Purification and Rejuvenation

Ahhh…I just returned from 10 days in sunny (but cool) California, feeling cleansed, re-balanced, and refreshed after attending the Chopra Center’s signature program, “Perfect Health”. This was an opportunity for me to immerse myself in the traditional practices of Ayurveda, yoga, and meditation in a modern way: in an urban setting with top-notch amenities and services; blending the teachings of yogic philosophy with the latest scientific research of the mind, genetics, and human behaviour; and amidst the daily challenges of trying to live a spiritually connected life in a demanding, noisy, modern world. I was guided, supported, and nurtured throughout, in ways I never imagined. This program was truly therapy for the body, mind, and soul.

From the moment I arrived in California, I knew this was exactly what I needed. Not a California vacation necessarily, but a getaway where I could work on myself. Normally I enjoy our Canadian winters, snow and all…but this year the cold, damp, and heaviness was getting to me more than ever. I was feeling sluggish, down, unhappy, worried, and stuck…plus my shoulder and neck were giving me such grief that no amount of physio or massage seemed to alleviate. It wasn’t the climate, though, that was causing my feelings of imbalance (although I was reminded that according to Ayurveda, seasonal climate changes can aggravate an already out-of-balance system). It was months/years/decades of stuck emotions; less than optimum diet for my own specific constitution; not enough physical movement; rumination over and clinging to old thoughts, experiences, and beliefs; fear of the unknown and what ifs; and negative self-talk that all really created the imbalance in the first place.

This might sound familiar to you, too. In fact, when I looked back on my blogs, I realized that exactly this time last year I was feeling the same “off-ness” (see my post Mountain Meltdown). But this time I decided to take more definitive action and go deeper. I realized that ALL this disquietude was within my own control to change, but I needed some guidance – some “professional” help. One of the items on my bucket list was to one day attend this Chopra Center program so I made it a reality, hopeful that I would discover the root of my angst, get it out of my system, and find some peace before this dis-EASE really showed up as disease.

Ayurveda says that when one’s body, mind, and soul are in balance and in tune with natural rhythms, then one is in a state of perfect health. What does that really look like or feel like? How about this: JOYFUL ENERGETIC BODY, LOVING COMPASSIONATE HEART, REFLECTIVE ALERT MIND, LIGHTNESS OF BEING. If you’re anything other than that, then something is out of balance! So knowing that, we can take steps to first purify the body and mind, rejuvenate it to bring it back into balance, then maintain this state by daily committing to nourishing practices rather than depleting activities or unwholesome choices.

So here’s how we did it…

PURIFY:

  1. dietary changes that began weeks before the program by eliminating coffee, alcohol, processed foods, gluten, etc.
  2. a simple cleanse using herbal and fibre supplements combined with easy-to-digest warm vegetarian meals, ginger tea, and lemon water
  3. tongue scraping and oil pulling to remove toxins in the mouth
  4. a variety of daily Ayurvedic massages with warm oil designed specifically for each mind/body type to gently push toxins out of the tissues and into the GI tract for elimination
  5. saunas and steam rooms to sweat out the toxins
  6. daily yoga, meditation, journalling, sharing circles, self-study
  7. disconnecting from technology, news, negative energies, noise

REJUVENATE and MAINTAIN:

  1. getting into the sunshine, walking along the ocean, taking time to witness the beauty around us
  2. eating a “rainbow” – colourful lovingly prepared food with all six tastes (salty, sour, spicy, bitter, astringent, sweet)
  3. positive affirmations and planting seeds of wellness
  4. creating a soothing bedtime routine and getting a good night’s sleep
  5. trying something new and creative – getting out of your comfort zone and laughing!
  6. energy work such as pranic healing and Reiki
  7. self-love, treating yourself with respect and compassion
  8. being in the company of positive people; not those who invite drama, gossip, criticism or negativity into your life
  9. MEDITATE EVERY DAY!

So here I am now, 10 pounds lighter physically and 1 million times lighter emotionally. I feel so transformed! I am recharged and ready to get back at it after many insights about myself and the Universe I am part of. I have re-committed to a daily routine that SUPPORTS me rather than brings me down. And when stuff does get me down, I know I have an innate intelligence to guide me – I need not look further than my own self for the solution…and then I can let it go. Over and over again…through all the ups and downs. This is an ongoing process…one that lasts a lifetime, so I choose to make the rest of my lifetime one with purpose, connection, happiness, and ease.

 

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Do the Yoga Hustle?

Recently I received an email offer from a popular yoga magazine advertising liability insurance and advice on advancing one’s yoga “career”. The ad suggested that “every yoga teacher has to hustle harder (and smarter) to make it”. Really?? This goes against so many cardinal rules of yoga – non-harming (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-greediness (aparigraha) just to name a few. The very term, “hustle” suggests forceful persuasion or an underhanded approach. Is this really how a yoga teacher would want to conduct business? Maybe some do…And when would a teacher know he or she has “made it”? Fame, fortune, jam-packed classes, a front-page spread in said popular yoga magazine? Sounds more like ego-serving than selfless service…

My own esteemed teacher, Yogrishi Vishvketu, taught me to find my voice and to give from my heart. He encouraged me to share the teachings of yoga with grace, authenticity, and confidence, and he reminded me that those who want to listen and explore with me, will come. No gimmicks, no special offers, no goats or wine-tasting needed to attract attention. As a teacher of this tradition, my role is to GUIDE, not to entertain. To me, yoga is an ongoing practice of transformation and self-discovery that continues long after a one-hour yoga class.

As we wind down this year’s winter session of classes over the next few weeks, I am looking forward to then taking a short break beyond my backyard for my own well-being and personal development. My agenda at the Chopra Centre will be filled with yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, and self-study…all in the sunshine and warmth of the California coast! I will be back in fine form, ready for our Spring session of classes!

With the right balance of effort and surrender, of ethical and smart business practices, and the ongoing flow of giving and receiving, it is possible to be both a teacher and a student in this evolving yoga world WITHOUT THE HUSTLE. I am truly grateful for all of you who continue to share this path with me!

Namaste…

 

 

 

 

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…

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.

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