Tag Archives: Yoga Teacher

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!

In A Nutshell

Late last week I received an email from someone creating a database of yoga teachers to provide him with a short biography of myself in relation to yoga, and once I wrote it, I realized that it communicated more about myself and my reasons for following this path than any other bio I’ve written thus far, so I wanted to post it here for you all and hope that it tells you more about me than you already knew:

I began seeking out yoga classes in 1999 after tiring of the more conventional exercise options, and found my first teacher’s studio across the street from where I lived. The shift from a physical to a spiritual practice quickly followed, and after 9 years of practice, I left my job in retail management to immerse myself in yoga studies and I soon began teaching. My main reason for making the change was because I felt I was wasting my time, not honoring my reason for being alive. Yoga helped me find my voice and I soon found myself with students eager to hear what I felt compelled to share with them. Being able to provide guidance, insight and light to people has been the by-product of living my dharma, and I live in a perpetual state of gratitude for having the strength and vision to listen to my intuition that told me I was meant for greater things than selling material goods to people who didn’t really want them.

As a teacher, certain moments pop up as highlights, markers on my path encouraging me onwards: becoming a Lululemon Ambassador in 2010, and then finding myself teaching in the street in downtown Montreal for Lululemon two years later and having 85 people show up bright and early on a Sunday morning. Leading my first solo retreat in Santorini, Greece and having everyone who participated walk away from the experience richer and more grounded in their own selves. Co-organizing Montreal’s 2010 & 2011 Yoga Mala and raising over $15,000 for local non-profit organizations. All these things have solidified my certainty as to being on the right path, but more than any of that, I am fortunate enough to be told on an almost daily basis that I am making a difference in other people’s lives. That alone is everything I could ever want.

What I want to share with the world, regardless of whether I’m communicating with newcomers to yoga, new teachers, or seasoned teachers is this: yoga provides a shift. In perspective, in understanding, and in connection. It allows us to separate the temporary trivialities that we typically spend all our time fussing over from the stuff that really matters: who we are, why we’re here, and how we are connected to each other and the world that supports us, despite our ever-growing negligence towards it. It teaches us that we are greater than our job titles, than our bodies, than our insecurities, than our roles as mother/father/sister/brother/son/daughter. It shows us what to focus on so that at the end of our journey, we can look back on our lives and  see the beauty of our spirituality, and that’s what we take with us. It really changes everything, and wakes us up to the openness and possibilities that have always been accessible to us, but that we never saw because our vision was clouded. Yoga removes that cloudiness and allows light to pour through. That’s yoga to me 🙂

Truth or Dare

So things are changing at Centre Luna Yoga where I spend half of every week, as some of you already know. My extended family (and the founders of the studio) Jenn & Jason have welcomed their beautiful little boy into their family, and are both nesting with the little guy as I take the helm at Luna. Massive change for me, as my admin days there have always been shared with Jenn, laughing our way through each day as we get all that the studio needs to get done completed. My nearly sold-out Santorini Yoga Retreat is less than three weeks away, and I’m teaching more than ever. With this increase in my workload, I’ve noticed that by the end of the week, I need to take some real time for myself. To come back to myself, to recharge, to balance things out. It’s taken me a few weeks to realize that I need this – in the first week I felt like I needed to be everything for everyone, regardless of what point during my week I was being called upon, and what was being requested. From teaching classes to being a soundboard to my friends and family, I felt like I couldn’t let anyone down. They needed me, I was blessed to be needed, so I would make sure I was available for everyone..which left me reeling.

Last week, Cat from Jivamukti London left a status on her Facebook page that seemed to speak directly to what I was experiencing – she wrote that she couldn’t be everything to everyone, not authentically. She wrote that if we can be honest with ourselves about that, we were off to a good start. I swear I felt like she wrote it for me, but that’s what I hear from a lot of my students when I speak at the beginning of my classes and after they read these blog posts…so I guess we’re all living parallel existences…

My take on it, which is exactly what Cat wrote, is this: as soon as we begin to allow ourselves to be honest with ourselves, we can begin to be honest with others. I know that I have a tendency to give until I find myself depleted. With that knowledge, I have begun to pace myself and recognize when I need to say no to things and to turn down offers or opportunities, both of which I have made a pattern of taking on for the simple reason that they presented themselves. What I have noticed in my own life is that the more I take on and commit to, the more I start resenting the lack of time I have for myself. It’s silly, because I LOVE what I do. But what this has shown me is that my internal barometer will always indicate when I’m overextending myself, and so I’m now more attuned to it.

Instead of feeling badly about saying no to someone who’s asking for my attention and energy, I now realize that by explaining to someone that I’m not “fully present” due to running myself ragged, I’m letting them know that I have the respect for them that they deserve, and that while I may be refusing to engage in the moment, I’m also presenting another day and time for us to pick up the discussion…another point in time where I will be 100% authentic, present and able to give them the attention they’re asking for and that I feel they deserve. I am blessed to trusted enough to be the “go-to” person for many people, and I take that responsibility incredibly seriously. With that said, I have come to the understanding that by being honest with myself about these things, I am empowered to be honest with others. And in doing so, I am strengthening the connection and bonds that exist between us. No one wants to disappoint those they care about, or those that seek them out for guidance or a sympathetic ear, but pretending to be fully present while offering a fraction of the energy with a diminished attention span doesn’t do any good. We have to move away from the place where we are afraid to be frank and let people know what our reality is. And instead of letting them down, we’ll see that we are more appreciated than we thought we’d be, only because we’ve let people into our space of truth.

This is what I’m putting out there for you: how honest are you with yourself? What are you avoiding, and what is the worst that you think can happen by simply being real? If the yoga practice opens us up to the infinite truth of who we are and why we’re here, why would we allow that flow of understanding to suddenly halt in our communication with others? I hate to use an expression that is often regurgitated, but the time is now. One huge moment of awakening for me was in 1991 when Madonna‘s concert-documentary Truth or Dare was released. I had a wall-size poster of it on my bedroom wall, and every night before bed I would look at it and read the caption at the top of it: “The Ultimate Dare is to Tell The Truth.” It empowered me to be authentic and honest with my family and friends about my sexuality (was the Madonna poster not a big enough hint?), and not only opened up communication amongst us, but it made the bonds between us virtually indestructible.

So how can you move into a place of 100% authenticity? What aren’t you dealing with? And why not? I guarantee that the fear behind your inability to address these issues is way worse than what the future holds for you once everything has moved into a place of truth and honesty.

So there you are. It’s your move 🙂 Truth or Dare.

Without You…

From Where I'm Sitting

It’s December 1, and I’m sitting in the sun-drenched kitchen of my UK friends soaking up the heat of the sunbeam while a visiting arctic weather system that has already dumped snow on the country literally howls outside. My view from where I’m sitting is the village church and its tower, the perfect backdrop to the massive back lawn that is blanketed in white. My journey over was seemingly interminable, as it always is, but the weather added an element I’ve never had to deal with in the past 20 or so times I’ve been here. Landing in a snowstorm, waiting at Heathrow’s bus station to make my journey North while trying to avoid the gusts of wind that would roll in every time the sliding doors to the bays opened…another reminder that no matter how familiar I am with any given process, there’s always opportunity for something new to present itself. And in keeping with every time I travel, I once again find myself contemplative, thinking about how the year that is coming to a close has been pivotal for me, a real game-changer. I’ve worked with more focus and direction this year than any in years previous, and despite having seen dreams actualized and have my life become more of everything than I could have hoped for, there’s one thing that matters more to me than any of the accomplishments: the students.

The role of the students in our world of yoga is often discussed from the point of view of the students themselves, but rarely do we hear a teacher discuss it from their own perspective…so here I am 🙂 I know that on some levels, especially those that refer to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.7 & 2.8, the teacher should assume a purely objective stance in regards to his or her students, but to not communicate my thoughts on the matter would be doing an injustice to my students.

What I’d like my students, and at the risk of speaking on the behalf of other teachers, all students to know is that it is a true honour to be able to share my thoughts and insight with you who listen with open hearts and ears. Knowing that my words and intention have an effect on you is a responsibility I take very seriously, and one that keeps growing as I continually get feedback from you letting me know how your lives are changed by the information that I pass on…and again, at the risk of sounding repetitive for those who come to my classes, please know that I’m simply passing on what has been passed onto me, in the hopes that it will continue to be passed on by you. You should also know that as much as you may learn in my classes, I also learn from every one of you. Every adjustment I give, every reaction I see in each of you instructs me more about not only you, but myself and the human condition as well. Understand that with every class that ends with you floating back to reality in a meditative, peaceful state (what we typically refer to as the “Yoga Haze”), I float out of the class as well, meditative and all the more certain in the path I’m on and the role I’ve been blessed with.

Essentially, what I’m trying to say is that I would not be a teacher if it weren’t for the students. Without you, I’m nothing. I am because we are. And for that, I’m grateful 🙂

The Weight of Inversions

One of the funniest things I hear from students on a semi-regular basis is that they really want to “do the fun poses.” I’ve stopped asking them to define “fun” for me as the answers are always the same: headstand, handstand, crow, etc…The balancing postures, especially the inversions, hold a shiny allure for newcomers and experienced yogis alike. I am no exception, as one of the postures that encouraged me to explore yoga as a physical practice was Sirsasana. Standing on my head was a commonplace occurrence when I was a child, so when I discovered that there was a spiritual practice that incorporated what I already was familiar with, I began to dig deeper.

Having the “fun” postures bring people to yoga is a definite asset as a yoga teacher. Whatever draws us closer to the truth, closer to a place where we can begin to ask questions and move closer to reconnecting with the source of everything within and around us, innately ends up proving its worth. What starts as an ego-driven desire to succeed and accomplish leads us to a place where we learn to strip ourselves of the ego and get drawn to a place where we find liberation from Samsara. Where my role as a responsible yoga teacher enters into the equation is when I have to determine when the “fun” postures aren’t appropriate for some students. And I hate being the bad guy, the bearer of bad news…

On a physical level, I continually bring my students’ awareness back to the structure of their frames, mainly to the spinal column as their vertical axis and the pelvis as the horizontal axis. As all of our bodies and physical capabilities are different, I also encourage students to take my instruction as a guideline, while tapping into their own intuition and listening to what their bodies are telling them throughout the practice. What’s right for one student will be antithetical to another’s development, and my main objective is to guide them all towards the mind-body connection where their awareness is in the body, conscious of the subtle movements that open up energy channels and those that block them off. Often, weight-bearing inversions can put an unnecessary (and sometimes dangerous) amount of strain on the body’s frame, which after years of practice can result in life-long injuries and ailments.

The benefits of inversions are many: fresh, oxygenated blood gets directed to the brain through a facilitation of the veins’ low-pressure pumping of blood back up to the carotid arteries in the neck…with the increase of this blood, the receptors that regulate the flow of blood to the brain detect the increased amount and then slow down the flow, which lowers the heart rate and blood pressure; the body’s lymphatic system (which works to remove waste from the body as well as maintain proper immune system levels and fluid levels) gets stimulated; the slight pressure of the top of the head on the ground in Sirsasana is thought to promote elasticity in the bones of the cranium, which in turn stimulates the cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain (the cerebrospinal fluid is the liquid of the central nervous system which runs down the spinal cord)…and the list goes on and on. There’s nothing like scientific proof to justify our desire to push ourselves into a posture that is deemed “fun.” What is less often discussed, however, are the possible harmful effects that we can be inviting into the equation when we ignore our bodies’ parameters and limits and simply feed the ego.

Upper spine injuries due to misalignment or pre-existing weaknesses in the cervical spine are becoming more and more common in yoga practitioners. These injuries can affect everything from neck mobility to the functionality of the arms and hands, even the overall mobility of the entire body. When the real compressive force of inversions is not properly conveyed to those practising, and the proper amount of upper body strength is not used to take the weight out of the head and the spine, then injuries can appear within weeks, even days, especially for those practising these postures once or twice a week.

All this information exists so that we can make the proper adjustments to our practice to ensure we reap the multitude of benefits while eliminating the possibility of hurting ourselves. I encourage everyone to move towards inversions carefully and responsibly, staying alert and attentive in the presence of a trustworthy teacher, all the while staying completely tuned into what their bodies’ are telling them. Let’s be real about it – Ahimsa may be a restriction in how we treat others, but if we’re not treating ourselves with non-aggression and non-harming, then how can we genuinely treat others that way?

Where I Am

IMG_9087It’s been a couple of months now that I’ve been teaching yoga, and after solely being a student for 10 years, the transition has been so organic and natural that I know that I’m finally doing what I’m meant to be doing. It’s taken me 35 years to figure it out, but it’s happened…and I’m so happy that it has, and that I love doing it so much, so I’m just very grateful these days. Personalizing a class with my personality and humour is almost the most fun I’ve ever had, and it just keeps getting better and better.

I never knew what I wanted to do in life. All I knew was that I needed to feel emotionally stable, and yoga was the tool that helped me ensure that I was, that I knew how to balance a demanding career with everything else that goes on in life, that I had a home of my own, a home base. I was seriously envious of the people I knew who had accomplished what they set out to accomplish, those who knew what to do with their careers. I wondered if I would ever feel so ambitious that I would do whatever was necessary to succeed in doing it. I’m now there. And I’m seeing that it isn’t even ambition that I’m feeling – it’s the need to do my absolute best, to understand that the classes that I assemble should be a pure reflection of who I am and what I want to share with others, and to just be the best version of myself possible.

When I look back on where I was one year ago exactly and how much I’ve accomplished since then, it kind of stuns me. It hasn’t felt as massive a transformation as I would have thought. I remember starting to consider leaving my career and taking the massive chance to see if what I loved doing in life could bring enough money to get by. I remember being so miserable in my last job that despite not knowing what I would do to survive, I knew I had to get out of that environment. When I finally did, I was stunned at how things started to happen without my initiation or manipulation, and how if we allow great things to come into our lives, if we continue to take steps towards happiness and peace, we could be happier than was ever considered possible.

I believe that yoga is about joy and I was discussing it today with my friend and boss Jenn, who said something that completely resonated with me…she said that if you start incorporating a feeling of joy into your yoga practice instead of just seeing it as a physical workout, that joy will seep into the rest of your life. And she’s right. That’s what I’ve been doing now for months on end, and succeeding in making my life as joyful as possible…by continuing to laugh whenever I get the chance…to appreciate and acknowledge the people I have around me as I make my way through life…and now to give everything I have to pass on the teachings of yoga to others…to share my interpretation in a way that people can relate to and while keeping them smiling the whole time 🙂

I now understand that the emotionally stable environment I instinctively cultivated was exactly what I needed to take the steps I took and continue to take. And when I look back, I realize that the “transformation” was actually a return to the source, to who I am and who I’ve always been. It’s amazing how simple it’s been – years ago my first teacher Joan Ruvinsky told me to “get out of my own way” when I shared where I felt my life was going at the  time, and those words changed my approach to life. My teachers have guided me responsibly and encouragingly throughout the past 10 years, and now that I find myself walking in their shoes, I am so proud and honoured to have the privilege of offering tidbits of wisdom to my students.

This is where I am.