Yoga + Archaeology: Excavation of the Self

Before I was a yoga teacher I was a student of many things, one of which was Archaeology.  I told my mother when I was 3 that I wanted to be an archaeologist and when I finally got to university I decided it would be one of my two majors (because why just do one).

Archaeology is a fascinating science that tries to use artifacts to decipher past human behaviour.  Yoga is also about deciphering human behaviour, except the behaviour is present rather than past.  You could say it was related to psychology (my other major) but it is much more than that.

If you come to my classes you may have heard me say that sometimes we excavate the layers of ourselves with a backhoe and other times we need a toothbrush.  There are certain times when we need to dig deep, and other times where the utmost tenderness is critical and necessary.  Yoga is many things but one of the things it is is the method by which we unearth and re-discover the our true nature.

Three important teachers that I have said to me last week (all independently) the following:  put forth maximum effort with the utmost tenderness and do your practice from a sense of ease.  In the excavation of myself I have discovered that tenderness and ease do not come easy and so they are something I must work at; maximum effort on the other hand is usually one of my only gears.

Honouring the work of self-reflection and delving deep I have been reading on of Hafiz’s poems.  If you don’t know who he is, here’s a taste to get you started:

Stay With Us

You

Leave

Our company when you speak

Of Shame

And this makes

Everyone in the Tavern sad

Stay with us

As we do the hardest work of rarely

Laying down

That pick and

Shovel

That will keep

Revealing our deepest kinship

With

God

That will keep revealing

Our own divine

Worth

You leave the company of the Beloved’s friends

Whenever you speak of

Guilt

And this makes

Everyone in the Tavern

Very Sad

Stay with us tonight

As we weave love

And reveal ourselves,

Reveal ourselves

As his precious

Garments

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Giving up Being Special

“and at once I knew, I was not magnificent” – Holocene, Bon Iver

Holocene is perhaps one of the most amazing examples of musical genius ever.  What makes music genius to me is it ability to evoke a certain feeling deep within without knowing the words…and then when you hear the words although they make sense to someone they don’t really make sense to you literally but  figuratively it’s exactly what you’ve been looking for.  Genius.

I have been studying the Shamanism of the Q’ero people of Peru for a few years.  Some years more intensely than others.  When I started one of the most challenging teachings for me was the giving up feeling special.  My whole life I have been told I was special, I was smart, I overcame great home adversity; I, like everyone else in my culture, identified with my accomplishments and made them who I was rather than something I did.

A kind soul I know is learning this same teaching right now and was sharing with me how difficult a pill it was to swallow.  I empathized deeply, knowing what a challenge it was to understand, the words foreign in your mouth and in your body.  It wasn’t however, until I had my daughter, that I really understood what they meant to me and embodied their meaning.

When I first had B, and even still, I was really struck by the wonderment of this little being who arrived in this incredibly delicate package.  So helpless, so close to the other side, so perfect.  She’s still very young, only 15 months, and I still am struck by the vast potential her life holds.  She’s so fresh and has so much ahead of her.  It’s a breathtaking thought.

What is even more startling is that we all began here.

We don’t all get the same start in life.  This is complicated.  It means that we don’t all begin with the same chance for potential…and even though everyone would like to believe the fairy tale that we can all overcome adversity, it simply isn’t true.  We may have the potential but it may be left unrealized, unrecognized and un-nurtured.

This is a painful reality.  It’s hurtful to know that each and every soul born with this incredible fullness may never realize it.   Imagine if we all did.  Imagine if we all dropped our stories, unloaded that which weighs us down and remembered, remembered this inherent lightness, fullness, oneness.

Giving up being special isn’t about realizing that you are not special, it’s about realizing we are all equally special.  It’s about dropping judgement and remembering our inherent oneness.  This is one of the many things yoga and my studies have taught me. Keep asking, keep searching deeper and deeper fearlessly.  It may be painful, it may be scary but the rememberance of who and what we are, even if it’s just for a fleeting moment, is worth it.

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Expansion and Contraction

This week I have been teaching LOTS which is great.  It really helps me hone my game and works to make my teaching clearer.  Teaching is of course a practice in and of itself.

What I have been inspired by is the expansion and contraction of the breath.  Tapping into this flow that never stops throughout the body for the duration of your entire life…I mean think about that!  Your heart starting beating at 5 weeks in utero (which is really 3 weeks after conception) and doesn’t stop until you leave your body.  The brain is wired to keep the drum beat of the heart going and the song of the breath flowing for your personal eternity here on the planet. The body never ceases to amaze me.

The miracle of human body is however, not where I’m going with this writing.  What Í have been talking about in my classes is the ability to tap into this expansion and contraction and then use it throughout practice.  All living things, to the cellular level expand and contract.  Each and every cell of your body is moving in this incredible rhythm and then working together, orchestrated by the brain and hopefully flowing smoothly for as long as possible.

When we arrive on the mat we are faced with this opportunity to find our natural rhythm.  We can get thrown off by events in our day, things on our mind etc.  When we get quiet, slow the breath and broaden it, it becomes amazing the amount of space we can discover in the body.  Even as the mind stills however, this incredible pulsation stills moves through us.  When we come into our poses we can use this vibration to move deeply.

What also is so fascinating is that when we contract one part of the body, the other has the opportunity to expand and thus, when we expand one part of the body, to facilitate full expansion we often need to contract, not too much but just enough.  To open to our fullest potential, understanding this dynamism is crucial and it can be facilitated by our willingness to breath more fully.

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Yoga: A Tool of Inquiry

So yesterday I made it to another class thanks to the help of my mom who always is willing to come hang out with my daughter.  What I loved about the class was that the teacher (and my dear friend) showed us some different ways to get into poses that I know well.  What I love about this is the whole concept about thinking out of the box.  It was a good reminder that by doing things differently, sometimes there is a great reward in store.  This is excellent for me as I tend to get stuck in doing things ‘the right way’ whatever they may be.

As I was teaching some of the things I had learned later that day, lots of people on the mat opted out, feeling like it was just too hard.  That’s totally understandable as some of these things were very challenging however, I found myself encouraging those who got stopped by fear by talking about inquiry.

Yoga for me is many, many things but one of the main things it is, is an opportunity to have a conversation with myself.  This is not always a conversation of cognition but involves primarily an observation of the body using the language of my breath.  Whenever I’m on the mat I keep asking, “does this feel ok?” “is this serving me?”

When I first began practicing and then later teaching I would often talk about the opportunity the mat offers us to have an IN the body experience.   I once couldn’t even feel my back on the bed if I was laying down but now, through my practice I have developed an acute body awareness.  I can feel where my spine is, my liver, my big toe and every time I come back to the mat I’m asking myself “what else?, what else is there available for me, what else is there for me to know?”

When we find ourselves in the face of adversity, trying to command the body in a foreign way rather than pushing and shoving we have an opportunity to breathe, to pause and to start to plant the seeds for the posture by our placement of the foundation, our hand, foot or even head on the earth.  The slower we go, the more intimate this conversation can be, the more precise.  Its in the precision of the placement of the body and the commitment to our foundation that we find the exquisite poses in our bodies. 

Rather than bulldozing ourselves, can we begin to get quieter, softer, sweeter and source our power not only from the musculature of the body but from the stillness of our minds. Breath by breath we are invited to begin to understand ourselves in a more profound way. 

So next time you are faced with adversity either on or off the mat, move slow, think clearly and as you move wait for the body to say yes.

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Back on the Horse

Well you know what they say, if you fall off the horse the best thing to do is to get back on it.  So here I am back to blogging after a small hiatus.  I had initially thought that I could blog and do lots of yoga but I started working more and my daughter started sleeping less.  Rather than get discouraged or throw in the towel my yoga was to simply accept my new circumstances and work within them because sometimes this is all we can do.

My new goal is to make it to the mat 4 times a week which is still pretty lofty but as I work in the studio atmosphere and get shown time and time and time again that if I just stay for an extra hour my life will be transformed, this is what I’m trying to do.  What’s been interesting about this new-found commitment is my re-discovery of hot yoga.

Like many of us, what got me into yoga in the first place was the hot practice.  In the hot room you sweat like you’ve never sweat before and so it’s an easy gap to bridge for those of us used to hours on the treadmill and bicep curls to no end.  I eventually transitioned out of the hot practice for a few reasons, it got repetitive, I could tell it was trashing my body and as I was teaching hot yoga, I couldn’t be in 110 ALL the time.  My body was over heating.  Thus began my love affair with vinyasa.

Hot yoga however is a great practice.  For me I have been using it about once a week for a deep stretch and to warm up from winter.  It is very gratifying to sweat so hard that you can wring yourself out after, I just need to be mindful to hydrate and re-mineralize my system.

And the daughter wakes up…must go.  Moral of the story.  Try hot yoga, first timers, seasoned timers and all timers.  It’s a good time.

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“People always show you who they are, believe them.”

– Maya Angelou

I was eating rumballs and drinking tea with my friend yesterday and she shared this quote with me.  It made my whole body stop with its utter brilliance, but who would expect anything less from Maya Angelou.  If you are not familiar with her, google her right now, definitely worth your time.

I love that the universe is always conspiring in your favour.  Even when the going gets tough in retrospect we can always look back and go “ohhhhhh.”  I am in the place in my life where being married, working, having a baby etc.  really limits my time and has transformed my friendships.  Having a baby has really made me show up for who I really want to be, in the aftermath however there are many things that have fallen to the wayside; some of it intentional, some of it not.

What is so fascinating to me that this information came to me yesterday is that I have been trying to help another friend out, supporting her as she disentangles herself from a relationship that is no longer serving her.  The source of the pain?  Expecting the other person to be someone who they are not.

We all do this.   Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo (2004) wrote a book called “He’s just not that into you” because of how much we try to figure out what’s going on for someone else, make excuses to ourselves that we aren’t getting the response we want from them because of a, b, c…

If you simply accept the principle that ‘people always show you who they are, believe them,’ this can be transformational.  If you take a moment to really consider that statement and let it sink to the bottom of your being, it resonates deep.

So yesterday I was talking to my classes about this quote because I found it so profound,  usually the simplest things are.  What I started to consider was what is it that we put forth, what is it that we show others?  Moving from what I was talking about last week, hiding, we can only hide up and to a point, the energy of who we really are is always shining through.  The question then that follows is this, are you shining as bright as your fullest potential?

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There’s a limit to your love…

“There’s a limit to your love – Feist

I’ve been working a lot this week with being truthful and coming out of hiding.  Like I’ve said before I’m not a liar but I’m certainly a hider.  I definitely retreat in crisis, I take a looooong time before I can explain what’s wrong and often I will never say.  I will separate myself from you if you hurt me and I do not forgive easily because it takes so much to hurt me and if you’ve gotten there, I’m already done.

So there’s a limit to my love.

That’s a big thing for me to realize about myself.  I think that a lot of people who know me would be surprised or shocked…others who have been on the receiving end of my arctic wind are like “oh yeah, I knew that bitch.” 

My mother does it as well, she fondly calls it “The Chop.”

So why all this now?

For one I started talking to my oldest friend more regularly again.  Realizing that sometimes you just need to get over whatever it was that you were pissed off about and move on.  Especially when almost a lifetime of friendship is at stake.  Two, I have been reading the Journey (see blog a couple of days ago) to my classes and I am brought back to a time when I was doing some art therapy and the therapist said “I want to see everything that’s under there,” reminding me I’m a hider.  Three, I wrote a very truthful piece of the blog (that’s currently set to private but may come back into the open later, it could hurt some feelings so I’m being mindful) but someone wrote me a letter and told me I was very brave.  I thought to myself, yeah I am brave and brave people don’t hide.  I don’t hide because I’m scared…I retreat because its easier to ice things over than feel them fully.  I’m good at feeling most things but not all.

Finally, I come out of hiding because its my birthday this weekend.  Birthdays always mark a time of reflection for me.  It’s a check in time, where are you at, are you doing what serves you, are you fulfilled etc. etc. etc.  In lieu of everything that’s been going on this week I realized that I’ve done so much work in my life, so much healing to provoke my personal growth, why would I continue to hide?

We hide when we fear intimacy.  When we don’t rely on others, when we don’t put our trust in others, we can’t come into relationship with them fully.  Friends, co-workers, lovers, children…we have to be vulnerable in order to engage fully, so they can experience the fullness of who we are and so we can experience the fullness of life.

So hello 33, here’s to coming out of the woodwork, standing naked under the microscope and still saying yes.

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