Mountain Meltdown

It sure is hard holding stuff in, putting on a brave face, trying to be strong, denying instead of accepting…the energy it takes to conceal, ignore, suppress, and control can be exhausting. Sometimes you don’t even realize just how much emotional weight has accumulated. Maybe you can cover it up for awhile but at some point, often unexpectedly and maybe at an inopportune time, you have to crack. And crack I did right there on the Trans Canada Highway with the mountains drawing it out of me like magnets. It was like they whispered, “It’s okay, let it rip and give all your heartache, anger, frustration, grief, worry, doubt, and fear to us because we will ground it…we will ground you…”. So I pulled off the highway along a road leading to a frozen lake, and trudged through the snow to face those majestic hunks of rock. I wasn’t looking for solutions, answers, or explanations. I just wanted to get out of my head and release whatever it was that was tightening around my heart and weighing me down.

All I had to do was let go of the energetic grip and open my heart. All I had to do was take a few long, deep, fresh breaths. All I had to do was say to the Universe, to God, to myself…”Okay, so be it…lead me from the darkness into the light” and then let the tension drain away. And when I said it, felt it, and believed it, then drain away it did, with those mountains there as non-judgmental witnesses gently yet firmly encouraging me to let it all go. I also wasn’t alone…all the souls of my loved ones, both here and gone, were there supporting me, too.

Ehagay Nakoda Range

I like to think that these mountains have magical powers of healing. Maybe that’s why I am so moved when I see them. For someone else, maybe the ocean would do it, or a forest, or a beautiful piece of music…whatever makes one step back in awe and helps put things in perspective is just the catalyst we sometimes need for transformation, growth, repair.

Feeling a million times lighter, I wiped my tears, thanked God, and carried on my way with a smile. I know I will need to do this over and over again, not necessarily in the mountains, but every time I step on my yoga mat or sit in meditation or walk out into my backyard…the key is to keep on letting go, keep on opening my heart, and keep on listening to those nudges from the Universe. I might need a helping hand once in awhile and I will reach out trusting that the right hand at the right time will fall into mine…

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Your Summer Retreat

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Summer is here with the anticipation of sunny days, spectacular sunsets, and hopefully some more down-time in your life. Where do you go to retreat from your busy routine? A cottage on a lake? A tent in the woods? A day at the spa? Or maybe your own backyard? One of my favourite places to retreat when I need a break is my own patio, where I can curl up in my comfy green chair overlooking the garden, and simply take a breath. And when I need even more space, into nature I go…

The definition of the verb “retreat” is to withdraw, to step back, to move away from something. And it’s in this moving away from something that we create space…space physically, mentally, and emotionally. In stepping back we can see from a broader angle and look at the thing we’re moving away from with a different perspective. Then we can make a conscious choice to proceed, whether that means walking away or turning right back around to face that “thing”.

Think of the many “things” that we might want to retreat from in our fast-paced lives: time-consuming projects and tasks, challenging situations, difficult people, noise, clutter, family and work demands, negative thought patterns, health issues, financial concerns…Such circumstances, conditions, and states are the reality of modern life. Running away to escape might seem like a good option but we may then forever be running as life deals us a new “thing”. We might think, “If I can just get past this ‘thing’, then everything will be okay”. But the Universe often has other plans for us and it turns out that the “thing” has something to teach us. Sometimes it’s just hard to learn the lesson…

Conscious awareness or MINDFULNESS is a great way to BE with our stuff of life. It teaches us to be present with whatever is there in our bodies, minds, hearts or surrounding environment, whether unpleasant or pleasant. It requires that we slow down and take notice. It asks that we step back in the moment (retreat) and allow space for what is there in your own backyard. But sometimes it is helpful (and perhaps necessary) to move beyond your backyard into a totally different space in order to re-calibrate and re-balance your energy, away from the usual environment that holds all those stressors and challenges of daily life. Whether that is in the form of an organized retreat or taking a day off work or just going for a walk in the forest out of the noise of the city, find some way to step back and make space regularly. It’s an important gift you can give to yourself…

Have a safe, happy summer…maybe I’ll see you on retreat!

 

What The Yoga Mat Said

And the yoga mat said, “Good morning, Daya. Come and sit for awhile…and tell me all about what’s going on in your body, your heart, and your mind…”

Yesterday when the mat called out, Daya said, “No I’m too busy”. And the day before that, she said, “No, I’m too tired”. And the day before that, she said “Okay I’ll come see you later…”, but she never did…because other things got in the way.

Today the mat beckoned again and she answered the gentle call. The mat said, “Just sit…and breathe…and take in the sounds and smells of nature around you. You can laugh on me, cry on me, stomp on me, sleep on me…You can BE any way you need to BE and I won’t judge. I will hold you up…and help you let go. Please visit me every day, and I promise your life will transform.”

Daya spent a long time on her mat that morning, moving and breathing and feeling…she even cried a bit and the mat let her be. She almost fell over in triangle pose and laughed…and the mat let her be. She snorted her way through Kapalabhati breathing and let out a huge sneeze…and the mat let her be. She sat quietly on her cushion, and watched her mind jump all over the place until it slowly settled. And later as she lay down in Savasana with the sunshine on her face and her faithful mat gently supporting her, she let go…

There on her mat, Daya expanded beyond her body, beyond her backyard, and into the blue sky above.

Tomorrow might be a whole different experience – it’s not always blissful on the mat. But Daya will be there…no matter what.

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WELCOME 2016

FEEL…GROW…TRANSFORM…EXPAND…these are my intentions for the new year. Whether I’m in the wintry snow-laden landscape of my own backyard or on a sun-drenched tropical island, wherever I go…there I am…with another opportunity to be more present in my body, heart, and mind.

Before my yoga classes begin for the 2016 winter session (see About Anne’s Yoga Classes) I’m spending some time beyond my backyard to appreciate the colours of life in Jamaica. Sure it’s a tropical holiday by the ocean…but it’s not a crazy resort getaway. In the comfort of a private villa, we have everything we need and more, including an attentive staff who are becoming more like friends. A small intimate group of nine we are…who alternate between moments of boisterous hilarity at the table playing cards and quiet solitary contemplation by the water. Right down to the three little squid who seemed to play tag with us while we were snorkelling, there is an energetic flow of giving and receiving. Here in this space, in this moment, in the company of new and old friends, I feel expansive…Let the new year begin!

One month later…

…and the “force” is still with me! My practice has morphed into a nurturing and soul-satisfying routine of meditation, mantra, asana, pranayam, and meditation…but different from day to day as it needs to be. I feel lighter, expansive, creative, and motivated – so much so that “stuff” that has not been dealt with in a long time is now getting its overdue attention. That includes the mess in my bedroom – GONE. The pile on my desk – FILED. The dust collected on the shelf – CLEANED. The grudges, the what-ifs, the judgement, the worry – VAPORIZED…at least some of them. So much more to be done, of course, in this de-construction of old unserving ways but the point is the work IS being done. Already obstacles have fallen squarely in my lap and rather than choosing to run away, ignore, or retaliate I jumped right in. I mucked around and let myself feel all those emotions that come with resistance – frustration, anger, worry, fear – we all know those feelings well but we don’t always let ourselves feel them because they are yucky. Once enveloped in the muck of “yuckiness”, I heard one of my teacher’s voices reminding me to AUTO-SHIFT into a more expansive state and there I stayed until my mind cleared. Then I tackled the obstacle in a much better way – lo and behold I discovered it was not my obstacle after all. It was someone else’s that perhaps I actually planted in my own path…Interesting. More to come on what “auto-shifting” is in another blog post…

As I sit here composing, I’m feeling all mushy and warm as I remember some of the sights/sounds/smells of my Indian backyard. Every time I go through my photos I smile. Here are some memories worth sharing (now that I have decent internet access…).

The view of the Himalayan foothills from the ashram

View of Himalayan foothills from ashram

During our free time we maneuvered our way through the noisy marketplace to grab a chai, seek out internet access, make a long-distance call, or stock up on toilet paper at the organic grocery store. Cars, buses, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, cows, dogs, and pedestrians all share the same road, going different directions all at once. Mayhem…yet somehow organized…sort of…

Busy marketplace on a Saturday afternoon

Monkeys came to visit once in awhile, looking for food. We were cautioned not to smile or show our teeth to them in case they took it to mean a threat! The black-faced monkeys with the long tails seemed friendly while the red-faced, red-bummed monkeys were a little more aggressive and bold…likely to snatch at your backpack it they thought it was edible! This black-faced monkey was friendly and loved eating the dried apricots we fed him. Oops, confession time – we weren’t supposed to feed them…It was just once. Really.

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Cows…everywhere…and where there are cows, there is poop. And lots of it. Some cows were huge and bumpy, like this one. Others were skinny and clearly diseased. Some families were blessed to own one or more cows, and tended them in pens smack in the middle of a residential area. Most of the ones we saw just roamed around freely, eating whatever they could find…including garbage.

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The Ganges River may be considered one of the most polluted rivers in the world but at the same time, it is regarded as a very holy and sacred place to wash away negative energy, connect with the spirits of the ancient sages and those of our ancestors, send healing wishes to loved ones in need, and to bestow peace upon the entire planet. From our northern location, closer to the very source, the water was cleaner and fast moving – not stagnant. A current was felt and seen not only in the water, but within our hearts as we spent quiet time beside this grand river.

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India is colourful, in so many ways. From the bright orange of marigold malas and saffron robes of “Babas” or holy men, to the astonishing array of colour choices at the sari shop; from the red flower pots of the ashram garden to the bright faces of children; from the yellow of turmeric-laden chickpea lunches to the greens of the food market stalls; from the honking multi-coloured buses full of excited tourists to the over-crowded blue tuk-tuks…Everywhere there is the vibrancy of life in living colour. Why is it that here in the West, we seem to be obsessed with the colour (or “non-colour”…) black?? Because it makes us look slim? Because it’s a symbol of power, status, and trendiness? It carries the energy of heaviness…and we wonder why we often feel so blah…

ORANGE

ORANGE!

GREEN

GREEN!

RED

RED!

PURPLE

PURPLE!

Our daily diet of rice, dahl, mashed veggies, dates, and chapatis served in a stainless steel divided dish would fail miserably in “Hell’s Kitchen”; I could just hear Gordon Ramsay complain about presentation, flavour, and lack of spice…But our food was nourishing to our bodies, calming to our minds, and easy on our digestive system. We had a few memorable special meals at the ashram – a much-anticipated weekly treat of pappadums with kitchari, breakfast banana samosas with tamarind sauce, a blob of fresh organic yogurt after our mega-detox, and a delicious concoction of peas in some sort of gravy we had only once…But the real treat was a group outing to a restaurant attached to a Krishna temple. Finally, a taste of real Indian food with rich flavour and sauces and paneer cheese and sweet carrot halwa and chai…on a real plate with a fork and knife and not sitting on the floor but on a chair!! I can still taste it…

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So many memories and experiences too numerous to document…and while there was often a desire to preserve every wonderful moment in time by grabbing the camera, there was more importantly the need to be in the moment and simply feel it. I have my own private photo collection of new friends, fellow teachers, and what feels like an extended family. Such treasures are indelibly imprinted into my mind, but it sure is nice to pull up a pic once in awhile…especially as a reminder that one can actually wear a sari, sit on the floor, and eat with one’s fingers, and still feel like an Indian princess! Hari Om!

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Illumination

One of my favourite Vedic mantras is the Jyotir Mantra. I like that it is short and sweet, but its meaning has so much depth.

OM ASATO MA SAT GAMAYA

TAMASO MA JYOTIR GAMAYA

MRITYOR MA AMRITAM GAMAYA

In Sanskrit it has a beautiful vibration to it; in English it means:

LEAD ME FROM THE UNREAL TO THE REAL,

LEAD ME FROM THE DARKNESS TO THE LIGHT,

LEAD ME FROM DEATH TO IMMORTALITY.

This mantra totally sums up my time here in India. I felt so drawn to this place when I first began to plan over a year ago…something was leading me here to show me the “truth” about myself. Gazing inward is not an easy task; there are things we don’t want to see in ourselves or things we’ve been trying to push way down hoping we don’t ever have to deal with the pain again. But there are also wonderful things we never imagined in ourselves that can rise to the surface and blossom. Being REAL is allowing it all – the depth of feeling that can take us from sadness or grief to great joy and bliss.

I recall reading a particular translation of the Yoga Sutras where there was often a reference to an “illumined one”. I love this – it makes me visualize a light bulb over one’s head or a glow from one’s heart center. Lead me from my OWN darkness into my OWN light; let me hold up the mirror, wipe it clean, and really see my spark. Let me be that “illumined one”…Because when I can see the light in me, it helps me to see it in everyone else. Maybe this sounds all new-agey and “holy moly”…but seeing the light in others will help me on those days when I’m stuck behind a person at the bank machine who is slowly paying ALL her bills, or when I’m running late and the guy driving in front of me is going too slow, or when my son leaves Kraft Dinner in the pot to solidify overnight, or when my flight is delayed…

From death to immortality…hmmm. For me this is not about reincarnation or about “living” forever. It is about being okay with not being here. One of our guests, Yogi Ram, said it quite beautifully – “living life is about learning how to die”. In my last breath, I want to be able to surrender just the way I did when I had my kundalini moment – no fear, no regrets, no attachments. So if I have no idea when my last breath will be, I better make darn sure that every breath I take is filled with love, gratitude, and awareness, even if that breath is not an easy one to take. Not wasting time on the stupid stuff, not expending unnecessary energy on judgement or criticism or negativity, not wishing things were different. As an anonymous person wrote: “It’s okay to be gone, as long as when you’re here, you are really here”. That’s what makes the memory of YOU immortal…

So as I prepare to return to my own backyard, I silently re-play this mantra in my head as a reminder. Wherever my backyard is, I plan to truly BE there. To my family and friends, help me BE that light and hold up the mirror when I forget.

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The New Old Me

Oh sweet transformation…revelling in the blissful feeling of contentment and joy. Every day I’ve been feeling grateful and happy, and living in the moment. No, I am not walking around “in a cloud of patchouli” (as one of my teachers would say), nor have I traded my jeans for a crimson robe. While I chant mantras daily and welcome the expansive feeling of spiritual energy in my practice, I still crave a good latte and long for a pedicure. I still have my moments of frustration, impatience, and anger, but I have some new tools to help me manage them.

The “new” part of me is the happier, more aware self who knows without a doubt that I am worthy, I am valuable, I am love, and I have a voice. The “old” part of me was always just that…only I didn’t really see it. It was covered up by layers of doubt, guilt, attachment, and belief that I “should” do/be/act in a certain way. This experience in India has allowed me to peel away these layers to reveal that which was already there…

This will be a work-in-progress and many more layers will need to be shed. I realize I am living in a totally different environment at the moment than my “real” life. How will I be when I am back at my desk, when I’m in the packed grocery store line-up, when I’m doing piles of laundry? Is it possible to live an authentic life in our crazy egocentric “do more – achieve more” western world? Even the ancient yogis had advice on that without having a clue just how crazy the world would be…The Bhagavad Gita teaches that it IS possible to lead a spiritual life AND do your work in the world. Through love, right action, and letting go of the outcomes, we can make it. That is so encouraging to me…

Before I left, my sister said, “Don’t come back all weird…” Not to worry – it will be the new old me heading home, with a big smile and an even bigger heart.

Into the Mystic?

On the journey of spiritual self-discovery, us explorers are often driven by the search for that great mystical experience that will enlighten us…or at the very least, give us an answer, ANY answer to whatever it is we are questioning about life. Whether it is in the solitude of a cave in the mountains, a vision quest in the forest, a pilgrimage to a sacred site, sitting at home on your own meditation cushion, or even standing in the Produce department of the grocery store…sometimes we are waiting for that one big A-HA moment that makes it all seem clear (whatever “IT” is…). I have to admit that part of me was kind of hoping for that here in India – maybe I would have a big “samadhi” moment and I would be transformed from one who doesn’t get it to ONE WHO DOES GET IT.

Here in India, we are learning breathing techniques and meditative practices that all assist in cleansing our bodies and clearing our minds in order to create the conditions for insights to occur. Because we are immersed in the practice daily, there are many opportunities for clarity and there have already been a lot of “lightbulb” moments where we are starting to figure things out. But the big revelation for me came after a series of Kundalini classes.

In addition to our teacher’s signature Hatha-Raja practice and the Akhanda holistic yoga we are studying, we have been learning Classical Kundalini. This is an advanced practice that includes mantra, movement, and breath…LOTS of breath. So much breath it is rightly called “breath of fire”. It heats you up, and makes energy move, and when energy moves it comes out in very interesting ways. This release or manifestation of kundalini energy moving up can often be un-nerving and downright freaky. Some of us were shaking like mad, some had tears, some barely felt a thing, and some were just looking on not sure of what to think! At first it scared me…and like anything out of my comfort zone, I didn’t like it. I tried to resist and the shaking just kept on. After a few more classes, Q & A sessions, and the assurance that this is indeed ok, I decided to change my perspective and go to the class without expectation, judgement or negative attitude. That’s when the remarkable happened…

As we progressed through the chakras, an electric feeling moved up my spine and as the energy grew stronger I reached a crossroads point. I could resist or I could surrender…and I chose surrender. For me this was THE pivotal moment because I took a breath, relinquished all control, relaxed my forehead (I can still hear my teacher, Vishva-ji, telling me to soften), and gave myself over to the experience. I made the decision – this was so empowering! How many times in my life when faced with challenges have I held back, doubting myself, questioning, digging my heels in wanting things to be different? How many times have I fought acceptance and preferred to live in denial? How could I have thought this was freedom, when in fact I was still stuck in my own perceptions of what was right?

Surrender doesn’t mean giving up…it means giving over to what is. In that moment during my yoga class, I did not feel fear, I did not worry, I did not cling, and I didn’t even try to hang on to any blissful feeling. Without any attachment or aversion, in that moment I truly was just ME, completely free. It is very difficult in words to explain this…it was the most free I have ever felt.

What happened next was actually insignificant (even though it was the most incredible electric feeling that ran all the way up my spine, into my arms and legs, and up the back of my head to my ears) compared to my moment of choosing to let go. The great mystical experience turned out to not be the end result after all (i.e. the full body sensations of electricity), but rather it was precisely the moment before, when I chose SURRENDER.

In the days since, I have felt clarity like I’ve never felt. I have felt compassion, and unity and an even deeper love for my friends and family whom I miss so much. I have felt so happy, like a weight has been lifted. Turns out that I am not one who does not get it after all… I am one who feels IT. IT is connection, IT is love, IT is God…I am trying to practice this surrender in all moments and I have to say, it is a wonderful way to live.

Holy Crap

The whole purpose of a cleanse is to get the sludge out of your body and bring your system back into balance. Therefore, it kind of goes without saying, that one will be running back and forth to the bathroom. However, with the detox we just did at the ashram, I had no idea it would be more like bee-lining to the can over and over and over again, all night long…We started by drinking about a litre of warm salt water with lime, then we did 4 yoga poses to help get things moving. We drank and did our poses until it was anywhere from 8 – 10 litres or more. Once the flood gates opened there was no turning back! But I have to say that the whole process was kind of fun because we were all doing it together, everyone cheered when someone had “success” and ran to their room, and for those who seemed to be pretty plugged up there was personal attention by our wonderful resident nurse and an enema tube!

Our bodies felt physically exhausted afterwards so rest and quiet followed the big “party”. Now it was time to deal with the detoxing of the mind, emotions, feelings…Interesting to observe what came up. In myself I seemed to run through the gamut – apprehension to motivation to pride to giving up to judgement to acceptance. But what I most noticed were the cravings, the desires, the aversions. Our diet dramatically changed to support this cleanse so kitchari (a soupy combo of rice, beans, some crunchy things and spices) and ghee (SO much ghee…) became our staple. While excellent for nourishment and re-balancing of our systems after cleansing, it doesn’t offer much in the way of pleasing our taste buds. And this is where all the cravings set in…

It made me analyze my relationship to the food I eat. My body requires nutrition to function optimally but so often what I choose is based more on what appeals to my senses. The smell of coffee is enough to hook me (even though coffee is so acidic and totally wrong for my Pitta dosha); the look of perfectly melted cheese on an all-dressed pizza; the colourful sprinkles on a Tim Horton’s donut…my senses seem to choose my diet, not my sensibility. But what I’m learning here through Ayurveda and from experiencing how I feel after a sattvic diet, is making me realize more and more that WE ARE WHAT WE EAT. To infuse our bodies with the best energy (prana) possible, it has to start with what we take in. And that is from all aspects – not just our food but what we breathe, what we watch, what we are exposed to, who we hang out with. And if we think we don’t have a choice, we actually do. We can say no…

Before we eat every meal, we join in to chant a mantra that acknowledges a Higher Power that pervades all things, including our food. The offering (organic food lovingly grown and brought forth from the earth), the receiving (of the meal that has been mindfully prepared), the energy that we consume (and is transformed in our bodies). Like a Vedic saying of “grace”, we tune in to this Higher Power and feel gratitude and connection. So thinking of this changed my cravings and helped me get down that last mouthful of ghee instead of complaining, criticizing, or wanting something else. I know that when I get home I will likely give in to my cravings on occasion, but this journey (and detox) is giving me the tools to make better choices.

Here’s a pic of post-detox. Still a little unsettled in the bowel department but feeling lighter, clearer, and more grateful.

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A Change in the Weather

The weather here in Tapovan is changing as we approach the winter season. It’s cool and windy in the mornings, and with no heating (other than some space heaters) at the ashram, we are all bundled up in the morning with jackets, shawls, and hand-knitted slipper socks (I am now a convert to socks-with-sandals out of necessity…chilly feet in my flip flops!). Our meditation hall isn’t too bad but the yoga hall is freezing sometimes, with that Himalayan wind whipping through. It is actually refreshing, knowing that it is carrying special “prana”.

There is change in the weather of another sort as well. As one of my teachers said this morning, our thoughts/emotions/feelings are very much like the weather – sometimes calm and serene and other times raging like a storm. I knew it would happen to me at some point…the feelings of homesickness, frustration with cold showers, boredom with the same food, craving for a latte, longing for my husband’s arms around me, then anger at myself for not staying focused. This is being human and all of us here are playing out similar patterns of wanting something else; of wanting to be somewhere else. I had my mini-meltdown in my room one evening, and cried and cried…but instead of beating myself up for being a “baby”, I just let it happen and really allowed myself to feel it in my body, feel it in my heart. Just like the weather, the little storm passed. Rather than letting it get to me, I let it go and moved forward to face another day with a little more space, a little more compassion for myself in my heart, and a feeling of empowerment that gave me the assurance that I can handle this.

The sun is out today, there is warmth on my face and I’m ready to get back to class. Hari Om!

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