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.