Touchy, Touchy

hand touchToday is a day to relax and recover somewhat from this weekend, which was the latest installment in my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, and it was intense. As is sometimes the case with yoga, it was grueling physically, mentally and emotionally (breathing through the physical aspect of it usually drums up the mental and emotional issues that define who we are and how we react to different situations). This morning finds me a little quieter and a little more sore than usual (and a tad more humble, me thinks!). Something we discussed over the weekend has kept creeping back to the forefront of my thoughts, so I figured why not try to make sense of it all by posting it up here?  An article was read to us on the subject of touch; the role it plays in different societies, and its significance in creating and maintaining bonds that link people one to the other. As a yoga teacher, it is my responsibility to not only be confident with the adjustments that I administer to my students, but to know how and when to touch and to not be irresponsible in the execution of the adjustments. To understand the responsibility that we have as teachers and human beings, we need to understand the significance and the science of touch.

North America is considered to be a “low touch” culture, one in which we are more concerned with the idea of personal space than with how we can assist each other by maintaining some sort of physical contact. In a society where the ever-elusive drives the masses to exhaustion and people are withdrawing from the workplace after having “burned out”, I would have hoped that someone in a position of influence would have bothered to look at what we lack as a culture. But that’s not the North American way. Why would we ever admit to being “less than”? It’s this false pride that has brought our society to where it is, and we need a wake-up call. Now.

The medicinal aspects of touch date back over the last 2500 years. Known to decrease stress and increase dopamine and serotonin levels, touch actually boosts the immune system. More impressive than the benefits of touch are the results of touch deprivation. A medical condition named Marasmus (Greek for “wasting away”) was discovered in the 1800’s after a slew of small infants died of starvation. The cause for this ended up being lack of constant physical contact between the child and the caretakers. The children literally wasted away from not being touched. Ironically for us as Westerners, the first thing that a doctor does when delivering a child is to place the child on the mother’s chest and into the mother’s arms. That initial contact is vital to creating the life-long bond that only exists between a mother and her child.

The power of touch is almost other-worldly. Speech, for all its effectiveness and precision, is sometimes less effective as a communication tool than touch can be. Touch can convey a myriad of emotions and intentions: love, grief, affection, disappointment, reassurance, emphasis, anger, aggression, assistance, defensiveness, instruction, congratulations, therapy, punishment, pity, sexuality, sympathy, and the list goes on and on…What serves as the toll of differentiation behind each instant of contact is the intention behind it. Sometimes touch can convey what words and deeds cannot, and it is in these moments of truth and purity that technology and scientific advances take a back seat to what has existed since the dawn of humanity.

As a yoga teacher, I have seen many people’s relationships to touching and being touched. Some students admit to the possibility of being touched by the teacher as a major motivator in getting them to class, as it’s the only interpersonal contact they’re getting in their life. Some students feel that being adjusted is some form of criticism of their form and, ultimately, their practice. Some believe that to not get adjusted during class is a form of abandonment, of being overlooked. Others freeze up when they get adjusted, maintaining a rigidity in their alignment, giving me the impression that they are set in their body positioning and in their minds and do not want assistance. These are usually the same people who approach me after class to let me know how much they loved the class and can’t wait for the next one. Everyone has a different relationship with touch, and walking the fine line that links us to each other is the job of the yoga teacher, one that I take extremely seriously but that will not ultimately alter my method of teaching. I believe that with mindfulness and the correct intention, my students will only benefit from the contact I make with them, and that in some cases, that contact can re-define what they deem as a healthy avenue of communication. I’ve always been an affectionate person, a massive fan of hugging and a believer in the power to communicate the intensity of an emotion with the aid of touch. Funneling this aspect of my character into a yoga setting takes some care, but it’s something I’m happy to do. It’s this kind of influence that makes me proud to be able to do what I do. The ability to help (and potentially heal) others brings a validity to my profession that until this period in my life proved elusive.

Let me know what you think about all this…what your viewpoints are on touching and being touched, on and off the yoga mat. And don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who may need that extra bit of affection or support…sometimes simple contact is all that we need.

The Virtue of Patience

My partner and I have spent the last week shower-deprived while a contractor re-tiles our shower’s walls and floor, and I have found myself not only having to completely re-organize my daily routine, but having to check myself every time I feel a twinge of impatience in my rush to see the final result. Taking baths instead of showers, throwing my regular daily routine of events completely off-kilter, having construction materials lying around…it’s all proven to be somewhat of an eye-opener.

I’ve always preferred taking a shower instead of soaking in a bath. Despite never having given it much thought, I now can see that I probably preferred the methodical process of showering as opposed to the somewhat stationary, less active process of bathing. Having come to that realization, I must admit that nothing beats a nice hot bath at the end of a long day, especially those days that I both teach and then take a yoga class. It has proven to be a welcome opportunity to wind down and get ready for my night at home.

As the contractor has been arriving earlier in the mornings than my usual wake-up time, I’ve also been rising earlier, something that I’ve never been fond of and that I don’t subject myself to unless necessary (one thing that many of my fellow yogis are probably berating me for 😉 ). I don’t have a hard time getting out of bed earlier, but I do get the feeling that my body wouldn’t mind being guided back to bed for another hour or two. Because I’m rising earlier, I’m obviously tired earlier come evening and find myself falling asleep without my regular lullaby-esque habit of reading myself into my slumber. Although I do love reading right before I drift off, I have discovered that there is a certain bliss in falling asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow, and I now find myself looking forward to those minutes with a certain reverence and anticipation.

As for the construction materials lying around, I’m perceiving that whole moment as one of the best tests I could be presented with. I grew up in an über-clean household where my mother always had a cleaning woman coming in at least once a week; the type of household (and the type of mother) where the bedroom needed to be tidied up for the cleaning woman’s imminent arrival and the dishes needed to be rinsed before going in the dishwasher. Everything had a place of its own where it needed to be, and there were lots (and lots) of little things decoratively lying around (anyone with 2 Aquarian parents will understand exactly what I’m talking about). As much as I rebelled against that kind of structure while I was living with my parents, I inevitably found myself keeping the proverbial torch alive once I moved into my own home. Maniacally wiping down surfaces, washing dishes, laundry and, occasionally, my dogs, I found myself suffering from a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome where I (as the victim) begin identifying with my mother (my captor). I know…somewhat of a minor exaggeration (a proclivity I’ve also inherited from my mother), but true nonetheless. Having all the construction stuff lying around has pretty much broken me. I’m not going lie – I still vacuumed the entire floor of the loft this week, but I left all other surfaces dusty (success!!), and I had WAY more time to devote to the rest of my day. I never realized the freedom afforded to messy people. Consider me informed!

All this rambling culminates in the fact that I’m not the most patient of people, at least not when I’m dealing with myself. When it comes to helping or listening to others, I’m your man, but not apparently when those niceties are solely beneficial to yours truly. Ironically enough, the tests that I find myself currently presented with are of my own doing…after all, I hired the guy to come do the work. We work in mysterious ways, don’t you think? I like the fact that my routine has been turned upside down and inside out. I love observing who I am through the ways I react (or don’t react) to things, and my finding the ability to step beyond myself while looking back at what is visible to others is a feat accomplished solely due to my yoga practice. Being able to focus my attention inwards has resulted in the ability to step beyond myself and see things objectively, mainly myself. Paying attention to my breathing has given my mind something to focus on, instead of impatiently waiting for whatever I’ve imagined the end result in any given situation to be. All this to say that what has been reinforced throughout the past week has been how interesting the journey can be if we’re awake to it regardless of the final destination (even if that involves a sparkling, newly-tiled shower).

Let me know what you think 🙂

Where I Am

IMG_9087It’s been a couple of months now that I’ve been teaching yoga, and after solely being a student for 10 years, the transition has been so organic and natural that I know that I’m finally doing what I’m meant to be doing. It’s taken me 35 years to figure it out, but it’s happened…and I’m so happy that it has, and that I love doing it so much, so I’m just very grateful these days. Personalizing a class with my personality and humour is almost the most fun I’ve ever had, and it just keeps getting better and better.

I never knew what I wanted to do in life. All I knew was that I needed to feel emotionally stable, and yoga was the tool that helped me ensure that I was, that I knew how to balance a demanding career with everything else that goes on in life, that I had a home of my own, a home base. I was seriously envious of the people I knew who had accomplished what they set out to accomplish, those who knew what to do with their careers. I wondered if I would ever feel so ambitious that I would do whatever was necessary to succeed in doing it. I’m now there. And I’m seeing that it isn’t even ambition that I’m feeling – it’s the need to do my absolute best, to understand that the classes that I assemble should be a pure reflection of who I am and what I want to share with others, and to just be the best version of myself possible.

When I look back on where I was one year ago exactly and how much I’ve accomplished since then, it kind of stuns me. It hasn’t felt as massive a transformation as I would have thought. I remember starting to consider leaving my career and taking the massive chance to see if what I loved doing in life could bring enough money to get by. I remember being so miserable in my last job that despite not knowing what I would do to survive, I knew I had to get out of that environment. When I finally did, I was stunned at how things started to happen without my initiation or manipulation, and how if we allow great things to come into our lives, if we continue to take steps towards happiness and peace, we could be happier than was ever considered possible.

I believe that yoga is about joy and I was discussing it today with my friend and boss Jenn, who said something that completely resonated with me…she said that if you start incorporating a feeling of joy into your yoga practice instead of just seeing it as a physical workout, that joy will seep into the rest of your life. And she’s right. That’s what I’ve been doing now for months on end, and succeeding in making my life as joyful as possible…by continuing to laugh whenever I get the chance…to appreciate and acknowledge the people I have around me as I make my way through life…and now to give everything I have to pass on the teachings of yoga to others…to share my interpretation in a way that people can relate to and while keeping them smiling the whole time 🙂

I now understand that the emotionally stable environment I instinctively cultivated was exactly what I needed to take the steps I took and continue to take. And when I look back, I realize that the “transformation” was actually a return to the source, to who I am and who I’ve always been. It’s amazing how simple it’s been – years ago my first teacher Joan Ruvinsky told me to “get out of my own way” when I shared where I felt my life was going at the  time, and those words changed my approach to life. My teachers have guided me responsibly and encouragingly throughout the past 10 years, and now that I find myself walking in their shoes, I am so proud and honoured to have the privilege of offering tidbits of wisdom to my students.

This is where I am.

The Road More or Less Travelled

I came back yesterday afternoon from the greatest weekend retreat I could have hoped for – we went to Spa Eastman, a fantastic place to unwind and reconnect with yourself and the peace in and all around you. Our group was 22 people strong, some of whom were not students of Luna Yoga but had heard about the retreat and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to practice in such a pampering environment. We were there for less than 48 hours, and when it came time to leave, every one of us felt completely recharged and in disbelief that what had felt like 7 days was only a matter of hours.

The day we got there we had an evening class with a soft practice and we each got the opportunity to introduce ourselves and share why we were attending the retreat, indirectly setting our intention for the weekend. Most of us had come to take care of ourselves, especially those who spent their time taking care of others in their daily lives. Some people were there to indulge in all the spa treatments that we offered, and others were there to experience their first retreat, to find out what it was all about.

As we were working the introductions person-by-person, I noticed that many of us mentioned how long we had been practicing yoga, and usually added “off and on” to the end of their sentence. It immediately resonated with me, as I’ve been practicing for 10 years now, “off-and-on”, and I had somewhat of an epiphany when I kept hearing people use that expression.

My early history with yoga saw me attending classes for a couple of sessions, then veering away from it for a couple more. I’d always find myself back in class within months, and I remember discussing it with my first yoga teacher, Joan Ruvinsky. She told me that the path of yoga is a winding one, and that I’d always come back to that path, regardless of the events that were going on in my life that drew my focus away from my practice. And what events they ended up being and continue to be! My pattern used to involve being pulled away from yoga when stressful and traumatic events unraveled around me. It first happened in 2001 when my friend Chantal Vincelli died in the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11. It happened when my grandmother passed away. It happened when my partner’s apartment building burned down, as well as when I had to euthanize one of my dogs. As these events occurred, I would find myself calling Joan to explain why I wasn’t in class, and after years of this pattern repeating itself, Joan had the compassion and tact to suggest that it was perhaps in these moments that I needed my practice the most. I’ve never forgotten those words. And they’ve since saved me the anguish and anxiety that I was used to letting in during moments of shock and loss. And it was these exact words that have kept me “on” ever since (it also struck me how the term “off-and-on” could apply to “on-and-off the mat”, which was exactly what we were all referring to in our introductions this weekend).

Very few of us can truthfully say that we’ve been doing any one thing consistently for years without small interruptions or small tears in our realities. We are so complex as individuals, and even more so as a collective group of individuals, and so it is inevitable that our paths end up following a (hopefully) long, winding road. We are never only one thing. We may wear many hats and play many roles, but even the sum total of those roles don’t even begin to encompass our complexity, and they certainly don’t define who we are (they barely define what we do). As you know, I’m a big fan of giving the best I can on any given day, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, my best will always change, from minute to minute, day to day. Only through applying what Joan had suggested to me did I find that I was indeed a calmer, more rational person when things seemed to go haywire around me. Only then did my pattern change. I now find myself “off” the mat less frequently, especially given the turn my path has taken, which isn’t to say that what used to lead me astray won’t do so in the future. It simply means I’m more aware of it and have the tools to help myself see those events as happening in my environment, but not necessarily to me. To see the events as temporary fluctuations, however real and horrible they may be. To keep my focus on the unwavering permanence that we are all derived from and that we all share. So if we come and go on our yogic paths, we’re nonetheless

Perfection
Perfection

still on our paths, where we should be and we shouldn’t worry about it or reprimand ourselves for not being disciplined enough. After all, practicing yoga isn’t only about being “on the mat”.

Let me know what you think 🙂

Only The Best

As most of you already know by now, the past year has been monumental for me in terms of the changes I made in my career and where it has brought me since. I’ve been practicing yoga for 10 years now, and only after 9 of those years did I realize that yoga was where I wanted to build my career, for so many reasons: primarily to help people grow (physically, mentally, spiritually), but also to see what I was capable of…to “deepen my practice” and see how it affected the rest of my life. I’m so grateful that I have the support network around me that enabled me to jump beyond myself only to find that the boundaries of my capabilities had monumentally shifted and I was so much more than I had ever believed possible. Yet while I find myself more “myself” than I have ever been, there are some things I’ve observed in my community that I still have mixed feelings about…

One of the foundations of leading a yogic lifestyle is practicing Ahimsa, or non-harming. Ahimsa most often gets applied towards the killing of animals for human consumption. I have always been a meat eater. I’m pretty sure that my family falls not far on the evolutionary ladder from the Flintstones (if any of you have ever sat down to a meal with my family, you know what I mean – my partner jokes that after a dinner with my parents all that’s left on the plate is a perfectly and partially intact skeleton). I’m not particularly in love with the idea of eating meat, but whenever I get on a vegetarian kick and try to eradicate meat from my diet, I find my body physically craving it within a couple of days. I try to have at least one vegetarian or vegan meal a day, and I’m doing my best, which is all I can ask of myself or my students when they’re in my yoga class. One’s best is all we need to drum up. And one’s best will change from day to day, even from hour to hour, depending on how rested we are, how hydrated (or dehydrated) we are, how much stress we’re handling, etc…

I am, however, finding my defenses going up sporadically when the issue of meat-eating comes up with fellow yogis or other teachers. It has often been insinuated, and even declared to me. that eating meat completely negates a yogic lifestyle and that to eat meat is to walk around with blood on my hands. I understand the concept, however extreme it may have been conveyed, and I do my best to walk the walk, but at a certain point, I take issue with the whole thing. Living a yogic lifestyle, as far as I’m concerned and as far as I have been able to interpret from my teachings, involves being the best person one can be, with an abundance of love and compassion for oneself and all others, to see the source of all energy in everyone and everything that surrounds us. To be able to bring people to a higher consciousness, and to aid them in discovering the meaning of their lives and to tap into the energy source that we all draw from and carry around with us. Whether I eat meat or not shouldn’t be a source of shame, and anyone in the yogic world who would willingly bring shame onto someone else for their dietary habits (or for any other reason) should reconsider what they’re trying to accomplish with their efforts. I can do my best at practicing Ahimsa by eating less meat, or I can choose to eat meat all the time…either way, it’s not for anyone to judge. My journey through this life is between where I believe my energy source lies and my being, and I haven’t heard any complaints yet 🙂

I believe that in expressing my opinions, especially when they may be slightly controversial considering the environment I find myself in, I am opening the door to an exchange of points of view and beliefs, all of which are valid and have merit. I just want people to know that we’re not all robots walking around stretching and preaching to others about how superior we are because we practice yoga. We are all the same, yet we’re undeniably different, and it’s this play of opposites that fascinates me and encourages me to delve deeper into my studies and my practice. For those of you who have always been intrigued by yoga but thought it was too cultish or unpalatable, I hope this blog entry speaks to you. My aim is to show that practicing yoga is more a state of mind than it is a way of life, and yet in that shift of one’s state of mind comes the desire to make changes in one’s life that makes us feel better about ourselves and the world we surround ourselves with. And all we can ask of ourselves is the best. And that’s all we can wish for others…

Let me know what you think 🙂

Surviving Yoga

I am literally immersed in the world of yoga. I manage a yoga studio, Centre Luna Yoga (www.centrelunayoga.com), am more than halfway through my 200-hour Ashtanga Yoga Teacher Training with Darby, Shankara & Joanne at Sattva Yoga Shala (www.sattvayogashala.com), am teaching substitute yoga classes at Luna Yoga and as well as  some rooftop yoga classes for Lululemon’s Ste Catherine St location (http://www.lululemon.com/montreal/stecatherine). I also find time to teach some private classes when I have some free time, so with this massive yogic flurry surrounding me, I’m obviously learning about the business of yoga at an exponential rate.

Managing Luna Yoga is, in itself, all-encompassing. There’s a shockingly enormous amount of work to do, from website updating to retreat planning, marketing to plant maintenance. The “to-do” list grows as the priorities change daily. Understandably, all these things go on behind the scenes, so it’s no wonder that when a student comes to a class, all he or she is concerned with is having a great experience and walking out of the studio feeling refreshed and alive. I’m assuming that the clients are more or less unaware of what it takes to keep a studio running, and that’s how it should be – we should be ensuring that the machine stays well-oiled so all parts move in conjunction with each other, fluidly and consistently. Giving the public what they want (and sometimes need) is what we do, and we do it well. What separates us from other sectors of the service industry, however, is what we’re selling.

Yoga typically attracts people who want to expand their consciousness, whether it be physical, spiritual or mental. And whether my peers in the community are willing to admit it or not, there are occasionally practitioners in our midst who in the process of trying to “find themselves”,  get so lost in the world of yoga that they risk losing touch with the reality around them. Now don’t misunderstand me – I have an inherent belief that we are always taken care of, even when things are seemingly hopeless. I wholeheartedly believe that my yoga practice will bring me to where I want to be, which is to say back in my own skin, back to my Self. I also believe that if I don’t work for a living and drum up an income for myself, no one is going to do it for me. I am a city dweller, a householder, a taxpayer (in addition to many things, while also being none of those things). Unless I am planning on retreating into nature and away from city life and all that it encompasses, I need to stay grounded in my responsibilities. Yoga assists me in playing that game while maintaining a healthy outlook and an emotionally intelligent head on my shoulders. What I keep finding myself witness to, however, are people who believe that yoga classes and everything involved with yoga should be free and that to profit off of running a yoga studio or yoga classes is somehow disingenuous.

So here’s my take on it all:

If you love doing something and you have the opportunity to continue doing that thing while making money to get through life, you’re mind-blowingly fortunate. If that thing you love doing helps other people, and can even heal other people, then you’re even more fortunate. If you can occasionally provide the service free of charge without compromising the integrity of your business, then you’re blessed. The only catch is that if what you’re doing is not completely accepted or understood by mainstream society, you’re going to run into some bumps along the road. Yoga falls into that category. There are slews of yogis who believe that all is love, the universe will provide, namasté. While I do think that there is a lot of truth in that,  there are some people who take it to an extreme where free will is completely subtracted from the equation and fate rules the kingdom, and that’s a dangerous attitude to take because it eliminates any possibility of personal responsibility or accountability for one’s words and actions. When people come to a yoga class and resent having to pay for it, it leaves me stumped. People who go see a doctor usually don’t pay for that visit, but there’s still a payment for services rendered thanks to Medicare. People who go shopping pay for what they buy, as do those who go fill up their gas tanks to make sure their cars don’t run out of gas. Because all these services are universally accepted as “necessary”, to not pay would be unthinkable. Yoga, regardless of the resurgence of spirituality and a return to Eastern thinking over the last decade, is still somewhat of a subculture and not even fractionally understood by the masses, and this is why we find ourselves where we are as yogis.

The more classes we lead, the harder we work to keep the yoga studios running, and the more yogic literature we write and publish, the more we’ll be heard and understood. The more we’re understood and respected, the more legitimacy we’ll have as an industry and we’ll have fewer people objecting to the business of yoga. Those in the community that can’t be bothered to help stimulate the industry need to ask themselves if they’re helping or hurting themselves…  We need to build our community up and bring all our gifts to the masses to show how much better off we are with a healthy practice and healthy outlook, and if that means digging into our pockets, then consider it an investment. It’s the safest one I know of in our present economy, and the only one where helping one’s self ultimately leads to helping others. I’ll keep on doing my thing, trying to get the best we can offer to those who appreciate it while attempting to increase our visibility as leaders in the community, one asana at a time, one event at a time…

Let me know what you think 🙂

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