Tag Archives: Berlin

The Sights We Have Seen

I’m writing this from the island of Paros in Greece with only a few hours before the 2016 yoga group arrives, and I’m feeling nostalgic. Five years ago I set off on a new branch of my career by organizing my first-ever solo yoga retreat on the Greek island of Santorini. I remember how fiercely I was plagued by doubt when I was about to begin the PR on that event. I also remember consciously pushing aside all uncertainty, firm in the knowledge that because my intention to share wisdom in one of the most beautiful geographical locations on earth was so pure and honorable, I trusted that all would go well. And it did. It has. For five years now. 

I am beyond grateful to everyone who has joined me on the globe trotting we’ve done so far. From Santorini to Mljet (Croatia), Istanbul (Turkey) to Paros (Greece), Berlin (Germany) to Bali (Indonesia), Ravello (Italy) to Paros (again!!), Prague (Czech Republic) back to Paros (AGAIN!!!). We have seen, and continue to see, the world because doing so gets us out of our comfort zones and our routines, allows us to meet people we may never have come across and see just how similar we are, despite language and cultural differences, and gives us the opportunity to make memories that will always be saturated with beauty.

Thank you. To every one of you who has taken whatever risks you’ve taken to invest the time, money and energy in your own well being. Thank you for placing your trust in me. And thank you for your friendship, because the best by product of these trips is the friendships that have grown into family bonds.

Here are some images from the last 5 years. Here’s to the next 5, and the 5 after those, and the 5 after those…you get the gist 🙂 

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Berlin Musings

As I take some time following the Prague Yoga Vacation to unwind in Berlin, I find myself observing sensations and emotions bubbling up that fascinate me. 

I’m in my favourite city in the world, the one I’d live in if I ever left Montreal. The current weather is hot and sunny, and all is well in my world. And yet, even with all of that in place, I still feel a yearning. For what? No idea. But it’s there. An itch, a restlessness, a hunger. It may be the swell that propels my current creative projects into structure and form, it may be the knowledge that I go back home this week. Regardless, it’s there.

I’m left wondering if we ever really find what we’re looking for, if we ever truly find long-term, full-spectrum, 360-degree peace. And trust me, I know that typical yoga psycho-babble would have me recite some Hallmark affirmation about the universe providing or meditating on it all. My version of that would be to simply observe, to ask questions and know that this experience may seem individual, but is quite the opposite. I believe we live with the hunger of the unfulfilled. 

And so, the conclusion I have come to is that if we live authentically, aligned with our individual dreams and intuition, then we do find what we’re seeking, but only temporarily. Pockets of perfection, I like to call them. I often experience these moments when I’m teaching or lecturing, when I find myself exactly where I want to be (like here in Berlin) and, most intensely, when I find connection with others. 

There’s always a wistfulness when these pockets of perfection, these heartbreakingly pure moments begin to fade, slowly transitioning into what was. But I am awake enough to recognize them as they occur, and even more so when I have faith that there are more waiting for me as I navigate my way through this experience of life. 

The final word here? Make your pockets of perfection. They rarely come to you without effort and perseverance. Make more moments that inspire you to keep making more moments. Have faith that they’re just around the bend. I’ll do the same and we can compare notes along the way 🙂

…Then We Took Berlin

imageI’m lying on the bed in the hotel room in Berlin that’s been home for the last 9 days, sun streaming through the window pane, bathing me in a sunbeam that only my pup Willow could truly appreciate as much as I’m doing right now. I’m feeling reflective, as I always am at the tail end of the yoga trips I hold. The last of our bunch left this morning, and as everyone slowly trickled onward to wherever their next destination was, I started to feel that pang again. I feel it every time a retreat ends, but the sensation is not solely relegated to these specific trips we take.

I know how blessed I am. I experience moments of connection and brilliance and pure, undeniable light on a daily basis. Every now and then one moment in particular occurs and elicits a high in my brain and my body that could easily instigate an addiction in the attempt to relive it, and I feel such connection and awe that I’m stunned into a state of muteness. And as measurable as the high is, the withdrawal from it as it recedes is equally as stunning. From eating a meal that redefines taste and texture to spending time with people who reflect truth and life amongst and between one another, from connection through a sexual experience to simply standing in one geographical location which emanates an energy that undeniably reconnects us to something bigger than ourselves, I believe these moments are miracles. I believe that they are literally moments where the veil that separates us from the source of the energy that animates our bodies falls away. These are peeks into the divine, into the source of all things, into comfort and light and peace and ease. So it’s no surprise that watching the passing of these moments like tendrils of grass in a running stream can be remarkably traumatic.

Through my so-far limited understanding of Kashmir Shaivism, I have gleaned that we as human beings are simply an extension of divinity, but in contracted form. The energy we typically attribute as being god or god-like is the same energy that sparks us into consciousness and motivates us into the world, and that energy is a ray of divinity contracted into the human shell. From my own observations, when I experience moments of connection so pure that their withdrawal from the present moment leaves an ache of absence and sadness, I understand that I am grieving, on some level, for the yank back into contracted form. After the light there is darkness. And I find that incredibly fascinating.

I understand that nothing ends without something brilliantly beautiful being born of it, but I think that what I’ve stumbled on in my philosophical musings is that thing that binds people together initially as they couple, that bonds a parent to his or her child, that is the source of an addict’s endless and relentless pursuit and that we are all, ultimately, seeking. We go through this life seeking connection…undeniable moments that push the boundaries of what it feels like to be alive, hopeful and happy. When we experience them, we’re brought down to our knees in the presence of such timeless wisdom and beauty. And when we start to contract back to our natural human state, that ache starts to present itself again. Post coitum omne animalium triste est, indeed!

I believe it’s our responsibility to constantly bring ourselves back to perspective and focus so we can experience these moments when they are available to us. I also feel like it’s my responsibility to share with you all when they occur as reminders to keep slugging through the mundane until you get there, because you will. I’m also, at this point in my studies and life, awake enough to be able to see the experiencing and passing of these moments from a place of awareness and distance so that their regression doesn’t leave me traumatized.

With that said,  I miss our group 🙂 With all the personalities and backgrounds, our Berlin 2014 gang left their imprint on this beautiful city, and I know that they’re now leaving wisps of the energy we shared here in their wake as they hop around the globe. I couldn’t have more love for them, for this city or for the gratitude I feel being able to create these events and give people the space to experience moments of pure and unadulterated bliss.

I’ll leave the city tomorrow with a heart so full of wonder and love it might just burst. Life is beautiful and dark and moving and silent and chaotic. It’s everything I could ever have hoped for and dreamed about, while at the same time never being enough. And so I choose to simply be in the eye of all that vritti activity.

With love from Berlin,

Bxx

 

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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Blindsiding Ourselves

How many of you have ever compared yourself to the people around you? How many times have you seen your friends accomplish incredible things and then compare what you’ve done in your life to their accomplishments? How many of you have ever felt crappy about yourself because your siblings or friends make more money than you do?

Four years ago I went to Santorini, Greece for the first time, and the experience was so incredible that I made sure that the first yoga retreat I ever organized on my own would happen there. Those of you who have been there know that Santorini is one of the most magical places on earth – in fact, being there almost feels like you’ve left earth, like you’re on another planet. The geography and landscapes are absolutely surreal, and the panoramas that are found there essentially consist of a whole lot of blue dotted by the white houses hanging off the cliffs. The island made such a huge impression on me that for at least a year after I went there, I found myself comparing it to wherever else I traveled. In 2009 I went to Spain and traveled the country constantly comparing everything Spain had to offer to Santorini’s treasures, and in the process, deprived myself of truly experiencing Spain’s essence. From the food to the beaches, nothing could live up to the magnificence that I had found in Santorini. It was only while visiting my last destination in Spain, Sevilla, that I snapped out of it and realized that if I kept comparing everywhere I went to Santorini, I would be setting myself up to be disappointed. It’s obviously not surprising that Sevilla proved to be my favorite Spanish city.

I came back last week from Germany after leading a yoga retreat in Croatia, and the last city I visited before coming home was Berlin. Before I go on, let me say one thing: I never wanted to go to Germany. I never thought it had anything as a country that I’d want to see, and I, on some level or another, didn’t want to visit the country that I associated with the mass genocide of millions of people. I ended up choosing to go to Germany to once again show myself that I don’t know everything about everything, and that I couldn’t let the sins of previous generations forever stain what could potentially be a great country. I was wrong. I loved Germany. More specifically, I loved Berlin. Loved. Like, I’d pack my stuff and move there in a heartbeat, kind of love. If you haven’t been there, make sure you go.

In the center of Berlin is a tower, similar to the CN Tower in Toronto and the Space Needle in Seattle. Once I saw it, I started drawing up comparisons in my head of the 3 cities, but quickly checked myself, aware of my tendency to cheat a destination of it’s individuality by comparing it to other places, and subsequently fell in love with it.

Being witness to the experience got me thinking about how conditioned we are to categorize and compare who we meet, where we go, and what we experience to people, places and experiences already in our frame of reference. We are used to seeing images of what famous people look like and then beating the shit out of ourselves because we don’t look the same. Instead of celebrating our loved ones’ successes with abandon, we, on some level or another, compare what they’ve accomplished to what we have or have not. We never broach the subject of income with people because that would immediately bring us to a place where we’re asking ourselves why we’re not making the same amount OR feeling superior because we’re making more than others do. From our homes to our clothes, from how often we travel to how often we eat in restaurants, everything gets measured up. On some level, this constant comparing and contrasting becomes a tool for control: we identify, classify, and discriminate all the criteria until we’ve put everything into a nice, compartmentalized category so that we can forget about it and move on, confident in the knowledge that it all makes sense to us. We use it to feed our egos, and we use it to make ourselves feel better about why we don’t live the lives we once hoped we would. We live with the illusion that we have control over that which really is uncontrollable, and the truth of the matter is that we are wasting our time. We are wasting our energy. We are robbing ourselves and others of the individuality that makes us who we are, all to make ourselves feel better about ourselves.

With all this mulling over in my head while in Berlin, I wrote down something that I wanted to share with you: Stop trying to control what is uncontrollable – you live with the illusion of control as you choose what to keep to yourself and what to make visible to others, what to say and what to hold back. The truth is that we have control over very little. As soon as we let go of the illusion that allows us to believe that our actions keep everything tidy and together, we will feel that same letting go in our body’s physiology and our mental energy.

Yoga students are always looking at each other, at magazines, or at DVD’s and comparing their own practice to the one on display. It’s good to have an idea of what a posture or sequence can look like, but it’s also important to recognize that the physical aspect of yoga is secondary to one’s breathing and overall awareness. We need to stop letting ourselves be second best. Every time we hold ourselves up to a standard that was never meant to be the example, we set ourselves up to fail. We willingly accept that we are inferior, allowing ourselves to be smaller and less empowered than we should  be. If you’ve ever read or seen an interview with an Olympic athlete, you’ll know that the only competition that these people have is themselves. They don’t gauge where they are performance-wise based on where their peers are – they do their absolute best and channel all their efforts into that. We need to learn from this. Stop looking at what the people around you are doing/wearing/eating/driving/accomplishing and look at what you have to offer. Do your own thing. Go your own way. You are more capable than you know. You are more talented than you know. You are more of EVERYTHING than you know. It’s time to stop doubting that and accept that by comparing and criticizing and judging, you are wasting time. We are all holding onto darkness and negativity when we should be propelled forward and onward by light. Tap into it and let it show you where you’re supposed to channel your efforts. Do your best, and that’s all anyone else can ask of you. It’s all you could ever ask of yourself.