Mala bracelets for kids

Debunking the Rules of Meditation in Part 2 of Mindfulness with Children

In part 1, of “Simple Mindfulness Techniques for Children,” I discussed how to create a “Bubble of Joy” with children as a way to instill a sense of wellbeing. Creating a rainbow bubble is also a great way to begin a meditation practice, which is the focus of this post.

I had a friend once tell me that there’s only way to meditate, at least by its truest definition. Her words rang in the tune of elitism, and I was a bit taken aback. Thankfully, I think fewer people now ascribe to this notion than perhaps they once did. Instead, there is the growing realization that we are all unique, and a one-size-fits-all approach to meditation will never work. Especially when it comes to children.

When I am in a classroom with young children, I am acutely aware of how different each child is. Children, for the most part, are unabashed about showing you who they are, and their emotional bodies spark with their unique light. It is both a joy and a challenge to try to teach yoga to their unique blueprints. It is even more of a challenge to get them all to conform to one type of meditation practice.

Children thrive when they have a bit of structure to support them. If you give them too much freedom, chaos will inevitably ensue. Too many rules will cause rigidity and the dimming of their sparks. During my first visit to a classroom to teach mindfulness and meditation to a group of 22 children covering grades 1-4, I quickly learned that even if I wanted to, I was not going to find success in a one-size-fits-all system. Instead, I allowed my own inner-child to take over as I explored perhaps more options than necessary to engage children in the practice of mindful meditation. Here are some of the things I have learned along the way:

Concentrate on Quieting the Mind and Not Conforming the Body

If you wish to bring meditation into a classroom with the rule of sitting quietly for a certain amount of time, good for you. There are numerous benefits to the simple act of sitting in silence for a short amount of time. For young age groups, start small and add minutes gradually. I found 2 minutes of quiet time was a good target for the younger age groups. I also found that it was futile and unnecessary to expect them to close their eyes. A child can sit quietly with her eyes open and still reap the benefit of stillness. We never know what is going on inside a child’s mind, and expecting her to close her eyes may illicit emotional discomfort.

Likewise, although you may want to set a rule, such as no lying down (I did because of space, believe me at least one child will ask to lie down), try not to be a stickler for how each child should sit and hold his hands. Instead, focus on the act of meditation itself and honor unique approaches to it. Discourage talking and giggling, but fidgeting is to be expected, especially when children are first learning how to sit in stillness.

Give Them Something to Hold

This can be a tricky one, as once again, there is no one-size-fits-all. I have found that calming stones, such as rose quartz (try to choose similar looking stones to avoid the impulse to “trade”) makes for a beautiful meditation assistant for children. Make sure the children you are giving them to are old enough to avoid the impulse to put the stones in their mouths or to throw them. There will often be at least one child who will, no matter what the age…

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Some tumbled rose quartz similar to what I gave to the children. Rose quartz is a calming, heart chakra stone.

Which means that a stone may not be the right fit for that child. Instead, he might find more success with a meditation mala, or string of beads. Instead of sticking to the traditional 108 beaded malas per the yoga tradition, you can make mini malas (this can be a fun activity to do with the children).  For the classroom, I made mini malas using 18 and 27 beads as fractions of 108 to keep with the sacred symbolism of the mala. I also used a different color bead as the 9th bead in each sequence, as 9 holds the symbolism of completion and “birth.” If you are using a mantra or affirmation with the meditation, this allows for the feeling of a complete cycle  each time a child reaches the count of 9 beads. I also added rainbow tassels at the end to bring in the symbolism of the chakras and the “Rainbow Bubble of Joy.”

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Some of the Mini Malas I made for the classroom.

The Power of Words

Children enjoy stories, and when I gave them each their meditation beads, I told them a bit about the history of mala beads. It became a fun and engaging mindfulness practice as they examined their beads and asked questions such as, “Why did you use a different color bead,” for the 9th bead, and I asked, “Why do you think I chose the colors I did for the tassels?” Linking the Rainbow Bubble exercise to the malas allowed them to see that mediation is a mindful activity that can be infused with meaning and intention.

 

While we discussed the history of malas, I brought up the power of words (which will be covered in more depth in a later post) and told them a tiny bit about mantras. Since the class was not focused on the yoga tradition, instead of giving the children a mantra to use with their beads, we discussed the power of positive affirmations. It’s important to remember not to discourage children from sharing, or tell them that their answer is incorrect. Whatever feels right to the child is usually perfect for him or her. As we discussed different “I am” affirmations, some of the younger children took the phrase literally by adding their names at the end. While an older child could not resist the impulse to correct, I used the opportunity to gently remind her that there are no wrong answers, and that our names are, in fact, powerful affirmations of who we are. If a child is having trouble coming up with an affirmation, try suggesting a phrase such as, “I Am Peaceful,” or “I Am Love.”

By chanting a simple affirmation, or a series of affirmations, while moving beads through his fingers, a child can focus his mind and still a restless body. Although you and your children can make meditation beads out of anything you’d like, using wooden or stone beads can enhance their effect. If you are reserving a set of beads for an individual child’s use, you might discuss the energy of their words and thoughts. When mantras or affirmations are used with mediation beads, their energy is infused into the beads.

Engaging the Other Senses

Meditation with children need not be a transcendental goal, in fact, it’s probably better to leave that ambition out of it. Rather, encouraging a child to engage their senses in a focused manner will help them live more mindfully. Although I tend to lean toward no additional ambient sound during meditation time with children, a soothing track of nature sounds or classical music can help restless bodies to settle down. Alternatively, having children focus their ears first on the sounds around them, then bringing their awareness into their bodies to hear the sound of their own breath and even heartbeat can bring a deeper awareness of their being. I like to use a chime to end the meditation time, three soft dings can gently ease their transition back to the classroom setting.

I also tend to avoid engaging the sense of smell with children. This can get into uncomfortable topics, and it can also be a distraction. In addition, some children are sensitive to scents, so even diffusing an essential oil might trigger an allergic or averse reaction for some children.

feathers for meditation
Children love feathers. I usually let them choose one from a bag, using their intuition to select their own special feather that they can take home with them.

At the beginning of the post I mentioned that some children may prefer to leave their eyes open during a meditation practice. Allowing a child to study an object with focused attention, such as a crystal, meditation beads, or a feather, can be a wonderful way to practice meditation time. I often bring feathers I’ve found during my walks into the classroom and they are always a delight for the children. There are so many ways to explore the senses through a feather and they remind children of the wonder of the natural world. It is a good idea to be aware of what feathers are allowed to be collected by law in your state or country, as well as having children wash their hands after holding them.

If you are considering adding a “meditation” practice in your classroom or at home with your children, I hope you find some helpful tips in this post. If you are already using one, I’d love to hear about your experiences. After our meditation time is up, I find it to be a fun practice to allow for the sharing of children’s observations.

Simple Mindfulness Techniques for Kids in the Classroom or at Home: Part 1: The Bubble of Joy #mindfulness

This post will be part 1 in a series designed to help cultivate mindfulness practices in the classroom and at home. It’s based on techniques I use in my mindfulness workshops and yoga classes for kids. We’ll begin with the “Bubble of Joy.”

The Bubble of Joy

Ideally mindfulness is a way life, and cultivating it as a daily practice becomes easier to do if you start and end your day with a mindful activity with your child or children. I begin almost all of my yoga classes for kids with an exercise that I call the “Bubble of Joy.” The Bubble of Joy uses the technique of pranayama (breathing), combined with visualization to generate a sense of calm and strength. It is also a form of empathic shielding, which is especially important for children who tend to unconsciously exchange and absorb energy from their surroundings. It is beneficial to children and adults alike, and is a great way to share a mindful exercise to begin your days together. If you are in a classroom setting, you can either have your children sit in a chair or on the floor in a circle.

Steps to Creating a Bubble of Joy

  • Sit in a comfortable seated position. For children, I ask them to do “criss-cross applesauce” legs.
  • Close your eyes and rest your hands on your lap, one hand on your belly and one hand on your heart, or use Namaste hands in prayer position at your heart center.
  • Visualize in front of you a beautiful rainbow. Spend some time seeing in your mind’s eye all of its beautiful colors.
  • Keeping your eyes closed, take a deep inhale from your belly all the way up to your heart and breath in all the colors of the rainbow.
  • Imagine those colors filling your heart and your whole body with joy.
  • Exhale as you bring your arms up and around you and imagine the rainbow now wrapping you in a Rainbow Bubble of Joy.
  • Repeat two more times. Inhale the hands down to the heart, bringing inside the colors of the rainbow. Exhale arms up and around to wrap the rainbow bubble of joy around you.
Empathic shielding for children
Simple Steps for Creating a Rainbow Bubble of Joy

Through this simple exercise, you and your child have created a beautiful shielding energy inside and around you that will help ward off negative feelings and instill a sense of joy and wellbeing. It can be repeated throughout the day, and is also a good practice to use before falling to sleep. The arm movements can be omitted, especially for a bedtime practice.

 

 

Magical Mornings #yoga

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Photo Credit Pixabay

I was a little apprehensive when I agreed to teach a fall yoga series outdoors, continuing the summer mornings in the field into the chilly lazy dawn of autumn. Cold is not something I relish, and thoughts of ice-tipped blades of grass pulled me inward to the comfort of the hearth fire. Yet, I have found that agreeing to walk the path of potential discomfort often yields the greatest and most unexpected rewards. As the heart opens to trust, magic unfolds. And so, after a brief interlude of transition, Tuesday morning yoga in the field continued at 8:30am.

The sun crests the canopy of pines ever more slowly as the days shorten in length. Unlike during our summer classes when we nestled into the far corner to avoid the boiling sun, on the first day of our fall session we laid our mats near the parking lot in the hopes of catching the first rays whenever they chose to stretched their languid arms over the tree line. There were just three of us, a trinity of yogis. Where were the others on the list? I wondered until I let worry give way to the flow of the elements and the dance of the body that is yoga took over.

Midway through class, we straightened our spines into balanced as the sun broke the cold of the morning to bring its golden face above our crowning bodies. It was not planned, yet perfectly timed. In these moments, time stills as we open to the embrace that is life. It is beautiful to bear witness, and even more beautiful to take part. One cannot help but breathe more deeply into the space of joy and the knowing that the self has been brought out of the shadows into unity. Separation slips way and division dissolves. In the imperfection of the individual dance, once finds the perfection of Life.

We are now three weeks into our fall session, and each Tuesday I wake to meet the habit of reluctance as I check the weather through the gray light of the waking dawn. Donning the increase of layers on all but my feet, I sink into the knowing that my soles will soon meet the bracing grass. I don’t know what will await me, but so far I have been lucky. Frost has not yet spread ice over the land.

I like to arrive at the field down the road from my house early, allowing for the quiet stillness of solitude as I drink in the morning air. Realizing, as I stand amid a frame of pines and listen to the soft pulse of nature around me, that I would likely not be outside at this hour practicing yoga if I had not said yes to another class in the field. Realizing, that instead I would probably be sitting with my computer on my lap, occasionally looking out at, but not a part of, the natural world surrounding me.

Our yoga classes are full now, after the first week of transitions and coming back to the fall of routine. We form a semicircle of unity, each bringing our individual light to the breaking dawn and finding warmth in companionship as we stretch our bodies into heat. Inevitably, the sun rises over the treetops at the moment when our faces lift to feel its warmth. Nothing is preplanned as destiny takes over. Yesterday, in our moment of raising our eyes toward the blue beyond, a flock of two dozen geese or more flew overhead. They were flying low, having just come from the pond below, bringing the element of water to the sky as we stood upon the earth and and warmed our skins to the sun’s fiery rays. You don’t get moments like this indoors inside four walls with windows and a floor that separates the individual from the pulse of the living planet.

There was lingering yesterday, as we rolled mats and folded blankets. There was reluctance to put on shoes and  hoist our belongings back to our cars to resume our separate lives. Pairs formed to talk  while the cells on the surface of skin drank in the sun’s warmth. No one was in a hurry to return to the daily actions of the mundane. For a few more moments the living, breathing present was embraced as the gift it is, always open to be received.

The Loss of Cause & Effect… #Mindfulness

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

It kept me up three nights ago. My mind became busy and I got to thinking about mindfulness. I’m sure you’ve all heard the term by now. Mindfulness. “Paying attention to the present moment.” “Living fully in the present moment with awareness.” Sometimes “without judgement” is added. While searching the Internet, I came across this video on the Greater Good Magazine website featuring Jon Kabat-Zinn defining mindfulness in his words.

In the video, Kabat-Zinn talks about living the “story of me” without the realization that there is, in actuality, “no me.” Although I am not a follower of Kabat-Zinn, or any of the many mindfulness gurus out there today, I like what he has to say in this brief video. It’s not a new revelation, in fact it’s very old. His words echo the sages of long ago who carried forth the wisdom that there is, in essence, no “me.”

Three nights ago, I let this mind that inhabits “me” process the concept of mindfulness in terms  of “my” perception of the current state of the world. Not so concerned with the “me,” but the “we,” my mind thought about the mindless actions that permeate our collective existence. In particular, I was thinking about the consequences that result from a mindless existence, or, rather, an existence so focused on the “me” of the ego that all else is neglected. The president of the United States is the archetype of this type of existence. The mindless ego unchecked by self awareness.

Last night, I had an hour in the car with my fourteen-year-old son, who initiated a conversation that, in essence, centered around mindfulness. He, like me, is deeply troubled by the world we live in and the mindless movement we have spiraled into, despite the current attempts to make “mindfulness” the “in thing.”

What’s the purpose of mindfulness if we can’t get passed the concept of the self as all important?

Since my eye-opening experience attempting to teach mindfulness to Montessori school teachers, and later yoga to their equally unmindful students, I’ve given a lot of thought to what “I” think mindfulness truly is. Simply stated, a mindful existence includes the realization that there are consequences to our actions, words and thoughts. The law of cause and effect is nothing new, but it’s been essentially forgotten in favor of our “me” obsessed world.

Am “I” breathing properly? Am “I” paying attention to the bird outside my window? Am “I” living in the present moment with full awareness? 

This is a start, but not an end. This “I” living in the present moment must, eventually become aware of the “I” that is trying to live. Who am I? The I must eventually ask to fully understand itself. What am I doing? What am I thinking? What are the consequences to these thoughts and actions? How do I effect not only myself, but the world around me?

Until, eventually, the I realizes that there is no I, but a vast, limitless “we.”

The day before my sleepless night, I had been in a waiting room eavesdropping in on a conversation that was occurring at the front desk between two educators. When I over-heard one of them mention teaching in the town I live in, comparing the students to inner-city kids, my interest was piqued.

What I heard, in essence, was the frustration of an educator trying to teach in a classroom without consequences filled with kids living in the myopic world of “me.” And, I thought, it’s not only me, before I thought, how pervasive this disease of “me” really has become.

When I attempted to teach yoga to the Montessori children who exhibited rudely defiant behavior, I inquired about whether there was anything I could do to thwart their disrespect. What I discovered as that we are living in a time when, despite our obsession with “mindfulness,” there are few, if any, consequences to our mindless actions. How can we teach mindfulness behavior if we don’t teach the law of cause and effect?

When trying to discover the root of a group’s behavior, we must always look to the leader. It’s rather obvious that the leader of our “free” nation is living the antithesis of a truly mindful life. Instead, he exhibits all the rude, self-centered, and dangerous behavior of the ego out of control.

While I was not sleeping the other night, I thought about how the majority of the teachers at the conference I was invited to present at where not interested in, and in fact seemed to harbor a severe aversion to, engaging in self-awareness exercises. I realized that there really was no point in me trying to return to teach yoga to their students. Before yoga asana, must come a deep awareness of mindfulness and the laws of cause and effect.

I’ll admit, it’s not a “fun” process to really and truly examine the self and the self as a part of the whole, but it can be a deeply rewarding and enriching process. When one realizes that the self is simply a conglomeration of experiences and reactions to those experiences, folded into a cellular body, a process of detachment and non-judgement can result that leads to fascinating and enlightening discoveries about not only the “self,” but the self as a part of the whole.

The “I” easily forgets the “we,” as exhibited by the pervasive self-obsessed behavior that predominates our world at this time in history. We’re living a time that is artificially sped up and controlled by the false screen of the outer. With the tap of a screen a photo is taken of the “self” and then altered by another tap or two, to be artificially enhanced so that the “self” can appear more outwardly attractive than the “self” really is. Then the self awaits, mere seconds it can take, for the “likes” of the self to pile up. With a few short taps, the self’s words can be tweeted around the world and read by millions of followers. What a heady power trip that can be! Making the “self” feel all-important.

Then there is the flip side of this. The self that arrives at the self-realization that his or her individual self is not good enough. Will never be pretty enough, when compared to the false images of beauty held in front of it, or thin enough, successful enough, etc. And, so the self decides that its life is not worth living.

There is a desperate need in my own self to try, in whatever way my self can, to bring true mindfulness back to a world that appears to me so desperately in need of it. Behind the ego’s need for self dominance is fear. Fear of the self’s discovery of its own imperfections, and the often even greater fear that those imperfections will be seen by others. In the striving for the perfect self, the self fails to realize that perfection of the self will never, and can never be achieved, because the perfect “self” is, in actuality, the no-self.

When we realize we are beautifully imperfect, here to learn and to grow ever closer to love until the self becomes only love, life becomes filled with purpose and infused with the beautiful existence that is Life. We realize that each piece of life, our life, in fact, is a part of an intricate whole. No more than, or less than another, but unique in its conglomeration of parts and experiences. Our essence, in fact, realized,  as equally important as our neighbor’s whether that neighbor is a fellow human, an animal, insect, stone, or plant. When a stone is removed from the earth, a hole remains. We are each, individually, part of a vast and intricate web of life beyond the comprehension of our individual minds. Each of us with a role to play, a life to live, that is infinitely more enriching for the self, and the whole, when lived mindfully with an awareness of cause and effect.

 

 

 

Chocorua Part 1: The Journey There

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Chocorua in early August

Sometimes the spirits of the land study you before you are allowed to study them. Their secrets held inside the membrane of earth and stone until you have proven yourself worthy of receiving.

Before we left that morning, I sealed acceptance into my aura. There was the knowing that I would be given what I needed to receive and perhaps not all that I yearned for. There is no rushing the land and its protectors, but a grateful, open-heart is always accepted.

I had met Chocorua over the winter, when I had turned a bend in the road and found myself faced with its head of stone, balded in patches of white from the snow, looming before me. It was one of those moments when the body defies words. My daughter looked at me, and I at her, with the same knowing. Someday, I would return. There was no discussion.

We drove the rest of the way to her ski meet immersed in our own thoughts, my eyes blinking away the moisture bought on by our encounter with Mt. Chocorua. Why, I wondered, have I not seen you before? 

I have lived in NH since I was nearly five years old. The mountain I had just passed, a mere 1.5 hours from my childhood home. I must have heard of it, even “seen” it in my travels.  I have learned, thought, that we do not truly see until the land is ready to be seen.

And, so I found myself traveling the roads to Chocorua six months later. Now mid-summer, there was no snow, but plenty of heat. We had just over twenty-four hours for our trip, and this would be our first night away without our children, ages 14 and 15, since they were born. A strange way to celebrate a slightly belated 20th wedding anniversary, perhaps, but my husband, like my daughter, understands my desires even if he doesn’t entirely comprehend them. When I found out he had booked us a night in North Conway so we could celebrate two decades of marriage by hiking the legendary mountain, I was deeply touched. My only reservation was that we would not have enough time.

Which was part of the letting go.

The morning began with tension after the release that yoga brings. I had a morning class to teach, and when I returned home, it was to find my husband nowhere near ready to go. I have a long history with time controlled by the minutes that tick by on the clock. I loathe being “late,” in whatever circumstance that involves. It’s not easy for me to let it go. I had breathed acceptance into my body at the start of the day, and it was not going to allow me to forget it.

When finally we got on the road, an hour after I had hoped we would leave, my husband and I found ourselves doing our individual best to release the threads of tension between us. That is until twenty-five minutes into our journey he realized he had forgotten his dress clothes, and, true to his nature, blamed it on my long-battle with time. Once more I found myself breathing into acceptance as we turned the car around.

It was a mostly wordless journey back home. When we arrived our daughter, just recently having woken, greeted us with some surprise as she smiled above the top of the couch. We had now lost about two hours of the day, by my calculations with the clock, but my body knew it was what we needed. This test of letting go of what we tend to hold onto, if we could.

And we did, gradually at first, as we settled back into an uneasy silence. My husband making the first offering of peace by placing his right hand on my thigh as he navigated the road back toward the mountain with his left. I felt the letting go as I met his offering with the wrap of my hand around his. Our journey now officially underway with all we needed packed in the car, even though later we would lament not having brought more. Not in terms of clothing, but in terms of supplies for the long walk ahead of us. In our determination to hike 3.5 thousand footer, we had not given much thought to the long, indirect path we had chosen to get to the top.  Chosen as though it was not a choice, because it was the path walked before the white man had landed on the shores of New England.

To be continued…

Finding Home in the Body #Yoga #PastLives #Healing

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I am finding my way home through the body. Again, perhaps, but the path always changes as we circle into untouched avenues of the labyrinth of self. There has been the lingering question of home as a physical landscape calling me back. I have labeled it Albion, or what once was Albion, but I have been lying to myself. It is not a mere physical place that draws the deep longing out of me, it is the pure, boundless joy of being.

It is true I find home in the stones that hold the memories of long ago. They speak to me of a time when the stars touched Earth without dimension. I have called it magic, because that is what it feels like inside of cells that have learned to forget. Yet, it is simply the true state of the boundless self that knows that the one self is home only when there is no self defined by matter, space, or time.

We can live attached to concepts of structure as we walk a linear path to a false destination that can never be reached, and I have found this path to be lonely. I have struggled to free the desire to gather the lives around me into my arms and dance us all awake before Earth destroys us in her need to heal the wounds we have inflicted upon her.

The ancient stones remember what we have forgotten and that is why they draw me home to where the hearth fire inside is kindled in a landscape that does not judge or reject. There is only the embrace, welcoming the return.

It is not enough to return, temporarily, to sites that hold the memories of truth. These places are not outside my physical doorstep where I find myself tethered to a life that feels artificial in more ways than I can count. There are thousands of footsteps between me and the stones that call me home. I go to them to return, then turn back again to this physical place I must call home as I search to define it in a language long lost to our tongues. Too often I feel the structure of  nailed together wood painted on the outside to keep the self contained behind walls as though the boundless needs protection.

At night I find the freedom I seek in the daylight, flying through the glass that looks inward and outward. I soar easily to the ceiling and will myself back to the knowing that this too is false until the molecules of division give way and rejoin in the opening. Why, I ask, am I allowed to fly boundless only in the dimension of dreams? Why do a live in a time that has chosen to forget?

Days stretch false minutes and I find myself speaking the rote words of the mundane least others think me insane. Sometimes, I ask out loud, “When will this nightmare end?” Because, I must admit, there are days that feel like nightmares. The computer screen pulls me into the vacuum of humanity’s created chaos and I become entrenched in the darkness until I pull myself back to present surrounding me. The living, breathing pulse of the now where chaos becomes a complicated dance of cause and effect; of shadow and light; of the endless cycle of life. Each moment passing into the next, asking only to be let go.

Yet, sometimes we must circle backwards to go forwards. I have found myself once again traveling through lives passed to feel the chain around the black man’s neck before it can release the body’s constricted voice. My womb aches with the rape of the priestess, and so many more that I am surprised that it bore life. I breathe in love to release constriction as I look at the fence of bodies stretching back further than the eyes can see. How long will it take, I wonder, to free them all? Until I remember this pain that becomes a memory for cells constantly renewing themselves need not find a home in my body that wants to remember only joy.

Outside the structured walls of my physical home, I am drawn each day to the weeds beneath the blooms. Digging these hands of mine into the body of Earth to release the tangles of life that suffocate growth. I am not immune to the knowing that life must be taken to feed new life. It is equally cruel and beautiful. This surrender of death to birth.

I find a harmony in the cycle I help to create. Sometimes active participation is required to free the ties that bind, and so I move this body I also call home. I listen to its urgings, feel the lick of its flames as they rise through the belly. Summer allows the shedding of shoes, and I walk barefoot on the body of Earth to feel her heartbeat and the knowing that I am her child too. My cells are made from her elements. Pieces broken to be reformed. I cannot neglect this vital part of me.

Chaos lures the mind to disorder and the body to dance free. Yoga has become a necessity for balance. If a day passes without the body stretching the mind free as it heeds the call of release, I feel the fires inside smolder for lack of air. It is not easy for light to creep through dense layers. Cracks must open. Air must be let in. Prana follows the breath into the labyrinth as the body becomes the dragon raising its wings.  And that is when the soul soars home to itself.