Tag Archives: Jivamukti

An Homage to Luna Yoga on its 14th Anniversary!

IMG_3113I first came to Luna Yoga in the late summer of 2008. Until that point, I had practiced a much gentler style of yoga with the first teacher I was blessed to find along my journey, Joan Ruvinsky. I was initially introduced to the deeply rooted philosophical teachings that Joan incorporates, but I soon found myself craving a more physical practice. I had quickly formed a home practice after first starting in yoga, and as I found myself attempting more advanced postures at home, I always kept an element of caution to my movement, knowing I needed to find a space where I could be supervised as I went deeper into it. My sister from another mister, Sonia Papasimakis-Collins, was at that time the Store Manager of the Ste-Catherine St Lululemon store and had been telling me for months that I had to come try this teacher whose studio was in Old Montreal, and whose classes were beyond what she ever could have expected from a yoga session.

I hemmed and hawed, super intimidated to actually put my feet down in a studio where I assumed most of the other students had established practices that would leave me struggling to catch up. It was only after Sonia brought her illustrious teacher and owner of Luna Yoga, Jennifer Maagendans, to my home that I decided to just let go of my fears and see what lay in wait for me at the studio in Old Montreal. The rest, as they say, is history.

IMG_2769From my first class, I felt I was home. The energy that spills out of the studio itself is indescribable. In equal measures peaceful and stimulating, I found a missing part of myself within the security of those four walls. I spent the next few months attending classes and deepening my practice while developing a real, true friendship with Jenn, and then with her partner Jason Kent. Sonia had told me that Jason was a tough sell, hard to get to know, but I knew I was on the right track when his response to my calling him Debbie Downer at our first meeting was met with a reluctant grin (accompanied by Jenn’s sheer delight in Jason being addressed as such by a stranger :)).

Little did I know that the events that brought me to Luna would serve as the foundation for the next  chapter of my life, in which I would completely leave my then-career behind with no clue as to what I would do job-wise. Events unfolded that saw Jenn ask me if I would be interested in co-managing her studio, saw Jenn challenge me to follow my heart and pursue careers in the domains that nurtured my soul, and saw Jenn take time out of our workdays to train me one-on-one to complement the Ashtanga training I was doing in 2009. Jenn became the person who, with little pomp or grandeur, illuminated the path ahead of me and simply helped me re-shift my gaze so I could see it as a viable possibility, one that has since brought me to a place where I continually, and on a daily basis, am reminded of the blessings that being true to one’s Self bestows. Jenn challenged me in those training sessions to teach her as a group class, as an individual private class, and as a private group class, but her teachings didn’t end there: she led by example, in every single thing she did and said. She continues to do so, demonstrating how by combining passion, a strong work ethic, and proper attention paid to that which comes naturally can propel one further along one’s dharmic path. She constantly challenges me to be a better version of myself, even when she’s completely oblivious to it.

So what has Jenn been to me? An opener of doors, a pillar of support, the remover of darkness, and the swelling of laughter that buoys my own giggles past the point of control. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and she continues to be my guru, my mentor, my example, confidante, and friend.

And Jason? Without Jason, I’m not sure Luna would even have gotten off the ground. Jason was a huge support for Jenn when she was first considering opening a studio, and has been ever since. If Jenn has become my soul-sister, then Jason is my soul-brother. A fellow Libran, Jason reflects back to me my own habits and tendencies, and he has grown from Jenn’s partner into a true friend, someone who has helped me, often without even being aware of it, when I most needed it. His heights of sarcasm and jest are matched in kind by the depths of his kindness and sensitivity.

1E0A7408-resizeJenn and Jason are the real deal. They have built up the studio over the last fourteen years with the sheer force of their collective will and focus, creating a home for the teachers they have welcomed into their fold, as well as a space for me to bring my business knowledge into their creation, and then topping it all off with the two most beautiful little boys to add to their brood of yogic misfits.

On July 13, our community will celebrate Luna Yoga’s 14th anniversary. The studio they originally started with limited funds and maximal dreams 14 years ago has grown into a force to be reckoned with, with its own sold-out Teacher Training Program, as well as classes and workshops that reflect the diversity of the students who call Luna Yoga home, all the while maintaining its grassroots feel and sense of real, true community. Luna has students who have been around since before the studio opened its doors. This is more than a testament to the studio’s location or teachings: it’s a testament to Jenn and Jason.

If you’ve got a glass handy, raise it to these two, whose drive and ability to weather the toughest of storms has kept Luna’s doors open for well over a decade. If you don’t have a glass, then close your eyes for a moment, and silently send them a kind thought. They continue to show how doing something for others always brings you to where you need to be, and they do so with respect, intelligence, and grace.

Happy anniversary to you both, J & J, and to the entire Luna family, past, present and future!

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 🙂

Like Sands Through The Hourglass

It’s been a week since my first encounter with Sharon Gannon and David Life, the creators of Jivamukti Yoga. Spending last weekend in Woodstock, New York at the Jivamukti Immersion Weekend was a fantastic opportunity to spend time with some friends who work in yoga as well, so time together is usually scarce at best…and our exposure to the teachings of Sharon & David was enlightening, to say the least. We were taught countless things, while being reminded and re-directed to countless others, but among everything we heard and discussed, I found myself honing in on something that became my focus of the week for my classes over the past 5 days, and I wanted to get it down here as well.

How often do we say yes to things that we’d rather say no to? How many times do we agree to do something when we’d rather do something else, or even do nothing at all? How many people do we keep in our lives who bring us more suffering than peace, and how many times do we spend time with these people when we’d rather not? How often do we avoid confrontation or having to defend our reasoning by agreeing to something? Think about it. We spend so much time being agreeable, settling for less than we want for ourselves, making other people happy. We forage our way through life treating the time we are blessed with as if it’s a renewable resource…we agree to do something, to use up some of our time, to get something done or make someone happy, attached to the moment that we’re done so we can get back to what we originally wanted to be doing. And I’ll tell you something massively important – if we do these things, if we choose to sacrifice our time in ways that don’t fulfill us, we’re deluding ourselves that our time isn’t valuable. And it is.

The majority of us were raised by parents for whom this type of thinking was laughable and quickly dismissed. Our parents came from a generation where things had to get done, regardless of how they felt about them. The fact that I’m writing this blog post and encouraging us all to live with greater integrity and accountability to ourselves proves that we are blessed with options our parents may not have had. It’s in our nature to NOT prioritize ourselves or our time, to always be available to others, to put ourselves last. If the teachings of yoga and the majority of what I believe in provide a call to the NOW, then why not start treating time like the gift that it is? Every single one of us is here for a reason – one that is greater than ourselves, and greater than the sum total of ourselves. The more time we pay attention to that, honouring the paths we feel compelled to travel, the closer we get to figuring out what our mission is and how we can affect change in the world around us. These bodies of ours, our ability to discern universal law from government-enforced legislation, our attraction towards light and all it represents, are all gifts, but like any gift, if  put aside to be opened at a later date, they’ll probably go unnoticed and forgotten before long. Open your gifts. Use them. Let them wake you up to why you’re really here. Incorporate them into your daily routines and see what you notice in your own behaviour and understanding, as well as in the world around you. See the time that you have been allotted as non-renewable, and allow that comprehension to affect everything in your lives. What would it change for you if you knew that your days were numbered? Because they are. Without getting morbid, let me remind you all that no one is given immortality to get everything they want to do done. Get things done. Tell people you love them. Stop wasting your time, and make the most out of this moment. Now. Consider this a rarity, because being reminded that everything could change within one second seems to be unpopular. I’m willing to be unpopular.

Go.

Immersed in Niyasa

20120331-132033.jpgAs many of you already know, the past few years have been formative ones for me, almost Richter-scale-esque on many levels. My time at Centre Luna Yoga continues to be a real gift, and because it’s the closest thing to a Jivamukti studio that can be found in Montreal, I have been majorly influenced by the teachings of Jivamukti founders Sharon Gannon and David Life. After years of reading their wisdom, of reading their focuses every month, and of operating under their influence, I have to admit that despite the sense of familiarity I developed from having them as indirect teachers, I was still somewhat intimidated at the thought of actually being in their presence. The past few years culminated in my finally taking a 3-hour class from them yesterday…and if I felt a kinship towards them and their approach to yoga before yesterday afternoon, I now find a real sense of admiration for them…and possibly a tiny bit of love 🙂

Hearing people around me constantly refer to Sharon and David almost de-sensitized me to how approachable they might actually be, but this weekend’s classes gave me a first-person perspective on how witty, down-to-earth, and refreshingly informative AND approachable they both are. Despite leading amazingly active and challenging classes, they managed to keep us all laughing in a state of unwavering presence, focused on their instructions and anecdotes, all the while speaking to us directly, in language we could understand and relate to. They never speak in obscure language or talk down to their students, and for such revered personalities in the global yoga communities, I found the combination of both their energies absolutely inspiring.

Our focus for the weekend was presented to us as the role of the student and the role of the teacher, and we’ll continue exploring the subject as we work through the weekend.

We woke up this morning with a heavy blanketing of snow muffling all sounds, something I found conducive to spending the day nestled away studying and learning from Sharon, David, and each other. As we continue to explore our selves and our practices, one thing has kept coming back through Sharon’s teachings: the concept of Niyasa, which translates to “to place consciously”. As some of you already know, there have been moments in the classes I teach where I encourage people to move/breathe/set intention “like they mean it.” The Sanskrit word Niyasa never presented itself to be included in my vernacular until today, but essentially the concepts are the same. To practice Niyasa fully is to be aware of the most seemingly innocuous and insignificant of moments, and to do whatever we’re doing with complete awareness, with complete consciousness of our actions. Like we mean it. Because we mean it. Because it’s an expression of our intention. Because everything we do and say and communicate with these bodies that we’ve been graced with has the potential to be complete, to be a direct expression of truth, of light and of consciousness. Niyasa has now nestled itself into my consciousness, and you’ll be hearing a lot more about it, I’m sure 🙂

We go back to Sharon and David’s house for lectures, meditation, chanting, and a Q&A period after the lunch break. I am fully immersed. I am full of joy, really and truly. I’ll sign off now with something I overheard Sharon whispering to someone she was giving a massage to in Savasana: Be Happy. Chant it in your head. Be Happy.

And now incorporate Niyasa. Love to you all 🙂

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Immersing Myself

I’m in Woodstock, New York on a brilliantly sunny Friday morning, staring at the diffused sunlight pierce through the natural cotton drapes covering the windows in my room. The sounds of life in the house where I’m staying are starting to become more frequent as one by one, the others staying here with me wake up and go through their daily morning rituals.

We’ve all come down here together from Montreal to participate in the Jivamukti Immersion Weekend with Jivamukti creators Sharon Gannon and David Life. Some of us here have already spent time with them in past immersion programs and in their annual teacher training, but this is a first for me. After hearing about them, reading their insight and teachings, and occasionally subbing for a Jiva teacher, I am filled with a real sense of excitement and anticipation at not only being on the cusp of receiving their teachings first-hand, but I’m just happy to be experiencing their energy in person. As I wrote about in a 2011 post (Guises of the Guru), a fellow teacher and friend Dawn Bailey had told me about how simply being in the same orbit as Sharon and David’s energy elevated her own energy, and so it’s with real joy that I now roll off the bed and let my footsteps bring me towards an experience that I’m sure will influence my teachings, my interpretation of the world around me, and my overall frame of reference. I’ll be coming back here all weekend to share my experiences with you all, so stay tuned!

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The Present of your Presence

One of my favourite memories of being in a yoga class was when I took Cat’s class at Jivamukti London a year ago. Cat was leading a strong, amazingly instructed vinyasa, and in one of the sequences, the guy practicing next to me went fully rogue, taking whatever postures he felt like moving into, completely veering off of the class we were there to take. Cat didn’t let it go unnoticed, as I quickly understood by her “STAY PRESENT” interjection. He quickly came back to the moment and fell into the flow the rest of us were moving through.

As a yoga teacher, I constantly find myself instructing students that veer off of the path that the class is moving along, and, admittedly, as much as I try to address it without interrupting the instruction, I have never had the guts to literally tell someone to follow along and stay with my words. I loved Cat’s certainty, but more than that, I understood where it came from. Some people argue that those who attend classes and then follow their own internal teacher shouldn’t bother coming to class at all, because what’s the point if they’re not an active participant in the process? But, I know that some students have physical limitations and/or injuries that prevent them from taking certain postures, so they adjust what they need to in order to stay in the flow and maintain a certain pace. However…what I also occasionally see is students who have been practicing for a long time, whether with me or with other studios and teachers, who are familiar with the practice and feel like they’re used to the sequences and know where the class is going. I’ve been that student, and still am, on occasion. It is because of this assumed familiarity that we sometimes find ourselves moving through the asanas with reduced presence and attention…and it is in that semi-lethargy that we find ourselves moving into the next anticipated posture without being aware that the teacher hasn’t brought us there – in fact, everyone else has kept following along and they’re moving through entirely different sequences. So we snap back to the present moment and speed-yog through a few postures until we catch up to the class, and with the adrenaline rushing, we make sure we’re fully present for the rest of the class. And that is what it’s all about: presence.

If yoga is union, and we’re aiming to unify the mind, body and the breath, then we’re falling out of a state of yoga when our minds are elsewhere. The same goes when our breath is out of control, as well as when our bodies are taking postures that are not being instructed. To come back to the practice involves coming back into a state of union, and that is what the fundamental aim of the practice is. Our goal as yogis is to come back to that state of unification and alignment as often as possible so that we can have glimpses into the realm of truth, possibility and permanence. It is through those experiences that we become galvanized to pass on the teachings and guidelines to our students so that they can experience those moments of beauty and expanding awareness as well. The ultimate goal? To achieve a state of oneness all the time, in all moments, remembering that what happens on the mat during any yoga practice is a  microcosm of what happens in our daily lives, allowing what we learn through our practice to be incorporated into our daily meanderings. To achieve peace. To achieve detachment from the material world, understanding that true happiness lies in our ability to connect…to each other, to the earth and the world around us, and, ultimately, to a higher energy. All through the practice.

So if you have en existing practice, challenge yourselves to observe how you practice. Notice when and why your attention wanders from the breath and the movement, and see if you can gain insight into why it’s happening. More importantly, if you don’t practice yoga, check yourselves throughout your day. If you’re constantly active and busy, take moments out of your hustle and bustle to step back from everything, and notice if you’re fully participating in your own life, or if you’re half-heartedly going through the motions, with some of your attention elsewhere. If you are, do your best to let whatever is in the past stay in the past, and to let go of how you think things will unravel in the future. Be present, and see how it serves you. You might be surprise how it changes your approach to everything, and to the relationships that already exist between you and the people you work with, live with, etc…Try it out…If you don’t find yourselves any the wiser for it, you’re still ahead of the game, because you made the effort to stand back from yourselves and do some digging, some exploration. If the expression “An unexamined life is not worth living” is accurate, then it’s time to infuse our existences with worth. All it takes is the intention and awareness. Try it out, and see for yourselves….

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

UK Musings

I’m alone. Approaching the end of my latest 2-week voyage over to see my England-based extended family, I find myself in the rarest of situations: Helene has taken the kids out, Kerry is off at a football game…and I’m alone in the house…the always kinetic center of it all, the flurry of activity that starts around 7am and doesn’t stop until the children go to sleep slightly more than 12 hours later. Reuniting with complete stillness after 11 days (obviously excluding those sweet hours of repose I take full advantage of), tapping back into that serenity and groundedness, literally feels like coming home…in a place I consider my home away from home. All of which reinforces my belief that home is wherever you want it to be, at any given moment. Right now, I’m home.

I’ve been practicing yoga here steadily, locking myself in the big lounge, laying down my travel mat amidst the antique-style furniture and directly facing the massive fireplace. Taking a full hour as often as I can to disconnect from everything around me, and re-connect my mind to my breath and my body. I took a couple of days to trek down to London, where I met up with Tara, who joined us on our Mexico retreat in March of this year and who has since become a close friend. Together we caught up, ate in great restaurants, basked for 2 hours in the lovely energy that resides at the Jivamukti Center, and generally just had a laugh. After a couple of days with her, I made the journey back up to lovely Norfolk, and I fell right back into the frantic state of play surrounding the kids, all set amidst the relaxed rhythm of the gorgeous countryside.

After having been in this country countless times, I find myself surprised at how I never tire of it. The panoramic, rolling hills, the foliage in full bloom, the intermittent, dismally chilled and rainy days, the seemingly endless selection of country pubs offering some of the best food I could be treated to, and, most of all, the company of my family out here…Regardless of what I end up doing while I’m here, I can be certain from the outset that I will have the time of my life, that my roots will sink a little deeper into this UK soil, and that I will be able to bring a smattering of all the energies I encountered during my stay back to my life in Montreal to share with those with whom I share my Canadian existence, students and family members alike.

I always come back from these visits feeling a massive sense of gratitude, and incredibly inspired to continue on my yogic path, digging into my soul a little deeper, and hopefully inspiring others in their journeys by sharing my observations and findings. I have a few more days left to bask in the light that I find here among all the people I meet and spend time with…rest assured that I’m aware of every moment, taking mental snapshots (as well as digital ones) that will be filed away in the annals of my mind that will eventually be referred back to so I can tap back into this energy whenever I fancy. The greatest thing about life is that those annals are great enough to accomodate the ever-growing inventory of snapshots, the moments that life does not stop offering up, the pieces of muchness that we all are exposed to, but that which some of us pass by unaware of the significance that often exists in that periphery. So as I wind down my time here, let me offer this up to you: keep your head up, your heart open, and look around you for those moments that are being offered up to you. Let them imprint themselves, and hold onto them as you continue on your journey. File them away, and take note of how they start to grow in numbers, those numbers signifying the richness in your lives. You don’t have to travel overseas to find them, but you have to be open to notice them…Sending you all much love (and even more light) from England 🙂