Neck & Shoulders :)

Here’s another video for those of you trying to start a home yoga practice. If you are practicing chair rather than floor yoga right now, then please feel free to do these exercises while seated in a chair of your choice πŸ™‚ This one focuses on releasing the neck, shoulders and thoracic spine (the middle of your back), as well as stilling the mind of course πŸ˜‰ I hope you will find it informative and helpful!

ENJOY!!!

Yoga, Bananas & Nicaragua!

Spending a month in Nicaragua with my Yoga Teacher and 6 of my closest friends was a deeply intense learning experience, inspiring and life-changing to say the least. When the time came to get onto the first plane necessary for travelling to Nicaragua for the month long intensive required to complete my most recent Yoga Teacher training program, I was terrified. I was very afraid of flying, being away from home (my husband, my puppy…), and honestly I was afraid I could not do it, that I might run away from something that is incredibly important to me! I chose not to listen to my thoughts when they told me to run as fast as I could away from that first plane ride from Victoria to Vancouver. I swallowed my fear and boarded the first plane, then the second, then the third, arriving after a long day of travelling in a new, amazing, incredibly hot and unfamiliar place, about to embark on a life-changing experience on many levels.

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Our days in Nicaragua included numerous hours of yoga practice per day, including asana (physical poses), pranayama (breath control), meditation (concentration), philosophical discussion, chanting – plus lots of water drinking and banana eating πŸ˜‰ Between 10 and 15 bananas a day to be exact – haha, I know that may sound bizarre, but all that banana consumption had an amazing effect – my body didn’t become sore the way I expected – hardly felt my muscles at all, making the month of rigorous practice a time during which I could examine my mental habits.

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When preparing for the intensive with my teacher Michelle, I figured that the physical aspects of the trip wouldn’t be even a remote challenge in comparison to the mental and emotional aspects of the experience. Evolution of consciousness is not a walk in the park, to be cliche about it – transforming fear, anger and sadness into useful energy, putting your emotion into your practice, whatever that is for you, is the secret. Using your emotional energy to put the work in, to find who you are and what you want – going after it without holding back – that is the secret I discovered when practicing 8 hours a day with my teacher for a month. Believing in yourself, begins with watching your thoughts, your words, your actions, your habits – knowing that these are the patterns that lead to the formation and maintenance of your character. We can choose who we want to be; we can choose how we want to change the world.

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Through my experiences in Nica, I learned that discipline is more important to me now than it has ever been in my life before – and those who know me well would tell you that I have always been a tenacious, dedicated person, regardless of the passion I was focused on, getting perfect grades through university as a prime example, and now most importantly my daily yoga practice. Cultivating self-discipline is an enormous challenge but well worth the effort! image_1

I also learned that non-attachment or aparigraha, one of the philosophical precepts in yoga is an incredibly difficult practice, but again, well worth the effort. For example, being away from Steve, my husband for a month was so awful at first, I didn’t think I could survive a month away from him. I was wrong, although it was very hard, I noticed that I became stronger day by day. I chose not to talk to Steve over the phone while I was away which was terrible at first, and by the end of the month I couldn’t even remember what his voice sounded like at all! Email was a good way to stay in touch, but there is something very different about hearing someone’s voice. By the time I was preparing to leave for Canada, I was SO excited to see Steve again, and at the same time, SO grateful I had put in the effort in terms of practicing non-attachment πŸ™‚ It’s going to be tough to let go of my new attachment to fresh coconut water though!! Crazy delicious stuff πŸ˜‰image_7

It has been a surprising challenge to get my thoughts gathered and clear enough for writing this first blog about the Nicaragua experience! Ironically, I have this attachment, this habit of only putting myself out there, or in this case publishing a blog, when I feel the way I come across is perfectly articulate. Perhaps the best way to label this habit I currently possess, is perfectionism….I’d love to transform this habit into a new one, adopting the thoughts, words and behaviours of a recovering perfectionist!

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I certainly learned that I lack attachment to achieving specific challenging physical poses in terms of my yoga practice – something that was far out of my reach a few years ago and now has become a habit. I now practice physical poses because they heal my body, knowing that chronic knee and elbow pain, are no longer an issue at all due to my practice of asana! No matter how long my teacher wanted us to sit in meditation or pranayama during the intensive, I was good to go, completely comfortable in a physical sense. Of course, mentally and emotionally it was quite the challenge to sit for an hour a day, being as still as I could be!

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It was particularly hard to focus when several bugs were crawling on me…haha…it still amazes me how much easier it became to sit for these practices once I had returned home, no more crazy bugs biting, stinging or crawling up my nose! It was really great to learn so much about being still in the face of external distractions, that’s for sure. The first step to stilling the mind may be learning to sit, but it certainly isn’t the last – haha….it is only the beginning. Stilling the mind, reducing the effect its fluctuations have on my day to day thoughts, words, actions and habits is a constant challenge, requiring as much focus as I can muster.

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Yoga is my medicine, for anxious tendencies, depressive tendencies, for cultivating mental focus, strength both in a physical and mental/emotional sense. I know that I will practice yoga every day until I die. Just like Swami Vivekananda suggests, I want to β€œlive as if I will die tomorrow and learn as if I will live forever” ~ practicing as best I know how to from day to day, week to week, throughout my lifetime, continuously learning more, acting like a sponge of knowledge πŸ˜‰ I know this passion for learning more about yoga will allow me to continuously grow with my students, always cultivating more knowledge & experience to share with them.image_3

Β I love yoga and I love teaching – thank you to my Yoga Teacher, Michelle Rubin, you help me find my limits and expand them, never allowing myself to say β€œI can’t”, remembering that whether I say I can or say I can’t, I will end up being right. Thank you for teaching me that although challenging your students is key to the process of growth, compassion for your students and yourself is necessary for balancing the intensity that comes with a dedicated practice. You must genuinely examine yourself, your habits, your fears and resist the urge to run from your darkest, most challenging moments – face it all, knowing that if we continue to practice, all is coming – whatever we seek is available to us.

 

 

Back Bending Bender :)

I am a serious yoga junkie. I kid you not; yoga is my drug of choice. Whether it is asana (physical postures), nidra (literal definition is sleep, a.k.a. guided meditation), pranayama (breathing exercises), chanting, or the yamas and niyamas (ethical observances) – I need my daily fix. Last night was no different. A wave of craving for practice came over me and all of a sudden I was breaking out my deep back bending sequence notes from a workshop at Victoria Yoga School, taught by one of the most authentic people I have yet to encounter: Michelle Rubin. Nothing gives me a better physiological high than a sweet back bending practice – deeply energizing and well worth the effort (or should I say effortless effort, lol). Definitely highly aware these days of how much attachment I have to my asana practice in particular – one day I’ll put more of my energy into cultivating non-attachment, but right now it’s way too much fun to let go of completely. Loving every minute of my practice wasn’t always my norm. For the first several years of exploring yoga, I oscillated between love and hate, on one hand enjoying many aspects of this centuries old practice and on the other hand, taking yoga asana and nidra as necessary medicine, even when it was the last thing I wanted to do with my time. I have known since my introduction to yoga in 2006, that it was good for me. Little did I know what an immense impact it would end up having on my life! It is surreal how much this practice has to offer. Over the years, I have become aware of muscles I previously did not know existed, both in a physiological and mental sense of the word. Letting go of my previous tendencies has been simultaneously deeply challenging and unbelievably satisfying. The more I learn, the more I realize how little I know and the more my passion for learning ignites!

β€œThe more I see, the less I know, the more I like to let it go.”
–the Red Hot Chili Peppers

Photography by Steve Leclerc

Photography by Steve Leclerc

Passion for what I love, believe in and value is key to my sense of discipline, or in yoga terms, tapas: the fire that drives my practice. I love how yoga makes me feel, like any drug of choice, it allows for immersion in the present moment, complete surrender to your phenomenological experience. What could be more fascinating than using the body as your own personal laboratory, an ideal ground for launching one experiment after another? The breath becomes a barometer for your mind state, an accurate measure of the degree of mental fluctuation you are experiencing in any given moment. Fluctuations of the mind (also known as vrittis in yogic terms) whether they are emotions, thoughts or ingrained habitual responses, can be observed and examined. Bringing conscious awareness to thoughts as they are experienced, allows you to gain awareness of how your thoughts become your words, eventually yielding your actions and habits. And what forms our character more than our habitual behaviours? Disciplining the mind, focusing on the nature of the mind and its constant fluctuations, creates the space for great change. Self-transformation is nothing more than commitment to changing one’s habits, which start as seeds of thought in the mind. Water the seeds, habits take root and establish themselves, slowly forming your character. Working from the gross to the subtle, you can literally alter the neural pathways in your brain, by extension altering your habitual behaviours.

Lao Tzu said it best:
β€œThe greatest gift I have to give is that of my own self-transformation.”