I can’t tell you how many new yoga students have come to me in their first weeks of yoga and said, “My husband (or wife) really wants to thank you for your classes.”
I know most people think the biggest benefit of yoga practice after a month of practice is flexibility. And while that is certainly one of the effects, the greatest gift is vitality and connection to our higher vibration self. I see people with so much more life force moving through them. They have more purpose, more joy and you can see it in their eyes.
They feel more connected to their bodies, to their communities and to the world. Life gets busy and very few of us have a connection to our innermost self. Whatever you call it—our soul, our inner light or just oxytocin—we have a cultural amnesia about this place in the heart.
We don’t have sacred spaces or time to move stuck emotions out of body so we can get in touch with this place. When we connect to this place, we end up being kinder to ourselves and all those around us.
One thing that I know for certain: Yoga is less about touching your toes than touching your heart.
Fire only burns as bright as there are flames to continue keeping it alive. Our Blissology Yoga Teacher’s Collective is burning bright and we are so excited to share the first of our Bliss Blogs on some of the amazing spirits and shining lights who are continuing to speak, connect and inspire their Bliss.
Name: Carrie Varela
Where in the world you can find me! Town/Studio: I teach weekly classes in Denver, CO at three amazing Denver yoga studios: The Freyja Project, Yoga Pod and Kindness. I lead international and national yoga retreats from the mountains of Colorado to the magical island of Bali, Indonesia. I can guide you through the experience of becoming a Reiki practitioner from beginner to Master level!
What originally drew me to yoga? I took my first yoga class when I was 16 and I remember seeing my teacher touch his head to the floor in a wide legged forward fold. In that moment, something moved inside me. I knew that I wanted to become a yogi right then and there! I have been practicing yoga ever since. 🙂
Blissology to me is… A movement to inspire us to the one of highest teachings of yoga—bliss! Blissology’s dedication to community and nature encourages us to remember it is not just about our individual “I-ness” but “Us-ness”…what we can create as collective of people on fire for connecting to each other and the importance of honoring and revering our beautiful Earth!
My life mission is… To learn and grow.
The most important thing yoga has taught me is… Freedom in the body = freedom in the mind.
When I’m not on the yoga mat, I’m… Chilling with my amazing partner, Jonathan Bloch and our kids Ella and Jai! We are always creating something: a new integrative medicine healing center, international and national retreats, workshops, re-designing our home as an AirBnB and trying to make a positive impact for the environment in our community and world. My favorite downtime activity is definitely working on a puzzle!
The cause/project I am most passionate about is… Environmental sustainability. Just doing my part to make the world a better place for the not only our generation but the generations after us. I am also very passionate about mental health!
I am learning to… Be a mom! I just had a baby four months ago. It has been a season of growth for me as I learn how to juggle motherhood, family life and a non-traditional career. A wonderful journey for sure.
What I want to teach others (through yoga) is to… Since the name of my yoga business is Carrie Varela Healing Arts, I guess I mainly feel inspired to offer yoga as a healing practice. But not healing in a dull or boring way, but healing in a life-giving way! I am passionate about helping people find good energy. Good energy happens when we are in the flow, connected, inspired and filled with purpose. 🙂
Most inspiring yoga related experience: Seems a little bit off topic but I think it was giving birth to my son Jai. My yoga practice prepared me so much for the whole journey from the learning how to practice in my body as pregnant, going through a safe and healthy delivery of our kiddo and healing my body with yoga post pregnancy. During the whole process, I experienced the magic of Shakti as the energy of creation inside of me. Holding my son in my arms during the first weeks of his life were some of the most blissful experiences of my life thus far. I am so grateful for this life!
Favorite yoga pose: Is it okay to say all of them? Haha. I just love yoga and I love vinyasa. Threading flows together in the most blissful ways is one of my favorite creative outlets. I guess if had to chose one pose right now it would probably be Natarajasana? They are all amazing though!
Best way to fuel up after yoga: I am a big fan of Purium products. Purium is a full spectrum nutritional program with amazing certified organic non-GMO, gluten free, soy free, dairy free and vegan products—clean health for me and the environment. I know it doesn’t end there though. I am learning how to apply more of the wisdom of Ayurveda in my diet via counselling sessions with the one and only Insiya Rasiwala-Finn.
Yoga and music are… When they are in sync with one another it feels like we are flying through the practice. Yoga and good music is so fun. I love the experience of live music and yoga as well. I also recognize that at times music is a total mind distraction and it is also wonderfully soothing to do a practice without music.
I create community with Blissology by… Getting to know my students names, including them in the process, encouraging them to see each other, not being afraid to make the practice light hearted and fun. I also love to incorporate nature in almost every class. Creating a circle of light for my students is a great skill that I love to use not necessarily every class but when it is right. 🙂 I am so wonderful blessed to be a part of the Blissology tribe!
I am most grateful for… Everything! Gratitude is the fuel of positivity in my life and I try to express it everyday. Top on my list is my beautiful family, yoga, Reiki, my community of friends and students who light me up. Truly, my superpower is Reiki and it inspires me to do all the things I do in life. I wouldn’t be where I am without it and it is my mission to share Reiki with the world.
What advice do you have for aspiring yoga teachers? Look closely at the pay you are being offered to teach. If you are being offered $25/class that might seem like a lot from the outside but $25/class will rarely be enough to cover your expenses. Many studios still pay you around $4/mat. That variability of income is a money pit for a new teacher. Think about the time it takes to just make enough to earn back the investment you put into your YTT, Think about the time it actually takes to teach a 60-75 minute yoga class. I will likely include 20+ minutes of driving there and back, you must be 20 minutes early and stay 20 minutes (+/-) after. That is about a 2.5-3 hour commitment of your time to teach one class. If you use 2.5 hours of your time to teach one class at $25/class you will be making $10/hour. That is before taxes, gas, other car expenses, teaching insurance, yoga alliance fees and in the case for moms, childcare costs. You will be hard pressed to make a profit at all at $25/class (if not just lose $$). So if you are trying to make additional income from teaching yoga make sure to think about these things. If you are trying to make a living from teaching yoga, you will need to teach a whole lot and it will almost always feel like you are losing financially… For most of us who teach yoga to make a living, the teaching yoga is one way to meet new potential clients and to invite them to participate in our other offerings (in my case Reiki, yoga teacher trainings, retreats but for others it could include massage, counselling, life/health coaching etc). Making $50k a year in yoga might seem like a lot but with all of the expenses rolled into teaching you will likely only take home about $15k in actual profit. You will never get ahead financially at that rate. Hope that helps you!
I want to make it clear to people who are new to yoga that just because you are doing yoga doesn’t mean it’s good for you—yoga can hurt you or it can be incredibly healing.
An old teacher of mine Joel Kramer breaks it down this way. There are two types of people who do yoga: Pushers and Sensualists.
Simply put, a Pusher is someone who ignores bodily feedback in order to achieve an end goal in the pose. In the mind of the pusher, how the pose looks is most important—a pose must be achieved at any cost and bodily sensations are just an annoyance to how the attainment of the perfect pose so they “push” past it.
Signals to stop may be “loud” like pinching sensation in the joints or they may be “subtle” like short, erratic breath. If we are not feeling ourselves breathing in yoga asana, in particular if the breath is short, choppy, forced or erratic in a pose then we have lost our best barometer for where we are on this spectrum of pushing vs. being sensual.
The point is a pusher is “unplugged” from his or her feedback loops. The body is something to be conquered or dominated by our strong will. The outer form is more important than the inner experience.
These are the people who do not ignore bodily feedback while practicing yoga asana. He/She may still have a goal to go deeper in a yoga pose (I think most of us want to “get better” at yoga asana), however they honor the sensations of the body. When there are clear signals to stop, they stop. The body is something our mind wants to cooperate with to create an experience of beauty inside.
We have a Blissology Yoga Mantra that sums this up: “yoga is a feeling, not a shape.” As soon as we loose the feeling of calm, relaxed focus in order to create some kind of shape, we are at high risk for injury. Conversely, when we get it right, we can build healthy and sustainable relationships with our bodies.
This isn’t just about safety, these changes have massive personal and social implications as well—what we learn on the mat we apply to life. We learn how to create sustainable relationships with our friends and families, our communities and with nature.
“Breath is the way in.” This mantra from Eoin Finn, founder of Blissology and one of my yoga teachers, sums up a practice that’s transformed my life, and very well could yours too: mindful breathing. Regularly pausing to breathe with intention is a gateway to all sorts of juicy awesomeness, infusing our minds with peace and hearts with joy.
One of the main ways I discern when something is important in my life and/or a life truth is when I get the same message from multiple sources. Years ago another yoga teacher of mine, Meghan Currie, said: “Breath is boss.” Reflecting on this, I think it’d be fair to say Meghan first opened my eyes to see the gift of mindful breathing, while Eoin and Blissology’s teachings opened my hands to better feel and receive the gift at a deeper level.
I think the Truth Meghan opened me up to and Eoin helped me receive at a cellular level is that there’s something mystical and magical about breath, and I’m not alone. In quite a few languages, especially ancient ones, there is one word for “breath,” “Spirit,” and “spirit/soul.” It seems that from early on humans realized there’s something enlivening, spiritual, connective, and even Divine about the breath. Regarding the creation of humanity, traditions commonly speak of our Creator breathing life into the first humans. Breath is a wonderful way in, to connection with self, others, and Something/Someone bigger than and beyond ourselves (who I name “God,” but you might have a different word/name).
I’ve taken to calling our breath a super power each and every one of us has. I say that because when we’re faced with stress, when our body-minds begin to go into fight or flight mode, we can reset our “status” to calm by purposefully slowing down and deepening our breath, which takes us into our parasympathetic nervous system (or “rest and digest system”).
A quick search on Google reveals studies show we have 10-60,000 thoughts a day, nearly all of which are the same dang thing over and over again. Even worse, the vast majority of our thoughts are negative. Sad as this is, I think it makes sense as the fabric our capitalistic culture is built upon is formed with threads of fear, lack, scarcity, and competition, wherein only a select “few” can win at life. The news, advertisements, papers, and son on bombard us with negativity, so we naturally think accordingly.
This is where the power of breath comes in.
Each of us has an authentic and true self, an identity minus our achievements, possessions, money, accolades, and such. This beautiful center of us knows we are worthy, belong, and are loved just as we are, no doing required. Last time I saw Meghan, at a workshop she was guiding, she asked the group of us: “Can you think and breathe intentionally at the same time?” We looked at each other, cocked our heads in thought, and threw out some speculations before she said, “I don’t know, but let’s try it out!”
I bring this up because there’s something about purposeful breathing that quiets our minds, lessens our negative and obsessive thinking, and puts us in tune with our peaceful and joyful true self.
Eoin, who I’m also working on my 500-hour Yoga Teacher Training with at Blissology, talks of being a “conduit of Love.” I wholeheartedly agree and find mindful breathing tunes and opens us up to more fully and freely give and receive Love. With that said, here are 7 mindful breathing practices that transform me on a daily basis in the most amazing ways that I’m stoked to share with you and hope you find helpful:
1. Breathing your daily intention
About three years ago I began starting my day by breathing an intention or affirmation. Before I even get out of bed, I take a few minutes to build the day on a positive foundation by taking sweet, deep breathes in tandem with a way of being to center my day on. While the sky is the limit here, I’ll share a few things I’ve used to help get you started.
In the beginning, I was still recovering from the trauma of divorce, so I reminded myself “you are” (on the inhale), “loved” (on the exhale). When the time was right, this shifted to “be” or “give” (on the inhale), “love” (on the exhale). Around New Years, as I reflected on my journey of growth, development and love, the following came to me: inhale “kindness” and exhale “care”. It’s crazy good how well this simple practice prepares you for the day and sets you up to do what you intend. Note, while I’m a creature of habit and don’t change this very often, it could easily be different everyday.
2. Meditative/Mantra breathing
Have you ever felt overwhelmed? Do you have those days where minutes (or seconds) after waking up, your mind is flooded by cares, worries, and to-dos? Me too! Recognizing this mental storm, whenever it comes, and breathing into it with intention has an incredible stilling affect. Pick a mantra that meets you, your situation, and/or your need and breathe it. Swamped by the things you have to do? You could breathe in “I am,” and breathe out “enough.” A general one I’ve found really calming is inhaling “Yah” and exhaling “Weh” (pronounced way). The Hebrew tradition says when Moses met God at/in a burning bush, he asked the Creator for a name. The sacred name God gave Moses is Yahweh. Rabbis say part of the beauty of this revelation is we say God’s name with every breath of our lives, because inhales naturally make the “Yah” sound, while exhales give the “Weh.”
3. Noises to clear tension/stress
Whenever our dog, Biscuits, gets stressed she barks and/or shakes her body. She is so wise! When you encounter physical, emotional, and/or mental stress, set some of it free with a sigh, lip flutter, soft scream, growl, or anything else that feels good in your body (side note: do not growl immediately after your spouse does something stressful, it doesn’t end well … not that I’d know this from personal experience). I teach my yoga students this all the time, and it really is quite magical. Humor and smiling pretty much makes everything better and easier, and a fun way to clear tension is to take a Lion’s Breath (or ten), by opening your mouth as wide as you can and sticking your tongue out as far as you can with a “haaaa” sound.
4. Breathing life into tight/stuck parts
Not only does the breath help clear worries and stress, it can help transform it too. While mindful exhales can release tension, purposeful inhales can infuse physical, emotional, and/or mental tightness with greater lightness and more love. Does a place in your body feel tight? Try spending a minute or more breathing deeply into it. Is there a thought in your brain or feeling in your heart that’s stuck? Take some time to breathe light, love, peace, and/or joy into whatever it is. I should note here that nothing I’m presenting here is an “instant” cure or a magical love potion type of deal. Instead, they are practices that help shift our bodies and minds and often take time, yet, I can’t help but add that sometimes small shifts make big differences.
5. Breath prayers
Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes it’s helpful to remember we’re all connected. Linking a short prayer with deep breaths can have a calming and transformative effect. What help do you need? What aid do friends/family desire? What good could the world use more of? Take three deep breaths while mentally speaking greater thriving and flourishing into the life/lives of whoever is on your mind. You could try doing this whenever it comes to mind, or you could set a silent alarm on your phone for once, twice, three times, or whatever a day and pause for 15-ish seconds to do this. A favorite practice of mine has been to stop around 9 a.m., 12 p.m., and 3 p.m. to inhale deeply “Lord Jesus Christ,” exhale deeply “have mercy”, while holding in my mind anyone on my heart.
6. Deep breaths into back, belly and hips
The vast majority of our breath is both unconscious and shallow. I note this because slow, deep breathing calms our body and mind, while quick, shallow breathing speeds things up, sending our minds and body into a fight/flight type state. My point here is I think the rapid and thin quality of many of our natural breathing patterns literally shifts us toward being more worried, anxious, stressed, and fearful than we need to be. Still, whether my theory is right or wrong, taking slow deep breaths into your low back, belly, and hips will both feel really good and calm your body and mind, which will make you more focused and effective across the board.
7. “Mm mm mmm” sounds
I was first introduced to this at my first yoga teacher training, and while at first I was skeptical, now I love it so hard and teach it in yoga classes so frequently it’s ridiculous. You know the noise we make when food tastes delicious? The “mm mm mmm” noise? Try making it to celebrate other delicious things in life, like a hug, a pleasant thought, something/someone you’re grateful for, seeing something beautiful, a yoga practice, a good conversation, a great blog—the possibilities are endless. Try making a lengthy “mm mm mmm mmm mmm” now. Notice how it feels in the body. Witness the effects on your mind.
Bonus: Seeing, feeling and receiving each breath as a gift
This mentality and way of seeing life, the universe, and everything has rocked my world: Life is an amazing gift.Above I mentioned the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and many others used the same word for breath, spirit, and Spirit, and part of this wisdom is we need each breath to continue living; this breath is a gift, as is the next. The gift of each breath is a reflection and reminder of a greater reality: Life is a precious, amazing, and beautiful gift from a good and loving Source.
The more I trust this, live with a gift-centered awareness, and practice the seven things above, the more peace and joy abound. I pray they aid you on your journey and we’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences!
By Lang Charters Blissology 200-hr YTT 2017 He’s here to awaken, open to, and be love together! Check out Lang’s teacher profile to learn more.