The DeniZen Project
denizen: noun \ˈde-nə-zən\ 1. an inhabitant of a particular place, e.g.'denizens of field and forest'
Zen: noun \ˈzen\ 1. a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism 2. an approach that emphasizes intuition over conventional thinking
The DeniZen Project cultivates ecological stewardship in children through immersive, science-based environmental education and the disciplines of yoga and capoeira. By developing self-confidence, creativity, and an empathy for wildlife through animal-inspired movements, children learn to become caretakers for their biosphere and its denizens.
ABOUT THE DENIZEN PROJECT:
What is Capoeira?
A martial art developed by African slaves brought to Brazil, capoeira is thought to be about 500 years old. It is unique in that it is the only martial art executed to music. Many historians believe that the rhythmic movements of capoeira were used by slaves to disguise their martial training as a benign dance to fool their Portuguese captors.
Today, capoeira is played by two people who engage in a corporal conversation in a roda -- a circle of people who sing, clap, and play instruments. The music commands the tempo and energy of the game, which is played with a series of kicks and escapes. When executed by skilled capoeiristas, the game is a moving jigsaw puzzle of precise configurations that is a thrill to behold.
Click here to see more capoeira.
The DeniZen Project was founded by Monica "Cigana" Szczupider and Gaurav "Macaco" Pawar in 2015.
The program's interdisciplinary approach, with tactile and age-appropriate science experiments, ecology lessons, and yoga and capoeira classes, combines the professional experiences of Monica and Gaurav.
Monica brings nearly ten years in conservation education in the nonprofit sector to the DeniZen Project. She holds a yoga teaching certification from The Yoga Institute in Mumbai, the oldest academic yoga institution in the world. Gaurav has spent the last decade immersed in the Afro-Brazilian martial art of capoeira. He has been teaching the art form to children and adults for four years. He also incorporates music lessons, both instrumental and vocal, into his capoeira classes.
What is Yoga?
Most people associate yoga with flexibility; after all, how many times have you heard someone say the following?
"I don't do yoga because you have to twist yourself into a pretzel."
But the ancient texts (~400 CE) that form the backbone yoga, The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, are comprised of 196 aphorisms -- and only three are about asanas, or the physical postures of yoga. So what else is yoga about?
The Yamas and Niyamas, for instance, are a collection of do's and don'ts to help a yogi live a balanced life. They are the same code of ethics you find in other philosophies. Be honest. Don't harm others. Practice simplicity. In addition to these tenets, the Yoga Sutras espouse Pranayama (breathing exercises), Pratyahara (going inward), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (enlightenment).
Click here to see more yoga.
A conceptual prototype, the seed that would become the DeniZen Project was first sown in 2013. As a newbie capoeirista (a practitioner of the art), Monica experienced the humbling reminder that earning achievements through hard work was an empowering feeling of ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE! With her background in environmental education, she was certain that if that same confident feeling was replicated in children, then the task of cultivating a generation of ecologically-minded individuals would not be so formidable.
In other words, it is through fostering oneself that a child can begin to care for others.
With a flurry of disciplines in mind -- yoga, capoeira, environmental education, and non-human primate conservation (more on this later) -- the matrix was set, but the method by which to bring the vision to fruition was yet a mystery. In January of 2014, Monica entered Gaurav "Macaco" Pawar's capoeira class for the first time. Though they didn't know it then, the meeting would change both of their lives.
Macaco -- meaning "monkey" in Portuguese -- is not only Gaurav's capoeira apellido (nickname), but it's an advanced movement in the art form, as well. One day, while watching Macaco perform the move for which he was named, something clicked for Monica.
The thread running through all of these things -- yoga, capoeira, and environmental education -- was movement. By exploring creative expressions of the body, while incorporating the ancient wisdom of yoga, children would build self-confidence -- a crucial ingredient to becoming a responsible citizen of the earth. And what was more -- by learning to move like animals though the asanas of yoga and the movements of capoeira -- children would develop an acute empathy for the wildlife they learned about.
And so the DeniZen Project sprouted.
Macaco and Cigana will be married in June, 2015. They split their time between the U.S. and India.
Working in the non-profit sector in her adopted home of Hawai`i, Monica has been a teacher for both the Honolulu Zoo Society and The Hawaii`i Nature Center, teaching from conservation-based curricula. Traveling in the off-season, she completed two commitments at Cameroon's Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center; researched captive male chimp aggression for Emory University (in the form of observation and data collection); authored an undergraduate thesis on chimpanzee conflict and resolution at the University of Hawai`i at Manoa; and has been involved with the (non-human) primates at projects such as the Honolulu Zoo, Chimps, Inc. (Bend, OR), The Primate Trust (Goa, India), and FAZOONIC, the only wildlife rescue center in Nicaragua, to name a few. (Click here to meet some of these primates.)
Monica graduated from The Yoga Institute's teacher training course in 2014, the world's oldest Ashtanga yoga academy (in Mumbai, India). She began her capoeira journey in 2011 with Capoeira Besouro Hawai`i, under Mestre Kinha, a native of Rio de Janeiro.
A freelance writer / photographer, Monica's work has been in Condé Nast Traveler, National Geographic, and SAEVUS, India's conservation magazine.
Gaurav Macaco Pawar hails from the neighborhood of Dadar, smack dab in the heart of Bombay (Mumbai). Growing up an active child in a busy city, Gaurav spent his childhood moving: jumping off of trucks, vaulting over walls, and, of course, honing his Bollywood dance moves. But he had no idea what was in store for him once capoeira entered his life.
In 2005, at the age of 18, Gaurav encountered the Brazilian martial art when he met Reza Massah, who trained in Israel under Mestre Cueca with the group Cordão de Ouro. Soon after, Gaurav received the nickname which became the moniker he nearly always goes by: Macaco .
As one of the first students of Cordão de Ouro in Mumbai, Macaco filled his life with capoeira, but somehow managed to squeeze in a degree in Psychology from Bhavans College as well. Recommitting to capoeira full-time after completing university, Macaco has traveled internationally to attend capoeira events, including the art form's homeland of Brazil. He has also been featured in print and digital media, including TIme Out Mumbai, The Times of India, and most notably alongside his capoeira comrades and Bollywood superstar Hritik Roshan.
A gifted dancer with an ear for rhythm, Macaco appreciates Cordão de Ouro's fluid style and comes alive playing the berimbau, the central instrument in capoeira. He has been teaching capoeira to children and adults for four years.