Tag Archives: Yoga

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

The Sights We Have Seen

I’m writing this from the island of Paros in Greece with only a few hours before the 2016 yoga group arrives, and I’m feeling nostalgic. Five years ago I set off on a new branch of my career by organizing my first-ever solo yoga retreat on the Greek island of Santorini. I remember how fiercely I was plagued by doubt when I was about to begin the PR on that event. I also remember consciously pushing aside all uncertainty, firm in the knowledge that because my intention to share wisdom in one of the most beautiful geographical locations on earth was so pure and honorable, I trusted that all would go well. And it did. It has. For five years now. 

I am beyond grateful to everyone who has joined me on the globe trotting we’ve done so far. From Santorini to Mljet (Croatia), Istanbul (Turkey) to Paros (Greece), Berlin (Germany) to Bali (Indonesia), Ravello (Italy) to Paros (again!!), Prague (Czech Republic) back to Paros (AGAIN!!!). We have seen, and continue to see, the world because doing so gets us out of our comfort zones and our routines, allows us to meet people we may never have come across and see just how similar we are, despite language and cultural differences, and gives us the opportunity to make memories that will always be saturated with beauty.

Thank you. To every one of you who has taken whatever risks you’ve taken to invest the time, money and energy in your own well being. Thank you for placing your trust in me. And thank you for your friendship, because the best by product of these trips is the friendships that have grown into family bonds.

Here are some images from the last 5 years. Here’s to the next 5, and the 5 after those, and the 5 after those…you get the gist 🙂 

Berlin Musings

As I take some time following the Prague Yoga Vacation to unwind in Berlin, I find myself observing sensations and emotions bubbling up that fascinate me. 

I’m in my favourite city in the world, the one I’d live in if I ever left Montreal. The current weather is hot and sunny, and all is well in my world. And yet, even with all of that in place, I still feel a yearning. For what? No idea. But it’s there. An itch, a restlessness, a hunger. It may be the swell that propels my current creative projects into structure and form, it may be the knowledge that I go back home this week. Regardless, it’s there.

I’m left wondering if we ever really find what we’re looking for, if we ever truly find long-term, full-spectrum, 360-degree peace. And trust me, I know that typical yoga psycho-babble would have me recite some Hallmark affirmation about the universe providing or meditating on it all. My version of that would be to simply observe, to ask questions and know that this experience may seem individual, but is quite the opposite. I believe we live with the hunger of the unfulfilled. 

And so, the conclusion I have come to is that if we live authentically, aligned with our individual dreams and intuition, then we do find what we’re seeking, but only temporarily. Pockets of perfection, I like to call them. I often experience these moments when I’m teaching or lecturing, when I find myself exactly where I want to be (like here in Berlin) and, most intensely, when I find connection with others. 

There’s always a wistfulness when these pockets of perfection, these heartbreakingly pure moments begin to fade, slowly transitioning into what was. But I am awake enough to recognize them as they occur, and even more so when I have faith that there are more waiting for me as I navigate my way through this experience of life. 

The final word here? Make your pockets of perfection. They rarely come to you without effort and perseverance. Make more moments that inspire you to keep making more moments. Have faith that they’re just around the bend. I’ll do the same and we can compare notes along the way 🙂

Top 50 Yoga Blogs – doyouyoga.com

best-yoga-blogs-2016-badgeThis week in classes I’ve been asking students how their day-to-day experience might be altered by waking up every morning asking, “I wonder what amazingness today will have in store for me” as opposed to waking up and thinking, “I don’t want to go to work.”

This morning I woke up to an email from DoYouYoga.com letting me know that this blog has been included on their Top 50 Yoga Blogs list. Amazingness indeed!

Check out the entire list here: http://www.doyouyoga.com/best-yoga-blogs/, and thank you DoYouYoga.com!

Joan

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Today is one of those days when this blog becomes so much more than some words written for the benefit of others. Today I am using this medium to pay hommage to a woman who changed my life. If my post from last year about my teacher, Joan Ruvinsky, went unnoticed, check it out here.

I got home from Baltimore this afternoon and picked up a voice mail telling me that Joan had passed away. She had announced that she had incurable cancer in January of 2015 and I was in England when I found out. Writing the blog post linked above was how I processed the news, which was traumatic for me. However, in the past 14 months, Joan and I have been in closer contact than we had ever been before, and through her example, texts and the time we spent together she taught me more than anyone ever has in any studio. She taught me how to die, and in doing so, taught me how to live.

I am because Joan was, is and always will be. We will always live in a world where Joan is. I want you all to know how much this woman, this energy, this spirit that was Joan, meant to me and how grateful I will always be for the time we had together on this human, material plane. I have no doubt that Joan and I will continue to interact in other ways and on other planes. For this moment, let me simply say that I love her, that she changed my life and that anyone who learns anything from me is learning from Joan.

Thank you, Joan. Talk soon.

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