Tag Archives: Yoga

2018 Higher Learning Weekend

For the second year, I am bringing the Higher Learning weekend of education back to Montreal! What fundamental aspects of the human experience are we not taught in school? How well are we set up for the inevitable moments of suffering that a human existence has in store for each and every one of us ? What conditioning does our culture endorse and depend on to keep us stuck in what keeps us silent, stationary and skeptical? Where are we getting the skills we need to respond wisely to the more difficult and challenging moments we all face?

Traditional channels of education set us up to be economically accountable and productive members of society, but don’t give us the survival techniques necessary to prioritize our own sense of peace and well-being when tensions land and everything goes wrong. Drawing on elements from Hindu & Buddhist teachings, psychotherapeutic tools, meditation techniques and spiritual teachings, this weekend will be about providing tools and coping strategies for navigating the ups and downs of this winding human journey.

Join me Saturday & Sunday, January 13 & 14, 2018 for the second annual Higher Learning Weekend of Education. Space is limited to 15 places per workshop and students can choose to attend the entire weekend or choose specific modules à la carte. The subject matter is appropriate and relevant for people of all ages, so children bring your parents and parents bring your children. This will be an event for anyone with the desire to LIVE this life to its maximum potential. The Higher Learning program is an opportunity to focus on the skill sets that have the potential to influence and inform the rest of your life.

All levels of student welcome, no prior study or knowledge of Hinduism or scriptures necessary.

Contact me at bram.levinson@gmail.com for more info or choose your payment option below.

Sat, January 13
9:30am-12:00pm – The Power Of IntentionBuy Now Button

To kick off the weekend, we will look at the role of intention in our lives and break down the energetic mechanics of intention. We will explore the concepts of dharma, The Hero’s Journey as extrapolated by Joseph Campbell, Mindfulness, Perspective, as well as concepts drawn from Yogic & Hindu scriptures.

1:30pm-4:30pm – The Power of Being/AwarenessBuy Now Button

We will look at how fear plays a role in motivating thought and behaviour, the contrast between the human experience vs the spiritual experience, the role of intuition in our lives and we will examine spiritual energy through the lenses of Hindu scriptures and texts. The spiritual understanding of Self will be examined theoretically, followed by an iRest Yoga Nidra meditation to approach it experientially.

Sunday, January 14
9:30am-12:00pm – The Power of ThoughtBuy Now Button

We will discuss the aspects of the human experience that we often get stuck in, and how to get unstuck from them. We will discuss the tension of opposites, identify what some common opposites are that we tend to experience, we will do a great meditation observing the sensations in the body associated to the opposites and how they lead to the emotions that motivate our behaviours, we will discuss the chakras, go over sutras from the Ashtanga Sutras that offer us insight into how to work with the opposites, discuss cognitive behavioural theory and discuss examples of how this can help us change our thought patterns. We will also explore techniques from Mindulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).

1:30pm-4:30pm – The Power of TimeBuy Now Button

We will recap the weekend, do an eye-opening meditation together that will further demonstrate how the spiritual/energetic experience is at work at the same time as the literal, human experience, we will discuss philosophies related to time and examine how to spend it mindfully, explore our relationships with time, discuss how universal laws affect our experience of life and how by remembering them we can use our time more wisely, we will discuss death and watch an interview with my teacher Joan Ruvinsky. We will finish off with an iRest Yoga Nidra meditation.

$250+taxes ($287.44) full weekend – Buy Now Button

$70+taxes ($80.48) – individual module à la carte, see Paypal buttons above

Equilibrium Yoga
4812 Boul St-Laurent, suite 101 (corner Villeneuve)
*do not contact the studio for information, contact Bram directly*

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Paros Musings Pt 3

I just woke up after the deepest sleep I’ve had here over the last two weeks, and as usual, the dogs are barking in a call and response manner, the roosters are crowing (don’t get excited, they do it all day, every day…even a broken clock accurately tells the time twice a day), and the birds are chirping. But instead of just taking it all in, the thought, “It’s the last day” came hurdling through my mind, and with it the onslaught of emotions.

This year’s group of people is a special one. Every year I fall right into the community we create, and every year I feel all the big feels when it’s time to splinter apart and go back into the world to resume where we left off just over a week ago. My hope is that those people who join me for these trips around the world find something unique and worth integrating into their lives, and then go back home and do exactly that. Last night one of the students here texted me to let me know that, “Need you to know this experience has changed my life.” And I couldn’t reply because even though that’s my intention in putting myself out into the world, I get so emotional when it actually happens that I can hardly put into words a response that conveys my gratitude and emotions.

For those of you who are still here, sleeping for the next few minutes before you get up to take our last yoga class together in Paros for this year, I want to thank you. Thank you for taking a risk and coming here for this event, because I know every single one of you did. Whether your risk was a financial one, whether it was related to leaving your family or your kids for this length of time, whether it was related to asking for time off, for yourself, to travel and get some introspection time, or whether it was related to joining a group of people you didn’t know to share an experience you couldn’t have envisioned, I thank you. Know that for me to execute my dharma in this life, I need other people to be on the receiving end of what I put out into the world, and your presence here closes the circle for me and for us all. Thank you for taking your risks. I hope that it either continues the pattern of doing so, or instigates a new one that reminds us all of the glory that is possible when we jump beyond our comfort zones.

I’m going to be the most unprofessional mess of emotions and childish “I don’t want this to end” thoughts today. But I know that although it may feel like the end of something, in actuality, for every single one of us, it really is a new beginning of sorts. I hate to sound like a cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. I wish you all the highest of life’s highs, the wisdom to navigate the lowest of life’s lows, and the presence of mind to know your Self and your potency as you make your way forward. Know that I am here for you all, wherever we may be in any given moment, and always remember this time we had. No one could know exactly how beautiful is has been, and still is. Only us. Take the energy of our community and the beauty of Paros and bring it back with you.

With gratitude and so. much. LOVE,

Bxx

Paros Musings 2017 Pt 2

It’s 5am and I’m awake listening to the roosters and the dogs calling their existences into the pitch black night. Students and friends have begun to arrive for our yoga event that officially kicks off tomorrow, and after showing one of them around last night and hearing her constantly remark about how peaceful it is here, I flippantly remarked how there’s always one night every September where a wedding occurs in the area. And it’s a full-on Greek wedding. The music starts blaring for allllll to hear around 9 or 10pm and lasts until the wee hours of the morning. That conversation occurred at 10:30pm.

The music just stopped at 4:50am. This couldn’t even be scripted. And, ironically, I only woke up when the music stopped. I think that I may be an honorary Greek, after passing this final initiation stage.

And so I’m awake, reflecting. This kind of late-night introspection never happens anywhere else in the world. It is part of how my soul lands here. I effortlessly begin to look back, something I almost rarely do in this way, one that’s devoid of judgement and which is purely observational. And in these early hours of the morning, I’m taking stock of the people who have given me the breaks that have allowed them to see who I really am and what I’m actually capable of, aspects of myself that aren’t visible superficially.

I’ve always known there was something bigger than what I had been exposed to that was waiting for me, ever since I was young. It was because of that knowing that conventional education did very little for me and seemingly asked everything of me. As soon as I could gauge that whatever I was studying was not going to bring me towards that sense of purpose and greatness I knew lay in wait, I left in pursuit of more illuminated avenues. But we judge each other based on the superficial details that the commonly accepted avenues of our culture guide us towards, and believe me when I say that for the first 35 years of my life, I can count on one hand the number of people who saw in me what I knew was there. I take full responsibility for it, as I didn’t understand what form it would take, and so I couldn’t raise my voice and ask anyone to believe in what I could not name, and so know that I have earned my place in the world, I have worked to get where I am. No American Idol/The Voice bullshit here. I earned it by trusting that I knew better than the pressure I felt to just shut up and get a 9-5 job working for someone else to profit off of. That could never represent security to me, on the contrary. That life would kill me.

There are people who have, however, elevated me so that I could make my way down this winding, often bleak, path. My grandmother, Lillian Berlin, who always reminded me that cream rose to the top and that I was that cream. Danielle Cossette, my 6th grade French teacher, who made me valedictorian as my grade finished primary school and left for high school. Rick Hinojosa, who gave me a job at his boutique Juan & Juanita back in 1995 and allowed me to begin earning financially during a time when I felt left behind by the educational system. Jennifer Maagendans, a dear friend and owner of Luna Yoga, who gave me my first job in yoga and one of the most efficient, on-the-job yoga teacher trainings that could never be offered to the public. Kaeleigh Doherty, a friend and then-Lululemon employee who told me that her store wanted me as an ambassador and that they would wait for me to finish my first training to then take me on. The Lululemon team who got me teaching at Wanderlust all those years ago, and who flew me around Canada for mind-blowing ambassador summits. The Wanderlust team who help me up my game with every gig. Kreg Weiss, who gunned for me professionally and who encouraged me to get in touch with Ruth van der Voort at the Toronto Yoga Conference. And these are just the people that come to mind now, at 5:30am.

To those people who let me do my thing and simply held space for it, know that you have my gratitude forever. You have encouraged me to keep finding my way, and I know there are more massive milestones ahead. Keep an eye out, because some of the stuff I’m working on for the near future, like what has unrolled so far, will be unlike anything that could be expected. Because that’s how I’m supposed to do this, authentically and with certainty.

It’s also how you are supposed to do you. Consider that all these words are meant to reflect back to you what’s possible, to keep looking for the ones who will give you a break as you find your way forward your own way, unapologetically and uniquely yourself. Work hard, earn it, be the best version of yourself possible, and don’t give up. Give others their breaks so that energy can come back to you. Live big. And trust that it’s all possible. Because it is.

My Work

I don't want to deal with the state of today's world.

I don't want to find excuses or justifications for what I object to, to the injustices that seem to be becoming more and more commonplace, simply to quell my dumbfoundedness and indignation. I don't want to judge, and I don't want to call myself on my judgements because I know that there's already too much judgement being slung around like stones at a stoning. I don't want to placate myself by attempting to cultivate patience as I wait for the world leaders who are abusing their power to fall into the annals of history. I don't want to see the virtuous and the kind suffer, and I don't want to see those that think solely of themselves, with no regard for the well being of others, effortlessly float through existence. I don't want to see the ignorant venom that gets spewed out in 140 characters or less, and I don't want to see my fellow humans get to the end of their lives believing that what they learn through news channels about other faiths, beliefs and points of view is a proper education.

There's a lot I don't want. But like it or not, this is. It all is, undeniably. And I have a choice as to whether I'm going to rant and rave and object and age into a curmudgeonly, bitter man, or if I'm going to do everything I can to work with my own feelings of anger, disbelief, disappointment and fear so that I acknowledge and experience them fully, and then occasionally alter those vibrations into different ones that lift my spirits. I have a choice as to whether the sensations my body experiences day in and day out are "negative" and harmful, or whether they soothe my senses and help to prioritize calm and clarity above all else. I have a choice as to what I focus on, understanding that the object of my attention will dictate the quality of my experience of every single moment.

And so, I pick my battles. I do great things for other people. I help other people with their most difficult obstacles. I bring laughter to situations that are laughable, even when they're tragically so. I elevate others. I am kind to myself. I make time to do whatever the hell I want for myself to balance out the time and effort I dedicate to my work and mission. I balance discipline and comfort, finally understanding how necessary they both are.

I accept the state of today's world, don't get me wrong. But I am hell-bent on making sure it doesn't get the better of me. More so, I do what I can, exceeding personal expectations, to make this world a better place. It's the only thing I can realistically do.

That's my work.

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, Spirituality & Gender: Interview with Lina Bradford

One of the facets of the Hindu and Yogic teachings that not only resonates with me, but which I find glaringly relevant today, is the reidentification of Self. In multiple scriptures we are taught that identifying with appearances (specifically the bodies we inhabit) equates with ignorance and the wise know to identify with the energy that animates them. We are taught that we are not our bodies, but rather the spark of energy that is embodied by them, a concept that seems to inform and shed light on the journey of many transgender children and adults alike. This teaching is something I learned decades ago before my studies in spirituality began, and my “teacher” was one of the most vibrant and unique people I have ever known.

In 1992 I was going out to clubs in Montreal with my then-partner and our circle of friends, and it was in a club one night that I saw one of the dancers up on a speaker doing her thing like no one was watching. She was sleek and lithe, looking like a glamazon character from the not-so-recent past, and she was PERFORMING. Whereas the other hired dancers were doing their best to not fall off their perches, this girl was working that platform like she was onstage at Madison Square Garden. She was lip synching to the songs, interacting with the crowd on the dance floor, and I. Was. Mesmerized. I had never seen such raw talent before, never been so captivated by someone who so obviously had that “it” factor that stars are made of. In fact, the first time I ever saw Beyoncé perform I thought, “I’ve seen this act before.” The moves, the attitude, the presence, the energy, all of it was done before. And I had seen it with my own eyes, mere feet away from the spectacle.

After casually speaking to her for a while, my friends and I eventually became good friends with the girl who would become known as Girlina to the 1990’s New York City Club Kid community, and who would later morph into Lina Bradford.

Meeting Lina all those years ago was part of my education in gender identity, in truly seeing someone as their personality and how it expressed itself, as opposed to the gender of the body it animated. I had seen drag queens perform at that point in my life, and had appreciated the good ones who had real stage presence. But seeing Lina perform was something entirely different. She was no drag queen. This was no drag. There was no exaggerated flamboyance. Every single time I saw her, whether on a stage or getting ready for bed when I slept over at her place after ordering dirty pizza at 3AM, she was unapologetically herself. Feminine energy with a masculine bite to her sense of humour, compassionate, loving, street-smart and worldly, Lina joked that she was a “gender illusionist,” but the term was really just a tool for those who didn’t know how to wrap their brains around her brilliance. Even her languaging, the way she spoke, was so unique, her vocabulary so of her own invention, that it became known as “girlingo” in the 90’s club circles. To me she was a superstar, a warrior, a Goddess of mythical proportions. And she still is.

Lina is exactly the same woman today she was 25 years ago when we met. She was obsessed with Barbie dolls, often making their couture outfits herself, and that obsession has grown into the theme of her YouTube talk show In The Dollhouse With Lina, now moving into its third series. She is a sought-after DJ, playing for crowds across the globe, corporate events, and even spinning on ABC’s The View for her pal Whoopi Goldberg’s birthday celebration.

Lina showed me what it meant to be authentic, to be unfailingly yourself, all those years ago when we didn’t have a transgender movement and when LGBTQ rights were a distant hope for the future. She did it all with an infectious laugh, killer style, and the ability to leave you emotionally moved beyond compare. She was truly ahead of her time, and the world is now cluing in to her vibration. She was, and is, her own work of art. To label Lina is to limit who and what she is. She is a force. She is an energy. She is everything manifested as newness, charisma, talent and light. Her spirituality runs deep, and one has to only visit her Facebook page to find her daily words of inspiration and affirmation, like this one from April 24, 2017,

“I will speak only positive words of faith and victory over myself, my family, and my future. I will not use my words to describe my situation. I will use my words to change my situation. I will call in favor, good breaks, healing, and restoration. I will not talk to God about how big my problems are. I will talk to my problems about how big my God is. This is my declaration.”

I spoke with her last week and followed up by sending her some questions I wanted her take on. I am so fortunate that we are still in each other’s lives, and I cheer her on with every success she adds to her roster. DJ, actress, dancer, entertainer, talk-show host, board member of GMHC, and friend. That’s who Lina Bradford is to me, and it’s my honour and responsibility to use my voice to help elevate her to the heights that have been her birthright.

Q – Meeting you was the first time I had met someone whom I truly believed had a body whose gender did not align with the energy that animated it, with the expression that was meant to be shared with the world. Talk to me about your experience as a transgender woman.

A – Well I have always been Spiritually connected and with this comes self awareness and discovery. I have never felt disconnected to my body. My Being has always been an alarm clock with which to morph, and when I speak to young transgender children I explain, “Allow yourself 2 know yourself, be a well rounded Being b4 anything, then alignment will bring you where & when it’s meant to be”. So my Essence is & will always be of All & One, of embodying both my masculinity & femininity. It is key in my Life as balance, back then & always.


Q – Do you agree with the spiritual teaching that we are not our bodies, but rather the energy that animates them?

A – I am on another planet with that (philosophy and belief), however in being here with where you’re coming from, it’s a 💯 Yes!!

Q – Tell me what you believe to be true about why we are here and what we are meant to do with our time.

A – I myself have lived numerous moments, so I know that there’s too much out there to be swayed and (influenced) by what mainstream society sells you on!

Q – What do you believe is your dharma, your mission, what you alone are supposed to bring to the rest of us in the world?

A – I have always known by spiritual guides and the two cherubs on my shoulders that I am a people person, and bringing together lights and energy is my job. I know my purpose and live it daily. Princess of light.

Q – In the 25 years that we’ve known each other, I have never seen you defeated, never seen you afraid, never known you to be anything other than powerful and certain with every dance move, career move, acting gig and public appearance. How do you manage fear and anxiety in your life? How do you deal with them? 

A – Thank jew so dearly for those words, I regard you high in my book of love. Being connected and receptive to Energy & The Universe keeps me so rite 4 my blood type, so to say. I am steered away from negativity and kept on my path. Nothing can slow my roll!!!

Q – I’ve spoken and written about our echoes, essentially giving a name to the energy we each project into the world and which trails behind in our wake, outlasting us after our bodies die. What do you want to leave behind for the world after this body goes and the Self moves onto the next phase of its manifestation?

A – I think we all want to be remembered for whatever beautiful accomplishments we’ve done in our life, and what I want to leave behind is the love and light that I see and bring out of the people. That’s what makes me shine on the daily.


Q – What do you want the world to know? Based on your life lessons and overcoming adversity, what wisdom would you share with the world?

A – Never feel defeated. We have the power to heal and take our selves anywhere we want. When you believe in yourself you sell yourself to the rest of the world, you are EVERNESS!!!

For all Lina-related info, visit her website at http://djlina.com/.

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