Day 291: It really works..

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Things have been REALLY stressful and even a bit scary in my life recently. I won’t even get into all the details but I will say that I am getting to test all my “yogic techniques” for minimizing the effect of stress on my body and mind. At other times in my life I would have been totally lost my marbles by now but here I am, in the midst of chaos, with so many things in my future uncertain… and I feel okay.

Tension still creeps in but after practicing and teaching yoga I see the signs of it in my body so much earlier. I sigh. I drop my shoulders down, I smile, I remember to find things in my life I am grateful for, I get up and stretch… and with all of this hard times don’t feel quite so challenging.

Thank you Yoga for the incredible lessons you have shown me (and continue to show).

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Day 290: Ambition versus striving

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One of the things that I struggle with in yoga is having a practice with appropriate ambition while avoiding unhealthy striving. I believe the body should open naturally and slowly rather than being pushed or pulled into poses. However I also believe that yoga practitioners should challenge themselves on occasion so that they can see what their bodies are capable of. Sometimes we can have pleasant surprises when we explore poses outside our comfort zone. This can keep our yoga practice fresh and inspiring. In my own practicecwhen I am pushing my “asana envelope” I always return to three basic questions to see if I have gone too far.

  1. Can I breathe slowly and naturally?
  2. Can I relax my face, especially my jaw?
  3. Can I let my shoulders drop away from my ears, softening them?

Usually if I say no to any of those things it is time to come out of the pose. I think a huge part of yoga is the art of finding our strength in a soft calm place.

Day 289: Shifting, changing…nothing ever stays the same.

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So I am moving out of town.. not super far.. about a forty minute drive but it is far enough that I have to start thinking about how to manage my 8-10 yoga classes a week to not mean 8-10 drives into town.  I would like to build my teaching practice out there if at all possible too so that means I have to give up some classes here. I am trying to shift classes as many sessions as possible to be on the same 3 days, and if it isn’t a reality to shift a class to my commute days I am going to let the class go.

I feel surprisingly emotional. I didn’t think I would get so attached to classes but there you have it… I let one center know yesterday that I would not be renewing the contract in the new year because I just can’t make it work and I let another studio know that I have to shift to a different day or cancel the class all together. I have been feeling awfully busy lately and thought I would have a sense of relief with changing things but actually I feel a sense of loss.

I know new people will come, new spaces, new teaching gigs.. and for the moment having less classes is good because I am also working on creating a workshop about yogic techniques to manage stress and the over stimulation of modern life.  So some extra time to sit in the woods and ponder will be good. But I am feeling a little like I’m breaking up with someone I love.. it is odd.

Photo compliments of http://utopiaphoto.ca

Day 288: Perhaps my biggest yoga lesson, competitiveness

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I am a very competitive person. I don’t know if this came from being involved in sports when I was younger or if this has been part of my nature for longer than that. I don’t think I am obnoxiously competitive… but  I really don’t like the feeling of losing. I suppose none of us do really.

Part of what I LOVED about yoga when I started practicing it was the focus on being non competitive. It was incredibly challenging for me to work my body without trying to be “better at yoga” than those around me. I hurt myself over and over again pushing my body too far. I learned some hard lessons about my tendencies to go beyond safety within my body in the search for glory. Yoga forced me to be honest. It forced me to accept responsibility for my actions and to stop commanding my body. It helped me see the need to listen rather than push.

The beauty of yoga is that the lessons are continual. It forces you to pause and notice yourself. If I am honest with myself I see that I am feeling these competitive ” I want to win” feelings again when it comes to teaching. But the question is “Win what?” There is nothing to win here. Do I mean make more money? Do I mean “Pick me! Pick me!! to speak at your event? My lessons this time aren’t so much with the body, they are with the mind and emotions.. but they are the same lessons that I had to learn when I started practicing yoga. Non harming. Compassion. Patience. There is no finish line here. There is no race to win. It’s time to just savor the rich and beautiful experience that my own yoga practice and my teaching practice offer.

Day 287: Throw away the “yoga package”

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It seems many people are dragging themselves to the studio lately. The weather here is grey and dark and most of us just want to stay in bed. I know I feel it. Every part of me wants to sit in front of a fire, drink some hot cocoa and work on some crafts. No doubt if I did this I would will reemerge in the spring with about 20 pounds of blubber to lose. But I think I would have some beautiful art to share… and the inspiration to hike off the pounds once the sun was out.

But alas life keeps chugging along despite the weather so I keep showing up at the studio and people keep dragging themselves to my class. The irony is that my really still and quiet classes feel a little odd right now. Usually I feel that people need to slow down and meditative classes provide a great space for such a thing. But my instinct at the moment is to teach gentle warming movements, not stillness. Gentle core restoring yoga. I keep wanting to guide people through visualizations of warm limbs and light emanating from their centers as we slowly and naturally move our bodies. Because of this I am finding it challenging to be teaching certain “styles” of yoga. I want to just teach yoga… and not be limited by the parameters or labeling of one kind of yoga.

I feel like yoga adapts to what we need. It is about balancing our bodies and minds to create spaciousness.. somehow “labeling, packaging and styling” this practice feels a little odd to me sometimes. How about we just all go to YOGA class?

Art is by Francene Hart

Day 286: Yoga studio in the woods perhaps?

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Me and the family are going to look at a place in the woods this weekend. The owner says there is a perfect spot in the house for a yoga studio. How exciting is that!! Of course actually getting people to the woods for a class might be a little challenging… but if we take the place I would certainly be willing to host at least a class a week and maybe some workshops/retreats.

A move would involve some huge reshuffling of our priorities. It would also mean giving up some of my classes in town or at least trying to move them all to be on the same days. Really I cannot commute that far five days a week to teach for an hour or two. I would barely even cover the cost of my gas for some of my classes.  It would only work if I shuffled my schedule around so that I taught to or three classes in a row. So Wednesday 5:30 pm yoga spot in Victoria I am looking for you!

But yoga in the woods? Waking up to trees, deer, birds and a view of the lake? Yes please. I think it would be worth it. I really hope it all works out.

Day 285: Well it finally came.. the first burnout.

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I have been warned by many yoga teachers to beware of the yoga burn out. It seemed to have happened to me these past few weeks.  I mean how often can I talk about something so much, do it so often.. before boredom sets in. Burn out ensues. This also happened to me with graphic design, fire dancing, beading and jewelry designing. Something I loved became something I did for work.. and then it felt like work.

I have to admit I got a little sick of yoga the past few weeks and haven’t been doing much of it at all in regards to my own practice. I just haven’t been able to find the inspiration either in my own practice or in planning my classes. In desperation I went back to teaching some classes I taught before. It felt like a bit of a cop out  but it is what I needed to do. I suppose part of this just comes from the fact that my life has had a lot of extra stress these past weeks (not yoga related). Everything just went a little blah…

Part of this issue I keep returning to is that I don’t have any time to do yoga. My daughter has stopped napping so it feels like there is no spare time in the day now where I am not working. She goes to bed late and if I try to do yoga when she is awake she just climbs all over me which is totally distracting.

Last night I decided to return to my old yoga schedule… The “yoga in the bedroom while the toddler falls asleep” schedule. Once she was completely asleep I meditated. All together I did around 35 minutes of Yin Yoga and 10 minutes meditation. Then this morning before the coffee was even made I did about 15 minutes of Hatha yoga. It wasn’t much… but you know what? I feel SO MUCH calmer and more balanced now. You really do have to  DO YOGA to get the benefits.. not just talk, think or read about it. So here I am back to square one, just as I was when I started this blog, getting myself back into a routine of yoga. Even a little bit of yoga each day makes world of difference and is worth carving time out for.

Day 284: Back to teaching Yin Yoga

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When I started my yoga teacher training I was sure I would come out and teach Yin Yoga. I did a little.. and I subbed Yin classes here and there but either the timing never worked out for me to have a Yin spot or someone else was hired to teach it. It seems Victoria has an abundant number of Yin Yoga teachers.

For those of you who don’t know Yin Yoga is a style of yoga that involves long holds, usually while being seated or lying on the floor. Sometimes props are used, sometimes not. There are lots of hip openers helping prepare the body for long periods of seated meditation. The energy in a Yin class is quiet, calm and the focus inward.

Yin Yoga is a practice that technically doesn’t target the muscles at all despite it’s ability to make practitioners incredibly flexible. Yin Yoga targets connective tissues, including ligaments, joints, fascia, and even bones to a certain extent. During the postures muscles are encouraged to relax so that the deeper tissues can be stimulated instead. The stimulation/stress is believed to cause a “healing response” in the tissues improving strength and a slight lengthening. The areas targeted tend to be where we feel “stiffness“, especially as we age, even though we usually attribute the feeling of stiffness to our muscles.  In Yin Yoga practitioners get incredibly deep into the body and this can prove to be very intense and challenging sometimes despite Yin being thought of as a beginner class.

So I am back to a regular spot now teaching Yin.. ironically at the first studio where I fell in love with Yoga and was introduced to Yin. Life really is a big funny circle isn’t it? I don’t have many regular yet. I am still building the class and getting to know the studio from the “other side” but so far I am enjoying myself and getting the feel once more for this incredible practice that changed my life.

Day 283: A loss

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This week one of my students passed away. It was unexpected.. although when I work with populations with major health challenges I suppose a death should not be totally surprising. But it surprised me… I had wondered if she was okay after missing a few weeks of class but people come and go all the time. Sometimes yoga just doesn’t fit in. I truly appreciate that when people do show up it is because they want to be there.

As a grieve the loss of her life I am learning once more from those who attend yoga sessions with me. Me and this woman were not close nor am I unaccustomed to loss and death. But there is an odd relationship that builds between a yoga instructor/yoga practitioner that becomes strangely intimate while at the same time being very casual and light.  People come to my classes and I don’t really know them at all. We might get a few minutes to chat after class but often I know little about their lives. However there is an incredible amount of trust that I feel people who attend classes share with me. They allow themselves to be vulnerable, especially if they are students who are working with trauma and/or major health issues. This takes a huge amount of bravery. I always feel incredibly touched that they are willing to participate and share their experiences in such a public setting.

In classes where people deal with more complex issues in their bodies I tend to watch students a little closer, making sure that they are okay (as best as I can) and changing the pace of the class if I feel people are struggling. As I watch people move in their bodies I see conditioning, blocks, fears, openings.. I see how people push their bodies and how hard they can be on themselves. I learn about myself. I can have no end of sympathy for others.. seeing that we need to approach ourselves with the love we would give a child. But it is more difficult to do this when your are working with your own body, your own demons, your own feelings of failure or inadequacy. I really feel an immense amount of knowledge is passed onto me just by having people come to my class. I am reminded again and again about my own patterns. I am reminded to be gentle with myself as well as with those around me.

Day 282: Centering in the midst of storms

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Things have been really busy. The toddler has been sick for ever and has cut out her nap which was my time to “catch up on things”. The teen, well…he is a good kid but he certainly throws me some curve balls that make life challenging. Unexpected emergencies keep coming up. I am behind answering my emails and phone calls. In the past I would be totally stressed at this point but thanks to yoga I am managing to keep myself fairly sane. I have learned so much about our bodies and how they respond to stress. This knowledge helps me cope.  We don’t always have control over what happens to us but we do have an incredible ability to control how we respond.

Here are a few stress survival techniques that yoga has taught me.

  1. Breathe. It is amazing how often we forget to breathe. Notice your breath.
  2. Sigh.. or in yogic terms do some “cleansing breaths”.
  3. Relax the shoulders, soften the face, particularly the jaw.
  4. Feel your feet… the connection of your feet on the earth. Spread toes.
  5. Massage the bottom of your feet with a ball.
  6. Scan the body mentally, head to toe, softening each area as you go.
  7. Smile, it changes how we feel.
  8. Spread arms out wide and make yourself bigger, taking some deep breaths.
  9. Come into the present moment. Notice what is around you. Feel your body, notice the smells, tastes and colours in your surroundings.
  10. Lie on a bolster in heart bed posture.