What I Learned from Practicing Yoga

After my first yoga blog I was almost certain the next one was going to be about the asanas I had “mastered”, but contrary to my self-assurance the practice taught me something else. I can proudly say I have completed four weeks of yoga, and the lessons learned in this brief period of time go beyond the yoga mat or the yoga studio. Here is my testimony after a month of practice.

Yoga Group

1. You are not alone: In a room full of strangers and being a “freshman” you might think it is your practice, and it is only your responsibility to find balance and endurance on high planks and downward facing dogs. The first half of my first day I was feeling that way. It felt too complicated and gruesome to go through a Hot Vinyasa class mainly because I saw the others as my antagonists. I felt pity for myself because the others seemed flexible, agile, balanced, and all of them had a pretty nice posture. I could see through the mirror how they drew perfect lines with every asana while I struggled trying to hide my curvy behind to look like a “real” warrior. Internal criticism kills you. Fortunately it didn’t take me too long to feel connected with the group energy. My first instructor, Kyle Conti, was telling stories about himself and life, and by doing so he was making us part of his reality. I still remember his words, You are the boss of your mat. These seven words took me from self-pity to action. It is not about showing others what you are capable of doing, but “to get deeper understanding of yourself through the asana practice” as Kyle said the day I met him. The group supports your sincere efforts as we support sincere efforts in our daily life. The same happened when I arrived to this country. It was the entire community who pulled me through.

2. You are stronger than you think: I can’t count how many times I have wanted to go into a child’s pose for the rest of the class, but haven’t. Again, one of the first thoughts that comes to mind is “I can’t do this,” to realize not only that I can but I have been able to endure. The point is you’ll never know until you try, and you’ll never get better if you don’t push yourself a little everyday. That little can be staying in an asana for two more seconds or lifting your hips a little higher when doing the bridge. In relationships (especially the close ones) you might have to endure tension, an illness, or something worse. You are strong, you can do it, it will be over soon, and you will be stronger afterwards.Bridge

3. Changes happen one step (or day) at a time: Do not rush. It’s not a competition. On my first  blog I had talked about how I had improved so much in just three days. It was true, but muscles need to readjust, get comfortable with the new movements and weight shifting. A week after I wrote that I felt like the first day. I couldn’t accept it, I wanted to go forward, always. But I am changing inside and out and if I decide to continue, this is a process I cannot accelerate.  Listen to your body, it needs time the same way as you need time when you enter a new situation. I am moving forward even if I think I’m stepping backwards sometimes. Lying or standing on my mat I’m becoming a warrior one asana at a time.

4. You are never too old to try something new, you will be surprised: Think about it. When was the last time you did something for the first time? There is a wide range of ages in these classes. Myself, being 45, might have felt that I didn’t have the flexibility, the strength, or even the time to do something like this. However, my body is becoming more flexible and stronger through the practice. And it has extra benefits. I have met new people who have been so kind and encouraging I feel that I could do anything! The brain feels the difference. There is definitely more oxygenation, and I celebrate my little triumphs as I start finding a sense of self-awareness.

5. It’s okay to take a break (child pose): Because of my competitive spirit a few times I have felt the urgency to catch up with the others (refer to point 3, this is not a competition). Like in other aspects of my life I have rushed to show others that I am better. Bottom line is sometimes you need to stop, close your eyes, and breathe. What could be more perfect than the child pose (or balasana). Here you can only look into yourself, nowhere else. Here your body is in contact with your inner emotions and frustrations. Here you slowdown to a full stop. You can even fall asleep. Strenuous circumstances sometimes call for a nap, and that’s okay. The world will continue spinning, take care of yourself first.

Child poseChild pose side

6. Breathe: In my first class I found it difficult to attend Kyle’s call, “Deep Breath.” In my naiveté I was going from one asana to the next (the best as I could) the way I knew how to, forcing my body into movements without giving it the time or the oxygen to be able to perform. We do exactly the same in our daily routines. We go through the motions in hopes that we can survive the days or the new circumstances without giving our mind, body, and spirit the tools to keep going, and only by the grace of God we actually “survive” those situations sometimes causing some collateral damage. Breathe before making important decisions. Breathe before talking to your loved ones. Simply breathe, you will feel better and your body and the people around you will thank you.

7. Life will shake you, it’s your choice to stay: My mother died unexpectedly in 2012 from an asthma attack. This event could have carried cataclysmic consequences due to the strong ties we had developed during the last few years of her existence. I withdrew from life, friends, and Zumba class not comprehending why this earthquake had started and the ground was still shaking. Likewise though in much lower proportion, when you are doing a half-moon, a standing split, or a reverse plank, depending on the length of the asana you will probably start shaking. It is this soft movement what is allowing change. Embrace it. Endure. Be transformed.

8. Namaste (namas: bowing, te: to you): At the end of each practice everyone turns to the center to bow to the teacher and to every other individual saying “namaste”. Here we regard our neighbor as important or even more than ourselves. This demands humility and respect.  Be humble in all circumstances. Respect your surroundings and the people who cohabitate the planet. So many battles and wars could have been prevented if we Namaste from our heart. The same way, at home, treat your children with kindness, they are just starting to understand life through your actions. Respect the animals, they have the same right to be here as you. Do everything out of love.

Peaceful and humble warriors out there. It has been an honor to meet you. May God guide you and give you strength.

Namaste ♥

LET THERE BE LUZ

When I was a child, I was kissed by Muhammad Ali. In 1977 or 78 my mother was invited to a reception for the boxer at the Hilton Hotel in Bogotá, Colombia. He spotted me in the crowd, sat me on his lap, and kissed me as if I was his own daughter. My mother told me, “Kurmita, you’re going to be great because you’ve been kissed by one of the greatest.”

Living with my mother was like Christmas. There was always a surprise under the tree. I never called her “mother”, but I called her by her nickname, Mapy. And later on, just by her first name, Luz (which means light in Spanish). Just like that, she would lighten up every space by her presence, and her laugh filled everything like dew drops over red roses. luz flower dress

I wasn’t her daughter but her friend, so in this unconventional life of hers, her playful character, always seeking for new experiences, and love, I learned to follow my dreams and find joy in everything, following her name as well, Luz, which manifested in me in every way. So when I was 16, this “free spirit” left with a Spanish man to follow her dreams, and I stayed to live mine…

I studied hard, worked hard, and fought for the opportunity to come here. To find my life and destiny in the United States. I was chosen, packed my life in two bags, and was born again! I came through an exchange program, and during my last year I met a gorgeous, loving, compassionate, generous man, who became my husband after a few months of courtship. The most beautiful future was awaiting, but… two years later at 2 in the morning, I was driving and crying trying to hold myself up. My marriage had turned from love to… ABUSE. My husband had kicked me out of our home. I was trying to think what to do, where to go, where I was going to sleep! I was devastated; yet I had to focus on the next step… Where was the light? Luz!? As tears ran down my face, I started to pray, “Dios mío, please, don’t leave me.”

With less than $200 in my pocket and all my belongings in my car I started the hardest journey I ever imagined. My car became my home. I asked friends to stay in their couch a day here, another there, maybe a week here and another there. Still homeless, I was hired to teach math at a high school, and ESL (English as a Second Language) at a community college in the evenings.

God was good to me. He kept His promises of making me prosper and not harm me (Jeremiah 29:11). With my first salary I rented a room in a house; then moved to a single bedroom apartment where I still live, and write, and dance, and call light to my every piece of being.

The desire of writing reawakened, and I have been called to do several poetry readings. My poems have been published in the Latino newspapers (with two books released last year) and people have started recognizing me in the streets as “the poet.”

muhammad ali- kurma photos combined

Muhammad Ali photo by Benyupp on Flickr Kurma Murrain photo by Glenn DeRosa

I’m in a peaceful place where light surrounds me as the words of my Luz pound in my heart, “Kurmita, you’re going to be great because you’ve been kissed by one of the greatest.”

-In memory of Luz Amalfi Castillo Gamboa (Colombia 1950 – Spain 2012) ♥

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