Tag Archives: ego

My Take On Yoga

I read an article yesterday from the New York Times titled “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body“, and posted it this morning to my Facebook timeline because it created such an intense internal dialog within me. I knew that it would get others talking as well, and has it ever! The article talks about the dangers to the physical body that people have fallen victim to through their yoga practices, ranging from torn tendons to strokes, and since I posted it, I’ve had people asking me how I feel about what was included in the article and what my take is on yoga as a potential cause of physical damage.

I have had many yoga teachers in my life, some who have encouraged respecting the physical limits my body has presented me with, while others have told me those limits are markers to surpass and develop upon. I have been the student who listened to what has been instructed and ignored what I knew was potentially bad for me, inappropriate given what I knew about my body. I grew up doing gymnastics and spent my entire childhood flipping around like a fish out of water, so I’ve had a pretty good awareness of my physical self from very early on. Nonetheless, when I started practicing yoga, and when I did my teacher training, I told myself that I would really put myself into the position of a true student – a clean slate, hungry for information and direction. I wanted to let go of the process of discrimination that I usually kept readily available so that all the information I was being exposed to could be new, potentially offering me insight and wisdom into new possibilities for my life and my future. The exercise in letting go of how I labelled and identified things was incredible, because I allowed certain teachings to get past the point where my existing defense mechanisms would have immediately repelled them for one reason or another. However…I did injure myself. A muscular injury in my middle back that took months to heal, and that acts up even to this day if I trigger it irresponsibly.

The tone of the article in the NYT is aggressive in its description of what people have suffered due to their yoga practice…but I take issue with the statement that the article tries to make by demonizing and blaming the yoga practice for causing injuries. People don’t suffer because of the practice – they suffer because of their approach to the practice. They suffer, as I did, because they don’t listen to their intuitive voices that tell them exactly what they need to know it terms of what is appropriate for them given their bodies and their bodies’ limits. They suffer because instead of doing a practice that allows you to let go of your habits and conditioning to find a place of peace, they struggle to get through the class/practice so they can walk out of the experience feeling like they accomplished something. They suffer because instead of understanding that they are there to exercise the mind-body connection, they instead increase their muscle tension end effort which inhibits movement, flexibility, and overall release.

As far as I’m concerned (and from the point of view of a teacher), all of this comes down to the environment that the instructor creates for the people taking the class. At the risk of putting myself in the firing line for being brutally honest, I keep hearing about teachers who yell, bark, scream at their students…who create an environment of fear as the main motivator. I keep hearing about teachers who tell their students that they aren’t going deep enough, they aren’t active enough, they aren’t pushing enough. I take serious issue with all of this. I am a firm believer and endorser of pushing yourself to see where your limits are, but once realized, that threshold needs to be respected. Yes it can be tested occasionally, but at what price? Do we continually take headstand because it makes us feel like we’re keeping up with the class and that we’re not standing out as somehow weaker than the others, or do we understand that the potential consequences of taking a weight-bearing posture, with all the weight resting on an area of the body that isn’t built to support it, might be harmful? What teachers and students alike need to understand is that our nature as nice, proper, well-conditioned Westerners is to beat the shit out of ourselves. We are encouraged to push, push, push…no pain, no gain. So if that’s our nature from the get-go, then why aren’t there more teachers encouraging their students to relax? To not be so hard on themselves? I am constantly encouraging the students who come to my classes to bring an element of their home practice (if they have one) to the group environment. I’m basically giving them the freedom to take small liberties in their group classes, liberties which allow them to keep up with and follow the instructions being given, while incorporating tiny movements that they would allow themselves to take when practicing on their own with no one supervising to potentially call them out on it.

I absolutely believe that there is a form of yoga for everyone. We all have our own energies within us that are derived from the same source, and it is our mission to seek out the people, places, and experiences that reflect those energies back to us. Yoga teachers, studios, styles and disciplines are no different. Each one has their own energy and we all have those we love and those we don’t. It’s up to us to find the proper environment for our spiritual undertakings, so that we move forwards, closer to the truth that we seek. With that said, I also believe that asana is not for everyone. I believe that people who have a passion for running have found their yoga. People who love cycling have found their yoga. Yoga is about unifying the mind, the body, and the breath. If that happens when mountain climbing, then one has found a state of yoga. You don’t need a Lululemon mat and goji berries to be a yogi. You just need to be connected to your spirit. What this means is that if one does have a yoga practice, it should be approached with the intention of letting go of the selfishness that the ego craves. Forget about how fantastic you are, how great you look in your yoga gear, and how proud you’re going to be when you can stand on your head. These are improper motivators that will leave you feeling worse off in the long term. You need to feel better after a yoga class than you did when you walked into it. If that’s not happening, leave and seek out another teacher/class/studio. There should be no room for suffering in yoga. None. If you’re experiencing any form of suffering as a result of your practice, then why are you doing it?

Let me know what your thoughts are…

Advertisements

The Beat Goes On

As 2011 comes to a close, elements of the Hindu mythology workshop I gave this year keep creeping up int my thoughts, and I find myself listening for the drum beats of Lord Shiva…wondering if the passage of one year constitutes enough time to merit a beat. It is said that with each beat of his drum the death and rebirth of another age comes to pass, and as much as 2011 has been a year of growth and fruition of our efforts (for many of us), all the kineticism and daily events that have brought us everywhere we’ve been and that have shown us everything we’ve seen are all but a tiny blip on the radar. As we all, to varying degrees, look back on everything that 2011 has shown us, all we’ve learned about ourselves and the path we forge (or follow, depending on your beliefs), let’s remember some things, and commit to bringing these things with us into 2012:

1) We are never simply one thing. We are many things to many people, and many things in the image that we hold of ourselves. The root of all these things is a collective energy that itself is timeless, limitless and impossible to define. Let yourselves remember that to see yourselves as your bodies, your careers, your religious beliefs, your failures and successes, your fears, hopes and paranoia is to limit yourselves. To buy into any or all of these things is to give the ego validity to continue to seek out what it is ravenous for, which in turn validates all that is superficial and that serves as a distraction from truth. None of it matters.

2) There is room for everyone. In a world where the human population has just surpassed 7 billion people, it is easy to believe that we need to make ourselves smaller, to be less visible and to speak in quieter tones. We are encouraged to be small by the powers that be online and in our society. Forget all that. Speak up. Step forward. Raise your voice and make sure you’re heard. Take all the space you find yourself blessed with. Be expansive. It is possible to do all these things and still leave as minimal an impact on this earth as possible. Seek out how you will do this.

3) The space between how we see ourselves and the image we project to others needs to diminish. Let people see the real you. The path of truth is there for all those committed to an existence steeped in authenticity. There is no need to project anything other than what and who you are. The sooner we are all more honest about what we are living, the sooner we will be able to understand that we share more than we’d like to admit.

4) The people in your lives are there for a reason. Allow yourselves to be honest with them. Communicate with them. Allow yourselves to share with them the things that you’re proud of as well as that which shames you. Let them in.

5) One aspect of being human is suffering. Buddhism states that life IS suffering. The Yoga Sutras and many of the Hindu Mythological tales exist to show us that the sooner we get past that fact that we suffer and actually start doing something about it, the closer we move to a state of Yoga, of oneness. Don’t be afraid to suffer, and don’t be afraid to let that suffering be seen. To explore the depths of suffering is necessary to be able to fully comprehend how startlingly beautiful the joyous moments of life are. Welcome everything as an opportunity to know more and be greater than you ever thought possible.

6) Teach. Pass on what you’ve learned. Pass on your mistakes. Pass on your successes. They are not who you are. They are to hold up as a marker of humanity and the human condition. Make sure those around you are learning from you and paying attention. We are all messengers, here to make visible that which has always been here but which is veiled.

7) Love. Everyone. Equally. Everyone.

Thank you all for your presence in my life. All the best of health, love and truth in 2012 to you all, and keep your ears open for that drumbeat…♥

Such A Pity

I’ve been thinking recently about the moments in my life when empathy appears for those living through some sort of challenge or adversity. This internal analysis really started up recently when I saw a 3-legged dog hopping down the street on its leash, and my heart immediately jumped into my throat. The owner of the dog saw me looking at them as they walked by, and as they stopped at the traffic light before crossing the street, she said to me, “Don’t pity him – he is so unaware of the absence of the fourth leg.” We both smiled and they continued on with their walk.

Having been a dog owner for years, I know that they have this instinctual ability to motor on with whatever hindrance they may be afflicted with, as long as it doesn’t cause them ongoing pain. I found it so interesting that the owner of the hobbling Jack Russell saw pity in my facial expression, because in my limited frame of reference, pity is an emotion that includes a sense of condescension, of superiority, and there was absolutely no patronizing element to what I was feeling. I simply had a moment where I imagined what it would be like to be that specific dog with that specific physical difference, and I felt a surge of warmth, love, and empathy for him. So I started thinking about how I defined pity…and whether I needed to re-think that definition.

My favourite novel, Shantaram, is full of timeless truisms written by the brilliant author Gregory David Roberts, and one of them is the most succinct summations of the essence of pity (and one that I would now like to think that dog owner would identify with) : “Pity is the one part of love that asks for nothing in return and, because of that, every act of pity is a kind of prayer.” Having remembered that quote after the incident with the dog, I realized that from this moment on, I will define pity differently – forget the condescension, forget the feeling of being able to judge someone or something else from a place of superiority and inflated sense of self – pity IS empathy. It’s the ability to tap into the essence of other beings and proverbially walk in their shoes (or paws). My personal yoga practice is constantly infused with the intention of embodying all the beings that the asanas are named after, and I occasionally mention this in the classes I teach. By allowing ourselves to feel what others are feeling, to catch a glimpse of their joys and sufferings, we allow the differences we tend to focus on to dissolve. In the place of those differences, we are left with a clear, unobstructed, and visceral view of how we all are pursuing the same things in life: happiness, contentment, comfort, stability…in word, love. To tap into the essence of others is to let go of the selfishness of one’s ego and really approach our collective experience with an open heart. To do so tells us more about universal law and this life we’re living than any textbook possibly could. So give it a go. If you practice yoga, infuse your practice with the intention of really feeling what a tree feels like in the wind as you take Vrksasana. Tap into the strength and certainty that the mythology behind Virabhadrasana I, II & III recounts to us. More importantly, though, try this exercise without being on a yoga mat. Look around you at the events unfolding as you make your way through each day, and see who and what you share your space with. As massive and relevant as we think our own individual lives are, we are but specks in the universe, along with the trillions of other specks, ever one of which is existing in as relevant a condition as we are. Take a moment to see what those specks contain. You’ll learn more about yourself than you think.

Good Grief

As many of you know, I laid my long-time canine companion Oliver to rest last week after having him by my side for almost 15 years. Oli was a long-haired Jack Russell Terrier whose intelligence bordered on the inconceivable and whose penchant for anxiety rivalled that of Woody Allen. He was faithful and loving, and could convey the hundreds of thousands of words in the English language through a single glance. His absence, as I’ve mentioned to those around me, has been overwhelming…and as time passes and the wound of saying good-bye to him slowly starts to heal, it is also providing incredible insight into the process of death, loss, and recovery from the shock of that loss.

I had previously gone through losing another dog – Sally was added to our family 2 years after Oliver showed up, and she was with us for 6 years before her health failed and we had to say good-bye. It was the first time I had ever lost a pet, and the shock of it was traumatic, to say the least. I had severely underestimated the weight of the energy that an animal brings into the pack, and even more severely underestimated the size of the hole that is left in our hearts when that energy passes onto the next stage. I have lived through the deaths of people as well over the last 37 years of my life, and as jolting and traumatic as they have been, none of those people were with me day and night for years on end, and losing Sally was a huge shock, one that has paid me another visit over the last week. This time, however, is proving to be different.

Anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one, in human, canine, or any other form, can attest to the fact that there is an element of the irrational in that suffering. One minute they’re here, the next they’re not. That suffering doesn’t necessarily depend on the length of time spent with him or her, as the strongest bonds can be quickly formed between those with like-minded ideals, points of view, and emotional frames of reference. I can safely say, however, that after continuously being with Oli for 15 years, I have been seeing him everywhere I look. The irrational element of not being able to make sense of his loss, as I also felt with the losses of my family members and friends, was always one of those things that I accepted as being part of the process of dealing with death. It was also something I had understood as not being explicable or definable, but something that simply was…something that could not benefit from analysis as it would constantly bring me back to a place of no answers or insight. Oliver’s death has changed that.

What has become clear to me over the last week is that the inability to understand the mystery of death is based in the ego. The ego is relentless in its drive to claim proprietorship – Oli was MY dog, this person was MY friend, this relative was MY grandparent. And on levels conscious and unconscious (perhaps even subconscious), losing those we love is an inarguable blow to the ego, one whose effects are non-negotiable and permanent. The shock we experience at losing them is mainly based in the fact that they were never ours to begin with, that we don’t own anything or anyone…we simply manage it all. We manage the relationships we are blessed with to the best of our abilities, as we do all other aspects of our lives and careers, but the second we believe that we own them, then the ego has won and we have placed ourselves in a place of suffering. We need to accept the blessings that are bestowed on us in this lifetime, as we do the pitfalls and traumas that we are faced with, but we need to understand that we are all simultaneously co-existing and that we need to let go of the constraints that immediately form when we try to claim ownership over anything or anyone. We all are. It’s that simple.

And so after the past 14.5 years of being blessed with Oliver, and after being taught innumerable lessons about unconditional love and the bonds that can be formed between members of different species, Oli continues to teach me. I’m so grateful to this universe for allowing Oli and I to spend so much time together…I owe so much to that little guy, and I know that more revelations will unfold over the next little while…and I’ll be sure to share them as they reveal themselves….

As Within, So Without

I had an interesting thing happen last week that I’ve been mulling over ever since…figured I’d share it, as it’s been fascinating me. Shortly after the Montreal Yoga Mala wound down, I found myself mentally going over the whole planning process and remembered that I hadn’t yet watched the CTV news spot I did to promote the event, so I sat down in front of the TV and played it back. I remember doing the same thing with last year’s promo spot, and this year brought about the same reaction: I didn’t recognize the guy on TV as being me. I could obviously see, hear, and understand him, but as much as I sat there with the knowledge that I was watching myself, I felt completely detached from that person, as if I was watching someone else.

I found myself thinking about this over the next few days, especially when I found myself post-shower, getting dressed and looking in the mirror. The reflection I saw looking back at me was more familiar, someone I knew and identified as myself, someone I was familiar with. I then thought about (and checked out) some of my photos around the loft and on Facebook, and saw other versions of myself I knew well, and then started comparing and contrasting all those versions of myself…from TV to my reflection to photos of me. And I came to somewhat of an epiphany: I’m all of those people, but mostly, I’m none of them.

I truly think that when we hear our own voices and immediately cringe from barely being able to associate it with being an extension of ourselves, when we see ourselves in photos and think “Is that what I really look like?”, and when we look in the mirror dissecting our reflections, it’s because on some level, we know that what we’re seeing is of very little significance. Yes, we live in a world that’s unfortunately becoming more and more steeped in superficiality, and yes, we react favourably to those who appearance pleases us on whatever level speaks to us…but I really believe that once we remove the ego from our discriminative faculties, what we’re left with is a consciousness that speaks to and identifies with the essence of what is essence, and not with the shell it’s contained within.

Watching myself on TV really showed me how the way we see ourselves is less dependent on how styled and groomed we are, and how the intention and energy we infuse our words, actions, and, ultimately, our lives ends up conveying monumentally more than the sum total of all the elements that comprise our aesthetics. Maybe we need to get out of our own way a bit…perhaps the self-scrutiny that we seem to be obsessed needs to be pushed aside in the understanding that we can make the efforts to look good and tweak our appearance, but if we’re devoid of humanity, love and kindness for others, the attempts at looking good are all for naught. If we all spent as much time examining what lies within, that which exists superficially would quickly follow suit. Think about it! It’s inevitable…and most probably a great thing.

Measuring Up

One of the most difficult tasks to overcome as someone conscious of my role in the relationships I’ve fostered throughout my life is working with my ego. We are all born into a world of things we inherently are attracted to and those we shun as we identify them as sources of pleasure or suffering, and it is through that discrimination that we end up with the frame of reference we carry around with us. It is through that frame of reference that we end up processing everything that occurs around us to determine whether we find it pleasing or not, whether we “accept” it or not. And that’s when the ego kicks in. That’s when the judgement occurs, when the separation and duality settles in, keeping me and my true essence separate from the scenarios unfolding around me. It is this exact process that is the root cause of ALL suffering in the world, so it’s no surprise that attacking the ego and the grip it exerts on us on an individual level constantly proves to be nearly insurmountable.

The most hashed-around advice that constantly gets regurgitated is to detach from the ego. Let go of it. The nucleus of that advice is brilliant, actually. We should all be able to let go of the ego, to allow the dividers that keep us separate from every other thing in existence on the planet to crumble. We should be focusing on what binds us together instead of what separates us. That is the ultimate ambition – to identify the essence of all things as the unifying factor FOR all things, and, ultimately, the source of energy that we stem from and that we’ll ultimately return to. But if we really think about it, telling someone to detach from their ego is like asking someone who has never gone jogging before to throw on a pair of runners and then run a marathon. The exceptional among us will be able to do it, but the rest of us who need measurable goals will fall short and get discouraged in the process. So for all of you doing that incredibly relevant ego-work, here’s what I have to offer you: instead of telling yourselves that you have to detach from the ego, why not ask yourselves to simply detach from the selfishness of the ego? Confused? Keep reading.

Yes, the ego is responsible for suffering. When we pursue that which the ego deems pleasing and it eludes us, we suffer. When we don’t get the ego stroke we so rabidly seek out, we suffer. When we are used to getting the ego stroke and it all of a sudden ceases to rise up to meet us, we suffer. But the ego can also be a source of love and confidence and vision and determination and light. So why not re-focus our efforts on decontaminating the ego by removing the selfish desires that motivate our behaviours? Instead of pursuing that which we alone benefit from, why not make a concerted effort to tap into the essence of love and beauty and truth wherever we can find it? The goal is not to feed ourselves with that essence, but to contribute to and reconnect to it, where and when we find it, so that we’re giving, not taking. The ego, be definition, is limitation, and it limits us from seeing that true essence as our true identity. So our work is really in identifying that essence in everything around us. That’s measurable. That’s something we can work towards and introduce into our approach to life. It’s also a step closer to a place of truth where we shed our sense of separateness, so that we can ultimately achieve a state of non-duality, of true unity. Because that’s what it’s all about. Changing the way we identify and approach the world around us will change the way we live, and that’s what we all seem to be doing on some level regardless…we just need the right tools to do it.

The Phoenix From The Flame

I’ve been preparing for the workshop and lecture I’ll be giving later this year for the Luna Yoga Teacher Training on Hindu mythology and how it relates to the yoga postures, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t passionately loving every second of my research. I’ve been going over the myths I’m already familiar with, as well as hearing some of the more obscure ones for the first time, and I keep having these moments of realization where I can really stand back from my life and see how the path I’m on is truly my dharma…it’s unreal, intense, and satisfying, all at the same time. As I finish with one myth, I put down my books and walk away from the computer, and sit down in silence to think about what I’ve read, and how it applies to my life and my approach to life. The approach that I have to yoga is 90% philosophical and 10% physical, and this is why: I believe that the asana practice is purifying for the body, absolutely. But I also believe that the practice allows for a shift in consciousness, one that opens up new windows of insight and belief systems that challenge who we find ourselves in this moment, how we got to this point, and where we see ourselves moving forward with the knowledge and insight that we have at our disposal. I believe that the mission for all of us in this life is to fully realize that the only thing that matters is to re-connect to the higher energy that is the source of every single thing in existence around us, and within us. Everything else is secondary. How we come to that realization is really up to each of us to figure out, but I can attest to the fact that yoga absolutely opens up gateways to the soul, gateways that can shed a bright, refreshing light into the annals of our consciousness to allow us to see with new eyes.

One aspect of the asana practice that has always fascinated me is the final posture we take before closing out the class: savasana, deep relaxation, corpse pose. When I first started practicing in 1999, savasana was the lifeboat at the end of the long swim through what was then my practice. Whatever happened during class, I knew I could collapse at the end and recharge through the act of doing nothing. At that time, I remained conscious of the fact that my thoughts kept whirling, my eyes would continue moving around, and all I could do was stand in judgement of myself, staying critical of the fact that I couldn’t let go. That changed after a while. I then found myself hearing a voice telling me to connect to the sky, which became my mantra and which enabled me to visualize a beam of light emanating from my third eye and beaming upwards, and it was through this connection to a higher energy that I found myself completely letting go and finding that I had indeed drifted off to some other place during my savasana, a place where I was still conscious, but not of, or in, the body. And now, recently, 12 years later, I have had another revelatory awakening from my savasana: this posture of letting go, where we allow the body to absorb the physical practice we’ve just treated ourselves to, has taken on a new role, one where I set my intention as I lay down to put to sleep that which does not serve me and which identifies with the ego, so that I can rise up at the end of the relaxation period re-born and re-focused. Ever since the adoption of this new approach to savasana, I feel like I have been speeding closer and closer to a new place of spirituality and connection to all that is. Call it re-birth, call it a step closer to a state of enlightenment, whatever. All I know is that yoga has once again offered me a tool where I can be responsible and accountable for shedding off the attributes, events and conversations that have only served to weigh me down and distract me from my focus towards truth, so that I can rise up again after my repose with renewed focus, strength and determination. Focus on my soul and tapping into what it already knows, strength to be unwavering in my journey, and determination to pass on what I myself am living and learning, understanding that if I don’t share these insights, then I’m truly missing the point. And so I hope that you reading this will try out this approach..to savasana, or to any process that you find yourself undertaking that has both a beginning and an end. Allow yourselves to infuse whatever it is you do with the knowledge that you have the power to let go of what doesn’t serve you, and to come out the other side of it with a new sense of clarity and understanding. The tools are already there…we just have to pick them up and use them.

Learn more about YIOM, follow the bloggers participating, and catch up with our twitter feeds at http://theveganasana.com/YIOM.