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Saturday, 30 November 2013

The Cortisol Connundrum

Stress takes it’s toll on our bodies. 
Even when we don't think it does. 
I tend to be a person who "gets things done". I tend to push myself sometimes beyond where balance can be maintained. I like to think of my "go getter" attitude as a positive thing. My body, however, has often stopped me in my tracks way before I even consciously realize that I may be overwhelmed. Interestingly, I think that is true for all of's just a matter of learning to listen to the signals our bodies give us when we have bitten off more than we can chew, so to speak.

This last year for me was indeed a little stressful. After finding what I thought was the PERFECT space for my new yoga studio I was forced to wait for an ENTIRE YEAR to actually get the keys to the space as the former tenants experienced legal difficulties with their own business which delayed them vacating my new studio. So - for literally most of this last 10 months I waited....and waited....and waited....unable to move forward with renovations and unsure whether this was really going to happen or not. I kept advertising and preparing what I could but there were numerous problems that arose. Finally when keys were in hand, renovations began one full year after I had initially paid my first deposit on the building. That, in and of itself, was a whole other adventure. Between faulty electrical, numerous leaks, unhelpful landlords, unreliable workers (one of which who was retained a couple thousand dollars to begin work and then....disappeared....literally), and a VERY old building that needed ALOT of work...Things were challenging. Exciting, yes. But very challenging, and very expensive.

During all of this my body started to show interesting signs of stress overload. I experienced significant weight gain even though nothing much changed in my diet. Plus - weird aches & pains that, at times, were quite debilitating. Not to mention significant digestive and abdominal discomfort that often has made eating not so much fun. 

When we are stressed our body produces an abundance of Cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced when our natural ‘Fight or Flight’ response is triggered. Small amounts of cortisol can be helpful in helping us deal with stresses that arise in life. However, for true balance and healing our body’s Relaxation Response also has to have a chance to kick-in following a stressful event so that the body’s functions can return to normal. Unfortunately in our fast paced society, this isn’t always happening. Especially if you are in a time where your stress is happening over a longer term. As we become busier and busier and try harder to just 'get things done' we spend less and less time allowing our bodies to relax and reset. This often results in states of chronic stress which leads to a host of physiological problems including the ones mentioned above as well as: diminished thyroid function, increased inflammation in the body, digestive disturbances, anxiety, weight gain, sleep problems, hormonal imbalances, increase in “bad” cholesterol, blood sugar imbalances and a real decrease in immune function and sometimes even bone density…among other things. Prolonged periods of stress may also cause the body to react differently to those things which you would normally not even give a second thought to. Injuries may pop out of nowhere as your body continues to show signs of depletion and try to get you to slow down or relax.

Stress really is at the root of many health problems!

In order to keep cortisol levels healthy and in control the relaxation response needs to be activated regularly. A regular yoga practice can help tremendously with this. So can learning relaxation and meditation techniques to help slow yourself down and consciously begin to take time to allow your body to rest and heal.

As a Yoga Teacher...I know all of this. But as a Yoga Studio Owner who is now in the public eye every day, and managing the growing pains of a brand new business,  it becomes interesting to go through my own process in front of everyone. It's humbling. Yet, as Yoga Teachers it is soooo  important to practice what we teach. We are human, just like everyone else. And - the body never lies. It's incapable of doing so. 

So if you, too, are working through a challenging period in your life. It's important to try to balance things by incorporating simple routines that help to balance your nervous system. Here's a few simple suggestions: 
-Take a walk each day and focus on breathing deeply some fresh air into your lungs.
-Enroll in a yoga class and use that time to relax and focus on something other than your stress. 
-Start a nap practice. Seriously. Even if you don't feel "tired", take 20-30 minutes every single day to lie down, turn off your phone, and rest. Even if you don't fall asleep - your body will sense that it is now being given some time to rebalance. And that is exactly what it will do. Try to maintain this for 21 days and see how much better you feel after!
-Go easy on the caffeine and the alcohol. Even though it seems like a good idea at the time it is just a "quick fix" that can actually do much more harm than good.
-When you catch yourself feeling anxious or overwhelmed: start to slow your breathing down to a steady count of 4 or 5 for each breath. Mentally suggest to yourself "All is well. Out of this situation only good will come." Repeat this for about 10 breaths.

And finally - count your blessings. Even in the bleakest moments there is always, always, always something to be grateful for.

Heather's Guided Relaxation Meditation Cd: Click here to purchase...

Monday, 28 October 2013

Detox Yoga

At The Village Yogi, here in Fonthill, we have a Sunday morning class known as the "Detox Flow". Pretty much ALL yoga is cleansing and detoxifying. But on Sundays, stepping on to your mat at the end of the weekend, with the intention of "Releasing all of that which no longer serves me" can be pretty powerful. Moving through a class centered around creating space, rinsing out the internal organs, and releasing any accumulated toxins or tensions from the week is such an awesome way to start a Sunday.

With many postures in the practice involving twisting, folding forward to compress the belly, and resting with the head below the heart (as in Downward Dog, Standing Forward Bends, Shoulderstand, etc), we encourage an increase in circulation throughout the body and move fluid to our filtering lymph nodes. The result is clarity of mind, more effective digestion as we help to move things along, and a gentle release of stress, fear, and sadness.... among many other things.

The body's natural state is health. Your body's job is to constantly eliminate what isn't necessary. When we come to really respect and acknowledge that, there is a deeper reverence for ourselves and a more intimate relationship with our bodies that often leads us towards making cleaner, healthier choices with what we put into our mouths, and also what we allow in our daily experience. When we begin our practice with a powerful intention such as "Even if nothing changed, my body is perfect - exactly as it is." we begin to remove the inner critic and make healthier choices...naturally. Instead of hating that extra weight we've gained (or lost), or feeling angry towards our body for the pain/injury that's forcing us to slow down - we honor it. We lovingly accept and pay attention to it, learning to nurture ourselves back to health. From there the body falls into place effortlessly. When we begin focusing on a compassionate respectful attitude toward ourselves, food cravings begin to subside, and the need to numb and escape lessens as well! Simply because now you are starting to get the right kind of nurturing. Now, you are focusing on yourself with admiration and compassion instead of shame or anger at the way your body is at the moment.

Aside from just the physical aspect of the practice, Detox Yoga can also start in motion a cleansing on the energetic/emotional levels as well. Truth is: your body is built to move. It wants to be active. Gentle consistent movement, regular exercise that encourages perspiration and deeper breathing naturally assists in clearing toxins. Especially emotional ones. Sometimes, when one has been avoiding exercise for whatever reason, getting active again feels somewhat agitating. Almost as if all that stagnant stress, worry, anger, resentment that's been keeping us slothing on the couch with a bottle of red - starts to get all conjured up! I've witnessed it (and experienced it) many times. This, is where a calm detached perspective becomes essential. This is why, at the end of each yoga class, we practice a full complete relaxation in cultivate that ability to detach from any mental chatter or that feeling of alarm as stuck emotions begin to flow again.

This Sunday, for instance, after teaching the Detox class I experienced my own little cleansing. Within an hour of finishing class I met with friends for brunch. Instead of hydrating, or choosing a gentle herbal tea, I followed the pack and ordered a Caesar. Almost instantly after my first sip I knew it wasn't a good idea. The result? Brunch came back up in a not-so-gentle way and I landed in bed for a couple of hours feeling pretty ill. Once I awoke - the rest of the evening was spent feeling weepy, cloudy and generally dis-combobulated as all my own stagnant stresses from this last year started to flow.

Your yoga practice will be Detoxifying. It's just the nature of the practice.
Help yourself along by hydrating adequately before and after class. Pay attention to the foods you fuel yourself with. Take time after each class to let the effects of the practice settle. Learn to be kind and gentle with yourself as you begin to dig deeper and get to know your body in a different way. And finally - watch the tendency to push too hard.

Practice. Be consistent. Be loving and respectful of yourself. Hydrate. Rinse. Repeat.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Teaching (Yoga) is a Privilege

It's true. Teaching Yoga is this wonderful, sacred, tender, exhilarating and sometimes humbling experience.It keeps us connected to our Truth. It's difficult (and incredibly obvious to others) to try and pretend to be someone you aren't when you are teaching. The most powerful of teachers are the ones who teach from their own experience - warts, vulnerabilities, skeletons and all. It reminds us how connected and similar we all are.

Often I'm not certain that students who attend Yoga Classes actually realize that their teacher, who is also Human, has sometimes had to overcome a multitude of setbacks just to make it to class that day. Yoga Teachers take on a phenomenal responsibility. They accept the challenge of allowing their Teaching to become part of their practice. This means that even though they may be tired, financially strapped, fighting with their boyfriend or spouse, menstruating, raising kids, battling traffic to get to the studio, and sometimes searching for their own inspiration - they still Show Up. Because they are committed to the work. And they know, by the sheer wisdom of their training, that all things are connected. And all things are constantly changing. And - as in the words of Pattabhi Jois (the grandfather of Astanga Yoga) if we "Just practice. All else is coming."

A tiny note to Yoga Teachers:
Regardless of where you teach - at the local park, in your own home, or especially at someone else's studio - your classes are your own little niche. Your own little practice.Your own little business. Your time to touch the hearts of others with your service. Be present. Show up. This is a great honor. As your classes build there is a reciprocal healing that takes place. Your students are blessed by you. And you are blessed by them.
That is some serious Magic.

Our Sacred Space - Fonthill's Newest Home for Yoga

The Village Yogi is now open and beginning to thrive.

This marks our official 3rd week of classes. And, I'm happy to report that without much advertising, classes are slowly filling up. It's exciting and wonderful to witness. I've felt since the beginning that this space has it's own Life. It's own heartbeat and a very special energy. While it's located on the bottom floor of a rather old building, our renovation extravaganza has transformed a once deeply neglected space into a homey, funky and peaceful place to practice.

After a couple weeks of settling back into teaching a full schedule I'm FINALLY starting to relax and enjoy the studio.

I've observed every one of the 4 amazing teachers that comprise the Village Yogi Team and all 3 of our Energy Exchange Volunteer Staff. And I am nothing short of deeply impressed. I've decided to simply relax and allow each person to blossom in their own way. I'm simply not going to get trapped in the expensive cat & mouse game of advertising and cohersing clients into the doors by de-valuing our incredible services in ridiculous discounts or gimmicks. I feel so proud and honored by The Team that I am simply going to stand back, allow them to flourish and assist in that process however possible.

I know The Village Yogi boasts some of the most talented, creative, wonderful teachers this entire Region has to offer. How wonderful that this is now open for our community to enjoy! And, yes, I must really stop thinking about this and GET TO BED!

Jaya Ganesha!

Here's a few pictures of our lovely new home: (pics complements of our very own  Jenny Karpenko)

Monday, 23 September 2013

The Renovation Experience 2013

Well, here I am at the starting of an exciting week. I haven't checked in to this blog much over the summer months as I have been up to my eyeballs in renovations at the new studio - The Village Yogi.

After floating around for a couple of years I finally made the decision to re-open my yoga studio. It was an oddly difficult decision to make. But in the end, my love and passion for this work trumped my fear. The space for the new studio quite literally found me. I had been searching for almost 3 years for something suitable, when this place just kind of dropped into my lap. I was so excited at the potential the space has for greatness that I was anxious to get started immediately. But, as the Universe would have it, practically all of this past year has been spent waiting. Waiting, waiting, waiting for a truckload of red tape to get sorted out with the former tenants. In a nutshell, the former tenant could not vacate the space until their new building was ready for them to move into. Unfortunately this involved about 10 months of delays as complications with The Town of Pelham and the Municipality prevented anyone from moving forward. This proved to be an incredibly frustrating time for me. I am now aware that this "waiting period" was actually perfectly designed to help me, a rather impatient person by nature, develop perseverance, trust and a willingness to relax with uncertainty. If only you knew how torturous this was for me. I mean, really, if an impatient, dubious worry-wort needed to learn trust and patience - this is the perfect lesson to do just that.

Once I had possession of the space renovations began. Now take a look at the before pics:

This space was a pre-school for kids ages 3 - 6 for approx a decade. The unbelievable amount of work and clean-up that had to be done was intense. New walls framed, sound proofed and built, new wiring, new lighting, new rooms built where there were none, bathrooms facelifted, new floors....absolutely everything was changed or updated in some way. Keep in mind all of this was supposed to happen 10 months prior so the funds to complete these renovations were literally pulled from thin air. To this moment, I have no idea how we got this far. It has been a whirlwind.

But, somehow, by the Grace of the Divine and my amazingly supportive friends, family and colleagues we have managed to get to this point where I thought we'd never arrive. I am officially 5 days away from opening the doors to The Village Yogi. And while it is certainly not a brand new state-of-the-art is a wonderful space where I hope the community will find a safe, relaxing, gratifying place to practice Yoga & Meditation. I am deeply humbled by this entire process.

More to come!

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Spring Yoga Musings

Well the last couple months have tested my patience, that's for sure. Between the red tape and ridiculous delays with the new yoga studio, all the landlord vs. tenant b.s. and the winter that seems to drag forever - I've been a little exasperated to say the least. Most days are spent trying to focus on other things while I wait for all these wrinkles to iron themselves out. It's definitely not fun when you feel like you're at the starting gates ready to take off and someone keeps delaying the firing of the gun. So I've been more like the village hermit these days - not venturing too far from my tiny town and occupying time catching up with friends and family. Which, admittedly, has been pretty fun. (a lil' tooo much fun!) ;)

This weekend is Easter. Which always seems to mark, for me, the official start to Spring. Finally some warmer weather and the smell of Earth blowing in through my open windows! Finally more daylight! Easter weekend always feels festive to me. Not just because of the long weekend with an extra day off, but because everything seems to be waking up around me. Plus -  I enjoy that some people refer to this week as "Holy Week". It's got a nice ring to it.

Spring inevitably always brings more people out to Yoga as well. The spring sessions seem to be filled with lots of new faces. Almost like people begin to unconsciously respond to the Earth stirring and rejuvenating around something in their soul starts to urge them to get moving and re-invent themselves just like nature is doing. I love this. I absolutely LOVE seeing people trying Yoga for the first time.

In the beginning I know a lot of people are a bit lost in a Yoga class. I know I was when I first started! To this day I remember one of my early teachers ~ Carol Erickson in Nelson BC. I joined one of her spring sessions and felt completely overwhelmed for the first month or so. The class was large and everyone around me seemed so damned flexible and, well, I don't know - enlightened or something. I remember sweating and shaking and feeling like my legs were going to give out from underneath me. While everyone else just looked all dewy and relaxed. I remember specifically one class where Carol came to me during Prasarita Padottannasana (wide legged forward bend), and pressed me deeper into the pose cooing the whole time in her soft silky voice "it's can go much farther...much much farther." I swear I felt like my knee was going to give out while my hamstrings simultaneously ripped from their insertions. In my head I was thinking "wtf? How much further can I possibly go!?? This woman's gotta be off her rocker."

Now, I fold into that posture feeling nothing but a deep calm sense of utter relief. But back then - it actually kinda scared the bejeepers outta me! In the early days of my yoga practice there was always this sense of wondering whether my body could handle it or not. I felt almost like I wasn't sure I could trust my body not to give out, or give up, on me. Among other things, yoga taught me to trust myself. Really truly trust myself and my own body at the most base fundamental levels. Looking back it was as if I really had no idea of my own strength or resiliency. Since then - there's been many injuries, several illnesses, and countless trials and tribulations. All of which I somehow survived and came out stronger as a result of.

So if you're a newbie to yoga ~ try to remember everyone (including your teacher) had to start somewhere. You're never too old, too fat, too skinny or too far gone to begin to create positive change. Start wherever you are and work from there. Try to relax and enjoy the process. Be curious instead of intimidated. It's absolutely amazing what can be accomplished when you start to really listen to those internal nudgings that are trying to lead you to your most excellent self.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Resolution Review

Here we are at the end of January. 2013 is ON.

There's a certain inspiring magic that happens around New Year's. Even if you are one of those people who swears they "don't make resolutions"...the beginning of a New Year brings with it the promise of a fresh clean slate ahead. And it gets a lot of people thinking about what they really want.

 As the first month of 2013 draws to a close, it's usually right around this time when the motivation and the magic of our holidays and our resolutions / intentions for the New Year can go one of 2 ways...

Either you're even more motivated than ever; settling into a nice groove with your exercise and healthy habits routine....OR....
You're starting to wane on your intentions and are fighting the feeling of your 'comfort zone' pulling you back into the couch, or the pub, or the bag of cookies, or your own dark thoughts, or whatever.

When we are trying to create change, like everything, it is a process. And, as always, consistency is key. I really don't think there's any magic miraculous formula for "staying on track" or becoming the best version of yourself. It's all about the details of your day. It's in the choices you are making in the mundane day-to-day moments. It's about who you choose to surround yourself with, how long you let the dishes pile up, what you choose to think and say, how you spend your time. According to physics - a body in motion tends to stay in motion. So - hold your intention in focus every day and take at least one step in that direction. Learn to feel the lethargy, notice the excuses, but keep moving. Without getting swept away by the challenges that arise. They are just challenges. That is all. They will pass. And they don't have to take you down.

A funny thing happens when you can train yourself to be just a little more detached in your observation of yourself. Let go of unrealistic ideals that you will never have a bad day or never get sick or never eat another potato chip EVER AGAIN. That kind of rigidity is just another form of resistance. And what you resist definitely will persist. Accept. Then act. But do so with awareness. And, if the moment strikes, and you feel the need to act out with wild abandon - go ahead! Do whatever is in your heart. But do it with awareness....and respect to your initial intention(s). No need for judgement or tension or drama. And when that moment has passed...let it go. And keep moving forward.

The beautiful thing about our bodies is that they really truly want to be vibrant and healthy. The body is continually working to regenerate itself and to maintain it's internal state of homeostasis. (ie Balance). So - knowing that that is happening inside you every moment of every single day makes it a lot easier, doesn't it, to make choices that support your own innate internal brilliance! Life is meant to be healthy, vibrant, balanced. So - let it.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Things I Learned In 2012

For the most part I really enjoyed 2012. It was exciting, fast paced and unpredictable - a true Year of The Dragon! The last time we had a Dragon Year was 12 years ago during the whole Y2K fiasco. This year was no different with the Mayan predictions about the "end of the world".  While the world never actually ended it seems like certain archetypes, false ideals and social structures certainly have. I see things changing in magnificent ways! We are moving towards a more enlightened, less materialistic society. At least that's what I'm seeing from my vantage point. 2012 felt like a monumental one for sure.  I could have done without some of the drama...but overall it's been an interesting ride. This year certainly brought a few challenges. But it definitely helped me figure out what I really want and provided me with the opportunities to make some pretty amazing changes. I'm grateful for the lessons learned and for everyone I've met along the path thus far! 2013? Bring it.

-Resistance is futile. It really is. What you hold strong aversion to is actually what you end up attracting more of.

-My yoga practice is more inspiring to me now than ever before. I'm elated about the opening of my new studio - The Village Yogi. I'm trying to be patient but that's never really been one of my strong points ;)

-Once you decide what you want to do, commit to it, and start acting on your desire - the Universe brings more than you could even imagine for yourself to help you reach your goals. It's true. Action is key. It's not enough to simply "want" gotta act on what you want. Take tiny steps each day.

-I've said it before, I'll say it again, one needs one's own yoga practice for at least 5 years before they open a studio and claim to be a "yoga teacher". A 200 hr certification and a handful of months of practice is simply not enough practical knowledge. Those kind of teachers hurt people and need to re evaluate their reason for teaching. Just my opinion, of course.

- Every one says "life is short" but it's not until you lose someone you care about that you realize just exactly what that means. This year I've learned that life is too short not to do what I love. It's too short to waste time. Everything can change in an instant.

- Love is stronger than hate, stronger than death, stronger than someone`s judgement or ridiculousness. But you gotta love YOU first. From that - all good things come.

-Apparently I like mussels. Who knew!?

-Interestingly - raw zucchini in salads is also delicious. I always hated the texture of cooked zucchini. Blech - too mushy! But's amazing.

-Food is Medicine.

-Consistency is the key to everything - fitness, diet, relationships, life.

-I'm not a fan of "corporate" franchised yoga. I've worked for it, practiced in it, and researched it from the inside out. It's just not for me. Jus' sayin.

-The person/people who hurt you the most will one day become your biggest teacher(s) and most inspired motivation.

-Men & Women can absolutely be "just friends". But eventually sex will enter into it - even just as an awkward confused conversation. It's human nature.

-Good Friends are like Family to me. One and the same. Sometimes your friends choose people or behaviors you disagree with. But, like family, love is unconditional. Sometimes you gotta just let people make their own mistakes and try to be there for them the best you can.

-The best predictability of future behavior is past behavior. Sure, people change. But a cheater is usually always a cheater. A liar - usually stays a liar. I guess there's deep therapy for that kind of thing. But I don't personally know anyone that's worked for.

-Occasionally you meet people along the way who blow your mind. People you feel an immediate connection to - like you've known them for lifetimes. Those kind of connections can be intense; scary even.  If you love them,  and you truly feel like life would suck without them, fight for them! Because you'll spend the rest of your life wondering - wtf was that!? (which can be a mild form of torture actually)

-Misery loves company. If you need to distance yourself from people in your life who are threatened by your positivity or exuberance - do it! At least until you've fully adjusted to a new, positive, way of being. It doesn't have to be a permanent severing of your friendship(s), but it serves you to surround yourself with people who reflect back to you the qualities you admire and are cultivating in yourself and your own life.

-I'm not a fan of winter. I'm just not. In moderation - it's nice and refreshing. But months and months of snow and ice and thanks. One day I will spend half the year in my tropical home - which will probably be Costa Rica. Nothing less will do. It's what I need.

-Beware the sociopath - no heart, no conscience, no remorse. They exist... and usually show up in the form of very charismatic people promising you the world. To date I have known two(2). One of them swept me off my feet this year. It's interesting how we will question our own intuition when it comes to matters of the heart, isn't it? But really - if someone lies to you repeatedly, steals from you (and others) and repeatedly puts your safety in jeopardy, that person is NOT honorable. In fact, they are dangerous. Despite their smooth talking ways - do not be fooled. Getting entangled with people like that will only cause you harm and eventually destroy your life. Sometimes they come as a test I think; to help you gauge your self-worth. Have compassion, but do not be blind or manipulated by their projections - no matter how much they talk and how  confused they can make you feel. Get. Out. Fast. (and don't look back!)

-You can tell a lot about a man by what kind of father/uncle/friend he is to children.

-Worry is also futile. Find a way to squelch your anxieties - breathe, meditate, run, ride...whatever it takes. Worry causes unnecessary stress that can create a whole world of trouble for you! Ultimately, despite your incessant worries - everything is always working out in your favor. Always. Even if it doesn't seem like it at first.

-Trusting that All Is Well can seem an impossible feat at times. But this great mystery we call Life is just that - a lovely, impossibly deep yet ridiculously simple, interconnected mysterious web. And All IS Well.

-Love is Medicine.