Many of us are familiar with some benefits of meditation. Psychology Today highlights a few: relieves stress, boosts immune system function, improves ability to focus, helps regulate emotions, improves emotional intelligence and develops mindfulness, and thus peace, in daily life. For those immersed in the busy-ness of American culture, meditation can seem like a daunting task, especially when perceived as sitting still in complete silence. After sitting behind the desk for hours at the office or driving in long commutes, sitting still and quietly may feel slightly unattainable to the chattering mind. How about finding stillness within movement?
There are various ways of tapping into inner calm through motion; Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, Aikido, dance and Freeform Movement Meditation are just a few. Just as meditation begins with breath awareness, movement meditation is moving to the rhythm of your breath. Freeform Movement Meditation is spontaneous movement to conscious breath.
Experts in the field of meditation, psychology and mindfulness have written about movement as a means of meditating:
Similarly, Freeform Movement Meditation uses all the senses to be present and open to flow physically and dynamically with whatever emotions, sensations or thoughts arise in the moment.
Author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, defines meditation as the synchronization of the body and mind:
When the body and mind are in sync, we are naturally relaxed, alert, open, and aware, and we experience ourselves and the world in a direct, unmediated way, without conceptual filters. It is this direct experience of the fullness, vitality, and splendor of life that is the gift of meditation.
Furthermore, Eastern Philosopher Alan Watts explained the parallel between dance and meditation:
When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music, the playing itself is the point. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment.
A Loving Dialogue with Your Body…
Beyond practicing being present, moving meditation directs positive awareness to the body parts in motion, like a loving dialogue with your body. Motivational Author of You Can Heal Your Life, Louise Hay, teaches about the connection between mental patterns and physical dis-ease and promotes specific positive affirmations to help heal certain ailments. Stagnant energy or emotional stress can manifest in the body through pain or stiffness. Freeform Movement Meditation is a means of kindly listening to all of the body, including parts that may feel discomfort, and rather than neglecting, rejecting or avoiding them, we validate the sensations and become curious about their possible revelations of underlying emotional or mental roots or habits of the physical body.
Mindfulness Author Pema Chodron encourages us to lean closer with nonjudgmental openness to what scares us from within, reasoning that “this moving away from comfort and security, this stepping out into what is unknown, uncharted, and shaky—that’s called liberation.”
On freedom and insight through movement, Gabrielle Roth, creator of 5-Rhythms, shared the value of spontaneous freestyle dance:
(It) reveals ways to creatively express aggressiveness and vulnerability, emotions and anxieties, edges and ecstasies (and) initiates us back into the wisdom of our bodies unleashing movement’s dynamic healing power.
Why I Practice Freeform Movement Meditation
In my personal experience, I have spent many years in dance companies rehearsing and performing choreography created by a director. Although I was often inspired by the dances, my spirit longed to express itself through un-dictated movement outside of the patterns and aesthetic rules engrained in my body through arduous repetition. So, I began to include freeform movement as part of my morning meditation ritual. Over time, it became a sacred prayer of gratitude to honor my body and bow to the Universe that flows through me—and through every being. It became a medium of liberation from my self-judgmental mind that enabled me to free myself from the need to judge others. It became a vessel through with I allowed creativity to flow, brainstorming solutions to daily life challenges by practicing adaptability and referencing intuition, or a deeper knowing, beyond thinking words, as I set my intention for the day. I manifested joy, serenity, courage, confidence and other empowering qualities through the movements I played with.
As the motions subside during my practice, I sit in stillness, equipped with tangible manifestations of how I choose to step into my day ahead and face whatever would present itself along my path. Visionary pioneer of women’s health, Dr. Christiane Northrup, advocates for daily practices of sharpening your intuition as a tool for overall wellness.
A State of Awakened Being
If you’re curious about how Freeform Movement Meditation could affect your well being, give it a try with an open mind. Be prepared to let go of daily patterns of moving or gripping to explore something new and unpredictable by letting your mind step aside and your intuitive body to express itself as your breath leads. For starters, it’s helpful to have a safe space and an encouraging compassionate facilitator to guide you through.
Life is a daily experiment, and there are no prescriptions for how to handle what lies ahead. However, we can empower ourselves by learning to trust our deeper knowing and living mindfully by transferring our practices of meditation, and nonattachment to the ever-fluctuating mind, into a state of awakened being.
Born and raised in Brescia, a city near Milano, Italy, Marialuisa Horrell’s love for worldwide travels landed her in Los Angeles, California. Here, she enjoys family time, making jewelry and cooking and eating good healthy food. She works at the business office of an LA-based private school and thanks her yoga practice for the physical relief she receives after hours sitting at work.
She has been practicing yoga on and off for a long time but has sustained a regular practice for the past five years. She loves the intensity of some poses and the calming meditative aspect of others. Drawn to Michelle Chua's “calm yet fun energy,” Marialuisa enjoys being a part of the Root 2 Rise Yoga community because of how it integrates yoga with other wellness-enriching activities, such as painting meditation, movement meditation, practicing yoga in nature and hiking. In 2014 she attended Root 2 Rise Yoga’s Costa Rica Yoga Retreat and loved practicing yoga by the ocean. “Being a part of this community lets me try new things that I (otherwise) wouldn’t do just by myself. And it helps me to be more physically active.”
Her favorite yoga pose is Sukhasana, or Easy Pose, because it feels peaceful and promotes meditation.
Born in Akron, Ohio, to a family of five boys, Frank was the youngest and always competitive with his brothers and active in the swim team from an early age through high school. He lives by the philosophy that you always need to stay active, both mind and body. Being active means many things to see, do and learn, especially in Los Angeles. He has stayed active with commercial acting, improv work, earning a Private Pilot license, and is now exploring music and learning to play the guitar. Here's a taste of his yoga journey in a recent interview:
1. How and when did you find Yoga?
A friend of mine from the improv class invited me to attend back in the mid-90s. It was a Power Yoga class off Tujunga. It was challenging and maybe not the right start for a beginner, but I made it work.
2. How has yoga (physical, philosophy, meditation) affected you?In my improv class, we used to do a breathing exercise to help us relax. This is where Yoga breathing makes you relax, so you can do your best work. I had a friend who was a Yoga teacher who was always calm, even when things went bad. I learned from him the purpose of Breathing and Meditation. I think of him sometimes and how I can better myself with my practice.
3. Please share any important insights from your yoga practice that might benefit others.
I learned from improv and yoga that things change constantly in life. It’s OK. Knowing it will work out and at least you will be “OK” is a benefit. Take a few deep breaths and move on.
Like standing in line when you’re in a rush and the person has more than 15 items in the express lane: Take a deep breath and do a mountain pose. I find that is helpful and maybe the other person is having a difficult day. We all get them, but we can still survive.
I want to thank Michelle. She is really something special, and puts a lot of work into the programs. Michelle has helped me grow in both mind and in body.
4. What is your favorite pose and why?
Peaceful Warrior, to me it means peace with my movement and a calm to my poses.
Spreading the yogic philosophy of oneness and collective consciousness, Frank is preparing for an inspiring musical project this month:
On May 20, Frank will be on the White House lawn singing with a 1,000-person choir to a song entitled, “We Are One,” by David Longoria. The song was written to help bring our nation together and was inspired by the 30-year anniversary of the world-renowned song, “We are the World." The date is the 19th-annual White House Day of Prayer for our Nation. "We will lift our hearts and voices in unity to honor our nation. I’m happy to be involved in this project and for what the song represents, standing up for each other and lifting each other up," says Frank. The song is available for listening on Facebook, by searching: We Are One.
"Yoga and Music go together, like when you're meditating being inspired by a drum beat. This song lifts my heart and I hope it does the same thing to you," shares Frank.
“Eres muy contenta (You are very content/happy),” was among the first words I received from a smiling stranger on the streets of Habana, Cuba. The moment I set down my little duffle bag in my six-bunkbed hostel room on Sunday evening, I decided to take a short walk around our busy neighborhood in Habana Viejo. I only had a week, so I better soak it all in.
My next few hours in this town of colorful colonial buildings was spent practicing my Costa Rican-flavored modest Spanish with the friendly Cuban gentleman who showed me his part of town, away from the pricier tourist-luring restaurants. There, he surprised me with ordering me a vegan dinner, which consisted of arroz negro, or white rice colored with black beans, garnished with raw cabbage and tomato salad beside a bed of pickles. After I filled my hungry belly, we hopped from one live-music venue to another, where I danced feverishly infatuated with the musicians’ simple yet passionate love for their art. I met other Cubanos and travellers on the dance floor, where we simply connected through the joy in the air. Darkness fell after a few more hours of dancing on the rooftop of Hotel Inglaterra, overlooking Parque Central and El Capitol. My new amigo walked me home with plans to meet again.
The next days were spent with early morning Spanish lessons with our young and professional teacher, Laritza, whom my classmates and I convinced to let us apply our new conversational skills at El Museo de Chocolate, on my last day of class. (I don’t believe she had any regrets about that.) Afternoons were spent in private salsa classes, with my last class being Afro-Cubano, upon my request. That was my favorite, as I’m so drawn to the soul of traditional African culture.
Outside of our daily curriculum, I took walks around town, meeting many more Cubanos, most of whom kindly and honestly wanted to learn about my culture and share their own. I attribute much of my meeting new friends to getting lost in the streets with no particular agenda. There was the multi-lingual archaeologist, who gave me a tour of the historic pharmacies, still being used now with modern medicine. There was Ivan, who was fascinated with chinos (his four-year-old daughter being a quarter Chinese on her mother’s side). Ivan brought me to La Casa Africa, which housed the museum and store displaying Africa’s influence on Cuban culture, and where I finally had sugarcane juice with limon. Que rico!
Outiside of Central Habana, I took an afternoon trip to the nearest beach, Mar Azul, or more specifically Villa El Coco, after salsa class with a friend, Benedicta, my classmate from Norway at the hostel. We spent three hours of sun-soaking overlooking a bright blue monochrome ocean and spent $10 on 30-minute massages, which were very percussive and invigorating, just like the music.
With another new friend from Norway, Henrietta, I took a fourish-hour bus trip to Vinales, the countryside and home of many tobacco plantations. For two days and one night, we stayed in a Casa Particular with a local family, enjoying delicious home-cooked meals, a 3-hour horseback ride to tobacco and coffee plantations surrounded by farm animals, an early morning hike to see the sunrise atop a mountain in the national park and dancing in la calle principal at the usually peaceful town’s annual carnival, which happened to take place during our visit. Again, dancing drew me to new friends, one amigo with a huge smile that threw me in the air saying with pure bliss, “A librar la energia!” (Free the energy!)
My intention for this weeklong trip was to expand my mind and heart and learn to truly be love. I’m so grateful for this travel opportunity, which I wasn’t even sure was possible until only a few days before leaving Los Angeles. Open to the flow of unconditional love as is the Universe and our essential state of being, I feel blessed to have been able to connect with so many kind beings and to see how we are all alike in so many more ways than we sometimes choose to acknowledge.
While my yoga practice remained consistent in my morning ritual and short sporadic asana (physical posture) sequences, my most rewarding practice of yoga was through connection outside of me, which only opened my greater “eyes” and heart to the depths of me, and ultimately, in the beautiful souls I met.
To see a photo album of this trip, visit me on Facebook here.
Read a little bit about Nishith, who's been part of our yoga community for over 5 years.
1) Tell us about yourself.
I am a nature loving cyclist. I work downtown and commute the 8 miles each way on bike daily. As a LA City landscape architect, I value the day to day interplay between nature and the built environment. One of the joys in my life comes from living in the great City of Los Angeles and next to Griffith Park, its most precious jewel. I believe that it's the little patches of green that make life manageable given the hectic workload and the bureaucratic system in which we all revolve.
2) When and how did your yoga practice begin?
As a child, I spent every other summer in India with my grandparents. Every morning, my grandfather would practice and I would watch. He would always end with a shoulder stand and that was probably my first position. Over the years, I tried yoga off and on. Cycling everyday and sitting at a desk at work puts a lot of stress on my lower back and neck/shoulders. Yoga became a way to relieve that tension. I am now a regular in Michelle's class at the gym where I work.
3) How has yoga benefited you?
My regular class is midday and it is a great way to break the monotony of sitting at my desk. At the beginning of every class, we breathe and find perspective and balance that mindfully refreshes us and leads us through the rest of the day that is in addition to the physical benefits of opening up our hearts, hips and chests, and stretching our backs, shoulders and necks. I think that the fact that I look forward to each class means that I have benefited from yoga in a number of ways that I can't even name!
4) Describe an important insight you've learned through your yoga practice.
One thing I realized, is that my first impression of yoga was that it would really help me physically. After practicing with Michelle for the last few years, I have come to understand that breathing and setting an intention at the beginning of class can really bring a positive perspective and equilibrium to the ups and downs of everyday life. So the surprising lesson of yoga was that with the focus it requires comes a calmness that lasts.
5) What message would you like to share with our yoga community to help inspire them on their yoga journey?
I think that a regular yoga practice can be one those little green patches that makes life manageable.
An avid environmentalist and cyclist, Nishith will be riding 300 miles of rugged California coastline on a fixed gear bike in June to fundraise for and support Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC) whose work focuses on active transportation, pedestrian safety, sustainability and bicycle infrastructure and policy. Please join us in supporting Nishith and Climate Ride California's efforts. Read more about the cause here.
"The most important insight I've learned in my yoga practice has to be the transference of my practice on the mat into my day." --Brenda
Preschool Teacher and Mother, Brenda has been an active member of Root 2 Rise Yoga Community sharing her bright smile and friendly spirit at our Hike + Yoga outings, Athleta store events, yoga workshops and retreats for the past year. Read about her journey on our interview with Brenda:
1. Tell us about yourself.
Born and raised in Southern California, I have always enjoyed being active and at 55, I take pride in keeping my body physically fit and strong. Working in Early Childhood for the past 18 or so years has definitely kept me on my toes. I just love working with young children for they have an incredible sense of wonder and are full of promise. I also get to explore activites with wonderfully creative materials; colors, textures, music, movement, and more! My greatest joy though, has been raising my son who is now 22 years old. He has taught me so much and is the very light of my life.
2) When and how did your yoga practice begin?
Although I have taken a class here and there, I really didn't start regularly practicing in yoga until about a year ago when I just happened to wander into Mary-Michelle's class at my gym, LA Fitness.
3) How has yoga benefited you?
Up until I began my yoga pratice, I mostly worked out with weights and eqipment. The gym is a happy place for me and I go regularly and work hard. Working out like a maniac has unfortunately caused a few injuries in the process. I now have incorporated yoga in my routine. Practicing yoga, especially the way that Michelle leads the class with detailed attention to properly positioning your body, has benefited me by maintaining my strength, increasing my flexibility, while calming my mind.
4) Describe an important insight you've learned through your yoga practice.
The most important insight I've learned in my yoga practice has to be the transference of my practice on the mat into my day. To be able to set an intention then through movement and breath keep and carry it throughout the day renues my spirit. Stressful situations happen so remembering my practice and being able to go back to my breath is both helpful and calming.
5) What message would you like to share with our yoga community to help inspire them on their yoga journey?
The message I have for our yoga community is that of gratitude for the solidarity of the Root 2 Rise community. I have met fellow yogis of various levels of practice and have not ever felt judged or uncomfortable. I have greatly enjoyed practicing yoga inside and outside at the park or on the several yoga/hikes that you have scheduled around the city and especially attending the women's retreat this past weekend in Ojai. I thank you for the amazing and powerful women that educated us in utilizing food as medicine, investigating lucid dreams, and meditation. I look forward to meeting more positive and spiritual teachers and healers at future events.
A yogi since 2013, Cyd Marindo attends our weekly yoga classes at North Valley Aikikai Dojo in Northridge. In her own words, read about her yoga journey--how she found the practice, her honest uplifting insights and her inspirations:
My journey into yoga started about eighteen months ago. I was looking for an effective way to manage stress from work, and face the emotional stress from my dad’s passing in 2013. Combined with the complications and the responsibility of having to deal with the estate, and certain family members wanting to gain from it, it was his tragic and unsolved death that caused me to feel depressed and be overwhelmed with grief. I was drowning in sorrow and didn't know what to do. If it wasn't for my husband and my daughter who gave me purpose, I didn’t have any other reason to get out of bed each morning. Yet I knew I had to deal with my emotions and bring some normalcy back in my life. That realization paved the way to my practice. It took two years to get there and for the healing process to begin.
Yoga reminds me that even though I don’t have control of what happens around me, I can have control of my body, my thoughts and emotions. That it’s okay to let go of what does not serve any purpose. That I have the ability to take deep breaths and gain a sense of calmness from within. That I can be free of self judgment and anxiety, and just be able to focus on the present moment. Then there’s also the increase in physical strength, balance and flexibility that I haven't had in a long time. Perhaps the most important benefit is improving my relationship with others and encouraging self care.
My practice has further helped me appreciate the beauty and abundant blessings in our surroundings. The painful experience of the past made it easy to overlook them. It has awakened a part of me that I once thought was hard to gain back. I am grateful for being able to enjoy life and be active again. Yoga has become one of the best tools to gain self awareness and achieve a sort of balance between the body, mind and spirit. I’ll always be a work in progress and the wisdom gained from the teachings of yoga will be there to help me find my way home.
My favorite pose is the single pigeon. It wasn't just among the more challenging hip openers that I’ve encountered but it has also made me deal with the emotional stress that used to overwhelm me and affect my daily functions. While in the pose, I am able to acknowledge the presence of anger, guilt, fear, anxiety and any worries of the future. After several moments of deep breathing and relaxing into the pose, it gives me a sense of emotional release and makes it easier to let go of those emotions. Because of this, the pigeon pose will always have a special place in my heart (or my hips).
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” These words by Melody Beattie, an American author most known for her books on self help, inspire me to be more grateful with what life has to offer, and to put things into perspective.
Raquel began her yoga journey in October of 2013 with a Groupon at North Valley Aikikai, where Michelle teaches weekly yoga classes, just wanting to try a new form of exercise. She didn't know then that yoga would not only benefit her physically, but also spiritually and emotionally. She explains:
My mother had been diagnosed with cancer and my yoga practice helped me get through the tough journey of being my mother's caregiver through what would be her final year and a half. When I am on my mat, for that hour and a half I don't have a sick mother, a house that is never clean enough, children that are misbehaving, a husband that I sometimes don't get along with.... All the stresses and concerns of every day life. All I have are my poses, my movement, and my breath.
Yoga has taught me to be grateful for for all I have around me; my children, my husband, my family, my friends, my health, the vast and great outdoors.... To be calm and not sweat the small stuff. To have a positive outlook on life, because in the end all we leave behind are the moments we share with our loved ones. Yoga has given me an inner peace.
Her favorite yoga pose is headstand, Raquel proclaims, "because being able to stay upside down for sometimes up to four minutes at a time makes me feel so strong and proud to be a yogi!"
She's attended several Root to Rise Yoga activities-- from yoga in the park, to hikes in Malibu, to yoga overlooking the ocean. "Michelle makes every experience feel like you are at a mini retreat. I look forward to attending many more (events), " she says.
Raquel shares her most memorable insight about yoga:
For anyone that is starting out their yoga practice-try to be consistent with your practice, do not compare yourself to others. This is your practice not any one else's. The more you practice, the deeper understanding you will have on the meaning of YOUR life.
Trekking the rocky hillside path to the local farmer’s market, I took a mental snapshot of the sun-kissed landscape that felt so joyfully surreal: open-air houses well-kept with love, scattered amid luscious tropical rainforest trees with free-roaming dogs, cats, roosters and even monkeys, at just the right hours of the day. My 13-month volunteer teaching term in Costa Rica was nearing its end. So much insight and gratitude swelled in my heart from overcoming the struggles of the past year abroad-- adjusting to an unfamiliar culture and educational system, living in solitude away from close friends and family and confronting my inner shadow embedded in habits of thinking, doing, speaking and being. I had left a life of apparent stability as a 5-year schoolteacher in the U.S. and chose, despite several colleagues’ and friends’ dismay, to displace myself in a country of which I had little to no knowledge, merely because I felt a burning desire to share my passion for teaching somewhere where I felt I could make more of a difference and where I could grow out of my “box” of existing.
How does this all relate to yoga? My yoga asana practice became my daily refuge, an experimental church, a playground, a therapist-- my sanity. Since my teenage years, I turned to running as a coping mechanism for stress. It gradually became a competitive sport, in which my self-critical voice soon took over, manifesting in injuries. During my volunteer teaching service, my daily regimen–a routine I adopted to create a sense of familiarity within a foreign place—became a morning, and sometimes afternoon, trail run to the ocean and yoga asana practice. While running channeled anxiety and frustration, yoga spoke wisdom to my soul, encouraging self-compassion and thus, a newfound compassion for others, whose ways of living I didn’t at first understand. I began to run, not for competition or ego, but for enjoyment and gratitude toward my body and the inspiring natural environment I felt honored to be living in. Yoga unveiled courage and blessings at every corner, whereas during my first six months abroad, I suffered from deep surges of self-doubt, fear and sadness in which I craved to be home in the U.S. Yoga became my tool to accessing a sense of home, or inner peace, in whatever situation I was.
I’ve come along way and am still evolving in my practice of yoga. Funny to think about when I fell asleep within the first ten minutes of my first ever yoga class in 2001, leaving the aftertaste that yoga was boring. It took much persuasion by a dance colleague and friend to return to another yoga class, which was a contrasting experience of swimming in a pool of my own sweat and being intrigued by the practice. For years, I toyed with yoga classes here and there, until I was forced to overcome a dance injury and surgery requiring a year to recover before returning to my two sorely missed loves—dancing and running in nature. A vital tool then for restoring my physical, emotional and mental wellbeing was yoga, having turned to many paths of natural healing. Yoga became a gateway for building body intelligence and finding peace within stillness, for such a craver of movement.
Upon my return to California from Costa Rica, I followed my eagerness to share the empowering gift of yoga that continues to transform my entire way of being. While new struggles arose on my path to transitioning careers and becoming a yoga teacher, many blessings affirm that I am right where I need to be and serving now as a full-time yoga teacher since 2010. In gratitude for the land that inspired this transition, I now lead yoga retreats in Costa Rica through my community yoga and retreats company, Root 2 Rise Yoga. Excitedly I seek new ways to deepen my practice in and share yoga’s many realms, such as meditation and powerful application to daily living.
Michelle's Recipe for Vegan Tofu “Sushi-to” (Sushi + Burrito) *From a Joyful Experiment in the Root 2 Rise Yoga Kitchen, Inspired by a Hungry Belly
Ingredients (For 1 Serving/2 Medium Sushitos):
Note: Try to use as many organic ingredients as possible for optimal flavor and health (for you and our planet). Add or subtract any ingredients you’d like to experiment with, just a like a yoga sequence—make it your own to enjoy.