seastarJust who is Michael Branigin?

Relatively new to Flow, Michael was born in Mexico and grew up in the Philippines. He takes yogic inspiration from a wide variety of sources, including, of all places, the ferocious arena of the boxing ring, and that’s why we’re sitting down with him today. We hear he’s really into the outdoors, we hear his classes are incredible and that yoga is a way of life for him, but as always, we want more.

Here’s the story on one of Flow’s finest new teachers.

FB: How did you first learn about Flow and what inspired you to take our 200 RYT teacher training?

It must have been late August in 2013. I was looking up studios around my area that offered more than one style of practice and ones that also had 200 RYT Training. I had been practicing at Down Dog in Herndon for half a year, but I knew I needed something more. I took my first class at Flow with Marcia Hoffheins, and as soon as class was over I made my decision. Marcia asked why I wanted to do my training there since I had only taken one class, and I think I said something like “I just have a good feeling about this place..”

I was right.

FB: Where did you grow up and how do you find yourself in Loudoun County?

I originally grew up in the Philippines after I moved from Mexico, where I was born. I was in Manila till I was about 7, and my dad’s job relocated us to these United States where I have been living in Reston, Virginia ever since.

FB: Your bio mentions that you’re really into all types of athletics. What are your main sports and how do they relate back to yoga for you?

Growing up I did it all: baseball, soccer, swimming, basketball and football. In high school, I had to choose because of the overlap of sports in seasons. I chose baseball, in the spring and in the winter, I was recruited to our dance team. Freshman and Sophomore year, a few friends and I started a Breakdancing Club. This, at the time, I would say was most relatable to the asana aspect of yoga. Another member and I were noticed by the dance coach after a talent show, and she wanted us to join. We laughed and said we’re not doing ballet or jazz or whatever you guys do. And she said we won’t, we’ll do Hip-Hop from now on if you are willing to choreograph for us. I thought about it for a couple days and showed up for tryouts the following week. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. We competed at nationals and made it to the semi finals two years in a row. Senior year of high school I started the Ultimate Frisbee Club. I then played for JMU’s team a few years later. Even more recently, I picked up boxing because I thought it was a great way to stay in shape. A personal and national hero, and 8-time boxing champ, Manny Pacquiao inspired me to want to compete.

Some people are often confused as to how someone can teach yoga and box competitively. It can be hard to explain to someone who doesn’t understand both practices as an art and a discipline. “How do you teach and practice non-violence?” one may ask. Well, when two people agree to compete in an act of combat under rules and regulations, it becomes sport. Within the laws of sport there is a code of conduct and ethics one must practice. This is part of the discipline. When two boxers agree to go toe-to-toe, the act of it being violent diminishes. A definition of violence is damage through distortion or unwarranted alteration. And since the two parties have come to an agreement and know the risks of engagement, before a match, to me, it’s no more violent than football or hockey. The act of hitting another person is violent, yes, but it is not for an emotionally personal reason. It’s not because you hate your opponent. In fact, all emotions should be left out of the ring. The only thing that should remain in your heart is a passion to win. This passion is no different than what a tri-athlete or a golfer would possess; the goal of winning is always the same. Victory is achieved with skill and the will of the spirit, and not from any direct feeling of ill-will for the opponent.

I have had the same emotions come up in the ring as I have felt on my mat; feelings of determination, triumph, discouragement, fear, and a sense of calm. Both on the mat and in the ring, you must remain calm. Since I have been boxing I have understood peace on a greater scale. It’s not just finding stillness and being silent; it’s about being still and silent amongst chaos, noise and confusion, finding a sense of calm in your heart despite the intensity of the moment.

So what is this principle in yoga called “ahimsa” that translates to non-violence?

To me, violence is something that creates disharmony with one’s self or another, or has the direct intention of causing unwarranted harm to another. It takes a keen sense discernment to know when harm is being done to one’s self or another. This is how we can practice mindfulness.

FB: Heard any good yoga stories lately?

Nothing worth mentioning. Well, I did read “Siddartha” By Herman Hesse for a second time recently. Along with the Gita, both stories carry many of the values and principles of Yoga.

FB: Tell us more about your interests in the great outdoors and how it plays a part in your practice?

treeI love camping and going on hikes till I find a spot to meditate in. When I was in Colorado in late September, a few friends in Boulder took me to a nearby trail where we all joined in a brief meditation on a mountain in a field of wild sage. Although the winter times make it difficult, I enjoy meditating outside in nature. The trees are full of life, yet still. I feel as if their presence assists me into finding that stillness in my body and mind.

FB: What about your family? What’s their story and do they ever attend your classes?

My dad is one of my best friends, and my mom is one of my biggest inspirations in my life. They met in Thailand ages ago, where my older sister was born. My mom is from the Philippines and works for a variety of non-profits as a consultant. She helped raise over $500,000 in relief aid when a devastating typhoon hit the Philippines early last year. All my relatives there are safe and I hope to visit sometime this year.

And no, they don’t practice asana, as much as I have urged them to. But I have shared some pre-tennis match stretches with my dad.

 FB: Do you have any yoga-related adventures planned in the near future?

I plan to make a trip to Yogaville in Charlottesville, Virginia for a weekend. Also, I have heard of a silent retreat in West Virginia that I would like to visit. Other than that, I will just have to see where life takes me.

FB: We hear your classes are tough, how should we expect to feel walking out of one?

 Ah, great question.

Teachers often ask students to set an intention for their asana practice but what about the teacher’s intention? My intention everyday for every class is to leave those who take my class with peace. That is what I want them to feel. Strengthening is a way we heal ourselves. And healing brings the healer or the healed peace.

FB: Who is the biggest inspiration in your life?

Besides my mom, my dad and my sister, I honestly have to say God and the Spirit within all of us. In a way everyone inspires me because I see God in everything and everyone. Continuously finding devotion in God keeps me going in this life.

FB: What’s the coolest yoga-class song that you know of and why?

I don’t have a favorite at the moment, but in savasana I have been using a track that I found on YouTube that is used for meditation. It is an 18 minute long track of 112 aum chants but I just use about 7 minutes of it. It is considered to be a “bi-neural beat” which can send the listener into deep meditation because of the tones and vibrations it uses. I think it works.

Here is the link if any would like to listen. But please only listen if you have the time to devote to meditation. Although, traditionally meditation should be done in complete silence, without any external noise. However, it’s not wrong to ask for help from external vibrations.


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