Love is all that matters: Why I offer therapeutic massage and yoga

Originally from the U.S., I left my successful teaching career five years ago to purchase an acre of fertile land and build an off-grid homestead in a rural area of southern Belize, Central America, where I currently live and work. As a published author, I am an active blogger: I regularly reflect and write about my experiences, particularly focusing on themes related to international travel, sustainable tourism, living off-grid, homesteading, health, wellness and spirituality. You can read more about my personal story here.

About my educational background: I hold a Master of Arts in Education with a minor in Counseling Psychology from New Mexico State University. I also hold a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Spanish and Multidisciplinary Studies and a minor in Health Care Administration from Stonehill College in Massachusetts. I am fluent in English and Spanish and have taught adults and children of all ages in a variety of settings in five countries for the past 20 years.

As my friend Guy has expressed in his recent blog post, there appears to be some interest in exploring the emotional aspect of how we as a collective humanity can support one another to process the at-once devastating, sobering and drastic life-changing predicament from which none of us can be exempt. In the end, what at else is left to celebrate, enjoy and live fully, but love? Love for each other … love for the dying planet … love for the species with whom we’ve shared this earth … love for ourselves.

For those of us who may be receiving this message for the first time or find ourselves in the early stages of coming to terms with our inevitable death, we must necessarily undergo a deep inner process of discovery, where we may experience a cascade of emotional reactions, ranging from shock to denial to fear to depression to what some may call “spiritual enlightenment,” which, as Adyashanti says, “Enlightenment is the crumbling away of untruth…. It’s the complete eradication of everything we imagined to be true”…. Through this process, we learn to be more honest, more real, and to live more fully today; because we understand, realize and accept that there may not be many more tomorrows left. The message of near-term human extinction can serve as an urgent wake-up call to embrace each moment, to live fully in the now and to awaken to our deepest yearnings, to inspire us to be the most excellent person we can possibly be.

For the past 10 years, in both my group workshops and my private therapeutic sessions, I endeavor to provide a safe, nurturing space in which my clients can open up to “feeling” their emotions on a psychosomatic level; where physical movement, therapeutic massage, breathing and music can become pathways to accessing our emotions, recognizing how we feel in response to the information, which then can open up a door to acceptance and, through mutual support, taking meaningful action in a way that is authentic for each one of us. And taking action will be different for each individual.

As a highly skilled therapist trained in a variety of modalities, I am honored to help individuals explore their unique “life mission” using a variety of tools and techniques to access the inner self, courageously exploring the important questions that we may have found many reasons to avoid or deflect, like “What do I love to do?… Who am I?… Why am I alive?… How can I live my life fully and passionately?”

As a dynamic educator and experienced workshop facilitator, I am a U.S.-Licensed/Certified Massage Therapist (License #MT-15237 from the state of Arizona, expiration November 2017) and Certified Yoga Teacher specializing in Thai Yoga Massage. I have completed over 1,000 hours of formal training in a variety of therapeutic modalities, including Swedish Massage, Deep Tissue, Sports Massage, Reflexology, Craniosacral Therapy, Pre- and Postnatal Massage, Hot Stone Massage, and Chair Massage.

For the past five years, I have lived and worked in Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala, where I have taught hundreds of classes and facilitated a variety of workshops on health and wellness; including yoga, live music, guided meditation, and therapeutic massage. Currently, I am the Manager of the Wellness Center and Spa at Cotton Tree Lodge, an ecolodge nestled deep in the tropical jungle of southern Belize, where I offer my services as a Certified Massage Therapist and daily yoga classes beside a pristine, emerald green river.

When I’m not busy working with clients at the ecolodge, I am cultivating a garden and building my thatch roof hut on an off-grid homestead located on the outskirts of the nearest town. As a single woman at forty years of age, I am blessed to be in robust health while I have made a conscious, deliberate choice to maintain this unconventional lifestyle of living as simply and frugally as possible in a third world country, where I can enjoy the privilege of owning my own land and growing my own food. As a full-time special education teacher in private and public schools for over a decade in the U.S., I could only dream of living with such freedom and simplicity.

As a published author, I have written over a dozen books (available here on Amazon). Two of these bestselling books describe “The Star Method” — a technique of therapeutic touch that I developed after publishing an article about stress management for educators in a peer-reviewed journal for my Master’s degree thesis. These books have been on the bestseller list in “Experimental Methods in Education” since their publication in 2015. The other books I’ve published include two poetry collections as well as a series of books featuring a unique form of personal coaching that I have offered to hundreds of clients to help them discover their life’s mission, passion and goals.

I have a contact list numbering over a thousand, including clients who have taken my yoga classes, workshops, and/or received my therapeutic services. I am dedicated to providing the highest quality service to my clients, as can be seen from the “Testimonials” page on my blog.

I’d like to include an excerpt from my most recent workshop in Belize, featuring live drumming to accompany yoga and dancing, where our motto is “Unwind, unplug and connect inward”:

In a capitalistic system that emphasizes productivity over personal integrity and authenticity, we can easily forget to value ourselves for just being alive — for simply breathing. We tend to focus instead on externally motivated goals that may not align with our true heart’s desires and dreams.

Together we will nurture, support and encourage each other to ask questions, reflect and “feel” what it is like to “just be”….

In this workshop, explore what you really want in your life, for you… What is true for you at this time in your life? What makes your heart burst with passion and excitement? What are the fears and limitations that hold you back from taking a leap into the unknown — into something new and exciting in your life?

Unwind, unplug and connect inward.

Now is the time to live fully and love passionately. I believe that as we collectively experience the drastic changes now upon us, we can all feel it and know it deep inside: Love is all that matters.

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 an acre of fertile 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 my latest published books here.

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Discovering a nest of baby mice in my yoga mat

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When you visit southern Belize for vacation, or in my case, when you come here to live and thrive, you join the lives of jungle animals and plants in this lush, vibrant habitat — where biodiversity can be seen, felt and heard every day by anyone lucky enough to come in contact with it. Close encounters with species that make this jungle paradise their home are common experiences for guests and residents of the Toledo district of southern Belize.

Five years ago I left my career in the U.S. to move to Central America and purchase an acre of land in tropical Belize (a tiny country just south of Mexico with coastline along the Caribbean Sea), where I’ve launched myself into the adventure of a lifetime building my own off grid home with the company and help of my neighbors and friends, many of whom are also ex-pats like me who share the common dream of living unconventionally and sustainably in a place where we can grow our own food year-round amidst fertile soils and a pleasant, laid back culture of beautifully diverse animals, including the people.

house-from-inside-copyWhether it’s a blue morpho butterfly fluttering from tree to tree, a turtle slowly making its way across your path, or a fuzzy tarantula lumbering across the walkway, I am thrilled and fascinated every day to see and interact with teeming jungle life. I think the local Mayan villagers, who are my friends and neighbors, agree that Belize is unique for its pristine, intact natural resources.

We lucky residents of Belize are accustomed to finding enormous spiders, rodents of unusual size and frighteningly large insects taking up residence in our thatch roof homes made of wood from trees harvested locally and sustainably. Forget about hermetically sealing your home in layers of toxic paint, sheetrock and wallpaper: Here in the tropics, the houses are made of natural materials that can breathe, which means here we let the air in and by default, the animals and insects often find their way inside and share space with us. I can personally attest to this common, everyday occurrence, as I am currently in the process of building a 16 X 16 foot thatch roof hut in the middle of second-growth rainforest on the edge of a mangrove creek.

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Yesterday morning I awoke to find a gargantuan spider inches from my face. The day before, I absentmindedly pulled on my leather cowgirl boots without first shaking them out, only to discover that a spider of similarly gigantic proportions had found a comfortable haven in the dark coolness of my boot, and luckily I spared her life by feeling her wriggling against my foot, swiftly removing the boot and sending her on her hopefully merry way.

Back to the spider in my bed… Since I’ve lived here for five years now, I was unfazed. (I’ve had stranger bedfellows, namely a scorpion inches from my nose)…. I greeted my eight-legged arachnid brethren with a hearty “Good morning!” and calmly proceeded to corral him into a jar, which I then sealed and carried outside, where I promptly freed this exquisite creature to continue living. Why should I kill a spider? He eats insects that could bite me. I am thankful for the intricate web of life that naturally stays in perfect balance (well… if it weren’t for the cumulative detrimental impact of humans on the natural world, but that’s another story)….

Parama hugging tree at Palenque copyAs the Manager of the Spa and Wellness Center at Cotton Tree Lodge, an eco-lodge located deep in the jungle of southern Belize, I offer therapeutic massage and unique spa services in a thatch roof spa overlooking an emerald green river as well as daily morning sunrise yoga in a charming riverside gazebo decorated with the large carved wooden faces of the Mayan ancestors, in honor of Belize’s history as an empire of the Maya heartland. While you’re visiting, you can visit the nearby Mayan temples and ruins, which I highly recommend: Here in Belize, there’s little regulation or restriction on how close you can get to the actual stones and sacred sites. Here, you can immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of the land, the people, and the thousands of other species that share a home in the rainforest.

img_0907At 6:00 AM this morning, a pleasantly warm and refreshing breeze beckoned me to my yoga mat, and just as I entered my riverside yoga studio, I heard intermittent squeaking noises emerging from … somewhere. I searched the room and discovered that the sound was coming from a wicker basket that holds my yoga mats. When I opened the cover of the basket, out popped a rather large and frightened gray mouse with round, black beady eyes and a look of terror. She leapt out from the basket, pounced to the floor and ran away faster than my eye could see, disappearing from sight.

img_0906I can imagine how reluctant Momma Mouse was at that moment to have abandoned her brood in order to save her own life: I peered into the basket to discover the family she’d left behind. There were three newborn baby mice nestled in a mound of shredded material–some of which consisted of yoga mat bits–at the bottom of the basket. Upon closer inspection, I surmised that Momma Mouse must have spent hours diligently nibbling away at not only my yoga mats, but also the basket itself, to construct a plush and comfortable nest for her babies.

I could have let myself fall into a state of upset at the inconvenient loss of a precious yoga mat, not to mention the urgent clean-up job left to my hands, but that would not have been very yogic-like, nor could I blame Momma Mouse. I would have done the same thing if given the opportunity. I had been out of town and away from my yoga studio for four days, giving her a perfect chance to find an ideal birthing place and nest for her new family in a quiet, undisturbed place. What momma wouldn’t want that?

In anticipation of the imminent arrival of humans wanting to take my yoga class, I quickly set to work on the important task of removing the tiny bodies of three terrified baby mice from my yoga mat basket, all the while wondering where Momma Mouse had run off to, and if she would ever return to retrieve her now very vulnerable babies. I thought about the plethora of predatory snakes and vultures surrounding us, eager to find such tasty morsels for breakfast. I contemplated whether it would be compassionate (and therefore yogic-like) for me to kill them with a fatal blow beneath a heavy object, but I instantly opted to spare their lives, assuming that their mother would run back to them and carry them off to another safe nest as soon as possible. It was my hope and morning yoga intention, anyway, to give three baby rodents a chance to live.

img_0905So, I carried the yoga mat basket outside the yoga studio, tilted it on its side, and carefully reached in to extract the three squealing creatures one by one between my fingers. Their hearts were beating rapidly, their eyes still unopened, a thin layer of gray fuzz just forming over their bodies. I put the nest their mother had made for them on the ground beneath the nearest walkway (out of the sight of hungry birds) and tenderly deposited each one of them in hopes that Momma Mouse would run to their rescue as soon as I was out of the way.

My heart sank when I realized at that moment that there may have been a better way for me to have extracted the babies: Maybe I should not have handled them in my bare fingers. I remembered the time my father found a nest of baby robins that had fallen from our oak tree in a quaint New England suburb, where I was born and raised. He had donned gloves and attempted to return the nest to the tallest branch, informing me that if he touched the nest with his bare hands, the mother bird would reject her babies because of the human scent left behind.

img_0913I wondered if the baby mice would be abandoned by Momma Mouse for the same reason and berated myself for impulsively lifting their tender, fuzzy bodies in my fingers. I could have used a tool or a large leaf … but maybe it wouldn’t have made any difference. The jungle can be harsh, life isn’t fair, and babies don’t always get to grow up to become adults. Many obstacles can be found along the way. Most of them fatal.

Being a yoga teacher, I found myself softly chanting a mantra, not only to soothe the baby mice, but to honor and appreciate the precious gift of life, its vulnerability, the opportunity I have to be alive, here, right now…. I breathed deeply and listened to the baby mice squealing, imploring their mother to come for them….

I did my hour-long yoga practice, occasionally stepping outside to see if the babies had been rescued. They squealed softly the entire time, their desperate cries an ambient background noise for my morning yoga and meditation routine, which took on a new dimension in the context of this life-or-death situation: I was steadily reminded that everything is temporary, including my body and my life upon this Earth… that I can be deeply thankful for being alive in this moment, to be breathing, because it can all be taken away at any instant.

img_0910Deep breaths. Deep belly breaths….

As usual, I ended my yoga routine with several minutes of seated, silent meditation. When I opened my eyes, I looked down and noticed a tiny lady-bug-like insect with a polka-dotted exoskeleton sitting at my feet, as if waiting to speak with me.

I spontaneously composed a poem:

 

I was born into this world tender and vulnerable

Every day of my life, yearning for the same things:

to eat, to be clothed, to be soothed, to belong

to be well fed and taken care of

to know someone is there to hold me and keep me safe

to make a soft nest and be close to the warm body of another;

To love.

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***

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 an acre of fertile 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.

Join Parama on the next wellness retreat (March 11th, 2017) on a white sand beach overlooking the Caribbean Sea in tropical Belize!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guided meditation for the new year

funny-dog-meditation

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!

 

How yoga works: the relationship between prana, your thoughts, and your chakras

chakras labelledWhat is the real purpose of yoga?

Whether you are a beginning or advanced student of yoga, it is important to understand how yoga works, why it works, and how to maintain an effective yoga practice. There is a relationship between the inner, subtle energy of the body (prana), the quality of your thoughts, and whether your energy centers (chakras) are blocked or open.

I would like to thank my teacher, Geshe Michael Roach, for sharing the teachings presented in this article, which has been adapted from his lecture, “Principles of Yoga: How Yoga Works” given in Tucson, Arizona in 2004.

To fully understand the purpose of yoga, we have to understand how yoga works. First, let’s explore how prana flows through our inner bodies. We have 3 main channels of energy in our bodies: (1) the central channel (sushumna nadi), (2) the left side channel (ida nadi), and (3) the right side channel (pingala nadi). According to the ancient Vedic text, Hatha Yoga Pradipika, there are 72,000 channels in the body, but these three are the major channels. Inside the central channel flows a subtle physical energy called prana, or inner wind. Your thoughts are riding on this energy called prana.

Your central channel (sushumna) starts between the eyes, goes right under the skull and down your back, inside the spine. The spinal cord has formed around your central channel, the ancient texts say, like ice forming around a twig, or like an ice cream cone that has been dipped in chocolate. The central channel goes down to your perineum, which is the base of your sexual organ, whether you’re a man or a woman. The central channel is translucent. It has a crystalline quality to it, and if you could hold it in front of you and see through it, you would see a fiery golden color inside the central channel.

In Sanskrit, the central channel is called sushumna. Su means good. When you repeat it, it means “really good,” so sushu means “really good”. And then mna is where we get the word “hymn”, which means “a holy sacred song”. So, sushumna means “beautiful song.” When prana is flowing freely through the central channel, you have pleasant, happy, healthy thoughts and feelings. You feel joy, generosity, kindness, love, etc. The central channel is the ecstasy channel, the joy channel.

When you have an orgasm, all the wind flows into the central channel and out from the side channels. That’s why an orgasm feels so good, and why it’s highly addictive: The entire world wants it! To have an orgasm is a profound, powerful desire. According to the ancient texts, The only other time you get all the winds collected into the central channel is when you die.

The two side channels of prana run alongside the spinal column, where the central channel is located. The left side channel, called ida nadi in Sanskrit, means “white as a sheep.” The right side channel, called pingala nadi in Sanskrit, came into English as “pink.” It means “a reddish-pink color.” The two side channels are the reason why we have two halves of our bodies: the left and the right side. That’s why we have two nostrils, two eyes, two hands, etc. Our physical bodies have formed around the two side channels of inner energy. The two side channels run down the left and right sides of your body. The two channels follow alongside the central channel except at the nose, where they extend down to the left and right nostrils. Then, they go under your skull, inside your spine, and go down, curve around, and come up at your perineum, at the base of your sexual organ.

Imagine three pipe cleaners side-by-side, representing the three inner channels where prana flows through your body. At certain areas in your body, the two side channels cross over the central channel and then cross back, creating a knot. This knot chokes the central channel (sushumna). Then, the prana cannot flow freely through the central channel and instead gets re-routed into one or both of the side channels.

When the prana is flowing through the side channels due to a knot in the central channel, then you have negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The central channel is then choked, and prana cannot flow freely through it. What happens then? You were being kind, nice, and feeling happy. Then there was a traffic jam. You started feeling angry and frustrated. Maybe you had thoughts about cutting the guy off or giving him the finger. Your prana started moving in the right side channel (pingala nadi), in which run our thoughts and emotions related to anger, sadness, and shame. This choked the central channel. Now you are not feeling kind and happy.

The worst place for this to happen is directly behind your heart, at the anahata chakra. Anahata means not struck, like the sound of a drum with no one beating the drum—the sound of your heart. There are three twists around this chakra. This is the only place in your body where the side channels twist around the central channel three times. It is the most difficult chakra to open for this reason. The most difficult thing to do is to love people and to be concerned about loving people.

When the side channels cross over the central channel, that’s called a knot—a granti. When you have your next positive, loving thought, it has nowhere to go, because the central channel is choked. Then, like a clogged pipe, the central channel gets “backed up” above and below the knot. This build-up of pressure inside the central channel causes it to burst! This is what creates a chakra, which means “wheel.” The chakras are caused by a knot in the central channel, resulting in a build-up of prana that spurts out as a wheel.

Let’s consider being in a traffic jam. You are now feeling angry and frustrated. Then, you start having thoughts about cutting people off so that you can get to work on time. Your prana starts flowing through the left side channel, which has to do with fear, greed, and craving. Every time you have a negative thought, it chokes the central channel. In your desire and your anger, you’ve ruined your day, because you can’t perceive anything as pleasant, because of the knot in your central channel. You arrive at work feeling angry and upset. You are easily frustrated and lose your patience easily. You feel especially annoyed with that irritating guy in the next cubicle. You have cravings for junk food. These are all disturbing, negative emotions that result from prana running through the left and right side channels. Your central channel, your joy and happiness channel, has a knot, and prana cannot flow freely through your central channel.

What would happen if you could untie these knots in your central channel before work? What if you could make sure that prana was flowing through your central channel? If you could avoid these knots, what would happen at work? You would have a better day. You would not get angry during the traffic jam. You would have patient, loving thoughts. You would arrive at work feeling happy and peaceful. You wouldn’t feel irritated by that guy in the next cubicle. You would feel creative, focused, fulfilled, and happy.

The purpose of yoga is to release the knots in your central channel so that you can have kind, loving thoughts. If you practice some exercises in the morning that loosen these knots, then your job will change. Your life will change. This is how yoga works: It changes the way you perceive your world, because it changes the flow of subtle, inner energy (prana) in your body.

The heart chakra is the most difficult place to loosen the knot in your central channel. The only place in your body where the side channels twist around the central channel three times is at your heart, where your spine is, where the central channel is coming down. That is why it is so challenging to love people and let people love us. You have to open the heart chakra in order to feel love for other people. How do open the heart chakra? You untwist the three knots! Thus, we practice twists in our hatha yoga (asana) postures. Granti moksha means “to free up the knot.” Twists open up the chakras by loosening the knots around the central channel.

In hatha yoga, there are specific postures (asanas) that twist and stretch the body in different ways. Each yoga posture is designed to open specific energy centers (chakras) in your body.

Classically, there are seven chakras located in front of the spine, from the base of your spine all the way up to the crown of your head. Stretches direct inner wind (prana) out of the side channels and into the central channel. When you practice locks (bandhas) in yoga, you pressurize and direct prana to flow up the central channel, from the bottom to the top of your spine. Linking one posture to the next with steady breathing (vinyasa) distributes the prana evenly throughout all the chakras.

In an effective hatha yoga practice, the yoga postures must be practiced in order. You open up the bottom chakras first, and that frees up prana to the middle chakras, and that lets prana flow to the top chakras. Moving from the bottom chakra gradually up to the heart, throat, 3rd eye, etc. is more powerful than moving down, because you are trying to get prana to flow up to the crown chakra, where you can experience feelings of bliss and ecstasy. But in order to get there, you have to first open up all the chakras underneath. That is the purpose of yoga.