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This is absolutely brilliant.  Enjoy!

Tabitha

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Most people sleep without resolving their tensions,

This is termed nidra.

Nidra means sleep, no matter what or why,

But yoga nidra means sleep after throwing off the burdens,

It is of a blissful, higher quality altogether.–Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1)

Tiruvannamalai, India, 2009

I find myself at The Singing Heart ashram in a country I never wanted to visit a day in my life.  I don’t handle crowds or extreme heat very well and India is the land of both.  I ended up here as a result of a long string of bizarre coincidences that I still cannot understand.  With the exception of my teacher, Felicia Pavlovic of Yoga Therapy Toronto (YTT), I didn’t know a soul.  The group was comprised of recent graduates of YTT’s teacher training program along with participants from India and a few strays, like myself, mixed in.  Our days were simple and rigorous–get up every day before the sun, practice yoga, complete your assigned chores, spend the day learning about meditation and yoga, eat, socialize, etc.,  but it was what we did in the evening that had me the most baffled and intrigued.  The second night, after we had settled in, we were instructed, after dinner, to prepare for yoga nidra.  We were to wash up, get ready for bed and come to the meditation hall in our pyjamas. There was to be as little disruption as possible after the session; we were to quietly go back to our rooms and to immediately go to bed.  I was suspicious while my travelling companions almost hooted with joy; clearly they knew about this yoga nidra stuff and they liked it.

It wasn’t a mad rush to the meditation hall after dinner since there isn’t much mad rushing happening at an ashram, but my companions were certainly eager to get going.  Inside the hall, candles were lit and everything was pushed aside, leaving an open, central space for us to lie in.  We were instructed to remain still for the duration of the practice and to follow Felicia’s voice as she guided us through the process.  No problem.  That I could do.  And we were to remain fully awake.  Hm…now that part was questionable.

Soon Felicia had us moving through and identifying body parts.  She had us visualizing detailed scenarios.  There was a rapid succession of images presented to us that we were to imagine to the best of our abilities.  None of it made any sense to me.  What was the importance of my right hand thumb?  Where was visualizing a trip up a mountain going to lead me?  Why a dark, starry night and a white, sandy beach?

It wasn’t possible for me to fall asleep that first time I experienced yoga nidra; I was too involved in questioning what was going on.  But that night?  That night I had the best sleep in years.  A long-time sufferer of insomnia, I knew that if this was some of what yoga nidra had to offer, I wanted more.  The following night and every night we practiced thereafter, I charged my way to the meditation hall like a football player, so I could find the “perfect” spot to settle in and move through the mysterious process of yoga nidra. I was hooked.

“Yoga nidra, which is derived from the tantras, is a powerful technique in which you learn to relax consciously…Yoga nidra is a systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation…During the practice of yoga nidra, one appears to be asleep, but the consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness…In yoga nidra, the state of relaxation is reached by turning inwards, away from outer experiences.” (2)

In yoga nidra, we work through the three levels of tension:  muscular, emotional and mental.  Tension held on these levels creates strain, distraction and suffering in an individual.  Using yoga nidra as a tool, we work through these tensions and the often unconscious material stored up that leads to the creation of these “knots”.  As we work through the process, accessing, witnessing and then releasing emotionally charged and sometimes difficult material, we allow our personal energy to move more freely.  Without these hindrances that sap our energy, we are able to relax fully which then allows us to live with greater vitality.

In a very practical way, yoga nidra has been used to assist people suffering from anxiety and depression, heart disease, memory issues, post-traumatic stress, insomnia and much more.  It is becoming widely understood and accepted that chronic stress, something most of us face, creates disharmony in the human system which, over time, can lead to systemic breakdown and disease.  Relaxation techniques that work to counteract the effects of stress are becoming more commonplace.  Techniques like yoga nidra work on an even deeper level, striving to uncover the roots of chronic stress in an individual and to resolve the deeply held conflicts that work to create disharmony in the system.  Yoga nidra, like so many of these techniques, is best understood when experienced; some things simply defy words.

I will admit it, I am a yoga nidra convert of the worst kind–I believe everyone should experience this transformative process.  If yoga nidra sounds like something you would be interested in exploring, check with yoga studios in your area to see if they offer this practice.  You can also find a variety of practices on iTunes, on Amazon, or by contacting me.

“Through the practice of yoga nidra, we are not only relaxing, but restructuring and reforming our whole personality from within.  Like the mythological phoenix, with every session we are burning the old…habits and tendencies in order to be born anew.”  (3)

May you love yourself enough to investigate things that hold the potential to help you unfurl your wings so you can fly.  It is your birthright.

With the deepest of love, Namaste.

Tabitha

*  (1)  Saraswati, Swami Satyananda, ‘Yoga Nidra’, Yoga Publications Trust, 2009, p. 8.

    (2)  Ibid, p. 1.

   (3)  Ibid, p. 15.

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And on the third day there was…..

Shhhhhhhhhhh……

Enjoy!

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How often do we waste our words, throwing them to the air for absolutely no reason?  This is a question that floated to me on the wind as I sat in silence by the lake.  It’s become a ritual now:  once a week I fall into silence for the better part of the morning, I walk to the lake at the end of the road and I simply observe everything in between.

It’s astounding what I’ve seen:  a beautiful brown hare sitting in the grass soaking up sunshine; a toad that led me to a patch of wild strawberries growing towards the lakeside rocks; the mating ritual of 20 swans; a skunk lumbering past, only feet away from me; a woodpecker feeding its young who sat protected in a hole pecked into a dead tree.

When I fall silent and choose not to use my voice I become part of a larger conversation, yet all around me are people charging the walking paths like they’re going to conquer new lands.  Friends storm the trails together in the name of “health”, nattering on, seemingly unable to spend time together without using their voices.  How much larger does the conversation become between people when the physical voice gets shut down?  How much more deeply can we connect with ourselves and with all that surrounds us when we fall into rich, deep silence?

My memory takes me back to the silent retreat of a couple weeks ago.  No voices and still there was conversation.  What I noticed was how the quality of the interactions between people changed as soon as the voice was taken out of the picture.  Things became softer.  It was impossible to hail for someone’s attention so other tools were employed: touch, eye contact and facial expressions, for example.  People approached one another quietly, not wanting to frighten them.  Touch was patient and kind with people moving slowly to make contact.  Arms and hands did not abruptly shoot out towards another; instead, the movement became more of a glide with hands lighting softly on another’s skin.  People looked deeply into each other’s eyes and many times this exchange included a smile.  Beautiful.

How different is this from what I observe on the park paths?  There is no contact between people as they walk side by each, no eye contact, no physical contact, just the voice uttering stories, words falling into the air about things not present in that moment.  Stories taking up space between people so the magic all around them, the larger picture of which they are a part, gets missed.  Stories, thought to bridge gaps, in this case, creating distance between people. Would the park experience be richer if two friends travelled there in silence with no voices to shield them, just the soft, tender, openness of humanity?

This week’s silence challenge is this:  Can you take some time, 5 minutes, even just a moment, to connect with someone in a silent way?  Do you dare walk together and spend time together without having to speak?  Can you allow yourself to reach out gently to touch that person in order to capture her attention?  Can you look into her eyes to see the response?  Do you dare be soft, tender and human with another? 

If you do dare, please, let me know how it goes.  🙂

Many blessings for your journey,

Tabitha

xoxoxo

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I have often thought a garden reflects the keeper’s state of mind.  I imagine that an overgrown, stressed-looking garden is kept by someone who has very little space in her life, or who is not coping well with the circumstances she faces.  A professionally tended, manicured, “perfect” garden belongs to an uptight, image-oriented man, or perhaps to someone who is prone to handing off responsibility for his life to someone else.

Recently I stepped out into my yard and could almost hear my heart break.  In the middle of May, autumn leaves still lay on the surface of many of the garden beds.  Weeds were throwing a party in there.  Grass had swarmed the edges so I wasn’t really sure where the lawn ended and the gardens began.  Every angle of this picture told the story of a woman who has been too long away from her land, too involved in other things, and not grounded in her work. It has been a tough year establishing my yoga business and working to understand who I am and how I operate within this business world.  Like the dense, compacted soil beneath my feet, my spirit has hardened making it difficult for new and beautiful things to grow.

This past weekend I waded through the piles of things stored for winter in the back of the garage, pulled out my favourite garden tools, and made my way to the patch underneath the now massive honey locust tree in the centre of the backyard.  I began digging and fluffing the earth, and pulling at the weeds, looking for signs of health and life within the soil.  With the sound of birds laughing overhead, I surged with joy at the sight of a fat earthworm; there was hope for this garden.  Did the same hold true for my heart?

As I continued tending to the patch of earth, my mind wandered and I began to realize how very much gardening is like meditation.  When I garden, I pull weeds and nourish the soil so that the new and beautiful life growing there has a chance to flourish.  I edge the beds drawing clear boundaries between what I want to happen in that space and what I don’t, and I move things around so they make better sense.  I notice the plants that have encroached on my garden from other yards and I decide which I will adopt and allow to remain, and of which I will dispose.  I create space for beauty to flood in.

The same holds true when I come to my meditation practice.  How long I’ve been away will tell me how many weed-thoughts are likely to have encroached on my mind.  Breathing in and out, I begin plucking at the thoughts that have overwhelmed my personal space, choking out any real possibility for clarity and evolution.  Like my garden’s plant invaders from other environments, I notice thoughts in my psyche that are not mine, seeds that have been planted by outside forces like family, friends, work connections and the culture-at -large, and that have taken root in my mind.  Which do I allow to stay and which do I remove?  In what way shall I edge and boundary the beds of my mind?  The choice is entirely mine.

By coming to my practice over and over again I become the gardener of my existence, creating an environment that allows the winds of enlightenment to blow through, and the colours of creation to light up the sky of my mind.  Gently inhaling and exhaling, I nudge out the dense thoughts that keep me downtrodden like cold, unmanaged soil; it is so much easier to do when the weed-thoughts are still small and less established.

The soil beneath the tree in my yard now looks fresh and fluffy, tender loving care having prepared it to properly sustain new life.  The boundaries around what stays and what goes are a bit more defined.  Bright pink and white flowers planted in the openings add colour and zing to the previously drab, sad space.  The splash of colour beneath the tree has painted a streak upon my soul.  Stepping forward into my life, I bring breath and awareness, the “earthworms” that signal a renewal and regeneration of the tender earth that binds me.   With a lightness of being, my laughter meets that of the birds and, together, we float through the sky–free.  The garden has shown me there is indeed hope for my heart as well.

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“That’s not very yogic.”  I’ve been hearing that a lot lately, from friends and family, and even from myself when there’s no one else around, in response to a rant of mine, a mood swing, a dark cloud overshadowing my world, a desire of mine to shove the barking neighbour dog in a turkey fryer, etc.  “You’re a YOGA teacher, Tabitha.  You’re not supposed to say (feel, do) that.  Something’s not going right.”  And once the irritation of that statement settles, I find myself wondering what exactly people expect from their Yoga teacher, and from practices in general, be they marital arts, meditation, Qi Gong.  What does it mean to be yogic?

I have a sneaking suspicion that what people expect from “enlightenment practices” is a cessation of human emotions we find disturbing–rage, impatience, despair, depression, and all other taboo feelings.  Stuck in a “don’t worry, be happy” society that likes to brush all sorts of things under the rug, it seems we believe that if we just do enough yoga or meditate for long enough we will become happy, perma-smiley, practically-levitating-we’re-so-light kinds of humans.

My ex used to call me The Wielder of the Great Pin because I used to burst his bubble a lot with my sense of realism.  Well, here comes the Wielder!

Folks, let me tell you a little something–no amount of yoga or meditation or ecstatic dance or martial arts will stop you from being human.  That’s right!  And being human means we are houses for vast amounts of perceptions and feelings.  That’s what makes this human life so rich!  Do you honestly think you could fully appreciate joy if you never felt despair?  The most ancient traditions recognized that every ounce of light has a bit of darkness in it, and even the darkness houses some light.  We can’t have one without the other.  Life is full of contrast and paradox.  It is our job to figure out how to navigate through these paradoxes with a little bit of grace.

And that’s what being yogic does for us.  It provides us with choices.  There is no longer a white lightening hot reaction to an experience; instead there is a tiny bit of space…..and choice.  We learn to choose.  For instance, while the barking dog next door prompts me to fantasize about throwing her into a turkey fryer, I do not do it.  A loved one says something that hits a red button deep inside and, instead of lashing out, I breathe or I leave and come back to the situation to respond, not to react.

But let me tell you something, friends, if I haven’t slept well the night before or if I’m hungry or hormonal, I sometimes react.  Yes, sometimes I fall from grace, fall flat on my face, and act from the dark place within.  Because no matter how long I’ve been practicing yoga and meditation and ecstatic dance, I am still human.  As a human, falling from grace is part of my job.  The other part of my job is to recognize the fall and figure out how to get back up.

So if you think that by practicing yoga you are going to somehow become superhuman, I think you will be disappointed.  Practicing yoga will provide you with the space and breath you need to make different, possibly healthier, choices in your life, but it will not erase your humanity.

Let me state it for the record here:  I, Tabitha Kot, am a human being who teaches yoga.  As such, I experience a wide range of emotions.  I feel joy, lust, despair and betrayal.  I experience rage and hate and the butterflies of love.  I want to do harm and I want to gently nurture.  I want to lash out, and I want to be peaceful.  I am all things, shadow and light.  I am a human being, and that’s just the way it is.

And THAT, my friends, IS very yogic!  🙂

Have a great day!

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I don’t know about you but I have a particularly bad habit of striving for perfection.  The perfect career…the perfect yoga practice…the perfect meditation technique…the perfect things to say and do at just the right times…the perfect exercise program for the perfect waistline…All of this, I am convinced, will bring me the “perfect” outcome that will ultimately lead to perfect peace.  *sigh*  I’m sure you can guess how that goes–imperfectly.  My yoga practice begins to piss me off.  My meditation regime seems to be aggravating me instead of calming me down.  I have classic foot-in-mouth syndrome as I stumble horribly through an awkward situation, saying all the wrong things.  And let’s not even talk about the waistline, okay?  Peace?  Forget about it.  But one day, maybe ONE day, when I “get it right”, this elusive perfection thing will be MINE ALL MINE!

Then one day, driving in my car, I hear a song by Alanis Morrisette called “Incomplete”, and it stopped me dead in my tracks.  I began to laugh and cry at the same time, realizing just how ridiculous it is for me to strive for perfection when the beauty of life and living is in the imperfection.   And that one simple realization led to a pure experience of peace.  I just let it go for a moment, I let it all go and peace was mine.  For once I felt it was okay to be the perfectly flawed human being I am here to be.

And how are you with it all, my perfectly, wonderously flawed human friend?  Can you see the beauty in your imperfection?  In the imperfection of it ALL?

Here are the lyrics to the song that somehow unlocked a part of me and led me to a moment of freedom.  May we all simply allow ourselves to be and to enjoy the journey with all the bumps, twists and turns that come with living!  May you find peace.  🙂

“Incomplete”

One day I’ll find relief
I’ll be arrived
And I’ll be a friend to my friends who know how to be friends
One day I’ll be at peace
I’ll be enlightened and I’ll be married with children and maybe adopt
One day I will be healed
I will gather my wounds forge the end of tragic comedy

I have been running so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture this whole time of being forever incomplete

One day my mind will retreat
And I’ll know God
And I’ll be constantly one with her night dusk and day
One day I’ll be secure
Like the women I see on their thirtieth anniversaries

I have been running so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture this whole time of being forever incomplete

Ever unfolding
Ever expanding
Ever adventurous
And torturous
But never done

One day I will speak freely
I’ll be less afraid
And measured outside of my poems and lyrics and art
One day I will be faith-filled
I’ll be trusting and spacious authentic and grounded and home

I have been running so sweaty my whole life
Urgent for a finish line
And I have been missing the rapture this whole time of being forever incomplete

And for those of us who are more auditory in nature, here is a video.  Enjoy!

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