All posts by bramlevinson

Author (www.theexaminedlifebook.com, www.ayearinthelight.com), yoga & meditation teacher, blogger and mentor. www.bramlevinson.com

An Homage to Luna Yoga on its 14th Anniversary!

IMG_3113I first came to Luna Yoga in the late summer of 2008. Until that point, I had practiced a much gentler style of yoga with the first teacher I was blessed to find along my journey, Joan Ruvinsky. I was initially introduced to the deeply rooted philosophical teachings that Joan incorporates, but I soon found myself craving a more physical practice. I had quickly formed a home practice after first starting in yoga, and as I found myself attempting more advanced postures at home, I always kept an element of caution to my movement, knowing I needed to find a space where I could be supervised as I went deeper into it. My sister from another mister, Sonia Papasimakis-Collins, was at that time the Store Manager of the Ste-Catherine St Lululemon store and had been telling me for months that I had to come try this teacher whose studio was in Old Montreal, and whose classes were beyond what she ever could have expected from a yoga session.

I hemmed and hawed, super intimidated to actually put my feet down in a studio where I assumed most of the other students had established practices that would leave me struggling to catch up. It was only after Sonia brought her illustrious teacher and owner of Luna Yoga, Jennifer Maagendans, to my home that I decided to just let go of my fears and see what lay in wait for me at the studio in Old Montreal. The rest, as they say, is history.

IMG_2769From my first class, I felt I was home. The energy that spills out of the studio itself is indescribable. In equal measures peaceful and stimulating, I found a missing part of myself within the security of those four walls. I spent the next few months attending classes and deepening my practice while developing a real, true friendship with Jenn, and then with her partner Jason Kent. Sonia had told me that Jason was a tough sell, hard to get to know, but I knew I was on the right track when his response to my calling him Debbie Downer at our first meeting was met with a reluctant grin (accompanied by Jenn’s sheer delight in Jason being addressed as such by a stranger :)).

Little did I know that the events that brought me to Luna would serve as the foundation for the next  chapter of my life, in which I would completely leave my then-career behind with no clue as to what I would do job-wise. Events unfolded that saw Jenn ask me if I would be interested in co-managing her studio, saw Jenn challenge me to follow my heart and pursue careers in the domains that nurtured my soul, and saw Jenn take time out of our workdays to train me one-on-one to complement the Ashtanga training I was doing in 2009. Jenn became the person who, with little pomp or grandeur, illuminated the path ahead of me and simply helped me re-shift my gaze so I could see it as a viable possibility, one that has since brought me to a place where I continually, and on a daily basis, am reminded of the blessings that being true to one’s Self bestows. Jenn challenged me in those training sessions to teach her as a group class, as an individual private class, and as a private group class, but her teachings didn’t end there: she led by example, in every single thing she did and said. She continues to do so, demonstrating how by combining passion, a strong work ethic, and proper attention paid to that which comes naturally can propel one further along one’s dharmic path. She constantly challenges me to be a better version of myself, even when she’s completely oblivious to it.

So what has Jenn been to me? An opener of doors, a pillar of support, the remover of darkness, and the swelling of laughter that buoys my own giggles past the point of control. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and she continues to be my guru, my mentor, my example, confidante, and friend.

And Jason? Without Jason, I’m not sure Luna would even have gotten off the ground. Jason was a huge support for Jenn when she was first considering opening a studio, and has been ever since. If Jenn has become my soul-sister, then Jason is my soul-brother. A fellow Libran, Jason reflects back to me my own habits and tendencies, and he has grown from Jenn’s partner into a true friend, someone who has helped me, often without even being aware of it, when I most needed it. His heights of sarcasm and jest are matched in kind by the depths of his kindness and sensitivity.

1E0A7408-resizeJenn and Jason are the real deal. They have built up the studio over the last fourteen years with the sheer force of their collective will and focus, creating a home for the teachers they have welcomed into their fold, as well as a space for me to bring my business knowledge into their creation, and then topping it all off with the two most beautiful little boys to add to their brood of yogic misfits.

On July 13, our community will celebrate Luna Yoga’s 14th anniversary. The studio they originally started with limited funds and maximal dreams 14 years ago has grown into a force to be reckoned with, with its own sold-out Teacher Training Program, as well as classes and workshops that reflect the diversity of the students who call Luna Yoga home, all the while maintaining its grassroots feel and sense of real, true community. Luna has students who have been around since before the studio opened its doors. This is more than a testament to the studio’s location or teachings: it’s a testament to Jenn and Jason.

If you’ve got a glass handy, raise it to these two, whose drive and ability to weather the toughest of storms has kept Luna’s doors open for well over a decade. If you don’t have a glass, then close your eyes for a moment, and silently send them a kind thought. They continue to show how doing something for others always brings you to where you need to be, and they do so with respect, intelligence, and grace.

Happy anniversary to you both, J & J, and to the entire Luna family, past, present and future!

The Beat Goes On

When, as a teenager, I would complain about something to my mom, she would bring attention to the frivolity of my moaning by asking me, “Have you lived? Have you loved? Have you suffered?” 

When I saw this mural today in Barcelona, I immediately recognized the heart that continues to beat with love even after it’s been stamped on, pierced, shattered and patched up. This is what a heart that has lived, loved and suffered looks like, and it resonates with me.

Mother’s Day Musings

On this Mother’s Day, which is every day, in my opinion, let me just say this to all women, ladies, girls, etc: without you, we men are nothing. 

There is a breed of man who would like to believe that he doesn’t need women, that women exist for whatever purpose he gives them, that he is entitled to treat them however he thinks is appropriate to however he’s feeling in any given moment. Let’s be clear about something right now, this is not a man. This is a boy whose education in life was stunted, interrupted or irresponsibly passed on by the wrong role models. 

There is also a breed of man who sees women as everything they are, which is everything. This breed of man understands the power women have over life, love and the world we live in. He understands that the repression of women could only stem from man’s history of being threatened by the inherent abilities to love, nurture, birth and raise more men AND women, and these abilities have threatened man’s quest for power. The men in my life are not threatened by “strong” women, and by the way, that expression is no longer needed in our culture and vernacular. If we don’t feel the need to qualify men in order to understand them better, than why the fuck do we do it to women?

This breed of man is who I am, who the men in my life are, and who I will make sure the boys in my life become as I contribute to their higher learning. It is who we are, and I’m proud to know mothers AND fathers who, every day, sit down and take their time to parent responsibly by explaining to their sons AND daughters just how wrong our cultures’ gender roles and examples are. By teaching them what is appropriate and inappropriate. By teaching them that when someone says, “Stop”, you stop. By teaching them that if someone treats you inappropriately, in any way, that you need to stand up for yourself. By teaching them that they are allowed to experience, feel, process and live whatever they choose to, and are allowed to excuse themselves from not experiencing what they choose not to.

To ALL the women, not just the mothers, may I say, on behalf of all the men who have their heads screwed on properly, that we are aware of the double standard you live with in certain situations, and we have your back if you’d like us to. #HeForShe

Love4Ewan

I made a last-minute decision to get lunch from Aux Vivres yesterday, and as I was paying I noticed a blue envelope that had “Love” and “Take Me” written on it. I did. And on my way home I opened it, found an Aux Vivres gift card inside and read that these “little packages have been put out into the world to honor the memory of a sweet, redheaded boy named Ewan on his birthday, May 2.” As I did more research I found a photo of Ewan online and discovered that this project is not only to honour this beautiful child’s memory, but to help pay kindness and generosity forward into the world.

Love4Ewan is an initiative created by Ewan’s parents who, to honour their lovely little redhead’s memory, and to help pay forward the spirit of love, generosity and kindness, began creating Love Envelopes, containing gift cards and other expressions of giving that began to be distributed annually every May 2, Ewan’s birthday.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us to “do the work that comes to you.” This, undoubtedly, came to me. But this is not work. This beautiful, inspiring project is just a nudge for me to pay this beautiful vibration forward, and to dedicate the energy behind it to Ewan, and to also encourage everyone to donate whatever you can to the Hôpital de Montréal pour enfants – Montréal Children’s Hospital, where Ewan was so well taken care of and where other children are being treated, healed and taken care of.

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t on the verge of tears right now. This is one of the most beautiful moments that has ever come to meet me. In keeping with that beauty, and to “pay it forward,” I have given away 1 copy of my book “A Year in the Light” to the first five people who left a comment underneath my original Facebook post. Those five people who received a book will have only one request put upon them, and that is to continue to pay it forward, and to extend this vibration of beauty, peace and kindness out to others, and have them continue the journey on, all in the name of Ewan.

To Ewan’s parents, who began this beautiful social experiment, I thank you. It has moved me beyond words to be a part of it.

https://childrenfoundation.com/fundraiser/heart-ewan/

Love4Ewan Facebook Group

Love4Ewan Instagram Page

 

Yoga, Spirituality & Gender: Interview with Lina Bradford

One of the facets of the Hindu and Yogic teachings that not only resonates with me, but which I find glaringly relevant today, is the reidentification of Self. In multiple scriptures we are taught that identifying with appearances (specifically the bodies we inhabit) equates with ignorance and the wise know to identify with the energy that animates them. We are taught that we are not our bodies, but rather the spark of energy that is embodied by them, a concept that seems to inform and shed light on the journey of many transgender children and adults alike. This teaching is something I learned decades ago before my studies in spirituality began, and my “teacher” was one of the most vibrant and unique people I have ever known.

In 1992 I was going out to clubs in Montreal with my then-partner and our circle of friends, and it was in a club one night that I saw one of the dancers up on a speaker doing her thing like no one was watching. She was sleek and lithe, looking like a glamazon character from the not-so-recent past, and she was PERFORMING. Whereas the other hired dancers were doing their best to not fall off their perches, this girl was working that platform like she was onstage at Madison Square Garden. She was lip synching to the songs, interacting with the crowd on the dance floor, and I. Was. Mesmerized. I had never seen such raw talent before, never been so captivated by someone who so obviously had that “it” factor that stars are made of. In fact, the first time I ever saw Beyoncé perform I thought, “I’ve seen this act before.” The moves, the attitude, the presence, the energy, all of it was done before. And I had seen it with my own eyes, mere feet away from the spectacle.

After casually speaking to her for a while, my friends and I eventually became good friends with the girl who would become known as Girlina to the 1990’s New York City Club Kid community, and who would later morph into Lina Bradford.

Meeting Lina all those years ago was part of my education in gender identity, in truly seeing someone as their personality and how it expressed itself, as opposed to the gender of the body it animated. I had seen drag queens perform at that point in my life, and had appreciated the good ones who had real stage presence. But seeing Lina perform was something entirely different. She was no drag queen. This was no drag. There was no exaggerated flamboyance. Every single time I saw her, whether on a stage or getting ready for bed when I slept over at her place after ordering dirty pizza at 3AM, she was unapologetically herself. Feminine energy with a masculine bite to her sense of humour, compassionate, loving, street-smart and worldly, Lina joked that she was a “gender illusionist,” but the term was really just a tool for those who didn’t know how to wrap their brains around her brilliance. Even her languaging, the way she spoke, was so unique, her vocabulary so of her own invention, that it became known as “girlingo” in the 90’s club circles. To me she was a superstar, a warrior, a Goddess of mythical proportions. And she still is.

Lina is exactly the same woman today she was 25 years ago when we met. She was obsessed with Barbie dolls, often making their couture outfits herself, and that obsession has grown into the theme of her YouTube talk show In The Dollhouse With Lina, now moving into its third series. She is a sought-after DJ, playing for crowds across the globe, corporate events, and even spinning on ABC’s The View for her pal Whoopi Goldberg’s birthday celebration.

Lina showed me what it meant to be authentic, to be unfailingly yourself, all those years ago when we didn’t have a transgender movement and when LGBTQ rights were a distant hope for the future. She did it all with an infectious laugh, killer style, and the ability to leave you emotionally moved beyond compare. She was truly ahead of her time, and the world is now cluing in to her vibration. She was, and is, her own work of art. To label Lina is to limit who and what she is. She is a force. She is an energy. She is everything manifested as newness, charisma, talent and light. Her spirituality runs deep, and one has to only visit her Facebook page to find her daily words of inspiration and affirmation, like this one from April 24, 2017,

“I will speak only positive words of faith and victory over myself, my family, and my future. I will not use my words to describe my situation. I will use my words to change my situation. I will call in favor, good breaks, healing, and restoration. I will not talk to God about how big my problems are. I will talk to my problems about how big my God is. This is my declaration.”

I spoke with her last week and followed up by sending her some questions I wanted her take on. I am so fortunate that we are still in each other’s lives, and I cheer her on with every success she adds to her roster. DJ, actress, dancer, entertainer, talk-show host, board member of GMHC, and friend. That’s who Lina Bradford is to me, and it’s my honour and responsibility to use my voice to help elevate her to the heights that have been her birthright.

Q – Meeting you was the first time I had met someone whom I truly believed had a body whose gender did not align with the energy that animated it, with the expression that was meant to be shared with the world. Talk to me about your experience as a transgender woman.

A – Well I have always been Spiritually connected and with this comes self awareness and discovery. I have never felt disconnected to my body. My Being has always been an alarm clock with which to morph, and when I speak to young transgender children I explain, “Allow yourself 2 know yourself, be a well rounded Being b4 anything, then alignment will bring you where & when it’s meant to be”. So my Essence is & will always be of All & One, of embodying both my masculinity & femininity. It is key in my Life as balance, back then & always.


Q – Do you agree with the spiritual teaching that we are not our bodies, but rather the energy that animates them?

A – I am on another planet with that (philosophy and belief), however in being here with where you’re coming from, it’s a 💯 Yes!!

Q – Tell me what you believe to be true about why we are here and what we are meant to do with our time.

A – I myself have lived numerous moments, so I know that there’s too much out there to be swayed and (influenced) by what mainstream society sells you on!

Q – What do you believe is your dharma, your mission, what you alone are supposed to bring to the rest of us in the world?

A – I have always known by spiritual guides and the two cherubs on my shoulders that I am a people person, and bringing together lights and energy is my job. I know my purpose and live it daily. Princess of light.

Q – In the 25 years that we’ve known each other, I have never seen you defeated, never seen you afraid, never known you to be anything other than powerful and certain with every dance move, career move, acting gig and public appearance. How do you manage fear and anxiety in your life? How do you deal with them? 

A – Thank jew so dearly for those words, I regard you high in my book of love. Being connected and receptive to Energy & The Universe keeps me so rite 4 my blood type, so to say. I am steered away from negativity and kept on my path. Nothing can slow my roll!!!

Q – I’ve spoken and written about our echoes, essentially giving a name to the energy we each project into the world and which trails behind in our wake, outlasting us after our bodies die. What do you want to leave behind for the world after this body goes and the Self moves onto the next phase of its manifestation?

A – I think we all want to be remembered for whatever beautiful accomplishments we’ve done in our life, and what I want to leave behind is the love and light that I see and bring out of the people. That’s what makes me shine on the daily.


Q – What do you want the world to know? Based on your life lessons and overcoming adversity, what wisdom would you share with the world?

A – Never feel defeated. We have the power to heal and take our selves anywhere we want. When you believe in yourself you sell yourself to the rest of the world, you are EVERNESS!!!

For all Lina-related info, visit her website at http://djlina.com/.

H I S T O R Y

This paragraph is taken from a page of my great-grandmother’s autobiography, referring to Montreal and Canada approximately one hundred years ago. Read it. We are still a country that embraces newcomers seeking safety, security and opportunity. 

I am P R O U D to be Canadian. And just in case there was any ambiguity on the issue, I think that the wave of intolerance that we are seeing, in the US and all over the world where economic hardship has been especially rough in recent years, is shameful and ignorant. That kind of small-mindedness and exclusion is, quite frankly, a feeble attempt at resisting change. The only thing we can count on in this life is that everything is in a constant state of transformation and evolution, and so to try to fight that is to fight a battle that can’t be won.

Things may change in our country in the years to come, but this excerpt from my grandmother’s mother’s life is proof that, even after 100 years, and some obvious blemishes on its record, Canada is still the true land of opportunity. 

🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦🇨🇦

The Most Important Decision We Have To Make

A good friend’s father passed away today.

We know that death is a part of life, and those of us who delve into and study spirituality and the faith/belief systems that provide insight into them know death to be a transition as opposed to an ending. But that knowledge does little to alleviate the human experience of grief, of despair, of suffering and of loss. These are biological, mental and somatic experiences that spare no one, much like death itself.

Knowing that suffering lies in wait for all of us gives us the ultimate of choices to make within and for our lifetime. That choice is whether or not we will, intentionally and with total clarity, focus on the positive over the negative, the life-affirming over the faith-depleting, the elevating over the depressing, the ease-inducing over the dis-ease-inducing. Choosing one over the other does not spare anyone from emerging unscathed from this all-encompassing journey we find ourselves on, but it does dictate the quality of our experience of life, and it does determine our core beliefs about ourselves, the world we live in/on, and how we connect to it and each other.

I feel and learn from the poignancy of this life multiple times every day.  The ephemerality and meaningfulness of it all is the spark that motivates me into the world. At times it gets me down, lower than I could ever express in words. At others it propels me to do, teach, help, speak and write even louder and more emphatically than I ever thought I could. But at the end of it all, I choose to live and feel all the feels, all the moments, all the love, all the tears, all the heartache, all the joy and all the sublimity. This is the choice I’ve made, the choice that we will all have to make.

“Despite knowing the journey and where it leads, I embrace it and welcome every moment.” – Arrival

What do you choose?

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