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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Letting Go.

The practices of yoga and meditation help us to become more aware; more clear.
Awareness acts like a light flicking on to illuminate a dark room. That dark room could be your anger, your insecurity, your jealousy, your addiction(s), your avoidance, or the fear that you are allowing to run amuck in your life. Once illuminated we have the opportunity to Let Go.

Letting go requires some practice.
Like being the still, silent observer in Savasana at the end of your yoga class.
Again and again we come back to Savasana. To stillness. To learning to let go.

When our fears are left unchecked they become very real. Soon they infiltrate our every relationship, every perception, and may even begin to manifest as physical symptoms of illness or dis-ease within our bodies and minds. Soon we are reacting out of fear and insecurity  - closing our hearts, closing ourselves off from friends, from lovers, from life. When we close and tighten around the vulnerable areas within us we actually begin to defend and protect the very things we want/need to let go of.

When you start to notice you no longer like the people in your life, or that life seems mundane and you no longer feel the joy of a new day; when things start to feel negative, everywhere, this is a sign that it's time to Let Go. In fact, as soon as you start to feel that internal stress, or the fire rising within you, something is being triggered. It's time to Let Go.

Doing this, I'm finding, is simpler than it sounds. Just like Life,  in your yoga practice ...things will come up - a fearful thought, a judgement, a negative projection...and you simply notice these things as they present themselves. You let them rise to meet your consciousness. Then - instead of following that thought or that imaginary scenario down into the rabbit hole and tightening and closing your heart - you Let. It. Go.
Let it rise.... Notice it.... Feel it.... Let it go.

Life will help you. When you remain centered and aware everywhere you go you will notice triggers. Triggers are the things that stir up all the blocked energy within you. If you are committed to your own happiness, your own peace, you can begin to welcome these triggers. Instead of running away, smoking more cigarettes, eating more food, drinking more alcohol or doing whatever it is you continually do when discomfort presents in your life - you let yourself stay present. In the words of the Dalai Lama: "Every person we meet is an opportunity to practice..."

For example ~ I was recently told by a young 22 year old kid (who incidentally has never left the small town where he was raised and still lives with his parents) that I don't have a "real job"...among other things. This person is familiar with the struggles I have had this year and the enormous amount of energy it has taken to launch my business. Anyone who's ever attempted to be an entrepreneur, or to operate a yoga studio in this economy, knows just how much work is involved. In that moment I felt his disrespect like a punch in the gut. I let the energy rise within me. I felt the heat rush to my cheeks. I watched all the clever retorts and insults I wanted to say pour into my mind. but instead of entering into a banter of egos (I'm sure what he was hoping for) I simply let it go. Then I politely excused myself. Respectfully declining his high-five on my way out.

No explanation is needed. The Work is all done in the privacy of your own heart and mind.
It's easy to close your heart and shut down. It's easy to take other people's disrespect and ignorance personally. But the consequence of doing so is not optimal - bitterness, resentment, self doubt, more fear, isolation. Getting involved in the darkness does not dispel it. It feeds it.

When presented with darkness, no matter the source, look up and allow yourself to rise above it. Relax your heart. And let it fall behind you. Do not push against it, try to enter into dialog with it, or allow yourself to close and tighten because of it.

A great place to practice this is on your yoga mat or the meditation cushion, as there are plenty of things that will always arise. Especially when we begin to slow ourselves down and get really present. Your awareness keeps you centered and connected to your true nature. Call it Spirit, Shakti, Prana, Soul, whatever.....being aware allows you to stay in your center while the melodrama of life parades before you. Practice observing and letting go. Practice keeping your heart soft and open. Then, when you step off the mat and out into the world...keep noticing, keep returning to your breath, keep practicing.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Slow Down Turbo! Yoga for Stress Relief

Sometimes you can't always make it to a Yoga Studio. I get it.
Below is a simple easy yoga practice you can do at home to help you relax, re-set your nervous system and release tension during stressful times. It is not fancy, strenuous or complicated. Simple. Easy. Relaxing. It might take you 20min tops. But your body and nervous system will respond to this little bit of loving attention you give to yourself and wonderful things will begin to happen!

Take. The. Time. It's better than fretting, worrying, ruminating or feeling awful. This is easy and you CAN do this. No one else will/can truly do it for you. The only way to deal with your suffering, your discontent, your to go straight into it...and then through to the other side.

Sooooo - turn your phone off! Dim the lights. Maybe play music you like. Create an uninterrupted space for yourself to relax, breathe and focus inward. This is short. It's simple. It's sweet.
Move with intention and breath.

Hold each posture for a minimum of 5 breaths before moving on to the next.
Breathe smoothly and evenly, through the nose, throughout your practice and let the breath lengthen...especially your exhalations. Use your exhales to soften and settle into each posture.

 Vaparita Karani (legs up the wall)
This is a great place to start. You may wish to place a pillow under your hips to elevate the lower body even more and help release pressure from the lower back.
Hold for 3 - 5 min.

Roll to one side to release. Take your time and move to your hands and knees.

Childs Pose - Balasana
Shift your hips back to your heels and rest forehead on the floor in Child's Pose.
Arms either overhead or at your sides.
Breathe 5 full breaths and settle the hips down with each exhale.

Come back onto hands and knees.
Wrists under shoulders, knees under hips.

 Cat/Cow Pose
 Start to move with your breath.
1 - Inhale: lift tailbone twd ceiling, draw shoulders back, look up
2 - Exhale: tuck tailbone under (twd floor), push into hands and drop head to really round spine.
Continue with the breath - 5-6 breaths 

Come up onto the knees in a kneeling position.
Gate Pose
Extend one leg. Reach up with opposite arm. Lean over your extended leg. Look up. Reach, breathe, lengthen your Side Body.
Hold 3-5 breaths - extending and lengthening.
Repeat on opposite side.

Downward Dog
Return to hands and knees. (hands a bit forward of shoulders now, fingers spread wide)
Lift hips toward ceiling. Press firmly into both palms. Let your head relax.
Bend your knees slightly if the legs are tight.
Press the chest back toward the front of your thighs.
Hold 5 full breaths.

 Return to Child's Pose for a few breaths.
Then transition onto your back.
Reclining Twist
Bring your knees (together) into your chest.
Open both arms on the floor at shoulder level.
Take a deep breath. When you exhale let your knees move to one side...hovering over the floor. 
Inhale - knees come back through center.
Exhale - knees flow to other side, hovering over floor.
Repeat, moving with the breath, 4-5 times on each side.
Perhaps hold the last one by letting the knees fall all the way to the floor and taking a few breaths there.

 Baddha Konasana - Bound Angle Pose
Bring the soles of your feet together. Let your knees open to the sides.
You might place pillows or folded blankets under your knees for support.
Relax your shoulders, close you eyes. Breathe and let your belly rise and fall with the breath.
Sink into gravity.
5-10 breaths

Relax onto your back and let yourself settle...
Savasana. The pose of sweet surrender.
Perhaps place a pillow under your thighs for supporting the lower back.
Relax and breathe here. 
Let your mind drift.
Let gravity pull your body into the Earth.
Spend a few minutes here simply observing what arises. 
Extend compassion towards yourself. Extend forgiveness to those who have wronged you.
Contemplate the notion that the Universe is ON YOUR SIDE. It WANTS to bring you positive wonderful experiences and people. The more you relax into that notion, and the easier it becomes to focus on what you want....beautiful things begin to come.
Release everything.


Saturday, 15 March 2014

Reflections on a 30 Day Challenge

During the month of February, and early March, The Village Yogi hosted a "Live-Your-Yoga Challenge".

There was really no additional charge for this Challenge - with the exception of the regular monthly membership fee. Plus - Challengers received discounts on the variety of Special Events that were offered at the studio as part of the Challenge - including Partner Yoga, a Live Music Class and an Ayurveda workshop & yoga class. Plus all us teachers did our best to keep fueling participants with positive reinforcement.

The concept: participants who willingly entered The Challenge were encouraged to try to come to 30 classes in 30 days. At The Village Yogi, this is not difficult to do as classes are held every single day. Seven days per week! And the schedule is quite varied - offering a balanced mixture of both rigorous and gentler classes. As well as weekly meditation and softer Yin Yoga classes. So, truly, practicing every day, (or even multiple times a day as many people did!) is easy and actually quite enjoyable.

The point: To ease yourself out of your winter rut, commit to doing something healthy for yourself every day, & to experiment with what it means, and what happens, when you commit to a regular yoga practice. Also - to use the powerful tools that Yoga offers us to illicit positive lasting changes within you, and in your life. Really, "the point" is to take your power back and realize that you are in fact, waaaay  more in control of your well-being than you realize. Yoga practice can be extremely transformative. That's why we asked each of The Challengers to be very mindful with their thoughts over the course of the month. As well - we had each person choose for themselves a Sankalpa - much like a "personal mantra" this short, powerful, positive statement was repeated (silently) at the beginning, and throughout, the classes. Participants were encouraged also to bring their attention to their Sankalpa throughout the day as well.

The result: Over 20 brave souls signed up to take part in this 30 Day Challenge.

 Many of them were brand new to Yoga. And almost all of them surprised and delighted me. I was inspired by their dedication. It was remarkably palpable how much more alive and vibrant the studio felt! And - I was witness to multiple incredible transformations.

There is something very powerful about stepping out of the rat race, if even for an hour each day, and connecting with yourself in a way that is kind and positive. Or, at the very least, if you can't seem to muster any"kindness & positivity" on certain least you've made the effort to do something healthy for yourself to redirect some energy instead of pulling a 6 hour shift at the local pub.

There's also something amazing about choosing this mantra or a "power statement" and continually making an effort to re-focus your mind on that. Imagine - if the majority of society took time each day to focus on a steady breath as they moved their body, with awareness, through a series of sequences designed to build stamina, grounding, heart opening and flexibility. Or - to simply move mindfully throughout their daily tasks.  Just the act of being with yourself, honestly, every single day...without running away from the anxieties in your head, or numbing yourself out to the horrible self image you have.....just showing up...every listen to, take care of, and re-align yourself.... is powerful beyond measure.

What really struck me was how light people seemed to get. I mean, you could see it on their faces; hear it in the tone of their voices. An obvious lightness of being. Several people actually shared with me that their Sankalpa - the personal mantra they chose - seemed to be actually changing things in their life. One woman's mantra had to do with her anxiety and incessant worrying which causes a host of anxiety and fear-related problems for her. Her Sankalpa was something to the effect of: 'I now relax and trust the process of life.' Interestingly, about half way through The Challenge this woman told me about a situation she found herself in whereby she was in public at a function with a lot of people and actually was able to see, feel and know that SOMETHING was changing within her. After a potentially embarrassing fall on a slippery floor she was immediately able to see the symbolism in the 'lesson' and not completely crumble in devastation. Instead the incident became part of her reflections and her meditation. She was able to gain great insight and tremendous personal power from something that, in the past, would have sent her reeling for weeks.

But the most amazing part of The Challenge, for me, came at the end.

There were, of course, prizes offered for people who accumulated 30 or more classes throughout the month. Each person's name was entered into a draw for the grand prize of a 60 min massage (@ Advanced Health Massage Therapy here in Fonthill) a 25 class pass ($275. value) & a handmade candle.
The draw was done randomly by one of our instructors. I was so happy to see that the woman who won was one of the people who were incredibly committed and actually attended far more than 30 classes in those 30 days.

Ironically, this woman first came to The Village Yogi with some trepidation. She had been injured in another yoga class by an aggressive adjustment she received by another teacher. So she was a little nervous about her ongoing injury. As well - this woman was the same woman who nearly had a panic attack in her first Yoga Nidra (meditation) class. I have never seen ANYONE ever flee a yoga class as quickly as she did after that one. It stressed her out SO MUCH. She actually told me later that the more I asked the students to "relax" the more intensely stressed she the point where she could barely stand it. I thought for sure after that night I would never see that woman ever again. It happens. Sometimes people just aren't ready for what they find within their own stillness.

However, much to my surprise, this woman started coming every single week to that meditation class. Hardly missed a session! That, in itself, was pretty remarkable. But when she started bringing her husband I was even more surprised!! She approached it like a Challenge...something she was really curious about. In fact, she was quite honest about it saying things such as "I don't know why I found it so difficult. But I am determined to master this." I giggle to myself.. As this is similar to how I was when I first started to practice Yoga & Meditation. Plus - it says a lot about this woman. She didn't run, or hide, or flee. Instead - she came back, again and again. She kept exploring, kept experimenting. And isn't THAT what life is supposed to be about?!

Well I was just thrilled when she won the grand prize of The Challenge. Thrilled because she is truly someone who has worked so hard and who embodies so much of what Yoga truly is about. As if to prove that, yet again, she showed up to retrieve her prize but instead reached into the bag and took out the 25 class pass and handed it back to me! She said - "I want to Thank You. This was really amazing for me. I've gotten so much out of this and I'm so proud of myself! I want you to give these passes to someone else - give them to someone who can't afford to come here. " Then she handed me a cheque, for her and her husband's next 3 month membership. Paid in full.


That kind of truthful generosity does not happen very often. I was floored. And have actually been deeply inspired by her gesture every since. I am going to donate the class passes to something or someone who really needs or wants it and may not otherwise be able to afford it. As per her request...I will pay it forward. faith in humanity is once again restored. Thank You Lynn.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Savasana...Heaven or Hell?!

I like to think of Savasana, that final posture of relaxation that finishes a yoga practice, as a sweet treat. Like a dessert that follows a great meal. It's the only posture in yoga where there is nothing to do; nothing expected of you, no complicated instructions or expectations. And yet, despite all this, Savasana seems to be one of the hardest postures for people to master. It's almost like the concept of just being - perfectly still, totally surrendered, is completely foreign to some of us. We've been conditioned to "keep busy" and somehow trained to believe that the more we do, the more we have, and the worthier that makes us. Our society doesn't really place much importance on the idea of just Being.

I've noticed at times my "busyness" is nothing more than an extension of my anxiety. The more I rush and charge around, the more I cram my schedule with more and more things to do - the less i have to feel. And the less i have to face my own emotions. The "busier" I am, the less time I have to think, or to really acknowledge what's happening within me.

But lately, I've been practicing just BE-ing with whatever is happening. Settling into savasana at the end of my yoga practice has become quite an adventure these days. Sometimes it's the only time of absolute stillness in my day. Sometimes, once I stop and just allow myself to settle down, the tears come rushing out - often without notice or warning. Part of me finds this so humourous. Especially because most of the time i don't even know what it is I'm crying about! It's just all the unexpressed grief and worry. All the sadness and fear that I haven't really allowed myself to feel, or created space for, in my life.

Other times - I settle into Savasana and I'm nearly crawling out of my skin. I fight the urge to jump up and flee from the room. It's as if all of a sudden, the stillness of simply laying there on the floor, brings me right into the heart of all my tension...everything I've been avoiding. Lately I have been finding this humourous as well. How interesting, how funny.

Through it all I am rediscovering my relationship to the Present Moment. My practice lately is one of releasing resistance. There has been much happening that I simply do not like. So much that is just so NOT comfortable, or positive at all. And yet, when I allow myself to just BE....still, observing, breathing....beyond all the stress and the anxiety and the judgemet is this place of emptiness. Once I let all those intense energies course through me without needing to change them, or deny them, or hide them, or numb them - all that's left is just this sweet sweet...emptiness. And somehow in that emptiness I know, I just KNOW, that All Will Be Well. It has to be. All Will Be Well.

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Winter Begins - Solstice Reflections

The Winter Solstice on the 21st of December marks the shortest day of the year and the official starting of winter.  Symbolically, the solstice represents the returning of light as the days gradually get longer. From a yogic perspective this is a time to go inward, set intentions that will foster and grow, and to prepare for the winter ahead. Winter is, in Canada at least, a time of reflection & stillness….a time of going inward….just as nature does outside with the return of the cold and snow. 

Although beautiful in many ways, winter has never really been my favorite season; especially here in Southern Ontario. It’s cold, it’s dark and a little barren as most of the trees lose their leaves and the sky is almost always a dull shade of gray.

 This winter seems darker than most after the unexpected passing of my beloved father, and friend, on Dec. 10th at the (too young) age of 64.  He died just 3 days after his sister’s funeral, my Aunt Alice, who finally finished her journey with cancer. My family is deeply affected by the loss of these two people that we loved dearly.

From a yogic perspective I am trying to see the natural beauty in my father’s transition. I am trying to honor him and his life respectfully and be thankful for the incredible father I was so blessed to have. I know that Energy cannot be created, or destroyed, and that it simply changes form. Physics teaches us that. I know that although he is no longer in his body, he is still with us. But the daughter in me is heartbroken and frightened of a world without my Dad. He was a good man, a wonderful man. He was one of the most thoughtful and giving people I have ever met; an amazing example of a devoted father, a good friend and a source of endless unconditional love.  He was the “go-to” guy for everything. He always seemed to have the answers…

My father had beautiful ideals about many things. Even after 42 years of marriage he still brought my mother flowers, still enjoyed surprising all of us with gifts that he would secretly shop for – that would always be so delightful and so thoughtful I would wonder “How does he DO that?!”. He was the type of man who was happiest when his family was happy. Now that he is gone, and we are slowly trying to get over the shock, we have begun to organize and prepare for life without him. This has not been easy. We have uncovered many things including the absence of life insurance and remnants of a man who was deeply overwhelmed. Like most men, I think it was difficult for him to admit that he was overwhelmed. Or to ask for help. So – he suffered silently. Until finally his heart could no longer take it.

As my family and I gently pick up the pieces and try to re-arrange our lives around the hole that his absence has made, I am sad and my heart is heavy. And I am reminded once again what an incredibly deep emotion sadness is. It seems almost infinite. I guess that’s why it can be so easy to lose yourself to the abyss if not careful. My sadness is for my own loss, and also for my mother and sister. My sadness is also for my niece Nika, whom my father loved and adored. He wanted so much for her and they were very close. He absolutely loved children and loved being a Grampa. And also – my sadness is for my father. Whom I truly believe was hurting for awhile but refused to stop working, or let anyone in, for fear of disappointing his beloved family.  He wanted us to have all that our hearts desire and it was my dad who taught me not to succumb to my limitations. He helped me to become the person that I am. Without him, I don’t think I would have made it this far. 

It’s interesting to begin to return to teaching classes and to my normal routine(s) now that things are starting to settle. It’s similar to walking through a dream where everything feels strange and surreal. At times, my anxiety definitely gets the best of me and I find myself frozen in fear of what the future might bring. But at those times I take a deep breath and remind myself that ‘All is well’. In this moment, it’s ok. I’ve started telling myself over and over that ‘out of this situation, only good will come.’ I think I’m starting to believe it. So mixed with my sadness there is also this hope. My intention is to make him proud. He would have wanted us to move forward, to thrive and continue to grow and flourish. 

I Love you Dad. You were the most wonderful man in my life. Thank you, infinitely, for all you've done. For all of us.