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Monday, December 7, 2009

The Yoga Teacher learns to be flexible

Before I begin this story, a special thanks to Leah Craver of Lemonade International and Aliana Cronkright of BuildaBridge for the beautiful photography.

“Be flexible” is the mantra that Nathan and Vivian have reminded me of over and over since 2006, when I first started working with BuildaBridge. Since I love planning, this element can be somewhat of a struggle with my upside being that I also live to improvise. This trip in Guatemala w as a perfect example of how being flexible has deepened my faith in my own ability as a teacher and innovator.


Since teaching in Guatemala last year with BuildaBridge, my dream has been to pilot a short yoga program while working with the children of La Esquilita (the name given to the first school in Plantino do Jovah, the organization founded by Tita Evertz which teaches over 300 children in the largest urban slum in Guatemala City), but in a country where Yoga is thought of by many as a religion, I knew bringing Yoga into their community could take a long time to be accepted. Fueled with the whole-hearted belief that Yoga is a healing art and a great supplement to any
person’s life regardless of religion, I held fast in my hope that this year, Yoga would make a presence. After getting the OK to incorporate Yoga within my teaching from both BuildaBridge and Plantio de Jehova, I teamed up with BuildaBridge for year three of Diaspora of Hope.
My goal was to teach without disguising the Yoga, but rather enhancing the creative and performative aspects of what I was going to be teaching with Yoga. Confident of the complimentary aspects of creative dance and yoga poses, my desire to teach the integral breathing practices and chanting became my next consideration.


I love chanting and truly believe the results of its practice have made a profound impact on my life. After speaking with my friend Jean-Jaques about a simple English mantra for children, he taught me “We are hallow bamboo, open up your heart and let the light shine through.” Excited by the rhythm and how short the mantra was, I though it was perfect! He also mentioned it lent itself to beat-boxing, which at the time I thought was cool (little did I know I would later us e beat-boxing as a way to teach rhythm and use of the breath!). I thought about translating the song into Spanish, but it would not have been the same rhyme or rhythm, so I stuck with English, which given the tempo, ended up being quite a challenge for my students to speak as well as consider conceptually. Mantras are like positive commercials that play over and over in our mind and connecting us more deeply with our spirit and the spirit of the Universe. Just like a catchy jingle gets stuck in your head, so does a mantra.


Singing provides opportunity for us to breath deeply which sends positive messages to the brain encouraging our body to relax. This is why breathing patterns have such a profound effect on our general and mental health. “Breathing interacts with and affects the cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, and muscular systems. It also has general effects on sleep patters, memory, energy levels and concentration.” (Yoga Calm, Gillian & Gillian 2007). Along with counting the length of their breath, I us

ed blowing bubbles as a way to teach students to focus on their breath, slow down their thoughts and become more comfortable facing someone in close proximity.

At the end of the week, what resulted from the blending of dance, yoga, sound, chanting, breath work, relaxation, rhythm, beat-boxing, bubbles and bamboo brought children from 2 disparate barrios in Guatemala City together share a short performance in front of their community uniting many minds, bodies and spirits together deepening their connection to themselves, each other and their community.

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