Spirit Dances On This Rainy Holiday Night

xmas.ballet.

This is my favorite time of the year. The weather is crisp and chilly, and Holiday lights fill the city. Light, in many traditions and cultures signifies hope, peace and the knowing that a better tomorrow is upon us. I hope and pray that no matter what ails us, whatever troubles have dimmed our light, that we continue to shine above it – with love, gratitude and a renewed faith in ourselves and humanity.

“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”
― Rumi

Wishing you a peaceful Holiday season with your loved ones and a joyous 2016.

 

Gratitude for Community Yoga: Making yoga accessible to people of color

candlelite.yoga.zumba

Candlelight Gratitude Yoga Class at Mary’s Dance Fitness

A year ago I was given the priveledge of starting a community yoga class in Hawthorne, California. A little more than half of the population in this city is Latino and about 28% are African American. When I started practicing yoga almost six years ago, I would go to yoga studios in the beach cities and notice that I was a part of a small minority in the group. Two years ago I decided to get my yoga certification in the hopes of offering yoga classes to people who might not have access to yoga studios.

As stated in the article, Why Your Yoga Class is So White, “a 2009 study in the Journal of Religion and Health found that 63 percent of African Americans and 50 percent of Hispanic Americans pray to improve their health. Only 17 and 12 percent, respectively, reported relying on an alternative spiritual practice like meditation or yoga to stay healthy, and almost everyone in that group also prays. In contrast, twice as many white Americans identify with alternative spiritual practices and don’t pray at all.” (July,2014).  In my experience, I have seen many people of color sincerely interested in the practice of yoga. However, many have shared that they felt out of place being in a white studio, the cost of classes were out of their budgets and they felt divided in terms of respecting their religion while learning about yoga.

mari.yoga

Mari lighting a gratitude candle – owner of Mary’s Dance Fitness

For the last year, Mary’s Dance Fitness, a zumba studio, has let me have a weekly yoga class. The cost is $5 for an hour class. Patrons have gathered to learn the basics of yoga while flowing to a myriad of Spanish ballads. Classes are typically taught in English, Spanish and Spanglish in an intimate and relaxed setting. The space is not the typical yoga studio with its swanky and cool interior – but it’s enough for one to learn, relax and unwind. Fortunately, some of the yogis who came when we first started this community yoga class have now ventured out to find yoga studios and styles that complement their yoga practice. And that was the goal – for every day folks to learn about yoga and make it their own.

Here are some of the comments shared by yogis whose first experience of yoga has been through this community class:

  • Hatha yoga led me to explore Kundalini and since then practice both daily. Sometimes Kundalini more so than Hatha because of time constraints. I find both practices to be similar in ways but yet slightly different. The kriyas that I’ve learned and practice through Kundalini have been extremely beneficial to my overall health and well being.  -N.L.
  • Community yoga has given me a local and affordable place to practice quieting my mind and syncing with my breath in the company of supportive women. -P.I.
  • I love that I get to clear my mind while getting a great workout. It truly feels like my arms and legs are longer every time I’m done doing yoga. Gradually, I’ve felt more comfortable with the yoga world and even ventured into trying hot yoga and barre yoga. Thank you for the wonderful introduction to your world. -T.V.
  • Community yoga has connected me with my home where I was born and raised. …Yoga brings me home, it brings me peace, and the joy I feel after spending this time with my roots is beyond any other experience. -J.V.
  • I never thought yoga would change my perspective on life as much as it has. Every class I attended offered me the opportunity to take a step back and appreciate my existence. I genuinely love that yoga teaches me to breathe every day. It teaches me to not be afraid of truly feeling. Although sometimes in tears, yoga makes me happy! -J.J.
little yogini

Little yogini lighting a gratitude candle

I am super humbled and grateful to be la maestra de yoga. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we had a candlelight gratitude yoga class. It was a very soothing class and I felt like the luckiest person in the world because I was surrounded by kind souls that have come together to create community. What I’m really enjoying is how some yogis are bringing their children to yoga – sweetness.

Wishing you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

The purpose of life is to be beautiful, to be bountiful, to be blissful, to be graceful and grateful. What a wonderful English word—grateful. If one is great and full, one is God. And whenever smallness faces you, you should be great. And full. Full of that greatness. 
-Yogi Bhajan 

 

 

 

 

Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D. : Thoughts on how teachers can better support boys in schools

Suggestions for teaching boys (handout given at event)

Suggestions for teaching boys (handout given at event)

This evening, I listened to a presentation given by Michael G. Thompson, Ph.D.  He is a clinical psychologist, school consultant and international speaker on the subjects of children, schools and parenting. He’s also written several books focusing on parent-teacher relationships, child development and the psychological aspects of school leadership. Some of his books are Homesick and Happy: How time away from parents can help a child grow, The Pressured Child: Helping your child find success in school and life and Raising Cain: Protecting the emotional life of boys.

While there were many interesting tidbits learned, I was most struck by three points on the handout titled: Twelve Suggestions for Teaching Boys.

Re-think homework. Meaningless or make-work homework creates the greatest pushback from boys because it ruins their playtime and causes fights at home. Teachers should try to use differentiated homework, offer homework online that gives immediate feedback, or give boys a way to earn their way out of homework. 

Because I went to a traditional private Catholic school (1st-12th grade), and I received tons of homework, as a novice teacher, I did the same. I was under the belief that if my students practiced skills at home then they would fare better in school. However, in the last ten years my pedagogical approach has been slowly changing and now I question the rationale for homework, particularly in the primary grades. I’m not a fan of homework packets, especially during vacation. When I speak to families and they share the constant fights that occur at home in the evenings over homework, I wonder, How is this benefiting the child or the home? Who’s paying the cost for this turmoil? Is homework creating a negative connotation between school and learning? –  I’d also like to point out that this argument can also be made for girls. I believe that both boys and girls, particularly in the primary grades would benefit greatly from having a reading log (reading is the gateway to learning) and perhaps a quick review of math facts, sight words or something else that is quick and easy. And once children begin the third grade, homework can be implemented so long as it is pertinent to what they are learning and not time-consuming. I hear parents share that their fourth and fifth graders spend up to three hours doing homework – that is insane!

Movement. Let them move inside the classroom as much as you can tolerate. Remember that boys who hate Shakespeare will learn the lines from Romeo and Juliet when they can act them out with others – with swords.

This is a doozy for me –  Dr. Michael Thompson said that this is how boys are wired and that our schools need to adapt to this. So long as no one is getting hurt, and work productivity is not being slowed down, then if a boy needs to wiggle around, stand up, walk outside and then come back, not a problem. As I listened to his presentation I understood exactly what he was getting at. Our schools are designed for learners who sit quietly in their seats, take their time with their work, don’t disturb and make life easier for teachers. In the past I have been guilty of this. I remember getting my feathers ruffled when a former student would be in constant motion. Another teacher friend said, “Is he learning? Is he hurting anyone?” This little guy was learning and he wasn’t hurting anyone and that is when I finally learned that taking away his recess (not the best option) was only hindering his ability to focus in class because what he really needed to do was MOVE AND PLAY!  The irony is that our schools keep increasing the rigor of subjects and adding more things to teach (maybe there aren’t enough school minutes to get in done) and in a bind, teachers opt to shorten recess or in more extreme cases, not have recess at all.

Another thing mentioned was the manner in how boys tend to play. I am not comfortable with roughhousing and wrestling. I am quick to pull boys apart on the playground and in most schools this type of play is not allowed. But a question posed this evening was, What if we were to let boys wrestle and play in this manner? So long as no one is getting hurt or targeted to be hurt, what would be the harm? I have been pondering this all evening and I have to say, this doesn’t sit well with me. Nevertheless, when I look at how the adult men behave in my family, they wrestle each other, they run and “dunk” their trash in the wastebasket, they jump and move as they watch sporting events – they too are in constant motion.

Let boys read and write about (and draw!) what they love. There is often a collision between boys and teachers when it comes to reading. Teachers tend to like fiction, character development, journals and emotional openness. Boys, in general, like non fiction, science fiction, graphic novels and stories of emotional toughness such as sports biographies. They especially love and value stories of espionage, combat and death.

A few weeks ago I was doing a shared writing activity with the class. Using equity sticks, the chosen student added details to the story while I wrote them on chart paper. I called on a little boy and he said something about a sword and killing one of the characters. I’m sure I put on my teacher face and in my teacher voice said something like, “Well, can you think of something different that doesn’t involve any violence…” Dr. Michael Thompson said this sort of exchange deters boys from reading and writing because these are the topics that they get excited about, yet are often not accepted in the classroom. Again, I’m going to have to think about this. But I can see how writing about mermaids, rainbows and unicorns can seem boring and uninspiring to some.

I plan on reading some of Dr. Michael Thompson’s books and I hope to get more answers to the thousands of questions I have. I have many things to think about in terms of how I teach and the environment I create for my students. I wonder if wrestling during recess is a safe and healthy alternative so boys don’t feel disconnected and bored in school…

What’s Your Learning Strength? Helping Kids Understand Multiple Intelligences

Children chose their top two learning strengths

Children chose their top two learning strengths

There is so much pressure in our society to be the best and the smartest. We push children academically, we bombard them with tests, competitive sports and after school activities. This pressure to be the best, unfortunately, can lead some children feeling less than worthy or less than “smart”. In an effort to guide children to understand that we all have strengths (things we are really good at) and stretches (things we need to work at), they were introduced to Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Howard Gardner has identified seven distinct intelligences.  According to this theory, “we are all able to know the world through language, logical-mathematical analysis, spatial representation, musical thinking, the use of the body to solve problems or to make things, an understanding of other individuals, and an understanding of ourselves. Where individuals differ is in the strength of these intelligences – the so-called profile of intelligences -and in the ways in which such intelligences are invoked and combined to carry out different tasks, solve diverse problems, and progress in various domains.” (Gardner, 1991)

We explained the seven intelligences, giving the students basic examples so that they could begin to explore the significance of having “many smarts”.  After a brief conversation, they graphed their top two strengths. I shared that my strength was linguistics because reading and writing came naturally to me, whereas visual spatial is one of my stretches because reading graphs and maps is sometimes difficult for me. What was really fun about this social-emotional / graphing lesson was how it was an obvious relief for some little ones to recognize that they were indeed smart in something or other.  Throughout the week, they would ask each other, “What’s your smart?”

We also read several picture books and watched a video that helped continue the discussion that we are all smart, beautiful and amazing in our own unique ways.

The Little Rose: A little rose is teased by the ugly weeds around her. She nearly gives up but learns to accept and love herself for what she really is, a beautiful rose.

Ish: A creative spirit learns that thinking “ish-ly” is far more wonderful than “getting it right”.

Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon: Molly Lou Melon is different, but this doesn’t slow her down.

On Back to School Night, we asked parents to graph their learning strengths. This was my favorite part of this lesson because it was so neat to see how similar parents’ strengths are to their children. I also hope it gave parents permission to really treasure their children’s strengths versus solely focusing on what they “need” to improve. My goal is to continue this important discussion in our class for the year to come so that my students truly understand that they are made up of wonderful gifts – and that there is no one else like them!

Sorting, Classifying and Making Sense of School Activities

venn diagram.schoolThe school year is underway! Children all over the country are making new friends, learning new school systems and applying their critical thinking skills to make sense of their school environments.  One of the most natural way for children to do this is to sort and classify things.

My K/1 students were asked, “What kinds of work do you like to do at school?” This general question ties in with the year’s overarching Social Studies unit – WORLD OF WORK.

After some think time, on a square piece of paper they drew their favorite activity. Common favorites were lunch, P.E., science and making new friends. Then, children sat in a circle on the rug and began to sort and classify their picture cards by activities, things done inside, outside and both inside and outside.

fav activity cards

What I found most fascinating, was that this lesson was not explicitly called a “math/sorting/classifying” activity. Through lots of dialogue and open ended questions, they naturally sorted and classified – an important math skill that is weaved in many different academic disciplines.

One of the open ended questions was, “Where else do you sort or put things in order by groups?

Some of the answers were:

My dad does his own laundry, so me and my mom sort our own shorts and stuff.”

“I sort my toys when I clean up.”

Then a little one said with much excitement as he had a light bulb moment, “Oh, at the grocery store! All the fruits are together.”  After this discovery, other students said…

“Paleontologists sort dinosaurs by sizes.”

“Farmers.”

“At school we put things back where they belong.”

They had lots to share and were eager to explore. It was really exciting to see them making such huge connections to both the outside world and their school environment.

It’s already a great start to a great school year!

Yoga For Water – A Community Event Recap!

water for life. yoga 8.29

Today was an amazing day! We had a special yoga class at Mary’s Dance Fitness to raise funds for La Mission’s – Yoga For Water event. Many studios in and around California donated their time and proceeds to support La Mission Por Vida, a non profit organization that provides families in developing countries clean drinking water.

When I first heard of this event, I asked Mari, the owner of Mary’s Dance Fitness, (a zumba studio) if she would be willing to open her doors so we could host this event. She immediately said yes, saying that it is important that we help each other in any way possible, just as God helps us in our lives.

Last night as I prepared for the yoga class, I prayed that people show up to support this community event. When I arrived to the studio, I was delighted to see a room full of yogis. Mother Teresa said, “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” It was a beautiful testimony to the power of community – and how together, we can create ripples of peace and goodwill.

yoga for water crew.8.29.15

Today’s yoga class was designed around the element of water: finding flow and fluidity in our busy lives. We flowed to the sounds of Reggae on this hot Saturday morning and built up a healthy sweat. We even got cool bracelets!

I would like to thank all of the yogis who carved out time from their busy lives to come support this community event. St. Margaret Center in Lennox and St. Joseph Church in Hawthorne – a huge thank you for spreading the word. And Mari, again – mil gracias for opening your studio with open arms and allowing us to be part of the solution.  –Namaste

yoga for water bracelets

Also, if you are close to Hawthorne, CA -be sure to check out Mary’s Dance Fitness’ zumba schedule. Mari is a fun and dynamic dancer and her classes are the best! I also teach a community yoga class on Thursdays (8-9PM) and classes are $5.00

Mary’s Dance Fitness

15010 Prairie Avenue

Hawthorne, CA 90250

(next to Mariscos Tijuanas – parking in the back)

If you would like to donate to La Mission’s – Yoga For Water, please follow this link.

https://lamissionporvida.org/#/my/donate/details

Yoga For Water Community Event – Hawthorne CA

water for life. yoga 8.29Super excited to be participating in this wonderful community event: Yoga For Water. On August 29th, 2015, yoga studios in and around California will be donating the proceeds of their classes to La Mission Por Vida, a non profit organization that provides clean drinking water to families in developing countries.

Please join me in supporting this community event, to do something good for your body and spirit, as well as helping our brothers in sisters in need.

When: Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Where: Mary’s Dance Fitness

15010 Prairie Avenue

Hawthorne, CA 90250

(Parking in the back / Next to Mariscos Tijuana Restaurant)

Time: 10am-11am

Cost: $10

*Please arrive 15 minutes early to fill out liability waivers*

#yogaforwater

#lamissionporvida

#comadreyoga

Observations on American Sign Language & Bilingual/Bicultural Education in Latino Communities

UC San Diego - School of Education in ASL/Bilingual    Studies

UC San Diego – School of Education in ASL/Bilingual Studies

My cousin Marco had a presentation at UC San Diego, where he received his graduate degree in American Sign Language, English Bilingual Education. The presentations were in American Sign Language (ASL) while several interpreters voiced what was being signed. While I listened with great interest, I saw the many similarities between the bilingual education program in the context of the deaf community and bilingual education programs in urban and Latino communities.

I was particularly interested in learning more about Anthony J. O’Donnell’s work. He said that hands, in the context of signing, can alter the meaning of words. The following day I got to spend some time with AJ over a cup of coffee.  I had never been in the company of a deaf person and was unsure how we were going to communicate. He brought along a tablet and began to communicate with me through writing. And while AJ is adept at writing quickly and effortlessly on the tablet, it took me a while to get through a thought. But he was patient as I spelled out words, finger by finger.

aj

I learned that just as spoken words have slight and varied nuances depending on pitch, tone, pronunciation and context, so do signed words. The rhythm and flow of hands, their movement, rate of signing as well as patterns used, add and change the nuances of their meaning. I thought of how words have shades of meaning and how these subtleties are sometimes challenging for English Language Learners (ELL’s) to grasp.

My cousin, who is a hearing individual, has been learning ASL. He loves languages, learning about their cultures and its people. He knows English, Spanish, Arabic and now ASL. He works in an urban school for the deaf with students who are predominantly Latino. During his presentation, Mark raised some valid points that I had never considered. Just like ELL’s are balancing English and a home native language, his students have several languages and forms of communications to contend with. Firstly, his high school students are born deaf, to hearing families. They come from immigrant families where Spanish is the home language.

mn

Another presenter mentioned the need for deaf children to read and learn about deaf role models so that they see themselves in literature, history, music, and the community at large. This again highlights the need for teachers, parents and librarians to include multicultural literature in schools so that underrepresented children or children of color recognize the inherent beauty of their culture and language.

I shared with AJ that the presentations made me realize how similar the struggles and needs of the deaf community are between ELL’s and those that are considered “others” in American mainstream culture.  AJ openly shared that he knows what it feels like to not be seen, not heard and not validated. And while I do not share the struggles he has faced as a deaf individual, I can empathize because as a Latina daughter of immigrant parents, my experience has been one of straddling two worlds. I have my mainstream English world and the culture of my home where English and Spanish are mixed together, Spanglish.  My childhood friends and I have mastered the ability to codeswitch, depending on who we are speaking to. When in a professional setting, we speak with each other using academic English. When we are together in a relaxed setting, we speak to each other in Spanglish, use urban words and phrases and other forms of colloquialisms. However, mainstream culture says that only academic English is considered correct and that the culture my family is from is somehow less than. But when we consider the main function of language, it is to communicate, to express oneself, to connect.

I feel fortunate for having been introduced to the deaf community, or as AJ prefers, the signing community. It has its own language system (ASL): a language system that is not made up of simple hand gestures, but a system with intricate structures that allows for the deaf community to communicate with each other just as deeply and profoundly as any other language in the hearing community.

AJ- thank you for teaching me something new, for allowing me to ask you a million questions and mostly for your gracious manner and intellect. You are a brilliant man.

Marco- felicidades primito. Your curiosity and passion never ceases to amaze me.

Language is a process of free creation; its laws and principles are fixed, but the manner in which the principles of generation are used is free and infinitely varies. Even the interpretation and use of words involves a process of free creation.

-Noam Chomsky

Love. Same Sex Marriage. Equality.

Celebrating love & equality at SF Pride Parade

Celebrating love & equality at SF Pride Parade

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court voted in a historic ruling in favor of same sex marriage nationwide. I happened to be in San Francisco (my favorite city) at the American Library Association Conference to celebrate my friend’s book recognition at the The International Latino Book Awards.  My friend’s book, Birth of a New J: A Cathartic Memoir, by Julie Guardado, was honored first place for best Ebook. As we walked and celebrated the many wins that took place on this special weekend, I was filled with so much emotion at being present at one of our countries greatest moves towards justice and equality.

I am a big advocate for multicultural and diverse picture books because they give children opportunities to learn about people, cultures, customs and religions that are different from their own. Multicultural picture books open worlds, and begin necessary conversations about tolerance, respect, equality and justice. As a child, I never read multicultural picture books, but I had two parents who spoke to me often about the unfair treatment of others because of race, gender, religion, culture, language, sexual orientation, skin color and education. My parents spoke to me often that through my education I would be able to speak up for individuals who didn’t have a voice.  My parents spoke to me often about the cruel and unfair injustices they faced for being negatively perceived as “poor, lazy, stupid, uneducated immigrants”. My parents spoke to me often that we must always be an example of love, respect, kindness – as this is the way of God.

SF Pride Parade: 5th & Market

SF Pride Parade: 5th & Market

Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

-Romans 13:10

It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.

-Harvey Milk

This is my doctrine: Give every other human being every right you claim for yourself.

-Robert G. Ingersoll 

Here are the values that I stand for: honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values.

–Ellen DeGeneres

Equality is the soul of liberty; there is, in fact, no liberty without it.

-Frances Wright

From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests: you cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own.

-Carl Schurz

In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest where no-one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.

-Rumi

Handstand Party! AHA moments at a handstand yoga workshop

handstand wrkshop

I showed up to this handstand workshop at one of my favorite places to practice, Yoga World Studios. I was nervous because I don’t know how to do a handstand, and when I challenge myself to not use the wall, I get butterflies in my stomach. I was also looking forward to learning about the techniques involved with mastering a handstand. I know many yogis who have no interest in learning how to do a handstand, but I do. I remember going to my first intermediate yoga class and being in awe when some yogis went into a handstand in the middle of the yoga sequence. For whatever reason, I was hooked and have been trying for the past three years to master a handstand. And even though I still don’t know how to do a handstand, I am totally enjoying the journey of going upside down. Wayne Dyer says, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” 

The workshop was led by a super fit, knowledgable and supportive yoga instructor named Erika Gasztonyi. I learned about hand placement, exercising my wrists, finger exercises and the importance of having a strong core. Who knew there was so much to it? Erika also referenced Dylan Werner, an inversion and arm balance master, whom she says taught her a lot about the art of balancing. I naturally came home and looked him up, and again was impressed. It is amazing how with continued practice, perserverence, and dedication, our bodies, mind and spirit can soar to new heights.

norris taking flightDuring the workshop some were able to find some hang time. I wasn’t able to, but I was super excited that they were making huge progress in their handstand journey. Seeing others succeed encourages me to keep trying.

Susie handstand

These past two weeks I have been going upside down sans the wall. Most times I fall on my bum, but I’ve learned how to fall out of it. Once in blue moon I even get some hang time. I’m so close I can feel it! However, during these few and rare moments that I am in a handstand, the feeling of being strong, light and perfectly balanced, is worth all the falls that I have taken. Whether I learn how to do a handstand this year or in the next ten years or never, going upside down has been quite a journey because I’ve had the courage to try.

Erika – great workshop! Your dedication inspires me.

(Instagram @erikatyoga)