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Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

manFallingOverSculpture

 

Standing yoga balances–the art of standing on one foot–are known to increase concentration, to strengthen the legs, knees, ankles and feet, to calm the nervous system, and to increase mental focus.  That’s what they’re known for but the reality, as I consistently witness in my classes, can often look like something else.  Nothing seems to get the majority of my students more riled up than standing balance poses.  This is where I most often witness anger, frustration, despair, and “giving up” as bodies teeter, with feet and legs working hard to keep an upright, balanced position.  This is where my students are more likely drop out of practice after only a few short moments by leaving the body and entering the realm of speech.  Instead of doing the pose and experiencing the challenge in the body, they will turn to me and exclaim in wonder at how hard it is, at how they simply can’t do it and don’t understand why; in short, they will run away.  And this is where it all gets interesting.

We humans hate like hell to feel off-kilter.  We don’t like to feel wobbly.  We don’t like to feel out of control.  We don’t like to feel vulnerable, especially when other people are around to witness our struggle.  So why, then, would we take a standing balance pose and purposely put ourselves in a position where we are constantly at risk of falling over?  For precisely the reasons we resist:  to feel wobbly; to feel out of control; to feel vulnerable, especially when other people are around to witness our struggle.  We take these stances and challenge our comfort zones in a contained way so we can learn more about ourselves, so we can understand our chronic responses to feelings we often label as “less than desirable”.  In trying to stand on one foot in a yoga class, we may discover that we get right pissed off when we lose balance and fall over, and this leads to us wanting to give up.  Or we may find out that when we feel vulnerable, we begin to talk…A LOT; we try to escape the feelings in the body by moving into distracting speech.

All of this acts as a signpost to how we behave out in the world.  Life is an endless stream of events that work to throw us off balance.  How many times have you had your day set with all the tasks perfectly spread out and timed, and then the curve ball came crashing in–your car has a flat tire, you get an emergency call about a family member, you wind up in bumper-to-bumper traffic getting nowhere fast?  Disorienting, isn’t it?  Can you come back to balance when things have thrown you for a loop?  Can you maintain your composure and stay calm?  Can you allow your mind and breath to settle before deciding on how to proceed?  Can you take a few breaths?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

I always hear the voices of my teachers when offering standing balances to my students:  Teacher One:  “It’s not about whether you will fall out of balance, it’s about what you do when you get there.”  (Will you try again?)  Teacher 2:  “Ah, not today.”  (Some days it’s just not working.  Some days you need simply to stand still…on both feet.)

Trying to find centre in the midst of the chaos that can erupt when thrown off kilter is an amazing way to break your heart open and to find compassion, both for yourself and for all the others out there who are working to do the same.  So the next time you fall over (and you will), whether it be physically or otherwise (like when you lose your composure and your temper), instead of scolding yourself for failing somehow, offer yourself compassion for your humanity; say to yourself, “Ah, not today.  Today, in this moment, I cannot achieve balance,” and take 3 deep breaths.  See how that one simple thing can change your life.

And when you’re out in the world and you witness someone else losing her balance in some fashion, feel your heart open up.  If you can, offer assistance.  If you can’t offer assistance, perhaps offer compassion in the same way you did for yourself:  “Ah, not today.  Today, in this moment, she cannot achieve balance,” and take 3 deep breaths for her.  And if even that feels like a stretch, because sometimes people, in their loss of balance, can act in ways we just cannot understand or soften towards, just breathe and see how that one simple thing can change the world.

I’ll be seeing you, face-planted, on the mat and on the mat of life.  Maybe, when we lock eyes, we can smile at one another; we won’t be alone.

 

Until then, much love and many blessings,

Tabitha

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I DON'T WANNA!

I DON’T WANNA!

I’m going to be honest with you, I don’t want to be here, in front of this computer screen, working at putting words down in a way that may provoke thought, or inspire, or….whatever.  I just don’t want to be here, the same way I didn’t want to walk my backside down the hallway to the yoga studio for my morning practice.  I opened my eyes this morning, a half hour later than I would normally get up, and I was whomped with a good old fashioned case of “I DON’T WANNA!”  I’m sure the Masters have a more elegant term for this–resistance, self-sabotage, hitting the wall, turning point, etc.  Regardless of the name, what I have is a mind that is pitching one royal fit these days as it begins all sentences with “I DON’T WANNA!”  I don’t wanna do my yoga practice.  I don’t wanna write.  I don’t wanna teach.  I don’t wanna go in to work.  I don’t wanna go anywhere.

I…just…don’t…wanna!

This isn’t a case of depression, by the way; it’s too active a state of mind to be that.  It’s something happening within my psyche that kicks up from time to time and tries to tell me that sleep and comfort are superior to my “disciplines”.  I read an article recently by a yoga teacher that said, if left to its own devices, the body would drag us down into bad habits.  We’d become slovenly.  We’d eat nothing but crap and we’d pound back the vodka to wash it all down.  I could not have disagreed more with an article.  It’s not the body that does this, in my opinion and experience, it’s the mind.  It’s the mind that goes into some kind of crisis and begs to creep back into the comfort zone of ice cream, flannel pyjamas and 18 hours of sleep.  Why does the mind do this?  I’ll be damned if I know but I suspect it’s simply the nature of the mind to kick up a fuss.

All of this brings me back a number of years to the weekend workshop I was obliged to attend during my yoga teacher training.  It was January and it was one of the coldest Januarys I can remember.  It was grey and there were piles of snow everywhere.  Navigating the roads was no small feat and, for this workshop, I had to travel into the very core of the city during rush hour traffic.  The mere thought of it felt like complete hell on earth, never mind the actual reality.  I was not a happy camper.  There I sat in a room filled with fellow trainees and other community members when my teacher opened the session with one of my most hated questions, “Why are you here today?”  I knew I was in serious trouble.  The people surrounding me, who all looked so colourful and perky while I was feeling grey and sluggish, answered with profound and lovely statements that had to do with inner peace and expanding knowledge.  All my mind could come up with was a fit of, “I’m here because I’m forced to be here.  I’m here because I won’t graduate if I don’t attend, but trust me, I don’t want to be here!”  I didn’t want to be rude and I certainly did not want to lie to my teacher. When my turn came, I took a deep breath and said, “I don’t know why I’m here.  I’ve hit the wall and I’m not sure I even want to continue with the training.  So I decided I would just show up and see what happens.”

And there it was, the golden nugget that fell out of the sky and into my lap, the key to it all:  Just…show…up.

That became my mantra for the weekend–Just show up and the rest will take care of itself.  It became my mantra for the remainder of my training.  And for my first yoga series offering.  And for Monday mornings at the office.  And for life in general.  I even find myself offering it to my students.

JUST SHOW UP.

Show up when you’d much rather be sleeping.  Show up when you think you don’t have enough time in your life to be there.  Show up regardless of how you’re feeling–happy, sad, angry, full of despair.  Show up even if you’ve had an argument with your loved one.  Show up when you have no idea what to say.  And show up when you can’t manage to stop talking.  If there’s something in your life that you know is good for you, that keeps you steady and grounded, that improves your sense of well-being, that works as a healing balm for your sanity, then, for god’s sake, show up.  All you need to do is arrive, bad mood and all, and the rest really does take care of itself.

So today I dragged my sorry, whining ass over to the mat and did my morning practice.  I showed up and walked away with a sense of bliss.  It might have been temporary, but it was there.  I also sat myself down in front of this computer with, apparently, nothing to say.  As of this moment, I have discovered over 800 words to share with you.  I showed up and the post arrived.

I haven’t met a single human yet who hasn’t, at some point or other, hit the wall and felt like sliding down to the ground and parking butt.  It may just be who we are as humans.  At those times, when you know deep within yourself that you need to push against inertia, I suggest you do what it takes–crawl, roll, drag, walk–to get to that thing that works best for you, the thing you are resisting.  Offer yourself to it, even if you’re ragged and bloody.  Write this down for fortification if you need to:

JUST SHOW UP.

The rest will take care of itself.

And it does.

With sore muscles, a cranky mind, and (figuratively) bloody fingers,

all my love,

Tabitha

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Ibelieveinyou

Ever since my friend put me on to the video I posted last week entitled “Never Ever Give Up” (you can find it here) I can’t stop thinking about the power of belief to change a life, and about the impact teachers can have on their students.  Going back to the video, I think that man’s yoga teacher could have given him an exercise as simple as “jump on one foot” and it would have made all the difference in the world.  Why?  Because the belief in the student’s ability to transform was there long before the set of exercises was given out.  The teacher believed when the student could not, and isn’t that a remarkable thing?  Isn’t that what it’s all about, not just between teacher and student, but between us all as believing mirrors for one another?

I love when students begin to practice yoga with me.  I hear all kinds of fanciful stories about how out of shape they are, how they lack flexibility, and how they can’t do this, that and the other thing, especially because they’re so old.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret:  While I smile and nod graciously, truly understanding the importance of being heard and validated, I don’t buy any of it.  In my mind, I think, “Let’s just see about that.”  And I don’t mean that in a patronizing way.  I just wonder how much of the belief system we each hold on to is based on fact and how much is adopted story.  I work exclusively with women and, in this world, we are told constantly how it’s over for us once we move past the age of 25 (or is it younger now?  It seems younger to me.) We’re done.  We have nothing to offer.  We’re sliding downhill into frailty and dementia.  And I say:  BULLSHIT!  Again, let’s just see about that.

And, my word, I have seen.  I have seen a 70 year old woman who, after 2 years of practice, flipped ass-over-tea-kettle and hopped up into a wall-supported handstand.  I have seen a 66 year old woman commit to a regular yoga practice for 2 years, when she has struggled to commit to any kind of physical exercise her whole life.  I have seen a woman who, in the beginning, could not sit still and close her eyes in meditation, become one of the most still and focused students in class.  I have seen.  On the first day, I have looked into your eyes and while you speak to me of what you lack, I see all the potential that exists.  And the day that you begin to see it for yourself  is the day that you begin to hold yourself up.  What a glorious day!

This isn’t about how I’m some kind of grand yoga teacher.  I’m not.  I’m just some average chick running classes from her home.  This is about the life-changing effects of believing in one another.  It’s about having the courage to dive with one another beneath the skin and into the soul of the matter, and once you reach the soul, there’s nothing that can’t happen.  In the place of the soul, “can’t” doesn’t exist.

For me, it happened with the written word.  Words are magic for me and capturing what is in my head and getting it just right down on the paper is a bliss unimaginable.  But my storytelling capacity wasn’t exactly nurtured by the nuns in nursery school.  Nope.  I had to do and redo and redo again my paragraphs so my letters fit perfectly inside the lines.  Forget about the quality of the story, it was the pretty handwriting that counted.  Silliness.  When I was 10 years old, I met the man who would change my writing life forever.

Mr. LaPlume was fresh out of teacher’s college, with glasses and a shock of flaming orange hair.  He was young, vibrant and full of life, and he did that one thing that would turn everything “writing” on its head:  He told my parents that I had something when it came to words; I had a gift for writing. I had never heard that before.  For years I had only heard about what was “wrong”, never about what was right or what could be.  Mr. LaPlume believed in my talent and I believed in Mr. LaPlume.  If he thought my writing was good, maybe, just maybe, it was. To this day, when the scary writer’s thoughts enter my mind and I worry that I will run out of things to say, Mr. LaPlume’s shiny face enters my mind and I think, “Mr. LaPlume believed in me.  I can do this.”  Some things never leave…thank god!

So, who believes in you?  Who is the shining star who said that one perfect thing at just the right time to help you take that leap of faith?  Who is the person who has stood by you time and again, and encouraged you and celebrated with you, with pom poms, whenever you overcame yourself and DID IT, whatever “it” is?  Who holds the faith in you when you’re feeling too fragile to hold it for yourself?  If, for some reason, no one comes to mind, I’ll tell you this:

i believe in you

I believe in who you are and in what you can do, and there’s a whole army of good people standing behind me who believe in you too.  Just reach out into the ether and you’ll know we’re there.  Then…do it, whatever “it” is.  We’ll be there, pom poms in hand, smiling right along with you.  Some angels aren’t meant to be seen, but they’re still there.

Have a blessed day!

Tabitha

ps.  Mr. LaPlume, if you’re out there…THANK YOU.  You helped to change my life.

 

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May you always believe in the extraordinary things you can do, and may you always have at least one amazing person in your life who believes right along with you, especially for those times when you may forget.

Much love,

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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I got into it last week with someone I know about whether it was even remotely useful to include Sanskrit terms in Western classes, or whether it was a colossal waste of time. Much to my surprise I found myself “overheated” and going over the edge with the whole thing.  I always find those experiences fascinating.  They stand as a beacon pointing me towards something that runs deep within me, so I followed.  I worked my way through the initial power struggle I was having with my co-debater.  I dug past statements about the Divine and the healing force of sound buried within each utterance.  And finally this is what I found, a gem hidden within lines on my Facebook page:

I guess, when I get clear with myself, it’s the Western expectation that everything needs to be dumbed down, even the spiritual path. The message behind that is: You’re too stupid to understand so let me baby you through this. What happens when we lower the bar is that we start becoming the “stupid” the world expects us to be… I say RAISE the bar for students. Walk with them through the fear, through the discomfort of learning something foreign, through the expectation of failure, through the laziness of mind, etc., instead of patronizing them and saying, “There, there, dear, let me get you the plastic scissors with the round tips and a helmet so you don’t hurt yourself.” Fuck it. Hurt yourself and then rise up! Learn that you CAN.

As a teacher, as a friend, as a fellow human being on this twisted human path, I will hold out more for you than you can currently imagine for yourself because I believe there is far more that you’re capable of than you’re letting on.  So I’m keeping the Sanskrit terms in my classes.  I’ll meet you there and together we can muddle our way through the tongue-ties and the complexities and maybe, after we stumble countless times, we’ll begin to understand, to see what’s behind it all.  Maybe, together, we’ll figure this stuff out.  🙂  But if we fall, we will get up, you and I, together, and we’ll try again.  Because we can.  Because that’s all there is to do.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.  (The sacred seed sound of OM….peace…peace…peace.)

Love,

Tabitha

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Recently I’ve begun to introduce more sophisticated forms of inversions in class.  Specifically we’ve explored Snail pose or modified plough pose.
Inline images 1
(Inversions are poses where the head rests below the heart.)  It was while students were in this pose that I asked, “How do you feel about being flipped upside down,”  to which I received a very quiet but clear response of, “I don’t like it.”  So let’s talk a bit about why we do inversions, not so much the physical reasons but the more subtle mental and emotional reasons for such a practice.
In Snail pose, the weight is taken by the back of the head, across the shoulder blades, and down the upper arms.  The weight of the folded legs greatly compresses the inner organs that have now dropped towards the chest cavity, pressing against the diaphragm and making it more challenging to breathe.  It is not uncommon to experience a choking sensation, to think, “I can’t breathe,” and to feel PANIC!
Now why in God’s name would we do this to ourselves?  I think a more interesting question is:  Why wouldn’t we?  🙂
Yoga is so much more than a set of physical exercises.  Each asana, in a way, mimics various scenarios in life.  When we take a stance we begin to understand ourselves in richer, more detailed ways.  We begin to understand how we approach and deal with life, and then we learn new ways.
Each and every one of us will come up against situations that cause us to feel disoriented, choked, “flipped upside down” and panicked.  Like the Snail pose, we feel heavy and restricted, like the world is falling in on us.  Situations like serious illness, loss of a job or relationship, and death can feel overwhelming and smothering.  In the face of such things we often feel utterly helpless, but we aren’t; inversions teach this very well.  Regardless of how great the weight or how tight the space, we can always do something–we can breathe!  It’s a different breath, often more shallow and slightly more laboured, but it’s breath and that’s something.  In fact, in the scheme of life, that’s EVERYTHING!  We can go days without food but we can only go minutes without breath.  Breath is life and where there’s breath, there’s possibility and the potential for something new to take place.
We practice being flipped upside down. We practice breathing in tight spaces.  As we practice we may find that our mind begins to quiet and we may not feel so panicked.  We begin to understand that we are surviving in the tight squeeze; we are okay.  We practice this on the mat, in a safe and supportive environment, so that when Life comes in like a roaring tide with all of its uncertainty, we have stored within our bodies and minds the memory of how to appropriately deal with stressful situations.  We instinctively turn to our breathing, locking our minds into that rhythm and flow, so we can begin to calm our nervous systems and, consequently, begin to realize more options for ourselves, even if that means simply accepting that in some scenarios breathing is all we can do; breathing is enough.
So inversions are not just some kind of strange bodily configurations that we can show off at parties.  They are important teachers that come to us through the magical practice of Yoga, showing us that we can survive being flipped upside down; we can embody grace under pressure.
Happy flipping and breathing!
Blessings,
Tabitha

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