Friday, 27 May 2011

Letting Go

Have you ever noticed, that when the time is right for us to learn a lesson, that lesson comes to us from a variety of places? The same theme, the same message might come from a book you're reading, a line in a movie or a song, a speaker you hear, a yoga teacher, conversations with friends. It's like once you're ready to learn something, the teaching will come. I guess it's that old adage, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

This week, apparently, Angie Wellman is to learn about letting go. Actually, I think this might be the lesson of this year for me :) See, I seem to like to be in control. Can anyone out there relate? I like to know what's going to happen, when it's going to happen, how it's going to happen. I can create entire worlds of hopes and plans in my mind, and then I try to manipulate the world, to make those things happen. I want to know why. I want to figure it out. I want to solve the problem, act, make things happen the way I want them to happen. If I feel pain, I want to avoid that, so I get busy making changes. Escape plans, usually :) When I have an experience that makes me feel really happy, I want to repeat that (who wouldn't), so I plan and scheme and act to try to make it happen again, to try to recapture that magical moment, that magical time. Only, it never seems to be as wonderful when I've "made" it happen again... there are actually yogic teachings about that - that pain and suffering come when we get attached to something that made us feel happy, and we try to repeat it.

Anyway, I think this week's lesson was in letting go of all that. Letting go of figuring it out. Letting go of making life happen. Letting go of the intention to repeat the happy things I've had in the past. Letting go of sadness, letting go of expectations. Just letting go.

I taught a class on Monday, and I set the intention for my class, to release and let go. We did a lot of forward bends - standing forward bends, seated forward bends, apanasana, wide leg forward bends, child's pose. Forward bends are about release. About letting go. We spend all day standing upright, with our front body exposed to the world. Forward bends allow us to draw inward, use gravity to open the back body, and calm our minds as we exhale deeply. I also asked my students to breath, using a 1:2 ratio - inhale for a count of 4 or 5, then exhale for twice that length - perhaps for 8 or 10 counts. These long exhalations allow our body to release more, but also calm our mind. Long exhales calm the nervous system, let our bodies know it's safe to just let go, and bring a deep stillness to our mind and body. I really enjoyed sharing the class with my students, and people entered into a really deep savasana. 

Then, Tuesday night, I went to my teacher's yoga class. Right now, I feel the need to go to my own classes regularly, to learn from my teacher and get connected with my body and breath. And guess what her class was about? Yep, forward bends, releasing, and letting go! Delightful! And after her class, I went into such a deep relaxation in savasana, my body and mind fully released and I went to that beautiful place of absolute quiet and stillness.

So with several days of forward bends and the intention of letting go, I noticed some subtle shifts in my consciousness. A feeling of knowing it was time to let go of some pain I'd been carrying. Time to let go of heaviness and burdens. A clarity about releasing the intense expectations I have of myself, to be and do certain things. 

And today I feel a little softer inside. A little freer. And for me, that is what yoga is all about. Lovely.  

Friday, 20 May 2011

Unassuming Heroes

I just wanted to give a little shout-out to a hero I saw today. It was on my daily bus ride. If I can be honest with you, I don't particularly like riding the bus. I know it's good for our earth, keeps me out of my car, moves a whole lotta people to work. But I really don't like it - the smells, the noise, the pushing, the closeness of all those people offend my North American need for personal space :) And really, most people on there appear really grumpy and frowny and unhappy.

But today. I saw a hero. A little wrinkly stooped man, missing a few teeth. Someone you would never give a second glance to. He got on, and gave the driver the best smile and hello and little chat. He wasn't rushed, didn't have an agenda to follow, just meandered on and engaged with the people he met. There was some garbage lying on the floor of the bus, which many people (myself included) had walked over, not noticing, or not making the effort to pick it up. This little jolly peaceful man did notice, and did make the effort, and picked it up and threw it in the bin.

I'm not sure why this one little moment made such an impression on me, but it did. Perhaps because in the midst of all the rushing, frantic, grumpy energy that is here on city transit, and that I seem to get pulled into so easily, this little man was a bright light, smiling and showing kindness. Kindness to the people he met, kindness to the environment he was in. He took a tiny step to make a difference, to make his world a cleaner place. Not a big effort, but it was noticed. That little man, unassuming and unpretentious, is a hero.

And it felt delightful to recognize that. And I think I'm going to make that my mission this week - to notice heroes all around me. Have you seen any heroes today?

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Yoga: not just a workout!

Warning: a little bit of history and philosophy ahead.... cause I love this stuff!!

I came to yoga because I was looking for something to get my body healthy, and I hated the idea of going to the gym. In our society, most often, yoga is about fitness, physical postures, getting physically strong and healthy. Certainly, we can gain that from yoga. And really, whatever brings you to yoga is perfect, just right for you.
But yoga originated as an ancient, holistic way of living, a philosophy that has been around for over 5000 years. Patanjali is widely regarded as the founder of the formal Yoga philosophy, and he summarized his ideas in 196 Yoga Sutras (divine writings about yoga). In Patanjali's writings, he mentions the physical part of yoga (asanas) in only 3 of his 196 sutras. The physical was the least mentioned part of yoga, though it is often the number one focus in our society. He spoke of the 8-limbed path of yoga. Here are those 8:

Yamas - guidelines about how we treat others (non-violence, honesty, non-covetousness, non-sensuality, non-possessiveness)
Niyamas - guidelines about how we treat ourselves (purity, contentment, austerity, study of the self and god, and surrender to god (whoever or whatever that is to you))
Asanas - Practice of postures
Pranayama - Control of Prana (life force) through breathing exercises
Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses, meaning that the exterior world is not a distraction from the interior world within oneself.
Dharana - Concentration, meaning the ability to fix your attention on one thing.
Dhyana - Meditation. Building upon Dharana, the concentration is no longer focused on a single thing but is all encompassing.
Samadhi - Bliss. Building upon Dhyana, the transcendence of the self through meditation. The merging of the self with the universe. Sometimes translated as enlightenment.

I readily confess, when I came to yoga, I had no idea it had such a rich heritage, was such an all-encompassing life view. But as I learn more about it, I get more and more excited. That it can be about getting my body healthy, but also about getting my mind, my heart, my soul, my spirit healthy. That I can be a whole being, and I can come to live my full purpose here on this earth, as a strong, peaceful, healthy Me! (really, that all of us can!)

Tuesday, 17 May 2011


It's a funny thing, acceptance.

In asana practices, we often set the intention to accept what is. Let go of any attachments you may have. Attachments to how you think the class should go. Attachments to how you think the teacher should teach. Attachments to how you think your body should move. Let go, and just accept each moment as it is, believing that you are exactly where you're supposed to be. Accept your body as it is, right now. Accept the strange, the unusual, the unknown, the uncomfortable. Accept what you perceive as your weaknesses, accept the emotions and thoughts as they arise. Try not to judge, try not to analyze, or figure anything out - simply accept. Be present, be aware, be the observer, and simply accept.

I don't know about you, but some days this is impossible!! I come into classes with expectations. I come to my mat with expectations.

Maybe this time I'll be able to hold my plank longer, just to prove I'm strong.

I really hope that this time I won't get so hot and bothered with the bow, cause I hate that sweaty, nauseous feeling.

I'm so terrible, my mind always wanders, this time I'm going to work really hard to make sure my mind doesn't wander so much in meditation.

Maybe this time the teacher will remember to give me a nice assist when I'm in downward dog, cause it feels so good, and I was so mad when she forgot me last time...

I try to keep a sense of humour about it all, cause really, it's pretty funny when we can track all the attachments and thoughts we have! And the truth is, that if we can experience even a few moments of acceptance in our practice, that sets up a beautiful pattern in our mind, that can carry into our lives off the mat. Imagine, living each day, just accepting as things come. Not planning, not worrying. Not judging our bodies or our thoughts. Not judging others, even if we don't understand them or they're driving us crazy!! Not hating on our jobs or resenting the tasks we're busy with. Just accepting things as they are.

Hmmm. Sounds really peaceful, really lovely, really impossible!!

But I will continue to believe that it is possible, and until I get to that place of enlightenment (haha!!), I will accept that I am human, I will accept that I do get attached to things, I will accept that I am great just the way I am, and I will continue to try to accept each moment as it comes.

Monday, 16 May 2011


Last week, I taught a twisting class. I spent the week before preparing the class, walking through it, trying the sequence, working on the transitions, making sure it would make sense for a class. So, suffice it to say, I did a lot of twisting that week! For those of you unfamiliar with the effects of twisting asanas (postures) in yoga, twists are wonderful for detoxifying, for aiding in digestion, and for massaging our internal organs. They help us digest our food, but also help us digest our experiences, and our emotions, so they can flow through us, instead of sitting and festering inside us.

After the class was finished, I had some time to sit and be still. And I was amazed with what happened in my mind! The week before, I had been struggling with some thoughts, some decisions, some things I thought I needed to figure out. That week, my mind was working so hard to figure it out, and all I did was exhaust myself and indulge in a little mind-spinning, with no real understanding. As I sat in quietness, after the week of twists, clear concise thoughts started rising to the surface, about all I'd been spinning about the previous week. It was so peaceful, so easy, so gentle, so clear. It was as if all those twists had processed and digested all those worries and thoughts and samskaras, and out came such clear, calm knowledge. It was beautiful!! And that night, I slept so deeply, and dreamt of solutions and resolutions to all I'd been worried about.

I have studied these effects of yoga, but it was incredible to actually experience how asanas (the physical postures) can truly affect our lives. Through the ancient writings, we see that asanas were intended to prepare us for meditation. I saw this in action this week, when my asana practice allowed the junk to be cleared out of my mind and body, and I could sit and hear the calm, still voice that knows.

This yoga stuff is deep, and beautiful, and I'm so excited to keep learning how it can transform our lives!!