Tag Archives: Yoga

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?

Quickpost 21/06/10

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

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

Universally Speaking

Living my life in Yoga has brought me many things including an overall sense of peace coupled with the desire to know and be able to pass on all insightful information, but one of the greatest things I’ve found myself enriched by is the need and ability to process and deconstruct said information and be able to contest what I find questionable. My first couple of hours in teacher training in 2009 found me ready to abandon my plans as a teacher simply because some of what I was hearing from those leading the course conflicted greatly with what I then felt strongly about. I brought my concerns to friends, who reminded me that regardless of my eagerness to start a new chapter of my life and wanting to absorb as much information as possible, I always had the right to take what information I deemed relevant and leave that which I felt didn’t serve me. It was with that ambitious reserve that I threw myself back into my training with abandon and into my career to date.

There is a lot of information to process from the Yogic teachings, all of which can discombobulate the most grounded of people. Filtering through and processing it all may indeed prove to be exhausting, but allowing yourself to challenge what you consider true is always enlightening and more often than not, illuminating. One aspect of Yoga continues to this day to challenge my beliefs, and I believe that it poses some of the same questions for others as it does me. The Yogic scriptures and teachings bring everything back to one thing: union. The word Yoga comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means to unite or to yolk. We refer most often to the union of the mind, body and breath…the aim of which is to return or reunite with the source of all life, which is most often referred to as God in the teachings. This poses somewhat of a problem for me.

I am not a religious person. At all. I was raised in a Jewish environment, being brought to synagogue for all the High Holidays throughout my youth until I absolutely refused to continue participating in what I felt was a ridiculous farce to mask superficiality and ego in the shroud of tradition. My experience with synagogue was being surrounded by men and women dressing up to the nines boasting about their possessions and accomplishments, all the while gossiping about each other and then “humbly” returning to their seats to mumble through the prayers. I played the game myself, bringing my own reading material to hide behind the prayer-book so that I wouldn’t go out of my mind with boredom listening to what I felt was an incredibly archaic system of demonstrating one’s faith. I have since heard similar experiences being recounted my friends from other faiths, which reinforced my aversion to religion. All of that combined with the knowledge that mostly all religions across the spectrum are exclusive, telling us that we are the chosen people, that others are somehow “less than” we are, completed my break from organized religion. Yoga teaches that we are all connected, that there are no levels of worth and that the ego is our greatest enemy, something I have believed from the time that I first learned to think for myself.

With all that said, I do believe in a higher power from which we all derive and from where the essence that we all possess resides. I understand that it is this power and essence that is referred to in the Yogic teachings, but I still have a problem with that word which has been appropriated to many of the world’s greatest organized religions…that word God. It is with this aversion that I find myself passing on my teachings carefully and with full awareness of my words. Yoga is often mistaken for a religion by those who have dipped a toe or two in the teachings, and who have subsequently ran away from the unbelievable possibilities that yoga can bring us. I firmly believe that before the word God is brought into a class, a workshop, an article or a teacher training, it needs to be redefined and clarified as having nothing to do with religion.

I believe that despite there being many common teachings throughout Yoga and religion (restrictions as to lying, stealing, coveting, etc…), I have found that Yoga endorses laws of the Universe, those that apply to all, as opposed to those that apply to some which are proselytized through religious laws. The notion that Karma guides us all, that everything you do has a consequence, that your words and deeds carry immeasurable weight…this all falls under universal law. Yoga encourages love and gratitude…for oneself, for all others, and for everything around us. It allows us to be as spiritual as we want to be with absolutely no association of fear or guilt attached, and allows us to become more than we ever thought possible as opposed to feeling suppressed and repressed. Again, this is what I believe based on my life experience, and I would never insinuate that those who are finding light and love through religion are misguided. Whatever works, as far as I’m concerned.

For those of you who find yourselves sharing a yoga class with me, please keep all this in mind when I relay the Yogic teachings. Understand that the word god can be replaced with light, or love, or energy, or a million other all-encompassing beauty-laden words. Understand that if it separates us, it can’t be good. Understand that we are one. We always have been and we always have been. These are the teachings that we’re born with under the guise of intuition and that get smothered by conditioning and conformity. Allow yourselves to tap back into the source of all things…back into light, back into love…back into God.

UK Musings

I’m alone. Approaching the end of my latest 2-week voyage over to see my England-based extended family, I find myself in the rarest of situations: Helene has taken the kids out, Kerry is off at a football game…and I’m alone in the house…the always kinetic center of it all, the flurry of activity that starts around 7am and doesn’t stop until the children go to sleep slightly more than 12 hours later. Reuniting with complete stillness after 11 days (obviously excluding those sweet hours of repose I take full advantage of), tapping back into that serenity and groundedness, literally feels like coming home…in a place I consider my home away from home. All of which reinforces my belief that home is wherever you want it to be, at any given moment. Right now, I’m home.

I’ve been practicing yoga here steadily, locking myself in the big lounge, laying down my travel mat amidst the antique-style furniture and directly facing the massive fireplace. Taking a full hour as often as I can to disconnect from everything around me, and re-connect my mind to my breath and my body. I took a couple of days to trek down to London, where I met up with Tara, who joined us on our Mexico retreat in March of this year and who has since become a close friend. Together we caught up, ate in great restaurants, basked for 2 hours in the lovely energy that resides at the Jivamukti Center, and generally just had a laugh. After a couple of days with her, I made the journey back up to lovely Norfolk, and I fell right back into the frantic state of play surrounding the kids, all set amidst the relaxed rhythm of the gorgeous countryside.

After having been in this country countless times, I find myself surprised at how I never tire of it. The panoramic, rolling hills, the foliage in full bloom, the intermittent, dismally chilled and rainy days, the seemingly endless selection of country pubs offering some of the best food I could be treated to, and, most of all, the company of my family out here…Regardless of what I end up doing while I’m here, I can be certain from the outset that I will have the time of my life, that my roots will sink a little deeper into this UK soil, and that I will be able to bring a smattering of all the energies I encountered during my stay back to my life in Montreal to share with those with whom I share my Canadian existence, students and family members alike.

I always come back from these visits feeling a massive sense of gratitude, and incredibly inspired to continue on my yogic path, digging into my soul a little deeper, and hopefully inspiring others in their journeys by sharing my observations and findings. I have a few more days left to bask in the light that I find here among all the people I meet and spend time with…rest assured that I’m aware of every moment, taking mental snapshots (as well as digital ones) that will be filed away in the annals of my mind that will eventually be referred back to so I can tap back into this energy whenever I fancy. The greatest thing about life is that those annals are great enough to accomodate the ever-growing inventory of snapshots, the moments that life does not stop offering up, the pieces of muchness that we all are exposed to, but that which some of us pass by unaware of the significance that often exists in that periphery. So as I wind down my time here, let me offer this up to you: keep your head up, your heart open, and look around you for those moments that are being offered up to you. Let them imprint themselves, and hold onto them as you continue on your journey. File them away, and take note of how they start to grow in numbers, those numbers signifying the richness in your lives. You don’t have to travel overseas to find them, but you have to be open to notice them…Sending you all much love (and even more light) from England 🙂

From Behind Our Own Shadows

We are surrounded by doubt and fear, from all directions, all around us. We are bombarded by images of who we should be, what we should wear, eat, and drive, and how our bodies should look. All these “standards” that we inevitably hold ourselves up to (in spite of ourselves and our better, innate judgement) succeed in driving, and sometimes even creating, that fear. Fear of not fitting in, of not belonging, of being outcast…and all the while, the only thing we are accomplishing is the complete and utter suppression of our true selves…of our innate light, of our inspiring individuality that stems from the source of all energy which we all come from and to which we all return.

Our minds tell us stories…incessantly feeding us judgements of ourselves and others that have not one shred of truth to them, but we rise to the bait regardless, making “agreements” with these tales and allowing our decisions and beliefs to be based on them. We allow ourselves to be guided by doubt, giving room, and therefore legitimacy, to said doubts, eliminating certainty and peace from our lives.

So how do we deal with the endless world of possibilities that present themselves once we awaken from this state of suspension and lethargy that has silently been holding us back from becoming our ideal selves?

The best place to start is at the beginning. Tapping into who we are when we’re alone, when we’re with our families (immediate and extended), who we were as children before we began being fed the steady stream of conformity-based propaganda that modern-day, urban society dishes out for no apparent reason (other than the obvious financially-based ones). And most of all, agreeing to stop listening to those stories that the mind creates. To quote Cat from Jivamukti London, “Stop paying attention to those stories. None of them are true. That which does not serve you, let go of.”

The perfect place to put all this into practice is exactly there…in your practice. Every yoga class/practice/session will present you with a challenge, an opportunity to face your fears. Do it. Face them. Nothing is ever as daunting in actuality as it seemed in theory. When that voice the mind conjures up as you’re preparing yourself for an especially challenging asana starts rattling off every reason why you’ll be unable to move fully into the posture, let your active voice be stronger. Remind yourself that you are indeed more capable than you could possibly imagine, and that the only person standing in your way is yourself. Let yourself soar to the heights that you always imagined possible but never dared to attain for fear of seeing just how capable you actually are.

Once you’ve gone there, once you’ve experienced what it feels like to jump beyond yourself, remember your essence. Let go of the ego and feel your connection to all things, and offer up that courage that it took to draw your magificence out into the open to everyone and everything around you. Understand that to shine as brightly as you can is to inspire those around you to do the same. The brighter we are as a collective whole dictates where we move towards as a community and a society…and the stronger our intentions, the more likely that destination will be back to that same light we’re drawing out of ourselves. Full circle.

The Devil and Greta Garbo

As my students floated through their post-Savasana haze this evening, I was approached by Lindsay, a regular student of mine, who wanted to know why we roll over onto the right side of the body when coming back into a seated posture after the deep relaxation of Savasana. I had my suspicions from an anatomical standpoint, but those quickly took a back seat to what I found when I came home and did some research, and what I found brought me back to a subject I had written about years ago.

As both the left and right sides of the body are each respectively attributed with feminine/Shakti and masculine/Shiva energies (in addition to being connected to the sun and the moon, “Hatha” yoga being the composite word bringing Ha, or lunar, and Tha, or solar energies together), when we roll over onto the right side of the body, we let the left, or feminine/lunar/Shakti side dominate in all its therapeutic glory.

What I love about teaching is that I learn from my students, and this evening was the perfect example of this. But the information I found brought me back to an essay I had written years ago regarding the left and right sides of the body, and how throughout history the left side of the body was attributed to the feminine energy, along with being associated with the devil. So I figured I’d re-print that essay here…such a fascinating topic, all thanks to Savasana (and Lindsay 😉 )…

I was recently taking the bus from Stansted Airport to Heathrow Airport in England, and as the bus turned at the off-ramp, I noticed a sign on the side of the highway instructing slower drivers to drive in the left-hand lane. The instructions were repeated below the English text in French, and further down, in Italian, and one word from the Italian text caught my eye and has kept me thinking ever since. The Italian word for “left” was written as “sinistro”, and all of a sudden I was wracking my brain for all the information I’d ever absorbed about the mythology and history of the left side of the body, and more specifically, left-handed people. I found it odd that the Italian translation for the word denoting a side of a determined area had a dark, even evil connotation to it. I swore that when I got back home I would delve into this subject, so here is the fruit of that endeavour.

It seems that in most of recorded history, the devil has been attributed with not only being left-handed, but with baptizing his victims with his left hand. As a result, most people over the past couple of millennia have associated the left side of the body, and more precisely, the left hand, with evil.  Superstitions grew rampant regarding the left side of the body as best depicted by the classic image of a person battling their conscience – the angelic aspect was always nestled on the right shoulder of the person, the demonic aspect perched on the left shoulder.  In biblical times, salt was a prized staple to have in a household, and if by some horrible twist of fate some salt spilled on the floor, it was believed to be akin to sacrilege, and therefore customary to then throw a pinch of salt over one’s left shoulder as the spilled salt was being cleaned up.  The intention behind this act was commonly believed to blind the devil so he couldn’t see the transgression, but another line of thinking was that the thrown salt simply kept him at bay.

One of the most famous lefties in history, Julius Caesar, created most of the right-handed customs that exist today (the handshake, for example) because they freed up his left, weapon-brandishing hand to be ready for combat at any given moment. This line of reasoning also served as the basis for driving on the left side of the road in the United Kingdom and some of its colonies.  Driving in the left-hand lane is rooted in the UK’s often-violent medieval feudal society where the majority of people were right-handed.  Being right-handed, it made sense to keep a weapon at the ready as people passed each other on their respective right sides.  Similarly, jousting knights would charge at each other, passing each other’s right side with lances pointed in battle.

Studies released in recent years suggest that 10% of the world’s population is left-handed and that being so inclined is rooted in a recessive gene passed down by one’s mother.  Based on Dr Chris McManus’ book “Left Hand, Right Hand”, two left-handed parents have a 26% chance of having a left-handed child, while two right-handed parents have a 9% chance of having a left-handed child.  A mixture of one right-handed and one left-handed parent have a 19% chance of producing a left-handed offspring.

A survey conducted by the Left-Handers Club (www.lefthandersday.com) has found some interesting tidbits:  left-handed musicians will have more of an uphill battle trying to find instruments for lefties, and once found, they will pay a great deal more money for said instruments.  Lefties also have more of a challenge when at a bank teller station or a post office counter, as they are set up for right-handed people.  Conversely, lefties are also more inclined to have a greater aptitude for expressing themselves, generating ideas, and composing stories due to a greater facility with words.  They are also more creative, open-minded and non-conformist compared to their right-handed peers.  Those who work on a computer are able to type and use the computer mouse at the same time, and are more adept with the standard “QWERTY” keyboard, as the keyboard was “originally designed to slow down right-handed typists”.

There’s a whole other world of information pertaining to this subject available to those in search of it, and it’s all fascinating.  Check it out, and in the interim, I’ll leave you with this list of famous lefties, some of which definitely fall into the aforementioned creative, idea-generating category:

Drew Barrymore, Aristotle, Joan of Arc (who was accused of being left-handed, but that may have been solely for the purpose of persecuting her as a witch), Charlie Chaplin, Jack the Ripper, Peter Ustinov, Brad Pitt, Oprah Winfrey, Marilyn Monroe, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman, The Boston Strangler, Gary Oldman, Greta Garbo, Woody Harrelson, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, Helen Keller, Whoopi Goldberg, and the list goes on and on…

Instinctually Speaking

Our annual Centre Luna Yoga Spring yoga retreat has come to an end, and now that I’m back home, languishing in the drizzle of cold rain and misty fog (beach? did someone say beach?), I thought I’d share one of the most interesting insights I brought back with me from our time in gorgeous Tulum, Mexico.

I remember from my past career what inevitably happened every time I found myself on vacation or with time off – my body would somehow break down, usually to lesser degrees than are insinuated with that expression…a cold here, a flu there, etc…My trip to Tulum started off with a similar, albeit shorter, physical reaction: I passed a kidney stone within 2 hours of landing. The first inkling of trouble was detected as we made our way to the retreat centre in our shuttle bus. The pain was new to me, the worries of possibly having to spend time in a hospital stressful (to say the least), but once we got to Retiro Maya, it all resolved itself. I suppose I may be responsible for setting the tone for the other retreat members, because as the week progressed, some of the participants went through other physical tests including gall stones, an outbreak of eczema, an eye infection, and a plethora of mild digestive issues. My reaction to the kidney issue, the gradual onset of fear and worry, seemed to jump from person to person as each situation arose, and as it travelled onwards, I could stand back and objectively examine exactly what was going on.

I spoke to my class on the retreat about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and one evening I highlighted Sutras 7 & 8 from Book Two, the Portion on Practice that discusses attachment and aversion. Attachment is most commonly defined as identification to those experiences that we deem as being pleasurable, and aversion as identification to those experiences that we deem as being painful. The second each of us who felt our physical bodies offering up something less than ideal became aware of whatever “problem” we were dealt, the aversion kicked in…the irritation, the worry, the fear…all by-products of the greater fear, that of death. Our own mortality was offered up to us in the guise of our ailments, and as opposed to the concern we each felt in the moment, I have walked away from the experience with a deeper understanding of myself and ourselves as a collective unit. That fear of death is the underlying fear of all fears, the instinctive desire to grasp onto life and never let go, our survival mechanism. It is exactly that fear of death that is now under examination in my life. I believe that once this fear is delved into and deconstructed, it will have less of a hold on me and my life will be freer to have a clearer outlook on that which is temporary and fluctuating, regardless of how it may affect me on a physical plane.

With all that in mind, I once again found myself deep in the Sutras, a reference that has never failed me yet. Lo and behold, I found what I was seeking, the source of my information embodied in Book 2, Sutra 9 – Clinging to life, flowing by its own potency (due to past experiences), exists even in the wise. The interpretation of this Sutra (by Sri Swami Satchidananda) is excerpted as follows: Many Westerners don’t believe in reincarnation. They feel, “It’s all over when we die.” But the Yoga philosophy reminds us that all our knowledge comes through experience. Without experience we cannot understand or learn anything. Even books can only remind us of something we have experienced in the past. They help kindle a fire that is already in us. That fire must be there first for the kindling stick to kindle it. ..Yoga says instinct is a trace of an old experience that has been repeated many times and the impressions have sunk down to the bottom of the mental lake. Although they go down, they aren’t completely erased. Don’t think you ever forget anything. All experiences are stored in the chittam; and when the proper atmosphere is created, they come to the surface again. When we do something several times it forms a habit. Continue with that habit for a long time, and it becomes our character. Continue with that character and eventually, perhaps in another life, it comes up as instinct…In the same way, all of our instincts were once experiences. That’s why the fear of death exists. We have died hundreds and thousands of times. We know well the pang of death. And so, the moment we get into a body, we love it so much that we are afraid to leave it and go forward because we have a sentimental attachment to it…if your old body is taken away…you must get a new one. Many people do not know this and cling to the body even when it gets old and dilapidated. That constant clinging, breaking away, clinging again, breaking away is why we are mortally afraid of death.

Need I say more on the subject?

Despite the aforementioned tests, our retreat was a full week of joy, light, love, and bonding. A literal re-connection to the earth and all its elements was experienced by each and every one of us…the stars and planets close enough to touch, the ever present, constant roaring of the ocean, the mighty gusts of wind, the almost-magnetic energy of the Mayan ruins and all the surrounding land, and the non-stop laughter we were privy to made this retreat a series of perfect moments, a true reminder of everything we are blessed with in this life.

And so I emerge from this retreat with a deeper insight into life, hungrier than ever to continue learning and being able to share whatever I come across…all bringing me back to where I began, back to the source.

Degrees of Muchness

I have to take my hat off to Tim Burton (once again)…the visionary behind the defining film moments that include characters like Edward Scissorhands, Sweeney Todd and Beetlejuice has once again given me a cinematic moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. There are aspects of Burton’s films that always touch a chord with me – the gloomy, pseudo-Gothic ambiance which I repeatedly find every time I spend time in England is one, his ability to transform the morbid into the comical (the two have very often been interchangeable for me throughout my life) is another, but most of all, the significance and validity that he attributes to the fantastical, to the fringe of what is commonly accepted by the mainstream. And Alice in Wonderland brings all these amazing elements to dizzying new heights.

I know…this is starting to sound like a film review, so I’ll veer off here a bit…the reason I felt compelled to write about the film can be found in one of the lines spoken to Alice by the Mad Hatter when he says, “You used to be much muchier before. Yes you were much more Alice the last time we met. You have lost your muchness.

The notion of being able to alter such a basic word in our vernacular to embody such meaning, such enormity of the human condition and potential, really left its mark on me. Everything I work towards, everything I write about here, and everything I discuss with students in my classes all lead to that one word: muchness. If my definition of Yoga is about being the best version of oneself, about being the least blurry version of oneself,  then I welcome this new arrival in my proverbial word pool with fanfare. It’s all about muchness. Finding one’s own, tapping into it, and then making it glaringly visible for all to bask in and be inspired by.

How do you all tap into your own muchness?

Plugging In

This week I have the honour of teaching 2 classes at the Palais des Congrès (Montreal’s main convention centre) for federal workers in the public sector from across Canada who are coming to our unusually temperate city (for this time of the year).  Getting everyone off to the best start possible as they trek through the 2-day convention is already something to look forward to, but what I’m really excited about is the theme of the event, which is connecting to community, something absolutely essential for these federal employees who deal with the public day in and day out.

The keynote speaker for this event is slated to be Dr. Samantha Nutt, the founder and executive director of War Child, an incredible organization that is dedicated to providing humanitarian assistance to children in war-torn areas of the globe, and in doing so, providing the catalyst to allow people from all corners of the world to connect with each other towards this common, collaborative goal. Connecting to communities whose values and traditions differ from ours, extending a helping hand to those we’ve never met but with whom we are connected by the threads of humanity that bind us together, all by-products of the main mission to help children who find themselves surrounded by the tears or rips in humanity that war inevitably results in. A keynote speaker who bridges the distances and the differences between us and our fellow men, inspiring a group of people who are the face of our government for each and every person they interact with in the public sector. Inspiring them to connect with the communities they work in, to be so much more than the person behind the partition, on the other end of the telephone, or at the other end of the web-chat.

Connection is also an essential facet of yoga…connection to one’s self, connection to the teacher, and connection to the other practitioners with whom we are blessed to share the practice space and our energies. Without the ability to draw our attention inside through to the subtlest layers of consciousness, our ability to connect with others becomes jeopardized. That connection to the source provides the blueprint conducive to reaching out and sharing our realities with others, and being open and compassionate enough to incorporate what others are living into our realm of existence. Establishing those channels, allowing for the vital exchange of information and events, is what brings us together and reminds us that the connection we share is always present, but occasionally makes itself more apparent based on the events that shape our lives.

Whenever something happens on a global scale, we feel that connection without having to search for it. The recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile are perfect examples of this. Princess Diana’s shocking death, the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the 2004 tsunami in Asia…all the events that feel like tears or rips in the fabric of humanity, the vibration of our world changing in a heartbeat. Not all events, however, need to be traumatic to mark their passing on our collective journey…and despite my willingness to admit that sports are about as attractive to me as eating a bowl full of insects, I have to admit that watching the last 30 minutes of the Canada-U.S.A Olympic hockey match was a lesson in the unification of mankind for me. Initially drawn into the game by the insane media coverage, I was hooked within the first 10 seconds…I was logged onto Facebook, watching as update after update from the majority of my friends from all over the world scrolled down the index page…everyone cheering for Canada, the tension palpable, knowing everyone was on the edge of their seats (myself included, much to my surprise). The winning goal in overtime is what did it for me. Seeing the exact same exclamations of pride and congratulations exploding on the screen in front of me as horns started blaring outside in the streets, the overwhelming outpouring of love and unity, all of it left its mark on me, making me feel like I was plugged into the electrical current that was flowing straight across Canada and spilling over all around the globe. Any differences we may have had hours earlier before the game fell by the wayside as we all came together and celebrated, and it imprinted itself into my memory much in the same way the aforementioned events did. Growing up, I was surrounded by the adults in my life who remembered exactly where they were when JFK was assassinated, when Marilyn Monroe was found dead, when RFK was assassinated…and as I get older, I realize that the deaths of Diana, Michael Jackson, the horror of 9/11, the fall of the Berlin Wall, and countless other events that have changed the face of the world during my formative years have provided similar moments where time seems to have stopped for a millisecond, where the fabric of humanity is forever altered. The game tonight fell into that category, and the best part of the whole event is that there was no call for a collective outpouring of grief for a fallen icon, no wailing to the heavens for lives lost or communities shattered. Tonight’s game united more people than I could ever have imagined, and the beauty of that left me speechless (until I started typing, obviously!).

What I want to covey to everyone reading this is that the coming together that was demonstrated earlier tonight is something that needs not be relegated to the triumph of a sporting event or the tragedy of a natural disaster and the chaos that inevitably ensues. That connection exists 24/7…whether we choose to tap into it and to remind each other of its existence is up to us. Every second of every day holds the opportunity to do this, and every yoga class that we share is a reminder that we’re all in this together…uniting our breath and our intentions, consciously affiliating ourselves with each other…playing for the same team, an ever-growing swarm of awakened souls moving in the same direction, closer towards truth, light and love. We have the choice to live in the reality we want to see around us, it’s all a matter of flicking the proverbial switch we all have access to. This is the message I will bring to my classes at the convention centre this week…that connecting with each other is easier than we think, that it’s all a matter of intention and understanding that the current of connectivity is always flowing, that we have to visualize it as being something we just need to plug ourselves into. And like electricity itself, plugging in is all that’s needed…the results will be immediate and powerful, something we could easily get used to and have trouble living without…how nice would that be?

The Yoga of Food

So much of my time as both a student and teacher of Yoga is spent mulling over the concept of union. Union of the body, the mind and the breath, the union of energies between myself, a class full of students, and among the students themselves, the union of theory with practice to redefine our respective realities. Coming from the school of thought that we are all connected but have somehow distanced ourselves from one another, one aspect of the meaning of life, as far as I’m concerned, is the re-unification of mankind, with love being the guiding energy that will ultimately bring us back together. Confident in the knowledge that Yoga is one of the most effective systems of tools in bringing about that reunion, I surprisingly seem to have become somewhat complacent in my notion of the other possible roles that Yoga, and consequently union, play in my life.

I love what I do because I do what I love. Such a simple concept, yet amazingly elusive to so many, myself included until a couple of years ago. Because my profession consists of immersing myself in the studies and environment that I love, it can become ridiculously easy to compartmentalize what Yoga is to me and the parameters within which it exists in my life. These past couple of weeks have seen my interpretation of Yoga grow exponentially,  largely due to one book and one film. The book, In Defense of Food, and the documentary film, Food, Inc.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have been a meat-eater for as long as I can remember. My parents have always been and continue to be voracious carnivores, to the point where my partner jokes that after they’re done with their dinner, all that’s left is a perfectly clean section of the animal’s skeleton. Because I was raised in a family of meat eaters (even my grandmother swore that the remedy to a cold was a steak), I have long been reluctant to completely remove meat from my diet, despite my urge to eventually move towards a more plant-based diet. Talk about the play of opposites! I have always strived to do my best with the information I had been exposed to, in all facets of my life, which is the main reason that I always kept factory farm-related documentaries at arm’s length (ignorance = bliss?…not so sure)…I knew that once I had witnessed images of how my meat supply got from the farm to my table, I would most probably cut meat out of my diet altogether. I have been what is now so commonly referred to as a Flexitarian for years now, leaning heavily towards eliminating everything meat-related from my diet, but allowing for those moments when I found myself staring at a juicy steak at my parents’ dinner table, uncomfortable imposing my beliefs on those kind and generous enough to prepare a meal for me. Years of moving in this direction seems to have finally brought me to a place where I’m now ready to go vegetarian…and let me get this out now, before I go on: this is my choice for myself, not one I would ever impose on or even suggest for others. I believe that what we choose to feed ourselves, what we choose to put into our bodies, and how we choose to translate our beliefs into our daily rituals is painfully personal, never to be used as the gospel for all.

Watching the documentary showed me not only the horrors (cut to me literally pulling my eyes away from the tv screen) of factory farming, but also showed me the practices of the conscious animal rearer, some of which proved to be counterproductive in convincing me of how “ethical” the “ethical” slaughtering methods can be. That’s what pretty much did it for me. Seeing animals suffer like that, even if only for a millisecond, showed me how far I want to distance myself from the source and cause of that type of behaviour. And, again, what’s right for me is exactly that…right for me. I know how it feels to have someone else’s opinions and beliefs become overwhelmingly stifling when imposed on others, and the last thing I want to do is put people off. I support anyone who has made a conscious decision to live any and/or all aspects of his/her life in a way that pleases them…my partner, for instance, whole-heartedly believes that we derive from meat-eaters and to eliminate meat from his diet would prove detrimental to his overall health, and I completely support and respect his decision.

I suppose what I’m trying to present here is that if practicing the asanas involves the union of the mind, body and breath, then why not transfer the concept of unifying the body, mind and ingestion of food and liquids? Why not start becoming mindful of the words that come out of our mouths? The same could be applied to our thoughts…if the majority of our thoughts can be classified as useless because they involve us creating stories in our minds that are mainly based in assumptions or in the past, then why not start becoming mindful of the senseless waste of time and energy these thoughts initiate? Practicing Yoga, or union, in all aspects of our lives can only result in good…in taking responsibility and accountability for what we put out into the world, and ensuring that we reap what we sow…only good, only love, only light…amazing what we can cultivate with mindfulness…and Yoga.