Reflections

Courage To Fall

blogs.forbes.com

In a conversation with my pal Jennifer before class started last night, she filled me in on some changes she is making in her life. Risks she’s decided to take because the saying, you never know until you try, deems to be true (funny how clichés tend to be true). Yet, making a big change, or trying something foreign or different often brings a sense of fear along with it.

For instance, I find myself going to lengths of comparing pros and cons before I make a big decision that will bring change to my life. I’m unsure if the idea for change sparks from a right feeling or desire, or the need for a challenge. So I weigh all the thoughts surrounding the risk for change and take my time before making a final verdict. Then I stop and ask, who cares?! Why do the things we lean towards need to be justified if they feel right?

Last week in a Vinyasa Power Flow class, I took several risks. My shoulders and arms violently quivered as I attempted four arm stand and side crow over and over again. I pushed myself because it felt right. I was determined that my body could manage. I knew the worst that could happen was I’d fall, and I did. Flat out like a pancake I just splattered onto my mat. My body, at that point had enough. But instead of harping on my decision to take this risk with my body, I laughed. Falling is actually kind of fun. Instead of beating myself up over failing to do the pose, I gave myself credit for trying and making progress.

Why is risk taking in yoga, when if done improperly could result in injury, so carefree? So unruffled? We will inevitably fall out of the pose, but we hold our dignity while we do it. We know that after falling, we’re merely right back to where we started and nothing less.

This notion is so simple in our yoga Kula, yet so hard in our outside community. How do we incorporate the courage to fall into our daily lives?

To quote the risk taking Jennifer, I’ll always have what I have now, so if this change doesn’t work out, I’ll be right back here. And here, the now, isn’t such a bad place to end up.

How do you bring your yoga mentality into your daily life?

YOGA. BELOVED PETS. SONG BIRDS UNITE! A 2012 CALENDAR PHOTO CONTEST

HOT OFF THE PRESS: An opportunity for yoga teachers and students to get involved in something revolutionary AND play with their pets?! You bet!

Three songbirds of renowned talent and compassion; Melissa McClelland, Janine Stoll and  Lisa Winn founded Ladybird Animal Sanctuary, a multi-tiered safe haven for abandoned animals, a means of advocating for our furry friends, and a call to action in our communities Canada wide to help reduce the extraordinary number of cats and dogs euthanized each year.

Social Change meets Yoga once again; and Ladybird Sanctuary is pioneering a great marriage of sorts, by combining our devotion to Yoga and the devotion to our beloved pets to help animals everywhere! 

Leveraging their talent as musicians, songwriters and singers; they have co-created the Yoga Calendar 2012 project; which is generating a huge blissful buzz amongst Canada’s Yoga community!

Ladybird is currently calling for submissions across Canada; photos that capture and convey the playful, poignant, relationships we have with our pets and our yoga practice. Take a photo of your best downward or upward facing dog, cats flow, pigeon pose or any other pose displaying you and your lovely pet and you could win a spot in their 2012 calendar and be featured on their website!

Proceeds from the 2012 Yoga Calendar will go towards a safe haven/ rescue adoption space for animals to help take the load off local shelters bursting at the seams, as well as therapeutic programs for animals, community outreach programs and workshops on important topics; such as spaying and neutering your pet.

 If you don’t have a pet, but advocate for the protection of our furry friends you can still take part! Full spectrum of contest guidelines can be found by visiting their website or Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ladybirdanimalsanctuary  or by simply emailing [email protected] on how to get involved!

 What a great way to combine Yoga, your beloved furball and social change for the betterment of all creatures big and small!

Sources:

Ladybirds Animal Sanctuary: http://ladybirdanimalsanctuary.com/

Melissa McClelland:http://www.melissamcclelland.com/

Baby Steps

As mentioned in a previous post of mine, I have just recently had an operation; an operation to remove my gallbladder and gallstones. As this is right in the region of the core muscles, and having practice yoga for over 13 years, I was nervous as to how this would affect not only my ability to practice but also my ability to teach.

When I asked my surgeon how long my recovery would take the expected response was “as long as it takes, it depends on each individual”. What about yoga, I asked. Again the response, “take it easy and play it by how you feel; your body will tell you how slow or fast you should go”.

When he said that I was curious, but also hopeful that my body would tell me what was okay, hopeful that my mind would not get in the way of my recovery. As we have all experienced, the mind has its own set of rules, expectations and judgements. Sometimes these expectations are perfectly reasonable. Other times we can be very critical on ourselves.

As I am just on the early side of recovery I am hoping I will not fall into any false expectations or overly critical judgements of myself, but really I won’t be surprise when I do. It is natural to set up goals for oneself. I am hoping that if I keep reminding myself to take it easy, be kind and just accept whatever happens as being exactly what is supposed to happen, things will be fine.

I know that at least I have a foundation of yoga within me. That yogic breathing sets one up to regulate the body, to slowly calm and focus the mind away from all the rushing thoughts and expectations back to what is truly important: to remain focused on the breathe and try to relax.

It is also important to note that when trying to manage pain, a three pronged approach of yogic breathing, relaxation and meditation has be proven to help. According to an article in WomenFitness.net, meditation can have a 40% reduction in pain intensity. As muscles tend to relax when exhaling, it seems only logical that to extend the exhalation could only help reduce any built up tension. When in pain there is an increase in stress and tension, as the body tries to push the pain away. But by allowing yourself to remain focused on your breathing, allowing yourself to relax, this gives you an opportunity to move through the pain rather than resist it.

Of course this is all about taking baby steps back to a practice that is so important. I am hoping that if you or anyone you know are dealing with an injury or possibly chronic pain that you will continue to give yoga a try. And please remember to be kind to yourself.

(source: weightlosssteps.net)

5 Ways To Make Your Practice Your Own

1. Follow your teacher’s instructions during class, but do your own thing at home. Did you learn the “proper” way to sequence a class during a workshop or teacher training? Try it that way for a while (so you know you understand how to protect yourself from injuries), then throw it out the window. There are no absolutes in yoga. Experiment and find out what works for you.

2. Practice a lot! Practice at home. Practice at work. Practice in your car. Practice at the grocery store. Practice while you do dishes. Practice at the dog park. Practice at the beach. Practice before you fall asleep at night. Practice… well…you get the point… Eventually, you’ll find your own rhythm, breath, and style, but it takes TONS of practice…

Click here to read the rest of this article.

Balancing On Life’s Beam

shadesofpinkmagazine.com

I recently had a personal epiphany about balance in my life, and the lack of it.

I didn’t realize my imbalance until I found myself rushing on Sunday evenings when I didn’t accomplish anything as planned over the weekend. I was grumpy after work when coming home to my disorganized, untouched little suite. I was dissatisfied with my lack in reading, in practicing yoga, and in writing.

So what did I do to try and regain some balance? I chased it. Fast. Only to find after over a month of this desperate and unsuccessful chase, I had to stop. You cannot catch balance no matter how long you chase it for; balance will catch you when you slow down.

But how can we catch ourselves before we lose our balance? When researching answers, I came across a technique in Psychology Today called S.W.E.E.P by Dr. Charles Sophy.

Sophy writes, Balance is a scale, both concrete and imaginary, on which we weigh things that affect all aspects of our lives. To live our lives to the fullest, we must try to find balance in five key areas which together form the acronym S.W.E.E.P.

The five key areas to examine are Sleep, Work, Eating, Emotional expression of self, and Play.

People whose S.W.E.E.P is in check, can teach, guide and love from a position of balance and, quite simply, have better overall relationships. When we strike that balance and make that connection between our minds and our hearts, many benefits follow.

In reading this, I couldn’t believe how seemingly obvious these tasks are. I rolled my eyes as I read about the importance of sleep and eating, I mean, who doesn’t know this stuff?

Nevertheless, as obvious as these five areas are, I slipped up and need to work on a few.

Just like in yoga, some days we can hold Warrior Three without wobbling or struggling. Yet, there are those times when we shake and vibrate to hold the pose for a mere minute. So what do we do? We come out of the pose, come back to our breathing, focus on our intention, and try again. We slow down to catch what we want. And we can all agree, that it works.

For the full S.W.E.E.P article, go here: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/side-side/201003/how-keep-your-life-in-balance-using-sweep

Working Hard or Hardly Working?

I have been doing a lot of hard (power) yoga classes. My yoga practice has been really strong. If I don’t press up into urdhva dhanurasana (wheel) at least once per class then I don’t feel as though I’ve really been on my mat. Which is wonderful. My practice is whatever I need it to be– when I need to work hard, I work hard, and when I need to rest, I rest. Wanting to be “better” at yoga than I am is not one of the ego problems that I am working on– or if it is, it’s at the bottom of the list.

So I’ve been sweating it out. And I feel great.

I’ve always been attracted to a powerful style of yoga practice, and vinyasa is what makes my heart sing. But for years I took it easy because of injury. I’ve been taking little forays into power classes and staying there longer and longer (which means 5 or 6 classes a week for me right now– I work from home).

Source: penelopesoasis.com

What I’ve found is that instead of working harder, I’m actually letting go more, finding ways to float through my practice. My body is strong and knows where to go, but it’s more that I’m training my mind to flow. The other day I tried Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana (two legged inverted staff pose) for the first time. Instead of thinking “there’s no way I can do that”, I thought “why not?” It wasn’t easy, but it felt easy.

Of course training my mind is a lot harder than training my body. But little by little I make progress.

Little by little I let go when it counts.

A MOVEMENT MEDITATION

“With a body made joyous through movement, the mind is able to relax. With mind/body balance, we can take the power of feeling good and generate compassion.” —The Sakyong, Jamgön Mipham Rinpoche (Zen Buddhist)

Movement frees the body and mind. It is one of the most natural and functional movements the body can harness, as it propels us forward in life, literally, as well as metaphorically. Running is often the form of exercise chosen to reduce stress, which brings us greater perspective in connecting us directly with the wisdom and appreciation of our body mechanics.

Most runners will naturally agree, that running is a form of mental therapy, their time to just be… free and joyous.

This begs the question; does the practice running and the practice of mediation have similar affects on the body and mind?  The answer would be yes, and when nurtured can not only improve your state of running, but your state of mind.

The art and practice of meditation and yoga can offer similar benefits; which aid us cultivating stillness and nonjudgmental awareness of the mind’s activities. Even though one is sedentary and the other is not, they both require consistency and discipline. They both are a form of training and both are benefited when the student uses the skill of visualization and control within the moment.

As a  an ultrarunner and founder of RUN for A CAUSE, meditation and yoga are a significant part of my training all year round, as well as for those I coach.

When the mind is trained, the body follows and as many runners will convey, there is a moment in every athlete’s state of performance and consciousness when there is this sense of union within the body. All your senses are heightened and you feel free, even in the presence of fatigue.

Running can be seen as the extension of a basic meditative practice. The next time you head out for a run focus and meditate on your intention and don’t forget to hit the Yoga mat post run for a good stretch.

Next week lets look at the art of meditation in exercise as a preventative tool in prevention of injury and rehabilitation.

My Favorite Little Mantras.

The word “mantra” is a Sanskrit word consisting of two syllables: “man” (mind) and “tra” (deliverance).

Mantras are energy-based sounds that can have great psychological, spiritual and transformational effects. Mantras help to manifest intent, overcome obstacles (and remove inhibitions), instigate energy (prana), create awareness, relieve stress, help calm the mind and eventually elevate our consciousness. They can be written down, thought, whispered chanted, sung and breathed

I think it’s also important to mention that there are several interpretations and translations, but that it is possible that through practice, we all can gain an understanding that goes beyond words.

Here is a little bit about my personal favorites.

SAT NAM (sut nahm)

This mantra is widely used in the practice of Kundalini Yoga. Sat means the Truth while Nam means to call upon or to identify with. The meaning of the mantra is something like this: I recall upon the eternal Truth that resides within all of us. It is said that chanting this mantra awakens the soul.

SOHAM (soo hum)

This mantra is said to be a universal mantra vibration that identifies oneself with the Universe or ultimate reality. In Sanskrit, it means ‘I myself’ or ‘It is I’. This mantra is said to act as a ‘natural’ mantra to control ones breathing to achieve deep breath and to gain concentration – Soo the sound of inhalation and Hum the sound of exhalation.

OM NAMA SHIVAYA (aum num-ha shi-why)
Also called the five-syllable mantra is known to be a powerful redeeming mantra, it means ’I bow to Shiva.’ Shiva being the supreme reality, or inner self, is the name given to the consciousness that dwells in us all. This mantra is said to lead to self-realization. The five syllables are said to represent the five elements of earth, water, fire, air and space.

OM MANI PADME HUM (aum  ma-nee pahd-may hum)

This mantra means something like ‘aum to the jewel within the lotus.’ It is said to bring you joy and peaceful vibrations, invoke wisdom and compassion and to free us from the negative emotions of the mind and speech.

OM (aum)

A mantra that is often used in yoga is a symbol of the deep realities of the Universe and the individual human being. It is also said to be a roadmap to Self-realization.

What is your favorite?

Yoga A-holes Unite

Define Yoga A-hole you may say? If you read Lia Aprile’s April 19th article with the Elephant Journal, How to Tell if You’re a Yoga A-hole, you may find yourself in many of her descriptions. I know I did and I hate to say it Vancouver, but yoga a-holes are all over this city.

My definition of a yoga a-hole is a self proclaimed yogi who doesn’t actually live up to the true yogi lifestyle . We open with om, stay present with our Kula, maintain gratitude throughout our classes, smile, breathe, sigh. But the moment we step off that mat, we leave our yogic mentality at the door. Rushing to leave the studio, pushing our way through the doors, we don’t smile, our breathing quickens, and we begin to create mental lists of all the things we have and want to do.

In class, we preach we don’t need anything. We could go on living without ever getting any more than we currently have and we’d be fine. Completely fine. But in reality, want and need become interchangeable. We strive to gain. Push our limits. Try and taint fate. And all the things we claim to believe during our practice mean nothing in our real lives.

We talk about being present and gracious. We write about it, share our stories with family and friends, recommend it to those who will benefit from it– but do we live it as we preach it? I know I don’t.

I cannot list the amount of times I have told someone he or she should go to yoga. It will help you stay present, focus on what’s truly important, teach you how to breathe, make you feel better about yourself and your body, place you in deep relaxation…as if I’m more enlightened than them because I practice this in the studio. This make me an a-hole. We must practice this in our daily lives to have the  benefits come to light.

How do we turn off our brains as we do in class and listen to our hearts? How do we carry the skill from our lessons  into the world? I don’t know about you, but I feel I’m in need of a good ass kicking to banish the yoga a-hole from my being and actually practice what I preach.

PLAY. BUILD. REACH. LEARN! How do you practice sustainability in the real world?

Ideas Worth Spreading.  Riveting Talks By Remarkable People, Free The World!

Does this sound familiar? If you guessed Ted.com, then Namaste to you!

Over the course of the last decade through the art and science of Yoga I have sought out Dharana (inner conceptualization and compassionate awareness). Through the service to others and much like Yoga intends – found a place of union with something larger then myself; which we know to be the basic fundamentals of the yamas and niyamas of Yoga teachings. Yet, it is no easy task as the landscape of the global revolution changes daily.

At a cross roads I continually find myself asking, how do we practice sustainability in real life?  Today I ask all those who embody the Yoga way to take their practice off the mat and consider this opportunity…

Imagine for one moment, if we could harness that potential as kids? Imagine for one moment the potential if we START with our kids? And lastly, imagine for one moment we could return and re connect with that child-like potential as adults?

It takes a community to raise a village, therefore empowering kids’ means they don’t even have to be your own! We live in a generation where; yoga, get your green on and sustainability are part of our evolutionary process, WE are passing these teachings onto the next generation! Humanity’s framework is always under construction.

This is what [email protected] is preparing to achieve on Sept 17 2011.  Vancouver will host the conference’s first home. [email protected] is a platform for facilitating opportunities to empower kids and support authentic learning. A gathering of remarkable people with young hearts will aim to share their captivating stories borne from genuine curiosity and bold ideas. Much like Ted.com conference, except with the color and vibrancy of play, build, reach and learn and as adults, I say we embrace our inner kids!

In a recent Ted.com video with Jacqueline Norvogratz, called “Living a Life of Immersion,” she coined this closing statement, and I ask each of you to meditate on it for a moment during your next Dharana practice…

Robert Kennedy once said, “few of us have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and it is in the total of all those acts that the history of this generation will be written.”

If you know a speaker, nominate them! If you have a story to tell please apply @[email protected] Story telling, this is one way we create sustainability in the real world!

Sources:

Ted.com: www.ted.com

[email protected]: www.tedxkidsbc.com/

The Beauty of Grace

I came to my mat this morning and was reminded to let go of any judgements.

Maybe you are like me in that there is a continuous stream of running commentary throughout your practice.

Some days are better than others; sometimes I can completely surrender to my breath. I silence the “monkey mind”, let go and just appreciate the flow of my body, the steady in and out of my breath. Only a few comments slip out under my breath, but mostly I can forget about everything but the sound of my breath coming in and out of my nostrils.

Other times I am continuously judging my every move; where am I, how am I doing, comparing everything to yesterday’s session or perhaps the day before. This can get very frustrating as the more judgemental I get the less I seem to enjoy my class, I feel as if there is nothing I can do right.

Yet, if I just let go; if I can just practice Aparigraha by letting go of my expectations; letting go of all my worries, fears, and judgements – I will fall into the ease of just being.

Even the phrase sounds lovely… to just fall into being my true self. To allow myself to be who I am supposed to be without any expectations of being other that what I am at this perfect moment.

Have you found yourself comparing a previous class to one you are currently in and found something lacking? I have…

I compare the teacher to another. I compare how well I am doing; how the flow is going. So many things to think about, yet really…  why was that class more fulfilling. What expectations do I have of myself in this class; why is the class not working for me today?

Is it possible that I more fully surrendered into just existing; that I surrendered more deeply? That I allowed myself to relax, to let go of everything – with no thought as to how things should be, or how I want things to be.

Just the pure bliss of experiencing the present moment with no thought tied in yesterday or tomorrow.

If I can just admit that I am choosing not to be fulfilled in this present moment; that my expectations of this moment is what is holding me back from just being. If I allowed myself the pleasure of just experiencing I would receive the grace of just being.

Aparigraha reminds us to let go, to allow you the space to fill with grace.

(source: luna0729.blogspot.com)

Oh Lordy, Yoga For Forty Part 3

wellsphere.com

When dressing for work, I noticed my pants’ zipper went up a little easier. Really? I thought. So I did what I very rarely do…I went to the mirror. Oh… what the hell. I lifted each arm and flexed my biceps – whoa, they look bigger. Not bulky, just leaner. One could call them pipes.

Pleased with my results, I lifted my pant legs to my knees, turned around, looked over my shoulder back into the mirror, and went up onto my tiptoes. I have calve muscles? And they’re defined?

Then, I went there. Hesitantly, but I was on a roll. I lifted my shirt to just above my hips and went for a grab at the sides of my waist – the forbidden exposure of the muffin-top. I couldn’t grab as much as usual…I couldn’t grab as much as usual! I have less to grab there! I would’ve never thought.

Running upstairs is easier and I sit up straighter. I can finally relax my shoulders more and touching my toes is a breeze. I feel more comfortable in spandex, less concerned about my future, and just plain better all around.

Sure, on April 21st, that final fortieth day after my fortieth class, I went home with a list of things I had to catch up on. My taxes, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping – the usual. I went away for the weekend and gave my body a long rest. But it felt weird. My joints were cracking, my neck stiffening, and my shoulders tensing. I need yoga. I miss yoga, my Kula. So after getting out of my yogic routine, I now cannot wait to get back into one…not every day, but steadily.

For some, forty days of yoga is minimal and part of their regular practice. For me, it was a challenge. A real challenge with much dedication and motivation needed along the way. But I did it and so did many others and it makes the daily challenges in life seem a little more bearable.

After all, if we can hold chair pose every day for forty days and come out feeling strong, I’m convinced we can handle most uncomfortable situations patiently with focus and come out stronger. All it takes is movement, momentum, and breathing. As one of my favourite teacher’s Ara Cusack always says at the end of each of her classes, “remembering that’s all that it takes.” I now understand what she means. Namaste.

KARMA YOGA: DO YOGA, DO GOOD

Yoga for Social Change! 

Karma (meaning to do or action) Yoga (meaning union):  in its simplest meaning literally translates to selfless service, the discipline of action or the union through action; which ultimately brings us closer to dharma.

A growing trend in the West, Karma Classes have been gaining momentum at a steady Vinyasa. More importantly, karma classes are finding their own place amongst social change makers and the Sports Philanthropy Movement; harnessing the Ying to the Yang in the therapeutic sense. This movement is designed to engage industry leaders and professional teachers in a dialogue about the value of sports/therapeutic philanthropy and aims to connect them with social change tools and causes that best fit their passions, recognizing their efforts to inspire others.

About a month ago I posted an article on Yoga & Activism, and karma class, my Yogic friends is the vehicle from which the compassionate-asana is driven! Karma classes also allows for a unique space, where the energy from inside a class is solely dedicated to a greater purpose!

From a business perspective the Yoga Industry can leverage their business in a socially responsible manner and showcase great grassroots initiatives/causes that can have a deep impact towards sustainable, positive change; both locally and internationally. More over; foster social change from a place of hope, opportunity and positive prana on a larger scale.

You can find a karma class at almost any Yoga studio these days, but if you are looking for a larger unified front, this has recently come across my radar and I felt compelled to share…

“Why stretch when you can reach?”  – The Engage Network

…is their tagline. Founded by Sean Crone, Hala Khouri and Suzanne Sterling” Off the Mat, Into the World ® (OTM),” is a non-profit program of The Engage Network, and is dedicated to bridging yoga and activism and is geared towards communities around the world who collaborate for social change. Understanding the idea that we are stronger and more powerful together then we are apart, making a difference starts from the foundation, our roots.

As Yoga teachers and advocates for compassion, a karma class is an incredible tool in our toolkit to bring awanress to social change and connection to our global community!

Sources:

 The Engage Network: http://www.offthematintotheworld.org/community.html

 Charter for Compassion: http://charterforcompassion.org/site/

 SAVE THE DATE: Camp Moomba Yogathon & Blissfest, July 24th Vancouver BC.

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