Always Be Dancing

Yoga and Flamenco for Every/body & Mindful Book Reviews By Eve


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Meditation: Getting Started

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How does one start to meditate? I started meditating about 5 years ago. I wanted to start before that but just never sat down on my own and meditated. When I started, I had little knowledge of “how-to” meditate. I thought you needed to sit absolutely still, in total silence and think of nothing. Yeah….you can guess how well that went.

But overtime, it seemed to take hook. I was never sure if I was meditating correctly and often felt I was not doing it right or well, but I stuck at it and it stuck to me. First, I found that I needed to meditate in the morning, because if I waited until later in the day, it did not get done. So every morning, after I made breakfast for my son, I would sit on the other sofa and meditate…listening to him munch his bagel and gulp his milk. I felt like a pro! Look at me sitting here, not moving, blocking out the sounds around me….but I still felt like I was not doing it right and it was not “affecting” or “effecting” me correctly.  But I stuck to it. And it stuck to me. It was oddly satisfying and if I did not do it, I felt like I was missing something that I wanted. My brain wanted it. My body wanted it. My soul wanted it.

Enter Kundalini. In Kundalini, everything is organized and makes sense. The exercises have aim and purpose and are felt physically, mentally and energetically. There are physical movements or stillness encased by specific breathing patterns, chants and mudras. This allows for the seeing, the hearing and the sensing of of what’s happening  within minutes of starting a practice. The truth is in the doing. Here form really follow function. Kundlini fits all bodies, all sizes, all adaptations without getting lost in the “what my body should look like” thoughts. 

Also, Kundlini is a gold mine when it comes to varied meditations. Kundalini offers metal, physical and emotional distractions that ope the gateway for meditation that is wholly enjoyable and accessible. 

     Two Meditations to Start Your Journey:

                            Kirtan Kriya/ Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation

Kirtan Kriya, often referred to as SA TA NA MA meditation, is the most important meditation in Kundalini Yoga. If you can do only one meditation, this is it. It will readjust and align you to bring balance into your body, mind and spirit and thus your life. It is your teacher. It is your best friend. 

The bottom line is that this meditation works. All you have to do is do it. You can trust the process and the technology.

Directions:

Sit with a straight spine. Bring your mental focus to the brow point/3rd eye point.

Chant SA TA NA MA.

While chanting alternately press the thumb with the four fingers. Press hard enough to keep yourself awake and aware of the pressure. Keep repeating in a stable rhythm and keep the hand motion going throughout the whole meditation.

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SA press the thumb and the pointer or Jupiter finger together with pressure.
TA press the thumb and the middle or Saturn finger together.
NA press the thumb and the ring or Sun finger together.
MA press the thumb and the pinky or Mercury finger together.

The Jupiter/Pointer finger brings in knowledge, expands our field of possibilities and releases us from limitations.

The Saturn/Middle finger gives us patience, wisdom and purity.

The Sun/Ring finger gives us vitality and aliveness.

The Mercury/Pinky finger aids clear communication.

Visualize or feel each individual sound come in the crown chakra at the top of the head, down through the middle of the head and out to infinity through the third eye. This is very important and must be done with each sound. It is an essential part of the cleansing process. If this part of the meditation is not done, you may experience a headache.

While doing the meditation, you may experience pictures of the past come up like on a movie screen in your mind. Let them dance in front of your eyes and release them with the mantra. This is part of the cleansing of the subconscious mind. If emotions come up, you can also incorporate them in the chanting, i.e. if you feel anger then chant out the anger. Whatever you experience is OK. Do not try to avoid or control your experiences. Simply be with what is going on and go through it. It is all part of the cleansing process.

** Sa Ta Na Ma Meditation is becoming scientifically recognized as a powerful tool for preventing or stopping Alzheimer’s disease, increasing all aspects of cognitive function, (perception, thinking, reasoning and remembering) and reducing stress levels while improving short term memory.

                                          Morning Meditation

6 minutes version:

  • 1 min out-loud
  • 1 min whisper
  • 2 min in-head (can add tongue movements) with hand movements
  • 1 min whisper
  • 1 min out-loud.

This meditation can be done for 6-31 minutes. Just keep all the segments equal length (the silent section is repeated twice). It can really be done for as little as 3 minutes (30 sec, 30 sec, 1 min, 30 sec, 30 sec)

31 minute version:

  • 5 min out loud
  • 5 min whisper
  • 10 min in-head (tongue moving) with hand movement
  • 5 min whisper
  • 5 min out-loud
  • [1 min listen inside, hear the mantra, experience it. No hand movements.]

                                        Evening Meditation

                                      Sa Ta Na Ma Variation

3-30 minutes

Rest hands in lap. Fingers interlaced with the pads of the thumbs pressing into each other

Rest eyes gently looking at tip of nose; eyes may close.

Sniff in 4-counts, mentally saying Sa-Ta-Na-Ma.

Hold breath while mentally repeating the mantra 4 times.

Breath out through the nose in two strokes while mentally chanting Wahe/Guru. (Wahe/Wow! + Guru/Inner teacher = Cheers to my inner super hero!)

To end: Breath in for the count of 4. Hold breath for the count of 7. Breathe out through a circle mouth, making a whooshing sound, for the count of 8. Repeat 4-8x.

                                          Practice Timing:

3 minutes: Affects your circulation, blood chemistry and stability of the blood. The increased blood circulations begins, distributing enhanced neuroendocrine secretions throughout the body.

7 minutes: Brain patterns start to shift from the static of beta waves, to calmer alpha waves and ultimately to deep relaxing delta waves. Simultaneously, the magnetic force surrounding the body increases in strength.

11 minutes: The pituitary gland, glandular system and the nerves start to learn and change. The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems begin to accommodate the increased energy.

22 minutes: Anxiety producing thoughts in the subconscious begin to clear. Your three minds (negative, positive, and neutral) start to work together so your mental integration changes. 22 is the infinite number of longing and gives mastery of the mental realm.

31 minutes: Affects your whole mind and your aura. Endocrinological balance is achieved, as is balance of the chakra’s of the ethereal body. This balance persists throughout the day, and is reflected by changes in moods and behavior.

                                            Amount of days: 

11 days: 11 is the number of Infinity in the material world and conqueror of the physical realm. So it’s like the first step to break loose from the entanglement of the mind.

40 days: Helps to break negative habits that block you from the expansion possible through the Kriya or mantra, if done 40 days straight in a row

90 days: When you practice the Kriya or mantra for 90 days straight it will establish a new habit in your conscious and subconscious mind. It will change you in a very deep way.

120 days: When you commit to practice the Kriya or mantra for 120 days without skipping a day it will confirm the new habit of consciousness. The positive benefits of the Kriya get integrated permanently into your psyche.

1000 days: This will allow you to master the new habit of consciousness that the Kriya or mantra has promised. No matter what the challenge, you can call on this new habit to serve you.


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Mindful Cookie Eating Exercise: English and Spanish Instructions/Ejercicio Consciente de Comer Galletas: Instrucciones en Inglés y Español

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Below, I adapted a mindful eating exercise from John Kabat-Zinn to include the art of eating a cookie (home-made with love, of course!) for the students at Framingham High School in the SLIFE program, a program dedicated to supporting students with limited or interrupted formal education. I have spent three years cultivating mindfulness in this classroom which has included things such as chair yoga, Yoga Jenga, coloring and worksheets, group discussions about replenishing much needed personal energy supplies and of the meaning of MWE (Me+We=MWE), passing a spoonful of water around the circle or having a group moving a table with a bowl of water on it without spilling and as many crafty ways that I could come up with to share the concept of mindfulness with them. My heart has exploded repeatedly with the kindness these students have shown me by helping me with my Spanish, heart hands showing up in photos and the real clincher was when a group of them started singing along to Cameron de la Isla’s “Rosa Maria” (please, my heart, be still!). All these ways have really opened the door for them to hear me and ingest some of the mindfulness strategies and techniques I have laid out for them. All these years, the lead teacher, Hannya Lord, opened her door (and her heart) to me. Some years the class was weighted with Spanish and Portuguese speakers, other times it was not so simple but somehow, we all managed to come together and have laughs, learn how to relax, and to pay a little more attention to ourselves, our immediate surroundings and the world around us.

Holding, Seeing, and Touching:

Examine the cookie it as if you were an alien and had never seen such a thing before. What do its features look like? How does it fit in your hand? How do the ridges feel on the pads of your fingers?

Sostener, ver y tocar:

Examíname la galleta como si fueras un extraterrestre y nunca hubieras visto algo así. ¿Cómo se ven sus características? ¿Cómo encaja en tu mano? ¿Cómo se sienten las crestas en las yemas de tus dedos?

Smelling:

Hold the cookie to your nose and smell its aroma. Really get a sense of it. Does the smell arouse your senses? Does your mouth or stomach react?

Olor:

Sostén la galleta en tu nariz y huele su aroma. Realmente tener una idea de ello. ¿El olor despierta tus sentidos? ¿Su boca o estómago reaccionan?

Placing:

Take a small bite of the cookie and place it on your tongue. Just hold it there. Examine the cookie with your mouth, without chewing. How are you reacting? How does this cookie feel?

Colocación:

Toma un pequeño bocado de la galleta y colócala en tu lengua. Sólo mantenlo allí. Examina la galleta con la boca, sin masticar la. ¿Cómo estás reaccionando? ¿Cómo se siente esta galleta?

Tasting:

Take another small bite of the cookie. Notice the adjustments and placements your mouth and tongue take in order to bite this cookie. When you bite, notice the texture. Note the flavors as they release. Pause after a few chews and experience the flavor and texture in your mouth. Continue chewing and noticing. Does the taste change?


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Book Review: Growing Up Mindful by Christopher Willard, PSYD

bk04652-growing-up-mindful-published-cover_1I was pleased to receive the book Growing Up Mindful from the author, Christopher Willard, PSYD. As I have become increasingly more focused on bringing mindfulness into situations where mindfulness might not be readily available, such as in schools, offices, and  with the special needs populations, I have enjoyed the wide array of books on the practical applications of mindfulness, that I can adapt to my needs. Dr. Willard is at the top of the game. This book was really user-friendly with just enough scientific knowledge mixed with common sense. A dream book of ideas to help create a sense of balance, ease and flexibility in your life, that of your family and also to those around you. From the excellent mindfulness exercises to the practical advice, Dr. Willard offers creative and useful scripts, examples and ideas on how to bring mindfulness into your day. I highly recommend this book. It is an excellent tool for anyone: parent, teacher, and boss who wants to help young people bring mindfulness into their lives.

He also has an audio companion to his book available on Sounds True and a great set of Growing Mindful card deck that features 50 unique mindfulness activities to teach awareness, how to be present in the moment, and cultivate kindness & curiosity. Perfect for all ages! 514xcamlnel-_ac_ul320_sr192320_

As a special treat, here is a YouTube link to Dr. Willard’s TedX – Growing Up Stressed or Growing Up Mindful?

Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of Growing Up Mindful. All opinions are my own.


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Book Review: The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School by Valerie Brown and Kristen Olson

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I am a yoga and mindfulness teacher working in my local public school district and community and I can say first hand that the need for mindful school leaders is much needed. To create the conditions for a successful learning environment, first the infrastructure must be healthy and well-balanced.

This book is a must for every principal, teacher, paraprofessional-everyone who comes in contact with the school environment, so that they can be the active change they want to see within their own classrooms, school and community at large. This book is a veritable repository that is highlighted by extremely well documented support research and case studies making this project so real and accessible. The subjects of the case studies give voice to the possibility and proof that mindfulness can work. The provided mindfulness scripts are very handy, even offering scripts that are as short as 30 seconds!

I really appreciated how this book showed mindfulness in-motion/in-action; showing how accessible it is in our everyday lives-it’s just there-go ahead and grab it! I highly recommend this book-hop on it and find the groove that you are seeking. We are all leaders at one time or another. That is why this book is for you!

Full Disclosure: The author sent me a copy of this book. All opinions expressed are my own


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Book Review: Master of Mindfulness: How to Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress by Laurie Grossman, Angelina Alvarez and Mr. Musumeci’s 5th Grade Class

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This is book is the real deal…totally authentic…“the truth”…it is an honest, open-hearted expression of what it takes to really stop, take a moment and respond rather than react to things that are stressful and happening right now, in real time. These kids just tell it like it is and with their words and their beautiful art, they allow us to see how they are learning to come to grips with their humanness and how they have come to appreciate and respect the need to self-regulate. The staff and kids are 100% committed to this venture and that is evident from their honesty, bravery and creativity. I really appreciate how this book is presented, from the bright color schemes, the beautiful self-portraits, and the almost graphic novel-like approach, the book offers compelling examples from young people who are coping with stress by not hurting themselves or anyone else for that matter. Instead, they are willing to be calm, insightful, and kind. Masters of Mindfulness, written by Laurie Grossman, co-founder of Mindful Schools and Director of Program Development at Inner Explorer, and Mr. Musumeci’s 5th Grade Class at Reach Academy in Oakland, California, introduces examples of how to be mindful in a straight forward approach, user-friendly manner and since it is written by kids, it is thoroughly believable.

This book is a huge success and it belongs in homes, libraries and on every park bench, school desk and bedside table!

Here is a nice trailer for it! 

Full Disclosure: The publisher sent me a copy of this book. All opinions expressed are my own.


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How Does Yoga Make You Feel…?

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This is what I asked my amazing group of students at the middle school I teach yoga at. This is the school’s group of Autism Spectrum kids and I have had the pleasure and the honor of getting to know these kids over the past two years:

Sam…Happy

John: The Stress goes out of my body

Liam: Mushy

Johnny: Comfortable

Harold: Happy

Joanne: Healthy

Catherine: Peaceful

Destiny: Sleepy

Marashall: My stress goes away

Edward: Like I am lying on the beach looking at the sun

Tricia: Stress Free

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Always Be Dancing Mindful Movement Retreat

I was invited to teach Always Be Dancing Mindful Movement at a day long retreat at the UCC Edwards Retreat Center for several target teen groups within Framingham High School who have been learning mindfulness skills based on the Benson Henry Institute’s Resilient Youth Curriculum. This retreat was the culminating activity to reinforce their skills and to expose them to other possible tools. There were about 50 English and Spanish speaking students.737157_10152024377000913_5585488161038564618_o

When I first arrived, the students were engaged in a singing/music session with one English speaking teacher and a Spanish interpreter. I was thoroughly amazed at the total engagement of the students in this activity. No one was “sitting out”, no one had pulled away. They were all singing and their body language showed that they were fully relaxed and enjoying themselves. I did not know these kids but I knew this was a special moment and felt my heart reacting.

Next it was my turn to introduce these kids to mindfulness through the arts of flamenco and yoga, a program that I call, Always Be Dancing Mindful Movement. I knew many of the kids understood Spanish better than English so I really pushed myself to speak in Spanish, something I am not very comfortable with. One thing I remember though, from my stay in Grenoble in college, was how helpful and respectful native speakers are if you really give it a try. They can make out most of what you are saying even if its the wrong tense or you do not know the exact word, so I pushed my fears aside and began shakily…”Sólo hablo un poco de español y sé que mi acento es terrible..haha!” That broke the ice and I was off and running.

I so enjoyed being a part of this special day. I want the students to know how much I appreciated them and their willingness to learn. I had the unique opportunity to spend time with about seven of them afterwards and was able to really get into the meat of what makes flamenco flamenco and why I found this art form as a way to express myself artistically and why that was important. It was a great dharma talk on finding something you are passionate about and how to strive for something you love to do. One girl said to me, “Please just teach us what you know. We want to learn.” Now, how beautiful is that?!?!

These kids made me feel very brave. I received a really nice thank you from the organizers, “We want to thank you for an amazing day!  Your energy and talent engaged the kids right from the start. It was the perfect workshop for this group and we loved your blending of culture, dance, meditation, and yoga. Many students  reflected on how the retreat enabled them to let go of their own emotional issues, anxiety for the day.  We appreciate your contributions to creating such a safe retreat for our students.”

Many thanks to Open Spirit Center of Framingham and the Nourishing Teachers, Strengthening Classroom project that keeps opening more and more doors for me to share myself with the students and staff in the Framingham Public Schools.