Radical reform: Why I quit my teaching job in the U.S.

krista-with-monkey-copy

Over the course of my adventurous and unconventional life of self-imposed nonconformity, I’ve been able to discipline myself rather well, at least in terms of my diet and exercise routines. I suppose it’s something I learned from my industrious, multi-talented father, who completed every project he ever started and got up before sunrise every day without an alarm, like clockwork, to read the newspaper and start his workday as a geeky computer engineer.

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I was born into the privilege of hearty New England stock and raised in an upper middle-class Boston suburb where I was given an excellent education, graduating as valedictorian of my high school class and again four years later as valedictorian of my college class. For my krista-and-shawn-copyvaledictory speech, I braided my hair in corn rows, dressed in a traditional African style gown and quoted the transcendentalists, urging my classmates to live a life of nonconformity. Both my parents and my grandmother taught me to not only refine my intellect, but to also be conscientious of my diet and to take good care of my physical body.

My grandmother collected innumerable glossy magazines with color images of slim women eating salads and promoting the latest diet trend. She kept scrupulous recipes of everything she cooked in a categorized file system with notes about nutrition content and caloric intake. Grandma frequently baked oatmeal cookies and bran muffins and brought them to our house when she visited. She’d point out the merits of her specialty baked goods: “I didn’t use much sugar. Too much sugar’s not healthy for you, you know.”

Years later, when she was too old to live by herself, she would move into my parents’ house in Florida and keep up her healthy diet routine. When I visited for what I suspected would be the last time, she said, holding her salad bowl and munching, “See, Jen, I still eat my salad every day.”

“That’s good, Grandma,” I humored her.

She said, “When I went to see the doctor, he told me I must be doing something right. To keep doing whatever I’m doing.” She chuckled.

krista-nmsu-student-copyAs an educator, I assumed that teaching my students about how to keep their bodies healthy with a thoughtful diet should be an integral part of their education. Luckily, as an educator in a private school, I was granted enough freedom by a relatively progressive administration to start a small organic garden in large plastic tubs I obtained from a farmer friend who donated the materials to help me get started.

In the classroom I would share a little something from my own snack bag, like raisins or trail mix or fresh fruit. Apparently I had this freedom before the time when kids were stricken with rampant nut allergies. I attempted to make a positive influence on my students’ lives in the same way my parents and grandmother had on mine. Sharing healthy food and commenting about healthy diets.

In the U.S., I had established over ten years of a successful career in special education as a consultant in public and private schools; in addition to earning certification and practicing professionally as a Licensed Massage Therapist and yoga teacher. I earned a Master of Arts in Education and gained a wide range of experience working with children and adults who were diagnosed with developmental and learning disabilities. I enjoyed working in the field of education, but I felt deep dissatisfaction with what I deemed to be a restrictive, top-down model that limited my creativity and freedom to design my own curriculum.

I became disillusioned with the public school system in the U.S. and envisioned an innovative approach that involved outdoor, experiential education on an organic farm. I published two books that instantly became bestsellers in “Experimental Methods in Education”—a good sign that I have the support of people I’ve never met but, nonetheless, they must share my radical ideas about education.

Absenteeism due to sickness—a cold, sore throat, flu, stomach issues—was all-too-common over the course of my years as a schoolteacher. It seemed to worsen as the years went by. I noticed the same ill fate of my colleagues, who seemed to suffer from carrying too much weight, lethargy, fatigue and general malaise. It appeared to me that physical sickness and the concomitant complaints about said sickness were part of the everyday fabric of the school day, an obvious problem that was rarely addressed in ways that would make a significant difference.

When I proposed to the director that we start every day with physical fitness that included exercises, breathing and maybe a few minutes of silent meditation, I was given a cordial smile, told thank you, yes, but we already have PE, and besides there are more important things to talk about at the beginning of the school day. Morning meeting consisted of boring talks where the kids sat in a huge group, fidgeting and listening reluctantly to two men, the director and assistant principal, set the tone for the day by reinforcing the rules and generally reminding everyone who was in charge. And, oh, by the way, your tiny physical body in need of movement can wait till after lunch to move around in any satisfactory way. Until then, stay still and listen to the boring lecture.

If I had been in charge of the school, things would have been a lot different. A lot of things. But the differences I wanted to see were forced into under-valued, under-paid, after-school offerings to a small percentage of the student body who were corralled into taking my yoga classes because they didn’t want to play other competitive sports. I would have preferred to make yoga a daily part of the school day for both my students and my colleagues.

Years later, teaching full-time as a special educator at a similar private school in California, I would propose similar ideas to an even more progressive administration. But still, there were more important, pressing matters, like stuffing mostly useless information into the kids’ heads.

Never mind the scientific literature indicating that kids’ brains and circadian rhythms are wired in a such a way where academic, rote learning doesn’t come naturally to them until well after mid-morning. The healthiest, most natural thing for young bodies to be doing is what agrarian families in a homesteading situation would do at the start of the day: take care of the animals, work in the fields, shovel dirt and poop, haul heavy things, get dirty…. Yet, in our schools—places where we are supposed to be teaching people basic skills—we seemed to be ignoring the things that mattered most and forcing our kids to be dutiful, unthinking automatons following arbitrary rules that they would prefer not to follow, if my observations were at all accurate. It seemed like the kids were always breaking the rules, anyway. So, why were the adults so determined to enforce rules instead of giving the kids an opportunity to discipline themselves?

In my opinion, self-discipline can only be taught by example. It can’t be forced on anyone. People need to discipline themselves of their own accord. It’s not my job to dumb anyone down with rules and useless information that they will soon forget as soon as the exam is over. But it is my job to take care of myself and be the best person I can be, which might have some kind of positive influence on the people around me.

Parama w students

Although my ideas for radical reform of the education system failed to take root in the country of my birth, I haven’t given up on my ideas, yet. I doubt I ever will.

Parama w guitarists at ComitanI quit my last teaching job at a public school in the U.S. over five years ago, gave up the comforts and conveniences of my privileged lifestyle, and took my innovative ideas with me south of the border to the tiny country of Belize, where I purchased an acre of fertile land and started building an off-grid homestead in the company of like-minded neighbors.

I published a series of books in 2014 that have been on Amazon’s bestseller list in “Experimental Methods in Education” since their publication date, indicating to me that people seem to support my ideas for radical reform of methods in education. You can check out my books here, and if you would like to visit me in Belize and participate in an interactive workshop where we explore these ideas, you can find out more and register for our next workshop here.

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eBook series now available:

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Join me for yoga classes, therapeutic massage, and wellness retreats:

Cotton Tree Lodge in southern Belize

 

Guided meditation for the new year

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img_4233In this morning’s yoga class, I led my students in a guided meditation for the new year.

Studies show that a regular practice of quiet meditation provides many benefits. Check out this article with some fun infographics about what will happen to your body and mind if you start meditating today…. Try it and see for yourself!

Join me daily at 7:00 AM at beautiful Cotton Tree Lodge in southern Belize for an hour-long class — before your jungle adventure begins!

At the end of every yoga class I teach, I invite my students to join me in a guided (or sometimes silent) meditation to bring closure to our practice, to integrate the benefits of the active poses, and to end with internal reflection.

meditation-om-2Meditation is ideally practiced in a seated posture that allows the chest to be open and the spine long. As a certified yoga teacher for the past twenty years, I include seated meditation in all of my classes, because according to the ancient yoga classics, it is one of the eight “limbs” of the complete yoga system, which is comprised of eight branches.

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Sit with your spine tall and straight in your preferred meditation posture:

  • Easy cross-legged pose (Sukhasana)
  • Half lotus pose (Ardha Padmasana)
  • Full lotus (Padmasana)

Lengthen your breath. Try to breathe deep into your belly and exhale fully. Do this a few times.

Focus your mind on the sensation of your breathing. Notice the inhale and exhale, the sensation of the air as it passes through your nostrils, the expansion in your chest and belly as your diaphragm moves. Let yourself be fascinated with the mechanics of your breathing.

Reflect on the past year. Let your mind review 2016 in a movie-like sequence. Maybe images will appear in your mind’s eye. Maybe feelings. Sensations. Whatever arises, let it come up as you think about the past year.

Notice what is there.

Now imagine that you can gather all of these experiences–the people, the places–into a bundle. Imagine wrapping it all up in a golden-colored wrapping paper and surrounding the bundle in pure, white light. Really see it glowing in bright light.

Now imagine that you can physically place the bundle in a special place. Make it a specific place, whether real or imagined, where you know it will be safe, valued, protected. See it there.

In your mind’s eye see a passageway–it could be some kind of doorway or an opening–and see it opening for you. You can walk through the passageway into the new year.

Walk through and notice what is on the other side, in the new year 2017. You might see images, or feel sensations, emotions, peoples’ faces, maybe specific places. Whatever you perceive, just let it be there for you.

Now send a radiant beam of white light straight from your heart into the new year 2017. Imagine that this light is surrounding and blessing the people and places you will experience. Keep sending this light into the new year.

Take a few deep breaths. Feel your body from head to toe. When you are ready, open your eyes.

How do you feel?

Parama K. Williams is a published author with a Master of Arts in Education and fifteen years of international experience as a U.S. Licensed, Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. Join her on the upcoming wellness retreat in tropical Belize!

 

Meditation in Lotus Pose for health and wellness

img_4231I value meditation on a daily basis as a form of contemplative practice to start and end my day. At 4:00 AM I sit in Lotus Pose (Sanskritपद्मासन, or Padmasana) and meditate for at least a half hour, then I fall back asleep until just before sunrise, when I get up to practice a vigorous, dynamic sequence of yoga postures (asanas).

At night, just before falling asleep, I again take Padmasana and meditate until I feel too sleepy to continue, then I lay back and drift off into a typically deep, refreshing sleep for the entire night. For about the past five years, this has been my preferred routine for personal health and wellness.

Padmasana is a cross-legged pose originating in meditative practices of ancient India, in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs. It is an established asana, commonly used for meditation. The asana is said to resemble a lotus, to encourage breathing proper to associated meditative practice, and to foster physical stability.

img_4064Traditional texts say that Padmasana destroys all disease and awakens kundalini, the vital energy at the base of the spine.

Benefits of Padmasana:

  • Calms the brain
  • Stimulates the pelvis, spine, abdomen, and bladder
  • Stretches the ankles and knees
  • Eases menstrual discomfort and sciatica
  • Consistent practice of this pose throughout pregnancy is said to help ease childbirth

Important note about Padmasana:

Padmasana pose is the ideal sitting asana for meditation, but it’s not for everybody. Experienced students can use it as a seat for their daily pranayama or meditation, but beginners may need to use other suitable positions. In the beginning, only hold the pose for a few seconds and quickly release. Gradually add a few seconds each week to your pose until you can sit comfortably for a minute or so. Ideally you should work with a teacher to monitor your progress.

Parama K. Williams is a published author with a Master of Arts in Education and fifteen years of international experience as a U.S. Licensed, Certified Massage Therapist and Yoga Teacher. Five years ago, she left her career in the U.S. to purchase land in Belize, Central America, where she currently lives in an off grid, thatch roof hut. She offers yoga classes, therapeutic massage and retreats internationally. Check out her latest published books here.

Moringa gets a spa treatment in Belize

Moringa goddess

This week I have enjoyed playing on the beach in Belize with my friend, the Goddess of superfood, the inspiration for this blog series, the miracle tree … Behold her natural beauty, ladies and gentlemen … Moringa.

Moringa gave birth to twin baby coconuts and just one day later went out dancing all night…. Moringa is such a high-vibe, earthy goddess: She’s naturally high in nutrients and minerals, so she always has plenty of energy for everything that’s good in life.

Today, Moringa wanted to do something special just for herself, because… Well, because she’s superhuman…. So, she deserves something extra special.

Moringa oleifera is a fairly large tree that is originally native to North India, although today it is grown and harvested in tropical regions all over the world, including my home, sweet home, Belize! I recently planted Moringa in my own backyard, so in a year or so, I will be able to harvest my very own Moringa!

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This miracle plant goes by a variety of names, such as drumstick tree, horseradish tree, or ben oil tree. Almost all parts of the Moringa oleifera tree are edible. Moringa leaves are rich in many important nutrients, including protein, vitamin B6, vitamin C, riboflavin and iron.

Being a U.S.-Certified/Licensed Massage Therapist, I had the privilege of offering my friend Moringa a luxurious spa treatment. I provided her with a full body wrap and facial proudly handmade with all-natural, locally sourced, cacao powder and honey — sustainably harvested by my friends Abelina and Juan on their very own cacao tree farm in southern Belize!

Here is what Moringa looked like with her organic cacao powder body wrap treatment:

1 bowl of moringa cacao

Ingredients:

  1. a handful of fresh moringa leaves
  2. organic cacao powder
  3. organic honey
  4. coconut oil

That’s it… Yes, really. That’s it. (Life really can be this simple.)

It’s worth noting, dear reader (Hey, thanks for reading!) that cacao is qualitatively different from cocoa:

Raw cacao powder is made by cold-pressing unroasted cacao beans.

cacao beans

The process keeps the living enzymes and removes the fat (cacao butter). Here is a bag of organic cacao powder from my favorite Belizean suppliers, Ixcacao in San Felipe village, southern Belize. (Thank you, Abelina and Juan, for satisfying my superfood addiction with your awesome, organic cacao powder!)

cacao powder

Cocoa powder looks the same as cacao powder, but it’s not made of the same stuff. Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted at high temperatures, thereby denaturing the living enzymes (Ewww, you mean it’s not a raw superfood?! Hmphh.)

I consumed the entire bowlful of this sinfully delicious raw super food with sheer abandon:

2 spoonful of moringa mud bath3 after getting spoonful

… I licked the bowl clean (oooh, mmmm!)….

6 licking the bowl

… Finally, I licked my fingers….

4 finger licking

5 finger licking thinking

In case you’re wondering why I would be so amenable to voracious consumption of cacao powder, click here to learn the benefits of eating raw cacao. Basically, it’s good for you, especially when Moringa is playing along!

After eating Moringa and her cacao honey body wrap, I got an idea:

7 thinking about cacao

I’ll treat myself to a full body wrap!

cacao body wrap

Great idea! So… I gathered my materials (cacao powder, honey, and coconut oil) and mixed them together (It’s easy: You can do it yourself at home!)

cacao facial getting ready

Trust me, I’ve done this before, folks…. Here are two of my clients blissfully relaxed during a luxurious cacao powder facial treatment at our Spa and Wellness Center at Cotton Tree Lodge, a jungle lodge and adventure getaway in southern Belize:

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When applied topically, cacao offers amazing skin benefits. Enriched with minerals and vitamins like Vitamin C, magnesium and omega 6 fatty acids; cacao promotes blood flow, provides hydration to the skin, and increases cellular healing to result in younger looking skin and a youthful glow (Come on, every girl out there wants all this):

  • Cacao is high in antioxidants. It blocks harmful free radicals in the body. It also protects the body against premature diseases and premature aging;
  • Cacao has good amount of vitamin C and magnesium, which helps in protecting the skin and keeping it healthy;
  • Cacao contains omega 6 fatty acids, which helps in cellular healing. It also heals wounds and scars quickly;
  • Cacao has a raw enzyme which helps in repairing the cell and its rejuvenation; and
  • With super absorbent properties, cacao protects the skin from harmful UV rays and acts as a natural sunscreen.

My client, glowing and radiant after her spa treatment, said this about her cacao honey facial:

“With traveling [from Michigan] and the change in climate [to tropical Belize], my face broke out all over my cheeks and felt very irritating. Parama gave me a cleansing facial that was made of organic cacao, honey, coconut oil, and copal essential oils. She gently massaged my face, applied the all-natural face mask, and then gave me a full-body Swedish massage while the face mask nourished and soothed my skin. After the session, my face felt so much better: It glowed and felt soft and smooth. My skin was completely cleared up by the next day.”

Well, there you have it, my Belize-bound, beach-going beauties!

If you feel so inspired, here are some videos to help you get started with your own edible cacao honey facial … (But … be forewarned: You will smell like chocolate cake, so if you have a dog or a boyfriend or a husband, they will want to eat you!)… Enjoy!

Yoga for everybody

Parama with two German woofers copy
I love yoga
It’s good for you!
Have you tried yoga?
It’s fun, too!
 
You can do yoga
anywhere
You can do yoga
in a chair 
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You can do yoga
on a dock
dock yoga copy
 
You can do yoga
on a rock
natarajasana copy
 
Have you tried yoga
in a cave?
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(Can you find me?)
You must be brave!
 
You can do yoga
upside down
reverse table copy
Find a good teacher
There’s one in your town
 
It’s fun to do yoga
in a tree
Parama in handstand in cotton tree copy
especially a big one
Look Mom, it’s me!
 
Come, do yoga
in beautiful Belize
Belize
My love, my home
with a tropical breeze
 
One time I did yoga
in the street
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I made a lot of new friends
It’s a great place to meet
 
Who can do yoga?
Everyone, I say!
 
old people…
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white people…
Ilan (NY) w Parama in tree pose copy
brown people…
Om tattoo hermanos copy
tall people…
Parama with tall female yoga student copy
 
Yoga is for everybody
yoga group
especially for you
Parama smiling Buddha copy
If my dog can do yoga,
petting Peanut in doga copy
you can, too!

 

Moringa goes dancing with a cantaloupe

You heard the news? Moringa gave birth to twin baby coconuts!

Mommy and babies are doing fine; in fact, they’re thriving, because…. Well, because we’re talking about Moringa, the superfood goddess of the century!… She’s a miracle tree…. and she’s one hot Momma!

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Moringa always has plenty of energy, and she loves to have a good time! She’s ready for a night on the town with her girlfriends… So, call the babysitter, … or better yet, have Daddy Banana stay home and entertain the little ones for the night!

Moringa called up her best friend Candy (a cantaloupe) and invited her to go out dancing.

In case you didn’t know, cantaloupe is a mystifying fruit. (It’s no wonder she is also a goddess.) Cantaloupe contains a wide variety of antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients and has a sweet, rich flavor. As a woman, the cantaloupe is very… complicated, yet alluring.

Candy: Well, I just don’t know what to wear—

Moringa: I’ll lend you … something green.

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Candy: No–wait…. Green’s just … not my color. Pinks and reds really complement my skin tone.

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Moringa: Okay,… whatever. Hey, can you bring some of that cantaloupe musk?

Candy: Yeah… Can we go dancing on the beach?

Moringa: On the beach? …. Sure, I guess….

Candy: Well, it’s a full moon, you know.

(Goddesses, especially fruity goddesses, like to dance on the beach under a full moon).

First, Moringa and Candy went skinny-dipping in the warm Caribbean Sea.

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Then, they tried on some different outfits (Girls just love dressing up for each other).

“I’m tired of this musk,” Candy the Cantaloupe said, “I want to try something new.”

“How about … something sweet and zestful?” Moringa suggested.

So … the two goddesses mixed together apple cider vinegar (for zest), coconut oil (for smoothness), and organic, locally sourced honey (for sweetness) — a personally customized dressing.

I poured myself a generous helping of smooth, zesty sweetness….

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Meanwhile, Moringa and Candy danced euphorically on the beach. They had plenty of energy, especially considering the health-enhancing qualities of apple cider vinegar.

I felt like this after eating my Zestful Summer’s Moringa Cantaloupe Salad….

Parama w clay body wrap 2

If you would like to dance ecstatically for hours, you might consider adding cantaloupe to your diet. Watch this video and learn about the many surprising health benefits of cantaloupe.

 

Moringa gives birth to twin coconuts in Belize

If you are a reader of my blog, you may recall the big news from last week: Moringa got married to a Banana!

They celebrated their wedding party on the tropical beach in Belize, then they consummated the marriage during their unforgettable honeymoon getaway (Moringa was certain to bring along locally sourced, organic honey for the special event – and to spice things up a bit, some cinnamon, too).

Well, folks, we have more exciting news for this week….

Mr. and Mrs. Moringa-Banana are pregnant with twins – baby coconuts!

coconut tree

(awwww, that’s soooo cute!)

We never expected it to happen this soon, … but, well, … that’s life!

Moringa, being the extremely sensitive goddess that she is, cannot help but keep scrupulous records of every event that has transpired since conception.

First, she heard the babies calling to her from the realm of spirit:

“Mom! We’re up here! … We come from a tree!”

Moringa went outside (she lives in the tropics), looked up at the nearest tree, and saw…

baby coconuts

Baby coconuts!

Coconuts are not actually nuts; they are the fruit of a tall palm Cocos nucifera with large, spreading fronds.

“Oh, my sweet, little darlings!” she cried out, “How can I get you down from there?”

“Ask Junior!” they replied.

Baby coconuts are very smart, because they are high in saturated fats and therefore nourishing to the entire body, including the brain!

Coconuts are excellent for your health, because they are loaded with many health-enhancing vitamins and minerals. For example, coconuts are loaded with potassium. There are 600 milligrams of potassium in a serving of coconut water, which is 17 percent of the recommended daily amount and more than what’s found in a medium-sized banana.

See, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree in this family! (Daddy is a banana, after all).

Junior, her tall, strapping, native Belizean neighbor, came right over to help Moringa. He was the man who had planted the seed for the moringa tree that now grows in his front yard here in Belize.

moringa tree

Junior got busy right away knocking down the most robust, healthiest-looking baby coconuts for the expectant Momma Moringa. (Daddy Banana was in his office, but since his office is at home, he could look out the window and smile and wave at his wife down below).

Junior pokes coconut

Since we are dealing with a goddess, the gestation period is quick and birth is relatively effortless, though there are still some logistics involved. Moringa appointed Junior to be her assistant for the birthing process of the baby coconut twins.

Junior walking w coconuts

The tops of fresh tender coconuts are usually cut open with a sharp machete to access the goodness inside, which includes both the water and the jelly-like meat.

Junior hacked the tops of the baby coconuts’ heads with a machete (Hey, let’s face it: childbirth isn’t all that pretty!) … Grrr, that’s hard work!

Junior chops coconut

Amniotic fluids (coconut water) spurted out, and their umbilical cords were cut, too. Momma Moringa was hanging in there like a champ!

As a dear friend of the Moringa goddess, I was present for the birth and had the privilege of drinking the fresh coconut water straight from the baby coconuts.

Holding the baby in one hand (the perfect size!), I looked longingly out to sea and made a wish. Sammie the dog joined me.

1 looking out to sea

I took the first sip.

2 first sip

I kept on drinking….

4 really good

I drank to the last drop.

5 coconut beach bliss

I was then in an altered state of consciousness where dreams were my only reality.

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I had a dream about Moringa and her baby coconuts, and when I woke up, I saw this:

coconut moringa in a bowl

It looked so good, so… I ate it! (Goddess forgive me!)

In case you didn’t know, another health-enhancing product can be derived from this amazing fruit: coconut oil. Watch to find out more!