Tag Archives: meditation

Post-Paros Musings

I am sitting poolside at Margarita Studios, the location where we have spent the last ten days practicing yoga, sharing meals, laughing, bonding and basking in the Parian energy that keeps me coming back with different groups of friends and students year after year. It is always emotional for me to say goodbye to the people with whom community was built during these events, and this moment is no different. The degree of joy that came from every person throughout our stay and the oversaturation of beauty that we soaked up from this island is simply not communicable through mere words. This time we have shared together is a concentrated moment of intense radiance, one that every one of us will be illuminated by when our thoughts meander back to our time together. 


Once again I am struck by how fortunate I am to be able to bring people from all over the world to experience the incomparable beauty that is Paros. It is because of how affected this year’s group is by what they’ve absorbed here that I have decided to announce the 2017 Yoga Vacation on the Greek Island of Paros. For all of you who have been following our time here through social media and have been feeling drawn to what you’ve seen, begin your planning now! We will return here September 9-19, 2017. Shared/double occupancy – $1550+taxes, single occupancy – $1950+taxes…AND, there will be a $100 discount offered to every person who has previously joined our groups over the last 5 years! Block the time off work, start shopping for your airline tickets and get ready for an experience you will never forget! Contact me at bram.levinson@gmail.com for info or to register!


To all of you whose energies still surround me as I sit here in the space that we have all imprinted through this trip, please know how grateful I am to have been able to observe your experience in Paros. Seeing that joy and experience of wonderment is exactly why I work so hard to make these journeys possible. Sharing meals and laughs, in the spirit of family, was a privilege, and I’m looking forward to reuniting in the near future. 


With love, Bram

If You Remember One Thing…

The reason some get a thrill out of extreme sports is the same reason why some love exercising or binge-watching television or spending money or drinking alcohol or practicing yoga or getting a massage or ingesting drugs or hanging out with friends or meditating or eating or listening to music or having sex or doing whatever it is that brings them contentment. The elation they feel is the result of releasing the contractions or tensions they have absorbed in the body through the pairing of their thoughts with the events they encounter in their lives. We seek relief and release so that we can let the tensions that have landed in the body as contractions dissolve. This allows our musculature to de-contract, to relax, thereby permitting our breathing to deepen and our mind to stop obsessing over all the details typically keep us busily distracted. These outlets let us breathe deeper than we typically do, which brings about the sensations of ease and peace. When discussing the topic of smoking cigarettes with students recently, a few students who had been smokers told me that they loved their cigarette breaks so much because it was in these breaks that they had the opportunity to intentionally take deep breaths as they inhaled and exhaled. They loved smoking because they breathed deeply.

There will be tension relievers that will be productive and those that will be harmful. There will be those that will carry us safely to a place of well being and others that will have repercussions that would be better anticipated than faced. Remember this: that which brings you release which allows you to breathe deeper does not have to be what instigates your relaxing. You can instigate your relaxing. You can intentionally remember to breathe deeply when tension overwhelms, when situations spin out of control and when your fears and insecurities start to distort your understanding of what really is. If you remember one thing, let it be that breathing deeply when things go any way but the way you hoped will save your life. It will keep you in reaction, perspective and clarity. Simply by breathing deeply.

Give it a try. You will see what I’m talking about sooner than you think.

This One For Matty

The past couple of weeks have been interesting for me in that I have found myself practicing yoga more frequently than I typically do. If I can get 2-3 classes in a week, I’m happy, but over the past few weeks I’ve found myself practicing 4-5 times a week, and what it has brought me is beautifully informative. With more practice has come more strength, more awareness as to when in each individual practice I feel my body begin to respond, open and warm up. I have found myself in a new phase of relationship with my practice and my body, and as a result of the observations I’ve made, I have also found myself compelled to pay more attention to what I’m eating, when I’m eating, if I’m eating. The same applies for rest: I find myself resting when I need to, saying no to things that will interrupt that rest, and being active when typically I could just keep on resting. I am in awe of my body, how it works and responds and, ultimately, the relationship I have with it.

Last week I was notified by a friend that an old friend of ours with whom we worked years ago had been hospitalized and was currently in the Intensive Care Unit. Mathieu Leroux is the epitome of an artist: he is an actor, an author, an avid fan of music and has staged his own one-man shows. He is a creator, taking the intangibility of thought and inspiration and making it manifest into his art that he shares with the rest of the world. This man who uses his body, his movement and his words to continue to give to the world has been rendered physically immobile by a syndrome that goes by the name of Guillain-Barré syndrome. Now, I don’t know what brought it on in Mathieu’s case, but at this point it doesn’t matter. What matters is what is, and what is is an almost-total state of paralysis. Guillain-Barré syndrome occurs when the immune system recognizes the cells found in the sheaths surrounding the nerves in the body as threatening, and then targets them. This is a very rare syndrome that, in some cases, occurs after one has recovered from a viral infection. Regardless of what causes it, all I know is that I went to visit Matty in the hospital this past week and found him asleep, intubated and in a state that I want him to recover from quickly. The good news is that he will recover, as the recovery statistics with this ailment are great. But it’s going to be a long road, one full of highs and lows. I know, however, that Matty has what it takes to come back from this and let it inform the rest of his life.

I teach yoga and meditation and write the books I write because I am firmly convinced that we all need more education in mindfulness. We need to have more conversations about what the nature of the mind is by default and how it, in many cases, does us a disservice by honing in on that which is most extreme. If yoga and meditation, in certain traditions, are about deprogramming initial response, then we need to work on being present enough to recognize when the mind is focusing on, obsessing over, something that is not helpful, that is allowing tensions to wriggle their way into the body’s musculature and make themselves at home. One of the key Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (from the Ashtanga Yoga System) is Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavanam, which translates to “in the presence of negative thoughts, think of opposite ones.” An almost childishly simple piece of advice, but wiser and more effective than you can imagine. The root of this teaching stems from the knowledge that in any given moment, we have a say in what we point our mind to. In the most extreme of circumstances, we have the ability to not fall victim to them and be at their mercy. We have the ability to focus on areas of least or pleasant sensation when there is physical discomfort or pain. We have the ability to point the mind to a hope, a dream, to faith. We have the ability to direct our thoughts to that which is useful and serves us, especially when our thoughts would get pulled into the chaotic and unpleasant, which is usually what happens. We typically spend our time mulling over what brings us pain and suffering, and so in these moments it is our duty to deprogram initial response and re-point our mind to that which allows us to maintain calm, stay in action and not succumb to fear or pain. That is yoga.

Mathieu is currentFullSizeRenderly in a situation where he has two choices: to either succumb to fear, visualizing how all of this could go even more horribly, or he could re-point his mind to healing, to faith in that healing, to the community of family, friends and loved ones who have gathered around him like protective parents, to getting through this and emerging stronger, more informed and more galvanized than ever to bring this experience with him as he continues to spoil us with his art. His situation is an extreme version of what I discuss in my teachings: moments that we wish would pass quicker than they do and what tools to use to navigate the passage of those moments wisely, in action instead of in reaction. We breath deeply when that’s available, but more importantly we take control of what the mind is focusing on and we refocus it. To light. To faith. To healing. This is his yoga practice.

I have spoken to my students this week about what’s going on with Mathieu so we could dedicate our movement, breath and intentions to not only him, but to others in our lives who could use a little infusion of light, of love, of energy, patience and resilience. I hope and pray that a fraction of all that love has landed with those to whom it was directed.

Matty’s recovery will no doubt be longer than any of us would like it to be, and despite his community having banded together over the past week to raise money for him to not have to worry about living expenses as he gradually makes his way out of this moment, any and all donations will not only be appreciated, they’ll be essential. The only thing we want him to expend energy on is coming back to a fully mobile state, and so I’m including the link to the crowdfunding site where all donations are going. Visit https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/soutenir-mathieu-leroux#/story to donate whatever you can. Think of Mathieu, even if you don’t know him, and send him your thoughts and good energy. Be grateful for that which we typically take for granted in the pursuit of our goals and dreams: these bodies that allow us to make our way through life, these voices that allow us to express ourselves, this community that we are blessed to be a part of.

Think of Matty and join me and all his network support in gunning for his recovery. We love you Mathieu. You will get through this. We will be here to make sure that happens.

Weekend of Workshops in Montreal

WeekendWorkshops.I have been intermittently traveling for over a year now to bring my teaching, workshops and book (www.theexaminedlifebook.com) all over the country and the world, so when a student asked me when I would be giving workshops in Montreal, I realized that by bringing my gig all over the globe, I was essentially ignoring my home town. The workshops I typically give in Montreal are either associated to teacher training programs or festivals, available exclusively to those who have enrolled in whatever event I’m on the faculty of. And so I began thinking about creating a full weekend of workshops available to everyone and anyone, here in Montreal. And once I started thinking about it, as one would expect, more and more students started approaching me asking me for exactly what I had started planning.

The dates are now set, the location is cemented and I have begun putting together the entire weekend. Most of the subject matter is information I’ve been working with over the last few years on a regular basis, but I have never been bold enough to bring it all together into one cohesive and cathartic weekend…until now.

The weekend will start off Friday evening with Intro to iRest® Yoga Nidra and will kick the weekend off with basic spiritual teachings as well as the opportunity to simply be with whatever is for each and every participant. The basic outline of this inquisitive and informative modality will be presented along with worksheets for participants to get down in black and white what their experience is. We will examine everything from intention to emotions to core beliefs, and we’ll do it from a place of pure witnessing, where nothing needs to be judged, changed, suppressed or aggressively expressed. A 30-35 minute practice will follow, and we will finish up this introductory module with conversation and observations from everyone wanting to share.

Saturday afternoon will kick off with a module I’ve long wanted to present but wanted to wait until I felt I had the necessary tools to do so – Shedding Fear, Insecurity and Anxiety Through Yoga, Meditation and Spirituality. This incredibly informative and helpful module will carry over from the iRest® module from the previous evening with concepts such as limiting beliefs, mindfulness and intention, while drawing from ancient yogic texts like the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (allowing us to transition into the workshop that will follow this module). Exercises setting intention as well as mindfulness meditation will be included, and participants will leave with very real, helpful tools to make their way forwards through life with clarity, strength and an accurate and inspired sense of Self. This module will also include a 45-minute asana class incorporating specific postures that assist in the shedding of all that weighs us down so we can move closer to personal and collective freedom.

Saturday will end with The Practical Application of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This is a module that offers insight into how to realistically apply the ancient teachings of Ashtanga Yoga to a modern world where energy and unity are disregarded in place of the appearance of things and attention to the temporary and superficial. This segment of the weekend delves into how even after thousands of years, teachings that could easily be brushed off as archaic are actually more relevant and useful than ever, all of which bring us closer to dis-identifying with pain and suffering and give us real tools to prioritize direction and peace in our own lives.

The only morning module (and the only posture-focused module) for this weekend takes place late Sunday morning with Activating The Core Body in Asana, an opportunity to lead students through a flow of yoga postures incorporating the basic principles of core strength and stability. We will look at what the core of the body actually is from an anatomical perspective and how engaging the core helps avoid injury, increase stability, strength and balance and play a part in our long-term health and posture. A short lecture/introduction will be followed by the class where we will take time to break down postures and apply what we’re learning to deepen the asanas and the practice.

To end our weekend together, we will explore Applying the Yamas & Niyamas to Modern Living. Picking up where we left off Saturday afternoon with the Sutras, we will explore the restrictions on how we treat others and ourselves in a modern-day context. We will look at how our words, actions, and existences in real life and through social media often completely disregard these guidelines on ensuring a peaceful existence, and we’ll delve into how adherence to them changes the energy we emanate in a simple and immediate way.

In just revising my notes and adding to what I want to communicate over the course of these 5 workshops, I feel a real energy growing. I’m SO excited to bring all this information to everyone, and really grateful to the students for pointing out to me that I was essentially forgetting to bring the teachings to the same community that has and continues to elevate me to a place where I’m being heard. I have reserved the studio space at Happy Tree Yoga (4010 Ste-Catherine St. West, suite 200) for this weekend of information, exploration, intention and manifestation, and registration for the event is in full swing already. For more information or to register for any or all of the workshops, visit my webpage at bramlevinson.com/news.htm.

I really hope to see you there for this weekend of delving into more profound levels of spirituality, insight and personal development. We’ll be doing work and exchanging ideas that really, truly matter through conversation, exercises and worksheets, and of course, movement, breath and intention. Bring your yoga mat, notebook, pens or pencils and an inquisitive mind, and be prepared to expand what you believe to be true about yourself, the world around you, and what your place is in that world.

See you there!

 

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 🙂

My Next Chapter

Integrative Restoration InstituteSo I wanted to fill you in on what I’ve been up to. Im coming from Kripalu, where I’ve completed my Level 1 iRest®Yoga Nidra training with Richard Miller and am fascinated by what I’ve learned.

Yoga Nidra is loosely translated to “the sleep of the yogi”, and refers to a meditative technique that allows the practitioner to lie down and make themselves as comfortable as possible, allowing for any and all props to improve comfort, including blocks, pillows, blankets, etc… The teacher then guides the practitioners through a guided meditation for the duration of the session, directing their attention to different areas of the body.

I began my yoga studies back in 1999 with Joan Ruvinksy, who, with Richard Miller, studied under Jean Klein, and who introduced Yoga Nidra very early on into our classes together. I later came back to the Yoga Nidra practice with Level 1 iRest®Yoga Nidra trained Teacher Kelly McGrath, whose classes slowly led me right up to my training. As one who has practiced Yoga Nidra, I simply related to the sense of peace and relaxation the practice brought back to me, but little did I know or fully comprehend the science behind iRest®Yoga Nidra or how it could potentially change the lives of other.

As taken directly from the Integrative Restoration Institute’s website, “iRest Yoga Nidra, one of the principal programs offered by IRI, is a research-based transformative practice of deep relaxation and meditative inquiry that:

– releases negative emotions and thought patterns
– calms the nervous system
– develops a deep capacity to meet any and all circumstances you may encounter in life

Research has shown that iRest Yoga Nidra effectively reduces:

PTSD
Depression
Anxiety
Insomnia
Chronic pain
Chemical dependency”

One of my main motivators to study and teach yoga was, from the start, to help people heal, but I had no idea when I registered for this training that I would be passed on tools to practically and peacefully help people. I now feel ready and galvanized to apply the techniques and the science behind them to not only offer relaxation to people, but to potentially aid in pre and post-partum depression, in helping people make up for sleep debt, and to generally bring people to a place of peace. As taken again from the IRI website, “People using iRest report:

Decreased stress, anxiety, fear and depression
Decreased insomnia and sleep disturbances
Decreased perception of chronic and acute pain
Improved interpersonal relations
Increased energy levels
Increased sense of control in their lives
More confidence and joy in their lives
Greater sense of peace and well-being
iRest programs are typically taught as a guided meditation. Students can expect to lie down or sit comfortably during the practice. It is comprised of the following:

Development of intention
Body sensitivity training
Breath and energy awareness
Systematic neutralization of:
Negative body sensations and stress
Negative feelings & emotions
Negative beliefs, images and memories
The experience of joy and well-being
Freedom from the sense of separation generated by the senses and mind
The ability to experience peace amidst the changing circumstances of life

I am unbelievably honoured to have had the opportunity to study this past week with Richard, his assistants, and the wonderful group of students who joined us at Kripalu. I am ready to bring this new phase of my intention and my life to those who feel they might benefit from what I’ve learned. I will from this day on be offering Individual iRest®Yoga Nidra Sessions (Dyads) as well as group iRest®Yoga Nidra sessions. Please, feel free to contact me for more information or to arrange a session. This training has taken me a step further along my Dharmic path, and I would be honoured to have you be a part of it.

Quickpost 21/06/10

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

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