The festivals were filling ourselves with lots of good and loving vibes. Our experience as presenters ended with the International Yoga Festival and we were already planning and talking about next year.
However, something was about to happen, from the rest of the world we were hearing news about this new virus, COVID-19, which was spreading fast especially in our home country, Italy.
There was a lot of fear all around and we felt so far away, but at the same time extremely close to our family and friends.
It seemed so unreal listening to our relatives experiencing the lockdown, being stuck in their apartments for weeks. Lifting their spirit was not easy, and I was starting to feel guilty for being so far away from them, here, in New Zealand, where life hadn’t changed much yet.
Nevertheless, I was very grateful to have Dinny next to me because we understood each other and worked together to not judge our decisions and feel remorseful.
Slowly but surely the situation got worse and the government was talking about going into lockdown to prevent the virus from reaching and spreading in the Island of the long white cloud, Aotearoa.
During this period I was also working as the Volunteer Coordinator in Kawai Purapura and everyday was a constant challenge to understand how to make this whole situation as smooth as possible for everyone in the community.
Having this role made me realise how much fear can cloud the mind and not let us think clearly. Decisions were made too fast and without analysing the whole situation, which then created even more tensions.
It was very demanding to remain centred and calm while most of the volunteers were feeling lost, scared and worried for themselves and their family.
It was interesting to see how people were reacting and dealing with this sudden change in our life.
It was the perfect example of one of the “Yama” principles in Yoga, "Aparigraha" (no attachment); life can be so unpredictable and the key to keep ourselves balanced even under pressure is to learn to be flexible and open to changes.
However, it is not something you put into practice from one day to another, if you haven’t practiced this before. It takes time and perseverance to build this principle and let it be part of your life.
From my personal experience, this whole year travelling has helped me to strengthen this ethical principle; as soon as I was feeling overwhelmed by this situation I knew what I needed to do.
Practicing mindful breathing and walking in nature allowed me and my mind to come up with the best solutions for myself and others.
My intuition was telling me to leave that position while my ego was stubborn in telling me to stay and keep on trying to make a change.
Heart and mind don’t always go in the same direction and it can be hard to understand which one is giving you a message. So I spent quite some time sitting under the beautiful gigantic tree in our community, called the “Tree of peace”, asking Mother Earth to guide me, to show me how I could still support people while taking care of my mental and physical health at the same time.
The decision was made, I had to quit, to step back from that role and take time for myself to recharge and so I did.
A big tension that I was holding in my Manipura Chakra, my Solar Plexus, was now melting away leaving me with a sensation of calm and joy.
There was not even one judgemental thought towards myself for stepping away, indeed I felt I did exactly what I wanted to do. I was happy and proud of the decision I made.
There was only one thing that was worrying me, one of the rules of the 'bubble' you could spend this period with, but no gathering with people outside your 'bubble' were allowed.
Dinny was asked to move to a different kitchen than mine, which meant we couldn’t see each other in the only communal space we had together.
I started to feel lost, what about our 4:20 gathering where we were colouring together and unwinding from the day we had.
My mind didn’t want to accept the fact I could not see her for more than 4 weeks even if we were living in the same community.
I was sad and angry but I was not fighting those emotions. I knew that the only way to accept and release those feelings was to put them on a piece of paper, to give them a meaning instead of leaving them invisible and abstract in my mind.
So the day before the lockdown started, I decided to do one of our Art Yoga sessions by myself.
I made a drawing with the intention to find a way to still support and see each other during this challenging period.
LOVE AND LIGHT
Our first festival as facilitators finished. It was already time for us to plan the next class we were hosting at the International Yoga Festival 2020 the following weekend.
This time we were playing at home. This is a common Italian saying which means: being in a familiar space where you should not be afraid if something goes wrong.
No judgment, no discomfort, nothing could make us feel lost.
The warmth of knowing the environment and to have our own friends and family present to support us, made us feel protected.
Yes, because this was how my brain was working. Part of me was really excited for the new trip we were about to embark on, but on the other hand still feeling nervous.
Rawhiti was pretty confident and I was trying to follow her contagious positive attitude too.
Yoga Festival is an incredible experience where you have the chance to dive deeper into your soul through exercises for mental and physical health. We are connected with ourselves, our breath, become one thing with our inner soul and the outer universe. We are aware, living in the present moment, waking up early, beginning with a sunrise meditation followed by the awaken of the body.
Yoga has been helping me for several years now to align myself to my mindful life choices, find inner peace by controlling my body and mind better everyday.
Although sometimes we have to deal with our dark side as well. Mine was about to come up from the abyssal of my low self-esteem and insecurity in the most wrong occasion ever like a timing bomb ready to explode.
Everything had been set up. Seven canvases were creating a rainbow line in the center, surrounded by different shades of markers and pencils on top of a colorful cloth. The journey through the 7 Chakras was about to sail and the wind was blowing the first track of our trip together.
We had just enough time for a spruce up because of the high temperature of the day.
I was comforting myself and Rawhiti just before the beginning of our class ensuring everything was going to be fine even though what I was really doing was trying to keep calm because the discomfort came back to visit me one more time on the same day. I knew that Rawhiti was going to be my solid anchor to feel steady.
Our class started punctual, they accepted our time frame and our session began right at 4:20pm.
The playground was filled not only with our friends, but also with people who were genuinely attracted by our session on the timetable.
I was about to tackle an uncomfortable feeling. Many new eyes were staring at us wondering what they were going to experience during the Art Yoga session.
Rawhiti was welcoming them and explaining what the session was about. Meanwhile, my brain was becoming louder than her voice and my breath speeded up too.
I felt like I was going to faint. I was trying to remind myself what a great moment we were facing.
She kept smiling to everyone explaining the benefits of art and yoga combined together. Her chilled vibes and great empathy were flowing around to make everyone feel serene.
Ironically, right next to her, I was paralyzed by those strangers, looking at us, not knowing what to say, I was willing to stand up and leave at any time without any explanation, just nonsense thoughts filling my head were repeating “What am I doing here? I can’t do this!”
Something unusual happened, suddenly I realized I started crying in front of everyone. Anxiety hugged my throat into a strict node, I didn’t know what to do but facing this inappropriate reaction in front of the entire astonished group.
Everyone reacted in a very supportive way while I was trying to excuse myself and my odd behavior. Rawhiti comforted me in that unexpected situation and encouraged me to release tears while showing my true self and get rid of all my negative feelings. She cheered me up and invited me to read a poem to rebalance the mood, the one I wanted to share at the end of the class. And so I did.
What if our religion was each other.
If our practice was our life.
If prayer was our words.
If our Temple was the Earth.
If forests were our church.
If holy water were the rivers, lakes and oceans.
If meditation was our relationships.
If the teacher was life. If wisdom was self-knowledge.
If Love was the centre of our being?
- Ganga White
Once finished, Rawhiti clarified to the whole crowd that I had found this poem in the toilet I went to before beginning our workshop. Everyone exploded into a spontaneous and loud laugh that encouraged us to carry on and enjoy our open space together.
The rest of the time passed with inspiring music, supportive people and animated drawings.
At the end of the workshop we were glad for the given moment and the positive feedback from those who participated in this journey with Art Yoga and inspired us.
One of the participants came to me to share the piece of art she just made. It was the first time I had an encounter with her and somehow we felt a profound unspoken connection. We cried together while she was trying to explain the significance beyond her artwork. There were a lot of emotions behind her colorful and abstract composition, hard to put in words, but an honest and truthful masterpiece.
This was an experience of how contradictory life can be. How art and yoga can be the perfect tool to balance who we really are and who we would like to be.
Our life is a challenging playground and stepping out of our comfort zone for a bigger purpose is not always easy. To support ourselves and others in a non-verbal communication and to remind us we have the power to choose.
Choose our perspective, our path, our truth, our love for ourselves and others, our positive and quiet mind. All of you are welcome here.
LAUGH. SMILE. DANCE
The first festival Dinny and I went to as presenters was NZ Spirit. I still feel, while recalling this adventure, how excited and scared we were. Stepping out of our comfort zone of Kawai Purapura and stepping into a new environment, new people, a new stimulus was a huge achievement.
Once we arrived in Dinny’s little car we felt at home straight away.
Personally, I did not have any experience with festivals, so I had no idea what to expect from it. It turned out to be an amazing life experience. A big community of people smiling, laughing, walking bare-foot, simply enjoying life with friends and family. The vibes were amazingly high.
We spent a little bit setting up our camping spot, we were about to finish when we realised the open ceremony was about to start. So without even finishing to blow up the mattress we ran to the main stage.
To open the festival we all take part in a Pōwhiri (welcome ceremony) which provides a special opportunity to experience Māori traditions in action. It began with a Wero (challenge). A warrior from the Tangata Whenua (hosts) challenged the Manuhiri (guests), checking to see whether we were friends or enemies. He was carrying a Taiaha (spear-like weapon), and laid down a token for the visitor representative to pick up, to show we came in peace.
After this action, an older woman from the host side performed a Karanga (call) inviting us to move forward. We all moved slowly and silently until we reached the center of the main stage where we listened to Karakia (prayers) and songs alongside beautiful dances.
It was marvelous to experience it and made Dinny and I ready to share our love and passion for Art Yoga in this festival.
The day of the workshop arrived!
Once we arrived at our stage, which had the perfect name “Star Space” was perfect, we started setting up everything, from our granny table-cloth on the floor to the recycling cardboard, to create the circle for people to join.
I was starting to feel a bit anxious, lots of judgmental emotions:
Will we be enough? Will people understand our purpose and benefit from it?
Dinny’s body language was telling me the same, so we decided to practice a bit of mindfulness breathing, long deep inhales and exhales to clear the mind and affirm our potential within ourselves.
I felt so grateful for sharing this moment of growth with her.
When I decided to leave Italy and went to live in Scotland, I made the decision to not engage too much with Italians, I didn’t like the way they behaved, how loud and full of drama they were and so on. I was, in a way, rejecting my roots and projecting so much negativity. Then I met Dinny and connected with her. We both recognized what it was that didn’t make us proud of being Italian sometimes, but together we let go of any Italian Society conditions and kept just the beauty of our culture.
Looking at what we created together made me appreciate even more the moment we were living even more.
Closer to the time, a few children arrived, sat down and started drawing on the cardboard.
I immediately turned my face to see Dinny’s reaction and to assure her it was ok to let them explore the space and get familiar with what we offered.
This attracted more kids and families. Also a good friend, who we met at a festival, stopped by and after noticing our crowd decided to go pick up his musical instruments and kaleidoscopes.
Before starting, I whispered to Dinny: “Just follow me!” since I felt we needed to make the class more interactive, so the children could get engaged with us until the end.
I started asking what making art meant for them and this little blonde girl replied it was a way to express emotions and feelings.
We gave each other an amazed look, it was exactly what we wanted to hear.
The dynamic of the class we prepared remained the same. We went on a journey through the first 5 Chakras, reflecting on each of their qualities and aspects .
It was incredible to hear and watch what their little pure mind was creating. Some of the answers we got from them confirmed our theory that children don’t need to be taught to be mindful, what we need is to encourage them to keep that authentic energy they have around them instead.
As the class continued, Dinny and I relaxed and completely enjoyed the moment.
We reflected on emotions and what color we associated with them, coming to the conclusion that we all have a different perspective. For some people red can be connected with passion, courage whereas for others is fear, danger.
We agreed that what we define as good or bad might not be the same for someone else and so we need to accept other people's point of view without being judgmental.
The time flew by and when it was time to finish the class, we all joined our hands together and took a moment to feel grateful, we shared our piece of arts and the sharing mandala.
After everyone left Dinny and I fully satisfied from the class, we gave each other a big hug ready to completely enjoy the rest of the festival, joining a variety of workshops, from learning more about Māori culture benefiting from sound journeys and so on.
Once the festival was finished we were already prepared and excited to make the next Art Yoga workshop amazing for the International Yoga Festival.
To be continued...
LOVE & LIGHT
Summer in New Zealand is amazing. For locals and visitors, it is always a good opportunity to enjoy plenty of festivals around the whole Country. Only in Auckland, we can count at least a dozen from New Years Eve until the end of March. All of them are very special and designed to let us experience magic in their fairy worlds. They last about 3 days each, but what you take home from them is a sense of fulfillment and the feeling of long lasting joy and gratitude.
For us, this year has been twisted, we didn’t only attend as guests, but as facilitators too.
New perspective, new challenge, new goals.
We started playing around with this idea as usual. I never even thought of getting the opportunity to turn this dream into reality. But Rawhiti believed in me more than I used to and so after leading our very first class at Kawai Purapura, we decided on that very spot, it was already time for us to apply to a bigger gathering and so we did.
Our workshop was so promising that we were accepted to participate not only to a festival but two in a row - NZ Spirit and International Yoga Festival, 2020 editions. We couldn’t believe it, but there we were growing one step at the time faster than we ever even expected.
Our project was not only created to support others, but to brace ourselves as well to overcome personal challenges, have fun with it and learn from one another.
We got ready for the next step, creating a full journey through the 7 Chakras alongside a well developed playlist to let everyone immerse in their inner senses while expressing themselves with art.
Both adventures were incredibly amazing, we didn’t know what to expect and we went far beyond our own expectations. Both festivals offered us the possibility to enjoy quality time with a great range of people who decided to join us for the occasions.
The beauty of our space was created by the variety of ages present. Young children who didn’t even wait for us to lead them with our guidance to begin drawing what they wanted and on the other extreme hand elderly who experienced the possibility to go back to their childhood.
All of them, us included, were allowing ourselves to freely enjoy the present moment by continuously coloring across one Chakra after the other, connecting with our inner selves and the entire surrounding.
Our never-age-nursery-like space was the perfect example of what Art Yoga was always meant to be. A joyful environment where it didn’t matter how old you were, what you did for a living, what others were going to think about you, or how skilled you were as an artist.
Art Yoga was and is about being free to express ourselves in the most genuine way, where the time stops and there is nothing but contagious happiness to remind us that it is never too late to rediscover who we really are.
LAUGH. SMILE. DANCE.
After those amazingly fun afternoons, we organised our first class in Kawai Purapura. On the day at 4:20pm we recreated our space, but on a bigger scale, including pop-corn for everyone, our recycling cardboard as a support for drawing and carefully chosen music. We were excited and nervous at the same time.
Having already agreed on who was going to lead the class, we were preparing ourselves, visualising in our mind how to share this time in a mindful and productive way, allowing enough space for each individual to explore their inner reality, but at the same time supporting them.
When we give a piece of paper and colors to children, they will start drawing something, without overthinking, without judgement and what will come out will be a beautiful piece of art.
This was exactly our intention for the class! Creating a space where people allow their creativity to flow freely by getting in touch with their inner child; using a guided meditation would help them to connect with their emotions and thoughts and slowly bring them to the present, leaving the past behind and the future unknown.
People arrived right on time, smiles formed on their faces when looking at what we provided for the class. Papers, pens and pencils, it looked like a nursery room, ready to get messy!
Once everyone was settled, Dinny and I looked at each other already knowing it was going to be a good class.
We had decided to explore the first 5 Chakras (from Muladhara to Vishudda) as they are related to our senses, in order for them to seek their own connection to these feelings.
Sitting in a circle, we started the class with a guided meditation. This brought all of us together creating a deeper bond.
When we finished and opened our eyes again, we were so peaceful and calm that no one talked for the rest of the class.
We then briefly explained about the idea of creating a sharing mandala: each one could draw one circle of the mandala and then pass it on and we would share it at the end of the class.
Let the art begin!
Everyone, Dinny and I included, was so focused on what they were experiencing that the only communication they had, was to ask for a specific color or a hug.
It was beautiful to witness that the people sharing the space felt safe to explore whatever was coming up in their mind while also respecting each other.
With a feeling of calm and peace we concluded the class by observing the sharing mandala we created: it was amazing to notice how harmonious each circle was, even if such different styles were applied on all of them.
We also spotted how some people drew the same symbols or used the same color to express an emotion or a situation. We had all been connecting using non-verbal communication.
After this eye-opening experience we wanted to reach a bigger audience with Art Yoga and so we decided to apply for festivals.
The first one was NZ Spirit Festival 2020 Edition.
Check out the video to have an idea of how clueless we were of the actual potential of this project.
LOVE & LIGHT
Our art and yoga afternoons began quite randomly, as simple and unplanned as our friendship.
At the end of 2019 a dear friend of mine was on holiday for a few months and he gave me free access to use his hut whenever I wanted to. At the beginning I was only going there to water his plants until one day I invited Rawhiti over and somehow his space turned out to be our first playground.
Rawhiti and I were both working at the Yoga Retreat where we also used to live.
Straight after work, around 4pm, our meeting became a regular opportunity for us to enjoy our time free from any kind of worries.
The perfect occasion to co-create and share positive feelings, childhood memories and life dreams.
Since we were both working in key roles in the office environment, we didn’t want to be stuck even after our working hours in any sort of complaint conversations or reviewing our list of responsibilities for the following day.
Our spontaneous gatherings were born from the desire to escape from this very day-to-day routine as a good chance for us to chill, without problems or bad feelings involved.
It felt like we were back to our after school time, when you know that your job for the day is finished and you don’t have to worry about it until the next day.
Because of modern society, we always have the persistent sensation to keep running, non stop.
Run from morning until late night, run to work, run to compete, run to fit in, run to never be late.
But late for what? Run to go where? What is the purpose of being constantly stressed?
This is what we started asking ourselves and sharing this quality time together made us realise that it is never too late to start enjoying life with simple actions that make us feel fulfilled without a sense of guilt.
Our afternoons were designed for Rawhiti and I to completely enjoy, our main ingredients were a wide range of colors, our notebooks, a different playlist based on our mood of the day and of course popcorn!
It didn’t take us long to realise that these enlightening afternoons could become a great opportunity to share this valuable knowledge of how to return to our inner self diving into a journey through our senses and awareness with a larger group of friends.
So this is how Art Yoga begins, a blend of non-judgmental friends sharing their love for coloring, supporting one another and acceptance of ourselves as a whole.
LAUGH. SMILE. DANCE.
Art Yoga was born one afternoon, at 4:20pm, while Dinny and I were drawing together and singing songs from when we were teenagers. Those days were really precious for us, it was OUR moment to be present, connecting with our inner-child and letting our imagination create anything we wanted. There was no feeling of being judged, of not being a good artist. Everything we were doing was unique and pure.
From here, we decided to create a space in which people were able to get in touch with their emotions and thoughts and go back to doing something they used to love when they were kids… making Art!
Who did not like to make art when they were children?
Whether it was making a drawing, a painting, building with Lego, making music or dancing.
One of our main purposes was to show another way of meditating in order to find balance and peace within ourselves.
We gained our confidence and taught in different festivals around the North Island in New Zealand, until COVID-19 arrived.
We had so much time for ourselves that one afternoon, it must have been a couple of days after the lockdown had started, I was meditating in a beautiful part of the forest of the community I was living in, Kawai Purapura Retreat Centre.
Antonio, my partner, was playing a Native flute from South America which took me on a journey.
I had a vision of Dinny and I while we were drawing as usual, but this time what we were creating was a coloring book about us.
The more the flute was playing the deeper I was going in my meditation. I could see myself in another room, talking and laughing with Dinny. We were happy, excited, I could feel an inspiring sensation coming up from my Solar Plexus, just above my belly button, to the crown of my head. That was the moment I knew we had to create this book.
The next day I ran to Dinny’s hut to share this beautiful experience. As soon as I told her she looked at me and, with a big smile on her face, asked me when I wanted to start.
We started putting ideas down immediately. We wanted the book to be like an episode of one of our Art Yoga classes. The intention was to create a series of books for children and adults that talk about the principles of yoga and to plant some seeds about what it means to be mindful.
It was amazing, we spent every day of the lockdown doing exactly what we love. We were meeting in the morning and by the end of the day we had so much material to put together that, in 6 weeks, we had everything ready to print.
We enjoyed every single moment of this process, even when it was challenging, because it helped us break old limiting beliefs and turn our dreams into reality.
So this is what you will find in this coloring book A JOURNEY TO... An invitation to reflect on how to cultivate contentment and to have an opportunity to see how you feel while coloring it.
LOVE & LIGHT