I wrote a pregnant momma meditation for Mala Collective that you can check out here: http://www.malacollective.com/blogs/mala-collective/18386884-blossoming-momma-meditation If you are on their site and like what you see type in "coraley15" at checkout and take 15% off on me:-)
Tonight I taught the first instalment in my Ignite Your Intention series. A large part of the workshop focused on the difference between a resolution, like the ones we make at New Years, and a sankalpa, or divine intention, a yogic concept usually assosciated with yoga nidra. The difference being that a resolution is often made attaching meaning or value to the end result and is usually motivated by a negative. A sankalpa on the other hand is propelled by love from the still, calm center that resides inside all of us. The focus isn't on finding happiness after achieving the end result, because the person making the sankalpa is already happy and content from within themselves. The purpose of a sankalpa is to manifest your deepest desires by focusing positive energy towards it. As part of the workshop we did a centering exercise to tap into that stillness and calm. It takes 9 breaths and you can do it anywhere, anytime. There are three affirmations that are key to this practice. I am enough. I am already whole. I am love.
Close your eyes and begin to let your mind follow your breath. Follow each inhale and exhale and let the process of mind watching breath take you fully into the now. No outside thoughts. No busy mind. Just your inhales and exhales. On your next inhale breath say to yourself: I am enough and on the exhale release any doubts, fears or negativity that arise with the affirmation. The next breath inhale: I am already whole and breathe out any doubts. The third breath repeat the process for I am love. Do it from start to finish three times. Nine breaths, each affirmation repeated three times. Stay still and just breathe for awhile before opening your eyes. 💖
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Cleaning the studio floor between hot yoga flow classes the other night I had an interesting conversation with a student who had rushed in early to enjoy the heat. She confessed to me that she was trying to get into yoga, which prompted me to ask whether it was her first class. She told me that it wasn't, she had been to a few hot flow classes. Her face scrunched up and there was a slight pause before she followed this with "I come to yoga for a workout. I don't like the spiritual part of it, I find it distracting. My theory is that the harder classes have less of it [philosophy]." Despite myself, I felt my shoulders tense and I'm fairly certain the look on my face was not the open and non-judgemental one the yogini in me would have liked it to be. "That's interesting," I said as I turned to put away the mop and vinegar.
After class I found myself reviewing the conversation in my mind. I shared it with the owner of the studio. I shared it with other teachers. I knew that the conversation had affected me and had gotten my back up. I knew that I had feelings about my reaction and that I wished I had been more supportive of the student and her prerogative. But I couldn't quite figure out why I had reacted the way I did.
In my mid-twenties I ended an unhealthy relationship. It was the hardest and easiest thing I had ever done and, even though it was a time fraught with uncertainty, I was excited for a brighter and better future, a hope that was soon shattered as my ex's behaviour took an obsessive and scary turn. By the time the ordeal was over, I found my life in tatters and myself housebound with anxiety disorder and PTSD. I didn't know what was wrong with me, but I knew that I was severely unhappy, scared of everything from shadows on the wall to unidentified bumps in the night, and unable to function in my life, or even get out of bed most days. I needed help. I reached out and soon began weekly counselling appointments, taking anxiety medication and finding my way back to my yoga practice, which had fallen to the wayside in the chaos of the split and ensuing stalking.
My counsellor was also a yoga teacher and so my weekly counselling appointments included breath work and looking at the asanas that challenged me most, as well as tools for incorporating yoga philosophy into my daily life and thought processes, all of which helped to reverse the patterns that a mentally abusive relationship and subsequent stalking had helped me find my way into. Yoga was the best medicine for me. I was off of my anxiety medication in less than a year and back to working, living, and yes, leaving bed - and even the house - in due time too.
While giving a lecture at a recent teacher training a student asked me if I felt that my PTSD and anxiety had been "cured" (when they diagnose you with anxiety disorder/PTSD you are told that it is a permanent, life-long diagnosis because the chemistry in the brain and body has changed with the stress response being altered, and so it is thought that there are no "cures" just coping mechanisms, medications and emotional tools/habits that allow a patient to deal better with the disorder.) I paused before I answered but knew I had to say what I honestly felt in my heart. "I know that they say that once the response has altered you can't ever get it back to normal, that it will be a life-long mental health issue. But yes, I do think that PTSD and anxiety no longer affect me, and I do think that yoga played a very large role in changing that. I haven't had any symptoms of either for years now."
I could site studies on the ways that yoga, meditation and breath work affect the central nervous system, cerebral health, thought and behaviour patterns, and even physiological responses to stress or rigorous physical activity, but to me no recounting of a study could have the impact that sharing my personal experience can. Yoga healed me and without it I have no doubt my life and health would not be what they are today. And maybe that is why I struggled to maintain the non-judgement and openness that I longed to with my student that night. My yoga has been such an intense journey and has touched and healed the deepest depths of my being. In the moment, with the church-like glow of soft orange light, tranquil silence and deep warmth of the studio, a space where I have bowed to those once broken parts of my being so many times, I was unable to separate how I needed to travel the path of yoga from the way that she needed to. And that's okay. I am only human after all - divine in my imperfection but imperfect, none-the-less. Her yoga journey doesn't need to be the same as mine and no matter how amazing mine has been, or how important that aspect of practice has been for me, it doesn't mean that it needs to be the same for her. It isn't meant to be the same. And I'm thankful to her for reminding me of that and for creating a space where I could reflect on the profound impact that yoga has had on my life and be humbled by both how far I've come and how far there is still to go.
Has yoga impacted your physical, mental or spiritual health? For the month of September the Milken Institute of Health at George Washington University is running a blogging campaign to spread the word about yoga's role in health and wellness. Follow this link for more information on how to participate: http://publichealthonline.gwu.edu/yoga-matters-invitation
After a weekend spent teaching to, and learning from, a beautiful group of yoginis at EYS's latest teacher training, I taught a yin class this morning from the perspective of a full and happy yogini who just enjoyed a transformative weekend. And it was during this class, while feeling so full and recharged, that I felt my heart pouring out to a student. Sometimes the universe fills us up and if we are wise, and honour our true nature, we share that goodness with others rather than trying to keep it all for ourselves.
I had never taught her before and she was friendly and chatty before class when I introduced myself to her, but as we journeyed into our practice, I began to notice an un-easiness to her that deepened as the minutes ticked by. I kept my voice calm, talked a bit more than I usually do during yin, and tried to pour out good, calming energy to guide her into a peaceful acceptance of the now. As the class prepared for savasana, hoped with my entirety that she would find a few moments of rest from the anxiety that had swirled around her like a shroud during class. But watching over the class as they relaxed into their savasana I would see her slip into rest for a moment or two and then shudder and twitch back to consciousness.
Having suffered through PTSD and anxiety disorder, I wished that, even just for a moment, I could let her know without singling her out that it could be okay. That it would be okay. That if she continues to try and find her way, it will happen. That the feelings of anxiety aren't permanent. That they didn't define her. That I knew with my whole being she could overcome them. But that wasn't my place. I was a teacher, in a morning yoga class, who knew nothing at all about her. It would have been awkward and unprofessional for me to do so.
As I sat in sukhasana, my students in savasana, my heart spoke to me and I accepted that I couldn`t confront her, and that even if I could, it may be unwelcomed interference. It wasn`t my place. So I let some of the wealth of beautiful energy that had built up within me over the weekend seep out and led the class into a final meditation meant to evoke feelings of calm and invited them to take that into their day. As we sat in meditation, I let my whole heart shine in the genuine hope that, even if it was only for a second, she felt calm and centered and unworried. And then I let it go. It isn`t for me to meddle in another`s journey, or project my feelings on to someone else`s situation. We each walk our own paths and the best support we can give each other is open acceptance and un-conditional love. It`s the best support we can give ourselves too.
I was subbing a class on Monday, and there was something off about it. The postures, my tone of voice, the atmosphere, they were all comparable to any other yoga class I've taught. I just felt different. Flat, for lack of a better word. When I thought about it, I realized a few things. When I first started at EYS I made a commitment to myself to make each and every class I taught an experience. I wouldn't say that I've let that go, but where I live, in order to be able to teach the amount of classes I'd like to in a week, I've had to accept a lot of substituting jobs. Now, don't get me wrong, this post isn't about bagging on the perils of subbing vs. having a set schedule, and I've absolutely loved the chance to teach such a variety of classes, but subbing, especially at the last minute, requires adaptability. And maybe I'm not as well suited to that as I could be. Does that mean that my classes are terrible when I sub? No, not by a long shot. Some of the best classes I've taught have been classes I was subbing. What it does mean is that if my subbing schedule is getting busy, I need to pay attention to and honour my needs and keep myself on an even kilter. I owe that to my students, myself and my friends and family.
One of my yoga teachers uses a sufi quote that goes something like "do not try to draw from your well when it runs dry, instead draw from it when it overflows." I realized during that class that lately I have been drawing and drawing and drawing, but not replenishing at all. I've been busy caring for a sick two year old, ignoring my own cold, missing my favourite Saturday morning class with Heather Ivany and allowed my home practice to become inconsistent. I've given myself every excuse under the sun while doing so - from "I'll get back to it once the little guy is feeling better" to "all this subbing just throws off my plans for the day" to "this cold just really wears me out." But the fact is, whether it is true that life gets chaotic, we get ill, or plans fall apart, that there is only one cause for not tending to our practice and staying inspired, and that cause is ourselves.
The experience of teaching is, for me, a symbiotic one. There is a give and take between student and teacher that creates the class. So, on Monday, I found myself asking whether I have been holding up my end of the bargain. And the answer was that I wasn't. The experience I strive to create in my classes includes the sharing of yoga philosophy, inspiring music, creative flows or sequencing that fulfills the students and leaves them relaxed and rejuvenated. There isn't a set formula for this experience. It comes from the teacher's inspirations, practice and energy and in turn the students feelings and energy complete it. And I was dropping the ball on fulfilling those aspects of my life and practice. I was letting the excuse of un-scheduled classes and a busy home-life disrupt my commitment to my practice, my health and my "me" time, and as a consequence, I wasn't bringing inspiration, a strong personal practice or energy to my teaching.
So what is the solution? Teach less or take on fewer subbing jobs? No. I love to teach and teaching keeps me happy, fulfilled, purpose-full, and, when I'm not using excuses to drop the ball, very accountable to living my yoga and to my practice. I recognized the feelings I had during class, felt them more deeply as several of the students complimented me (not because I didn't appreciate them, but because I felt in my heart that if I didn't make a change, I wouldn't be able to keep giving them the classes they deserve) and I knew that the time to be pro-active was now. So I stayed and took the class following mine. I didn't worry that I needed to eat, or that there were things at home I needed to do. I tended my inner fire and began to replenish my well. It wasn't the be all end all, I've still got work to do, but it was a step back in the right direction. The well bottom is now damp, instead of dry and the well keeper a little wiser, more vigilant, and a better yogini after the lesson. Namaste.
Today I missed getting to the vinyasa flow class I was planning to take. I've also been subbing a lot lately, and with a few writing commitments and a very busy two year old to pre-occupy my time, this isn't the first class I've tried to get to and missed. To be honest, my home practice has been splotchy the last few weeks too. On any other day, this might have gotten me down. But today, having had the theme of balance on my mind lately, I took a different approach. You see, the things that filled my morning are also things I haven't been getting done lately, so maybe this was the universe's way of striking a balance. Rather than thinking about missing class as a negative affect of events this morning, I thought about the fact that, even though it wasn't what I'd had planned, some other things that needed my attention got my attention. The next thing I did was to keep my promise to myself that I was going to take some time this morning for my practice. So I went upstairs to my yoga space and did a practice. I took time to journal while I was there too. Was it an hour long, guided practice, with a teacher I love, complete with time out of the house to boot? No. But it was fantastic all the same.
Yoga teaches us that if we change our view, everything changes, and today I was reminded of how true this is. I could have gotten bogged down with thoughts about how my day didn't go as planned, chastised myself for letting something get in the way of going to class, and worried that the classes I'm scheduled to teach this week would suffer because they always seem to have that little something extra special when I'm feeding my inner fire through my personal practice. But instead, by going with the flow, I discovered that if we approach life with an open mind we can see the good just waiting to be discovered in every twist and turn, even though it might not be the while looking at the view we had wanted to see.
Four of my favourite things, all together in one event. I'm going, are you? http://abdou.ca/relaxintothepage/
I'm just a yogi in the mountains of British Columbia. If you've found your way to this site, it's very likely that you are too. Here you'll find information about my upcoming classes, workshops and retreats via the link to my website, as well my thoughts on yoga philosophy, what music I'm pumping in class, pictures, videos and other news about yoga and spirituality.