Trauma Purge and the Surprise of Letting Go

It’s Loving Kindness Wednesday!

I took the attached picture last week in Maui. After snapping the shot, I looked at the image and thought, “That’s not what I thought I was taking a picture of. This looks like a flame shooting up through the waves!!”

It was so unexpected and such a wonderful surprise. A lot like how it feels when we’re moving through transformation and out of trauma and into our greatest potential self. The unexpected happens frequently regardless of the tools we use to release our trapped trauma, emotions and pain. 

A tool I use and recommend others to practice is yoga. But yoga isn’t the gentle kind of release one might think it is. It’s powerful and intense. 

Through movements and holdings of the body simultaneously with the breath, yoga loosens trauma in preparation for the ultimate purge, cleansing and letting go of trauma. 

Loosening too much too quickly is not recommended. Otherwise, you run the risk of re-traumatizing yourself and creating an even thicker block of compacted and congested emotional and spiritual “gunk”. 

Preferably, begin or reintroduce yoga by easing into a practice of yin or guided meditation. These types of tools are slower and more focused, allowing for a gentle emergence of accumulated trauma, stress and anxiety. Connected to this accumulation of gunk are your fears partnered with all the self-sabotaging tools the gunk set as your default whenever faced with relationship challenges. So as the gunk surfaces, expect to be swiftly and unexpectedly overcome with even more intense sensations of the following: self-doubt, self-judgment, shame, remorse, regret, lack of self-respect, etc. 

Fortunately and with more practice, instead of cycling through the loop of these destructive emotions, you will recognize and be aware of them. When you are aware of them, they have no power or control over your actions, behaviors and/or treatment of others. When you’re aware of them, you accept them for the tricksters that they are and simultaneously let them go.

The letting go process may happen unexpectedly. You’ll know when it’s happening. No need for me to spoil the surprise.

Paula Carrasquillo, yoga teacher and health coach

Why I stuck with yoga even when it got ugly

Recently, a very dear friend and fellow survivor introduced me to Linda Sparrowe, yoga teacher, former editor-in-chief of Yoga International magazine, and past managing editor of Yoga Journal. She’s a participant on the upcoming panel discussion, “Yoga Continuum: Facing Challenges with Courage and Compassion”, as part of a collaboration between Naropa University and Yoga Journal. She kindly asked me to detail my experience with yoga as therapy. I share her questions and my answers below:

How have yoga and meditation helped you in your own journey through diagnosis, treatment, remission, and even recurrence?  

When I began practicing yoga 4 years ago at the age of 39, I had no idea how much of me was broken. At 18, I experienced intimate partner abuse at the hands of my boyfriend, who was also 18. The relationship didn’t last more than 6 months, but my life and outlook on life changed forever. 

For 2 decades, I suffered from, without realizing I was suffering from them, depression, alcohol abuse, and post-traumatic stress (PTSD). My inner world was out of control, but I thought I could compensate by controlling my outer world. My perfectionistic tendencies ran the gamut: I had to look perfect from head to toe; I had to get perfect grades; I had to perform perfectly in my jobs; I had to have a perfectly clean and ordered house; I had to look like I had a perfect life despite the fact I hated myself. I didn’t even understand why I hated myself, which made hating myself that much more intense and burdensome on my mind and spirit. I became obsessed with food and acquired an eating disorder. I feared criticism and didn’t want anyone to think I was stupid. So one degree wasn’t enough. I had to go for advanced degrees and certificates, anything to prove my worth and value. Just being me wasn’t enough.

At 39, I escaped another short-term abusive relationship. I was lost. I wanted to kill myself. Luckily, I had family who loved and supported me. But even that didn’t seem like enough.

Then I discovered yoga two months before my 40th birthday. Within a few weeks of practicing, I overcame my binge eating and bulimia. Within 6 months, I quit drinking and was finally diagnosed with PTSD. For good and bad, my yoga practice opened the pathway to all of the repressed memories and denial I had been trying to bury for years. All the harm inflicted upon me by myself and others surfaced. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I thought I was going crazy, because, for the first time since I was 18, I was facing all of myself head on, and I couldn’t look away. Yoga unveiled my inner being, and my inner being wouldn’t allow me to look away. This process of going inward and seeing myself “naked” was painful, humiliating and shameful. Initially and despite practicing yoga almost daily, I fell even deeper into the pit of darkness and self-hatred. 

Fortunately, the side effects of my bottom were short-lived, because yoga helped me find my voice. I wrote and self-published my first book in 2012, “Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath”, which highlights my last abusive relationship. From there, I created and maintained a blog on which I purged myself of more “stuff” and connected to others in the process. At the end of 2014, I self-published my second book, “Unashamed Voices: True Stories Written by Survivors of Domestic Violence, Rape and Fraud”, which features 38 first-hand accounts of abuse submitted to me by visitors of my blog.

And I feel like that’s only the beginning of my life’s work. 

Last year, I completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training, because I not only wanted to deepen my practice and understanding of yoga, but I want to give others the gift yoga gave to me: my life. 

I teach yoga twice a week and yoga nidra guided meditation once a week. Over time, I plan to transition away from my corporate job as a web content developer and trainer and into teaching yoga and being a health coach full-time. My deepest heart’s desire is to help as many people as I can escape their pain, shame, and humiliation and awaken as I awakened.

How are yoga and meditation sources of healing, understanding and acceptance? 

Yoga taught me acceptance and letting go. At the heart of yoga, I learned:

1. Compassion for all living things. The first I had to master was compassion for myself. 

2. Being perfect is unattainable, because nothing is permanent except change, so there is no such thing as a state of being perfect. 

3. How others treat me is about them and not me. How I treat myself is what matters, because how I treat myself is how I will treat others. I want to be good to people, not indifferent, mean, or nasty. It’s a daily exercise to elevate my levels of self-love and self-trust. 

4. The humiliation, shame, and pain I experienced doesn’t mean I’m weak or unworthy of love; it means I’m human. I’m perfect just because I’m me. Yoga taught me that.

And, what would you put in your own yoga toolkit that you could draw upon as you face aging, illness, or even death?

To never stop. To keep going. It’s never too late to live or take another breath toward a more fulfilling life. Life is the absence of the fear of growing old and dying. Life is love. Death just happens.

Is it possible to explain why yoga? Or, maybe more precisely, what it was about yoga itself that allowed you to trust the process? That allowed you to stick with the pain of investigation and self-inquiry? What can yoga do for us that, for instance, talk therapy can not? How did yoga help you find your voice and feel comfortable and safe sharing it? How did it help you find more compassion, courage and perhaps patience with yourself?

First and foremost, my teachers, their patience, and their spirit of acceptance kept me motivated. I felt safe with them. I didn’t feel judged in their presence, which allowed me to be less critical of myself. Reciprocity of energy and vibration. If I fell out of a posture, my teachers would either encourage me to try again or encourage me to let it go for the night and try again the next night. No need to become frustrated or angry with myself, they’d say. It’s only yoga, and tomorrow is another day. Wow! That was a lot for my perfectionist nature to handle and accept. But my teachers made it effortless for me. I was never made to feel like I failed, like any attempt was a poor attempt, or like I had to attain a certain level of expertise or experience before becoming a yogini. I was permitted to be a yogini the second I walked onto my mat for the first time. Being accepted and respected without the need to prove myself worthy…that’s a powerful motivator. 

And because my teachers were so good to me, I wanted to be good to me. I found myself surrounded by acceptance, and peace washed over my hypersensitive nature which was normally agitated and accustomed to being preoccupied with seeking acceptance from others. This unconditional acceptance from my teachers on the outside allowed me to be focused inwardly on my journey into a new frontier of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-love. My entire perspective shifted because my teachers showed me so much love and acceptance, and they didn’t even know me outside of the classroom.

Despite how tough my inward journey became at times, I refused to give up on myself. If I gave up on myself, I saw it as giving up on my teachers and all the love and kindness they freely and generously bestowed upon me. If I felt like giving up, I’d grab my mat and head to the studio. I always had my teachers, my breathing, my asana, and the collective energy of the studio to ground me. And for me, an introvert and highly sensitive person to rush to people rather than away from them for energy and motivation, that’s heavy.

Today, I’m more inwardly motivated and look to my personal transformation the past four years as proof that this thing called yoga works…for me. So why give it up? Why stop? I keep learning more and more and getting healthier and healthier. I’ve been 100% medication-free for over three years! No therapist would be able to do that for me, because 1) people on drugs keep therapists in business; and 2) no therapist understands or would believe that medication acts as a band-aid and blocks the user from finding their inner power. Medication couldn’t cure or heal me; medication kept me numb and lifeless. With yoga, I learned that being in motion and being in tune and aware of my body, mind, and spirit is the only path to resurrection, renewal, and an authentic life. Disease and sickness don’t stand a chance against the detoxifying power of perpetual motion, which keeps the mind open and the body successfully moving in the direction of health, homeostasis, and balance. 

Om Shanti,

Paula Carrasquillo

Living beyond change – Keys to sustained healing and transformation

Work, stress, and trying to do too much finally caught up with me. I’m sick.

The signs that I needed to slow down have been there for months. I couldn’t find my spark. I didn’t feel “all-in” about anything life threw my way. Even journaling and blogging were elusive. I failed to finish any critical thinking exercise I started. I’d write a few sentences and abandon the effort mid-stream. Being unable to follow through left me feeling incomplete and impotent in all areas of my life.

A holistic slump. It sucked!

Then I decided to quit my coffee habit this past Sunday. Why? The timing of this decision is beyond my full understanding, but there is no doubt quitting helped my body and my mind wake up…ironically. Eliminating caffeine instantly threw my body into a whirlwind of weirdness: Headaches. Body aches. Nausea. And a cold!?!?

Luckily, these detox side effects moved quickly, and light is once again shining freely into my world. I sense the return of joy, clarity, and freedom of body, mind, and spirit. I look around at my surroundings, and instead of feeling dread at the thought of living out my day, I’m anxious to be creative and explore new possibilities and new ideas.

What a welcome relief after months of feeling stuck and unmotivated.

My biggest struggle lately, and most likely the biggest reason I allowed my energy and verve to be depleted, has been finding the courage to let go of my blog. For the past two years, off and on, I’ve had the urge to delete it. But doing that seemed so senseless. My blog, despite being filled with anger, grief, and sadness, served a great purpose for my own awakening and for that of others (at least that’s the feedback I receive from kind readers). Although hitting the delete button seemed drastic, I couldn’t ignore feeling like the blog hung over me like a dark cloud interfering with my journey toward greater truth, abundance, and higher energy.

I needed a plan. A transitional plan. Change management on an individual level was necessary, because continuing to help people without a solid plan or approach was killing me. Unfortunately, finding the time to build a plan seemed impossible while simultaneously writing posts, responding to comments, responding to emails, and taking phone calls. I was doing these things on top of working full-time as a web content developer, working weekends teaching meditation, going to school to become a health coach, and taking care of my family.

What was I thinking? Well, I wasn’t thinking clearly, that’s for certain. I was allowing the needs of others to come before my own. I was unable to find a balance between helping myself and helping others. Replenish myself and replenish hope in others. But I can’t stop serving others. I’ve tried to stop, thinking, “You must stop helping others”, was how I was meant to interpret the message. It wasn’t the correct interpretation of the message. The correct interpretation is, “Stop for now. Rejuvenate yourself. Devise a sustainable plan of action.”

I was and continue to be guided by a force greater than myself. That force is asking me not to give up what I started four years ago. It’s asking me to allow the same energy I used when I began writing to expand and blossom. That force is reminding me that despite not being able to define an absolute solution today, clarity comes from moving forward.

Today I am semi-resting as I work on wireframes and a site map for my new Love. Life. Om. website dedicated to bringing visitors the latest and most effective holistic self-care approaches to living beyond change and transforming one’s environment, body, mind, and spirit.

Living beyond change. That’s how I see healing and recovery today. I don’t even want to slap “healing” or “recovery” to anything I offer moving forward. Why? Because the first step we take toward recovery and healing is essentially toward a new way of being…a new approach to living. To say, “I am healing” or “I am recovering” implies one is fixing themselves and will stop whatever they’re doing to heal and recover once he/she is fixed. But what we do to heal and recover should not end. We aren’t fixing ourselves in recovery, because we were never broken. What we do in recovery is harness the strongest and brightest light within ourselves to overcome our deepest pain and suffering. Why would one give up being perpetually connected to the strongest and brightest parts of him/herself just because one thinks he/she is healed and recovered?

When we abandon the healthy habits we formed while “in recovery”, the chances of slipping back into old patterns of being, old patterns of thinking, and old patterns of dating and relationships greatly increases. The same way a diet “fails” once one returns to unhealthy eating habits, so too do traditional methods of therapy, healing, and recovery. Temporary steps result in temporary health. Permanent change results in transformation of body, mind, and spirit and the release of the desire to go back to old patterns of behavior.

It’s not about healing and recovery. Our experiences changed us. We must learn to live beyond the change.

Living beyond the change means transforming into a more aware, more joyful individual who continues practicing and mastering the habits and lifestyle choices that propelled one to health in the first place. What I propose and offer is a chance to change one’s entire lifestyle and energy starting from within the soul and working outward into relationships and surroundings.

Yes, there will be lots of yoga tips and even short video tutorials on my new site. There will be meditation tips and recordings to help cure insomnia and PTSD symptoms. In addition, the site will offer nutrition education and easy-to-integrate diet tips to drastically improve your health. I’ll also be offering weekly affirmations delivered directly to your inbox, because it’s hard to stay positive and motivated when change is afoot and everything feels like chaos.

The best part…the majority of what I’ll offer will be free! Of course, there will be costs associated with working with me privately as a health coach, yoga teacher, and meditation guide. Also, extended and personalized meditation recordings will be available for purchase. I’ll continue to market and sell my books, Escaping the Boy and Unashamed Voices, and transfer the best and most popular posts from my current blog to my new site.

It’s a new season. It’s a new beginning. It’s a rebirth.

I’m so excited to offer myself to each of you as you journey toward a lifestyle transformation of abundant health, wellness, and peace. I’ve learned from experience that I must be patient when creating and not release my work prematurely. So please be patient. My new website will be ready when it tells me it’s ready. 🙂

Namaste,
Paula Carrasquillo, MA
Yoga Teacher and Health Coach

The Art of Transformation at Any Age

A few months shy of my 40th birthday, I walked into my very first yoga class. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing or what to expect. I rented a mat from the studio and even a towel that day. I kept my investment at a minimum: $20 for a week of unlimited classes. I was skeptical and filled with uncertainties:

“Will I be able to learn and follow along fast enough?”

“Am I going to hurt myself?”

“Will the other folks in the room notice how scared I am?”

“Will this shit REALLY work?”

After 45 minutes of sweating, bending, and twisting my body while simultaneously being forced to watch the spectacle of myself in the mirrors before me, I realized I had just conquered a feat I never imagined conquering. 

I texted my sister (who is also my best friend) immediately after class letting her know that I really liked my first class and planned on going back the next day. She was excited for me and texted me back, “You’re officially a yogini!”

It took awhile for that message to sink in, but by the end of my first week with 6 classes under my belt, I said to myself, “Wow. I’m a yogini!” 

In a few weeks, I celebrate 4 years as a yogi, one who overcame yoga phobia in 90 minutes flat. I never thought I’d have the patience to practice the “art of transformation”. But I did, I do, and I’m so grateful to myself for stepping over that threshold for the first time on October 14, 2011.

If you have a regular practice, here’s to your continued practice. If you’ve never practiced, here’s to your first step toward becoming a yogi too.

It’s never too late. Transformation knows no age limit!

Namaste. 🙂 ~Paula Carrasquillo

Easy bedtime yoga sequence for a better night’s sleep

Legs up the wall and seated forward bend - September 26, 2014

Legs up the wall and seated forward bend – September 26, 2014

(Casper, the company that reimagined the mattress, tweeted this post!! Maybe they’ll feature me on their blog next.)

Bedtime sequence: Legs up the wall to seated forward fold to savasana to sleep


Growing up, I shared a room with my younger sister. We had bunk beds on one wall, a dresser with a mirror on another, and a bookshelf filled with books and boardgames on a third. We spent a lot of time together in our room playing (and fighting), talking and growing closer.

The best time for bonding and togetherness happened at night after our mom tucked us in and kissed us each good night. When the lights went out and the door closed, our room came alive with whispers and giggles. We enjoyed conversations that gradually dissipated into the darkness until all that could be heard–if you were a fly on the wall–were our deep inhales and exhales. Sometimes, if my sister fell to sleep before me, I would focus on the rhythm of her breath coming from the bunk below, which soon lulled me fast asleep.

I look back now and think, “How very yoga-like and comforting we were for each other.”

Today, I have a 9-year-old son. He has no siblings, and sometimes I feel guilty about that, especially when it’s time to tuck him into bed at night. When I turn away and shut the door, he is alone in the darkness. There are no whisperings or shared laughter or the gentle sound of inhales and exhales in tandem.

It’s just him.

So I make it a habit each night to spend time together on my bed just before tucking him into his bed for the night.

We sprawl out on the mattress, talking and giggling and  sometimes hitting each other with pillows. Most nights, we even practice a few gentle yoga postures together.

He likes headstands, while I prefer shoulder stands or legs up the wall to relieve pressure in my lower back and legs. We both like countering those poses with a seated forward fold and even make it a game to see who can touch their toes and hold the position the longest.

Although it’s a challenge some nights, we end the ritual lying still and quietly in savasana (corpse pose) for a few minutes just breathing and meditating on the sound of our collective breath.

He may view this as a quirky request from his mother…I don’t know. But I can’t help but believe that when I do step out of his room at night leaving him alone on his bed, he can still hear the sound of our collective breathing in his mind and find comfort in the darkness.


Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)

Benefits (list source – Yoga Journal):

This pose is considered by many to be a restorative posture and may help to:

  • Relieve tired or cramped legs and feet
  • Gently stretch the back legs, front torso, and the back of the neck
  • Relieve mild backache
  • Calm the mind

Getting into the pose

Start with your pillows or rolled blanket or bolster about 5 to 6 inches away from the wall. Sit to the right of the pillow with your right side against the wall. Exhale and swing your legs up onto the wall. Your buttocks is as close to the wall as possible (not on the pillow) while your lower back rests on the pillow/bolster and your shoulders and head rest onto the mattress behind you. Extend and straighten your legs to a point that is comfortable for you. (You can also move further away from the wall and bend your legs deep enough to place the soles of your feet on the wall.) Flex your feet and engage the front and back of your calves and thighs. You will feel a gentle release of tension in your lower back and hips. Your arms are either outstretched on either side of your body or can be placed on your belly or chest. Focus on your breath and gently and deeply inhale through your mouth and exhale through your mouth.

Hold Time:

5 to 15 minutes

Coming out of the pose:

Do not twist or contort your body to come out of the posture. Either slide backwards off the pillow putting your butt on the mattress or bend your knees and push your feet against the wall to lift your pelvis off the pillow and move it to the side. Lower your pelvis to the mattress and turn to the side. Stay on your side for a few breaths then come up to sitting with an exhalation.

(Read more about viparita karani here.)

Seated Forward Fold (Paschimottanasana)

Benefits (list source – Yoga Journal):

  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings
  • Stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus
  • Improves digestion
  • Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort
  • Soothes headache and anxiety and reduces fatigue
  • Therapeutic for high blood pressure, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis

Getting into the pose:

From a seated position at the top of the bed either directly on the mattress or using a pillow to prop your pelvis, extend your legs straight out in front of you. Flex your feet and toes to the ceiling. Adjust your sits bones as needed for comfort. Place your hands firmly on the mattress on either side of your hip bones. Inhale and lift your sternum (chest) energetically to the sky as the backs of your thighs and knees gently relax and straighten meeting the mattress. Draw in your groin toward the pelvis and inhale deeply and begin to fold forward from your hip joint, not your waist. Extend your arms out in front of you and touch or grab your toes. Your torso rests on your thighs. With each inhale, lift through your pelvis. With each exhale, relax deeper into the pose bending your elbows the deeper your are able to extend the crown of your head forward closer to your toes. If you are not able to go that deep, no worries. Fold forward as far as you can and place your hands on your thighs or shins, whichever is accessible to you today. It’s not about depth but about engagement of your breath and body together. The benefits are the same regardless of depth.

Hold time:

1 to 3 minutes

Coming out of the pose:

Lift the torso away from the thighs and straighten the elbows again if they are bent. Inhale and lift the torso up by pulling the tailbone down and into the pelvis. Relax back into savasana for 5 to 10 minutes.

(Read more about paschimottanasana here.)

Sweet dreams!

Paula


 

Paula Carrasquilo is a certified yoga teacher, health coach and author of Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath. Follow her on Twitter and on her Love-Life-Om blog.

Yoga heals the body and the mind

Yoga heals the body and the mind.

Yoga heals the body and the mind.

Yoga is not just a passing fad for exercise elitists. Yoga is a safe and highly effective form of therapy for individuals seeking relief from post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety in the aftermath of abuse and trauma. Do you know how yoga works?

To learn more, read my latest story on CDN:

Yoga therapy for survivors of trauma and abuse

Namaste!
~Paula

Paula Carrasquilo is a certified yoga teacher, health coach and author of Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath. Follow her on Twitter and on her Love-Life-Om blog.

 

To my teacher training class… I love you!

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For the past 10 months, I have participated in a 200-hour yoga teacher training program. Outside of my day-job responsibilities, my life has been very yoga- centric and yoga-intense.

Although I love everything I have learned and the friendships I have formed, I am ready for a much-needed break once I complete my final test/practicum in two weeks.

The program was not an intense, emersion. Rather, it was a weekend-formatted program designed for busy folks like myself, people who have families and career responsibilities. My fellow yoga trainees come from varying backgrounds and cultures, range in age, and vary in gender. There are men, women, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, scientists, college students, college professors, engineers, poets, musicians, photographers, web developers, and world travelers.

For the past 10 months, one weekend per month (sometimes two weekends),
we were dedicated to practicing and training. Training weekends began with a 90-minute, Saturday-morning practice at 10:45 a.m. and ended with a 30-minute meditation on Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

In preparation for these weekends, we read yoga books, practiced yoga, read
some more yoga books, and did some more practice. From books on breathing, anatomy, history, and Ayurveda to practices of restorative, yin, vinyasa, and prenatal yoga, we consumed and digested a plethora of information both on and off the mat.

Once certified later this summer, some of us will go on to teach; some of us
won’t. But all of us, I suspect, will take what we’ve learned and deepen our
practices and continue journeying into ourselves.

This post is simply to thank my fellow trainees for their inspiration, dedication,
and motivation. I learned something from each and every member of my class and will never forget my experience and how it has changed me, my yoga practice, and my approach to teaching new students.

Thank you! I love you. Namaste!
~Paula

I’m going to be featured in OM Yoga Magazine!

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International, UK-based OM Yoga Magazine will feature my book (Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath), me and fellow survivor, blogger, and entrepreneur, Andrea Clark, in their upcoming edition.

As part of a larger story on the benefits of yoga and meditation for domestic violence victims and their children, our professional bios and contributions to issues of safety, DV/abuse recovery, and sociopath awareness will be highlighted.

To put an international spotlight on survivors of sociopath/pathological abuse is HUGE!! It’s huge for everyone from victims to those who offer assistance and support to survivors in recovery.

Please checkout Andrea’s blog, The Eternal Victim and her Safe Girl Security site.

Also, consider following OM Yoga Magazine or getting a subscription. Their mobile app is free!

Namaste!
~Paula

Energy of Yoga on the Mall with Shiva Rae and the Akoma Drummers

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I participated in the 9th annual Yoga on the Mall on Saturday, May 3, 2014. This event was free and part of DC Yoga Week.

Needless to say, I was exceptionally anxious last week leading up to the event. I was up very early Saturday morning and met a group of fellow yoga teacher trainees at the Shady Grove metro station at 7:30 a.m. We each had our mats over our shoulders and the expectation that we were going to have a great time…I think we were all pleasantly surprised.

The specific location of the event was on a grassy, sloping hill adjacent to the Constitution Gardens Pond near the Vietnam War Memorial. The Washington Monument was the back drop.

Much to our surprise, we were the first yogis to arrive! The event crew was still setting up the stage as we formed a cozy row of mats near the front of the stage. Soon, we were joined by a few other friends and many, many strangers trickling in behind us. Music played, and I grew more and more anxious to get started. I really wasn’t prepared for what I was about to experience.

Hawat Kasat, co-founder of the DC-based non-profit One Common Unity, was our host and MC. He introduced himself, the drummers and the volunteers walking around the hill offering assistance to participants.

The first part of the event was a 30-minute beginners class led by two local yoga instructors: Annie Moyer of Sun & Moon Yoga Studio in Arlington, Va. and Arlet Kosein of Extend Yoga in Bethesda, Md.

Gentle sun salutations and twists warmed our muscles and connected us each to the other. I’d never experienced such a strong group consciousness and energy. I could feel myself becoming overwhelmed, but allowed myself to feel whatever sensations my body and mind wanted to feel.

After the 30-minute beginner class, several local yogis got up on stage and demo-ed poses in a gentle flowing exhibition as music floated in the background. There were some amazing demonstrations of arm balances and back bends and forward folds. Just amazing to watch and a great opportunity for me to absorb the beginner class.

Then Kristen Arant, the Drum Lady, led the 6,000 participants in music and singing/chanting and movement in preparation for Shiva Rae to take the stage who led a one-hour flow class. Kristen was accompanied by her “brother” drummers, the Akoma Drummers, and there was no denying their beat. As a participant, my only choice was to move with it.

Then it was time for Shiva Rae to take the stage. To be honest, I had no idea Shiva Rae was going to be there. I had come across her name and some of her images sporadically over the past few months. I knew very little about her but knew that she was an inspiration to many. And she did not disappoint.

For the first few minutes of her hour on stage, she energetically spoke to the crowd in a voice that resonated as genuine, compassionate and natural. There was nothing contrived. She seemed to really care about being there and leading the group. At one point, she walked into the middle of the crowd and asked us to roll up our mats and touch the earth. Our first movements of her class were done mat-free! It was rather liberating and freeing. A great reminder that we don’t need a mat to practice and can get close to nature doing our yoga at any time and in any place.

As the hour came to a close, she asked everyone to gather our belongings and move closer to the stage. The drummers drummed and everyone danced together for the last seven minutes or so. Truly amazing.

As Hawah thanked the crowd and invited everyone to come again next year, I couldn’t control my welling emotions any longer and finally released my tears. Luckily, my friend Birgit was next to me and offered me her shoulder and a hug. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one overwhelmed by the positive and contagious energy the group had formulated and continued to sustain in the aftermath of practicing, singing, chanting and dancing together.

Just amazing. I recommend such an event to anyone and everyone…even those fearful of large crowds like myself. As a matter of fact, I’m heading to the Wanderlust Yoga Festival in Philadelphia on Saturday, June 7. Anyone interested in joining me?

Namaste!
~Paula

© 2014 Paula Carrasquillo and A Yogini Transformed.


Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate and lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area.  To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.

Teaching Yoga to Women in Correctional Settings

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I will earn my yoga teacher certification in July 2014. I’ve decided I want to teach yoga to women behind bars and/or in community corrections.

Did you know that 85+% of incarcerated women self-report being involved in a domestic violence situation within 6 months of their arrest? If these women could get to a healthy level of self-worth and self-awareness, their rate of recidivism could drastically be reduced once released.

I think learning yoga and meditation could be the tool that empowers them to transform their lives for the better.

Certainly, the most difficult part will be earning their trust. I’ve worked in community corrections as an educator in the past. But somehow I think teaching yoga is going to be a bit different than teaching GED or ABE skills.

If anyone out there has specific experience or insight, let me know. My plan is to design a workshop series with a posture and meditation guide, something tangible the women can take away. So even if they decide they never want to take another class with me, they have a token that may serve as a motivator to return to yoga some day in the future.

Namaste!
~Paula


Paula Carrasquillo is an active yogi, author, and advocate who has lived in numerous watersheds throughout the United States, including Colorado, Maine, Maryland and New Mexico. She currently lives in the Washington, D.C. metro area. Paula is passionate about her family, friends and the motivational and brave people she meets daily through her online writing and social media exchanges. To Paula, every person, place, thing, idea and feeling she encounters is significant and meaningful, even those which she most wants to forget. Follow Paula on Twitter and check out her other blog.

(Image source: http://pinterest.com/pin/107945722292099400/)

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