Chapter 2: Juana, meet Yoga Circle. Yoga Circle, meet Juana. “Pleasure to meet you…”

Tamales, Posole, Sopes, y Tacos. These are the essential cuisines to my everyday diet. (Not all at once of course; except on the holidays.) And maintaining this diet doesn’t necessarily mean I will lose 10 pounds after 2 weeks, as most 21st century weight loss programs like to guarantee. This diet is not sponsored by Jenny Craig and my life is not glamorized into a reality TV show. I am simply just an average first generation college student, who happens to be a kick ass Latina, aspiring for CHANGE.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love myself as much as I love my culture, especially the food. I will never lose touch of my Mexican American roots. But like anyone in the world, I always seek to find the greatest of opportunities to my advantage; beginning with finding better eating habits, that don’t guarantee I’ll end up having high cholesterol before I am 30.

But with all jokes aside, there is no such thing as selfless good deed. Any intention we make, leads to every reaction we create. And by believing in the power of the better YOU, you’re able to generate an inspiration to bring out the better YOU in all of us. Because let’s face it, no one or nothing should matter more to you than yourself. When you aren’t at your best, you’re nothing but a pile of self-loath, or as I like to say, “No sirves para NADA.”

But this is simply my journey. And it holds no truth for anyone but myself. But if I resonate any truth in you, I hope the truth influences you for change. Big or small. For whatever the size. Any change, is good.

And what better way to begin my journey of exploration than to completely renovating the way I think, breath, and perhaps even eat. My journey begins here, at DePaul University’s very first Explore Chicago: Chicago’s Yoga Community….


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“I feel like the more and more that I travel on the brown line, the more hidden portals to a whole new world is open to my reach,” I subconsciously tell myself as I step foot into what seems to be a normal office space building.

As I walk in to the Yoga Circle, located on 401. W Ontario Street, I’m amazed at how from one moment to the next this office space building transforms into a hidden Yoga studio. I immediately notice the chairs, the work-out bands which hanged from the ceiling and were hooked to the brick walls and I noticed the performance mirrors which reflected the back of the room. As I tried to find a small corner where I can timidly await my yoga instructor, a tree like man named Gabriel Halpern steps foot into the studio. His legs were so tall that they practically reached his neck, he wore leopard print yoga short, a novelty pirate t-shirt that said “Where’s my Booty”, and a pierced right ear. This man was old and odd, but you could sense this weird Star Wars Jedi vibe, oozing out his pours. He was majestic. And I was SO not prepared…

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This man began his class by enlightening his students, or as her referred to as, his “yogis”. (A yogi is a practitioner of yoga.) He made many interesting points about the way we perceive ourselves as humans and how we choose to live our lives. Although, as I modestly took in every piece of advice he gave to us, I thought to myself, “Well this all sounds like a bunch of common sense.”

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But then, in the mist of his talk he agrees. “Now I know you all my be sitting here and thinking to yourselves, well this is all a bunch of common sense bullshit, but you’d be surprised at how often we undermine what we believe is just common sense. Because in all honesty, if it were all so common, would you really be here in the first place?” Soon this man opened up my mind and with much more delicacy, I began to listen.

Previously, before coming to class, I had read an essay named Starved for Connection: Healing Anorexia Through Yoga by Chelsea Roff in the book, 21st century Yoga: Culture, politics and practice, and I began to relate to the apprehensiveness that Chelsea first experienced when starting yoga. In this book, she tells the memoir of her battle against anorexia and how yoga helped her through her healing process.

As I sat there in class, questioning myself about the decision making I’ve made throughout my life and the thought process that generated their conclusions, I remembered Chelsea’s obstinate ideas of why she joined yoga. In the book she states, “I wish I could say I went to yoga because I had some inkling that it would offer me something deeper, because there was an inexplicable spiritual rug, because I was looking to reconnect with my body and begin the real process of healing. Quite the contrast. My motivations for trying yoga were almost entirely pathological. I was looking for a quick fix, a sneaky way to burn calories without arousing the suspicion of my treatment team.” She then further on explains how only a few months after leaving the hospital, after being hospitalized for about a year and a half, she had gone back to her old habits. She didn’t find satisfaction in just losing weight through exercise and needed something more to fuel her addictive lifestyle. Seemly it was, she lived her life plotting her way to satisfying her bad habits, only to bring bad karma into her life. And as Mr. Halpern continued his speech of enlightenment, he mentions,

“Take into consideration of what karma is in YOUR OWN LIFE. Think to yourself: who is in charge of my life? You are. Who’s going to change the gap between, who you think is in control of your life and the reality to that false assumption? You are.”

Soon both sources ignited a very personal enlightenment inside me as I sat on my mat. In the book, Chelsea describes, “Yoga, in the bigger sense of the word, was subtly shifting the way I related to my body and myself… the shifts I experienced didn’t happen in some pivotal, light-up-the-sky-ah-ah-moment. In fact I think for the most part I was relatively unaware that yoga was transforming me…” yet, she goes on to say that yoga was a crucial essential of her healing process. On the flip-side, I had Mr. Halpern, sitting on a pillow while legs crossed like a pretzel, stating the statement that brought all the ideas together,

“Yoga is your tool box for the most radiant self of yours to be able to prevail. Thus, do yoga a little, change a little. Do yoga a lot, change a lot.”

And suddenly, as simple as his word were, it all made sense. Chelsea wouldn’t have ever discovered how by the connection to her body, peace and relaxation, intimacy and pleasure, and embodied trauma work through the unceasing practice of yoga, she would had remained the same; believing that she was in control of her life and nothing while in reality her disease wasted both her mind and body away. Mr. Halpern simple quote, “do yoga a little, change a little. Do yoga a lot, change a lot,” resonated in my mind because it was true. The amount of reward you receive really does rely on the amount of effort you put in. And like Chelsea, I reflected on myself as I laid on my back on my mat, eyes closed, listening to the pacifying voice of Mr. Halpern. I imagined all the addictive habits that I feed each day. And how I wanted to live a life where I took control. I wanted to connect with my body, learn to have gain peace and relaxation, love myself and embody all the traumatic works in my life. I wanted to
“peel away the bad layers of my life, to uncover the unconscious good inside me,” as Mr. Halpern soothingly spoke to us, while I meditated my way into good karma habits, and the beginning of my journey…..

Namaste.

Chapter 1: Power Yoga Kicked my ass, while playing Fleetwood Mac.

My perception on beauty has changed throughout the years. Like every women I know, we go through periodic changes mentally and physically. I use to tell myself that if I was a certain size or if I dressed a certain way, I would feel good about myself. Or at least that was the case when you grow up with Kardashians, werewolves and vampires, and Myspace. (oh yeah, do ya’ll remember when Myspace was this shizz-nizz.)

When I hit puberty and my body began to mold into its own shape, I would cry to my mother over the size of my hips and thighs and scold her for not giving me her thin-figured genes. As I entered my adolescence, I was introduced into two polar worlds: Feminism and High School. The reason why I saw these two distinctively was because I noticed, or at least from my experience, there was no common ground for a fifteen year old feminist in highly predominate Hispanic high school. It was difficult to want to believe that men and women were the same, when you could see the machismo in the young men who walked the hallways of my school. And it was hard to feel pretty and confident, when you didn’t dress a certain way that appealed to the attention of a certain audience. But somewhere between, I didn’t feel healthy physically and my academic success, I figured the hell with beauty and its complicated definitions.

I related to Melanie Klein’s memior, “How yoga makes you pretty: The Beauty Myth, Yoga and Me”, as I read through her own struggles with finding beauty in herself.

” I spent most of my life waging a war on it. I have vivid girlhood memories of my worth being measured by my waist size and numbers on a scale. Time and Time again, I was taught that I must “suffer to be beautiful,” a mantra often offered to me as I winced in pain as my pigtails were pulled too tight.”

Her words brought me back to a time, when I foolishly use to document my weight gains and losses inside my diary. I laughed as she described her long ancestry of women who belonged to this “lineage” of body hatred and how this legacy was the common tale for all women who were held back by eating disorders, continuous exercise, and abusive fat talks. Then she shined a light on the dark reality of the idea of being “pretty” and it’s unrealistic and unhealthy correlation to success and happiness. It was harsh to read, but it was all so true. For I too am one of those women, who although has come a long way from believing that looking like a Holister model is the way to life, I still shame myself after not going to the gym or indulging into some ice cream when hanging out with my girlfriends.

When I arrived into the Corepower, on 1539 E 53rd St, Chicago, IL 60615, I was captivated by the luxurious atmosphere of the studio. Everything was so clean and polished and the men and women that gracefully walked around the studio looked fit and posh. The cynical part of me thought to myself, “Funny how all these people are soaking up their fresh showers and expensive memberships, while Englewood, just one neighborhood way, drowns in its own sh..” But I snapped out of my own bitter gaze, as one of my classmates nudged at my shoulder directing me into our studio room.

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The room was beaming with sunlight, as one side of the room was an outside view of the metropolitan street of Hyde Park, as the other side reflected the studio and sunlight shined through it’s mirrors. The room was breathe taking, and very warm. Today we were introduced to Power yoga. Power yoga is a form of Vinyasa yoga, in which movement is synchronized to the breath. But it specifically emphasizes  on strength and flexibility of the student. In most cases, this type of yoga is considered more as a work out. In Melanie’s story, she tells us of when she was introduced to power yoga in the late nineties. ” Power yoga left me feeling physically and mentally challenged, exhausted and fabulous. It was 1997, and I had landed in the company of an eclectic group of yogis led by the sometime delightfully inappropriate and absolutely authentic Bryan Kest.” Bryan Kest is one of the two often credited with the near invention of power yoga. She explains how Kest became her teacher, who guided her into her new perception in body imaging. She explains how he would command her into being “with the reality of the moment and detaching from the artificial images in our minds.”

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A few minutes past and our instructor arrived. She was a fit and toned young lady, one that you see on the cover of a yoga magazine. In a very modest tone of voice, she welcomed our class and immediately told use to let go of any dismissive feelings. “Today you will invoke into your own journeys and let your body’s natural flow flourish.” She walked towards the iPod connection that stood on the wall, and melodiously the sounds of Stevie Nick’s voice transcended through the speakers. This immediately relaxed me. Anything that had to do with Fleetwood Mac, sent me into a translucent state of mind. We began in a Chaturanga Dandasana= four limbs, staff (refers to the spine, the central “staff” or support of the body) pose. We went from laying in our stomach with our heads facing forward, to a plank, to downward faced dog, to a half way up our bodies pose. This then transitioned to an extended side angle pose, which stretches the entire side of the body; strengthens the back and legs; and relieves stiffness in the hips and backs of the thighs.

Then we’d repeat the Chaturanga Dandasana pose, and next followed the Crescent Lunge, which draws your right hip forward and left hip back to bring your hips into alignment. Then you would stack your left knee over your left ankle. Once you’re balanced, you would lift your arms up alongside the ears, reaching your upper torso up and back slightly while keeping your hips low. Then we would repeat this on the left side.

And although my favorite “relaxation” band played in the background, I was getting my butt kicked in a sequence of body shifting positions. And to add on to the work out, the room temperature increased. You could feel the intertwine sensations of body heat and mental focus as the instructor encouraged us to push our bodies a little more as we stretched from one way to another. It was tough, but I loved every minute of it. As I looked in the mirror and noticed sweat dripping down my face, I fell in love with the flow of my body, as it shifted poses alongside my fellow yogis. Something about the feeling of letting go of my inner inhibitions and my unstained focus, made me feel empowered, and even as I could see my barefaced, dripping with sweat, I felt good.  I fell in love with myself in way I never had before. I was amazed by how my body was moving, and I found a new kind of beauty inside me.

In the book Melanie shares a similar experience too as she states,

Gazing up at my legs, glistening with seat in shoulder-stand, i realize that for the first time since early childhood i wasn’t searching for signs of imperfection. I wasn’t scrutinizing every inch of my body in search of flaws… within a year, my yoga practice was able to unravel years of social conditioning and begin to replace it with a message of acceptance and love.

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And as the class ended, and I sat in with my legs crossed, the instructor recited a poem, which seemly was the perfect way to end the class. Liberated, I walked out of class with the biggest sense of self confidence and radiance I had felt in years, and I as waited for my bus; no make up, sweaty yoga mat and clothes, I was feeling the pretties I have ever felt. Today I had let go of my fear to be one with myself; bare and self aware. And I wasn’t afraid of anyone seeing me like this. Perhaps its was the sunny weather that afternoon, but I felt radiant, and nothing was going to rain on my parade of self confidence.

Namaste.