A Story Too Long To Be a Bio

Let’s face it, not all of us are as great as we may appear online.   So I’ll just start honest:  I can say I’m not one of those people who went to my first yoga class and was ‘hooked’ because, well, I wasn’t.

My mom started dragging me to yoga at the local gym when I was about 15 years old.   My mother and my brother, who were ‘hooked’, would sometimes sub the class and  I just tagged along.  It wasn’t until I moved to NYC at 17 that my world started to change a little.   I was battling depression and anxiety and in need of deeper healing than pharmaceuticals could offer me. It was then that I started practicing with Stacey Bell, who was also certified in Alexander Technique and CranioSacral Therapy.

I did my first teacher training in 2004-2005 at Om Yoga.   I continued my training with Leslie Kaminoff at The Breathing Project in advanced anatomy.  Linking my love of movement with anatomical awareness, I was able to deepen my experience and understanding of the body.  I worked though and continue to work on injuries, both mental and physical, as they surface.

While training at Om, I started working with The Shambhala Center of New York, to facilitate a yoga class at Riker’s Island Prison.   These are two areas, buddhism and social justice, that I can honestly say I have been hooked since the beginning.

Already an avid activist, at Riker’s I found a new journey of incorporating health and wellness into social change.   In the years to come, I did many things, including living at an Ashram in New Mexico,  living on an organic CSA farm in upstate NY, working bringing health and wellness programming to The Icarus Project collective and to youth in homeless centers and continuation high schools, and organizing with Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, while still teaching and practicing yoga.

But through these journeys, I struggled with yoga and what it meant to teach a sacred language and tradition from another country and religion that wasn’t my own. I felt alienated at the Ashram, I could see clearly I wasn’t a Hindu, by birth or choice.   At the farm, I was reminded of my family’s loss of their farm, livelihood and Buddhist religion through assimilation and Japanese interment camps of the 1940’s.  I felt stripped of my culture, angry and in need of deeper emotional healing from generational hurt.  At some point, my practice dwindled.

But I continued to come back to Shambhala and meditation, and found my teacher, Ryumon Gutierrez Baldoquin, a Zen priest, student of Pema Chodron, co-founder of LGBTQ and POC sitting groups in San Francisco, and editor of Dharma, Color and Culture: New Voices in Western Buddhism.  It was through this journey, by recognizing my grief and anger, as well as my joy and appreciation, that I was able to return to a fuller, deeper practice that embraced complexity.  I still don’t have an answer about cultural appropriation and what practices have been stripped away through history. I also hold the beauty of learning buddhism, a lost tradition of my family, from a teacher who was born in Cuba of African and Spanish descent.  For me, my teacher links together buddhism, activism, investigating oppression and collective journeys, so everyone, regardless of who they are, can have access to well being.

Today, most of my teaching work is geared towards healing for individuals and communities within a social justice framework and those recovering from injury. As Interim Coordinator of the Health and Wellness Collective at the Audre Lorde Project, I’ve been honored to help develop a framework of wellness and justice, and how the two are linked. I’ve been honored to work with and learn from High School ‘dropouts,’ immigrant youth, youth in prison, senior citizens in hospitals, individuals diagnosed as ‘mentally ill’… and all those experiences have lead me to the same thing: we all need healing, not from an outside source, but from within.  I’m interested in the dismantling of systematic oppressions that happens through activism work, but aware that this work cannot be done without inner and group healing.  We need systemic change, individual change and group change. I’m hooked on yoga only as much as I am hooked on my well being and the well being of others, and liberation for all peoples. I see yoga as an ancient tool, an offering from the ancestors, to serve liberation. I feel blessed and privileged to learn it.

It reminds me what my Bachan (Japanese Grandmother) used to say.   Although she and I didn’t talk about buddhism, her daily language was full of sayings, reminding me that, although I have fluctuated in my road of yoga and meditation ‘shikata gai nai’ or ‘it is as it is’ and my journey comes with me and becomes me.  Life is just as it is and as it should be.

 

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Other Links

West Coast

Tassajara/ Green Gulch/ SF Zen Center

East Bay Meditation Center (also connected to Spirit Rock)

East Coast

Zen Mountain Monastery: Mountains and Rivers Order

Sondra Loring

Karme Choling (and other Shambhala Centers)

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