in Inspiration, Yoga

Tips for Teaching Yoga at a Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Center

One of the BEST yoga teaching experiences I have had to date is teaching at a substance abuse rehabilitation facility. My dear friend and soul sister Cookie and her husband graciously helped me obtain an opportunity to teach at a rehab, Principles Recovery Center.

It challenged me as a yoga teacher and as a person but it fulfilled me so much. I learned from the students as much as they learned from me. It was not easy…most of the students were men and they had a preconceived notion that “yoga was for women” (as do most Westernized men). Most importantly, they were going through one of the toughest times in their lives: recovery from addiction. I saw a lot of myself in them and it inspired me to teach with all my heart in hopes of sparking some type of healing within.

Ace Tomorrow By Trying These 5 Yoga Poses Tonight | Yoga poses ...

Here are some tips based on my experience that will hopefully help other teachers out there efficiently teach this type of demographic:

TEACHING TIPS

  • Style:

When I first began teaching, I mostly taught Kundalini Yoga . Then, I started incorporating Vinyasa Yoga, Yin Yoga, and Hatha Yoga. I also taught pranayama methods and meditation techniques. I would gauge the participants’ moods and chose a style that fit that day. The classes were catered to them and their needs. This is essential because sometimes as a teacher, you want to teach what YOU want, but a yoga class is NEVER about you. It is about your students. Overall, the students were least receptive to Kundalini and most receptive to Yin/Hatha. 

  • Beliefs:

I recognized that I was not teaching avid yoga practitioners who voluntarily came to yoga class. Most of the students had NEVER done yoga and my class was just part of their weekly schedule at the facility. But I was still eager to teach yogic philosophy during practice because I wanted them to truly know the WHOLE of yoga…not just the fitness aspect that Western society concentrates on. However, esoteric language and spiritual references were often times met with eye rolls and snarky remarks. I even faced backlash from an atheist student one time I mentioned “God”.  I struggled because I did not want to water down yoga philosophy in any way, but I realized that I could not make anyone believe in something that they had no interest in believing. Everyone is on their own journey and my job as a teacher is to be compassionate and understanding of everyone all the while guiding them to expand their consciousness, in whatever way serves them best.  So from that day forward, I seldom used the word ‘God’, but I did refer to God as consciousness, higher power, source, love or light. I also swapped out the word ‘chakras’ for energy centers and used more scientific and anatomical terms. It was like sneaking vegetables in your kid’s dinner: they were still getting the benefits but didn’t know 🙂 Keeping it simple worked out best. 

  • Intensity / Time:

The students will obviously be recovering from some type of drug or alcohol abuse, therefore, they will probably be experiencing physical aches, pains, and shakes.  It can be difficult for some to keep up with a high intensity flow or hold postures for too long, which can lead to quitting and discouragement. To avoid this, I started off slowly and increased intensity/time as I saw fit. Although I agree that students need to be pushed out of their comfort zone and guided to their “edge”, a teacher’s discernment is his/her best friend.  I always reminded them that if the class got too intense, they were welcome to take child’s pose or lie on their back to rest. This needed to be emphasized as I witnessed many occasions of unhealthy competition which could have potentially led to injury. 

  • Practice Certain Postures With Caution:

My Kundalini Yoga teacher trainer, Deva Kaur, advised us to use caution with certain postures in all male classes that can be viewed as sexual in nature. She told us about one time while teaching Kundalini yoga at a men’s prison, the entire class went bonkers during cat-cows. They all lost focus and got disruptive. I found this advice to be helpful as a woman teaching a class full of men and I can confirm that bridges are to be used with caution as well: in one instance, it got quite uncomfortable for me as all these men started doing up and down movements obnoxiously in an obviously sexual manner and laughing up a storm. Not a great experience, but definitely learned that cat-cows, bridges, and other similar postures are to be used sparingly. Also, I was always aware of the angle in which I was practicing a posture in front of the class. 

  • Shavasana:

Remember: most people (who do not regularly practice yoga) do not know how to relax. It takes longer for them to activate their parasympathetic nervous system and release tension in their body.  I realized that the students needed extra time and guidance heading into relaxation, otherwise, they would just fidget and constantly move around in shavasana. Some students did not like lying down and preferred to sit.  Stress balls came in handy for these individuals. I had them squeeze the stress balls and coordinate their breath with the movement. Playing soft music also helped immensely during this time. 

  • Meditation:

I quickly noticed that Kundalini Yoga meditations were not a fan favorite. The meditations that were well received were short guided meditations and meditations using a mala. The meditations would never exceed 5 minutes and were always done after practice. I also incorporated still moments in between postures. I encouraged them to focus on their breath, the inhale and exhale. I seized every moment I had to bring them in the present moment and out of their thoughts. 

  • Chanting:

The most chanting that I ever got out of my students was a sheepish OM. Aside from that, they did not want to participate. Understandably so…do you remember your first yoga class where you had to chant in a foreign language without knowing what the heck you were saying or without having the knowledge of the power of mantra? Chances are you felt out of place or perhaps even silly. I particularly LOVE chanting, but again…it is about the student, not the teacher! When I taught Kundalini yoga kriyas, I selected the ones with minimal chanting, if at all. In other classes, I stuck to OM in the beginning and at the end of the class. 

  • Handling Distractions:

In a group like this, there will be distractions. It is what it is. Students laughed at some of the postures or cracked jokes. I just continued to instruct and encouraged them to keep going. Laughing is totally cool…it diffuses the seriousness of the class…but be careful as it can take everyone out of focus. I let them have a chuckle or two and kept it moving. Needless to say, I was particularly vigilant of the patients not participating in class. They chose to sit on a chair or take a nap on the floor, which was fine with me, until some began to disrupt the students doing yoga by making fun of them or using their cellphones. This made the students practicing lose focus or feel embarrassed. I would simply say, “please do not be disruptive to other students trying to have an experience.” They usually stopped. Be prepared to ask someone to leave the room if need be. It rarely ever gets this far, but it is important to protect the environment of your class. I always tried my best to make sure that my students felt safe, judgement-free, and respected at all times. 

  • Extra Motivation Needed:

Individuals struggling with addiction feel dis-empowered. It is important to help them direct their attention on regaining their power. I recall one instance where I said, “Ok class, don’t quit, almost there!” and one student replied, “Well quitting is normal to me, so….” In another occasion,  I said, “It is ok to chant, there is no judgment here”, and another student jokingly replied, “haha that is what my drug dealer said.” I took these opportunities to respond, “Quitting may have been your norm but not anymore”, and, “There is no judgment here and unlike your drug dealer, nothing bad can come from doing yoga.” Little counters like this bring the focus back on their strength, courage, and accountability and out of their powerlessness and defeated mindset.  I also gave them plenty of praise and encouragement during practice, especially for effort. This group needs a good dose of motivation and inspiration to go along with their yoga class. Reading quotes at the end of class was a great touch as well. 

  • Watch Teacher Triggers:

There might be students who want to test you. They will attempt to test your patience, knowledge, and authority. Keep in mind that these students are NOT at your level of consciousness. I had to remind myself of this frequently as to not let them get under my skin. As a passionate yoga lover, it bothered me a bit when they would make fun of the chants or not take the postures seriously. But after a breath or two (and maybeeee a death stare), I came back to the fact that hey, it’s not towards me and they just don’t know or care about yoga like I do….YET. This was a great lesson for me about compassion, reactivity, and not taking anything personal. Yoga is so cool like that!

I WANT TO KNOW….

Did these tips help you teachers out there? Are there any other tips that you wish to share with the world regarding teaching this type of demographic? I invite you to leave a comment below so we can all learn together 🙂 

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, Principles Recovery Center is ready to help. Please visit their website for more information. 

 

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Hatha Yoga Teacher Training – at an Ashram!

When I finished my Kundalini Yoga teacher training, teaching classes was one of the greatest experiences for me. Sharing knowledge and seeing firsthand how yoga transformed people brought me unexplainable joy. But after a year, I felt the need to be a student again. I had been delving deep into Hatha Yoga studies on my own so I decided it was time to seek out a proper teacher.

I longed to go to India to study with a real teacher in an ashram, but you see ::Kevin Hart voice:: the way my bank account set up –  lol…well that and the fact that I have a small child and I run a real estate business single handedly – prevented me from going. So I researched other ashrams nearby. It turned out that there was an ashram 8 minutes away from my house that I had NEVER heard of! And the teacher was a legit yoga master! You can imagine how ecstatic I was. I couldn’t go to India but India came to me. So off to Yogi Hari’s Ashram I went.

Our class practicing yoga underneath a Bodhi tree at the ashram

TEACHER TRAINING

Teacher training at Yogi Hari’s ashram was an immersive yogic experience to say the least. I lived there for two weeks with the exception of sleep – since I live so close, I chose to go home at night to sleep in my comfy bed – don’t judge me! This was our daily schedule:

5:30 am – Wake up
6:00 am – Meditation, Nada Yoga, Lecture
8:00 am – Asanas, Pranayama
10:00 am – Brunch
11:00 am – Karma Yoga
12:00 pm – Personal Studies
2:00 pm – Main Lecture
4:00 pm – Asanas, Pranayama
6:00 pm – Dinner
7:30 pm – Meditation, Nada Yoga, Lecture

It was pretty much non-stop all day.  I would drop dead in my bed at 10:00pm…but we learned SO MUCH! Yogi Hari shared his knowledge about the yoga sutras and would give us personal stories to tie the lessons together. He loved to do Nada Yoga and you can tell his heart was in his voice as he chanted. His disciples, Rama and Ambika, taught us how to teach an authentic Sampoorna yoga class for beginners and advanced alike. We learned posture variations, posture corrections, different pranayama methods, and yogic cleansing techniques (those were really fun…anyone like enemas?? LOL). The amount of yogic knowledge I gained is invaluable. It is exactly what I hungered for!

Rama & Ambika teaching us posture variations

OTHER EXPERIENCES

  • SELF DISCOVERY & SPIRITUAL GROWTH – At the ashram, I felt like a different person. My life didn’t revolve around endless responsibilities, long to-do lists, and other worldly duties. The identity of ‘Nelsy’ and all the labels attached to her ceased to exist (for the most part anyways). Instead, the sole focus was on going inward and discovering the hidden gems that lie within.  I had ALOT of time to ‘go inside’…two weeks of intense, uninterrupted focus on spiritual growth helped me tremendously.

Lounging in the patio

  • COMMUNITY, TOLERANCE, & LOVE – Living together with 30 other yogis from all corners of the world was so cool. I mean yeah, there were some challenges: some people had quirks, others had certain personality traits, so on and so forth…But regardless of our differences, we grew very close and became a little yogi family. We took care of each other, helped one another, and supported each other. Teacher training was difficult but sharing time and space with these beautiful souls made it worthwhile. They will always have a special place in my heart, including the disciples.

Dinner time

  • SUNRISE MEDITATION/YOGA AT THE BEACH One of the events we had to participate in during our training was a sunrise meditation and yoga class at the beach (gotta love Florida!). The whole experience absolutely blew me away…such peace, stillness, beauty, wholeness. I had a profound moment during meditation that I will never forget and truly there are no words to describe it but I will say this: I strongly suggest to update your bucket list to include a meditation and yoga practice on the beach at sunrise at least once in your life!

Our class meditating on the beach

BITTERSWEET ENDING

Graduation turned out to be a beautiful ceremony. We cried, laughed, and reminisced about all of our yogic adventures during those long but short two weeks. Although I was happy to go back to my life, a part of me was undeniably sad. I realized that living a spiritual life in the real world was MUCH MORE demanding than living it in an ashram or a cave somewhere. You have jobs, finances, children, spouses, pets, etc. constantly fighting for your attention. It takes significant effort, dedication, and discipline to lead a spiritual life in the outside world. I knew that going back to ‘normal’ meant that my lengthy practices and newly developed habits would be threatened to take a backseat.

Well here I am, reporting almost a year later, to tell you that my prediction was correct. I do not spend nearly half as much time meditating, chanting, or practicing yoga as I did in the ashram. But I do not feel bad about it because it would be unrealistic for me to meditate and practice yoga 5 hours a day given my current circumstances. Oh how I wish things would be different, but for the time being, they are what they are. So I make it a point to dedicate time to my spiritual life everyday, whether that be two hours or 10 minutes.

I am grateful for having been blessed with the opportunity to live in an ashram and experience the beauty of dedicating one’s life to exploring within, exploring God, and exploring yoga. I will take what I learned with me and continue to share it with the world 🙂 Om Shanti!

Top: Yogi Hari and I // Bottom: Class Picture on Graduation Day

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Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training

A Transformative Journey

I will never forget my first Kundalini Yoga class. I don't think most people do.

My friend Elsa, who was in the middle of training to become a Kundalini Yoga instructor, asked me to attend her "yoga" class, which she held out of her real estate office. I was experienced in Vinyasa Yoga so I was thrilled to have a chance to practice, no matter where it was.  LITTLE DID I KNOW...this was NOT Vinyasa.

"ONG NAMO GURU DEV NAMO!!!!!" Elsa chanted loudly to start the class. We were supposed to have our eyes closed, but I peeked through my right eye to see what the heck was going on. I had never heard of Kundalini Yoga before then but I decided to just go with the flow. I was absolutely stunned to see how effective this practice was in getting me to relax and quiet my mind in such a short time. Yes, I felt awkward at first, but after a few minutes my body remembered. It remembered that this ancient practice was a part of my ancestral lineage. It was a part of who I was. My soul reveled in this recollection and now all that was needed was for my conscious mind to catch up to the Truth.

And did it catch up!! I was hooked after the first class. I wanted to learn everything there was to know about the practice. I stayed up several nights watching YouTube videos and reading tons of articles about Kundalini Yoga. I read great things, controversial things, and also scary things, which deterred me for a while [ugh, fear *eyeroll*]. But then I came across an article about the Master of Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Bhajan, and I was surprised to discover that his birthday was the same day as mine. I took that as a huge sign from the universe. I wanted to go deeper....so after just a few months of being introduced to Kundalini Yoga, I signed up for Level 1 Teacher Training.

Image result for so it begins meme

TEACHER TRAINING

Level 1 Teacher Training took about nine months and was a pretty big commitment. Once or twice a month, we would meet all weekend long. The first day, my stomach was in knots.  I didn't know what to expect nor did I know anyone there. We all had to sit in a huge circle to introduce ourselves. I am naturally outgoing but speaking in front of 40 strangers gave me a bit of anxiety.

Truth be told, it went pretty well. As the months passed, we got to practice speaking in front of the class and interacted in smaller groups. We thoroughly discussed topics from our books and many personal matters on a one-on-one basis, which allowed me to get to know some of my fellow classmates on an intimate level. We even took turns in teaching our first yoga class in small groups. Oh, and the workload was not for the faint of heart. We had to read and take in A LOT of information but fortunately our teacher, Deva Kaur (a/k/a the Queen of Kundalini 😉 ), was amazing at explaining everything to us. For me, it all felt so familiar. It felt like home.

Our Level 1 Teacher Training Graduation Ceremony in Yoga Source

WHAT I GAINED

  • KNOWLEDGE: What didn't I learn!? We were taught so many things: The roots of Kundalini Yoga; yogic philosophy; humanology and yogic lifestyle; Western anatomy; yogic anatomy; awakening consciousness through pranayam, mantra, asana, mudra, bhandas, and meditation; the role, responsibilities, and identity of a Kundalini Yoga Teacher; proper yoga class structure; teacher etiquette; and SO MUCH MORE. The beautiful part about the knowledge we received is that we were not "talked at" all day long about these topics. Instead, we were very interactive and EXPERIENCED most of the things we studied.

 

  • GROWTH: My vulnerable side and I had been out of reach for yearrrrrsss. I equated it to weakness. Boy was I wrong. There is so much power in acceptance and vulnerability. We had to speak in front of the whole class at times. Other times we had to speak to a partner about a sensitive or personal topic. We were told to get up and dance in many instances. Or walk around the studio. Or lay down and suck on our tongues. Or chant with our eyes open. Or watch others cry. There was definitely no room for embarrassment or judgment here. These experiences helped me gain a stronger acceptance of myself and others. It allowed me to embrace vulnerability in a way I had not before, which helped me to grow as a person.

 

  • PERSPECTIVE: My perspective on spirituality definitely changed. It does NOT have to be serious all the time. For God's sake, life is meant to be FUN! For example, at lunch we were always given a delicious Indian meal. It was all good until those beans started kicking in and farts started flying out of people left and right. Man, I had my fair share of giggles. Also, there were times where we had to stay in baby pose for a while and I felt like I was drowning in sheep hair. I would sit up, spitting all over myself, trying to get the hair out of my mouth [in Kundalini Yoga, we sit on sheepskins while practicing]. This was the epitome of human-ness in spirituality. And I loved it.

 

  • PUSH PAST LIMITS: This training helped me push past the limits of my mind. Sitting on the floor for 8 hours was not easy. Plenty of times it hurt like heck, but I did it. Keeping up with the 40 day meditation challenges was also difficult, but I did it. Studying textbooks for hours and preparing class schedules was daunting.....but I did it. Your mind can play tricks on you and make the tasks at hand seem insurmountable...until you overcome them. Having the confidence and belief that you CAN do things is key; because in reality, YOU CAN DO ANYTHING YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO. 

 

  • COMMUNITY: Lastly, I began to put my guard down and was more open towards others. I actually started to TRUST people! And I am glad I did, as I gained a sense of what a real community is. I felt supported, guided, and loved the entire time. I met some amazing friends and I was finally able to come together with members of my soul tribe who love me just the way I am.

 

Me, speaking at the Graduation Ceremony

HIDDEN JOURNEY

I went into Teacher Training with a insatiable hunger for knowledge. What I left with was far more than just that. In the process of learning the origins and intricacies of this ancient practice and the methods on how to teach it to others, I learned so much about myself.

It has given me such an appreciation for life (and my body) that otherwise I do not believe I would have attained. The relationship with my mind has significantly improved and continues to get better, one meditation at a time. Before being introduced to Kundalini Yoga, I was on a fast track to disaster. Unhealthy thoughts and habits, destructive relationships, stressful career, and harmful behavior patterns were my norm. I did not know who I was or the power I possessed as a woman.  I can honestly say that Kundalini Yoga played a big part in being able to let all that go. It taught me to self-reflect in order to self-correct.

In the span of nine months, I shifted right before my very eyes. The amount of transformation that occurred in that time is monumental for me. It brought me closer to my true authentic self.  I discovered that this was not a regular yoga teacher training, but a gentle nudge towards a profound inward journey.  I can honestly say that all of my classmates and I left this training a changed person, in one way or another. I recommend this training to anyone who is looking to teach Kundalini Yoga, but more so for those who are willing to grow and evolve as a spiritual being having a human experience.

SAT NAM!

Class Picture

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A Gift from Paramahansa Yogananda

ALL of us are on a spiritual journey, whether we are aware of it or not. But those of us who ARE aware of it get to experience some real fun and unexplainable things along the way.

I totally believe that there is NO SUCH THING as random coincidences or situations of chance. All is divinely orchestrated. As a matter of fact, my favorite Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, first coined the term synchronicity in the early 1920's. He described synchronicity as "events that are 'meaningful coincidences' if they occur with no casual relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related."

Ever since I consciously embarked on my spiritual journey, the synchronicities have been insane...and continue to get wilder!! I admire how the universe loves to blow my mind. To me, synchronicities are like winks or smirks from God, letting us know we are on the right path. I mean come on....when I was on the fence to fully commit to study Kundalini Yoga, I found out my birthday is the same day as Yogi Bhajan's birthday! WHOA.

I have countless synchronicity stories and I am sure you do too (11:11 anyone?). But I felt compelled to share a particular story that just happened to me two weeks ago.

A Gift from Paramahansa Yogananda

One of my soul sisters, Elsa, gave me "The Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda as a birthday gift. I'd like to think that most people who study and practice yoga have at least heard his name once before or know of his contributions in delivering yogic philosophy to the US. I had certainly heard of him but was not too familiar with his story.

Autobiography of a Yogi

Anyhow, I had planned to travel to Boston to visit my brother on Labor Day weekend.  The night before I left to Massachusetts, I decided to read one more chapter of this memorizing book. I was dead tired, but for some reason, I felt compelled to read a little more. As I am reading Chapter 21, he made mention of coming to America and eating strawberries...in Somerville, Massachusetts!! I immediately sat up in my bed. The tiredness completely left my body. I was like, "Wait, what??? He has a center in Massachusetts? How crazy, that is where I am going tomorrow! I would love to go! But it's probably too far. If it's meant for me to go, I'll get a sign." (I can imagine a giggle or two from my spiritual audience right now...we know what happens when we ask for a sign!) 

So fast forward to the airplane right before take off. I'm reading a Loner Wolf article that appeared in my email inbox earlier that morning. Lo and behold, there was a quote by none other than Paramahansa Yogananda! I was like, OK...this is the sign I asked for. 

I get to Boston and I reluctantly ask my brother if he could take me to a city called Somerville. I hoped it wasn't too far away. He looked at me and said, "For sure! Its only 10 minutes away!" I was in shock. I had no idea it was that close. I was a bit bummed to see on my Google Search that the center was closed at that time, but I decided to make the best of it. So on our way to visit Salem, we stopped by the Self-Realization Fellowship center in Somerville.  I pull up and get out, admiring the historic building. I couldn't believe I was actually standing in front of this place!

Me, at Self-Realization Fellowship Boston Center

As I am taking pictures, I notice that the door is slightly cracked...and so does my curious son. He pops his head in to check it out and quickly runs over to me. Out comes the groundskeeper, Jean.  He is sweaty from trimming the hedges and preparing the inside of the center for service that night. He is a super nice guy, tells us all about the history of the building and how much Yogananda's teachings had saved his life. I say to him, "Hey Jean, I come all the way from Miami...you think I can take a quick peek inside even though it is closed?" He was happy to oblige.

I walked in behind him and passed church-ish pews and came up to a nice-sized stage. On the wall behind the stage, there were huge pictures of Krishna, Jesus, Yogananda, and Yogananda's master, Sri Yukteswar. The second my eyes met Yogananda's eyes in the picture, I felt his humbling presence. I almost wanted to bow in reverence. Not because I saw him as a God to be worshiped, but because his soul had personally guided me to this very moment. What a privilege...what a gift. 

Jean continued discussing facts about Yogananda's legacy and proceeded to give me booklets containing information about the center. As I exited the building, I commented to him how crazy I thought it was that I had been led there, as I had been on the fence about jumping into studying different branches of yoga. Jean turns to me, smiling, and says, "But you know, there are no such thing as coincidences".

Source

This experience was definitely a confirmation from the universe (and from Yogananda himself) for me to dive deeper into Yoga and continue my studies in various types of Yoga, not just Kundalini. It had been a topic of debate in my mind for a while now. It was also proof that we are always being guided towards the right path...we just have to pay attention and trust. Spiritual lessons and signs may not always present themselves in the way you expect (or even want), BUT THEY ARE ALWAYS A GIFT. 

If and when you experience these delightful "meaningful coincidences", take a moment to acknowledge the intricate planning that took place, just for YOU. No synchronicity is small. A quick thank you prayer does the trick for me: Thank you God for always supporting and guiding me. I am humbled, I am grateful, I love you.

 

SAT NAM!        NAMASTE!

 

*Need help with recognizing the more subtle signs? The best way is to BE in the Here and Now, the present moment! Also, you can try journaling or work on a gratitude workbook (I created this free workbook for you, no excuses!), as introspection can also bring them to light 🙂 Enjoy!

 

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4 Reasons Why You NEED to Start Journaling NOW

There are times where I have had thoughts and feelings that I just could NOT share with anyone.

I am pretty sure everyone has had these moments as well. We do not want to hear advice or criticism, we want to express ourselves without having to censor anything. We want to let it all out without repercussions. Well, I can tell you that my trusty journal has allowed me to do just that.

I began journaling years ago, at the request of my spiritual teacher. At first, I was a bit skeptical. "I am not feeling this 'Dear Diary' crap", I would say to myself, pouting with pen in hand. It felt like a chore. But as time went on, I was surprised at the relief I felt every time I finished. I was amazed at the things I would discover about myself. Who was this brave new women shamelessly and unapologetically writing whatever the heck she wanted? Whoa. I realized I had a voice, and it mattered.

A beautiful ceramic teacup placed on a diary while the tea evaporates as steam

Journaling is a personal writing practice that allows you to vent. It's like an adult diary. It becomes a safe space, a place where you are not judged or condemned or scrutinized for your thoughts. Journaling has become my best friend, and it can become yours too. Here's why:

1. You Get To Know Yourself

Most of us don't know who we truly are. We have been conditioned to act and behave in certain ways to please others. We have acquired so many masks throughout the years that we actually believe we are those masks. Journaling lets you put those masks down, at least for a while. It allows you to be free, to be yourself. What dreams are you putting off? Do you have healthy boundaries with others and yourself? What are your triggers and why? How do you talk to yourself? What are some habits that you want to let go of?  Self-awareness is born out of observing the the things you do, think, and say. Dig deep, get to know yourself.

2. You Receive Insight

Wouldn't it be nice to have someone to guide you all the time and give you the best possible advice you should take in any situation? NEWSFLASH: You already have that person - your Higher Self. Your soul is always guiding you. You just have to quiet your mind and listen. Journaling allows your Higher Self to step in and provide you with insights and wisdom regarding anything you are going through. There are times that I would journal about a particular concern and feel stuck. Then, I would meditate for a few minutes and quiet my mind. In that quiet space, I would proceed to journal again. I noticed that this time, I was writing from a bird's eye view. I no longer felt stuck. The answer became clear as day. THIS is how your Higher Self shows up and shows out in journaling. 

3. You Can Set Goals and Track Progress

A big part of why I love journaling is that you can set goals, write action steps, and track your progress. When you look back, you actually see how far you have come. It is inspirational really. Not going to lie though, there are many 'goals' I had set for myself a while ago that I look at now and I think, "THIS is what you wanted to strive for? You gotta be kidding me." I see how far I have come spiritually and mentally. Half the stuff I set 'goals' for I no longer care to obtain because I am in a different place of consciousness. It is all about growth and changing your goals according to how you are growing.

4. It Facilitates Healing

Hands down the best perk of journaling is that it facilitates healing. It lets you release emotions you did not even know you had. By feeling those unwanted feelings and writing about them, you are initiating healing. You are releasing the old, making room for the new. This is particularly hard for me because I conditioned myself to stuff down and ignore unwanted emotions (like most people actually). As you know, this is unhealthy and later bites you in the butt. Journaling has helped me acknowledge suppressed feelings and shed light on it, little by little. There is something so powerful about seeing your writing becoming smudged by your tears, almost as if you are washing away your pain. The only way you start to heal, is if you feel.

SO HOW DO YOU DO THIS MAGICAL JOURNALING THING?

Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. Grab a pretty notebook and start writing what you think and feel for at least 5 minutes a day. That's it. If you don't like writing or if you feel like your privacy might be comprised in any way, download a diary or password protected notebook app and type away [I like Microsoft OneNote and Evernote]. The main things are to do it consistently and DON'T HOLD BACK!!

HAPPY JOURNALING 🙂

 

 

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5 Life Changing Ways to Practice Self-Love

AAAHHHH SELF LOVE.......

Image result for self love image

How many of us actually know what it even means? A mani and pedi once a month? A nice massage? How about a long bubble bath? All these acts certainly qualify as self-love, but you are selling yourself short. Let me explain.

You see, we are ALREADY LOVED. We are ALREADY WHOLE. But riding out this lifetime in a skin suit means we may forget these simple Truths. I know I have and continue to. But we have to gently (and repeatedly) remind ourselves that love is our essence. We are worthy of love because love is who we are. So how do we remind ourselves? By choosing to practice self-love.

My definition of self-love is the practice of honoring yourself by CHOICE. So go get that mani and pedi! Indulge in that massage! But those acts are merely the tip of the iceberg. Real self-love involves choosing to get down and dirty...and that's why many of us, including myself, resist self-love.

Whyyyy??? Well, it just HURTS sometimes. It hurts to make choices that align with your Truth because those choices can cause upheaval in your life. It is much easier to remain in the realm of comfort and security, even if your perceived 'comfort and security' continues to hurt you. At least it's a consistent hurt you can rely upon right? [YES, THERE IS A HINT OF MADNESS THAT LIVES WITHIN US ALL]  Not to mention it hurts to love those 'unloveable' aspects of us that we wish would just be gone! 

But when you make the choice to love yourself, even if it causes you a significant amount of pain, it ALWAYS leads you to the right path. Yes, choosing self-love hurts sometimes. It just does. You are consciously CHOOSING to go through "pain", holding onto nothing but faith and hope. It takes a grand amount of courage to do so, but I believe it is beyond worth it at the end. It brings you that much closer to completely loving and accepting yourself for who you really are. (And ultimately, isn't that what all of us strive for as human beings?)

So how does one practice self-love besides the obvious spa visits? I have been experimenting for a while now because well, I just didn't really love myself as much as I deserve. I am still doing the work, but BEHOLD! Here are a few ways I've learned to CHOOSE to love myself:

(WARNING: They are not that easy, but SOOOO worth it!)

1. Analyze Your Habits

Do they make you happy or empower you? Do they bring you a sense of joy or peace? Do they positively affect your health? Or do they leave you feeling empty, drained, guilty, or angry? Make the CHOICE to hack away at the demoting habits that hurt your mind, body, and soul. There are plenty of books that can teach you how to create new, healthy habits in place of the ones you want to get rid of [I suggest reading "The Power of Habit" by Charles Duhigg]. But please, do not try to re-wire your entire life in one week. Start off with one or two simple habits and snowball from there.

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2. Analyze Your Inner Dialogue 

If your inner voice(s) was audible, what would that sound like to the rest of us? Would we want to stick up for you because you are just so damn mean to yourself? Cut it out! Make the CHOICE to be kinder to yourself. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend [I'm sure you wouldn't tell your friend she looks absolutely hideous. So why would you tell yourself that?] You can practice this by being more aware of your thoughts and quickly replacing the negative ones with positive ones. Or just simply apologize to yourself for that rude thought and give yourself a compliment instead. SELF-ACCEPTANCE GOES HAND IN HAND WITH SELF-LOVE!

3. Analyze Your Circle

Are there certain people in your life that are super negative, extremely needy or extra critical? What about people who constantly gossip about others? Or those who always flake out on you at the last minute? Take a step back and see if they are worth keeping around. DON'T GET ME WRONG...No one is perfect. You and I sure as heck aren't either. But when someone does more bringing down than lifting up, it's time to step away for the sake of your own sanity. CHOOSING the right company is very important for your well-being. What about family? Same rules apply. Just because they are family doesn't mean you need to continue to be subjected to their crap. Minimal contact is best, but only you know what works for you and your situation. Point is to make sure you have plenty of love and support around you. (And ahem...make sure you are extending love and support to them as well!) 

4. Pay Attention To Your Inner Child

STOP! Think of a couple of super fun moments in your childhood. No for real, look away and actively bring up those memories. Are you smiling yet?? Adulting can be sooo monotonous. You can quickly lose touch with your inner child by tending to life's endless responsibilities and tasks. But they are still inside of you, waiting to be played with. Make the CHOICE to let that aspect out of you out once in awhile! Laughing, having fun, and just enjoying life is practicing self-love. Who knew right?? Here are a few ideas to get the fun started: go to a park and ride the swing or slide, play hop scotch or skip around, make sand castles or dig in the dirt, play your favorite childhood board games, finger paint or draw in coloring books, share silly jokes, play with toys, race or have tickle games with your children. Use your imagination! 

5. Just Breathe

 I LOVE THIS ONE. This is a simple exercise you can do for a couple of minutes every morning as soon as you wake up. Place one hand on your heart and the other on your stomach and breathe. Feel your heart beating. Feel your tummy rising and falling from each breath. Close your eyes and say to yourself (or think) "I love you". Continue to breathe. Smile. Try to conjure the emotion of what it would actually feel like if you truly and completely loved yourself. Would you feel freedom? Peace? Acceptance? Happiness? Wholeness? Try to FEEL these feelings..and JUST BREATHE THEM IN. You do not have to do this particular exercise, but make the CHOICE to dedicate a few minutes of your day to do one that connects you to your breath. Meditation, perhaps? 🙂

Image result for Elliana Esquivel breathe

NOW GO GET'S TAH LOVIN' YOSELF <3 

Top Image by: Rita Loyd // Other Images by: Elliana Esquivel

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4 Things I Learned From Spiritual Solitude

With a show of hands, who loves to be alone??
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Chances are, unless you are a cat, you do not like being alone. The majority of human beings go to great lengths to avoid being alone, mostly out of fear...but do you want to know a secret? Being alone is NOT the same as being lonely.
See, I've discovered that loneliness stems from a belief or thought that something, outside of yourself, makes you whole. When the person or thing you are codependent on is no longer around, you feel empty, or incomplete. I've never met anyone who said that they CHOSE to feel lonely; the cause of loneliness is mostly due to the departure or absence of something external. This is what most people erroneously refer to as "being alone".
However, 'aloneness' [or in other words, solitude] is NOT a result of uncontrollable variables, but rather a CHOICE. A choice to separate yourself from people, places, and things that are clouding your vision or reality. Ultimately, spiritual solitude is a choice to experience your WHOLENESS and to uncover your TRUTH, by yourself.  Despite our constant efforts to stray away from solitude, it is a core part of our 'human-ness'. HEY, WE ARE BORN ALONE AND WE DIE ALONE RIGHT? To some extent, that saying has validity. I recognized that although energetically we are all connected, physically we are our own mini world. [[So we are a little universe within a huge universe, but we are still THE universe, get it?]] Being in physical form allows us to experience 'separation', a notion that does not exist in higher realms. Almost every spiritual teacher in the history of mankind has attested to the importance of solitude, and the need for that time period in your life to be embraced and built upon. WELL, WHY IS THAT? Ahhh I am glad you asked 🙂 Allow me to share 4 aspects of spiritual solitude that I have learned and experienced:

1. CLEANING HOUSE

Solitude 'cleans out your closet', so to speak. The demons hiding in those cracks and crevices come out to play. Addictions, emotional wounds, childhood traumas, toxic beliefs and behaviors, etc. rear their ugly little heads. Let them come out! They have been hiding for a reason, maybe to give you protection or comfort from the outside world. Observe them and their core meanings, then make the decision to let them go if they no longer provide a healthy purpose. Their aim is to be acknowledged, to be held, to be loved, to be understood, to be accepted, and to be released. By doing this, you have essentially learned to heal yourself. [By the way, sometimes these little suckers will come back again and again until you are really ready to  completely release them. Many of them have several layers that need to be healed one by one. So have patience with yourself in the process, Ok? 🙂 ]

2. BREAK DOWN

Solitude has the same effect on you like a snake shedding its' skin. Once you 'clean out your closet', you slowly begin to 'shed' or let go of the low vibrations that no longer serve you.  All of the things that bought you comfort, that once helped you hide or distract you from your pain, are no longer acting as your crutch. [SCARY!] Solitude exposes all the lies/false beliefs you've been fed [or have been feeding yourself]. This will leave you raw, vulnerable, and HUNGRY for answers. You will want to seek Truth. S**t needs to change for the shift to happen. 

3. SELF-DISCOVERY

Solitude sends you down the path of self-discovery. Keep your mind and heart open and choose to grow in this season. If it is answers you seek, answers YOU SHALL RECEIVE.  Explore who you really are and what your Higher Purpose is. Dig into your own psyche to know the reasons why you say, think, and do things in order take inventory: if it is authentic, if it is your Truth, it stays. If not, Toodle-Lo! Solitude will help reveal one of the most important keys to life: SELF-AWARENESS.

4. REALIZATIONS

THIS IS THE SHIFT.  In the space of solitude there is enormous opportunity for growth that is accessible through introspection, awareness, and meditation.  YOU FINALLY REALIZE YOU ARE YOUR OWN TEACHER, HEALER, AND GURU! The more you are aware and clear out the low energy vibrations, the more you ride the high vibrational flows of the universe. By riding the flow of life, you receive all sorts of beautiful signs and messages, and experience synchronicities up the yin-yang, confirming that you are doing a great job and are on the right track. You realize that you CAN trust your Higher Self. You realize that you CAN trust the growth process. You realize that the universe DOES have your back. You realize that you are NOT alone, you have you. And you are WHOLE.

The most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself....and sometimes, your elevation requires your isolation! 

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How Spirituality Changed My Religious Beliefs

Can I be honest? Like completely honest?

Growing up, I HATED church.

I was born into the Catholic religion.  I went to private Catholic schools all my life and attending church was mandatory. The problem was, I never felt comfortable. The solemn and gloomy energy was overwhelming to me.  I would actually feel scared to be in a Catholic church...heck I even had nightmares about it. The energy just didn't feel right. Maybe it was because I was a fearful child? But once I finished high school, I breathed a sigh of relief that I would never have to step foot in a church again.

Or So I Thought...

All types of destructive behaviors had a stronghold of me in the beginning of my college years. I was a rebel without a cause. I ended up marrying an extremely abusive person who gave me that final push into darkness. I was able to escape and was divorced 7 months later, but the damage was already done. My life was spiraling out of control, and FAST. At that point I barely believed in God. One of my friends repeatedly invited me to go to a Christian church with her and I shot her down faster than the speed of light each time. Finally, I said yes [don't recall if I was drunk when I agreed]. So there I was entering this new church, hungover from the night before, when I heard the band rocking out. I don't remember the song at all; I just remember the music emanating this feeling of joy that penetrated my entire being. I began to cry and people started putting their hands on me...and for once in a very long time, I felt ACCEPTED. This Christian church quickly became my new home. The vibe was so friendly and relaxed; I felt comfortable, I felt LOVED. I no longer felt as if I was broken or damaged goods. I had a renewed sense of hope and I thought this was where I belonged.

When my son's father and I got together, our common beliefs in Christianity definitely helped the relationship, but it was also the cause of some fights. I mean seriously, I am not going to hell just because I have tattoos or get tarot card readings from a Santera I know...SHEESH. We attended church often but there was STILL something deep inside me that didn't feel quite right, like something just didn't make sense...this feeling grew faint as we stopped going to church. Upon ending our relationship, I returned to church full force. Again, it gave me that sense of love, belonging and acceptance...but the 'off' feeling came back with a vengeance.

IF YOU ARE UNWILLING TO QUESTION YOUR BELIEFS, YOU WILL NEVER KNOW IF YOU ARE FOLLOWING TRUTH OR LIES.

I decided to embark on a truth-seeking journey which lasted months. I NEEDED ANSWERS...to what, I don't know, but I had a gut feeling I would find them. I read tons of research from credible sources on religion, spirituality, faith, science and all others types of topics. The more I informed myself, the more things started to make sense to me. Why the heck was I following outdated, man-made 'rules' from a book only written to control the masses? Why was I made to believe by the church that the only way God would love me unconditionally was if I met all of his conditions...HUH?  Lies after lies debunked...Simply put, I came to my own conclusion that religion is a corrupt institution made by man to control man. The cloud of confusion started to lift and the 'off' feeling dissipated. A spiritual teacher was put in my path and as she guided me through soul work, I discovered Kundalini Yoga. EVERYTHING CHANGED. Like the light switch finally turned on.

Spirituality Is Subjective

Working with my spiritual teacher and practicing Kundalini Yoga brought me PERSONAL EXPERIENCES in which I was able to FEEL my soul...I was able to FEEL God and KNOW that I am an extension of God...I was able to feel the vastness of LOVE and PEACE! The actual feeling of it is quite indescribable and it may seem crazy, but it is my truth. [By the way, no I don't use drugs lol] I learned that spirituality is subjective...you just have to experience it for yourself. The beauty of knowing that God is this powerful primal force of loving, Divine Energy which is permanently there for us wherever we go, in whatever we do, is so comforting. If I EVER need to feel loved, accepted, or worthy, I can just turn to my Highest Self, my soul...for God resides there. I don't need to look for these things externally; they already live within me. Discovering this totally freed me and for once, I finally knew what it felt like to be in alignment with your highest truth. 

My Religion Is Love

Beliefs are just thoughts that you think over and over and accept them to be true. They can change at any given moment if you want them to. HOORAY FOR THAT! I took all the beautiful teachings of compassion, love, forgiveness, and wisdom from various religions and combined it with my experiences to create a new belief system for myself. I wholeheartedly believe in God...I KNOW God exists. I also believe in angels and spirit guides [I have physically seen and dreamt about them]. So do I plan on going back to church? Who knows? Do I think other people should stop going to church? No. Every soul is on a different path in life; I respect everyone's journey. If the church gives you comfort in a time of need, do what feels right to you. Feed your soul in whatever way it chooses to be fed. There is no right or wrong in your walk of life, only lessons.

I can however tell you this about myself: I no longer need to use a fictional demon as a scapegoat if I don't take personal responsibility for my own actions, because I am accountable for myself;  I no longer need to fear evil or feel hopeless in life situations, because I know about the Laws of the Universe, duality, and contrast; I no longer need to go crazy trying to meet conditions so I can be 'saved', there is nothing to be saved from; I no longer need to feel that an ascended master [Jesus] who lived centuries ago is the middle man to God, because God already lives within me; and I don't need to belong to a religion to feel loved, because I AM LOVE.

Image result for love is my religion rumi

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5 Valuable Lessons I Learned From Heartbreak

Heartbreak sucks.

Who's with me!? It just totally sucks. And what makes it suck even more is your family and friends showing you their love and support by telling you it's going to be alright. "YES LOGICALLY I KNOW THIS, i mean look at me duh, BUT EMOTIONALLY MY LIFE IS OVER, JUST LET ME CRY IN PEACE DAMMIT!" In heartbreak we can experience super intense feelings of despair, anger, hopelessness, confusion, fear, sadness, and loneliness (just to name a few). It can overwhelm you to the point where you just want to sleep most of the time because you don't want to FEEL anymore. I've had my fair share of heartaches, but none like the last one. This time was different. This time I 'got it'.

Even though I knew I had made the right decision by leaving, it was as if my whole entire world collapsed beneath me. I had never felt so many crappy feelings at once. I would hold my face and just cry in the fetal position for hours. I am sure you have too. (Even if you haven't, let's just say you did so I won't feel like a weirdo ok?)

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But as time went by, my wounds started healing. This marks the stage of a new beginning...A time where you re-discover yourself and begin to rebuild your life. You start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Slowly but surely, you are filled with realizations and gain an in-depth understanding of your experience. It's very difficult for you to embrace and learn the valuable lessons of heartbreak if you run off to be with someone else or choose to numb your pain with other things, which I had done in the past...but if you just stick with the pain, gently acknowledge and accept it, you will FINALLY 'get it' too, just like I did. These are 5 valuable lessons I learned from heartbreak: 

1. Self-Love Is Crucial.

That horrible aching pain you feel? It's not really longing for the person you lost. That pain is calling out for you to tend to it. To nurture it. To give it comfort. Who you really need is YOU, so don't try to fill the void with another person. Acknowledge that you are grieving and give yourself all the love you need. Eat right, get enough sleep, and exercise. Try to decrease negative thoughts and hurtful self-talk. Allow yourself to cry as much as you want, allow yourself moments of silence. These small acts of self-love go a long way while healing from the pain of a broken heart.

2. Healing Is NOT Linear.

I've made more loopty-loops than a roller coaster, and that's all right. One month I felt like I was finally making headway, and the next I felt like it all went down the drain. This is completely NORMAL. Heartbreak provides your soul with many lessons to be assimilated and if you don't get them at the time, they'll just come back around again when you are ready to receive or in a better state of mind. Just know that it is perfectly OK to have those moments where you do not think you are healing fast enough...because in reality, you're right on time...Divine time that is.

3. Forgiveness Is A Choice.

I think this is one of the most important lessons I've learned about life in general, but it is certainly heightened during heartbreak. It's so easy to stay in a place of blame. It does lessen the sting at one point, but after you just gotta let go. See here's the kicker: you may have to practice forgiveness almost every day. Perhaps several times a day. But it's a choice that is always available you. And if you do make the choice, it will bring you freedom and inner peace, at least for the moment. And damn it feels good to be liberated from bitterness, resentment, and anger, even if momentarily. I wrote about the path to forgiveness in another blog post.

4. People Do Not Change...Unless THEY Want To.

You CANNOT make someone change. Can I repeat that??? YOU CANNOT MAKE SOMEONE CHANGE. They must want to change on their own. Not for you. Not for their kids or family. But for themselves. You can hope and pray and beg. You can restrict them from everything or lay down crazy rules. You can even play mind games to try to coax them to change (doesn't work, it will backfire...trust me). They might alter their behavior temporarily to please you but in the end it is NOT GENUINE nor is it lasting. They must WANT to change for themselves, not for you or anyone else.

5. Transformation Is Inevitable.

In physics, the law of conservation of energy states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another.  And since we are all beings of energy, you cannot be destroyed darling! But you sure as heck can transform. Question is, what do you want to transform into? Do you want to level up or go back to who you once were? You have options! I made sure that no matter what happened, I was going to come out the other side a much better version of myself. I took self-growth and self-discovery seriously. It required strength, courage, lots of patience, and plenty of yoga, but here I am. And if I can do it, so can you.

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My Experience at White Tantric Yoga

I recently attended a White Tantric Yoga event hosted by the studio where I practice Kundalini Yoga.

[Before diving in, I want to clarify that White Tantra is not the same as Black Tantra (directing energy to manipulate other people) or Red Tantra (directing energy solely for sexual purposes). White Tantra is a meditative group practice in the practice of Kundalini Yoga that directs energy to cut and release blocks from the individual's subconscious mind.]

My friend Elsa, who is actually about to graduate from her Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training, had attended a Winter Solstice White Tantric Event last year and although she didn't go into too many details, she did say that it was a bit like childbirth: extremely exhausting while you are there but the pain of it is quickly forgotten after and it does change your life. Gee thanks girl, not exactly what I call motivation! Regardless, I had wanted to attend out of curiosity and of course reap the benefits that this type of event proposes to give you. Yogi Bhajan had said that attending one of these events is equivalent to meditating 10 years in a cave. The claim sounds fabricated to me, but hey, why not!?

Not Quite 'Yoga'

The sea of yogi's dressed in white swarmed the auditorium. Everyone was told to find a partner and was directed to sit on the floor. We formed about 20 rows of partners sitting criss cross in front of each other. Although everyone was very friendly, I was grateful that Elsa decided to come with me and be my partner. Here I was, all dressed in comfy white yoga clothes, mentally ready to perform a bunch of rigorous, physical kriyas. HAHA! Think again Nelsy. All the exercises we did were meditative, meaning, hardly any movement was performed. In some of the kriyas, we were instructed to either hold hands and ask each other questions, hold each other's shoulders while looking into each other's eyes and chant the "Ang Sang Wahe Guru" mantra, or put our chin on each other's shoulder and chant the "Ardee Bhaee" mantra...EACH KRIYA FOR 62 MINUTES. Yes. 62 minutes.

Elsa and I

What I Learned From My Experience

Elsa and I shared several moments of vulnerability and intimacy during 2 of the kriyas by voicing our biggest fears, concerns, hopes, aspirations, and joys in life. We were open and supporting with one another. This taught me how it felt to be genuinely vulnerable with someone and BE ACCEPTED for who you are. After being hurt by so many people in life you learn to keep them at a distance. You build walls, masks, and false beliefs to avoid pain, criticism, and feelings of unworthiness...only to realize at the end that it does nothing but distance YOU away from your true, higher self.

We also shared moments of stillness and oneness while meditating and chanting together. Staring into each other's eyes while chanting made us laugh a little [OK A LOT], but the times we surpassed our laugh attacks and went still were very powerful. I felt how we are all connected. The feeling is pretty hard to describe but it was as if we mended or meshed into one, along with everyone else in the room.  Some people were crying, some were laughing [us], but all of us were in this experience together at the same point in our time space reality, separate but united.

Finally, the discomfort of holding positions with someone else for so long and being in such close proximity to others irritates and frustrates a few if not most people. Their squirms, loud breathing, opera-ish version of the chant, or maybe even body odor can be downright annoying. But once you get past all that nonsense, you kind of just surrender and accept the space you are in.  This taught me how to honor and accept my space while simultaneously honoring and accepting someone else's. No matter how loud they chanted or breathed, I loved them for it at the end.

Was It Worth It?

After the event was over, I was able to understand why Elsa had described the experience as childbirth. It was in fact very intense and draining. Holding a posture alone for 62 minutes was exhausting. Add the talking exercises, powerful chanting, and meditation and you are sure to be pooped by the end of the day. BUT MY EXPERIENCE WAS WORTH IT! 🙂 

Have you attended a White Tantric Yoga event? How was your experience? I would love to hear about it!

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