Taozi Tree Yoga

The seeds we water are the seeds that grow.


Djibouti! ….. What did you say to me??? Part 1

Taozi Tree Yoga is thrilled to present… “Adventures Abroad”

with special guest writer, a soldier in the US Army… JJ Black.


I can’t imagine a better place for self-examination and spiritual development for myself than a deployment, especially this deployment. I often find myself in a place where I must just believe, trust, and have faith. With some deployments, it’s the faith that we will make it home, some it’s that we will make it home in one piece, and some, such as this one, it is that I may make a difference and take away what I was meant to learn. I must put faith in myself, in my leaders, and above all I find myself placing my faith in a higher power.

My name is JJ, and I am a Soldier of the United States Army.


I am currently deployed to Djibouti, Africa.  Now, I am not the most religious person, so I hope that my references to God don’t throw anybody off. My experience with my spirituality often comes through my interactions with people and witnessing the power of the almighty through nature and the beauty of all things created. There are, however, simply certain things that really stop me in my tracks and make me say ‘wow!’ God, whatever your plan is in all of this, You Kick Ass!! So let me start from the beginning to share about what my journey has looked like so far.


I arrived to my base around 4 am after twenty-four hours of travel, mostly confined to cramped airplanes. There were a few exceptions along the way where I got to step off the plane and experience some culture. It really felt like a firsthand geography lesson that you don’t forget. Anyway first impressions; this place is dirty, it smells bad, and based on my past experiences with deployments, I am on guard as soon as I see anyone who doesn’t look like United States Armed Forces. Its dark and I cannot see much. There is a lot of excitement streaming through my blood, but by this time, I am also feeling the wear of the travel.  I notice trash on the side of the road leading to the Camp. As the sun comes up, I can see and smell the ocean barely in the distance. My nerves and anxiety start to melt away as I begin to see the landscape that surrounds me.  Quickly, the reality of where I am sinks in. I stand strong on the floors of Africa! My long awaited desires to travel here have finally come and it is mind blowing that I am here! As the excitement overcomes me, the sun begins to rise and I instantly become aware that I am only beginning to taste what is to come in my awareness of God’s presence constantly surrounding me.


After taking a couple of weeks to get settled into work, I realized that I was going to have an ample amount of free time to take advantage of. I was not about to let this experience slip through my fingers, so I started digging. A little background, Djibouti is a very poor country about the size of Road Island. The climate is desert like and very hot. Djibouti was colonized by the French and is now independent. The economy relies on the huge port, and our American base—which are the largest employers for this country. Basically this is a country in early development, with potential, but could use a little help.  Through my research and my desire to really “experience Africa,” I found that there were some Volunteer opportunities within the city. Thus, the real experience began.  Every Thursday a couple of the other guys from my squad and I played football (our soccer) with the young kids at a local orphanage.


On Tuesdays I volunteered my time to help high school age kids learn English through small discussion groups. I felt the warmth of the people around me immediately and that warmth only grew as I spent more time with them. Every day that we returned we were greeted with smiles and friendly and polite attitudes. The kids were always excited to use their English! I loved getting to experience the growth and excitement in the kids I was working with and I especially loved playing soccer at the orphanage. These kids were so cool! They were so happy to play! To play on a dirt field, some with no shoes and most in only flip flops.  Even though we could barely communicate, the camaraderie we built through playing together was shown with high fives and laughter.


Now, in my experience, the army does not tend to be a highly spiritual community. We are trained, we are tough, and we are usually on a mission. We tend to spend a lot of time worrying about what’s next and we curse in our everyday tongue. However, these guys I was traveling with–they impressed me. Our conversations on the way back to the camp after our trips into the city would start with how interesting our new friends were. The conversation would then quickly turn to how we might help them. We talked about how we could do more and how we might impact the lives of our new young friends?! We really wanted to find a way to get all of these kids some shoes! In my past experiences with slums in Mexico and mission trips, I had seen people struck by poverty in different ways. My expectations were not high for the group of Soldiers I was traveling with, and maybe that’s why I was so impressed by the virtue and determination they had to really do good with our time here. During those moments I remember thinking about God and his presence in all of our interactions.

I thought about how we can see God in the face of the most unexpected man.

I thought about how he worked through people whether they believed in him or not. It didn’t matter, because the power of the spirit is more than belief, it is action! The action I was seeing taking place through our interactions, through our play, and through our conversations.

A few weeks ago on one of our trips to the orphanage we were able to take with us a huge box of shoes in all shapes and sizes that were donated and shipped by friends and families of Soldiers. It was the most amazing thing to be able to be part of handing out something as simple as shoes to these orphaned boys and girls. Their smiles will never be forgotten. To be a part of a bigger picture like that has become something very dear to me over the years. Being of service to others helps me to realize my mission and to find comfort in times of loneliness and longing for family and friends. It has helped me feel connected and proud of what I’m doing.  We all need help in our lives sometimes and I know I have needed plenty. While the help I have received is appreciated, I have learned that giving back can be even more rewarding and healing! Being present for  smiles as big as the ones I saw that day, is an experience all in its own.


Stay tuned to read more on JJ’s adventures in Africa… I can’t wait!

This has been a special guest post by JJ Black, an incredible young man that I have had the pleasure of knowing for nearly 8 years. He is humorous, kind, and the definition of a good friend. Thank you so much JJ!



***Check us out on Facebook- Taozi Tree Yoga– for more on our travels and shared yogic words of wisdom***



Introducing “Adventures Abroad”! With 10 of the planets most amazing people…


Lithuania, India, Iceland, Uganda, Hong Kong, The Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Australia, Djibouti, and the USA.

The “Adventures Abroad” series here at Taozi Tree Yoga is about gaining some valuable life lessons and experiences from some of the worlds most amazing people. I have travelled all over and have had the opportunity to make some seriously incredible friends. So…what does a US soldier of the US army living in Djibuti and an Icelandic Inuit have in common? What about a gorgeous red-head American women living in the Dominican Republic and an Indian yoga teacher? Besides coming across my path at some point in my travels, they all share one thing in common… A spiritual path. A path that proves that by standing up behind what you believe in and that by following your heart, life is beautiful, full, and the journey is always unknown.

Over the next 10 weeks you will have the pleasure of hearing from the following 10 people. They will share about life experiences that have changed them, they will share pearls of wisdom that they have picked up along the way and they will prove that ANYTHING is possible with…

“Adventures Abroad”

Please allow me to introduce you to:

Simona Shukyte

Miss Lithuania, she is a lovely soul who lives and breathes yoga. She can always be found with her nose in a book, studying different elements of yogic philosophy or on her mat, trying to help others.


Mary Davis

Witty, charismatic, and the heart the size of Seattle, this true American beauty has an affinity for China, yoga, and all things lovely. One can learn a lot by listening to this wise young women.

mary davis

Faraaz Tanveer

Our favorite yin-yoga teacher in Rishikesh, India, Faraaz  is an incredible yoga and healing facilitator. His deep understanding of meditative and energy healing therapies and his emphasis on their integration into asana practice lends him a unique style. He is trained in Hatha yoga, Yin yoga, Yog Nidra, Traditional Thai  Massage, Reiki and EFT. He believes regular self practice, an ever awake, intuitive heart and a curious, questioning mind are the essential  elements  that lead  to an engaging and  transforming yogic journey. Faraaz, despite his plethora of knowledge, is soft spoken, so when he has something to share, you better listen, it is gonna be good.

yoga in rishikesh  - Faraaz 2

Alexandra Robinton 

Alexandra (a.k.a. Ali) recently made the move from NYC to Hong Kong. In between cities (and population chasing as her brother called it), she had the chance to spend 6 glorious weeks in Varkala, India obtaining her ashtanga teacher training certificate and studying the art of cooking Indian food. This is where I met this lovely princess.  She is happiest when traveling, eating, and reading a good book under the sun (she has read everything). Ali is simply happy. So much so it is contagious when around her. So if you are lucky enough to find yourself in Hong Kong… track her down for some Ashtanga.


David Rafn Kristjansson

David (a.k.a Deebo) grew up in Iceland. He is absolutely, hands down, my favorite person from Iceland. 😉   He has lived in Denmark, USA, China and is currently living in Cambodia. David is a lazy yogi, wannabe writer, amateur guitar player, excellent tortilla cook, enthusiastic truth seeker and a humble student of Shiva and Shakti. To me he is a guru in every sense of the word. Humble. Kind. Funny. Oh so wise one….

deeboAshleigh Moller-Florez

Ashleigh was meant to be a mother. A gorgeous young American women who lives in the Dominican Republic with her husband Robert, they help run a hotel near the beach and have two young sons, surfers and aspiring artists. A lot can be learned from this free-spirited and energetic treasure.


Leah Marie Pauline

My lovely Ugandan sister (she has been living there for almost 5 years!) and author of her own beautiful blog Na Mutima-From the Heart. My hero.

leah 2

 JJ Black

Basically JJ stars in his own version of C.S.I, as a Chemical Specialist (Forensics Unit) in the United States Army.  He is one of the funniest human beings I have ever met, he believes in the power of  helping others to help heal yourself. JJ is an unsuspecting spiritual giant in the US Army. Cool yeah!?


Ingrid Schroder

Australian Princess!!! The worlds best photographer, owner of her own graphic design firm Be Visual, amazing friend, surfer, and publisher of the internet’s best environmental website Cohabitaire, (you must check this site out) she is a blessing for us all.


Nicole Schirm

You would be lucky to catch this wonderful women as she is constantly bouncing around the globe with her beau; Consular Officer Christopher Schirm. They are currently living in Ha Noi, Vietnam. Before the big move Nicole was active in the yoga communities of DC, Denver and the Twin Cities. She has been teaching yoga, managing yoga studios, running Vinyasa Yoga Teacher Trainings and LifeStyle programs for the last several years. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, trying new street food(any food), travel and exploring Ha Noi. Nicole is a legend no matter where she goes and she has some seriously  valuable experiences to share. I can’t wait!

HEADSHOTNicole Schrader

So, there you have it.

Simona, Mary, Faraaz, Ali, Deebo, Ashleigh, Leah, JJ, Ingrid, and Nicole.

Arn’t they AMAZING!? 

I hope you are as excited as I am to hear from them. I have had some sneek-peeks at their pieces and it is all good stuff. We are in for a treat.

As I finalize this post I am sitting in the Heathrow airport in London, preparing to head to Uganda.

It is the perfect opportunity to reflect on…

Why we are having these guest writers in the first place?

Watching all of the different kinds of people weaving in and out of each other, heading in all different directions, each bound for or returning from awakening life experience of some kind or another I have this extreme desire to hear from them. Where are they going? What have they seen? What did they learn? What are they learning in this moment!? I know that I personally get so much from hearing about others life experiences.  I find it fascinating and often I find that really, we aren’t so different after all.With the 10 posts from these writers we will get a special glimpse into the hearts of some truly special people that you could easily simply pass by in an airport.

I can’t put into words the feelings I have as we head to Uganda, where I anticipate… I guess I actually anticipate being totally surprised! The one thing I am CERTAIN of is that something will be learned about the world, and surely of myself, by simply experiencing the unknown, the beautiful, and possibly the uncomfortable. I am also confident we will be fairly busy and that the internet will be, again… I don’t know! Thus I am thrilled to have 10 AMAZING guest writers to add value to our lives by sharing themselves!

Stay tuned for the first post by David Rafn Kristjansoon, from Iceland:

 “An Inuit’s Path to Ignorance”

*** Also please follow us on Facebook- Taozi Tree Yoga– for more on our travels and shared yogic words of wisdom***