Is It Serving You?

A student asked me the other day the difference between, ‘is this serving me’ and  ‘sense of entitlement.’  I thought this was such an interesting question and one that deserved a public forum.

What does ‘is this serving me’ actually mean?  For me, when I ask myself this question I am asking ‘is this good for me’ ‘does this make me a better person?’ ‘does this help me on my personal path of excellence, growth, (or whatever that looks like for you).’  I feel it is important as well to talk about service itself.  When we are on a spiritual path, we accept that we are part of a greater whole.  On the yogic path it is believed that when we affect one person, one animal, one being, we in turn are all affected.  As human beings we are not separate of the cosmos that surrounds us and depending on the philosophical stance you take, we are in fact part of a big cosmic dance where play and delight are the main intentions.

Those of us who are suffering, on any level, would not necessarily agree that we are playing or delighting in anything.  I think if that is how one feels, it calls into question is what you are doing serving you if you are suffering?  There is a buddhist proverb that states, “pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.”  It is difficult when we are deeply suffering to hear this and feel as though we can make a difference but there is truth to the concept that we dream our world into being.  We always have choices to work with what we have.  We may not have the same choices as others…but we do have choices with ourselves.

Without going too far off topic, I feel it necessary to bring up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Put very simply there are certain things that need to be fulfilled before we move to next needs.  For example, we do not necessarily contemplate who am I, where are we from, what is the universe, if we are too focussed on making it to the next meal or where we are going to sleep tonight.  I do not want to make it sound like either that those suffering with homelessness, starvation etc have ‘choices’ because I think that is too simple an assumption for a complicated human condition; I am simply here speaking on a philosophical level.

With that being said, many of us feel trapped by our condition when we are in fact not trapped by the condition itself but the state of our mind.  We can’t get off the merry-go-round because we refuse to make change because change is so deeply uncomfortable.  Yoga has been a profound way for me to get comfortable with discomfort.  That’s not to say we do asana to the level of pain, but that we can move to the edge, make friends with it and breathe deeply there.  In this way we can build trust with ourselves that we can hold ourselves in a deep experience, that when the going gets tough we can be courageous and feel the discomfort and then make a choice about how we can move into the discomfort rather than ignoring it, medicating it or choosing to move toward it again, again, again.

I think this is from AA but one of my favorite quotes is “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The other statement, ‘sense of entitlement,’ is intimately interwoven with ‘is this serving me.’  It challenges the whole idea of what we deserve.  This too is a deeply philosophical question.  For me, on a fundamental level, no one deserves more than what they need.  How do we define need?  Do you want to accumulate wealth to hoard, distribute or to self-serve?  Do you deserve a house on the hill with a maid because you work 80 hours a week, 40 hours a week, 10 hours a week?  Do you deserve that new bracelet, new car, food on the table?

I think we can all agree everyone is entitled to basic needs: food, shelter, love.  (Some may even argue this point because of addicts, criminals, and other people who some consider less deserving, but that’s getting really complicated.)  If we generally agree on this basic premise when does it start to be ok to accumulate resources based on the amount of work you do when others are unable to meet their basic needs?

If we go back to the idea that we are all connected, if it’s not serving someone else, is it serving you?

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The Journey

So trying to do yoga everyday with a 1-year-old is proving too much for this working mother.  I need to recommit but to something a bit more palatable.  Difficult for me to admit but important not to drive myself into the ground trying to do more yoga, talk about missing the point.

So I will just do my best, stay honest with myself, stay honest with you reader and still be doing my spiritual work with you. 

So in the spirit of that…this is what I have been reading in my classes this week. Its one of my very favorite poems.  One of my teachers, Christine Selda has taught me to listen to poetry with my body so that I can extract the medicine for my spirit.  This is what I encourage you to do too.

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting their bad advice–

though the whole house began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried. 

But you didn’t stop. 

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with it stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.  It was already late

enough and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones. 

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do,

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver, I thank you for such an apt description of what was for me, a “watershed” moment in my life.  Where I decided to leave the tribe that I had grown up in and carve my way through the wilderness of life.  This is something my family still struggles with and yet I still walk deeper and deeper.

This path of yoga, spiritual discovery or whatever you want to call it is not for the faint of heart.  It requires incredible courage, to move against the grain of society, to take fearless inventory of who you are and work on how you can live more ‘cleanly.’  So I thank you reader for being on this journey with me.  Even if it doesn’t look like asana every day for me, I will still continue to move deeper through movement, mediation and teaching.

Until tomorrow…

Love and light


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Remembering War, Lest We Forget

I think its difficult for most of us to understand war and the incredible impact it has had on our societies for centuries.  If you go back in time, people have been fighting really for as long as we have been in existence.  Fighting for access to resources, access to wealth and fighting to be right.

When I think about the two World Wars I often wonder if we will ever understand the influence this has had in shaping our culture.  I often think about all the children that grew up without fathers ( my dad being one of them).  All the people that came home from the battlefield physically disabled, emotionally terrorized and rendered unable to engage with the world around them in the way they used to.

You have to believe you have an enemy in order to engage in warfare.  You have to believe that someone is worth less than you, that they don’t have a family, friends, that they don’t have a life like yours. 

I think there’s so much more than remembering veterans on Rememberance Day.  Not only did they help shape the modern world politically, they sacrificed their lives, their well-being, their happiness so that we could enjoy life as we know it today.

In their honour, I think its time to work on cultivating Peace.  In the words of Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see.”

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Smoking, Addiction and other Skeletons in the Closet.

Ahh smoking.  It’s a bitch that’s plagued me for a long time.  Those who know me in my professional life are like “Whaaa??” doesn’t even make sense.  People who have known me a long time though know my relationship with nicotine.

I started smoking when I was 11 or 12.  It was a long time ago.  I know it sounds young but I was precocious (just ask my mother) and I grew up with smokers so it was easy to get cigarettes.  This is way before they stopped letting kids by cigarettes for their parents at the corner store, most people still smoked inside and well I’m pretty sure Popeye candy wasn’t sticks but ciggies for kids.  I don’t recall when I started ‘smoking’ in terms of a commitment but by the time I was in university you better believe those 7 years were fuelled by coffee and cigarettes.

Then I started working in a yoga studio and eventually became a teacher.  I also then became a closet smoker.  Although smoking wasn’t congruent with anything else in my lifestyle (being vegan, running consistently, teaching and practicing lots of yoga) I loved it because what it was congruent with was helping me deal with the feelings in my body.

I quit smoking 1000s of times and every time I’d tell myself that I would only smoke when I drank.  Well I’m not a big drinker but you better believe that I would drink so I could smoke.  Craziness.  The only time I really went any length of time without smoking was when I was pregnant.  It was easy to quit then.  Then my baby turned 6 months old.  I was exhausted, my whole life was upside down and I was very anxious.  Who did I turn to?  My old friend the cigarette.

It started out like any good addiction does.  A little taste here, a little taste there and soon enough you are jonesing for your drug choice.  What was so different for me this time was that I was so AWARE of  what was happening.  Before I could observe my addiction but this time the actual dance me and nicotine were doing was so much clearer.  This time I didn’t like smoking, but I could tell that I was using to deal with my feelings except, and here’s the crucial part, it wasn’t working like it used to.  I had become too energetically sensitive to be smoking.

What had happened was it went from stuffing my feelings (smoking is very good at this, want to stop crying?  have a cigarette), to making me anxious.  I disliked the smell, the way it was making me feel clouded, dehydrated and secretive.  So I just decided to stop.  What’s so incredible is that it was so easy to stop.  I was just over it and it was no longer working.

The real challenge is going to be when I get hit with feelings again, the ones that we get that feel unmanageable.  What I love is that for the first time in my life I really feel as though I have outgrown this method of managing myself and I can move onto something more healthy.  The choice that I made as a young girl does not have to haunt me, I can make new choices as an adult.  This is empowering, especially for those of us who have been carrying a lot of trauma from childhood.  We really have to learn that we can still honour the feelings of the little one inside us but now there’s a grown up there to help too.

The main reason too I’m sharing this personal struggle is because smoking nowadays is very frowned upon and this leads people to feeling guilt and shame.  I didn’t want to be ashamed that I am a nicotine addict.  I wanted to explain that I, as well as others, deserve compassion vs. judgement.  I guess too my declaration also makes me human.  Even though I teach yoga, study lots, live a little outside the box, I too have skeletons in my closet…and am unabashedly gonna air them out in the hopes that you reader may relate and be inspired to grow on your own path.  Isn’t that what we are all here for?  Grow, grow, grow.

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To My Daughter

Dear Baby Bees,

I can’t believe its been one year already.  I have to say it has been the most amazing, challenging, life-changing, heart opening year of my life. 

You have taught me so many things, more than I can list.  The biggest theme however is that you have helped me become many of the things I have wanted to be.

First, you have opened my heart in a way beyond what I thought was possible.  You have taught me the meaning of true love.  I now cry much more easily and my ability to be compassionate and loving supercedes anything that I have ever known.  I feel blessed that I can engage with others in this new way; that I can move from the depth of my heart in a way that I have never been able to before and for that I am incredibly thankful.

Second, you teach me every day that there is more work for me to do in the healing of my own spirit.  You mirror back to me the things that I continually need to clean up.  This is a wonderful gift because you call on me to be the best person I can be in the moment and this helps me grow to my fullest potential.

Watching you sleep is the greatest reminder to me of the need to cultivate peace.

You remind me that the world is full of wonder, delight and innocence.

You remind me that we were ALL children once, perfect in our own right.

You remind me to play and then play harder.

You remind me to nap because rest is crucial to health and happiness.

You remind me to eat my vegetables, floss my teeth and drink more water.

You remind me the meaning of being here.

So I thank you for all your gifts and I look forward to our journey to come.

Oceans of love and delight,


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10,000 hours and you’re an expert

I’m reading Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’.  What a fabulous book.  I’m not very far into it but he challenges whether or not people are ‘gifted’ or whether they are presented with opportunities and because of their tenacious response, become experts.

It makes us feel as though we are all special but some people have a greater opportunity for just that, greatness.  In his second chapter he describes the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something.  There’s no denying that’s a lot of hours.  10,000 hours of practice at 1 hour per day is 27.39 years.  It’s a long or short time depending on how you look at it.

I have taken this calculation onto the mat.  Now one could choose to be discouraged and say “Geez, this is going to take forever.”  I choose to see it as inspiration.  That I am exactly where I need to be after all my hours of practice.  That if I choose to get ‘better’ or in the case of yoga I prefer the term more ‘devoted,’ then I have lots of time and I’m doing well for where I am at. 

I have no idea how many hours of yoga (asana practice) I have done since I began.  I would guess at somewhere around 1500.  That’s around 4 hours per week over 7 years.  It’s a rough estimate but gives me an idea anyways.  I feel like my knowledge is sound, based in my physical experience but I respect deeply that I have a long way to go and am intrigued by this 10,000 hour concept.

So the next time you are on the mat judging your abilities, don’t.  We generally don’t like to observe our physical manifestation of yoga from the ego mind, the one that assesses and compares.  Rather look at your growth from your own beginning.  You may feel as though you have even lost mobility.  I know I certainly can’t do some things that I was able to do when I first started practicing.  My theory is that as we do more yoga, we become more physically aware.  As this personal cognizance grows, we are able to redefine our abilities from the body’s truth rather than the mind’s desire.  This ultimately ends up causing us less pain, less injury and more happiness, more equanimity.  This is the point of the practice.  To unite the body with the mind through the bridge of the breath or what I like to fondly call, the yellow brick road.

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Nov 1st: The day of new beginnings…

Well I have to admit I got totally derailed by illness in my desire to practice yoga everyday.  I’m back on track though and willing to give it another shot.

Today marks day 364 in my daughter’s life here on earth.  Tomorrow she will be one.  I have been thinking so much about the past year and how quickly it went, how sad I am that its gone and how delighted I am that she is blooming.

It makes me realize the need to be present is a different way.  I was thinking that if you lived to be 100, you would only have 100 Nov firsts in your life or June 26ths or whichever day you choose.  When you begin to look at life in this way, you realize that there aren’t in fact that many days.  This isn’t negative to me, it is rather a call to action to show up in your life in a different way.  Tomorrow will be the only time that Baby B and I will get to share her first birthday.  It will never happen again and so with that I’m excited.

I remember thinking this way when I was climbing Kilimanjaro.  Each step I took I reminded myself that I would never take that step again in my life so no matter how physically challenging it was, to enjoy it fully. 

This holds deep meaning for me as I often get lost in fatigue.  My days dissolve into things to do, naps I dream of taking and working on getting it all right.  It reminds me to step back, leave the cleaning, leave the need to be in control and instead experience the joy of each breath because we only have a finite number and we better use them wisely. 

So here I rededicate to living more fully in each moment, committing to savour each detail because it holds such beauty rather than being lost in the things I feel I’m not achieving.  I want to look back on my life and say that I played hard and then played harder, that I lived full of joy and laughter and embraced all things that crossed my path, the good, the bad and the downright ugly.  In this way I too hope to bloom, just as my daughter is, into the best person I can be right here, right now.

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