has its own sense of community. The connections and friendships I have made so far are some of the most genuine I’ve had. I get on my mat each day knowing I have grown so much, and have so much more to grow, and that inspires me and keeps me coming back. I truly never thought I’d trade my running and gym routine for a “glorified nap”. I completely respect what works for each person, though I know for me right now, yoga is something that challenges me, inspires me, and sustains me. It’s something I want to come back to throughout every part of my life.
~ Taylor Jackson
What Brings Me Back To My Mat
“What keeps me coming back to my mat?” is a question I ask myself every time I practice. Yoga has become such a way of life for me and has given me so many tools, that sometimes I am perplexed how people know how to be kind, grateful and love-filled without all the powerful teachings of yoga. Lately this banter’s volume has turned up and I have found myself dumbfounded with how much I love yoga, and I have a strong yearning to know why.
Yoga seems to have such a grip on my heart and I am always thirsty for more, whether it is asana, pranayama, meditation or the sutras, I can’t seem to get enough. In class I listen so closely to what the teachers whom inspire me have to say, as if everything is a juicy secret whispered quietly and if I don’t listen closely l might miss it.
For the first time in quite some time I am not in a romantic relationship. That being said, I‘ve been in a romantic relationship with my yoga practice. It has been the most auspicious time to dedicate myself to my practice. Not only have I been forced into a place in my life where I must grow, but in addition, all my feelings of love are being solely directed to myself. I am somebody who puts my “all”into relationships, I have been trying to have that same magnitude of loving energy which I typically share, poured back into myself.
After almost a year of making my relationship with yoga the priority in my life I am closer to answering my very own question: “What brings me back to my mat?” I keep coming back to my mat because yoga shifts me back to thoughts of love. The purpose of my practice always boils down to generating more love within myself.
In a recent workshop I had a revelation: if I continue to shift my thoughts back to love to generate love, it will become a habit or a pattern, this is called a Samskara in Sanskrit, and inevitably it will become true for me. Samskara’s can be patterns so engrained in us that they are etched on our heart and deep in our subconscious mind that they become our reality and what we believe is really true for us. There is no way for a transformation not to take place within, if we are constantly bringing our thoughts back to love. Thus, the creation of your own personal love Samskara..
Ask yourself what you want; what would the strongest and most confident you look like? It should make you feel happy and excited to think about the outcome and the place you could be in within yourself if you were to really dig deep. I encourage you to start the year off making your transformation your priority and see what incredible shifts can happen.
Have you ever desired something so much that you did everything in your power to avoid trying to get it? Or maybe you did everything in your power to get it. A special person told me a special story about a girl who loved to dance, but she really didn’t love dancing. She loved tacos. Her mother bribed her to dance by giving her tacos: which she, no doubt about it, loved. Although this girl disliked dancing, she did all that she could to get her tacos.
Yoga for me is an island of clarity sitting in a sea of reality. I found that I did much to the opposite of the girl in the story. I did everything I could to avoid getting my tacos, or following my bliss as it was later explained to me.
I have this itch for yoga that I have been trying to scratch for years. Even though yoga is so special to me, we have a funny back and forth relationship, mostly because I don’t give myself enough time to practice. I do a lot of at home practice, because as a full time working college student, it is hard to make time for yoga and it is even harder to get the money to spare for yoga. I am going to be 100% honest when I say, that sentence was extremely hard to type and admit … it kind of makes me cringe. In reality these are all just excuses, and I am sick of making excuses for myself to not practice. I guess I do this because I am almost intimidated by the practice. That one was even harder to admit. I’m in this battle to let go of this silly little thing called ego and to just let myself go through my practice one pose at a time with ease, to follow my bliss. I am so quick to go for a handstand, when I am just perfecting downward dog.
Yogis Heart came into my life as if I was being screamed at to just follow my bliss. So I did. As the fates would have it, I have received what is going to make the true, epic start of my journey with yoga.
“Satnam” I am truth, truth surrounds me. An ironic phrase to live by, because in retrospect and all reality, are we really living a life full of truth? We are constantly surrounded by falseness and many of us forget stop, take a look around, and bring truth and clarity our conscious present. The beauty of all of this is that we can, in fact, live a life of truth and be surrounded by it if we can let go of our egos, and come to the realization that truth will surround us only if we let it. Yoga does that and will do that if we (me specifically) let it.
This scholarship is what I have been looking for, to get my tacos. It will teach me more about this body of mine that I am trying to explore and all that it has to offer, and more importantly I will be able to follow my bliss, practice with ease and an open mind, and, of course, a destroyed ego. Satnam.
Yogis heart is pleased to announce their newest scholarship recipient Bianca Valentini!
Bianca has chosen to practice at Release Yoga Studio in Asbury Park, NJ. We are thrilled to be able to support a studio from the Jersey Shore and help to inspire a transformation not only in a person but also the rebuilding of a community after the storm. Congratulations Bianca!
A very special thank you to Dave and Lori Colin for providing the Dave and Lori Colin Scholarship.
I remember my first ever yoga class. I was 18 years old, nervous, not sure what to expect, and had zero prior knowledge about yoga before coming to class. There were about 7 or 8 people in the room, so I entered, gingerly walking towards the back of the room where I hoped no one would notice me. I set up my mat and lay down on my back as I waited for the instructor to come in. The thoughts running through my head at that point were endless: “I hope no one that I know comes in. How long have these other people been doing yoga? What will they think of my poses? How much hotter will it get in here… class hasn’t even started and I’m sweating. I wonder if I’m the worst one in here.” The instructor came in and class began.
After a hour full of pain, confusion, and embarrassment, I found myself back where I started… on my back, laying in savasana and man, was I happy to be there. This is where I found out what yoga truly is. Stillness, calmness, being in the present moment. Lying there on my back for those 10 minutes (what really felt like 45) was life changing. I felt like I was a 3-year-old kid playing in the front yard without a worry in the world. Everything was going to be OK.
If you told me at that point in time that 3 years down the road, I was going to be a yoga instructor, I would have laughed at you. I was focused on sports, not yoga. I wanted to COMPETE, not breathe. I wanted to run up and down a basketball court, not “come back to my class intention while taking a quick break in child’s pose.” I had the strong male mentality that yoga was used strictly for getting a workout and sweat in when I needed a break from lifting at the gym and no other option was available. My friends would make fun of me if I told them I was going to ditch them to go take a yoga class instead of playing a pick-up basketball game. However, even with all of these potential roadblocks, I kept coming back. A better way to put it would be that something kept pulling me back to the yoga studio. I didn’t know what it was and I’m still not sure if I know what that something was.
As time went on, yoga became a bigger and bigger part of my life. I went from going once or twice a week to three or four times a week. I saw my practice start to grow and expand. I learned that you don’t ‘do’ yoga, you ‘practice’ yoga. I was more of a ‘yogi’ now than I ever was before. But I was still competing. I would look around class to see who has the best warrior II. “Mine is better than _________ (fill in the blank),” I would think to myself. I got happy when the instructor would say “NICE Andrew!!” and not acknowledge anyone else’s pose. I was ready for the next step, becoming a yoga instructor.
Then came teacher training. Truly one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my life. This is where I learned. Not yoga, but about yoga. For me, I realized that I couldn’t learn yoga. You need to experience yoga. My teacher training was lead by two of the most amazing souls. A lady named Kay Kay Clivio and a man who goes by Yogi Charu. They passed along so much knowledge to everyone in my group, way too much to even remember or take notes on. However, there is one thing that I will never, ever forget about my teacher training. My fellow trainees and I were taking a class led by Yogi Charu. During savasana, he was speaking and said something that really changed my approach to life.
“In yoga, we always think about flexibility. Think of the most flexible person that you can possibly imagine. Now… think of someone who is flexible in the mind. Now… think of someone who is flexible in the heart. This is yoga. Flexibility in the mind and heart. No matter how flexible you can be physically, if you can’t become flexible in the mind and in the heart, you will never achieve the goal of yoga.”
This is yoga to me. It really confirmed that I don’t need to have the best warrior II or the deepest backbend in bow pose. We are who we are physically. With our mind and with our heart, we can do more than we would ever be able to do physically. So… think of someone who is flexible. Now, think of someone who is flexible in the mind. Now, think of someone who is flexible in the heart. Become that person.
~ Andrew Hoffman
I remember how stressful it was to be a teen. I remember the academic pressures. I remember the social pressures. I remember the family pressures. Grades, getting into college, extracurricular activities, a job, navigating the complex social nuances of high school, constant negotiations (aka arguments) with my parents, my body changing…to mention a few…did not make it easy or fun. All of these things combined with not really having any idea of who I was…or who I was going to be…equalled one thing: stress.
That was over 20 years ago.
Now as a veteran high school teacher who has watched the world in which teens live change for the past 15 years I can say with certainty that the youth of today experience stress in exponentially greater ways than I ever did. Perhaps more than I ever have in my 38 years. In my somewhat rural and sheltered upbringing I was encouraged to find something that I loved and to put all of my energy into it. For me that was music…it has been my passion for as long as I remember and it teaching music became my vocation. How fortunate for me that I was encouraged to discover and then follow my passion.
That was a different world.
As if being a teenager isn’t challenging enough today’s young people need to be “well-rounded” so they can compete and build a resumé. I couldn’t even spell resumé when I was in high school. This means playing a sport, having some type of artistic involvement, achieving academic success, taking leadership in student government, doing volunteer work, and having a job. When does a young person find time to even learn what their passion is let alone pursue it? For many young people all of these activities create a purgatory and its sole purpose is to facilitate admission to an acceptable college. I see these students everyday diligently pacing themselves in the hamster wheel of the public education system with the carrot dangling in front of them. That carrot will always be there and they will never taste it because it is in an unreachable place: the future.
Yoga teaches us to be in the now and that lesson begins with the breath. What is more in the present moment than the breath you are taking as you read this? Take a moment right now to stop and breathe. In fact before you continue reading just close your eyes and count 5 breaths. I promise you have time.
one. two. three. four. five.
That was the peace of being in the now.
I have taken regular breaks from my curriculum to do yoga with my students. They now ask for it all the time. What they have not been taught prior to yoga is how to stop: how to get off the hamster wheel, if only for five breaths, and get in touch with the power and calm that simultaneously reside in their breath. Yoga gives them this. “I feel so relaxed” they say. “I forgot to worry about my chem test” is the typical type of comment. What a gift. What a luxury. What a lesson. Give the gift of breath to a young person. Give them their life.
That is now.