A while back the Fernie Free Press came and interviewed me about yoga for skiers and boarders. Here's the sequence I put together for them as it is featured in their newspaper this week: http://www.thefreepress.ca/sports/292471471.html
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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.
After an exciting last week, with my article being published, and very well received, on My Yoga Online, I've been in a bit of a zen zone this week. Despite some personal matters that would normally be cause for stress, I'm feeling good and checking things off of my to-do list one at a time. What gives? Has the excitement of publication shoved my mind into a guru-esque superpower zone where I'm impervious to stress? Unlikely. I think it has less to do with the excitement of publication and more to do with the pervading feeling of being on the right path.
We've all experienced it at some point in our lives. You start to work toward a goal or life change and suddenly things start to fall into place, as though the Universe is sending you little gifts to help along the way. Beyond that, you have an unwavering sense of calm. You just know that things are going to work out, no matter what the current situation looks like, or what challenges lie ahead. Sure signs that you are on the right path, manifesting the life that you are meant to live and thriving because of it. Sound crazy? Think about it for a bit. In our society we tend to downplay intuition and ignore how things "feel" to us, but if you stop to really examine your life, you'll likely notice that there were times where you were working toward things, and whether they were going great for you or not, you felt a pervading sense of angst, as though it wasn't enough, you weren't quite happy, or you thought you were happy, but kept having to push away the fear that at some point it was all going to fall apart. And if you try to remember other points in your life where you didn't feel that way, you'll likely find that at those times, despite whatever was happening in your life, or how bleak the prospects seemed, you were relaxed, happy, and confident that the Universe would provide for you. It isn't due to periods of mentally instability that your feelings changed like this. When we follow our right path not only do things work out for us, but we begin to feel at peace.
How do you feel about your life right now? Are you manifesting the life you were meant to live, or are you working against the Universe in pursuit of something you think you want, but that just doesn't leave you feeling quite right in your gut? Self-examination and awareness is one of the skills the study of yoga graces us with. Check in and confirm that you are living in the spiritual peace and prosperity you deserve. It's never too late or too hard to pursue your authentic self.
My article on My Yoga Online!
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.
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.