Breathe For Change (B4C): My Journey to Becoming a Wellness Champion

IMG_0074 1On June 14th I began a literal and metaphoric journey to—Breathe For Change. As a classroom teacher who has been feeling like she’s been dangling by the thinnest thread at the end of her rope, I signed up for Breathe For Change hoping that this professional development would transform me in a way that would leave me feeling EQUANIMOUS (having or showing equanimity; even-tempered).Before beginning the training very little information was divulged—probably to keep many of us from cancelling and running back home with our proverbial tails between our legs. At any rate, I knew the focus of each day and where the training would take place—Riverview (an hour drive from my home in Land O’ Lakes)—not really complaining, but making a note of the distance. I did not anticipate two, sometimes three, yoga workouts in one day. I did not expect to shed tears nearly every day of training. I did not have any idea that I would walk away with love in my heart for so many complete strangers. I was completely caught off guard by the amount of teaching we were expected to do in such a short amount of time. But alas, it was all worth it.Day 1: Transformation of SelfToday’s Takeaway(s):

  1. It’s okay to cry; really, get it ALL out!
  2. First: take care of self!
  3. Get out of the Comfort Zone!

The first thing I wrote in my B4C journal was the word: EQUANIMITY. From the beginning, my intention (a word that carries very different connotations after our Philosophy Lesson on June 26 (Day 12)–more of that to come later) was to maintain a state of equanimity: evenness of mind; composure. On this day we learned that we cannot take care of anyone else until we first take care of our self. During my first official journal entry I wrote: “Many variables have brought me to B4C. First and foremost, I desire an internal change…My intentions for myself are to be more equananimous [I have since learned that the correct adjective form is equanimous—even English teachers make mistakes:)].This desire for an internal change was expressed in front of a small group of strangers (Robbie, Kathryn, Michele, Blake, Carol, Ciara, Yael, and one familiar face Amy H.—love you girl). Amidst a face full of tears and a mostly inaudible cracking voice, I admitted that I didn’t like the person I had become in recent years. I had become this hateful and judgmental person who rarely, if ever, saw the good in anything and anyone—especially myself. As for my well-being, I desire a more balanced life: emotionally, physically, and mentally. I’d also like to add that I had a very narrow view of yoga, having written, “…yoga consists of movement-based exercise where breathing is at the center of every movement…[and] To ‘live yoga’ off the mat I believe I’ll need to keep coming back to my breath. To unionize my mind-soul-body; I need to create opportunities to ‘just breathe.’” And at the end of the day, our Philosophy instructor, Yael, made the point that we should try and think of yoga as: “Less of a quest and more of a rediscovery”.Day 2: Breathe For Beginnings (Building the foundation for wholeness)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Give up control.
  2. Respond; don’t react!
  3. Speak your truth!

During the Transformational Workshop on new beginnings, we journaled about our vision for ourselves. I wrote, “My vision for myself is to live in a fully equananimous [aren’t you glad that I finally learned how to correctly spell the word—equanimous] space—mentally, physically, and emotionally. By the end of the training, I want to be the woman who is not rocked or bothered by life’s ‘hiccups’—unexpected and/or disappointing occurrences/instances.” Shortly after writing this we had to identify obstacles that were preventing us from actualizing our vision. I noted that mine included, but were not limited to, my beliefs/judgments about others and myself, my set ways (stubbornness), and my desire to have things BE a certain way—and have my way be accepted by others.Later that day during meditation I wrote my intention for my meditation practice: “…accept ‘what is’ by responding to, rather than, reacting.” Again, this goes back to the idea of equanimity. If I am accepting what is, there is no need to react, only to respond—without judgment.During Philosophy we examined the “Pathways to Union”—the yoking of our minds and bodies. After a discussion in small groups, we spent additional time contemplating and reflecting on the pathway that would get us to the “stretch zone”. So let me back up for a minute. Back on day one we were introduced to graphic consisting of three nesting circles. The innermost circle consisted of the Comfort Zone—the place where no learning occurs. The circle just beyond the inner circle is the Stretch Zone, the place where learning occurs; a zone that is characterized as being uncomfortable. And finally, the outermost circle is the Panic Zone, another zone where learning does not occur—probably because our brains aren’t malleable when our emotions are in a state of panic. All that being said, the pathway I chose was jnana yoga—which deals with knowledge and intellect. This path to union asks us to ponder “Who Am I?” An answer to that question should include an exploration of The Vedas, Upanishads, and other sacred/spiritual texts. As someone who loves to learn and gain knowledge, I am looking forward to expanding my knowledge of yoga.Also, during this day we learned to be Mindful Listeners as we bared our souls to strangers who became our “accountabilabuddy” (love you Kelly R.)—a B4C term. For ten minutes straight we opened up to the truth of what has been holding us back. As we spoke, our partners did the best they could to simply listen (no gestures of agreement; no facial expressions—simply listen). And when the ten minutes were up, they took the next three minutes to reiterate what they heard—without judgement or agreement. This was truly a moving experience. Listening has evolved.Later, during Anatomy, we examined our “body story”. I accepted the truth that I have had few moments over the course of my forty-one years on this planet where I’ve had positive things to say about my own body when I look in the mirror. And the truth is setting me free.Day 3: Breathe For Creativity (Living Your Fully Expressed Self)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Listen to Lil’ John!
  2. Trust the process.
  3. Observe and accept my breath.
  4. Practice…

Today’s unofficial song of the day was: “Outta Your Mind” by Lil’ John. No, that wasn’t the song the B4C trainers were playing at the start of the day, but it became my song of the day after our Transformational Workshop (Thank you for listening and encouraging Lori D.).We answered the journal prompt: “What’s holding you back?” Easy one: ME!—my thoughts to be more precise. I wrote: “…All too often I get caught up in thinking and lose out on the doing. I allow my mind to wander to the past or to the future, and in doing so, I lose the precious space that is NOW.”Once we’d identified what has been holding us back, we created a list of ideas/solutions we could use to assist us in successfully moving beyond this stronghold. I do want to point out that we were encouraged to list whatever came to mind—never dwelling on the practicality or the potential absurdity of the idea/solution. Having pointed that out, I’ll share the five items I circled (most called to) and the three times I starred (the craziest). My list of five (most called to) included: read, go to a park and listen to others’ conversation(s)—don’t judge me, that could be some great material for a book;), say the same phrase/mantra over and over and over, use Jeremiah’s count to 100 meditation strategy (more on that later), look/listen to the Atlantic Ocean all day long. The list of the three craziest ideas included: say the same phrase/mantra over and over and over, listen to Morgan Freeman talk all day long, and scream all day long—about everything and nothing in particular. After we’d completed the evaluation of our ideas, we communicated them with our partner (Lori D.). The next step was to create our Action Plan. This plan consisted of a title, a three to five sentence description, three tangible actions steps, two external obstacles/resistances, two internal obstacles/resistances, and the support we need to succeed. My plan follows:

  1. Title: Operation “Get Outta My Mind!”—inspired by the Lil’ John song, “Outta Your Mind”.
  2. Description: Operation GOMM is meant to help me let go of my overactive mind. When I GOMM I’ll be able to live in the present moment—no longer thinking about the past or the future. Operation GOMM is the impetus for being fully in the present moment.
  3. Action Steps (3 tangible):
    • Listen to Lil’ John’s “Outta Your Mind.”
    • Go outside and enjoy the presence of other living beings—take a mindful walk.
    • Meditate by counting to 100–repeating the process, if necessary.
  4. External Obstacles/Resistances (2):
    • Time of day (may be at work or it could be unsafe to be outside)
    • Other’s around me may be unnerved by my presence
  5. Internal Obstacles/Resistances (2):
    • Laziness/Lacking Motivation
    • Too many obligations
  6. Support: Friends to venture out with, time to “just be”

Later that morning Jeremiah, our Zen Master and Meditation Leader, made a statement that resonated within me. He said, “Begin to build a relationship with your breath.” He went on to say that “what you resist, often persists”. This was a FOR REAL aha moment for me. When practicing meditation in the past, I’ve tried to stop thinking about something—never actually acknowledging it, but trying to suppress it and make it go away. And here was an entirely different, and yet freeing, message to embrace the thought(s) that arose. After a brief meditation, I wrote in my journal: “Practice—that I word is so important. Rather than try and reach a state of “perfection”, I want to remember that this is about practicing—practicing on focused breathing, practicing on coming back to the breath, practicing staying in this present moment.” And then I wrote, “We aren’t practicing to get anywhere other than where we are right now. Just BE HERE!”And if that wasn’t enough, Yael took us on a journey through the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Again, my first inclination of yoga was from the aspect of Asana. I had no idea just how deep the roots of yoga expanded.

  1. Yamas (first of two limbs that offer moral and ethical guidelines)
  2. Niyamas (second limb offering moral and ethical guidelines)
  3. Asana (the practice of physical postures)
  4. Pranayama (breath work and energy control)
  5. Pratyahara (sensory control/awareness)
  6. Dharana (one-pointed concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation—the merging of individual and universal consciousness)
  8. Samadhi (beyond consciousness; towards enlightenment)

There is such depth to this idea of Yoga that I know we’ve only just scratched the surface. I am fascinated and eager to dig deeper.I have to add that during Anatomy I wrote the following in my journal: “So…I should truly be nicer to my feet. They are so very important. Tonight—my feet get a massage on me!” Truth be told, I try to massage my feet with Lavender Oil (mixed in Almond Oil) every night before bed. It feels good and smells good!During SELF (Social Emotional Learning & Facilitation) we examined Trauma Informed Teaching. I admit that I am not very knowledgeable about this. If anything, I’ve probably done some emotional damage to my students with my the tone of my voice and mood swings. I hope that I am better able to facilitate a sense of community in my future classrooms.Day 4: Breathe For Gratitude (Appreciating the Gift of Life)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Three Collective Breaths will transform 5th period!
  2. A gentle touch changes EVERYTHING!
  3. Use energy wisely.
  4. Appreciate more.

Today was revolutionary. Our Transformational Workshop was fo very filling and emotional. We created two circles. Members of the inner circle were prompted to close their eyes. Once our eyes were closed, the facilitators made statements—“Touch someone with whom you’d trek to Mt. Everest”. Members of the outside circle then walked around and gently touched those on the inside circle with whom the statement applied. First of all, physical touch is powerful. But an appreciative touch is truly transformative. Being part of the inner circle was both scary and liberating. Being touched was affirming in so many ways. There we were, for all intents and purposes—exposed. And yet, when someone came along and touched us, it was assuring to know that we were seen without pretenses.When Philosophy came around, we examined the Yamas (the “ethical” precepts of yoga). The Yamas can be considered the principles or guidelines of Yoga. There are five Yamas: Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (right use of energy), and Aparigraha (non-greed). We were tasked with journaling about which Yama we most need to explore. I chose Brahmacharya—not just because I need to practice saying it correctly, but because this precept asks us to use our energy in well-served ways—not impulsively or compulsively—which I have been prone to do. It also calls us to create and maintain healthy boundaries—again, areas I need to work through. Our manual noted it quite succinctly, “Anything that causes turbulence in the mind and stirs the emotions might be seen as violation of Brahmacharya”. There it is. This is confirmation of my overactive mind that then causes the emotional storms that I’ve let send me to moody extremes. If I’m living yoga off the mat, I certainly must learn to use my energy wisely.Later that day Yael shared some pearls of wisdom that immediately resonated within me. She quoted Tony Robbins, saying: “Trade your expectations for appreciation and the world changes instantly.” All too often I’ve let my expectations about the future cripple me when things didn’t turn out as I had expected/desired. Accepting this reality, I believe I can walk into the future with more appreciation for the singular moments that unfold rather than anticipating the unfolding of my expectations. This is especially true for me in the classroom. I want so very much for each of my students to succeed, and I have high expectations for their level of performance. But I know that it would be best to reframe these expectations to appreciations—appreciate them for showing up EVERY DAY, appreciate them for making an effort EVERY DAY, appreciate them for who they are in the present moment, and being hopeful that they’ll be better at the end of the year than they were at the beginning.Oh yeah, when I returned home that night, I shared how moved I was by the Transformational Workshop. It lead to a heartfelt conversation with my guy. We talked about physical touch and objectification. And at the end of the night we enjoyed a gentle and long embrace; it really does feel wonderful to be touched, to be embraced.Day 5: Transformation of RelationshipsToday’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is revolutionary!

In today’s Transformational Workshop we learned about Non-Violent Communication (NVC). This was by far the BEST tool for me to walk away with (and yes, I did end that sentence with a preposition). Anywho, NVC has a basic four-step approach and the materials we were given included a sheet that listed basic feelings and basic needs to help us prepare for the practice discussion.

  1. Observations (what you observe that does or does not contribute to your well-being).
    • “When I see/here…”
  2. Feelings (how you feel in relation to what you observe).
    • “I feel…”
  3. Needs (what you need or value—[rather than a preference, or a specific action] that causes my feelings).
    • “…because I need/value…”
  4. Requests (the concrete actions I would like taken)
    • “Would you be willing to…?”

The workshop began with our examining our relationships. Later, we split into partnerships (thank you Heidi) and practiced the NVC process. For my practice I had a conversation with my guy and expressed the following:

  1. Observation(s): We (my guy, his daughter and myself) rarely spend quality time together. You and I do things together and then you and your daughter do things together, but it’s rare that the three of us do something together—that doesn’t include sitting in front of a TV or movie screen and is not distracted by electronic devices.
  2. Feelings: I feel angry, isolated, and disconnected.
  3. Needs: Because I value quality time, my strongest Love Language, I need communal time, interaction, and a peaceful living environment.
  4. Request(s): Would you be willing to work together to ensure that we (all three of us) spend quality time together at least once a week?

Heidi and I took turns playing the role of each other’s significant other as we practiced the NVC process. And by the end of the day I had made up my mind that I was following through with the real thing when I got home. I even shared my intention (there’s that word again) with my Mentorship Group, This Is Us!243496ef-0857-4baa-898d-cfc124ebc196Finally, I felt like I was making real progress. I had a new practical tool that I could, and would, use to talk through things that were bothering me—things that I would normally let ruminate and cause me mental and emotional turbulence—a violation of Brahmacharya. At any rate, I did follow through with NVC that night when I went home and I’m glad to say that an emotional weight has been lifted. We had the talk and now we’re making the necessary steps to build a sense of “family”. Our talk lead to us agreeing to eat dinner together EVERY Thursday—no TV or electronic devices at the table. And we’ll engage in one activity a month that we can all agree upon.By and large, NVC is a practical tool that I can use at home and at work. I can even see my students benefitting from using the process to work through their interpersonal relationships at home and at school.But NVC wasn’t the only thing we learned about on day five. We explored the Niyamas—personal observances; the second half of the moral/ethical guidelines of Yoga. The Niyamas include: Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (burning discipline), Svadhyaya (self study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (spiritual). The Niyamas are the “personal practices” that relate to our inner well being. When we journaled, I noted: “I think Saucha will serve me well in relationships at home and at school/work. A literal and metaphoric cleanse is certainly needed.” As the area of purity, Saucha is about keeping our bodies and environments clean and pure. More than anything, I need to be more mindful of what I eat and how it is impacting my body and mind. Likewise, I feel the need to declutter my surroundings. Less is more!Day 6: Breathe For Presence (Exploring the Best Gift of All)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Quiet is still my favorite sound.

So, the day started with us being FULLY PRESENT, aka, we were encouraged to be quiet—not communicate with those around us. For someone who has spent a great deal of her childhood and adult life alone, I wasn’t really bothered by this exercise in presence. However, there were times when I was a bit unnerved—moments when I wanted to say “thank you” to someone or acknowledge their presence.During the Transformational Workshop we partnered up and soaked up one another’s presence without saying a word. The time I spent in Amy H’s presence was indescribable. It’s amazing what you can express without uttering a single word. It is also amazing what you can feel from just “holding space”—another B4C term that I’m totally using from here on out. Oh yeah, we also took time to engage in some Mindful Eating during our Presence Workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed this activity. In reflection, “There is a beautiful quiet present in one’s presence.”During Meditation today we learned about seven Mudras (seals/gestures)—a symbolic hand gesture that channels the flow of energy. Each mudra we learned about was presented in connection to the seven Chakras—energy centers in the body.

  1. Bhumisparsha Mudra: associated with Chakra 1 (Muladhara, the root Chakra); this mudra grounds us.
  2. Ksepana Mudra: associated with the 2nd Chakra (Svadhisthana, the sacral Chakra); this mudra is a gesture of pouring out and letting to (of negative energy).
  3. Abhaya Mudra: associated with the Manipura Chakra (solar plexus); this mudra cultivates strength, fearlessness, and protection.
  4. Garuda Mudra: associated with the Anahata, or heart Chakra; this mudra inspires creativity and cultivates collective energy.
  5. Shankh Mudra: associated with the Vishuddhi Chakra, throat chakra; this mudra calms the mind and enhances communication.
  6. Hakini Mudra: associated with the Ajna Chakra (third eye); this mudra focuses the mind, promotes concentration, imagination, and precise thinking.
  7. Jnana/Gyan Mudra: associated with the Sahasrara Chakra (crown of head); this mudra aids in dissolving the ego, cultivating concentration, and increasing mindfulness.

I am most interested in using the mudras to cultivate energy in more useful ways—being intentional about the Brahmacharya Yama I pointed out on day four.Day 7: Breathe For Compassion (Vulnerably Opening Our Hearts)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Just Breathe!
  2. I desperately need to extend some compassion to myself.
  3. It’s a great thing to be a GOAT (Greatest of All Time)—thanks Kristin!
  4. I am full; I am overflowing!
  5. Be happy HERE!—How we are in our bodies shapes our reality (thanks Jeremiah)!

“…as we increase our ability to love ourselves, we enhance our ability to extend love to the partners, family, friends, colleagues and students in our lives”—B4C Manual.As we began our Transformational Workshop I compiled the following list to define compassion:

  • Extending empathy
  • Showing concern
  • Active listening
  • A held hand
  • A warm embrace
  • A smile; a nod
  • A kind word
  • Understanding that we all have “those moments”

Later we identified Limiting Belief(s). I wrote,

  • “I am less than because I don’t have children.”
  • “I am not full, complete, and whole—lacking nothing.”

The feelings that arise with these limiting beliefs include: disgrace, anger, sad, shame and disappointment.And I use sarcasm and keep others at arms length (emotionally and physically) to “feel better” about myself.Once these statements/confessions were written in our journals we extended compassion to ourselves and one another through an activity. In groups of five (Lynnette, Jennifer, Kristin, Asia and myself) we were each given an opportunity to share our Limiting Belief, the feelings we associate with it, and our coping mechanisms—all the while mindfully listening to one another and then supporting one another with our presence. Thereafter we were given three minutes to speak to ourselves with compassion and encouragement. In the circle of my friends I opened up fully and completely. For the first time I shared the honest truth out loud, but with love, with compassion. In that circle I was fully supported and loved. Supported with physical touch, one of my partners (Lynnette) spoke support and love into my spirit. Speaking my truth out loud for the first time was the first step to extending compassion to myself. A step that will undoubtedly allow me to extend compassion to others.After this very transformative moment, we explored the Chakras (wheel of light/energy that runs through our physical and subtle body) during Philosophy. While I’d heard about Chakras before, my eyes were more fully opened when our Lead Trainer, Yael, outlined what each Chakra would look like in terms of deficiency, balance, and excess.

  1. Muladhara Chakra (root)
  2. Svadhisthana Chakra (sacral)
  3. Manipura Chakra (solar plexus)
  4. Anahata Chakra (heart)
  5. Vishuddhi Chakra (throat)
  6. Anja Chakra (third eye)
  7. Sahasrara Chakra (crown)

For instance, I believe that an imbalance exists in my Anahata (heart) Chakra. Deficiencies are characterized as: antisocial, critical, loneliness, fear of intimacy, lack of empathy, and narcissism. I definitely acknowledge my overly critical nature towards myself and others—some compassion is assuredly needed to balance this chakra. Also, my lack of empathy towards my students has made for unpleasant classroom interactions in recent years—again, some compassion is so very needed to bring this particular chakra into balance. And well, I get into my moods when I don’t want to be bothered by others—sounds like antisocial to me!Day 8: Breathe For Communication (Fostering Deeper Relationships)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Lions, Rabbits, Wolves, Turtles and Eagles—oh my!
  2. Emote: to show emotions.
  3. When you receive the message, hang up the phone (thanks Yael)!

Today’s Transformational Workshop began with us making a list of our strengths as communicators. My list included:

  • Written words
  • Attentive listener
  • Speaking when it seems most valid (not hogging a conversation)
  • Expressing body language
  • Facial expressions

Later we identified growth areas for communication:

  • Tone
  • Expressing good despite the bad (focusing on the positive)
  • “Bottom lining it”
  • Getting things off my chest (at the moment it arises) rather than bottling it in

After our journaling we had to choose with which of the following animals we most identified: wolf, eagle, rabbit, lion, turtle. I chose the turtle. Why you ask? Like the turtle, I have a hard exterior and soft interior. Like the turtle, I sometimes take my time doing things—I’m patient. And like the turtle, sometimes I come out of my shell; other times I enjoy the solitude of my interior space. We did some additional journaling to identify: our strengths, our challenges/weaknesses, our contributions (to other animal) and our needs (from other animals). In our animal groups we created a graphic to synthesize the information. It was so truly comforting to be around like-minded individuals. What wasn’t so comforting was verbalizing this information with everyone else—but hey, sometimes a turtle has to come out of his/her shell.When Philosophy time came around, I made the following declaration in my journal, “[My] #4 Chakra needs some alignment. I believe it begins with loving me. Each day I will verbalize one thing I love/appreciate about myself.”And then we had a day off. Yes! One might think that I would have used the day off to simply relax, take it easy. No! I got up and when to a Fire Flow yoga class at Chi Yoga. When I returned home I did get a few loads of laundry done, and I finally washed my STANK hair. But I didn’t take a nap at all. Actually, I suggested that my guy and I go for a bike ride later that evening. I may not have done much relaxing, but I did enjoy the day “off”.Day 9: Transformation of Community Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Connection is key!
  2. Stay woke!
  3. Show up, Speak up, Team up! (Thanks Betsy)
  4. That’s “A[we]sa[m]na”!

This day began with us devoting energy to a community with which we feel called to be of service. Based on comments and interactions from the previous eight days, a number of groups (People of Color, LGBT, Teens, Special Needs—to name a few). And after choosing a community, we broke into small groups and created an action plan. I walked away thinking about what I was breathing to cultivate in my future classrooms. My BFourC’s include breathing for: consideration, courteousness, compassion, and a sense of community.While contemplating the upcoming school year I thought about the possibility of a Yoga Night (perhaps during or after Conference Night). I thought about the bringing Yoga to the HOST program. And then I thought about Girl Scouts of West Central Florida (an organization with whom I recently worked) and I wondered if I could build a new relationship centered around yoga, meditation, mindfulness and SELF.Despite the fact that my principal got transferred to another school, I’m hoping that our new leader will still be interested in the Walker Wellness program that could certainly include yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices.During Meditation Practice we “manifested with our emotions”. This idea brought on some anxiety. Since day one of the training I had been trying to manage my emotions and sitting with myself and my emotions. Nevertheless, our Lead Trainer Jeremiah calmly reminded us that meditation is about three basic components: Observe (our feelings), Interpret (the feelings by accepting them and not trying to resist them), and then Respond (to these feelings with compassion). Sounds simple, but it isn’t exactly easy. However, I was able to work through the feelings without my overactive mind hijacking my meditation practice. Small victory!And once again, the Philosophy session was enlightening. Today’s focus was the (5) Kleshas (thought patterns that inhibit us from experiencing union).

  1. Avidya—represents ignorance (of the self); we forget we are divine; focus on outward attachments
  2. Asmita—the ego; it’s about living “the story”
  3. Raga—focused on attachment; idealism
  4. Dvesha—aversion; internal resistance
  5. Abhinivesha—fear of death; characterized by existing; concentrating on the unknown; lacking trust

We officially became yoga instructors today as we worked as a community to teach a sixty minute class. This essentially gave each member of our Mentorship Group about five minutes to cover a segment of the class. I was responsible for teaching Supine Poses and Forward Folds. Basically, I lead the group through Happy Baby, Supine Twists, Staff Pose and Seated Forward Fold. Not bad for my first go round.Day 10: Breathe For Inclusion (Cultivating Well-Being for All)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Use Three Collective Breaths at the start of every conference.
    • After allowing my emotions to rule The Worst Conference Ever this past spring, I believe that this small gesture has the power to transform interactions with parents and students.
  2. Being a “teacher leader” doesn’t always mean that one has to have a title; I can make a difference in my classroom.
  3. May you be safe; may you be healthy, and my you extend compassion to those with whom you come into contact.
  4. Listen to the Beatles: “Let it Be!”
  5. While in Chaturanga Dandasana, elbows should never be lower than your hips—light bulb moment—right Wendy!
  6. Maha= great (peak pose)—approached from the Backwards Design Plan

Today we explored the idea of privilege as it relates to cultivating an atmosphere of inclusion. This was a unique day as each person considered their relationship with privilege. While journaling I noted, “Privilege gets to make the bulk of the decisions regarding Curriculum and Instruction and Pedagogy—regardless of one’s inherent qualifications, most often that is. As for class culture, privilege doesn’t dictate, but can if one [the classroom teacher] is not ‘awake’. The same can be said for family engagement as well. Awareness and ‘awake’ness can stifle or enhance a classroom culture or family environment. STAY WOKE!”More than ever, I think this workshop solidified that I am a champion for the underdog, for individuals who’ve been on the “outside looking in”. That being said, I journaled, “I am committed to supporting my peers with creating tools: emotional and physical, that will help their overall wellness. I am also committed to encouraging a classroom culture that is built on compassion for ‘other’!Today’s High Note—Meditation: I commented, “Today’s session was DIVINE! I caught myself ruminating on planning for the 2018-2019 school year, and I compassionately pulled myself back in to awareness of my breathing [and said to myself]: ‘I know you’re excited…but let’s try and focus on our breathing…”. That was pure self-compassion at work. PROGRESS!In Philosophy, we examined the question: “How do I live yoga off the mat?” For this exploration we learned about the sacred duality that is Yin and Yang. Yin (the moon energy) graphically expressed by the black space encircling the white dot, is characterized by stillness, coolness, contraction, inward, soft, introspective, “feminine”, and rest—to name a few. On the other hand, Yang (the sun energy) graphically expressed by the white space encircling the black dot, is characterized as outward, extension, openness, active, hot, aggressive, “masculine”, and motion—to name a few. And when it comes to balance, I listed the following:

  • Self-care
  • Asana
  • Cooling Breath
  • Nature
  • Macrobiotic Diet
  • Nostril Breathing

So, now I’ve got the tools and the know how—“Do or do not; there is no try!”Speaking of “Do or do not; there is no try,” we learned some incredibly beneficial information during Asana today. Teaching middle school English is a cake walk compared to teaching yoga! Before B4C, I had tried putting together a yoga sequence, but wasn’t aware of this “peak pose”—the pose that your are essentially working towards at the climax of the class. So we split up into groups of three (Lori D., Mell, and myself) and we began planning a class with this “peak pose” in mind. We anticipated that we’d be teaching this lesson soon. We were mistaken. After the planning and excitement, we soon learned that we’d be teaching another class, but the class was with a partner from our Mentorship Group. And just like that the Turtle Power Trio was disbanded and the “One-Legged King Pigeon” class was but a mere memory in our journals. But also, we did unearth that the key to teaching yoga involves a three-step process:

  1. Identify the breath associated with the movement (inhale or exhale)
  2. Explain which body part(s) are moving, and in which direction (left foot back)
  3. Name the pose (in English—and Sanskrit if you’re on top of your game)

It was during this practice session that I realized I need a LOT of practice if ever I want to not sound like a blubbering idiot in front of anyone crazy enough to trust me to teach them yoga.Day 11: Breathe For Collaboration (Working Together for Greater Impact)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Channel our thoughts in ways that SERVE us.
  2. Shift the narrative
  3. I’m co-teaching a yoga class in three days, THREE DAYS—Kristin!
  4. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable—thank you Jillian Michaels!

Today’s Transformational Workshop has left my memory. However, I did make a note during Anatomy to try and notice something positive about my body each day. Today, I’m loving my freckles and moles. I also decided to challenge myself to focus on what’s right and not on what’s wrong.And today Kristin and I began preparations for our sixty minute class “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable”—a challenging journey to Crow/Crane pose.Day 12: Breathe For Social Justice (Using Wellness as a Vehicle for Social Change)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Stay mindful of my intentions!
  2. Be willing to fail!
  3. Give…give without the expectation of getting in return.
  4. Move through “it”, not past it—regarding the thoughts and emotions that arise during meditation.
  5. Get ready to teach another class—SELF!
    1. I’ve got Mindful Movement—the “official dance of the state of Florida—the Sun Dance”!

Okay, today was mind-altering. Two important questions were posed to us: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? If I consider my role as a teacher with regards to these two questions, the answer seems simple. I’m providing my students with the skills they will need to be critical readers and well-versed writers. And why am I doing this? It darn sure isn’t for the money. It’s because I want to give back. I want to ensure that my students have what they need to succeed. I want them to feel equipped and capable of handling anything the world my dish out at them—academically and socially.Before our Transformational Workshop got underway we noted the tools that we’ve been given. I listed:

  • Non-Violent Communication (NVC)
  • Meditation
  • Pranayama
  • Mantras
  • Mudras
  • Asana
  • Workbooks
  • Mentorship Group—This Is Us
  • B4C Family
  • SELF strategies

RESIST                              REFORM                                 REIMAGINE                             RECREATEFor the Transformational Workshop I confessed how socially unjust I’d been to my students. If I have learned nothing, I have learned that B4C has given me the strength to admit the truth without judgment (Thank you Brittney, Ashley, and Heather).It was once again during Meditation that this idea of intentions began to take new form in my mind. As we delved into unearthing Karma Yoga and the Bhagavad Gita, Yael said, “Find the thing that you’re willing to fail at…Have a willingness to fail before we succeed.” Ouch! She seriously said that to us. That’s REAL TALK! I’ve toyed around at this idea of publishing a book or two, but I’ve made minimal steps in turning that into a reality—a reality where rejection letters amount to my willingness to fail.She then noted five important factors:

  1. Don’t be afraid of hurting/killing
  2. You cannot outrun Dharma (cosmic duty; life’s purpose; your “why?”)
    • Found between our unique gift/skill and what the world needs
  3. Inaction isn’t possible
  4. Evil is in intentions; not actions
  5. Karmic yoga (tenants to consider)
    • Requires us to be in a place of pure intention
    • Don’t work for a reward
    • Don’t be attached to an outcome; release attachment

With all this newfound information, we made a list of five (or more) things that come “naturally” to us; things that we are “great” at; things that we’ve been told that we do “well”.My list included:

  • Making others laugh
  • Write well
  • Blatantly honest
  • Inquisitive
  • Give others things to think about
  • Say things other people need to hear

Next we considered an answer to one of the following:

  • What are you passionate about; willing to fail at?
  • What would you march on Capitol Hill for?
  • What would you put on a Billboard?
  • What would my captain say?

My Billboard would read: “Show appreciation to those around you: hold doors, say ‘hello’, say ‘thank you’, have a giving heart.And then we wrote a short response: “If money wasn’t an issue…I’d write and publish books (humorous) with embedded messages about humanity…write books that hold truths, but tackle them in a light-hearted way.”How does Dharma relate to social justice?“If I’m doing what I’ve been called to do, then I’m doing it from a place where I’m not trying to get something [in return], only to give [with pure intentions]”. And with that my good friend Asia shared some profound words of wisdom that resonated with me. Thanks Asia; I’m writing to that one person—me!I’ve got a micro move to make—time to dust off A Dictionary of a Middle School Teacher’s “Favorite” Words.Day 13: Integration and RenewalToday’s takeaway(s):

  1. There will always be something intriguing to learn during Philosophy.
  2. Like increases like.
  3. Opposites bring balance.
  4. Choose room-temperature water over ice-cold water.
  5. It’s okay to smile.

And then there was Ayurveda. Prior to B4C I’d had some exposure to Ayurveda. Having read several of Deepak Chopra’s books, I’ve been intrigued by this ancient mind-body health system from the East.According to Ayurveda there are three doshas—operating principles: Vata (air & ether), Pitta (fire & water), Kapha (earth & water). When I returned home, I found my copy of Deepak Chopra’s Perfect Health: The Complete Mind Body Guide. On January 21st, 2017, I completed the Ayurveda Mind Body Type Test. The results were: Vata (85), Pitta (106) and Kapha (61 points). I’m a Pitta-Vata type. What does that mean? In short, here are some of the characteristics:

  • Medium build
  • Strong
  • Muscular
  • Quick movements
  • Good stamina
  • Assertive
  • Welcome challenges

Let me just say that today’s Anatomy lesson was the BEST. Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate the human body—it’s pretty important if one is planning to teach yoga. That being said, I found the information about the Nervous System (The Observer Energy) so very relevant.The lesson started with our examining the difference between reacting and responding. So, that was a hard slap in the face. Before B4C, my go to was to react. I hardly ever took the time to respond. In all actuality, if something went wrong (as was pretty common), I immediately reacted with some form of dissatisfaction—most often visible in my facial expressions.If nothing else, today’s lesson gave me the encouragement I needed to tap into “The Observer Energy”.Day 14: Breathe For Harmony (Experiencing Universal Connection)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Honor All Bodies
  2. Kristin and I taught a sixty minute class!

One of the most important aspects of teaching yoga has been learning how to communicate modifications without sounding like an ass. And today we were given some vital information.B4C’s Approach to Modifications:

  1. Do be honest!
    • Understand that our body isn’t the standard; better yet—there is no standard!
  2. Don’t assume!
  3. Do know the student is in the driver’s seat!
    • Provide space and choice
  4. Do be helpful!
    • Provide options
    • Guide them to the right variation for them
  5. Be mindful of your language
    • Be inclusive
    • Be accessible
      • “If it’s in your practice…”
      • “If it feels good or right for you…”
      • “Your hands might be…”
      • “Feel free to play around with…”
  1. Provide alternative postures
    • Most accessible to least accessible
  2. Regard props as tools
  3. Provide adjustments
    • Back
    • Floor
    • Wall
  4. Assess/Identify the current challenges
  5. Ask for permission to make adjustments (friendly demeanor without judgment)
  6. Observe and consider what might work
  7. Offer/Suggest modifications
  8. Check in (ask questions)
    • What are you feeling/thinking?
  9. Reevaluate
    • Provide continued guidance

Day 15: Breathe For Playfulness (Living With Lightness and Joy)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. It’s okay to have fun—actually, it’s a necessity to have fun!

Our Transformational Workshop began with us returning to our playful roots. With some good music we danced our way to happy. This turtle was fully out of her shell!And here is how we channeled our inner playfulness:

  1. Duck-Duck Goose
  2. Yoga Charades
  3. Yogi Says (variation of Simon Says)
  4. Massage Circle
  5. Selfies with J. Bones
  6. Sing-A-Song to Yo’ Hommie (not the name, but that’s what I’m calling it)
  7. Mandala creation
  8. Mentorship Group Poster
  9. Rock-Paper-Scissors Chakra Evolution

Oh my goodness! We had so much fun. I didn’t want it to end. It seriously proved that, EVERYONE, irregardless of their age, should stop and play for a half an hour every day. Better yet, let’s follow in the steps of the NFL and promote Play60–but that sixty minutes should be playing one of your beloved childhood games (like Badminton)! Yeah!Day 16: Breathe For Inspiration (Igniting the Fire Within)Today’s Takeaway(s):

  1. Be the observer of impermanence!
  2. Embrace change!

During Meditation I wrote, “This journey has brought me to a place of peace and stillness. Mentally I’d been a ‘wreck’ during meditation, but I’ve begun to use my breath as an anchor. I can elongate my breathing and find inner stillness.” That is a far cry from where I was mentally and emotionally on day one.Our esteemed Meditation trainer, Jeremiah, left us with three pearls of wisdom:

  1. Practice (that word has a new connotations since B4C)
  2. Love your wandering mind (accept and redirect—with compassion)
  3. Remember to tell yourself: I am my best teacher.

In our last and final group circle I mentioned that “There is something absolutely beautiful about change.” That was/is an honest truth. I’ve been changed over the course of sixteen days. I chose Breathe For Change, and it chose me. Together, with the help of the B4C staff, and the open-hearted educators who also chose to transform their own lives, we have only begun this journey. Though the sixteen-day training has commenced, our new lives have just begun. Some people got “their lives back”, others got their “peace” back, and still others got back to the heart of their True Self. Whatever it was that was gained and/or lost during those sixteen days, we can all say that we’ve been transformed from the inside out.And now, the Journey to the Center of Yoga has begun! I hope to see you somewhere along the path (remember, I’m a turtle)!IMG_0073 1

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