Thursday, January 29, 2009

A lesson in expectations - yoga for everyone!

Here's a story.

Over the past month I have been teaching two morning classes a week and the cement plant, Lafarge, just outside of Canmore. As a part of the company's heath and wellness iniative all the workers (over 100 of them) have the option to participate in, and get paid for, morning "stretch" classes every day of the week.

Deb Boucher, a local pilates teacher and busy mother put enormous amounts of energy into getting this program going and I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to work with such a diverse demographic.

Prior to teaching my first class, I was nervous and full of expectations about how the union workers would receive my classes. I was wary of being a lone female amidst a crowd of men. I dressed in baggy Carharts, boots and wore safety goggles to meet the warehouse standards while teaching. I was somehow convinced in my mind that these men would be resistant to moving, breathing and stretching - i couldn't have been more off!

As the weeks progressed, I added stretches and often there were over 70 men in the warehouse stretching at 7:15 in the morning. So amazing! Many of the workers made a point of saying thanks, asking questions and letting me know that they were enjoying the program. I am fairly sure that none of them will ever read this but i am sending a huge thanks to all who joined for showing such openness in something that was clearly challenging and new for many of them.

As for me, i am still learning and reflecting on the way my mind manifested ideas and judgments about the way my classes would be received at Lafarge. Every day our minds create situations that are not actually true and i believe that so much suffering and many challenges result from the energy we put in to these false realities...

I share with you this story in hopes that we can all move a little closer towards a truth that is free from the clouds of judgment that often sneak into our lives in ways we don't even realize.

As for yoga - more so then ever the time I spent at Lafarge has shown me this practice can reach out and enrich the lives of anyone, if the opportunity is there.

more soon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sit Still and Enjoy Going Deeper

The French Philosopher Pascal said that all human happiness comes down to the ability to sit still in a room alone.

Why do you think that is?
We're together on this one.
The simple act of sitting by yourself without distraction. Distraction from what?

(Where ever you go there you are)

Yourself. But maybe more than that. Maybe just what is. A percentage yourself and a percentage the world around you. The very amorphous moment that is now. Contact with this gives an unexplainable sensation of peace. Quietude. Continuance.

I once heard that if you don't find sitting still interesting, than sit for longer. 5, 10, 15, 60 minutes... things become more interesting. True that! I strongly recommend that you try it.

Sitting still for elongated periods shifts your awareness from the gross to the subtle. Yoga shifts your awareness from the dense to the refined and ethereal. Yoga shifts your awareness from your external sense environment to the internal environment of your mind body matrix. Once this is established and explored it expands you back out into your environment- without losing your awareness of the inner world. Then you are moving in two directions. Expansion happens. Amplification. Vertically you are ascending to your natural potential and horizontally you are interconnected with others and the earth the way you innately know you can be. Openness happens in the mind and body. You can be in a relationship that is harmonious with yourself and the other. Give/receive, love/be loved, inhale/exhale.

Sitting still for elongated periods you can help you to be more in tune with your body and mind. Where do the thoughts come from? Where do they go? Can you do this without thinking about the proper answer or what someone else would say? Can you not only feel the skin but the flesh? The place in your chest where your heart is... in front of the spine and behind the sternum? Can you feel it beating? Can you be in tune with one single cycle of inhale and exhale? Which nostril has a more open channel for air? Which lung expands more freely and is it related to the weight on your sitting bones?

How interesting.

While sitting with your eyes closed you don't care about what you look like or about what others think of you... and it is not like you don't care because you are too smart or good to care about such things, but just because you actually DON'T CARE. The way you FEEL is much more interesting and enthralling.

Who knew?

I was hiking up a trail the other day and I ran into a nice gentleman and we struck up a conversation about yoga. He was telling me how he really wants to get back into yoga but the type of class he was looking for was specific. He really hates it when the teacher asks the students to feel the relationship of their anus to the roof of their mouth. He just wants a good stretch.
No judgement on that! A good stretch is an amazing experience!
However, these things may seem silly at first but with a bit of practice they seem completely valid and interconnected to the state of the asana. If you can feel the dome of your perineum and the dome of your palate and their striking similarities... chances are you are not entangled in a cluster of tricky thoughts that are distracting you from the moment- and from actually living your life.
And.... (this is all stuff I need to be reminded of, so when I'm talking about you I am not pointing any fingers, I'm really talking about us)
Maybe the next time you go to the store you will actually remember those eco reusable bags. And you won't forget that really nice person's name. (Doh!) And when you are listening to someone tell their story of sadness you will be totally present with them and will give them the space to tell it. And when you are angry with someone because your own agitation levels are in the red, you will take a deep breath and not say the nasty little thing that is on the tip of your tongue. When you are climbing you will be absorbed in the upward flow without thinking of falling. When you are riding or skiing or biking you will hit the tranny without hesitation. When you are hanging out with your child you will understand the primal, ready and uninhibited ways of an innocent youth... without getting angry. When you have an interaction with an animal you will be able to speak to them without uttering any sounds.

And you won't take yourself too seriously for making any mistakes if you slip up... you'll know they are in the past, which has no business in the present moment - that you can observe as you sit still in a room alone.


Asana Tip for the Day (Inspiration from Patricia Walden):
In Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand) press the OUTER shoulder down into the mat. Press the outer elbow down into the mat.
Be aware of the shoulder blades and press them onto your back so the upper spine curls in to the space behind your heart. Don't let your middle back be dead in the posture. Lengthen strongly the latissimus dorsi muscles on both sides and sharpen your inner leg so it journeys UP to the ceiling.
Spread your toes and soften your facial muscles.
Lift your chin a small amount so that there is a space between the back of your neck and the floor and the C7 is lifting away from the floor ever so slightly.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Authenticity - Who am i??

Whoa - that's a big question? But perhaps a good one??

On some levels seeking an authentic human experience should be easy, we are after all human, so aren't all of our experiences authentic??

Maybe...but there is something innocent inside of each of us that intuitively knows certain experiences are deeper and more meaningful.
They effect us into our core.

Certain conversations that are more from the heart then from the head.
Some days we are more present in our lives then others,
Filled with a sense of purpose and freedom
Accepting fears and flaws without fleeing into avoidance of truth.
Humbled by the harshness and magnificence of the world.

Breaths are deeper,
postures flow beyond analysis or judgment.
Stillness is everywhere.

I accept that the depth of these experiences shines in comparison with a world that challenges us daily with consumer culture, media, small-talk and an excess of intellectual analysis.

But, in accepting that, I am also striving to daily dive deeper into real experiences that deepen my human experience. I believe this is a conscious choice and even within the world of yoga one we need to be mindful of.

Recently i've been reading and listening to the ponderings of an inspiring yoga teacher Michael Stone ( Below is a quote from his recent book, The Inner Tradition of Yoga.

"The heart of yoga is the cultivation of equilibrium in mind and body so that one can wake up to the reality of being alive, which includes not just joy and health but impermanence, aging, suffering and death. A yoga practice that excludes the shadows of illness or aging cuts itself off from the truths of being alive. Similarly, a practice that focuses exclusively on physical culture and the performance of yoga poses at the expense of psychological understanding and transformation is a one-sided practice. Without the balanced practice of all eight limbs, and a path rooted in the first limb (morals and ethics) especially, yoga practice can easily become another form of materialism."

I'll leave you with that for today, more soon! I'm off to another workshop with Rameen Peyrow - this time here in Canmore. Sattva is the name of the workshop, perhaps the title of my next writing...three weeks till i head west, getting really excited for the coast and the little studio which will soon come to life!


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Good Grooves

When deepening one's practice of yoga one penetrates or becomes aware of different layers in the psyche and the body. Like peeling back the skin of an onion to reveal another strikingly similar layer. Yoga is a psychosomatic practice, it pertains to the mind and the body. For example, a yoga practice may make one feel stress free, buoyant and bright, but may also make a person become painfully aware of a deeper layer of their psyche that contains guilt and embarrassment. When a person becomes more aware of themselves they start to become more aware of their surroundings and their impact on their surroundings. Similarly, a yoga practice may make someone feel like their hamstrings and shoulders become more pliable and supple, but this level of progress will expose deeper layers of restriction or weakness in the body... for example the achilles and the iliopsoas.
The restriction in the mind and the body in the form of patterning is referred to as Samskaras in Buddhism. Samskaras are the fundamental impressions left on an individual, which are acquired in the present and the previous lives through various experiences. These samskaras prove to be the coded form of the entire life of an individual.
Everything we do or think leaves an imprint. Samskaras are like psychological and physiological grooves or slide paths that become harder to break or cease flow of as they get stronger. We all know how hard it is to break addictive habits!
For example, I was making a ginger beet soup yesterday and I decided to chop the fresh ginger root into tiny pieces using my left and less dominant hand. I couldn't believe how awkward and difficult it was to chop 1/4 of a cup of the stuff. I strongly kept wanting to switch hands and I became a little agitated. While this process was going on I was just observing the way my mind reacted to attempting to break a physiological habit. The groove was very deep. It made me wonder what kind of psychological grooves I may possess that I am not yet fully aware of.
There is much work ahead for me.
No one has ever said there isn't a little pain on the path to freedom. But maybe the pain doesn't have to be YOUR pain or MY pain. Maybe it is just pain, and it is universal.
In each moment we have the choice to create another samskara (volitional formation) through dullness, negativity and habit patterning. We also have the choice of making a good groove (mental disposition) by just observing reality as it arises with awareness of our impact on others and the earth. We have the choice of making good grooves.

My experience thus far has been that as soon as I feel like I have "gotten somewhere" with anything pertaining to becoming more liberated in my experience of life there is another layer waiting to be explored and peeled back to expose another. Ambition to become enlightened could either leave me perpetually unsatisfied or it could be balanced with the wisdom that I can be free in each stage of the path by realizing the true and pure nature of perfect awareness without judgement or self reference. There may be steps to take, slowly and persistently, but freedom can be in each step and with each breath. The balance is tedious, and my mind continually wants to label and own things as they come up into my experience, but I feel the most progress when I appreciate and observe the small things and when I act for someone else's benefit.

The mind and body is a wonderful apparatus isn't it?

Speaking of which we went climbing in the sun today! The first pitches of the year... and I was free when I observed the sensation of the first sunlight hitting skin after a few long weeks of winter.

I hope you enjoyed it too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

For my Mother

Hello everyone, and happy new year!

It has been a while since i've written - so inspired but lost for words of how to describe the gift of life and learning. I've also been busy, settling back into the Rockies after an amazing holiday with my family in Ontario. Just over a month in these mountains, surrounded by a wonderful community that has given me so much. I am enjoying every moment!

And, within each moment i am becoming more and more excited for the new adventure in Squamish.

Tomorrow is my mother's birthday.
If i could give her a hug and walk by the lake with her i would, but with provinces between us - i'll share my love for her below.

Gifted with grace, openness and a true passion for life she teaches me each and everyday.

In love with her garden
her books, her family and her children.
So much so that i often wonder when she makes time for herself.

Amazed by the simplicities of this often overly complex world.
Patient and so unconditionally giving of her love and her energy.

Over the holidays someone commented that we would turn our heads for a moment and my mom would have another gourmet meal on the table.

Yoga is so much about surrender to the truths of being alive.
And within surrender is absolute freedom.
So many of the lessons i am humbled by in this life my mother embraces in a simple, modest way.
Friend, mother, sister and lover - you are so beautiful.
I love you.

The photos are from the time i spent by Lake Ontario with my family over the holidays.
Thank you to all of you for being such an inspiring part of my life.

Family can mean so many different things to different people. Either way, it is the people who are closest to us that can teach us the most about ourselves in relationship to this world. As long as we have ears to listen??

love to all of you!
p.s. Our website is all updated, feel free to check it out and share your thoughts. - less then two months until our opening weekend!