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Sunday, Jul 22, 2018
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Family helped me find inner balance

The foundation of our practice isn't unlike the foundation of our lives. Our roots - whether our feet in standing poses or our hands in inversions such as handstand - give us strength and stability from which we can become more flexible and creative. I recently had a chance to get back in touch with my roots on a trip to my ancestral home of Puerto Rico. Both of my parents are from there, but as a St. Louis-born "Missourican" who had visited only once before, the island seemed pretty foreign to me. I pulled my yoga teacher training instructor aside and told her I was going on vacation; there was no yoga studio where I was headed, and I would be hopping from house to house visiting family.
She told me to enjoy the sun, the air, the waves ... and live my yoga off the mat. I won't lie: I was nervous. I always wondered whether these people would accept me - a Midwesterner-turned-Floridian, non-Spanish-speaking, bourgeois-bohemian girl who likes her spicy food and chicharrones as much as her vegan cupcakes and yoga. Or would I be the uppity cousin from los Estados Unidos who hadn't ever cared enough to visit? And how would I reconcile the hardworking sugar cane farmers and laborers who eventually gave life to me - a yuppie with two degrees and a white-collar job? I never really knew much more than the "West Side Story" like chapter of my parents' lives, pre-me, in New York. My yoga practice has helped me focus on opportunities instead of obstacles. When my aunt in Orlando offered to let me tag along with her on the trip (with a month's notice), I decided I was ready - or as ready as I ever would be. A few years ago, I would have said, "This isn't the right time" or "I need to work on my Spanish," or used some other stalling tactic. I had some doubt, but I booked my plane ticket anyway. Translated from Sanskrit, yoga means "to yoke," or join together the disparate parts of ourselves: mind, body, breath. But it's also about yoking yourself as the witness of your life with the part of your brain that screams with the kind of emotions that can skew perspective. Yoga can compel us to push ourselves beyond our own self-imposed limitations of labels and just exist in the present moment. I have struggled for a while with how all of the puzzle pieces of my life fit together to make me. I had done some of the intellectual search during my college days in Columbia, Mo.: I read "When I Was Puerto Rican" by Esmeralda Santiago and "Down These Mean Streets" by Piri Thomas. I learned about the U.S. government's sterilization program inspired by eugenics research and the CIA's clandestine operation to squash the nationalist movement in the 1960s. I commiserated with the 364 other Hispanics at my school of 22,000. This trip started as a continuation of that intellectual journey: I researched some of my family tree (thank you, census!) and had a plan to get records of my ancestors. But my vacation quickly evolved into a spiritual pilgrimage because I never really knew what my heritage - and my family - meant to me until this trip. All the stuff I read quickly faded into the background as I was surrounded by warm and loving relatives who opened my eyes to the land that I am connected to, let me stay in their homes and eagerly embraced this Missourican. They showed me that although knowing the history and politics was important, perhaps it wasn't as essential as the conversation that comes with a face-to-face cafecito and bizcocho. "You don't really know where you're going until you know where you've been," the old adage goes. Sometimes you search and search for something that seems so mystical and vague, and it ends up being as simple as listening to family stories and eating homegrown papaya. Taking your yoga practice off the mat, I learned, means enjoying the moment and learning how to accept all of the pieces in the puzzle of you, even if you still don't know exactly what the picture looks like.

Daniela Velazquez is a breaking news producer at TBO.com. Her column appears every other Saturday in 4you. She can be reached at [email protected] Become a fan of Stretching Forward on Facebook, or catch up on past columns at TBO.com, Keyword: Yoga.

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