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 🙂

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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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