Tag Archives: iRest

We’re Still Here

joan

When I was twenty-five years old I lived on a street right next to Parc Lafontaine in Montreal. I was nearing the end of a nine-year relationship that I had held onto desperately because I knew that when it ended, I was going to be faced with me, myself and I, and I was a bundle of insecurity and uncertainty at that stage in my life.

I grew up gay and alone, despite being surrounded by people who loved me. Scratch that. They didn’t just love me. They LOVED me. I have always been blessed with a family made in prime time television heaven. Two brilliantly incredible brothers, and parents who have never stopped showing the world the multifaceted experience of true love. Regardless, as far as I was concerned, I was alone.

Growing up gay in the 70’s and 80’s was hellish. The only depiction I had of a gay male figure was Jack Tripper from Three’s Company, a character who was straight, but had to pretend he was gay to be allowed to rent an apartment with two beautiful girls. The comments made to him or about him by unsuspecting side characters were less than kind, and so as you can imagine, all I knew as a kid was that I was the bona fide real thing, and so all those comments made about Jack were basically about me. Being in my skin as a child wasn’t my favourite place to be, and yet I had no alternative. So I did what I had to do and survived.

Cut back to me at 25. No sense of self or Self, the sum total of the years growing up gay and feeling terribly alone. My relationship was not doing well for many reasons, the most glaring of all being that I had no idea who I was. Enter yoga. For some reason, yoga was somehow on my radar at the time, and so I decided I’d start to research it and if see it was something I wanted to learn more about. I remember going to Mélange Magique, which was a store commonly referred to as “the witchcraft store”, but which sold more than Wiccan literature and accessories. The place was great – they sold books on religions and philosophies, sacred traditions and rituals. They had books on yoga, so I’d hang out there reading and eventually bought a box of yoga flash cards. Each card had a different posture on it and was colour coded depending on the type of posture (seated, standing, forward bend, backbend, etc…). I remember bringing the set home and sitting on the green industrial carpet of my then-bedroom. I laid the cards out and started to build my own home practice that I soon started doing a few times a week.

After practicing alone for a few months, I decided I needed to start looking for a proper yoga teacher. My door number on my street at the time was 964. After doing some digging with my soul-sister and friend Nadia (who was also interested in trying yoga), we found a teacher. Who lived across the street from me. Directly. Joan Ruvinsky lived at 987. And she still does. Nadia and I registered for the session along with another friend, and all I really remember is that after the second class I got up from my yoga carpet and felt like I had just ingested something magical. I felt relaxed and alive and peaceful and happy. And so we kept at it. Our friend who registered with us eventually stopped classes, and then I, over the next few years, came to the classes and then veered away, came back and veered away.

The years that succeeded that first session were heavy for me. My relationship did indeed end, my grandmother died, a friend died in the attacks in New York City on September 11, 2001, and one of my dogs died. Every time something happened, I’d phone Joan and leave her a message to let her know that I wouldn’t be finishing the current session that I’d been registered for, as I was so beaten up emotionally that I couldn’t commit to showing up for classes. And it was in 2001 when I called her, post 9/11, that I got her on the phone and she said to me, “Consider the possibility that times like these are when you most need the practice.” She changed my life with that one line.

I also remember booking a private mentoring session with her. I needed to talk to someone about everything that I felt wasn’t right about my life at that point, and she made time for me. I talked and talked, and when I was done she looked at me and matter-of-factly said, “Bram, you just have to get out of your own way!” And so she changed my life again. She also made time for me one afternoon to teach me how to use a neti pot – I’ll never forget her leaning over her sink, tilting her head and pouring water with uniodized salt in it into one nostril and watching it pour out the other. She could not have been more hands-on with her teaching, despite her asana classes being mainly verbally guided.

Over the years I went back to Joan’s school Pathless Yoga less and less frequently, with the occasional session here and there, but she was no less present in my life and in my thoughts. When I left my last career in 2008 and started studying to teach yoga, she was with me in every decision-making moment where I kept telling myself to simply get out of my own way. I used to dream of her as a vision in white, flowing fabrics, light emanating off of her, and when I would wake up I’d laugh because I knew she’d laugh herself silly if I ever told her about it. My class structure, once I began teaching, mimicked hers with a longer dharma talk followed by asana, which I’m now somewhat known for. I unconsciously ended up doing as I’d been taught, and she has Taught me.

When I did my iRest Yoga Nidra Level 1 training in 2013 I was happily surprised to meet people who would say to me, “You’re a student of Joan’s! Tell me about her!” I had no idea how they knew her until I put two and two together and realized that that body-sensing thing she was doing with us back in 1999 was actually one of the key components to iRest. She studied under Jean Klein, as did Richard Miller who pioneered the iRest modality, and was part of the iRest tradition and community, leading retreats with the Integrative Restoration Institute and mentoring students doing their full certification. I had chosen a training that once again reinforced for me that all paths led back to Joan.

It’s always been about Joan, for me. I suppose your first teacher (and as far as I’m concerned, she is my first teacher…she is the first person to teach me what I innately knew I would work with for the rest of my life) is very much like your first love. The face time with them may have a set time frame, but they stay with you for every step of the journey, and they both teach you about love.

Joan opened the doorway for me and I’ve never wanted to shut it since. She did it humbly and quietly, leading by example and being a source of support and wisdom when I most needed it. She whet my appetite for the physical practice, and albeit unknowingly to me, planted the spiritual seeds that have grown into the forest of inquisitiveness and seeking that I eat, sleep and breathe today. She gave me the training wheels and the tools to grow into a man who respects and loves himself, a far cry from the introverted gay kid afraid of the world. She taught me that there is just this. No trying, no fear, no forcing…no problem. Nothing to do, nothing to say. Just this.

I spent time in sangha with Joan and our community this weekend and one of the many things I’ve taken from this time we shared is that, in her words, “We’re still here.” As long as we’re still here, we are. As long as I am, and as long as my students are, Joan is. She is still teaching me and showing me how truly blessed I have been and always will be to have had life’s grace bestow upon me a teacher as infinitely everything as Joan is. I aspire to have the quiet grace that she has shown me and the world, and every time I think of her, I feel a recommitment to the essence of the yogic teachings. I am because she is.

There’s a saying that goes something like, “When the student is ready the teacher will present him or herself.” Joan presented herself to me back in 1999 and has kept doing so for other students from all over the world ever since. I need to get these words out now, I need to pay homage where it is so strongly overdue.

Thank you Joan. I am because you are.

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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?

 

 

 

Dreamweaver

DreamscapeWhat do you think dreams are made of?

When you dream, you dream about things that you typically do, think or are aware of. Generally speaking, that’s the nature of dreams. Logic and methodical story lines go out the window, and your imagination conjures up the images and impressions that create your dreams. When you wake up, no matter how vivid the dream may have been, you are able to identify and classify the events that you observed as a dream, and you let them go, even the ones that need a little more shaking off.

During your average day, you navigate all kinds of scenarios that, while more vivid because you have all your senses at your disposal, in many ways can be observed as you observe your dreams. The difference between our waking life and sleeping life is that we allow what happens in our waking life to affect us in profoundly different ways than the events that we experience while sleeping.

So…question for you: what would happen if we approached the events of our waking life as if we were observing a dream? There’s a meditation technique called Dream Yoga that requires tremendous discipline, study and isolation to prepare the practitioner to observe the illusion of his/her dream while in it. Much like Awareness in the iRest Yoga Nidra practice, Dream Yoga requires the practitioner to reside in the realm of the witnessing energy that animates each one of our bodies, allowing witnessing to be able to identify dreams as dreams and not reality.

I’m a huge fan of doing this while I’m awake. How does this serve me, you may ask? Firstly, it helps me acknowledge and identify the illusory and transient nature of our daily lives, keeping me from becoming too engrossed in the temporariness of the typical daily dramas. Secondly, it helps me cultivate and hone a clear, levelheaded perception so that I don’t get too emotionally involved and let those emotions spur me into making ill-thought out decisions whose outcomes are sure to be less than ideal. It helps me make deliberate, meaningful choices for a life more aligned with who and where I want to be in the world, allowing me to keep doing what I do and serve through my time and efforts. It in no way insinuates that I sit by passively as life happens around me, but rather allows me to be an active participant with a cool-headed and practical space of witnessing that is informed by wisdom and not ego.

So…how hard would it be for you to apply a “Dream Yoga”-like approach to the rest of your day? How illuminating would it be to see the events that are waiting for you from a healthy distance, where you don’t get dragged down to the depths of hell by things that typically piss you off, and you don’t lose your sense of grounding and focus when things go so well that you start to believe that you somehow deserve or are entitled to it?

I’d like you to try it out and please report back with your experiences and findings.

Let me know how it goes 🙂

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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