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

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 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 






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.

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*




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) 

LOVE IS IN THE AIR…A Valentine’s Gratitude List

love signI love love. I love saying I love you and I love hearing hearing these magical words said to me. I love when little people hold my hand, caress my face and say I love you. I Iove when my dogs rest their faces on my lap with their expressive eyes that scream, I Love You. I love the colors pink and red and doodling hearts. I love my family and my tribe: they fuel my soul to be a better person, they make me laugh out loud and they comfort my heart when things get tough. As Helen Keller said, “The best and most beautiful things in this world cannot be seen or even heard, but must be felt with the heart.” 

Here are a few of my favorite things:

1. God. God is my best friend, my father, my mother, my shelter. As soon as I open my eyes I thank God for my life and the wonders that are filled in it. I don’t have a picture but I see God in most things and people as I go about my day.  When the sun sets with its purple, pink and orange hues I feel God’s light. My friends and I call this “The Color of Love.” I also feel God’s magnificence in the ocean and that’s why I love spending time on the beach.

Manhattan Beach Pier

Manhattan Beach Pier

2. I love books, I love bookstores, I love writing picture books and I love how books take you to different places, experiences and times. I’m currently reading The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson. As I go about my day I find myself back in 1946 and I’m accompanying the young female attorney as she tries to find justice for a black man in the segregated south. I hope one day to have a shabby chic library to have a space for all of my book friends.

3. I love yoga. Yoga has taught me to slow down, to pause and reflect. I’m a typical type A personality and in my perfect world everything would have a nice, neat box to keep stuff organized. Life has not been neat and most certainly people cannot be kept in boxes, no matter the packaging. I now have a huge respect for my body, my health and my breath. When I find myself looking at my time schedule and what I think needs to be happening, I now remind myself – I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.

4. I love the world of possibilities. I’ve always been an intuitive person. However, since I have begun writing and practicing yoga on a consistent basis, I have unlatched a gateway to another dimension. My friends lovingly call me bruja since I often dream of babies, death and random situations before they have occurred. People who have passed, come and visit me through dreams and visions.  The books and stories I write are based on the magical journeys I have taken through my dreams. My latest journey takes place in the vast ocean night with a magical friend. My dear friend has also been getting similar visions. No coincidence here.  In the meanwhile, I will be patiently waiting for this story to unfold, as I know it will when the time is right.

Sugar Dayne Cookies

Sugar Dayne Cookies

5. I love and truly admire creative and artistic people. The way I see it, it is through our creativity that God gets to spread love and hope. I joke that in my next lifetime I’m going to be a fashion designer or a dancer. I can’t get enough of Project Runway, Diane von Furstenberg, Anthropologie, Etsy and The Office of Angela Scott.  When people ask if I earn lots of money through my writing I laugh and tell them no. But who knows, anything is possible. I write because I love the joy it brings. I write because it’s like breathing. I write because it’s what I’m supposed to do.

Happy Valentine’s Day! May you be filled with lots of love.

I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death. -Robert Fulghum

When Things Don’t Go Your Way

beach motifSometimes life hits you hard from every angle. You don’t know how you will manage to stay afloat.Last week I decided to throw in the towel at what has been a hopeless and heartbreaking experience. I have prayed about it, meditated and agonized over it but I finally got to the place where I realized, “It is what it is. I just have to find another avenue. Now onto plan G since the other plans have been fruitless.”   At peace with my decision I encountered a sweet and kind elderly man who said, “Don’t give up just yet. I have a feeling.” Pointing his finger up to the heavens he earnestly asked, “Do you believe?” So moved by his unwavering faith I found myself weeping and nodded. I absolutely do believe. And so I tried yet again.

Ironically, everything has gone backwards and day after day I kept getting indications that things were bleaker than I thought.  Even still, when I would break down and cry I was comforted by the elderly man’s faith.  He did say he had a feeling…

Last night I went to a yoga class and the theme was intention. My intention was to find peace in however things unfold. To find hope in what appears to me as hopeless and to trust that God will handle my affairs for the grandest and highest good of all.

I got more dismal news but thankfully I’m not feeling down. Things are so whacky right now I have no other alternative but to laugh. Maybe this is material for some future sitcom that I’ll be writing. It’s just that ridiculous! And I’m still THRIVING;)  God places strangers in our path to give us some enlightening. I’m grateful for the elderly man’s faith and “feeling” and for my yoga teacher’s calming energy.

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” -Martin Luther King Junior

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.”― Walt Disney

And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”-Mark 9:23


City Girl vs The Desert: Bliss On A Vegan Yoga Retreat

hiking yoga creek

This past week I went on a retreat as part of Cloud Nine Yoga’s teacher training program. It was the Moving Your Prayers Retreat and boy did I pray for a miracle. I pouted and complained to my family how the desert and I were not friends. Sleeping under the stars in a sleeping bag where a coyote could potentially eat me up was not a pleasant thought. My idea of communing with Mother Earth is going to the beach, feeling the cool breeze on my skin, jogging through Golden Gate Park and enjoying a glass of vino in wine country. I feel absolutely electrified when I dine in a quaint restaurant eating savory foods, while people watching as they stroll by. The desert, not so much.

As I prepared for the retreat I begrudging drove myself to REI to purchase a sleeping bag. He asked my height and weight and showed me varying styles. He then selected a sleeping bag and asked me to get in. Staring at the ceiling, he zipped me up when panic set it. My heart started beating a million beats per minute and my body got clammy. I tried to get my arms out of the cocoon and I furiously started to kick. He unzipped the sides and I kicked the top layer off of me. I sat up and began to sob, “I have to go camping and I don’t camp and I’m scared a coyote is gonna eat me up.” Being a good and kind salesperson, he calmed me down and suggested I get a bigger sleeping bag. I told him I needed him to pray for me because I was about to embark on an unknown journey and he tenderly agreed and said, “God Bless” as I carried my new sleeping bag out to the checkout counter.

When I got home I called my friend from my teacher training program who was also going on the retreat and had another patatús (conniption).  She then gave me the best news ever. The retreat site had been relocated because it was a mad mess after the Coachella concert. The retreat was now going to be held at the Tuscan Hills Resort and Spa. Yahoo! The uncanny part is I always tell my family that one day I’m going to have a villa in Tuscany and here it was, a version of my dreams coming true. Thrilled beyond belief I packed my luggage and set off to commune with Mother Earth at a resort, exactly how I love to feel connected.


Afternoon yoga under a shady tree.

It was a lovely place, with lovely beds, and most importantly a lovely toilet complete with an indoor shower. We made our way to meet the other 27 yogis and sat in a circle as our dynamic retreat leader, Erika Faith held opening prayer.  I noticed a familiar face and tried to figure out how I knew her. Turns out, Stephanie and I went to grade school and high school together. Oddly enough I had dreamt of her 8 months prior.

We practiced yoga 2-3 times a day.  I fell asleep during two of the yoga sessions. I knew I was tired, but I didn’t realize just how tired I was. After morning yoga we’d have our vegan breakfast.  I understood vegan meant no meat, but didn’t know it meant no butter. I looked at the ezekiel bread and popped it in the toaster hoping it would taste like buttered toast, but it didn’t. By the third day of eating oatmeal and quinoa I started fantasizing about a  hearty breakfast from the Milbrae Pancake House. I guess God thought I could handle this version of “roughing it”. I wasn’t too sure.

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

Elfin Forest Recreational Reserve

On the day we went hiking I shellacked my face with SPF 70, put on my obnoxiously big sunhat and even donned a pink tutu in honor of my roomy who was celebrating 30 grand years on this planet. She brought tutus and fairy wings to share and was ready to trek the hills in fairy dust style.  We were asked to walk in silence and to “move our prayers.”  As I hiked up the hill I noticed that while I was not physically being challenged, I was emotionally challenged. I was out of my element in terms of scenery.  I was stressing about my face getting sun since I have melasma.  I was also hot and sweaty and annoyed with the pink tutu. I was craving a meat lovers pizza and empanadas Argentinas.  Knowing I was being ungrateful and dramatic I imagined myself telling a war torn victim how I was being “tested” living on a vegan commune on a resort with a plenty of luxurious amenities at my disposal. I knew in my I heart I would not have the gaul to say those words. To pacify my restless mind I retreated to the book I had begun to read, A Paris Wife by Paula McLain. I wondered how Hadley and Hemingway were faring as they struggled to cross the snowy mountain.

After the hike, we made our way to Belle Marie Winery where we were greeted by the owner, whose gracious and cheeky humor was appreciated. As I sampled the varying wines it dawned on me that wine is usually paired with salami and cheese. When the lady came to pour my glass I asked her if there was any chance I could get some.  She said it was sold in the main tasting room. My mouth began to salivate and my stomach begged for me to get some. I discreetly made my way to the main tasting room. I bought a small box of Ritz crackers, a package of salami and cheese as well as a bottle of pinot noir.  The cashier put my items in a cute paper bag and I quietly walked outside to the picnic area.  Once outside I sat on a bench and opened the package of salami and cheese only to be bum rushed by several non vegan yogis. “Where’d you get that?” they asked. “I bought it inside.” “Can I have a slice?” they begged. Before I got a chance to fully enjoy my snack, the salami and cheese was devoured.  A few minutes later the young lady sitting in front of me said, “I’ll be back, I’m gonna buy some more.” And when she came back, we vultures where there, ready for the taking.

Beautiful ladies doing 8 angle pose.

Beautiful ladies doing 8 angle pose.

After the hiking/wine tasting excursion I looked forward to the body massage I had signed up for. And what happened next was life altering, scary and transformative all at the same time. Poranquí, an energy healer, literally opens up your meridians and helps move your energy. It was the most bizarre, surreal experience that literally took me to another dimension. When I zombied back to the hotel room I asked my roomy, “How come you didn’t tell me it was going to be like that?”  She thoughtfully answered, “How could I ever explain that to you? How could we ever explain that to anyone really?” And she was right. It was an experiential experience. I wonder if that’s what being truly connected feels like.  If so, it’s unreal and magical all at the same time. That night, in need of some comfort food I waited until everyone was asleep. I tiptoed to the vending machine by the pool with my Tiffany coin purse so I could buy cookies.  The coins made lots of noise and I was fearful of getting caught with my hand in the cookie jar. But I was desperate for some sugar.  “C’mon God, work with me please,” I begged. But after the third try I gave up and humbly walked back to the room. My roomy offered me a ripe banana saying, “It’s nature’s sugar.” “Not the same”, I muttered back.

When I got home from the retreat I scarfed down a delicious gourmet burger. I had a wonderfully different experience this past week. True, I was out of my comfort zone, I also met people who were simply amazing. They came from all walks of life and religious faiths. However, on this retreat we broke bread together, we played together and shared our gifts with one another. In retrospect, after being “Poranguasized” as I joked, it’s obvious to me that we aren’t always tapping into the most vibrant part of ourselves. I will be quietly pondering this important truth. In the meanwhile, I will be with Hadley and Hemingway in Paris.