Sunday, December 16, 2012

Stress and the Holidays

It seems like this time of year when the days are so short and it's really cold (at least up here in Ottawa) is already pretty stressful and then we add the biggest holiday that our culture celebrates together - it pushes a lot of people to their edge. Full disclosure: me, too.

I think it's great to plop a big distraction right as the longest night happens. By the time the holidays are over, we're safely on the other side, where the days are already getting longer, even though we have to deal with the fact that winter is just getting started.

These are really just conditions though and yoga teaches us that it's not the external conditions that really make a difference - it's how we deal with it. I do think that this time of year offers us a bigger load to deal with though!

Yoga practice throughout the year, and I'm not just talking about the physical postures here, will help us balance when year end comes. In a way, this time of year offers us opportunities to evaluate how we're doing. We get to look at so many areas of our life at one time: we are more aware of our bodies and what we're eating as the opportunities to indulge are likely greater; we can be more aware of our finances as multiple and/or major purchases are timed here; we get to look at our relationships as invitations and opportunities to spend time with family pop up; we get to review our overall happiness as the cultural pressure to make New Year's resolutions rolls out; spiritually, hmm, what are we offered here? Unless you're plugged in to a community that honours this aspect you may find this time a bit hollow and it's here where I see people scratching their heads and wondering what this is all about. This holiday time, this season, this life...

The idea of healthy yoga practice is to have ourselves in balance. That would include all of the areas of our life, not just our stretchy bodies. Yoga - and I don't mean coming to a class and sitting on a mat, but really looking at our lives, which may include that - helps us digest our lives. When we look at what's there, it helps us to deal with what we've got going on and even process some of it. Without action, a lot of stuff won't get processed - like clearing up clutter in our lives - but sometimes all of the action that's required is to acknowledge what's going on.

So when the bulls-eye of Christmastime gets closer in our sights, we have a lot of choices. We can close our eyes and wait for it to be over or we can pay attention and adjust our course so that we go through what's there and reap the benefits that come with addressing ourselves and our lives. There are also many other ways to play at holiday time!

This may all occur as stress and the suggestion I'm making is to welcome it and see it as an opportunity. Let the external circumstances mirror some inner areas so we can see more clearly. And continue to breathe through it. Deep breathing, time with eyes closed in meditation, time serving our families and others in need, time being in our bodies doing something good for it like exercise, time counting our blessings and being grateful will all help us hit the mark and digest what's there to be digested, and hopefully enjoy the crisp, clear, star-filled nights, finding peace in our own lives.

(By the way, that's KC, the source of the white hair on my black pants.)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Brahmacharya and Food (and Holidays)

I recently completed a Vegan Baking Class here in Ottawa - just in time to make goodies for Christmas! Here's the good news - I ate lots of baked goods and I am still wearing the same clothes. But it required awareness more than ever because I was around so much good stuff more than I usually was - it made me pay closer attention to what I was putting into my body.

The other good news is that my baking class coincided with a deal at a gym nearby and I've been really good about being more active this past month as well - so that worked out.

But Christmas hasn't even happened yet! There are still a few parties to go and at my age, without being aware of what I'm doing, will end up with added body mass, which is totally fine, it's just that for me I can't afford new clothes at this time of year, and really it would be unwanted.

This is a great time of year to practise brahmacharya, moderation in this case, one of the yogic yamas, or restraints. Moderation doesn't mean abstinence. Moderation means be aware. Have a bit, but not too much. Enjoy but don't over-indulge. When we over-indulge we are left with a hangover or more than our bodies can process at one time, so we save it all for later and stay "toxic" until we can properly digest whatever we've taken in. That can be food, alcohol, violent movies, or anything that leaves a residue.

It's at this time of year that it is helpful to remember the Sattva guna, or the light, healthy, pure power in the universe. It's moderated with Rajas and Tamas, firey, heavy elements that keep us grounded and on the Earth. But adding some sattvic activities like writing Christmas cards and appreciating our families, or simply meditating; adding sattvic foods like fresh vegetables and clean water; sattvic sounds like undisturbing music (maybe not the same Christmas carols played over and over); will all help to balance out the overload that can happen at this time of year.

Here's some pictures from my baking class. I had so much fun and was grateful I had people in my life to share it all with.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How We Think

How we think, what we're thinking about, and how all of that makes us feel, is so important to our quality of life. People who go through the same experience but think about it differently show us that what impacts one person doesn't necessarily impact another person the same way. It really all depends.

This video by Dr. Mike Evans is all about yoga. He mentions yoga and meditation later on in the 11-minute video, but if you listen carefully, you'll hear that he's talking about yoga the whole time.

While maintaining a certain level of physical health can be a contributing factor to one's overall well-being, how we're thinking all the while will have a much bigger impact.

Patanjali's yoga sutras are all about calming the mind; letting go of disturbances and focusing the mind. Using meditation to become more aware and to be able to move about more freely in our lives. That's yoga.

I played this video for the Police Administrators in the Mind/Body/Wellness component I lead on stress reduction during their leadership training course this week. As I'm playing it, I'm thinking how it's all yoga and how that's really cool that they're getting what I would call more of the "real yoga" rather than just the stretching bits, (which they also get). 

One quote in the video from Abraham Lincoln is "When I do bad, I feel bad. When I do good, I feel good. That is my religion." I love that! I hear yamas and niyamas all over that! I hear Karma Yoga.

If you have 11 minutes to spend hearing a modern presentation on the ancient art of Living Yoga, watch this video and see how many yoga references you can spot.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Is Telling the Truth Religious?

At the beginning of some of my yoga classes, I give a short lesson on some of the non-posture parts of yoga or sometimes a little bit about anatomy. The other day I was at the school where I teach twice a week, where kids go who've been suspended or expelled in the Catholic school board, and I was initiating a discussion on Satya, or truth.

We were talking about how we feel when we lie - not good. About how our behaviour changes when we lie - we have to be careful around certain people and remember who we told what to, for instance. I asked the group how they thought other people would feel around us if we told the truth, and knowing that satya comes after ahimsa, non-violence, they said people would feel safe. I said that the yoga sutras say that taken to its fullest, when a yogi is practising satya, what they say happens. It's pretty powerful.

One of the boys asked me if this was religious. I thought about it. If it's religious to tell the truth, then sure, it's religious. Personally, I don't think telling the truth belongs to any one religion, but it doesn't surprise me that it shows up there.

I like to teach the yamas and niyamas by saying that we don't practice them because "god" told us to or because it's the "right" thing to do. We practice it because it frees us up energetically. We may have peace of mind when we don't have to review all of the messes we've made during the day by being harmful to someone, even in our thoughts; or by lying and trying to keep our stories straight; or by stealing other people's things, hoping to not get caught; or dealing with a hangover that comes by being intoxicated by whatever it is that we over-indulge in; or simply by staying emotionally attached to things and people through our expectations of how they should act or behave.

It's just simpler to avoid those things in the first place than to clean it up later, but realistically, we just need to be cleaning up all the time. Taking out the trash regularly. It's an on-going process and just because we may have done a deep clean through a yoga retreat or some good therapy, practising the yamas and niyamas is something we can keep doing forever.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Life after a Hysterectomy

Close your eyes if you don't want to read this post. I know it's not a topic for everyone. However, the more I tune in, the more I find that it is a topic for more and more people. So be warned.

You can read down my past blog posts to find out more about what life was like for me and why I decided to go through a very traditional medical procedure even though I'm in quite an alternative mind-set in general. 

I agonized about having an operation to remove my uterus. I delayed it by trying alternative options through diet and meditation. I could have had the operation much sooner it turns out.

I asked a lot of people I could get my hands on about having the procedure. And even though there were books about how bad it is to have a hysterectomy and radio programs with people calling in complaining about complications, not one person I spoke to personally had a bad time. I even spoke to my grandmother about her surgery that must have been over 50 years ago. All of these women were happy to have it out so their symptoms were gone.

I confided in my GP that I was so anxious about having the operation and it actually comforted me when he told me that it's such a common surgery now that for a doctor it's like taking your tonsils out. They just go in a tube and pull it back out on itself. Gulp.

Before surgery I did take a controversial drug to shrink the tumour. The side effects were unpleasant and I'm glad I didn't take it for too long. The Lupron did its job though, and the fibroids were small enough to be removed without incisions in my abdomen.

Going into surgery was scary for me. I hardly even go to a doctor's office let alone know how to navigate a hospital recovery room. If I were to do it again, I'd have someone stay overnight with me. The care after surgery left a little to be desired. Not being familiar with being in a hospital left me with a distinct disadvantage as to the protocol after hours. 

Because of the type of procedure I had, I have no visual scars. In order for this to happen, I had my cervix removed as well. I would have preferred to keep it, but in discussions with the doctor beforehand about how it was going to work, it was clear that I would not get to keep most of my cervix. My grandmother told me she was sorry they didn't take hers in the first place because she ended up needing a second surgery to remove her cervix after bleeding continued after the first surgery. I don't really miss mine.

I still have my ovaries, so I still ovulate and I still have a cycle (and I still have pain that I suspect is coming from one of them that I'm getting checked out later this week), but I don't get my period. I don't take any hormones or iron pills (whoohoo!) and there are no side effects that matter to me. I don't feel a hole where my uterus used to be. My organs haven't shifted into new places and my body feels good. I do have more energy in general now because for the first time in years I'm no longer anemic. I don't feel less creative or less of a woman or anything like that. I wasn't that clear before the surgery but I'm clear now that I won't have anymore children, which is really fine with me. 

As I wrote in a previous post, I can wear a bathing suit, or shorts, or white clothes, or go for long walks and bike rides, take car trips and plane rides and not have to worry if I'm going to bleed through in a horrific spectacle.

I looked into the alternatives. I considered what there was available. I think we as a society have to do a better job of understanding what causes fibroid tumours and how to reduce them in some way other than cutting them out. Given what we have available right now, I'm grateful for that option. Although I think it is somehow distasteful to have had a hysterectomy socially, there's still a stigma attached to it, I am grateful that I had the surgery.

Women who are younger who are still planning on having children have other things to consider. Women who are closer to menopause could possibly wait just a few more years and the fibroids and bleeding will stop on their own. But if you're reading this in your 40's and you're faced with the recommendation from your doctor that you have one, I would suggest doing it sooner rather than later.

Monday, September 24, 2012

First Birthday Without My Dad

Today's the first birthday I've had since my father died. In the past I would sometimes talk to my dad on my birthday but lots of times I wouldn't hear from him. That was pretty normal. Sometimes at Christmas or at the following birthday, I'd get a present that was for my birthday and Christmas, or for a couple of years in a row as the case was once in a while.

My dad in recent years was a little more organized and I'd get a card near my birthday with a check in it, which was always appreciated. I loved seeing his handwriting on the card, which was often one he'd printed out on his computer. Seeing his handwriting reminded me of crossword puzzles he'd leave behind from his few visits to Ottawa. Or of keeping score for Scrabble, which we liked to play together.

When I went to his place in Texas right after he died, I collected just a few things, but some of the most precious were things that had his handwriting on them. He took lots of notes and kept them around. I do that too, although less and less, as I have integrated using a computer for most of my journalling and note-taking.

So this year I notice I'm sort of waiting for something to come in the mail from him. But I know nothing will come. Not even late. Makes me miss him and feel sad that he's gone.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Training for Nothing

I didn't start "training" (personal training, working out with a trainer) until about 8 years ago. My sister was doing it and after I'd lost my job and was feeling disillusioned and sad I started tagging along with her. I was never a workout person. I did well at school. I liked yoga for the stretching part and the meditation and the learning, but the physical benefits were like a side-effect.

Even doing plenty of yoga asana, I'd get a sore back after carrying my daughter from the car into her bed, or I couldn't open jars or little things like that. But after I started training, doing weights in particular, I got stronger and the little aches and pains went away. That's not totally true, because training itself caused new aches and pains but they were "productive."

Being physical was not something I was raised with. My family didn't work out. We didn't run races, go on hikes, nothing like that. Head transportation machines. We're still like that sometimes. We take our heads around places and then eat. But not that often anymore.

Anyways, I started training and I got stronger. And then I stopped training and I would get sore and flabby. And then I'd start training again and I'd feel better. But working out seemed like something I should be able to do on my own; a discipline that surely I should be able to do on my own. On my own I don't though. I just don't.

Over the past few years especially, I've started to notice when my body is more comfortable and when it's less comfortable. It gets less comfortable more regularly now that I'm in my mid-40s. Maybe having a fibroid and not being able to run and being anemic and then being on medication that made me old temporarily was all part of it. Probably it was. I stopped training this time last year. I wasn't feeling well, I was busy, it costs money, and I didn't do it.

This time last year was a tough time. Getting ready for surgery, taking strong medication that was painful, then I had my operation, then my dad died, I was dealing with a difficult work situation, and what I should have been doing all along was training. But I had stopped.

How to start again? Talk to my trainer. Hmm. Should I call him? Text him? What's the protocol? Will he have time for me? Can I afford it? I decided a couple of months ago that I couldn't afford not to. I don't like being uncomfortable in my body. I have seen people get old and I know it's coming for me too if I'm lucky, and I want to feel good in my body for as long as I can.

I want to run and walk and play and do yoga poses and be strong. Left up to my own devices, I won't always do what's best for my body. I'm lazy that way. But when I make an appointment to meet my trainer, I go. And when I pay him every time, I don't miss the money.

A couple of weeks ago I bought new running shoes. For myself. I buy lots of running shoes for someone else (ahem, 13-year old daughter), but I haven't done that for myself in many years. I love my new shoes. They're bright - it's like a party to wear them! And a pain that I used to have in my knee whenever I ran isn't there anymore. So now I'm back to running as well. At least I've started. My daughter's teacher told her she'd get an automatic extra 5% on her mark if she runs a 10K. I've agreed to do it with her.

Sometimes it's helpful to train for a race or a competition - having a goal is really useful and it can make it fun. I'm at the place where I'm training for nothing other than the equilibrium I've found. I like how my body feels. I sleep well. I digest well. I'm in a good place. I'm lucky to have a trainer who has stuck around. I value my relationship with him. He pushes me but respects me. He encourages me and helps me be moderate. He fits me into his schedule when it's convenient for me and texts me in between with reminders or other things.

Training just to feel good feels like a good long-term goal for me. I want to feel good in my body for a long time.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Why it's not okay to have sex with your students

Why it's not okay to have sex with your students. Hmm. Seems to me by now that this is so obviously wrong in so many ways, but I had forgotten that I didn't always believe it was true.

I remember where I was sitting back in October 1994 when I got the phone call from a friend with the news that our guru, Amrit Desai, had been sleeping with some of his students (disciples) over the years. Even from my office at Omega Institute I heard myself say, "well, he's human. He had sex. Big deal." I'm embarrassed now at my naiveté to think that even for a moment this could have been no big deal. It was a huge deal. And not just because of the sex part...

I had been on a trip earlier that year with Amrit and a bunch of disciples and other students in India. I was there for a 3-month stint taking workshops with Amrit's guru-brother, Rajarshi Muni and his crew. I wasn't senior enough during my stay at Kripalu to have been deep into the inner circles but I absolutely was acquainted with the people who flew in to talk to Gurudev. Rumours were flying. Maybe he would go on a 6-month silent retreat he mentioned. He was trying to dodge the bullets. In the end, he couldn't. There was the sexual stuff and there was the money stuff. He knew how to divide and conquer his people so as I recall, the group that knew about the double books didn't know about the group of sexually abused and vice versa. That has all come to light, but it wasn't until after he basically had a gun to his head that he was willing to admit it.

All along the way he could have been forgiven. (In truth, lots of people have forgiven him and flock to his new yoga place in Florida.) But forgiveness aside, what he did was wrong not just because he had sex with some of his students. If he had been responsible enough to admit it, he could have been dealt with at the time and might still be living next door to Kripalu today, however, that's not what happened. While he was hiding his escapades, he discredited the people who spoke up. In fact, he ruined families by making family members believe the women who came forward were crazy. Everybody wanted to believe him, so they did, and shunned the people who spoke up.

I remember being at a retreat with him when we were all offering full-on, drop-down pranams to the guy, and he said, "if you knew some of what I've done, you wouldn't love me anymore." There was nothing that guy could do that if he admitted it, he wouldn't still be loved for. Except what he did. Lying like an un-remorseful psychopath would be the thing to bring the house down. And it did.

I heard about the transgressions and then the details started coming out about what he had done to cover up his lies. The people he lied to and blamed. The people he put down who were telling the truth so he could keep up his dirty tricks. I was safely housed at Omega in my new job on the core staff there so I only heard about the pictures being pulled off the walls, of the screaming and crying in the halls, from my sad friends who were still there, who had invested more years than I had in serving a community that was based on lies.

I was in the room when Amrit read his resignation letter to the community. I remember people saying, "Gurudev, is there anything else you need to tell us? Anyone else?" And he would just say, "no." Later it was pointed out that there had been one other person and he'd admit it under duress. "Okay. Her too." And another, and that's how that one rolled out. He paid his large fines, moved away, and you can go down and meet him today. Lots and lots more to that story.

That still doesn't answer why you shouldn't have sex with your students as a yoga teacher.

Naturally, there will be an imbalance of power. Presumably the yoga teacher is leading the class. She's the one people are looking at, looking to for answers. In a big drop-in class, maybe this isn't even really a big deal anymore than it would be for a fitness instructor to get involved with her students. Two adults, who cares. It's only awkward for the other students while it's awkward. Maybe awkward for the teacher if that student continues to come to the class once the liaison is over. It's still not usually recommended.

In a traditional classroom setting, it's a rule that the teacher not sleep with the students as there could be favouritism shown; the student would have access to information the other students wouldn't have, giving them an unfair advantage on tests, etc. In workshops I've attended, it's recommended that the leaders wait a certain amount of time after the workshop is over before getting involved with participants due to the emotional connection that's formed artificially when there's someone delivering charged content and the other one participating and opening up.

In addition, in the traditional teachings of yoga, practising celibacy is likely discussed, if not recommended, to allow for the flow of energy, likely energy that Westerners aren't used to restraining. Teachings are given to open the students up emotionally and spiritually. Space is created on purpose to allow yoga students to be open and vulnerable and to feel safe, sometimes for the first time in a long time. Simply put, sleeping with a yoga student, especially during a training is unethical at the very least, especially when it's been declared from the beginning that those boundaries won't be crossed. Even if that relationship was out in the open, it would be unrecommended for these reasons - there's a clear imbalance of power and potential for awkwardness in the group. (A decent move might be for the teacher to step down, at least from teaching the ethics section of the course, or for the couple to leave the group, but that move would take courage.) So what tends to happen, is more the story above with my guru - there are lies told to try and hide the transgression. People are made to seem untrustworthy who speak up as the cheating teacher will be trying to maintain their reputation - what better way than to put down others around them especially as they are the one controlling the secret information?

What happens in that training when one of the teachers is secretly sleeping with one of the students? In some cases things get awkward. There's unnecessary tension. There's underlying drama. Eventually there are people who are in the know and people who don't have a clue what's going on. Peoples' feelings get hurt. Favourites are made and given special attention so they don't make waves. It's not the kind of group I would want to pay thousands of dollars to be sitting in.

Ask questions. Find out what the policies are of the course you're taking. Check references. Even then you can't always be sure as deception can run very deep. That doesn't mean what I learned from my guru wasn't true. It doesn't mean that I didn't get quality teachings. But he should have known better and should have done better, sparing me and thousands of his followers the pain of betrayal that hypocrisy inflicts.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Teaching with Two

As a yoga teacher, I am normally working solo. I drive to places on my own, teach on my own, plan on my own, interact on my own, debrief in my head, and it's like that. Sometimes I get to co-teach, and that's my favourite. It changes everything when I have a co-teacher.

This year I've had the privilege of having at least 3 co-teachers!

  • My daughter led a Mother-Daughter Yoga weekend with me at Omega (our pictures are right there) this summer (and we will be doing it again next year - August 9-11, 2013) and we lead that in September at Rama Lotus for a 90-minute session as well.
  • My friend, Virginia Miller, co-led a 3-half-day Shiatsu/Thai Massage/Partner Yoga "dabbler" during Family Week with me (and we hope to do it again next season).
  • And the wonderful Kat Mills, who has co-led all sorts of yoga experiences with me over the past few years at Rama Lotus and other places around Ottawa, continues to lead Living Your Yoga modules with me at her house for weeks at a time.
Leading classes with two people doesn't always work out money-wise, which is why a lot of people wouldn't do it. However, when there's enough money, or money's not the issue, leading with someone you work well with is the BEST. 

Having someone to share the responsibility with is nice, but the process of collaboration is special. New ideas form, conversations are ignited, and there's a richness that isn't found when there's one-on-one teaching. There's also the spontaneity of what can happen when there are two teachers that doesn't always happen when there's one.

Tuesday night begins a new session of Living Your Yoga in the Makata Yoga Living Room (Kat's empty house - it's hilarious - she really has no furniture just so groups can take over the floor space). We love teaching the yamas and niyamas together so much that we're doing it again. Why do we love it so much? Partly because we get to collaborate, but it's also about the content and what happens to a group when we examine our lives. Being with people as they look at their lives is a great privilege and a special "space" gets created that is unusual in our everyday lives. So we put our arms around a space and hold it and put people in the middle and bounce them up and down gently and get to be there for the giggles and ahas that happen along the way.

If you're coming to this module of the Yamas and Niyamas, don't bother bringing your yoga mat - you won't be using it. Bring an open mind and a clear head so you can consider some of what yoga has to offer. It's not new or trendy - we're going to use the ancient texts as our references. Whoohoo!

(This video was not made for this blogpost. We were fooling around for a different project...)

Friday, August 31, 2012

Being a Grown Up

I was chatting this morning with an old friend about yoga stuff and he said, "yoga's about being a grown up," and that struck me. Or maybe he said it's about teaching you to be a grown up, but the point is, if you're practising yoga, you'll be more grown up. More responsible. More accountable. More able to handle what happens in life.

I think that's true. If you're really practising yoga, having alignment in your life will matter and it will show up. You will not be violent with others. You will avoid others who are being violent. You'll be more sensitive. (Ahimsa) You will be able to tell the truth and you'll be able to hear someone else tell the truth. You'll recognize truth when you hear it. (Satya). If you've been practising yoga, you should be able to start going through the yamas and niyamas and see that you've steadily been making improvements in those areas. You may be reaping the rewards of having more energy and maybe of being in "the flow."

Asana practice is not enough. Performing a triangle may help you minimally in your life. I think practising asana is a responsible thing to do. Keeping the body healthy and comfortable is just what a responsible householder would do. But it's far from the only thing.

As I said back in February, check out your teachers. If what you want is a good stretch and that's it, yoga classes are a pretty expensive way to do it. If you want to learn life lessons and be taken along the ancient path of life study, you'll want to find people to lead the way who are grown ups themselves. People who know better should do better. And if they don't, they shouldn't be leading the way.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Summer in the City

There's not much to say about it. It's summer in the city. In this city, what it means for me is that I don't have to wear heavy layers when I go out. I can open the door and just go outside without a lot of preparation or fortification. I find that so relaxing and freeing. It takes less time to get places because there's not a lot of prep involved and I can manoeuvre around quite easily.

We are in a bit of a drought here in eastern Ontario, which is probably pretty bad and a sign of global warming and stuff, however, what it has meant for me is that each day has been sunny and dry for over a month. No cold days. No chilly wind. Just nice weather. So I've gone to the beach a lot. I haven't ever known Ottawa as a beach town - but it is! There are even live bands at some of our beaches.

I also decided to make friends with the sun. Without being unreasonable like spending too much time in the sun, I've chosen to not be afraid of the sun and let it kiss my body gently. I've gone to the beach a lot and just read a bit of a book or had a chat with a friend, or just laid on the sand and felt the heat come up through my blanket.

I like to remember that I'm a creature on a planet. This planet with this atmosphere, with my skin colour and age, and I'm just letting the planet hold me. It's turning out to be a great summer.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Big Week - Yoga for Diverse Groups

(Later in the day - I'm adding this picture someone took while I had people in class on the grass. It was a lovely day.)

I'm not sure this will ever happen again. It's sort of like my own personal yoga-teaching harmonic convergence.

This week, starting today, I have the following groups to teach: The Senior Police Administrators, Kids Who've Been Expelled, Prison Guards, and Kids in the Hospital with Eating Disorders. In that order.

Today the police get a whole lecture about stress reduction and some cool tips on how to stay refreshed in their lives. They also get a yoga class, which for most of them, is their very first time. They have to take the class as it's part of their 3-week program.

Tuesday, I have the kids who've been expelled or suspended from school. They are potential clients of the first group, let's say. They are mostly boys, but there are some girls there, too. They range in ages from Grade 7 - Grade 12. They get a yoga class, which is optional for them. It's a varied bunch and a pleasure to teach them. I see these kids regularly.

Wednesday I'm driving to Kingston to visit the big jail where I'll be doing a lecture on stress reduction, similar to what the cops get, for the prison guards and parole officers. It's their assembly and staff BBQ will follow right after my presentation, where I will be using a hand-held mic for the first time as I do my lecture because there are supposed to be over a hundred people coming. No yoga for this group.

Thursday I'm back with the kids at school. They love the long relaxation part but last week we were getting into handstands and headstands, which they seemed to appreciate pre-savasana.

Friday I have a regular group of yoga students who are in the hospital with eating disorders. These kids are in the same range as the expelled kids - 12 - 17. They tend to be mainly girls, although sometimes there are boys in the program. I get the outpatients as well, so I get to see them throughout their program. No handstands for them usually.

It's a full-spectrum set of clients this week for me, not to mention the private students I will see and then my public class on the weekend. For the police and enforcers and expelled kids, there is a lot of commonality and in fact, the profile of criminals and the similarities to police officers' profiles is a discussion in the Senior Police Administrators Course. They know.

What I see is a lot of similarity with everyone. The boys and the girls deal with some of the same issues as each other. Anxiety, stress, family issues, self-esteem, goals, fear, those kinds of things. They tend to express it differently, however. I haven't met the prison guards yet, but from what I understand, they're under a lot of stress in general, but especially right now as jobs are shifting as prisons are closing and wards are opening in other areas.

Anyways, it's a lot of people to see in a week, and a lot of people who are going through big transitions in their lives. It's a privilege to get to be with them while they're in that process and hopefully be able to lend some support and maybe even relief.

I heard this on the radio yesterday and am pleased that he wrapped it all up in this awesome video about stress in our culture.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Visit with My Dad - Metta Meditation

I've led meditation workshops for years now and one of the sample meditation styles we do is a Metta Meditation. In it, we think about different "kinds" of people - totally revered, people we've loved, people we don't know, and people we withhold our love from. I've always said the person could be alive or have passed on already and there's usually someone in the group who shares that they thought about someone, often a parent or a sibling, who has died. I could relate, but not as strongly as I can relate now.

My dad died in January and since then, I've had the opportunity to "visit" with him, especially during the times when I do metta meditation, which isn't all the time, so it seems special. When his face slips into that screen of my mind's eye, it makes me feel happy, and it's a treat to send him metta so that he can feel happy too. It doesn't make me feel sad at all to have him visit at these times because it's so real for me and it counts as a real visit. I feel like I just saw him and smiled with him and was close to him and by opening my heart in that "metta" (lovingkindness) way, I feel really connected to him - maybe even more than I did sometimes when he was alive.

The technique of giving metta to people is usually a short one and yet it is so powerful. I find people can go on such a journey in even 6-8 minutes, it's amazing. The video below talks about what Metta Meditation is or can be.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Don't Be Shy About Your Flexibility

I've been saying it for years and I'm still saying it. "You don't have to be flexible to do yoga." And still people explain to me how they're not flexible enough to come to a yoga class. I try to encourage people as much as I can and then I leave them alone.

It's really okay to be as flexible or as inflexible as you are. That's how you are right now. If you come to class and can't stretch as far as the person next to you in class, so what? I know that it might feel discouraging to some people, but that's really only if you're comparing yourself or feel like there's someplace in the pose you're supposed to be that you're not in already.

On the other hand, there are some naturally (or with practice) super-flexible people who've also asked me if it's okay to be in class doing their extra-bendy expressions of the poses. Of course! If you have to loop around extra to get that same stretch, please do. Sometimes these people can feel left out if the focus is on beginners who aren't naturally flexible.

The trick as a teacher is to support the people who are less flexible so they don't get hurt and so they aren't shy about using props or being as stiff as they are and to encourage the more flexible people to find their stretch and not be shy about being so stretchy.

It's one of the reasons classes have become so specialized. What happens in my experience is we do the same poses in different selections of people who are more similar, but because the people who come have self-selected to be in the group, they have more in common at first glance. Even though we could all just be in one big room doing "yoga," we separate ourselves into beginners and intermediates, power and yin yang, hatha and ashtanga, and then people wonder where they "fit in." For some teachings, it's better to have people there looking for the same thing from the class, and in other scenarios it really doesn't matter.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Yoga is Tricky When it Comes to Eating Disorders

I'll need to say more about this in a future post but here goes. I have been a part of the Eating Disorders Program at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario for years. I appreciate that they choose to include yoga in their program for people on the path to recovery of eating disorders, however...

If you take a look around at yoga teachers and yoga students it quickly becomes apparent that yoga attracts people with eating disorders. Even some of the hatha yoga practices in recent texts include the practice of purging. (I'll find the reference to one of my books here.) It at leasts shelters people with the idea of "conscious eating" and fasting, making a home for some of the tricky practices that border or straddle disordered eating behaviours.

When one of the students in the Eating Disorders program graduates and says they want to continue a yoga practice, I caution them about continuing with classes on the "outside." Not all yoga classes will be relaxing and non-triggering for people who have been super-concerned with their weight and appearance. Classes that feel more like a work out, classes in mirrored rooms, classes led by teachers who have a BMI below what is considered healthy, and so on, are so prevalent and would do more harm than good for the young people fresh out of rehabilitation that are looking to feel safe in their bodies.

A long time ago I studied yoga in India. As many people who've travelled to India can tell you, sometimes you get really sick there. That happened to me and I was sick for days at one point. I ended up getting house calls from a doctor while I convalesced in a hotel in town, rather than back at the ashram. I had lost a ton of weight and was just under a hundred pounds when I returned to the ashram. I walked in and one of my teachers said, "that's great for your yoga practice!" I thought the guy was crazy, especially when I mentioned that I'd had dysentery and that this was not healthy.

Recently I've been asked to categorize yoga classes by how much effort is involved in the class, like how much you might sweat. Another way I'd like to label them is to consider how much the class has a potential to be triggering or how much it is an "allowing" class.

I think fasting and being aware of hungry signals and ignoring them has a place. I think even all of the "kriyas" or cleansing practices, have a place. I just think it's no surprise that there's a mix-up and that some  people with eating disorders can hide in a yoga (as opposed to yogic) environment.

So while I appreciate the value of having a mirror to see the poses for alignment and having a good work out for those of us who could stand to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and watching a thin body at the front of the class show how beautiful the pose can be, I'm painfully aware that there are sometimes people in a class who are there hurting themselves either mentally and/or physically in the class and would  be better served in a different environment.

The photo is taken from this website

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Good Reasons to Practice Yoga

The other day I asked my class why they come to the yoga class. The first reason that came blurting out was because they wanted to get out of the other class they were in. I thought that was pretty honest. One other guy said he comes because he needs to relax. Fair enough.

As the class wore on, the people who said they were just happy to skip their other classes started messing around a bit, I found myself getting slightly irritated. I even rehearsed saying something like, "don't come back next time if you just want to get out of your other class." I quickly caught myself and remembered the rest of the lesson. It doesn't matter why you come to yoga class, we all get the benefits of the yoga practice.

The people who said that were back in class today and I didn't hold it against them. "Any reason is a good reason to come to yoga," is what my grandpa-guru used to say. Then it occurred to me that maybe the people saying they were coming to class were just taking a break from other things and maybe that's not why they stayed in yoga class or maybe not even why they returned to yoga class. And even if they were just coming without liking it, they were there, getting the benefits of yoga, which is really my mission. For them to get the benefits.

I do know the class numbers are growing. More and more unlikely yogis are showing up and coming back for class. Exams start in a few weeks so yoga classes will be over for the year, but I have a feeling that if we kept going with the classes, the students would keep coming.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Extreme Pranayama

I watched this video yesterday with David Blaine in a TED talk he gave a few years ago. They guy's a modern yogi in my opinion, as I've said before. He's not the kind of yogi I am or aspire to be, but I did get a big hit of inspiration watching this video. Something resonated in his personal journey and how he witnessed his experience as he went through an intense sadhana of holding his breath for just over 17 minutes on live TV.

I also really resonated with his remarks about what was happening for his ex-girlfriend while he was doing this amazing feat. Sometimes we're doing what we think are incredible things and our families and friends are just treating us like we're normal people doing normal things (which most of the time we are!) At the ashram they used to say if you think you're enlightened, just go home for the weekend.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Please Move Your Bodies, People

You may have already seen this video. If you haven't, please watch it. If you have, then stand up and move around for a little bit and then get back to the computer.

I've started showing it at some of the presentations I give because I find it so compelling. It doesn't take a lot to start having the benefits that short walks can give you. People have all sorts of excuses about why they can't get to a yoga class (me too) or why they have no time for the gym, or why they have put on weight or why they can't be any healthier. This video to me shows that there really is something we can all do that will make things at least a bit better, especially if things aren't feeling that great in our bodies.

I don't sit at a desk all day but I work with a lot of people who do. I see people on their yoga mats, and that hour/hour and a half is great, but really what's important is what we are all doing the rest of the days. It's good to stretch but if you're not walking during the day and moving your juices around, the yoga will only do so much.

Please get out for a walk on your lunch break, or after work. Make an excuse to do this simple thing. Your yoga will feel better too!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Well-Behaved Yoga Students

I would have to say that most of the people I lead yoga to are well-behaved. There's usually more disruption from my inner voices when I'm teaching than from any disturbances out in the room while I'm leading a class, to be honest. Sometimes a phone will go off, or somebody farts loudly, or the door opens with an interruption, but usually that doesn't happen and things go as planned. The class starts, it happens, it ends, et voila.

There's one group I teach where it's not usually like that. This group is actually one of my favourite groups to teach as a result, but it doesn't always feel that way at the time. I teach a lot of teens these days and have for the past year. I've written in the past about what it's like to teach a group of people who all know each other. Or what it's like when the class is non-optional (like it's part of their program and they have to do it). The group I'm thinking of all know each other to some degree and some of them are friends. Each of them has the option to not take the class - they choose to come to the class. They say they come because they like the final relaxation. It's a break from their other work they tell me.

Sometimes this group gets a little rowdy though. Rowdy can be okay at times in a yoga class, but at others it seems "wrong" and that brings on the challenge for me. Sometimes another teach pokes their head in the door and sees how it's going, do I need help, does someone need to leave the class? Because this group has a few issues. The kids have all been expelled or suspended from school for a variety of reasons ranging from being violent to doing drugs, you get the picture. They've been kicked out of school for good reason, most of them.

Lots of times the classes go fine. They go even somewhat like the first classes I mentioned. They go as planned, without interruptions. But not usually. Usually I have to move someone's mat to a different spot. Or tell someone to be quiet. Or even, but rarely, just end the class early. Yep. Roll up your mats. We're done. "What about the relaxation?" You blew it. We're not doing that.

Today's class was a challenging one. One where I got to look at my own expectations of a yoga class, of myself as a yoga teacher and of them as students. I didn't kick anybody out, but I came close. After class, the teachers asked me how it went and how a couple of kids did in particular because they've been disallowed from coming to yoga in the past. "They were a pain in the ass," was how I got to respond honestly, "yea, those two." So maybe they'll alternate in the future. One will come one day, the other will come the other day. Maybe.

When we finally get to the final relaxation, I know it matters to them that we're doing yoga together. I know it's hard for them to keep it together and not swear and throw things at each other and blurt out stupid comments and try to make each other laugh and complain about the poses and be totally inappropriate. When I hold their head in my hands in savasana and give them a good "shampoo" and I hear them exhale, I have a small idea of what it took for them to be there and I'm grateful I have the opportunity to share some yoga with them.

(The photo is recent but it's not that group.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Still Teaching Yoga

I'd like to show one of those graphics that goes Yoga Teacher - what my friends think I do, what I really do - but instead it displays feelings and drama. I think a lot of people think that teaching yoga will be drama-free and that places that offer yoga will somehow be better businesses than others with no politics or gossip in the workplace. You can probably tell where I'm going with this.

We've all got potential for drama in our lives. We all have to interact with others about money and roles and we all have "stuff" that comes up. When people tell me they're surprised to find drama and difficult work issues with the various studios they end up teaching at after YTT graduation, I remind them we're all just people. In fact, I find more "yoga" and more "satsang" among the volunteer computer geek community in Ottawa than in the yoga communities. And those guys don't even know they're doing it. I've found more Karma Yoga being done through a sex shop than in the yoga community.

Things are not always obvious. As a yoga teacher I trained myself to look anyplace and everyplace for lessons, for shapes, for alignment. Just because someone says something is yoga, doesn't make it so. Just because someone advertises something, doesn't mean that's exactly what they're selling. Just because you're trained to be a yoga teacher doesn't mean that's what you're being paid to do or what you ultimately offer. How many yoga classes turn into fitness workouts? How many yoga teachers gossip about each other or their students after class? How many people say one thing and do something else? It happens everywhere. Or more precisely, it for sure happens where you think it wouldn't or shouldn't. And then, there's yoga happening where it wasn't announced, in different hang outs - people practising integrity and alignment - just quietly doing it.

Swami J recently posted on Facebook that most people who think they're doing yoga are actually preparing to do yoga. Here it is...

The first word of yoga sutras is "atha" which means "now", though a particular "now" which implies that one has done the preparation to begin the path and process of yoga. Most people claiming to practice yoga are still in the preparation phase. There is nothing wrong with the preparation phase; it is needed. However, the preparation phase to begin yoga is not, itself, yoga. The preparation phase has become known as "yoga". In our modern times, there is no longer a need for this preparation phase. Now we just say that we are practicing yoga and that's it; whatever we say is yoga is suddenly called yoga.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Yoga Teachers and Power

I read the news this morning with surprise. John Friend admitted having consenting sexual relationships with his staff and students, some of who were married, in addition to some other allegations.

It brings me right back to October 1994 when I was sitting in the Main Chapel at Kripalu listening to my guru admit to similar offences. It was offensive for sure. We knew he was human, but how much of a dog he'd been came to a surprise to many of us. Had he admitted it earlier, had he worked with us to deal with it, if, if, if - well then maybe it wouldn't have been so bad. But that's not what happened.

A couple of weeks ago in the teacher training program I'm a part of, we talked about how so many of the popular teachers (gurus) fall. They do really bad stuff. Not just small infidelities or thefts, but big-deal, heart-breaking, life-altering actions that bring them down and take the confidence and trust of their followers with them.

It's of course a good reminder to not put people up on pedestals. It seems like the air up there is too thin and their minds go crazy so they behave horribly. Power corrupts. It just does. On a plus side, it gives people a chance to really let go of their teacher in case they weren't doing that on their own. The true teacher is inside - even the power-drunk teachers tell us that - and there's nothing quite like the lies of your beloved teacher to set you spinning off on your own. That doesn't take away the sting of being lied to, however. Someone who's supposed to be practising ahimsa and satya even before they start their asanas - someone who should definitely know better - that kind of betrayal is worse.

John Friend says he hopes his behaviour doesn't take away from the teachings of Anusara Yoga. That's where I have trouble. When I listen to Swami Rama videos, or read Swami Shyam's stuff, it turns me off. If the teachings are true, then why didn't they work on the teachers sharing them? Can't a teacher only take you as far as they've gone themselves? It's a hurdle I always have to cross over when reviewing the teachers who in retrospect were doing really awful things - remembering what these people did doesn't open my heart but the teachings are asking me to. That doesn't feel safe to me. A few summers ago at a meditation retreat at Omega, one of the teachers said that when you're looking for a surgeon to work on your body, you don't really care if he cheated on his wife, but with our spiritual teachers, how they live their personal lives does matter.

I'm not settled either way. I appreciate the teachings, I appreciate these teachers' humanity, I appreciate my own and my friends' humanity as well. However, like having someone working for you who's stealing from you, these guys and what they're offering really may have to go.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Attending a Funeral Today

I knew my dad had cancer and was being treated for it. I didn't know that he was as sick as he was - few people had any idea - even those closest to him. When I got the message that he was pretty sick, I immediately made arrangements to come down and see him. I spoke to him on the phone and told him I was coming. We told each other we loved each other and I had a funny feeling that it might be the last time I talked to him. As he lay in his death bed he told me he felt lucky to have such good friends and family. The big trip down to Kerrville, Texas, to see my dad became a trip to attend his funeral, however, as he passed away the following day.

His funeral is later this afternoon and I'm thinking about what I want to say about him. I wasn't that close with my dad. He left when I was young and moved far away when I was 13. We stayed in touch and had visits every year or two. There was a time when I felt annoyed with how he'd been with me. A few years ago it used to bug me that he'd send me emails with baby animals or angels or good luck wishes or the dreaded How to Keep Your Wife Happy sort of lists. I used to think my dad didn't "get" me, he didn't appreciate me, he was just trying to bug me by sending those impersonal emails. It finally dawned on me that he was thinking of me. He did love me, and that's how he was showing it to me (one of the ways). Everything changed that day. Instead of feeling annoyed by the emails from my dad, I looked forward to them. I shared his sense of humour, I laughed at the jokes he was telling me, and more importantly, I accepted his love the way he was offering it.

The last few years I had with my dad were much lighter. We'd play Scrabulous on Facebook. We'd have phone calls more regularly (especially when I was doing Landmark Education's Introduction Leaders Program). He drove up to visit. That's a long drive, but he did it more than once. He sent birthday checks for Remmy - late, but he'd get it eventually. When he'd visit we'd bowl on the Wii or play real Scrabble. We sat next to each other and did crossword puzzles. We played Yahtzee.

But one of the things I did almost my whole life with my dad was ride in the car. I remember sitting on his lap when I was little and driving. He tried to teach me how to drive standard while I was a teenager on a visit to Calgary (it took me some years to get the hang of it). It's when we were on long drives together that we'd really talk. We couldn't read or play Scrabble while we were driving so we'd have long conversations. I remember that being in the car with my dad was really comfortable. He was a patient, good driver. My dad didn't have road rage and yell at other drivers - and although many people would say my dad was the most non-judgemental person they've ever met, I would say they hadn't really taken a drive with him. But even then he was gentle and patient in his irritation.

My dad traded cars with people and it seemed like he always had more than one car. I know there were times when his driveway seemed full of cars, vans and motorcycles. He went on to become a bus driver for schools, the city, tour busses and for a while, the LRT system in Calgary.

The last time he visited me in Ottawa I was driving him out to visit everybody in my car (which if you know me, you know I absolutely love) and he commented on my driving. He told me he thought I was a really good driver. I left lots of space, signalled when I changed lanes, and he said he felt really comfortable with me in the car. That meant a lot to me coming from him.

So even though he's gone, I know I will still find him on long drives. I'll hear him in corny emails, and feel him when I choose to take a step back and let others go first. His nickname for years was Trudge. He was never in a hurry to get anywhere and honestly took life one day at a time. Some days if you see me trudging along, taking it slower than usual, you may be catching me at a time when I'm connecting with my dad.

I'm still not sure what I'm going to say at the funeral, if I'm going to speak at all. He was a special man who meant a lot to a lot of people down here and there will be many people who will speak if I choose not to. But I think I will share a few words at this occasion, even if it doesn't make sense to anybody else...the funeral's not for a few more hours so I have time to think about it still...

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Beginnings

Happy New Year! And I mean it. I have had a happy new year so far. I hope you have, too.

This year I have a new body. People have come out and just asked me, "what's it like having no uterus?" or "how's it going having a hole where your uterus used to be?" so I figure I'll just answer frankly. So far, so good. To be honest, those questions do take me aback. When I think about what happened to me I get squeamish. I have a copy of the operation report I got from my GP and I can't read it all. It sort of pains me a bit. My breath goes shallow and my throat tightens and then it hurts my ginie.

You can't tell by looking at me that I had an operation recently (3 weeks ago today). Yesterday I went to my first Bikram yoga class. The day before that I went for a short run. My insides didn't fall out. I didn't pass out. And actually, since I had the operation I've had more energy than usual. I skip potential nap times and just wait until bed.

My uterus was the size of a 14-week pregnancy and the fibroids were 6 cm as I recall from previous reports. It must have been quite a handful of stuff but I didn't get a look at what they took out, even though I asked in advance. It seems like that space got filled up with my intestines and other stuff, because my pants fit the same even though technically I should have come out 2 pounds lighter. (I don't have a scale and then there was Christmas, so maybe if I hadn't had a hysterectomy my clothes wouldn't fit by now what with all of those cookies and turkey.)

I keep feeling like my period should be starting soon and then I remember I won't be having one again. And unlike a total hysterectomy where they take out your ovaries as well, I am not going into menopause and I'll still ovulate, but I won't have a period.

I have enough energy to do stuff but I hold back because I remember that I can't see where my surgery happened and I've been warned to take it easy and to let it all heal. Healing requires circulation so I know I'm supposed to be active, but not too active. Rest, but don't stay still for too long. I think I'm doing pretty well with that and having the recovery time coincide with the holidays was helpful so I'm not tempted to overdo it with work and other activities.

I'm not taking iron supplements anymore. No hormones. Nothing special. I do have some aches that may be because of my organs getting into their new positions so I take an Advil now and then, but really, I'm free. I'll be able to walk around Ottawa, which has a notable lack of public restrooms, because things won't be as urgent as they were. I'll be able to ride bike with my daughter in Paris. Wear white pants to yoga! So there's a lot of possibility in my future.

One of the main reasons they recommended I have the surgery is because I'm so young. To go another decade with anemia and the stuff that went with my condition would not have been good. So even though I resisted the news and the descriptions of the treatment, I can honestly say I'm grateful I did the operation. What a great way to start off a new year.