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Yoga Off The Mat in Nicaragua: Ostional School SEVA Project

Posted by on May 14, 2015 in Karma yoga, Yoga in Nicaragua, Yoga Teacher Training

Nico Brennan

Nico Brennan

Nico Brennan’s path to Nicaragua feels almost fated

Nico, who is currently on a year sabbatical from her teaching position, rented out her apartment for November with plans to spend the month with a cousin in New York. When her cousin cancelled, however, Nico suddenly found herself needing to be out of her apartment, with no plans as to where to go instead. “I’d already in my mind committed to three things this year,” she says. “One of them was committing to the ukulele. One of them was committing to yoga, or God. And then the other one was my university studies… I’d been doing yoga. I’d been doing it every day in Mexico, I was doing it every day in Calgary before I left, so I was already committed to yoga. So my cousin canceled in November, and I thought, ‘Maybe I could go to a yoga retreat in November.’”

Yoga Teacher Training with It’s Yoga Nicaragua

Sifting through retreats, Nico had a few requirements. First, of course, they had to fit the timeframe, getting her out of the country for the month of November. Secondly, she was seeking opportunities to foster her Spanish studies, so programs in Spanish-speaking countries made the top of the list. It’s Yoga Nicaragua fit the bill perfectly. That it was a teacher training program also seemed made-to-be. “Because I am on sabbatical this year, it really complimented the idea of still getting an education,” she shares, in particular “an education with regards to the divine.” Nico, who is Catholic and teaches for the Catholic schools in Calgary, thinks of yoga as prayer. For her, deepening her relationship to her practice was also to deepen her relationship with God.

Kids in Ostional school

Kids in Ostional school

 Karmic Yoga is Selfless Actions

Part of the It’s Yoga program is participation in three Seva projects, “selfless expressions, which can also be qualified as being karmic yoga or selfless action,” and Nico describes them. In addition to a jungle reforestation project and efforts to save endangered sea turtles, the It’s Yoga teacher trainees volunteer at the local school. For Nico, this last Seva project was kismet. She’d already made multiple attempts to volunteer at schools that year, but nothing had panned out. She approached the church about doing mission, but they had no missions running. She met teachers in Mexico and asked them about opportunities, but came up dry. Here, however, at a teacher training in Nicaragua, she would be helping out in a school at last.

Nico with kids in Ostional school

Nico with kids in Ostional school

Volunteering in Ostional School

During the It’s Yoga Seva project, Nico taught the children the choreographed dances she uses in her special education classes, with her fellow teacher trainees dancing along. It was “this really terrific experience,” and when Catarina mentioned how nice it would be for someone to volunteer at the school for a longer period, Nico jumped at the chance.

They made plans for Nico to return in April to continue her karmic yoga with the El Ostional school children.

 Successful Foundries

Nico in action at local school.

Nico in action at local school.

Back in Canada, however, Nico was already ready to get started. She gathered some musician friends and convinced them to play a “fundraiser for this tiny, little obscure school in Nicaragua in El Ostional on the tip of the Pacific Ocean.” Borrowing a restaurant space from a friend for the evening, she sold tickets online, raising almost $1000 for the school.

In April, Nico returned to Nicaragua. For a month, she spent an hour or two a the school everyday, “doing Zumba… dance, and just a little bit of English and music.” Plus, of course, she brought in the ukulele. “It was so much fun,” she gushes, ”I’ve had a ton of fun this year, but being around those kids… it totally lifts your spirits, it’s so much fun. You cannot imagine how crazy it is teaching down there… Their white boards are being held to like wrought iron window bars with hangers, old hangers. What we have here is so incredible. We have no idea. I can remember once last year there was a power outage in Calgary. And my teacher friends were like ‘Oh my god, hardest thing ever.’ And I’m like… ‘These guys have this every day.’”

 Inspired to Make a Difference

Nico raised nearly US$ 1000 with her musical friends.

Nico raised nearly US$ 1000 with her musical friends.

Needless to say, Nico returned home inspired, not only by the school, but also by the other karma yogis she met along the way. In Nicaragua, she met volunteers doing selfless action projects of all kinds, including work at orphanages, on organic farms, and through the Peace Corps. “It’s been really neat to connect with these people and just see some really cool stuff that young people are doing,” she says. In her mind, whatever the motivation, it’s all Seva projects or karmic yoga – after all, it’s all “good work.”

Hard Work Make The Journey Fulfilling

Nico playing the ukulele.

Nico playing the ukulele.

Joyous as all this “good work” is, none of it has been easy. Perhaps that’s what makes it so fulfilling. “I really didn’t know how hard it was going to be,” Nico recalls of her first journey to Nicaragua, “It’s hard. There are snakes, and there’s bugs and scorpions and stingrays on the beach.” Eyes twinkling as she recalls her time in Ostional, she shares a reminiscence of an up-close-and-personal encounter with a particular visitor from Nicaragua’s wilder kingdom. During practice at the Yoga Ranch one morning, a snake decided to check out what this “down dog” business was. After seeing the slithery visitor pop its head up a few times, the aspiring yoga teachers went to seek help from Yoga Ranch staff. “We’re like ‘Peligroso, peligroso?’ ‘Is it dangerous? Is it dangerous?’” Nico recalls with a laugh, “and he was like ‘Oh yes, you need to stay away from there!’”

The Greatest Gift Of My Life

“To be part of that, being able to work at two Seva projects, because that’s really a big part of yoga, too, is giving back to the community, and giving back to others… an incredible experience both the It’s Yoga experience and also the experience of committing to a project that’s not about yourself.”

And yet, Nico speaks of her time in Nicaragua as “the greatest gift of my life,” snakes and all. “To be part of that, being able to work at two Seva projects, because that’s really a big part of yoga, too, is giving back to the community, and giving back to others… It’s hard, and there’s creepy crawlies and there’s bugs, but it’s an incredible experience. Both the It’s Yoga experience and also the experience of committing to a project that’s not about yourself.”

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