Finding Relevance in LA’s “Fast Culture”
Gloria Baraquio’s thoughts on the Path to Finding your Breath
Gloria embodies spiritual practice. She is a naturally passionate individual who understands the challenges of the “Fast Culture” ushered in by the booming tech industry, smart phones and our ever-evolving urban landscapes.
Gloria’s work emphasizes the need to temper residual stress with a balanced mind and body. While she is well-versed in the history and techniques of her practice, Gloria also highlights the need for flexibility. She currently teaches yoga and meditation at The Springs in downtown Los Angeles, an institution dedicated to physical and spiritual wellness. Her practice respectfully adapts these ancient techniques and makes them relevant for urban Angelinos.
In this first article, Gloria tells Hommily about her incredible spiritual journey, the development of her meditation “practice” and the importance of “the breath” as a technique for better understanding “the self” and a tool for navigating life’s many challenges.
James: When did you first get into meditation? What drew you to the culture of spiritualism?
Gloria: That’s a layered question. I was born in Hawaii into a very prayerful Catholic family. I am the youngest of ten kids. Prayerful meaning we prayed the Rosary together twice a day, went to mass daily, cleaned the church on Saturdays and then as a family played music as the choir on Sundays.
James: So you were sort of groomed for a spiritual lifestyle?
Gloria: Absolutely, prayer and music defined my youth.When you are born into a family of ten kids there’s just natural anxiety and chaos… and noise in having to dance around so many people.
At some point, I became disenchanted with Catholicism and went on my own path to explore other religions. After many years of struggle, I moved towards atheism. But atheism brought a whole different sent of challenges. I suffered from a lot of anxiety because it was such a stark contrast from my upbringing. It was a bit painful, like a depression for sure. After suffering from anxiety for a long time, I eventually found yoga.
Through yoga I found my breath, my Ujjayi at around age 23. Before then, I don’t think I had ever breathed so deeply in my life.
It’s a tool. Finding your breath makes you realize the importance of slowing your spirit, listening to yourself, doing things because they resonate with you and not because your family or society wants you to do it, that’s how you find your truth.
That’s where the juice is at! It’s really amazing to mentally come to a place where you feel … wow… this is what the yogis have been talking about!
I’ve never had another anxiety attack since. Yoga was designed to rid the body of impurities and clear the mind so when one comes to sit there aren’t not a bunch of distractions or disturbances. I’ve been teaching yoga since 2006. Bringing others to their breath is what I am really passionate about.
James: Were there any challenges along the way?
It actually took me a long time to get used to sitting meditation. I played with Zen back in 2005 and didn’t like it. I got deeper into meditation through studying the Shambhala tradition at Naropa in Boulder, Colorado in 2012. I still hated sitting, hated it (laughs).
It was only in 2013 when I really found my place. I was teaching at the Yoga Nest in Venice. They started having 6 a.m. meditation classes and I was teaching the 6:30 yoga class. I figured I would give it another try and then teach afterward. It was just such a gift, to be quiet with other people this early and in a yoga studio.
I tried so many times to do meditation in contrived settings like in a Zendo or a Tibetan Temple with monks who didn’t speak English. It all felt distant. It just wasn’t relevant to me.
James: A bit unnatural?
Gloria: Right, it felt foreign. When I meditated in a yoga studio, because the space was personally relevant, it just sort of clicked for me. So when we were opening The Springs, I thought, I can teach meditation! It was such a big deal for me to go from someone who hated sitting to say, “I am going to have a meditation program when we open.”
I started out with just Tuesdays and Thursdays after my yoga class. The idea was to create this whole seamless process; sweat your body, calm the mind, deepen the breath and then sit. It was so popular we made it Monday through Friday and that’s where we are at today.
I’ve definitely noticed a huge personal transformation because of daily meditative practice. Every day I witness some sort of change or “a-ha!” moment in one of my students. It’s what continues to fuel me, seeing the results in others.
James: That’s great. A monastery seems like the most natural setting to become centered, but your path was about adapting the practice to fit your needs in an emotional and physical safe space.
I feel like many people are seeking spirituality these days. The internet and “fast culture” seem to make finding daily personal relevance increasingly difficult. What does the average practitioner get out of meditation?
Gloria: I think it has a lot to do with accessibility, not just relevance. The Springs is all about making these ancient practices relevant and meaningful for the 20th century urban American yogi. That’s why I structured our meditation class (see link) to be midday 1 pm, free, just 30 minutes, at a yoga studio. I want to make it is flexible.
My whole practice is about making it so others have nothing to lose. It’s not intimidating, you don’t need prior experience, we have urban art on the walls, we’re pretty hip. We aren’t trying to create a certain type of character. We don’t have fancy cushions on purpose and the space as a whole replicates practices you could do anywhere alone or ideally with friends. If you are nervous, unsure, need to readjust yourself or break the silence during practice, by all means! Be honest with that. We’re not here to stop our minds or “feel” or “act” peaceful. One should merely observe everything that comes up.
The more you observe and become centered through the breath, the more we can begin to witness positive and negative patterns. We can extract negative thoughts and plant new seeds with more positive perspectives and emotions.
But it’s practice and it takes time.
So that’s I create space where people can just feel welcome. Be exactly as you are, feel safe in the silence or in the music, close your eyes, share or don’t share in our post-meditation discussion and see what you can gleam from these practices for yourself. That’s the goal, demystifying and making the practice accessible.
James: I’ve been thinking about this for years. There has been a reemergence of mindfulness movements, yoga and other stereotypically “Eastern” practices, especially in Los Angeles and the Bay Area. “Spiritualism” is a thing now.
Do you see any sort of contention between those who define yoga as a religious practice and those who simply use the techniques for fitness or an excuse to socialize? Can you take the historical and religious aspects out of yoga?
Gloria: Yes and yes and no. There’s a full spectrum of this! I think we’re all on the path to finding our truest and highest self. According to ancient Vedic texts, yoga’s absolute objective is to find union with god. There is no big secret about the word god, the divine, or Krishna. So in one sense, yoga is about aspiring to connect with something greater than ourselves. Spiritual and religion practices evolved from those aspirations.
Speaking to the resurgence of “Eastern” practices, honestly all tribes connected with the earth have had some form of meditation and the breath; Hawaiians, Native Americans, it’s not just “Eastern.” The gurus just happened to get famous from the new Buddhist and yoga movements of the 1960s and 1970s. But the basic process of coming to the breath and revering basic human connection to nature is pretty universal.
Can we separate them? Absolutely, it’s a matter of perspective. One can call their practice yoga and really they are just doing stretches or poses, which could also be called gymnastics or aerobics. Create a new name for it and that is fine. You will find the people who are spiritually materialistic or look spiritual but they’re not or they’re playing the part. There are all of those, there are many layers within that.
I think people have different opinions just like they do about everything. It’s good, that’s the juice of diversity and everyone being mirrors for each other.
And at some point, bless them for at least trying, bless them for wanting to be a better person. I think we are all on the path, there’s some contention and yes some conflict. But again, we’re all just rubbing up against each other on this journey. Ultimately it just has to come to what is true for you.
This practice of meditation is important because in your breath, when you are sitting silently with yourself, one has the opportunity to reflect. We become mindful of how we tolerate, accept, speak, and act honestly with each other. It’s in this state when you are able to find your truth of truth and what your heart of hearts is saying to you. What do you really identify with?
People have to see themselves for who they really are and honor that.
No one else is in your being.