Tag Archives: asana

Dealbreaker

fvfIn recent asana and iRest® Yoga Nidra classes I have been very focused on the role that our core beliefs play in the paths our lives travel down and how we show up in our own lives and the world around us. In my quest to awaken students to their greatest potential through the examination of sensation and emotion en route to acknowledging what they believe to be true about themselves, I have been emphasizing how what we believe to be true will become true in each of our own lives, as truth is subjective. What we believe will become, as I wrote in The Examined Life. Our beliefs inform and set the level of our self-esteem, and if you really think about it, we do everything at the level of our self-esteem. We hang out with people who treat us at the level of our self-esteem, we marry at that same level, and we eat and sleep (if and when we’re doing it) at that same level as well. As my teacher Seane Corn mentioned to us in the vinyasa training I took with 60 other students a few weeks ago, “How you are with anything is how you are with everything.”

I was up late last night reading The Anatomy of the Spirit, a book penned by medical intuitive author, teacher and doctor Caroline Myss, and one concept stayed with me after I put the book down and started to fall asleep. As she states in the chapter The Second Chakra, “…our internal conflict between faith and fear is often buried underneath the survival issues that dominate our thoughts: Can I earn a living? Can I find a partner? Can I take care of myself?”

In the mentoring I do with clients and students, in the individual iRest® Yoga Nidra Dyad sessions I do and in the counseling I offer to friends and family members when they need someone to help keep them propped up and motivated, I have found myself coming to the same realization over and over again: people are either paralyzingly terrified that things will inevitably go awry and they will suffer, or they believe that everything will always work out, regardless of the ups and downs along the way. Both my father and I share the core belief that things will always be ok, and that belief has served us well, and continues to do so. When I work with imagery in individual session with clients, that imagery, in 9 out of 10 cases, always comes down to the same thing: there is a mass of light and a mass of dark, literally an entity of dark blackness and one of illuminated whiteness. Those that are truly suffering believe that the darkness is stronger than the light. The rest believe that the light is stronger. What you believe will become. We are either living under the weight of heavy darkness threatening our ease and well-bring, or we are channeling light. We are either reacting to every possible threat and marker that has the potential to reinforce our fears or we are keeping our gaze lifted, hurtling over small bumps in the road instead of stopping and quaking in fear at each individual potential obstacle.

The survival issues that are referred to in The Anatomy of the Spirit are at the heart of every single one of our core beliefs. If our foundation is one of faith, believing on a heart, soul and gut level that there are forces greater than us at work and that every single thing that happens to and around us in this life is intentionally being brought to us as a messenger to learn from or to teach to others, then there is light. We live in it and it keeps us going, especially in moments of darkness that have the potential to bring us to our knees. If our foundation is one of fear, living our daily lives looking over our shoulders with apprehension as to what might not go according to plan and take away whatever happiness we have, then we are literally living hell on earth, constantly getting beaten down by the fear that we are not capable enough and don’t have what it takes to survive in the world today. It’s the difference between feeling self-worth and feeling worthless. It’s the difference between being able to handle whatever life brings to our doorstep with discriminative wisdom and faith that we will land on our feet, closer to light, even if the moment itself feels dark, versus walking around with the shadow fear of not being good or capable enough and believing that we’re cursed and constantly being threatened by that curse.

What do you believe, at the core of your being? Do you believe that everything happens as it should to bring us closer to discovering who and what we are? Do you believe that we are meant to learn, and in some instances, teach from the moments that we come face to face with, that also have the potential to stop us dead in our tracks? Or do you believe that life is just a series of events that are meant to be suffered through, and only the strongest of the strong emerge? Is everything random and some of us get more of the dark than we should have to deal with, or will every moment bring us where we need to go, even if it’s not where we would have chosen to?

On a fundamental level, do you have more faith than fear, or vice versa? And how is that answer dictating every single second of your life?

 

 

 

Yoga & Activism

26563_409223819257_4397157_nA few years ago I had to miss a workshop being given by local Yoga teacher Allison Ulan that focused on Yoga and activism, and I was gutted to miss it. From my point of view, there seems to be a growing divergence between the physical-only focus of the practice, emphasizing solely how the body is being placed in any given pose from the non-physical byproducts of asana. While I absolutely do not want to minimize the importance of proper alignment and body awareness in the practice to avoid injury and to promote longevity in the practice, I also take issue with yoga being taught with little or no illumination of where the physical practice brings us emotionally, psychologically and spiritually.

The asana practice does a few things: it allows us to release the tensions that have landed in the body by moving the frame in ways that are atypical of a regular 24-hour cycle of movement. Areas that we may not have even been aware of that had been carrying tension on a somatic level are suddenly manipulated to work and gradually release whatever was being carried there, either spontaneously or more gradually. The practice also allows us to breathe consciously for an extended period of time, teaching us that to focus on a deep, nourishing breath throughout a period of physical movement and potential challenge is to teach us that a conscious breath is all we need to navigate moments of challenge, fear and adversity outside of a yoga class. It allows us to detach from external stimuli and spend some time with our bodies, and ultimately, with our Self to check in with whatever is in the moment. There are countless other ways that asana benefits us, but all those benefits, as far as I’m concerned, all lead to the same realization: that we are fully-formed, powerful beings with unique voices and points of view, and that it is our responsibility to speak up, to act, to pursue relentlessly what we believe to be right and true and fair, not just for ourselves, but for all beings. Yoga shows us how unity presents itself as separation, and once we clue into how far we’ve strayed from acting in the best interests of ALL of us, we find our words and the right language to speak up louder and clearer and more peacefully than we ever thought possible.

The philosophical, emotional and spiritual epiphanies that await every person who begins a yoga practice, even if that practice begins for the sole purpose of exercising the body in a non-gym atmosphere, need to be emphasized. Movement and breath and alignment are absolutely essential, but if they’re not partnered with guidelines and insight for spiritual evolution, then they’re no different than a gym workout. Yoga is everything, and it’s my hope that all teachers, instructors and light-bearers understand this.

What I want you to know is this: You are not allowed to have rights and squander them by not knowing how they were hard-fought for, by being indifferent, lazy or dispassionate. It is your responsibility to know who fought for what rights you have, especially those you take for granted, for those that you think are normal in this day, age and geographical location. If your skin colour is anything other than what’s considered “white” (but which is, in fact, more of a pinkish-beige), you better pay attention. If you’re a woman, pay attention. If your sexuality is anything other than 100% hetero, pay attention. If you fall into ANY visible or audible minority, pay attention. In fact, you know what? Pay attention, every single one of you.

Yoga is activism. It is a call to what is and a call to right action in the face of what is. It is finding your voice and then using it to ensure that no one feels excluded or inferior, and to make sure that the freedoms we are blessed with at this point in time are never snatched away in the name of power and oppression. Freedom should never directed towards some, it should be the right of all.

There are moments where I struggle to find inspiration to channel and pass on, but I definitely find it on occasion. I want to thank Allison for inspiring me all those years ago. I want to thank Sharon Gannon & David Life for creating the Jivamukti community and inspiring action, change and freedom for all. I want to thank Seane Corne for living everything I’m trying to express, for being the example, for being an inspiration and for the teachings, past and future, that I have been graced with. I’m doing everything I can to inspire and awaken, and will continue to do so until I can’t find the air to propel my words from my body. Until then, I’m focused on being awake, and on waking everyone else up.

Stay alert, stay together and stay awake. We are changing the world, one unique voice at a time, and, occasionally, as a collective roar of peaceful warriors. Let’s keep it going 🙂

Yoga City Break in Berlin, Germany AND Yoga Retreat in Bali, Indonesia

As you all know by now, I put a lot of planning and effort into organizing the City Breaks and Retreats that I give annually, and so it won’t come as a surprise to any of you to find out that 2014’s journeys are already planned! I figured I’d give you all as much time to plan and budget as possible, and so here we go!

2014 will see us make our way over to Berlin, Germany from May 3-10, 2014. I chose Berlin because it completely dazzled me when I was there for the first time in September 2012. When I went initially, I was expecting a cold city whose history was going to be hushed up and buried under soviet-looking architecture. I was wrong (once again). Berlin is currently the cultural center of Europe – arts, music, architecture, shopping, restaurants, theater; it’s got everything. And instead of pretending that history never happened, Berlin has monuments, museums and countless installations throughout the city that speak of and to its history. The museums in the city are world-famous, the vibe is young and vibrant, and the energy in the air is palpable. I rarely go back to the same city so soon after visiting, but I know how hard it was for me to leave it at the end of my stay there, and so I’m bringing the next group of traveling yogis to see for themselves.

We will start our day with one 90-minute yoga class held in the Kreuzberg Jivamukti studio (a 10-minute walk from the hotel), and will have the rest of the day to explore Berlin. We will be centrally located in the city, a perfect spot to weave our way outward into the brilliance of this bustling metropolis.

Later in the year, I will be bringing a group just outside of Ubud in Bali, Indonesia for a full-on retreat from November 1-10, 2014. We will be staying at a hotel surrounded by rice terraces, and will have a 90-minute morning asana class and a 60-minute evening iRest® Yoga Nidra class daily. Nestled in the tropical lushness of Bali, this event will bring movement, breath, intention and awareness back to the forefront as we delve deeper into our practice in this spiritual epicentre.

For more information or to register, check out my website at http://www.bramlevinsonyoga.com/retreats.html. I hope that you can make it to one or both of these inspiring locations with us!

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Open to the Openness

My focus for the past week’s classes has been something I usually incorporate into my classes, but I felt it was so relevant to the process of examining how we live our lives that I decided to not only make it the focus, but to also write about it. My work in waking people up to their true selves and their true missions in this life basically always comes back to what I’ve been discussing with students this past week, so please feel free to consider this to be a fundamental truth, one from which all other aspects of one’s life stems.

Regardless of whether your yoga practice consists of standing up in the morning and stretching after a long night’s sleep, or if you take a 90-minute active group class somewhere, then you might have already clued in to the fact that everything that you do relating to the asanas directly relates to your approach to what you do in all other aspects of your lives. I have always encouraged and instructed students to bring their home practice to a group environment, to take the same liberties they would afford themselves when practicing alone, confident in the knowledge that their practice should fit their bodies, and not the inverse…I remind everyone that they’re not doing it to impress me, nor to impress the people around them. I often remind everyone that what the person is doing directly next to them in class has absolutely no bearing on their own practice, that the essence of Yoga is about looking inwards, and forgetting what their senses are interpreting from external sources. Most importantly, I encourage students to keep moving, even micro-movements in static poses, all in the hope that they’ll wriggle around and find an even more comfortable and stable posture than they’ve been used to, regardless of how long they’ve been practicing and how well they think they know their bodies, the practice, etc… The reasons for my approach are manifold: I am a firm believer that I know nothing. That we know nothing. That we go through our lives with stories about each other, about the world we live in, but mainly about ourselves. We tell ourselves we are this way, we like these things, we see ourselves here, there or elsewhere in the future, that we believe in whatever we think we believe in…however…when given the chance to wriggle around and test the boundaries of who we think we are and what we think we’re capable of, all of a sudden we realize that we are more capable, more aware, more awake, more, more, more than we knew. We are more than we think we are, and in the immortal words of Jean Klein, we need to remain “Open to the openness.” We don’t know everything about anything, and so the more we realize that, the more hesitant we are in defining ourselves, each other, and the world around us because we understand that everything is in a state of transformation, of flux, and we become more of who we are with every passing second. The other reason for my approach is to give people the perspective necessary to really see themselves and the way they live their lives…to examine how we make decisions, and whether those decisions are bringing us closer to where and who we want to be, or if the roots of those choices we have made (and continue to make) stem from any other motivation.

If a student feels empowered enough in my class to take an extra breath when he or she needs it, or if a student feels comfortable enough to wriggle around and make self-adjustments in the understanding that they will find a better practice waiting on the other side of those movements, then the same student will also feel empowered enough to draw outside of the lines in their own lives…to work within whatever parameters exist in whatever realm they find themselves in, i.e. their jobs, relationships, etc…, but to also feel confident that by incorporating their own inquisitiveness and personalities, they will find an even more gratifying space of truth in whatever they’re doing. On the other end of the spectrum, if a student feels paralyzed by fear in their practice, and they take a pose and hold it for dear life while shaking and suffering, counting the breaths until they can come out of it, then that tells them how they deal with challenge, trauma, and essentially any other facets of daily life that don’t immediately sit comfortably with them. The yoga practice tells us everything we need to know, we just need to understand that and be open to the openness of the worlds within and all around us. If a student finds themselves reluctant to explore their options with in the framework of a class, they’ll be reluctant to explore in all other areas of their lives. I’ve said before that if we want to change the way we live, we have to change the way we think, so basically yoga is a system of tools that encourages us to look at our thought processes and challenge them when appropriate…all to give us what we need to make better lives for ourselves. That’s it. That’s why I teach. It’s why I practice. It’s how I live.

So I ask you: what are your patterns? How do you live? Have you ever asked yourself where your motivation comes from when making decisions that will affect your happiness? If not, start now. You’ve always had everything you needed, you just needed to know what questions to ask. So ask them. This is your time, and it’s why you’re here…

Not From Here

I paid a long overdue visit yesterday to my first yoga teacher, Joan Ruvinsky, who spoke to us about an expression that comes from Maine that goes something like, “You can’t get there from here.” I’ve already mentioned in past posts how the occasional expression or saying will resonate with me due to its succinctness, to its relevance to my experience so far…this is one of those sayings.

Sometimes our paths bring us to a place where we feel stagnant, where it seems like the only way forward is to rethink and retrace the steps that have brought us to where we stand (and, in some cases, take a couple of steps back.) My experience over the last couple of years has been exactly that, and I can confidently say that I needed to close the door on my past career in order to make room for the blessings that yoga continues to bring me. I remember speaking to the people in my life around the time that I felt the major shift starting to happen, trying to figure out how to allow for that shift with the least amount of chaos…I asked them every single question possible except the most obvious and direct one – “How do I get to a place where my professional life can be as satisfying as my personal one?” If I had just come out with the proper verbalization, I strongly suspect that the answer would have been the subject of this post.

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about and asked my students in class about any goals they were actively (or not-so-actively) working towards achieving, and I will once again present you all with a similar query: how and where do you envision yourselves in the not-so-distant future? Where do you dream your ideal selves existing and in what capacities? If you could live any reality, what would it be? Now, if it’s something that you really want to incorporate into your lives, something that you can honestly say would make your lives better, then ask yourselves this: can I get there from here? Will the path you currently find yourself following lead you to where you’d like to be with little or no active interference from you? Do you feel a change is necessary to end up on that desired path?

Taking the expression literally is a necessary step towards living the life we feel we were destined to live, but the expression also applies to the teachings of Yoga. The yoga sciences tell us that the path to reconnecting to the source of all that is consists of asana, meditation, restriction and manipulation of the breath and senses, and other elements of the eight-limbed Ashtanga yoga system. Those of us applying ourselves to these elements often find ourselves immersed in the beauty that we seek and that which is. For those who are lost in distraction, who have not yet removed the blindfolds of ignorance that keep us from realizing that the source of everything we seek is already in us, then the expression, “You can’t get there from here” lies in wait. Sometimes all we need to make that subtle shift in consciousness is the most nondescript of word groupings to create a cliché, a saying, something that can and often is repeated ad nauseum…and when we’re finally ready to receive the truth of those words, life begins to unfold in a way it seldom does…steeped in light and truth, organically leading us back to where we wanted to be the whole time…plugged into our Self, and thereby into each other and all that exists around us.

Can you get there from here?

Quickpost 21/06/10

After spending the day with all the fathers in my family, I came home and caught an episode of Les Francs-tireurs documenting the world of extreme sports in our lovely province…from base diving to speedboarding, most of the people interviewed who spent their time pushing the limits of adrenaline-chasing gave the same answer when questioned what drew them to and kept them coming back to their chosen extreme sport: it was what brought them to their personal state of meditation. Some compared it to yoga, to the unconscious alignment of their mind’s focus, their bodies’ actions, and the breath that fuels it all. My partner has been an avid cyclist for years for exactly the same reason. He has told me that he starts cycling and before he’s aware of the time and distance that has passed by, he looks around and can see the Montreal skyline in the distance and feels an overwhelming sense of being at peace.

I’ve often spoken to people who tell me that the practice of asana does very little for them, while jogging, cycling or countless other activities allow them to plug back into that frequency that nourishes and recharges their souls, and I’m all for all of it. Anything that leads us back to our Selves is the right path to be on…so I wanted to find out what is your source of bliss? What activity or environment allows you to plug back in? What’s your yoga?