Friday, 27 January 2012

Inside and Out

I am learning to become an observer, without judgement. This is tricky for me, cause I have a pretty loud Judge inside me. But yoga is helping me learn to observe, to watch, to just notice, without judging. My asana practice (physical postures) helps with this, my meditation practice helps with this, my pranayama practice (breath work) helps with this.

Here's what I observed this week. In me, and in others.

We have a habit of looking outward, instead of looking inward.

One morning this week, I took the bus to work, as I do most mornings. As I sat on my always-crowded bus, I noticed a young woman sitting across from me. She might have been 20, 22 years old. She looked really unhappy. She had sad eyes, her lips were drawn down in a frown, she looked like a discontented commuter (I get it, I likely look the same to others, especially on Monday mornings!!). Then, her phone must have vibrated, because she quickly picked it up and checked it. Immediately, her countenance brightened, her eyes lifted, her mouth turned into a soft smile, and a nice lightness came into her shoulders. She was uplifted by whatever came through on that text. I looked around, and all around me, people were on their phones, texting, reading, listening to music, checking out their Facebook, all those things people do with their amaz-a-phones these days!

And I started thinking, how easy it is to stay outside ourselves, all day long now. There is constant external stimuli for us, if we want to engage.

And I started to think about this young woman, who had seemed so sad, so unhappy, sitting there with her own thoughts, until something outside herself reached for her, and then the happiness came. There seemed to be such misery inside her (and I'm only noting what her face and body language were expressing), and she needed something outside her to bring her joy.

I relate to this. A couple of years ago, I became very aware that every time I felt alone, sad, lonely, I would desperately reach outside myself, to stop that feeling. I would pick up my phone and call anyone and everyone, until I could reach someone I could talk with.  It was an urgency, an insistency, almost a panic, that I needed to get outside myself to soothe the pain of loneliness. I'd check my texts with a compulsion, to see if anyone was out there. If I couldn't get anyone, I'd cruise around Facebook,  desperately trying to connect with someone, find someone who could make me feel happy. Other times, when I felt a lot of stress, I'd reach outside myself to turn on the TV, to numb the feelings.

But what I've slowly been learning, or remembering, is that everything I need is inside me. What I've discovered, as I watch these compulsions in me, is that every time I feel lonely, disconnected, or sad, it is usually as a result of my overly-busy life where I have not taken time to sit and be with me - I haven't journalled, meditated, gone for a walk, had a cup of tea with just me, in a few days. And what I've begun to remember, is that I like me. That I like being alone. That when I draw inside, and listen to how I'm feeling, and check in with myself, I can bring myself to a greater sense of joy and peace and contentment, than anything outside me ever could. I'm not undermining how important strong, healthy, loving relationships with others are. My dear friends and family are so important to me, and bring me great joy and wonderful support when I need it. But what I'm saying is, I'm responsible for drawing inward and finding my own joy, not waiting for something outside me to bring it along. That external "joy" is fleeting; the internal peace and stability is long-lasting.

We are an external-reaching society - look outside yourself for how you should look, act, be. Look to others for your worth, for your joy, for acceptance. And, as far as I can tell, it's not working so well. It has never worked for me. And with such horribly high rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide in our world, this habit of looking outside ourselves for happiness and worth just doesn't seem to be working for many people. So, people, look inside! Just try it - when you feel sad, lonely, or anxious, try something new. Instead of hoping on that phone, try going inside yourself and sit with your thoughts and your feelings. Sit there with softness, kindness, love and gentleness for yourself. All you need is there. 

Monday, 23 January 2012

a love affair with nature

I have been having a love affair with nature for as long as I can remember. In our family, I was the one who jumped at every chance to get out and wander through the forests that surrounded our house. I loved finding a path through the woods that I'd never encountered, and always imagined/wished that I was the first person who'd ever stepped foot along that way. It would instantly bring to mind what it must have been like to be explorers in this beautiful country, centuries ago, to truly tread where very few humans had been before.

When feeling the overwhelming angst of being a young teen in a small town, or when feeling smothered by the "horror" of having a loving, supportive family, I would take off out the door, summer or winter, and run to the forest, wandering, stopping every so often to listen to the quietness around me, occasionally sitting on a fallen log to see what birds or wildlife would appear. Very quickly, I would begin to feel quiet inside again.

When I first left my rural home for university and found myself in the middle of the city of Windsor, I felt a very physical yearning for the trees and rocks and fields and rivers of home. I couldn't wait for school holidays, for that moment when I would drive into my region and see the hills and forests and lakes and wide open spaces. It was an actual physical ache, when I was away from that part of my life; I felt cut-off, disconnected when I was in the middle of the city.

As an adult, when I'd feel overwhelmed with a too-busy work schedule, or overstimulated by an overactive social life, I'd take off into a forest on my own, wandering with no plan, and would feel the urge to find a sturdy tree and wrap my arms around it and just rest there. And within minutes, I would begin to feel stillness.

After a very painful, heart-breaking breakup years ago, I found myself wandering down to a beach in the middle of March, watching the huge waves crash against the rocks along the shore, and felt such a connection with the water, broiling, angry, loud, messy, crashing, expressing, raging. It brought such comfort to me, such peace, such a sense of connection. Like I had found a comrade, a kindred spirit in the waves.

And in all these instances,  there is always a stillness in my heart and mind, within about 2 minutes of connecting with nature. All my anxiety, all my concerns about shoulds and coulds and what-ifs fade away, immediately. My mind and heart become quiet, and then I begin to "hear" lessons coming to mind, from all I see around me. Simple things.

Yesterday I went for a walk near my home in Ottawa, and saw this rushing water. It was a section of water coming out from under some ice, heading toward a power dam. Where the water came out from the ice, it was ripply, slow moving, gentle. Then it transformed into these thick, smooth, silky ribbons, and brought to mind the image of the satiny flow of molasses. Then, it suddenly become frothy and churned with white caps. Within about 50 feet, the water changed appearance three times. I thought about how the water itself hadn't changed at all - at it's root, at it's core, it was still completely water, unchanged, fundamentally. But with the circumstances it ran into (the ice, the rock formations below, the rocks jutting out of the water), the way it behaved and it's appearance changed.

And I started thinking... is this true of we humans? Regardless of what life can throw at us, we are, at our core, our True Highest Self. Fundamentally, who we are does not change. Light, Love, Beauty, Life. That is unchanging. However, circumstances come along. The families we're born into, interactions with friends and unfriends, traumas, abuse, blessings, all these things can change the way we appear and act. Some people may have circumstances that manifest in their lives as raging waves, broiling seas, angry whitecaps. Some people may have circumstances that lead them to appear as smooth, silky, rich ribbons of ease. And we can all look and appear in different ways, at different times in our lives. Sometimes those appearances can rock us - we think "I'm so angry/out-of-control/nasty right now, I am a terrible person, I'm no good, no one loves me cause I don't deserve to be loved".

But I think the truth is, that even when our appearance seems a little rough or messy, we remain, at our core, unchanged. We are still that lovely, perfect, pure Self. Bumped around, altered a bit by the rocks we've run up against in our lives. But still solidly, fundamentally, ourselves. So, when you start to see behaviour manifesting, be aware of it, notice if it is simply a reaction to the circumstances in your life (maybe in the present, maybe from far back in your past), and then come back to rest in the knowledge that you are still YOU. Wonderful, lovely, perfect, beautiful. Unchanged. Just like that H2O!

I am grateful for the wonderful insights I receive, when I get soothed and quieted by Nature. She is the perfect teacher.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

coincidence? I think not!

On Tuesday, I taught my regular all-levels class at Upward Dog Studio here in Ottawa. I taught a hip-opening class, with a focus on releasing, letting go, non-grasping. Which, if you've read the last couple of my blogs, you'll know is a little theme in my personal life - softening, letting go of the grasping, in our bodies, minds, attitudes, thoughts, etc. Based on the principle that grasping causes suffering and dis-ease, I am trying to soften the grasping in my life. Soften the grasping in my belly (a sure sign of when I'm feeling anxious!), soften the self-critical voices in my head, soften the need to get it right and be perfect all the time. So as our class progressed through various hip releasing poses, culminating in the delicious (and sometimes dreaded) pigeon, I reminded the class to come back to the idea of non-grasping, letting go of things that don't work for them anymore.

Letting go of ideas that keep us limited in how we live, letting go of thoughts that are self-destructive, letting go of holding in our bodies in ways that prevent us from softening into a pose. The breath is such a wonderful way to soften into a pose. By lengthening the exhalation as we breathe, our body softens, our mind softens, and we are able to release and sink into a pose a little more easily.

After I taught my class, I went to a class as a student. And guess what the theme of that class was?! Letting go! Releasing! We did many of the same poses I had just taught, including the pigeon, but leading to double pigeon, or fire log pose. This is a more intense hip opener. 
 What I loved was that I now got to experience, as a student, what I had just taught! I got to focus on my own softening, my own letting go. It was a wonderful treat, to have that right after I taught, in the same energy and same intention. I was delighted to know that the message I was inspired to share was the same message I received from my teacher.

And THEN, after that class, I spoke with another teacher friend who had been teaching a class at the same time as the one I was taking, and she was teaching about releasing and letting go too!!! WOW WOW! We were all in sync! Isn't that amazing? Three teachers, at the same studio, teaching at the same time, on the same theme or intention, having not discussed it at all! I don't believe in coincidences - I think we're all plugged into the same Source, the same Intelligence, the same Spirit! So very exciting!! When I start to doubt myself, when I start to feel fears and self-questioning arise, I can take a breath, and trust that I am on the right path; I am listening to the wisdom that resides in me. That resides in all of us. So I can soften that self-criticism and worry and fear, let go of it all, and just enjoy the ride! Wow! It's all such fun!

Monday, 16 January 2012

the old patterns...

Last week I wrote about softening. About letting go of grasping. It's a hard habit to break, I have to confess! I woke up this morning thinking and planning and worrying and fretting about all I had to do, and all I have planned in the next few weeks. I started out the year (only a short two weeks ago!) with a very quiet feeling inside, that I would just let things unfold and evolve as they did... that I would NOT prebook every weekend for the next three months, as I had done in the previous year, which always turned out to be a huge source of anxiety for me. And yet, when I woke up and thought about the coming weeks, I realized I had jumped back into my old patterns and rhythms. A speaker I heard at the Himalayan Institute at New Year's talked about it being like the grooves in a record - as we make patterns in our lives, ways of living, those become like grooves, and the needle plays those same grooves over and over and over again. Until we wake up and realize that groove is not working for us, not bringing about the peace and stillness we may deeply desire. This groove, well-worn and well-established, of planning and doing and packing my schedule so full, is deep. I had two weeks of feeling free of it, yet I became aware this morning, that I'm playing the old song again, even when I KNOW that is not the way I want to live!

In yoga, these old grooves, these patterns, are called samskaras: general patterns, as well as individual ideas, impressions, or actions. Yoga philosophy speaks of various ways of overcoming our samskaras, or of breaking their hold and repetitive patterns in our lives. Here are two great articles about this: and But as a simple step, bringing awareness to the samskaras is very powerful. Awareness, and then a vigilance to live differently. Each time I choose to step away from that groove, to change my thoughts or actions, the pull of the groove gets weaker and weaker, until, eventually, it has no power anymore.

I am aware of this samskara - this habit, and occasional compulsion - to book and book and schedule myself until I can't breathe. It has to do with needing to feel important, needing to feel connected, needing to have plans, needing to be in control. Oh so many things I think I need! :) But as I follow these "needs", and try to fill the needs with plans and busyness, I end up feeling empty, exhausted, pulled in too many directions, anxious. And, I know, that when I let go of the grasping and planning, when I DON'T plan my weekends up for the next three months, I feel a great sense of relief and rest and stillness inside. I have space to breathe and rest, and often really wonderful connections and meetings and events come, in the moment, that I am able to enjoy and take part in. Because they came as part of the flow, not as part of my scheduled grasping and holding. Ahhhh.

Old habits are hard to break :) And I will choose softness, even in noticing that - I won't beat myself up, I won't berate myself. I will simply, softly, observe and be aware. And then choose to step out of that groove :)

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

2012 - a year for softness

I went away this year for New Year's. I decided to get away from the urban experience of New Year's - the busyness, the parties, the expectations and let-downs I always experience at this time of year. I traveled down to the Himalayan Institute ( for a weekend of yoga, meditation, learning, and rest. I wandered in the forests that surround the Institute, ate fabulous organic vegetarian food, did gentle yoga practices and heard wonderful teachings that reminded me of the teacher and healer inside me. It was the most wonderful way to spend a New Year's, and a perfect way to welcome 2012. I returned feeling nurtured, rested, inspired, whole.

One thing that stood out to me, and has stayed with me, was something one of the teachers, Rolf Sovik said. He said (and I paraphrase terribly, because he is a wonderful, wise, articulate teacher) that the way we hold our body determines our health. When we hold ourselves tightly in our body, we can develop poor health, disease, pain. Dis-ease. I began thinking of where I hold myself. Where I grasp. I immediately thought of my belly. Since the age of 12, I've been aware that my belly sticks out, and, taking my cue from the flat bellies of Hollywood and fashion magazines, I began holding it all in. I also experience anxiety quite often in my life, and I can tell when my anxiety is ramping up, when I feel the tightness in my belly. Deep inside. A grasping and holding of everything in there, in an attempt to hold it all together and keep myself from falling apart. I think it is much more than a coincidence that I have suffered with Irritable Bowel Syndrome since I was a teenager, and have all kinds of strange things happening in my reproductive organs. And when I hear the health complaints of women around me, young and old, they often are in the belly region. OF COURSE!! Cause we're grasping, holding on, keeping ourselves tight and held in! And when we hold onto something, in the physical body, there is tension, and an inability to release and let go of toxins. Physical, and emotional toxins.

There are various places in my body I hold tension - my jaw, neck, shoulders. I'm sure you can scan your body right now, and identify where you hold, where you grasp. And the grasping comes from places of stress, anxiety, the desire to hold ourselves together. To keep on keeping on.

I also hold on, tightly, in my mind. In the revelations that have come since my little yoga retreat, I realize I've become quite a control freak in the past few years - I hold on to my schedules, to my rules, to my need to impress and be affirmed, I hold on to the thoughts and feelings I have, playing them over and over again in my mind. I grasp onto worrying. Oh, I worry and worry and worry like I think it's going to help me solve anything. And to be honest, my mind is pretty tired these days! With all the holding and grasping, it's exhausted. It needs a rest. I can't imagine the dis-ease that is going on in my mind. Or, rather, I can. It's symptoms are confusion, forgetfulness, anxiety, depression, a desire to escape, unkind self-talk.

So, after my time away and a wonderful reminder that grasping is bad for my health, physically and mentally, I'm setting an intention for 2012, to be soft. To rest in softness. To notice when I'm holding my belly, and soften into deep, soothing breath. To notice when I'm holding onto a thought pattern that brings me sorrow or frustration, and to let it go. To choose to say no to things, events, people, if there is tension and grasping attached. To choose to NOT plan and scheme and schedule, but to soften into whatever happens throughout my day.

And I have to happily report, in the first 10 days of the new year, as I have responded to things with softness, amazing things have happened already, things being taken care of that I would normally have worried and stewed about, and analyzed to death. As I soften, let go, un-grasp, things unfold beautifully, perfectly, healthily. [and, incidentally, non-grasping is one of the yoga principles - aparigraha - non-grasping! to read more about this, please see this great article:]

To 2012, to softness!!!

Friday, 6 January 2012

to thine own self be true...

There is just one life for each of us:  our own.  ~Euripides

Yoga teaches me so many things. Last night, it reminded me of the importance of being true to myself. To recognize that we are all unique beings, living our own lives, our own paths, and we have only to be true that that.

I teach yoga. I love sharing the teachings of yoga. For me, yoga is not so much about the physical. For me, it's not so much about twisting into crazy poses or holding my body weight on one arm, or building a tight, svelt body. For some people, it is, and that's their journey. But for me, it's always been about connecting with my breath, finding a place of stillness and quiet, developing love for myself and my body, being able to soften and breathe and allow love to flow. I love the history and philosophy of yoga. I love the spirit behind it. When I teach people, it is always with a focus on kindness and softness - kindness towards ourselves, acceptance of what's happening right now, without judgement. Softening the intensity in how we hold ourselves, how we breathe, how we live. If people leave my class feeling more centered, more peaceful, more joyous, and a little blissed out, I feel delighted. That is the gift that yoga gives me, and that's the gift I want others to discover.

Last night, I taught a beginner's class, and then a restorative class. Neither class was about accomplishment - they were about connecting with the breath, watching the body and breath become united in movement, and bringing our minds to a place of rest and stillness.

There were other classes going on in the studio at the same time, powerful, strong, active, hot classes. The people, and teachers, going in and out of those classes, are super-fit, super-strong. And I found myself becoming judgemental of myself - "am I teaching the right stuff? these people look pretty cool; they have better abs and shoulders and arms than I do. they have tats all over them. maybe I'm not cool. maybe I should teach that power-twisty-sweaty yoga". Really, I was transported back to grade 7-girl stuff - power hot yoga is so trendy, so popular, so "in"; and I had a flashback criticism: "I'm doing it wrong, I'm not in the in-crowd". Then I had a little giggle to myself. Observed the thoughts that I was having. Then came back to my breath, and my heart center, and realized, nope, that is NOT where I belong. That is not my path.

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.  ~e.e. cummings

In some ways, it would be easier to follow what is becoming more and more common in yoga - super-fit, focused on the body, gathering large numbers of people in classes. These classes certainly do attract larger numbers of people, than restorative, gentle, or beginners classes do, at least here in Ottawa. And I'd "fit in" with the fitness-yoga images I see all around me, in the media, etc. But yoga is giving me the courage to really open my eyes and see who I am. See what is truly important to me. And stay true to that. 

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.  ~e.e. cummings, 1955