Tag Archives: Yoga

Truer Words

As the first month of 2010 comes to an end, I find myself exactly where I hoped I would be when I mentally mapped out the changes in my life, the first steps of which were taken in late 2008. Leaving my earlier career behind meant spending 2009 hard at work and immersed in my studies, getting the education I needed to move towards working full-time as a yoga teacher and manager of a yoga studio. I basically gave myself two years to accomplish what I felt was the bare minimum to justify all the time and expenses that were invested in my new endeavours.

As I mentioned in my Quickpost from the first day of the year, I have never been fond of New Year’s resolutions, as I preferred to incorporate the changes I wanted to make in my life into my everyday existence as opposed to choosing one day out of the year to do so. Regardless, 2010 is the first year for which I took time to sit down and think about what I wanted to accomplish over the ensuing 12 months, and as uncomfortable as I was dealing with financial goals, I wrote them down regardless. My friend Vanessa once told me that despite not wanting to be motivated by money, we should never feel the burden of guilt from wanting to live life comfortably, without having to worry over finances. Her advice has become a pseudo-mantra for me, and so I found myself on January 1, 2010 writing my goals, some financial, others not.

Four weeks to the day, I find myself amazed and humbled by the workings of the universe. After working tirelessly coordinating and preparing my website (www.bramlevinsonyoga.com), after marketing myself with nothing but ambition fuelling my actions, I have started to see all the effort, hard work and time pay off in the form of private classes, corporate classes and requests to join studios to teach group classes. As incredible opportunity after incredible opportunity continue to present themselves, my appreciation for life continues to swell as does my gratitude to the people who have encouraged me and picked me up when I let discouragement get the better of me. My primary reason for shedding my past career was to see if I could create a professional life for myself that was capable of matching the perfection I am blessed with in my personal life, and I am now seeing that occur, which motivates me even more to continue on this path.

I’m sharing all of this for a reason…I want everyone who finds themselves in a situation that is not to their liking to understand an incredibly basic, but often incomprehensible truth: we are the masters of our lives, and we have the power to change our lives through hard work and a steadfast perseverance, never taking “no” for an answer. Throughout my life I have heard people say that hard work is the only road to success, and I’m not sure if I was ready to apply myself without knowing what I was working towards, or if I thought those words just fell into the growing pail of clichés I heard people slinging around. I now know that truer words have never been spoken.

Yoga is often described as “wisdom in work”, which might explain why it feels so natural for me to immerse myself in it daily, as it taps into the innate wisdom and energy we are all born with, yet conditioned to suppress as we buy into, or make agreements with, the values that society glorifies. As we get older, we continually make decisions based on how we can better integrate into the world we live in, regardless of whether those choices are really beneficial to us as individuals. The most we can hope for is that some of us have some sort of awakening which joggles us out of our dream of reality, allowing us to recognize that the decisions we’ve made may not have been the ones we really needed to make, and that it’s never too late to re-direct our intentions and efforts towards the life we know we could (and should) be living. Understanding that happiness does indeed lie in our own hands makes all the difference, all we have to do is make that connection. Practicing yoga is one of the best ways to change how we see the world we live in and our respective (and collective) roles in it. Unifying the body, breath and mind brings us back to the simplicities of life. Practicing postures we’re not entirely comfortable with teaches us to focus and breathe through life’s more challenging moments. Inverting the body in postures such as Sirsasana, Pinchu Mayurasana and Sarvangasana conditions us to look at everything from a different perspective. And that’s what it’s all about. Looking at the world with new eyes, with innocence and humility, always a student ready to learn, understanding that we are the managers of the blessings in our lives, that we do not own them.

So I continue doing what I’m doing, allowing my life to unfold into the perfect lotus flower I was dreaming of over a year ago, and I offer it up for all to see, as an example of what is, what can be, and what always was. And for that I’m grateful 🙂

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Just Do It

I’ve never been one to make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I often found it incredibly strange that I seemed to be in the minority of people not vowing to change some aspect of my reality and/or behaviour come the start of a new year. My reluctance is not rooted in any type of aversion to wanting to better one’s self, or having the clarity of mind and confidence to illuminate the darker recesses of one’s personality and behaviour, all of which I find quite commendable, actually. I simply found it odd that the majority of those around me felt the need to take advantage of one specific date out of the annual calendar to attempt to bring about positive changes in their lives. As far as I’m concerned, every day that I wake up in the morning is another opportunity to bring about the changes that I’d like to see, taking individual steps towards realizing my ideal self. Despite all this, I am definitely aware of the opportunities that a new year can offer, and so I felt compelled to mention a couple of things for those who are getting closer and closer to the imminent day of reckoning.

My relationship with change has come a long way from where it used to be, which was a place of stagnance and defiance. When I was younger, most of the change that occurred in my life was imposed on me by my parents and teachers, which I eventually bought into (or, as Don Miguel Ruiz, the author of The Four Agreements, would say, I made agreements with). Once I found myself in a position where I had control over my life, I found myself waiting for change to happen, at which point I would react in whichever way I found appropriate. Nonetheless, I allowed myself to hand over all of the power and opportunity that was available to destiny, hoping that good things did indeed come to those who waited. I lived like this until a couple of years ago, at which point I realized that my life was not unfolding in the manner that lived up to the standard that I held for myself, and that it was time to take control of the decisions and choices that would determine which paths my life would follow.

Making the decision to actively choose where I wanted my life to go was probably the hardest one I’ve ever had to make, because it involved breaking the agreements that I had made with my superiors when I was younger…and it wasn’t something that happened overnight. I gradually went through the better part of a year making sure that I wasn’t being hasty or irresponsible, while wanting to be able to procrastinate what I knew was inevitable. This incredibly drawn out process resulted in the ultimate truth: putting off any changes that we know will be beneficial to our lives simply because they’re daunting is a far greater waste of energy and time than simply making a decision and sticking to it. The amount of time I agonized over whether I was being foolish and impetuous was monumentally more taxing to my overall state of mind than if I had just decided to step up and do what had to be done. I got there in my own time, obviously, but I am now more conscious of my potential to accomplish what had previously been unimaginably intimidating, even impossible.

There is a concept that states that people lie to themselves constantly about the most significant and insignificant of events and subjects simply because to be 100% truthful would be paralysingly harsh. Due to our tendency to sugarcoat the truth to ourselves, we inevitably end up lying to each other because we are afraid that our imperfections will be evident, that they will be seen in the harsh light of reality, flaws and all. I was responsible for lying to myself about where my life was headed, and must have justified it ad nauseum to those around me simply to make myself feel better about it all. When I stopped lying, when I felt like I had no choice but to take the other available option, a quote by Nelson Mandela soon popped into my head that I had first heard in a yoga class and which stayed with me as a pseudo-mantra. Mandela’s quote is, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” A truism to remember always.

We can do anything we set our minds to. Granted, there are some that have higher obstacles to overcome, but regardless of where we’re starting from, the only person we have to answer to is ourself. In the coming weeks, and throughout the rest of our lives, the changes that we feel are inevitable, those that we’re afraid to incorporate into our lives but that we know are beneficial and that will bring us closer to our ideal selves should be actively pursued. We need to stop beating ourselves up about why we haven’t already taken these steps, and just take them. Nike’s motto “Just do it” is possibly the best advice anyone can ever be given. Think about flicking on a light switch – it’s that easy. Make the choice, take the decision to bring change into your life, and then stick to that decision until you see your life flourish as a result. Don’t get defeated and never take “no” for an answer. From my experience, taking the initial steps towards truth, beauty and light inevitably result in opportunities presenting themselves to help out along the way. If, for whatever reason, the end result is not what was initially desired, then at least an attempt was made and the rest of one’s life is not littered by “what ifs” and “I should have.” And if we end up living our lives in control of what happens to us as opposed to being ricocheted from event to event like a pinball, then we’re already a step ahead of the game. At least we did our best. That’s yoga 🙂

Enter Yoga

There’s no better time than the next couple of weeks to really put into practice all those concepts, ideas and philosophies we’ve been discussing in my classes over the past 6 months. The Holiday season is so multifaceted, and as non-dual as we try to be, there more often than not seems to be both beautiful and not-so-beautiful things about this time of the year, depending on our day-to-day existences and what we are exposed to and surrounded by. The uglier side of this time of the year was made glaringly obvious to me when I worked in retail, where I was privy to stressed out shoppers battling each other for merchandise to buy as gifts with money they rarely wanted to part with, all of which was exacerbated by having to line up to pay for said gifts while their parking meters ran out. I have also lived vicariously through the tales of familial woe relayed to me by friends who have grown to associate the Holidays with inevitable blowups between themselves and their parents/siblings/children/etc… Running into obstacles and conflict is par for the course at this time of the year, if only because almost everyone is living the exact same reality simultaneously, which is bound to result in chaos. Enter Yoga.

Yoga is described by millions of people as millions of things. I personally view Yoga as the opportunity to be the best version of ourselves possible, and to be able to project that version for anyone and everyone to see and be inspired by. The Yoga Sutras define Yoga as “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”, or for those Sanskrit lovers out there, “Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.” Using both these definitions, we can go into the craziness that typically is the Holiday season and practice equanimity, in the hopes that the way we approach, manage and reflect back on these opportunities to come together emerge forever changed.

Many of the Yogic texts and literature that I’ve come across speak to the impermanence that we live with, the ups and downs that we live through and which affect us all differently, based on our individual upbringings and adopted defence mechanisms. The Western approach to life is largely dictated by these events, which typically shape us and imprint themselves on our psyches, feeding the Kleshas that we are attempting to break free from. Understanding that life is inevitably a series of ups and downs is the first step in understanding how we can affect change in our own lives, and to those around us. When these events occur, whether they be negative or positive in the manner they imprint themselves on us, the best thing we can do is take note of what’s going on around us, and try to see it all from an objective point of view. I like to suggest seeing the events as if they were written down in a newspaper, as if they were happening to others…this gives us the opportunity to check ourselves before our egos and emotions get the better of us, and allows us to connect to our inner selves in order to deal with them. This does not mean that we don’t participate in what’s occurring, nor does it insinuate that we’re not affected by the events, but it does give us the luxury of assuming the role of observer, however temporary we adopt it. Understanding and recognizing the events that are fleeting, that are impermanent (regardless of whether the repercussions are permanent or not) also provides the opportunity to recognize that which is not fleeting, which is permanent and to which we should be directing our attentions to. The ties that connect us all to each other are permanent. Our innate, collective energy and essence is permanent. Love is permanent. Tuning into all of this through whatever form one’s meditation assumes is what will see us through life with the least amount of chaos and wasted energy, and is also the instrument that will change the way we see the Holiday season.

I’m not sure if it’s due to the first snowfalls, the opportunities to present each other with gifts, or the impending closure of the current year leading into a new one, but this time of year always seems magnificently energetic. The change in acoustics provided by a generous layer of snow definitely adds to that energy, but there really is such a vibration of peace all around us leading into the beginning of the new year. For myself, it most often takes the form of silence, the purest and most primordial silence in which I search for OM, the vibration of the universe that exists in, underneath, and in the absence of silence. The opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and inject the next 12 ones with hope and love also plays a role in that magical energy. Recognizing all the possibilities for beauty and hope that exist throughout our lives becomes so much more tangible as we move from one calendar year into another, and it is therein that lies the permanence that infuses our existence. Tapping into that allows us to recognize the stresses and traumas, and, conversely, the joys and triumphs, that occur in our lives as simply that: occurring. They do not define our lives, which is a very important distinction to make. These moments are temporary, and remembering and understanding that is what will get us through them with grace, humility and compassion.

I urge everyone to make the most out of the coming weeks…to appreciate what and who we have in our lives, to look for and find the common threads that unite us all, and to let the brightest, purest, least blurry version of ourselves to shine through for everyone to see. Live consciously and let yourselves be present in every given moment, and, most of all, don’t expend unnecessary energy and time on those “fluctuations of the mind.” It is in this mind-space that we can transition into 2010, and into another year filled with hope, love and spirituality. Happy Holidays to everyone, and the Happiest & Healthiest of New Years 🙂

Surprising Myself

I never graduated from college, nor did I even dip more than a toe into the proverbial university pond. As a student in high school I was bright and competent, graduating with honours and figured that I would continue to excel throughout the rest of my studies, which obviously would include at least one degree. Then I found myself in CEGEP, and everything I thought I had figured out for myself was turned upside down.

I enrolled in Creative Arts, which basically meant that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life and was content studying everything from English to Religious Cults and Sects. I liked what I was studying, without question, but the fact that I seemed to be going through the motions for no apparent reason aside from making my parents happy started to take its toll, and I found myself attending fewer and fewer classes until I eventually dropped out at the end of the first semester. It all boiled down to one thing: I felt like I was wasting my time. Nothing in my curriculum stood out as something that I could envision myself pursuing indefinitely, and so I took some time off to process the direction my life had veered off on, and then decided that I was being too self-indulgent, that no one loved what they studied and that I should just focus and get back to school. This time I figured that I should choose something more specialized, so I enrolled at Lasalle College in Fashion Marketing and Merchandising. Once again, I found myself mildly interested in the world I was being exposed to, and once again, I was feeling like I was wasting my time. This sentiment finally came to a head (once again at the end of the first semester) when one of our teachers announced to us that at the end of the 3-year, $12,000 program, we would be qualified to be a retail store manager. I wish I could have seen my face, because I literally heard brakes screeching in my head, and the first thought I was aware of after being granted that lovely tidbit of information was that I was once again wasting my time, and that if I wanted to be a retail store manager, I could do it on my own the old-fashioned way…by starting at the bottom and working my way up. So that’s exactly what I did. Looking back on it, I find it interesting that I had absolutely no interest in retail, but I suppose that I felt like I had been presented with a challenge and that I was going to do what was necessary to become a retail store manager. Once I had achieved my goal, I was approached by a head-hunter from another retailer and I went to work for a new retail company, where I stayed for 12 years. All because I wanted to prove something to myself.

So many emotions are intertwined in my past as a student as well as that of my past career. Because I never completed a program at a higher level of education, because I never got that ever-elusive degree, I always felt “less-than.” I felt like I had somehow failed, and it became my Achilles heel. Despite growing in my career and laying the foundation for the life I always wanted to live for myself, I always felt like the odd guy out, and it naturally became part of my psyche, allowing me to cast myself as inferior and with a minute, yet ever-present chip on my shoulder. I also find it fascinating that only now when I look back at the experience can I clearly see how incredible it was that I was so confident in my capabilities that I literally walked out of school, preferring to work my way to where I thought I should be as opposed to getting some sort of formal training. I have said before that I have an enormous amount of compassion for myself as a child and teenager, but this is the first time that I feel a sense of admiration towards who I was back then. Against everyone’s advice and at the expense of my own security, I did what I believed was right for me, and I was successful as a result of that.

Last month in teacher training (and shortly after my 36th birthday), I found myself in a familiar place – sitting among my teachers and fellow students, discussing postures and theorizing about philosophies and some of the yogic teachings. Participating in the exchange of ideas and experiences is such an integral part of this training that I was really taken by surprise when I heard my own voice in my head say, “This is my classroom.” I’ve been hearing it reverberate ever since. I never thought I would find that educational forum that I had been desperately lacking in my earlier existence, and I had absolutely given up on it, knowing that an academic life was not within the realm of what I wanted for myself, nor was a career as a business person. With those four words, I suddenly felt a great weight lift, and as much as I’d like to say that I can completely detach from my ego and not allow myself to react to the exterior factors Patanjali speaks about in the Yoga Sutras, I felt a rush of awareness and happiness wash over me, and I’m still somewhat recovering from it.

For the first time in my life, I love what I’m doing. I now understand what people mean when they say that there aren’t enough hours in the day, because I now am trying to accomplish so much with an apparent shortage of hours to do it in. I now understand ambition, whereas I used to think that ambitious people were simply motivated by something in their youth which propelled them to never give up, which inadvertently would result in their success. I feel like I have never been more comfortable in my own skin and that my path has never been more brightly illuminated, and I’m a little stunned that this has happened. Elated, but stunned. And, now, insanely empowered.

I want to see more guidance for those who find themselves in a situation similar to the one I slugged through when I was younger, trying to find my way. In a world replete with options, I found myself overwhelmed by the possibilities, which ultimately resulted in my withdrawing from that world. The more visible we are as a yoga community, the more chance there is of helping someone like who I was to find his or her calling and to steer that person towards their ideal classroom. Don’t misunderstand me – I would not change one thing about where my path took me, because I discovered monumentally more about myself that I would have in school, and that has allowed me to grow into who my ideal self was when I was younger. However, there were moments when I was crying out for someone to help me out in a way that would give me the direction I craved. I want to be that person who helps someone else out, and I want to be responsible for creating a movement or organization of like-minded yogis and yoginis who are able to band together and work towards a common, collaborative goal to illuminate the paths of others.

It has been 20 years in the works, but I have finally achieved a degree of achievement in my studies, and I think that it’s important for people to know that school really isn’t for everyone, at least not the conventional schools that see the hoards of billions pass through every year. I am fortunate enough to have arrived at a point in my life where I can let go of the inferiority complex that dug its way into my consciousness and made itself comfortable. And so I’m more grateful than these words can express.

 

If Not Now, When?

The Luna Yoga summer retreat last August at Spa Eastman was illuminating for many reasons, one of which had to do with a tidbit of information communicated to us by guest lecturer Eugénie Francoeur, a Radio-Canada reporter and meditation lecturer. She spoke to our group about the patterns of the mind, and to be more specific, the thoughts that jumble around in our minds. 85% of our thoughts are actually useless, which is to say that they do not provide insight, illumination or any help in planning on the path to accomplishing something. Instead of guiding us somewhere productive, these thoughts are spent worrying about what cannot be changed, mainly to do with what is in the past.

This statistic creeped back into the forefront of my thoughts yesterday when I was on my way home from my 2nd-to-last teacher training weekend. We were treated to another lecturer last night, Antoine Tinawi, a specialist in Ayurveda from The Art of Living, a volunteer-based foundation created by His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Antoine had many things to tell us, all delivered in an incredibly sweet and pure manner, à la Prabakar (one of the most memorable characters from my favorite book of all time, Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts). He talked to us about the Doshas, about food, about body characteristics and the Gunas, but the thing that stayed with me the most out of everything I heard was, “We live as if we have all the time in the world to obsess over the past and the future.” I’m still recovering from that one. Occasionally I read or overhear a phrase or idea that is the manifestation of my being, something that I consider to be so ingrained in my outlook and life philosophy that to have it exist outside of my being leaves me reeling. That occurred last night, and I’m still thinking about it.

I’ve spoken and written about how I feel our society is moving away from awareness into ignorance through sense of entitlement. About how teenage boys and girls today absolutely need to know where the rights that are afforded to them in today’s world came from, and what it took to get them. Girls need to know who Gloria Steinem is. Gay, lesbian, and transgendered community need to know who Matthew Shepard was. I could go on and on…any sub-culture that has any visibility has had to shed blood, sweat and tears to get it, and the way of the Western world today seems like fewer people are asking questions about the journeys that have led to today. The danger that exists in this complacency is potentially frightening, because, as we all know, the proverbial pendulum doesn’t only swing to one side. What swings to the right will inevitably swing back to the left, and vice versa. What dictates how far it swings is the momentum of ignorance that has built up before it starts moving again.

We are so insanely lucky to live where we live in today’s society. To be afforded the freedoms we have to pursue happiness, regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender or age. To be able to grow up assuming that those freedoms constitute our rights…that we’re somehow entitled to opportunities, to be able to choose how, where and with whom we spend our lives. On a global scale, we are in the minority, and it’s imperative that we remember this. We need to take every opportunity available to us to be thankful for the lives we lead, for the bodies we have that allow us to follow our paths and for the people around us who provide our safety nets, our extended families. We need to start living in the now, to stop obsessing over what exists in our pasts, and to not put an overt amount of significance in the future. Don’t get me wrong, now…it’s obviously wise and practical to plan financially and otherwise for where we see ourselves in the future, but we must always keep in mind that the future is as uncontrollable as the past. Nothing ever ends up being what we thought it would be, and is we really pay attention to how many of our thoughts consist of harping on what cannot be changed or affected, we’d probably be a lot more focused and productive, a lot less physically and mentally exhausted, and probably more accepting and compassionate of each other.

All I’m trying to say is that we can’t go wrong by living each moment to the fullest instead of looking back at what could have been or focusing on how we’d like to manipulate the future into being what we think it should be. It’s about appreciating and being present, about loving and sharing that appreciation with everyone around us. People will not only gravitate towards that kind of energy, but will want to embody it as well to pass it on, because at the core of that energy is the Truth. About ourselves and the world we live in. Where we came from and where we’re going. If we absolutely have to think about the past, then let’s agree to credit ourselves with having been as conscious and aware as we could have been, as productive, loving and compassionate as we could have been. And let’s agree that that energy is what lies ahead of us. More of the same. We may not necessarily be entitled to it, but we deserve it.

Calm Is The Morn

Costa Rica DawnI’ve started teaching an early morning class over the past month, and despite my initial (and ongoing) aversion to alarm clocks and the awkward fumbling along the wall to find the light switch in the darkness of the early hour, I’m surprised at how I look forward to each AM class.

According to the definition used by my friends, I would fall into the category of a “morning person.” I usually wake up before the alarm clock is set to go off, regardless of the time it’s set to do so…I don’t need a cup of coffee to get going, and I’m more often than not cheery and alert upon rising. Never having been a fan of breakfast (despite being fully aware of its benefits), I don’t need to eat to kick-start myself in the morning…I can just get up and go, no worries and rarely without a smile on my face. All of this does not, however, mean that I like doing it. In fact, there are few things in my life that I hold dearer than the fact that I rarely have to wake up before 9am. This reason for this may lie in my past career, where it was not unusual to have to be at work for 7am, which required waking up at 5:15am (something that has since been relegated to catching early morning flights). One of the many pleasures I have encountered since leaving that career behind is catching up on sleep. As far as I’m concerned, depriving one of sleep in the line of duty should be reserved solely for those saving lives…doctors, nurses, our brothers and sisters in the armed forces. As was my situation, selling clothes to people who are buying said merchandise as a form of therapy is unnecessary and will never be part of my reality again as long as I live. Having gotten that out in the open, and now having the opportunity to return from the tangent I found myself forging, nothing has surprised me more since starting the AM class than the overwhelming feeling of tranquility and connectedness that I find myself immersed in at 6:30 am outside waiting for the bus.

Standing outside watching the absence of light recede, hearing the om-like vibration of the silence that descended on the city overnight, feeling the ocean-like sound of my breath as it operates my body’s mechanisms, even making eye contact with my fellow early risers as we pass each other on our respective ways through the murky morning…there’s a certain perfection to being awake at that hour, regardless of all the other factors and how they play a role in creating an atmosphere. If I close my eyes and just focus on my breathing, I could easily convince myself that I’ve tapped into another level on consciousness, some primordial essence of being that has existed long before human beings and will outlast us by eons. It is commonly suggested that yoga be practiced during the wee hours of the morning as there are few distractions and more organic energy to tap into throughout the asana practice, and I now understand why. I have obviously gotten up earlier than usual to practice yoga throughout my years as a yogi, most consistently for my teacher training weekends, but I must have been so focused on getting there on time that I missed all the beauty and purity of those mornings.

Teaching the class also offers a meditative quality that rarely presents itself in my later classes. The tone, cadence and fluidity of my voice takes on a unique quality during those sessions that leaves me feeling as rested as I do after the most restorative of savasanas, and so I look towards these classes with anticipation each week, knowing that not only will my altered state benefit my students, but will leave me feeling like I managed to tap into an energy reserved for the select few, the fortunate ones, the ones who understand the validity and benefits to rising early.

I can’t say that I’ll be rousing myself from my slumber daily, or that I could easily go without as much sleep as I’ve grown used to over the past year, but my intention is to get myself up and receptive earlier, and more often, so that I can partake in that feeling of connectedness to the universe that has presented itself to me. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and feel free to try it out yourselves…and let me know what your observations and findings are 🙂

Who’s The Fairest?

An integral part of my yogic journey involves recognizing where my ego tends to appear (and take over) and how to separate it from everyday situations to ensure that I’m not purely thinking of myself, but rather of the more universal Self. At this point in time, checking my ego has been an excercise almost 10 years in the making, and I can’t help but think that it will take many more years to get where I’d like to be with that dissociation. Don’t get me wrong – I am far from selfish or self-absorbed, but it’s amazing how present the ego can be when you least expect it.

With all the changes that have gone on in my life over the past 12 months, I can’t help but feel a little flare-up of pride when I receive good feedback about any of my projects or endeavors. The way I’d been conditioned to learn was by receiving positive reinforcement upon completion of a subject or task, so despite having more personal satisfaction over the past year than I’ve ever had, I’m also hungrier for recognition and more ambitious than I’ve ever been. I suppose this is down to wanting to be the absolute best version of myself that I can be, which seems more loftier a goal than ever considering that a good part of my time now is spent as a student. In the past I’ve never been enamoured by what I was doing professionally, but was more motivated by who I was doing it with and the money I got paid for doing it. My motivation now seems somehow more organic, more of an expression of who I am, but that ends up being more of a double-edged sword, as nothing is more intimidating for me than putting myself out there for everyone else to see. Being that vulnerable and transparent means feeling the feedback ten-fold, whether it be praise or criticism (I must admit than any criticism I’ve received in this new chapter of my life has been solely constructive, for my own good with the best of intentions behind them, and the source of the best information I’ve yet received).

Once I had gotten in the habit of checking my ego at the first sign of an appearance, I started to notice how other people’s ego manifested themselves in their words and actions. Most of them time, the people seemed oblivious of it, but in other cases, it seemed to be the motivator behind those words and actions. What I observe daily is that people who work in different sectors display different degrees needing to have their ego fed. This need is obviously also affected by different upbringings in different environments, but where people end up spending their professional lives is sometimes a very telling marker of how they need to feel appreciated and how intensely their ego needs stroking.

The most obvious example of this would be people in the entertainment industry. The most successful performers of our time, the greatest entertainers who are the most at ease on a stage in front of tens of thousands of people, are very often the biggest egomaniacs of our time. I sometimes think that these people are also the ones who were missing some key element in childhood, some opportunity to bond with a parent or loved one that proved elusive. As a result, the rest of their lives are spent looking for that bond and the person attached to it. Having a stadium or arena full of people adoring and paying to see an entertainer of this caliber would definitely be the most extreme version of an ego getting what it thinks it needs, but this is not always the case. If you speak to or listen to any of these entertainers talk about their experience, the most commonly discussed issue that arises is that instead of walking away from the experience sated and nurtured, the opposite occurs, leaving the entertainer feeling more alone and isolated than ever. Nothing can ever take the place of the bonding that occurs in early childhood, and so some of the most successful, egomaniacal people are simply looking for that bonding.

Obviously, not everything is black and white. There are highly successful people who love what they do and perceive financial compensation, adulation and praise as by-products of the gig, but not necessarily the motivating factors. The ego probably plays a role in somewhere in the equation, but the benefits of helping others often serves as the imprint that keeps them going. There are doctors, lawyers, spiritual advisors, and countless others that walk away from clients knowing that they have aided in changing people’s lives for the better, and now that I’ve been teaching yoga and living all that it encompasses, I can see how why it keeps people going. I had always heard the expression, “To help others is to help yourself,” but I always thought it sounded like a contradiction – if the aim is to help others, then I shouldn’t be concerned with helping myself. I now, however, understand it.

Most of the literature I’ve read about spirituality, be it Yoga, Kabbalah, Buddhism, Hinduism, all of it points to the fact that despite being separate waves, we are all still individual components that make up the same ocean, and we all share the same source. From that perspective, it makes sense that if we all are from the same source, sharing the same energy, then to help someone is to help oneself. And to help oneself is to help everyone, thanks to the thread of continuity that binds us all together.  Tthe satisfaction and contentment that comes from helping others has allowed me to be more at ease in my career now than I ever was.

Teaching a yoga class is proving to be the best way to remove the ego from my environment. Giving it all up, my words, my breath, my energy, my intention, and seeing the manifestation of my instruction take shape through the students’ postures leaves me with a feeling that only reinforces my belief in what I’m doing. As meditative as their practice is, I’m finding an equally meditative aspect in teaching…the cadence and inflections of my words and voice and the vibrations that are produced in my body by the continual stream of instruction is proving to be a greater teacher than I ever could have imagined. It’s in these moments that I realize the value of removing the ego from the equation, when I sense the truth at the base of our collective existence rising up, making a rare appearance. And so I keep on going, becoming more and more comfortable teaching and practicing, more and more certain of the value of what I’m doing (all the while knowing that I’m simply managing something that works through me without being deluded into believing that I own it). And so I’m grateful 🙂

Touchy, Touchy

Today is a day to relax and recover somewhat from this weekend, which was the latest installment in my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training, and it was intense. As is sometimes the case with yoga, it was grueling physically, mentally and emotionally (breathing through the physical aspect of it usually drums up the mental and emotional issues that define who we are and how we react to different situations). This morning finds me a little quieter and a little more sore than usual (and a tad more humble, me thinks!). Something we discussed over the weekend has kept creeping back to the forefront of my thoughts, so I figured why not try to make sense of it all by posting it up here?  An article was read to us on the subject of touch; the role it plays in different societies, and its significance in creating and maintaining bonds that link people one to the other. As a yoga teacher, it is my responsibility to not only be confident with the adjustments that I administer to my students, but to know how and when to touch and to not be irresponsible in the execution of the adjustments. To understand the responsibility that we have as teachers and human beings, we need to understand the significance and the science of touch.

North America is considered to be a “low touch” culture, one in which we are more concerned with the idea of personal space than with how we can assist each other by maintaining some sort of physical contact. In a society where the ever-elusive drives the masses to exhaustion and people are withdrawing from the workplace after having “burned out”, I would have hoped that someone in a position of influence would have bothered to look at what we lack as a culture. But that’s not the North American way. Why would we ever admit to being “less than”? It’s this false pride that has brought our society to where it is, and we need a wake-up call. Now.

The medicinal aspects of touch date back over the last 2500 years. Known to decrease stress and increase dopamine and serotonin levels, touch actually boosts the immune system. More impressive than the benefits of touch are the results of touch deprivation. A medical condition named Marasmus (Greek for “wasting away”) was discovered in the 1800’s after a slew of small infants died of starvation. The cause for this ended up being lack of constant physical contact between the child and the caretakers. The children literally wasted away from not being touched. Ironically for us as Westerners, the first thing that a doctor does when delivering a child is to place the child on the mother’s chest and into the mother’s arms. That initial contact is vital to creating the life-long bond that only exists between a mother and her child.

The power of touch is almost other-worldly. Speech, for all its effectiveness and precision, is sometimes less effective as a communication tool than touch can be. Touch can convey a myriad of emotions and intentions: love, grief, affection, disappointment, reassurance, emphasis, anger, aggression, assistance, defensiveness, instruction, congratulations, therapy, punishment, pity, sexuality, sympathy, and the list goes on and on…What serves as the toll of differentiation behind each instant of contact is the intention behind it. Sometimes touch can convey what words and deeds cannot, and it is in these moments of truth and purity that technology and scientific advances take a back seat to what has existed since the dawn of humanity.

As a yoga teacher, I have seen many people’s relationships to touching and being touched. Some students admit to the possibility of being touched by the teacher as a major motivator in getting them to class, as it’s the only interpersonal contact they’re getting in their life. Some students feel that being adjusted is some form of criticism of their form and, ultimately, their practice. Some believe that to not get adjusted during class is a form of abandonment, of being overlooked. Others freeze up when they get adjusted, maintaining a rigidity in their alignment, giving me the impression that they are set in their body positioning and in their minds and do not want assistance. These are usually the same people who approach me after class to let me know how much they loved the class and can’t wait for the next one. Everyone has a different relationship with touch, and walking the fine line that links us to each other is the job of the yoga teacher, one that I take extremely seriously but that will not ultimately alter my method of teaching. I believe that with mindfulness and the correct intention, my students will only benefit from the contact I make with them, and that in some cases, that contact can re-define what they deem as a healthy avenue of communication. I’ve always been an affectionate person, a massive fan of hugging and a believer in the power to communicate the intensity of an emotion with the aid of touch. Funneling this aspect of my character into a yoga setting takes some care, but it’s something I’m happy to do. It’s this kind of influence that makes me proud to be able to do what I do. The ability to help (and potentially heal) others brings a validity to my profession that until this period in my life proved elusive.

Let me know what you think about all this…what your viewpoints are on touching and being touched, on and off the yoga mat. And don’t be afraid to reach out to someone who may need that extra bit of affection or support…sometimes simple contact is all that we need.

The Virtue of Patience

My partner and I have spent the last week shower-deprived while a contractor re-tiles our shower’s walls and floor, and I have found myself not only having to completely re-organize my daily routine, but having to check myself every time I feel a twinge of impatience in my rush to see the final result. Taking baths instead of showers, throwing my regular daily routine of events completely off-kilter, having construction materials lying around…it’s all proven to be somewhat of an eye-opener.

I’ve always preferred taking a shower instead of soaking in a bath. Despite never having given it much thought, I now can see that I probably preferred the methodical process of showering as opposed to the somewhat stationary, less active process of bathing. Having come to that realization, I must admit that nothing beats a nice hot bath at the end of a long day, especially those days that I both teach and then take a yoga class. It has proven to be a welcome opportunity to wind down and get ready for my night at home.

As the contractor has been arriving earlier in the mornings than my usual wake-up time, I’ve also been rising earlier, something that I’ve never been fond of and that I don’t subject myself to unless necessary (one thing that many of my fellow yogis are probably berating me for 😉 ). I don’t have a hard time getting out of bed earlier, but I do get the feeling that my body wouldn’t mind being guided back to bed for another hour or two. Because I’m rising earlier, I’m obviously tired earlier come evening and find myself falling asleep without my regular lullaby-esque habit of reading myself into my slumber. Although I do love reading right before I drift off, I have discovered that there is a certain bliss in falling asleep within minutes of my head hitting the pillow, and I now find myself looking forward to those minutes with a certain reverence and anticipation.

As for the construction materials lying around, I’m perceiving that whole moment as one of the best tests I could be presented with. I grew up in an über-clean household where my mother always had a cleaning woman coming in at least once a week; the type of household (and the type of mother) where the bedroom needed to be tidied up for the cleaning woman’s imminent arrival and the dishes needed to be rinsed before going in the dishwasher. Everything had a place of its own where it needed to be, and there were lots (and lots) of little things decoratively lying around (anyone with 2 Aquarian parents will understand exactly what I’m talking about). As much as I rebelled against that kind of structure while I was living with my parents, I inevitably found myself keeping the proverbial torch alive once I moved into my own home. Maniacally wiping down surfaces, washing dishes, laundry and, occasionally, my dogs, I found myself suffering from a textbook case of Stockholm Syndrome where I (as the victim) begin identifying with my mother (my captor). I know…somewhat of a minor exaggeration (a proclivity I’ve also inherited from my mother), but true nonetheless. Having all the construction stuff lying around has pretty much broken me. I’m not going lie – I still vacuumed the entire floor of the loft this week, but I left all other surfaces dusty (success!!), and I had WAY more time to devote to the rest of my day. I never realized the freedom afforded to messy people. Consider me informed!

All this rambling culminates in the fact that I’m not the most patient of people, at least not when I’m dealing with myself. When it comes to helping or listening to others, I’m your man, but not apparently when those niceties are solely beneficial to yours truly. Ironically enough, the tests that I find myself currently presented with are of my own doing…after all, I hired the guy to come do the work. We work in mysterious ways, don’t you think? I like the fact that my routine has been turned upside down and inside out. I love observing who I am through the ways I react (or don’t react) to things, and my finding the ability to step beyond myself while looking back at what is visible to others is a feat accomplished solely due to my yoga practice. Being able to focus my attention inwards has resulted in the ability to step beyond myself and see things objectively, mainly myself. Paying attention to my breathing has given my mind something to focus on, instead of impatiently waiting for whatever I’ve imagined the end result in any given situation to be. All this to say that what has been reinforced throughout the past week has been how interesting the journey can be if we’re awake to it regardless of the final destination (even if that involves a sparkling, newly-tiled shower).

Let me know what you think 🙂

Where I Am

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

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

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

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

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

This is where I am.