Tag Archives: peace

Key Principles To Remember in Times of Darkness

There is no moment in time that is not rife with turmoil, with difficulty, with fear or with obstacles. And there is no moment in time in which peace, ease, faith and trust are not accessible, even when their opposites seem unstoppable. I believe humanity needs to remember a few key principles as we navigate our way through the highs and the lows. Here are those principles:

1) How we choose to respond to life is the most important choice we will make. Any form of discrimination, depression or oppression is unacceptable. To meet discrimination, racism, homophobia, misogyny or any act of hate and intolerance with more hate and intolerance simply feeds the energies that we are objecting to so vehemently. To end negative behavioural cycles, we must be conscious of how we may be inadvertently perpetuating them under the guise of moral indignation.

2) It is not helpful to throw around opinions and judgement. We may feel that in doing so we are disseminating wisdom and the way forward, but we must remember that it is not the subjective understanding of any one circumstance that will help heal what is wounded. Only expressing and sharing our humanity will accomplish that. The former highlights what keeps us separate. The latter highlights what brings us together.

3) We are meant to spend our time cultivating the seeds that will flourish into lasting happiness. We are meant to embody and emanate the vibration of joy. We are meant to have fun with this time we are offered. Getting stuck in that which leaves us resentful, disappointed, ashamed, afraid or sad propels us away from happiness and joy. It is our responsibility to seek out light when darkness smothers, to take action to touch happiness when sadness overwhelms. Our natural state is one of joy, and so we must remember to do whatever it takes to experience the sensations of joy when they seem the furthest away.

4) Setting an intention to make this moment in time better by infusing it with compassion, generosity, kindness and goodness so we can all stand side by side with unfailing support for each other can only end well. We are social animals which thrive on unity and togetherness. We must remember to prioritize this, especially with those who look, sound and act differently than we do. Appearances will always deceive. Don’t allow yourself to fall for that old trick.

5) We must do better than our predecessors did. We must learn from their efforts, their sacrifices, their defeats and their mistakes. We must do better. It starts with every single one of us. Don’t rise to the bait. Deprogram initial response and come back to your intention. This is how we will awaken to the next chapter in history. Not by repeating what has proven to be harmful or useless, but by standing in our own power and ability to effect positive change when it most matters.

6) There is a fraction of a second that exists between stimulus and response, between what instigates fear, sadness or anger and the emotional reaction that it elicits. In that fraction of a second we must remember to breathe deeply. A deep breath not only helps release the existing tensions the body is carrying, but it helps deflect new ones from landing. Breathe deeply to stay in action and avoid falling into emotional reaction.

7) We must remember that “This too shall pass.” Life as we know it is simply a series of moments. Some of them will be pleasant, others unpleasant, but they are moments, pure and simple. We must continually remind ourselves that this moment will pass. Doing so will allow us to hold on when events get rocky, and will also allow us to appreciate the good while it presents itself.

8) Depersonalizing the narrative that is unfolding and affecting us is essential to seeing events as they are and not how we fear they may be. Look at the facts, imagine you were reading an article about them occurring to someone else, and ask yourself what advice you would give to the people affected. Taking ourselves out of the equation, even momentarily, allows us to step out of the emotional stranglehold fear can instill in us so that we can keep a level head and proceed with clarity.

The time is now. Use it wisely.

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Musings

On the eve of my 41st birthday, I find myself reflecting on how simple it would be to move from the chaos that seems to be sweeping the globe to perspective, peace and purpose. Based solely on my own experience and observations, here are some reminders to help maintain clarity and meaning, especially in the moments that would ordinarily send us into a downwards spiral:

1) Don’t let feelings of inadequacy steer you away from showing up in the world in the manner that you feel compelled to.

2) Support others.

3) Love, play and work hard.

4) Do your best, as often as possible.

5) Fess up to and own the moments where you fuck up instead of passing blame onto others or trying to protect your image due to pride. These moments are essential to evolution and learning.

6) Your dreams, the words trying to work their way through your voice and the urges that motivate you into the world are yours specifically. Pay attention to them and allow them to guide you forward. Trust they will bring you where you are meant to go.

7) Your intuition is the voice of the energy that animates your body. Listen to it. It will never steer you wrong.

8) Rise up with as much light as you can summon to meet the darkness that presents itself.

9) Take accountability and responsibility for what you put out into the world. It will outlive, outlast and represent you when you’re no longer here to do that for yourself.

10) Be kind to yourself. If you don’t know what that feels like, you won’t have any idea how to offer it over to others.

hamsa

Prioritizing Peace

photoOne of the topics I lecture on in classes, presentations and workshops is the reason we practice yoga. Millions of people make their way onto a yoga mat daily, and every one of those people has a motivator informing every step towards the mat, and every motion/breath/thought on it. The most interesting aspect of speaking to people about why we practice is that many of us have rarely wondered what brings the person next to us in class to their practice, and as Yoga is an opportunity to see unity and eradicate division, I like watching that be practically applied in a very real context as students find common ground.

Some of us practice yoga because we want to move and we don’t want to do it in a gym environment. That was my initial motivation way back in 1999 when I grew tired of the testosterone-riddled gym setting that I dragged myself to 3-4 times/week. I found the posturing and obsession on the appearance of things almost as unbearable as the music that was being pumped out of the speakers at distracting levels. And so I started looking for a yoga class in my neighbourhood…and found my first teacher living directly across the street.

Some of us practice yoga because we like exploring how moving the body in challenging/trying/frustrating/exhilarating/revolutionary ways affects our breathing. We want to notice what happens to our breathing when we’re pulled away from our center of calm, because to be able to assess with objectivity how our breathing is affected by what we experience on the yoga mat tells us how we are affected by what we experience off the yoga mat. We start to understand that to be able to control our breathing and maintain a calming breath even when we feel like we might fall out of a posture gives us the tools to control our breathing and maintain a calming breath when we get sick, when things get stressful and hectic, when trauma occurs, when those around us get hurt…in short, when life pulls us away from our center.

Some of us practice yoga because it’s only through this discipline that we find our own unique understanding of a higher power, of light, of energy, of God. The connection that yoga offers becomes monumentally more than the mind-body-intention one. It becomes the connection that shows us that we are way more than our name/job/body/confidence/hairstyle/car/house/watch, and more than the roles we carry out in relation to family and friends. It shows us that we are the embodiment of everything that we have ever hoped and wanted for, and part of something formless and spacious.

Some of us practice yoga in group settings because it’s where we find community. The epidemic of loneliness (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/life-of-solitude-a-loneliness-crisis-is-looming/article15573187/?page=1) seems to be growing exponentially, even with technology capable of keeping us linked at every second of every day. We don’t want to be alone, and yoga reminds us that beneath the appearance of different skin colours, languages, religions, bank account balances, job titles, opportunities and overall appearances, we are all the same, living a human experience and wanting for the exact same things.

Some of us practice yoga for every single reason listed above. And some of us have no idea why we practice. We just feel compelled to do so.

What underlies all these reasons, and what underlies all the differences that present themselves as separation in our communities and the world around us, is peace. We are all seeking peace. Peace of mind, peace in our heart, peace in our soul. We are already the embodiment of that peace, but we’ve lost track of that in many cases, and so yoga helps us find our way back.

As 2013 comes to a close, take a minute to reflect on where you’ve been, who you’ve loved, who has loved you, and who you’ve been throughout and over the last year. And then let it all go. Be here, in this second, with one foot in 2013 and the other lifted, ready and certain about where it will find itself when it steps down. Believe in miracles, and understand that you are more of everything than you’ve ever thought possible…more focused, more driven, more capable, more resilient, stronger, with more capacity to love, be loved, and help heal all the division we seem inundated by. Let everyone around you see that peace that you’ve been taking care of all this time. Let people see through your actions, words and intention that peace is not an option – it’s who we are and it’s why we’re here. That peace will bring us forward collectively, with clarity and community and light. Let these be your cornerstones for 2014 and every year that follows.

Peace.

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.

A Reference To Happiness

I get a lot of people who seek me out to counsel them, to offer advice and an objective opinion regarding their circumstances…this has been a constant since way before I started my career in yoga, I suppose, because I make sure that I give someone my complete attention when it’s requested, and I give advice the way I’d like to get it – cut and dry. If a situation seems interminably convoluted, my response is usually, “NEXT!” I’m a big believer that life doesn’t have to be rife with difficulty, and that the less time we spend trying to manipulate a situation or a person into being or doing what we’d like it/them to be, the more room we create for what would make us happy on every level. I also believe that that kind of happiness, the kind that makes us grateful to be alive, is in store for every single one of us, but we have the inconvenient habit of getting caught up in our dramas and spending too much time on that which is destined to leave us wanting, instead of waving at it as we leave it behind. So I find myself offering advice. Often. And I love being that person that people can come to and be real with, because it allows me to be real with them and treat them like extensions of myself, people who not only want to be heard and understood, but who want to be communicated with at that same level of honesty.

I was thinking about writing out my Top 10 favorite pieces of insight, bits of wisdom that may or may not originate in yoga, but which certainly reflect a yogic existence, one of truth and honesty, of non-harming and of self-study. So here goes 🙂 Here’s my Top 10 bits of wisdom to guide people through whatever it is that they’re struggling to deal with:

1) Understand that everything you have in your life is not yours. You are managing it, but you own nothing. This includes people, as well as the more obvious material objects. Once you understand and acknowledge this, you will be able to maintain perspective and humility that will keep you grounded.

2) Take nothing on trust, see everything for yourself. One person’s inspiration is another person’s misery. Never let someone else’s opinion shape or affect how, when, why or whether you approach that which draws you closer. Only you can truly know what serves you and what doesn’t.

3) Laugh. Always. Especially when you don’t feel like it. You must be able to find the humor in life, even in your darkest hours. Doing this will keep you tethered to light and life, the two anchors that can prevent you from being swept away in the tide of darkness we can sometimes encounter.

4) You are the embodiment of beauty, and of grace, and of kindness, and of light. If the people around you, i.e. family, friends, partners, work peers, etc… do not treat you as such, do not buy into the belief that you don’t deserve to be treated better. People will treat each other the way they feel they are being treated, so each and every one of us is responsible for putting out into the world what we’d like to receive.

5) Where there is no inner freedom, there is no life. If you don’t feel liberated enough to let yourself be truly seen by everyone, regardless of their reactions, then you are not fully living. You owe it to yourself and to the people around you who will be inspired by your self-awareness to step into the light and let yourself be seen.

6) Take 5 minutes a day to shut yourself into a room with no lights on and no distractions, sit down, and just breathe. This will improve your mood, your attention span, and your overall happiness.

7) As above, so below. As without, so within. Incorporate into your life the attributes you would attribute as being god-like. Look at the world’s leaders for peace: Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, etc…they all act in ways that allow the energy of the divine to flow through them. Allow what you hold in your heart to be reflected in the world around you.

8) Understand that there is no such thing as luck. There is only being in the right place at the right time, after doing everything possible to prepare yourself for what you’d like to happen so that all the elements can fall perfectly into place…but have no doubt about it, you need to work towards being prepared for what you want so that you’ll know what to do when you’re offered the opportunity.

9) Take responsibility for your life and everything that happens throughout it. Get to know who you are, and understand that self-study will bring you closer to the truth of your existence, but that we typically define ourselves through the references we hold to the people we love and the reasons we love them. Look at those references and reasons and assess what truly serves you and what doesn’t.

10) Give. Give time, give money, give love, give energy. Just give.

These are my 10 commandments…I’m sure there’s room for countless more, so let me know what you think I’ve missed, and what can be shared with the world so that people can live fuller, more complete lives, replete with happiness and contentment…I’m all ears 🙂

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

The Yoga of Letting Go

I have spoken in many of my classes about the body’s tendency to react to the events that we encounter in our daily lives…the seizing up of the shoulders towards the ears in moments of stress, the habit of rounding the shoulders to unconsciously protect the heart center when feeling like we’re the target of an emotional onslaught, the tightening up of the hips and groins when dealing with breakups and relationship woes. The physical asana practice is already known to lengthen and tone the body’s muscles, as well as to open and create space in the joints of the body, allowing toxins that have stored themselves there to be released with each fresh rush of blood to the area. On a much more subtle level, however, the physical yoga practice also allows us to shed what the body stores, and after reading Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij’s book,  Myths of the Asanas, the way we behave as humans dealing with the events of our lives has been intelligently and refreshingly put into perspective.

Based on what they have written in this amazing collection of mythological tales of the Hindu gods and goddesses (that inform & define the asanas), I find my belief system towards how humans deal with trauma and shock reinforced by some very simple words. When we look at the names of the yoga postures, we find many that refer back to animals, as well as to the earth and to all other beings. We take the forms of all these other beings to be able to put ourselves in their situations and embody their existences and realities, all in the aim of strengthening the connection we have to all other things that make up our reality on this earth. When we take the form of the tree, we establish the connection to the earth through our standing leg while allowing for the body to sway, as if being blown in the wind with our branches outstretched.  When we take the form of the cat, the dog, the cow, the locust, the snake, the eagle, and all the other animal-embodying poses, we assume their identities, forms and realities to gain insight into conditions other than our own. All in the hope that we can move toward a place of compassion for all things because we all co-exist and it is through that unifying fact that we understand how to hurt one being is to hurt all beings and to cherish and preserve all beings is to cherish and preserve ourselves.

In keeping with this notion of our commonality, when animals are hunted and escape, or suffer trauma and do not succumb to it, they don’t spend years afterwards discussing it and seeking out advice on how to deal with it. As I’ve seen with my longtime companion Oliver, the most animated of Jack Russell Terriers, despite his having lost both his sight and hearing, if he takes a wrong step and crashes into something, he takes a step backwards, shakes his entire body as if shaking off the event from wherever his body may have felt or stored it, and then continues on obliviously, never looking back on the event as something that scarred him. Now I’m not saying that when we fall victim to trauma or find ourselves the target of a crime, we can just shake it off and pretend nothing happened. I believe that everything that happens in our lives serves as the container of a lesson that we are meant to learn, and we have the capability of rational and analytical thought at our disposal so that we can assess what happened and learn from it, regardless of how severe the event may have been. What I am saying is that occasionally we allow these events to become THE defining moments in our lives, relegating us to a place of fear and alienation where our social and interpersonal skills become stunted and sometimes atrophied as a result of the fear that has settled in as we have spent our time analyzing what happened.

And so yoga, once again, allows us to step back from our behaviours and see them for exactly that – something we do, but by which we do not define ourselves. For those of us who feel like we’ve given enough time and energy to something that has happened in the past and which we cannot change, let’s try infusing our yoga practice with the intention of embodying the earthlings that are able to escape harm, shake it off, and continue to barrel forwards with strength and certainty, confident in their roles and duties. As the authors of Myths of the Asanas state, “Fear lives in us as tension, and asana postures are designed to release tension from our bodies. The absence of tension is the absence of fear. And the absence of fear signifies the presence of joy, love, and open-heartedness.” Let’s dedicate ourselves to moving away from fear, towards a place of peace and certainty in who we are and our roles here in this life, on this planet. Let’s allow our pattern of chasing the temporary to slowly whirl down to a full stop, so that we can begin to live in the permanence of our connection to each other and to the soul that exists in every single one of us, so that we can start reminding ourselves what we already know but have at some point lost sight of. That is Yoga. That is the meaning of life. That is letting go.

Addendum: I’m so happy to announce that I’ve been added to a list of yogis from around the world who will post 3 or more blogs per week (with an ultimate goal of one each day) about some aspect of yoga throughout the month of April.  Blogs may be about asana, meditation, philosophy, experiences, yoga types, yoga history, Sanskrit scholarship, etc. and can focus on any type or style of yoga.  The goal is to share yoga with one another and with others, to illuminate the full range of yoga possibilities that go far beyond the stereotyped “yoga butt” seeking gym enthusiast to a process of  creating peace, unity, and oneness through the practice.  Each post will contain the YIOM (Yogis Inspiring Oneness Month) logo and will link back to the original source and creator of the project, TheVeganAsana, where a full list of participants is found. So consider this post my first for the month, and stay tuned for the ones to come!!!!

My Raison-D’Être

As most people are doing at this time of year, I’m finding myself reflecting on the past 12 months and everything that they have offered…remembering where my head-space was at this time last year and how I put down in black and white what my goals would be for 2010…how 2010 would be the year to see if a career in Yoga would be financially feasible, if I could still support myself and pay the mortgage while pursuing what I consider to be my mission in this life. After a year of hard work and a clear vision, I now find myself at the tail end of what will go down in my personal history book as the “Year of Firsts”.

From co-organizing my first foray into philanthropy alongside Dawn Mauricio, Vanessa Muri and Fanny Poveda with the 2010 Yoga Mala, to promoting the event on TV…from teaching 3 times the amount of private classes I had set as my goal for the year to having one of those classes be with one of my long-time idols, Margaret Cho…from completing my teacher training to co-leading Yoga retreats in Tulum, Mexico & Eastman, Quebec…from getting married (*gasp*) to visiting Spain & Portugal…from bringing my practice to a new level to filming the “Yoga Flo for the Earth” DVD with my partner in crime (and all things enlightening) Jennifer Maagendans…from becoming an ambassador for Lululemon to being flown to Vancouver for their Ambassador Summit…and these are only the highlights that come to mind immediately…it’s been a watershed year for me, one that has set the tone for the rest of my life. Having reflected on and taken stock of all these amazing moments, what I hold closest to my heart and my soul is that I am doing something with my life that allows me to contribute to the people I find myself blessed to be surrounded by, and to the universe itself.

The only reason I do what I do is because it provides me with a platform from where I can offer alternate avenues for approaching life, death and all that is. It allows me to verbalize what often proves to be confusing and convoluted in words that are comprehensible, and more importantly, practical and applicable. I doubt that I will ever be the textbook yogi who communes with Being by retreating to the mountains in solitude and renouncing the householding life…that’s not who I am and it’s not where I feel I can influence society and culture. Yoga, for me, is a system of tools that allows me to live right here, right now, in the life that I’ve spent decades building for myself, with an innate sense of peace and calm, and with a direct link to what affects every aspect of my physical, mental, emotional and energetic bodies – my breath. Being able to control the breath gives me incredible clarity and focus, and it’s largely due to this clarity that I find myself feeling compelled to convey the information that I feel most relevant and insightful…that which actually offers options and different approaches to digesting what we live in our daily lives so that we can have lives filled with peace, happiness and laughter…always laughter 🙂

It would be remiss of me to not thank you all for allowing me to have a forum where the intention behind (and accompanying) my words is afforded a destination. The support and encouragement you offer is what keeps me going, what motivates me to continue to express what I feel needs to be expressed, and with the last year behind me,  I can see with that almost blinding clarity that the universe really does provide, and that when something is pure in intention and deed, it can’t help but be good.

Sending a flood of light to you all, and wishing you all the happiness and health I can conjure up for 2011 🙂