The Getdown

Simply moving your body is effective in maintaining and even improving your future mobility. Surprisingly, “moving” does not need to involve the gym or long distance running to gain the most valuable benefits.

The one thing you could do every day that would help you stay limber and mobile into your ripe old age isn’t running track, pumping iron or even standing on your head, it is the routine activity of getting down … on the floor … and getting back up again. Now for some of you, just the idea of getting down may cause you to break a sweat. Don’t worry! This practice is built for everyone; it is a practice of functional movement.

“Functional movement” is the greatest indicator of agility, mobility and longevity. There are a growing number of books, videos, classes and trainings popping up helping people rediscover how to move their bodies in functional ways. Functional movements are ways of moving that simulate real-world actions and activities. Think of the muscles you use and the flexibility you need to reach for something from the top shelf, or to put that heavy pot behind all your other pots in the bottom cupboard. Or carrying groceries or climbing a set of stairs. These are things many of us do every day without thinking about how mobile we need to be. Most of us will never realize how mobile we are just to be able to accomplish these daily tasks until we lose the ability to do them.

Our daily tasks involve myriad body parts coordinating and moving together: core strength, muscle flexibility and joint mobility. Twisting, bending, stretching; contractions and expansions, lifting and lowering. All this action comes into play in our so-called “mundane” daily movements.

Getting on and off the floor is a measurement of functional mobility. Simply practicing this action daily can help keep the body moving and grooving. In 2015 US Today produced a segment that discussed how a simple (though not easy) test of getting down on the floor and back up again could indicate a person’s future health and mobility.

Of course, as with all activity, being aware of intensity and challenge level is very important. The adage “Do what you can” holds true even when attempting a daily movement practice. Our ability to get to the ground and back up again can vary greatly from person to person, and so too will our methods. For some the practice might start by getting up and down from a chair, for others it will be the challenge of lowering one’s body down onto the ground without the use of support and then back up again. The degree of challenge is dependent on your current mobility and the amount of practice you have had. Moving slow and steady, within your own capacity will result in more significant mobility improvements than attempting the practice fast and furiously.

As long as you feel safe and don’t experience pain you are doing it right, no matter what it may look like. Whichever way you make your way down and make your way up is great, as long as you are being responsible to your body in every attempt.

Here are examples of 4 stages of movement you can explore as you practice this daily skill.

Up and down from a chair;

Chair supported movement;

Self-supported movement;

“Look mom no hands!”

*thanks to The Bodhi Tree for the use of your studio to shoot these videos

 

Gratitude to the Goddess Mothers

I became a mother by being gifted a daughter when she was 8 years old. I met her and she took full root in my heart. This summer will mark the fact that her and I have been in each other’s lives for half her time on this earth. Wow time moves fast!

In mid-April my daughter came to me and suggested we do a 30-day Yoga challenge together. My internal, tired, voice wanted to make up some excuse to not participate but my Yoga-loving and supportive parent-self quickly said “Yes let’s do it!” So on May 1st we kicked off our own Yoga challenge; doing a Yoga class a day for 30 days. We are just halfway through and the practice has already brought so many awesome experiences and lessons. I’ve done a few 30-day challenges over the years but this one is different. This one I am doing with my daughter. This challenge is one I am doing for myself and as a witness to my daughter’s journey. It has been through this role as witness that the practice has brought the most exquisite gifts.

Just a few days into the first week of the unfolding 30 days I began to see the community of women that surrounded my daughter: teachers, adjusters, studio staff and fellow students. I have watched as these women flowed in, around and through my daughter as she practiced. They each brought the love of mother energy. With their guiding hands, their inspiring voices, their encouraging smiles, and their accepting gaze. I watched my heart’s most precious part be passed from one goddess to the next, with such care, such connection, that I no longer hold worry or fear for her (the often natural state of a parent I have learned). I’ve witnessed how a soul is surrounded by mothers.

We limit ourselves in believing we have been given only one source motherhood. We are mothered through our lives by many conduits of the heart; look and you will see them. The goddesses that move around us channeling the energy of love, compassion and care. To all these souls I say thank you and this day is to honour you.

Happy Mother’s Day!

The Beauty of a Body at Rest

If you’ve practiced Yoga for long enough you will have heard the teacher at some point say that Savasana is “the hardest pose.” After precariously perching yourself on your hands or shavasanahead, I’m sure you may laugh at this idea, but as my own practice evolves I’ve experienced the profound resonance and challenges of this final pose. Savasana (corpse pose) has developed in many practices to resemble an exploding starfish for the body and a “check-out” time for the mind. This truly short-changes you and all the effort you put in before this fateful pose.

In the traditions of an Asana practice, Savasana is the final posture, yes, always. Even if you’ve practiced for years and decades, the end of your Asana practice is marked by laying on your back on the floor, and if getting down to the floor isn’t an option for you then there are variations available but the essence is the same.

What is that essence?

To rest the body in its optimal orientation so that physical, mental and spiritual integration can take place.

There are a plethora of benefits when you take the time to set your body up in a well-supported and aligned Savasana. Here are the three core experiences I’ve come to value from this final resting posture.

  1. The activity of your nervous system is diminished. Simply put, when you get comfortably still your nervous system has less outside data to regisupta-baddha-konasanaster, analyze and respond to. Even if Supta Baddha Konasana would feel “good” at the end of your practice, Savasana will serve your nervous system better. Even though you may feel super fantastic after all those arm balances, back bends and twists, your nervous system seeks the rest of stillness and the opportunity to bring joints and bones into line.
  1. This leads to feelings of relaxation and an experience of trust in the energetic body. Trust lives as the antithesis to fear; it’s our response to being unrooted. Laying on the ground, in a rested state increases feelings of trust in the body. Trust with the world around you, trust with yourself, and trust with the practice.
  1. Once the physical body and the energetic body blend in an experience of balance and ease then the mind can settle. It is in the restful state of Savasana that the mind shifts to increase the amount of Alpha waves. Alpha waves are the brain’s state in meditation and deep relaxation. This state allows the mind to wander freely in ease. This wandering is a good thing as it allows for processing of events, emotions and ideas without intellectual resistance. Through this state you are more easily able to put life events into perspective and even experience spontaneous inspiration and flashes of brilliance.

So, next time you come to the end of your practice and contemplate laying in some alternate shape, honour what you have worked so hard for and lay your body down with conscious placement. Laying with your legs at a natural angle from the hips and your arms at an angle that is comfortable for the shoulders is ideal. Wide legs and arms, just like confined legs and arms, are not neutral experiences for the nervous system. The head is positioned so that the neck muscles are able to relax and are not straining to have the head on the floor. The more you practice with mindful alignment in Savasana the more you will begin to experience the subtleties of your body, mind and spirit.

3e22e9032524adbc07e62875b479e030

Reluctant Blogger

“He who deliberates fully before taking a step will spend his entire life on one leg.”

—Chinese Proverb

Here it is; the blog post that could. I have sat down many times over the past few months to write this bugger. There were some small fits and starts but most of what did come out went nowhere. Whether it is putting ideas on a page, actually stepping into the new job or showing up for a Yoga class, we all have things that elicit reluctance. Writing a blog post is that for me.

It’s like going into a standing balance pose in Yoga, lets say Virabhadrasana III (Warrior 3) and always hovering the back big toe on and off the floor. Never really experiencing balance.

Never entering the next experience. Stuck in the thought of the action but not in the action itself.

The woman that deliberates truly is lost. In action creation is given life. Maybe it doesn’t really matter what the action is just that there is energy behind it. Without action the energy we hold that is itching to create pools in potential. Like a still pond, it can get bog-like, stagnant and repugnant. The longer we sit in inaction the thicker this potential-pond becomes and more action is needed to clean out the guck and get to the good stuff.

So maybe this blog post is just the guck, maybe it is getting to the good stuff. All I know is I got something out and on the page. Like lifting that toe off the floor and starting to spread my arms out, maybe its not a full expression of the potential that is in me but I launched away from the stuck place I was into the next experience.

Boundary Less

Brene Brown released a short video recently that made its rounds over social media. She was being interviewed about kindness, compassion and boundaries. In the video Brown shares that many of the truly compassionate people she has met have also been some of the most “boundaried.” Many of the yoga teachers, spiritual guides and enlightened beings I look up to seem to have clear margins around their time, opinions and life. Yet, the idea of boundaries has sat at odds for me with the idea that we are all connected. How do we connect, how do we love, if we have boundaries?

Looking back, I would say I was a pretty boundaryless person, allowing all the experiences of the people around me become my own experiences. I lived very much from this place seeing it as compassionate, empathetic and kind. But often this form of entanglement led to perpetuating the drama and suffering for both the people I was trying to help and myself. The more I tried to help the further into a suffering state I would go. How is this the way? I would wonder. How many people need to go into the suffering of another before that suffering is actually alleviated? Then, in more recent years, I had become very boundaried, as an attempt to deal with being overwhelmed, burnt out and scared. There have been experiences that have taught me the value of setting boundaries that allow me to feel safe and able to care for myself and others. But yet with each boundary I set I felt disconnected from some part of myself. Boundary setting had felt in conflict with the deep wholeness and connection of life that I knew was our true state.

This year I dove into the practice of meditation and mindfulness with two very skilled teachers (Tanis Fishman and Robin (Prem) Campbell). It has sparked a process that feels very much like a slow unraveling of the stories and structures that I felt formed me. The more untethered I become from the constraints that formed my experiences of this life, the more I feel I am returning to my self. The more I allow the boundaries to my experiences fall away the more solid and in place I feel. This practice has shifted my understanding of what it means to set boundaries.

In the messiness of this very human life, there are times when placing firm physical and emotional boundaries may feel necessary to establish safety. Without the sense of safety any further work is hindered. We must begin where we are and where we can.

As I continue to practice in the revelations of meditation there has been a shift into a true sense of being ok. Not in any grand “I’m special!” way, but in a very humble and of being- in-my-place way, with all the space I need and that I am ok just as I am. In this okness has come the experience of grounding, what I have come to call coming into our place. We are each given a space simply through the act of being born into this life and this is our gift, this place. To experience your place completely means all the parts of your self are here, even (especially) those ones you try to keep hidden or feel don’t have a right to be here. In this experience all your boundaries are innate but not in the rigid type of way. Not like walls. Boundaries then come from a sense of what is yours and what is not, of what space is yours to take up and what is not. What is yours to own and take responsibility for and what is not. As we come into our own space with full presence and full responsibility for all the gifts of life the less permeable we will be to others’ suffering.

If your heart is like my heart witnessing suffering in others is excruciating and motivates many of the actions we take. To witness another’s suffering has meant for me to experiences that suffering. For any suffering in the world that I witnessed, extreme or mild, I would feel threatened on some level. Threatened that that pain will be my pain. As long as I was unaware of what was my responsibility and what wasn’t, any thing outside of my self could become mine, not through choice but often simply by proximity. By residing in our place we hold all of life events as our own and in turn we allow the experiences of others to be their own. At first I know this can sound cold and removed but it truly is the opposite. This is how true love is expressed.

When we are in our own space, holding our own stuff, in complete experience of our self we are able to show up completely for those around us. We are able to see their suffering and not experience it as a threat to our own state and therefore remain with them as they move through the events of their life. We will not hold their choices, actions or words accountable for our state of being. This gives others the autonomy to hold their own space. And together we can truly be present in the shared moment with our individual experiences knowing we are not alone and that the space and experiences we have are ours to hold, our life is ours to live.

So if life gives you an experience that at first feels better served by setting a boundary of separation, try if you can to look at where you feel unable to hold your own space. Know that you are needed here in your life. This space that you are in was waiting for you; only when you show up is it complete. This is why the greatest of teachers suggest to students over and over again to keep practicing, to keep going to the mat, to keep returning to yourself and that all is coming. To come into your place is the truest of loving acts for all.

Moon of Long Nights

In this closing month of the year we have entered into a time of the year’s deepest darkness. We are approaching the winter solstice that marks the longest night and the shift into growing light. According to some First Nations traditions, this time is marked by the Moon of Long Nights. A time when our biology is asking us to go in, to hibernate and conserve our energy.

“These days an appreciation of the season’s darkness and hope is lost in the rush of holiday plans, of shopping and purchasing, of making a list and checking it twice. It is not part of our cultural consciousness to let ourselves be in the dark, to meditate upon the darkness, to listen, to pray. Instead we rush headlong into the light. Many of us zoom past the solstice in a rush of last-minute to-dos, and arrive exhausted on Christmas morning, glad to have survived the ordeal once again…On the Moon of Long Nights, may we begin to be a little more comfortable with the dark, and the mystery it symbolizes. May we remember to sleep, and to rest, to dream, and to talk to the Divine. May we remember that there is no such thing as human perfection and show humility in the presence of all the things that surpass understanding. May we remember that both illness and difference can be gifts, or can carry within them gifts of very great measure. Let us not be too arrogant to accept the gift, or to offer the giver a place at our table. And may that table be full of nourishing foods, with plenty to share.” (Jessica Prentice in her book Full Moon Feast)

As you head toward the final days of 2015 allow yourself this time to go deep within. Revel in the darkness so that you may reflect on the unfolding of the past 12 months. Be still and quiet to hear your hearts wisdom for the coming year.

Here is a full 30 minute Yoga Nidra practice to help you tap into your creative dreams for the year ahead.

Karma: To be of service

There is a path of yoga called Karma Yoga. This practice is not one of attuning the physically body through asana or strengthening the pranic body through breath-work. This path is one of devotional service. This is the practice I explore every time I visit Ishtadev Niwas Ashram near Kimberly, BC.

What many people don’t realize is that an ashram is not the property of its guru but of all those who choose to let it be a part of their world. An ashram is a yogi’s opportunity to practice all aspects of a yogic life including Karma Yoga: selfless service. Each person who’s experienced the teachings and trainings of an ashram is forever a part of the livelihood of the space.

To me this sounds like the innate relationship we have to our world. We are the shepherds of the spaces we have been gifted to experience. There is no one to ask for help, no one to tell us what needs to be done. We are to care for the various environments that have held space for us in our lives.

This is the reciprocal nature of all life.

Karma Yoga is the essence of all relationships and brings us to our enlightened state faster than any other route. To be of service is to be enlightened.

The Moment

Have you ever ended something before you knew what was to come next? Maybe you quit your job before you had another one or ended a relationship, or a project, with no idea if, or when, something else would come along. It can feel like standing on the edge of a cliff with a herd of horses galloping toward you and an abundance of indefinable space before you. There is fear and excitement, hesitation and enthusiasm. Often we will keep ourselves from standing in this precipice to avoid the unknown. Every moment, as it sits at the end of one thing and before the start of another offers us life.  

Recently I held my last class at a studio I had been teaching at for over 4 years and it was magical. Entering the studio to teach my last night was both sad for the ending and exciting for the future. Even though the transition was positive and I was leaving on good terms it was hard to say good-bye to friends and students who I have journeyed with for many years. The duality of excitement and sadness was palpable. What was unexpected was the profound experience that came with my final moments of teaching those students in that space.

While teaching my final restorative yoga class I kept getting struck in the moments of silence and stillness by the presence I was experiencing. With the immanent ending and the undefined future all I had available to me was the present. It was expansive. Each moment of the class felt heightened with the vibrancy of being fully present. As I sat there and the students drifted into their savasana I realized that every moment is charged with this vitality. If we allow each moment to be a releasing of all that came before and free from what may come next, then there is space for the expansive potential of anything to rush in. Each moment of this life is full of joy and gratitude, full of space and energy.

Along with the gifts of friends that I made from teaching those classes this magical moment of true presences is a treasure I will take with me. That clarity of present-moment experience was a physical remembrance for my soul. It was a clear expression that nothing ends or even begins; it is simply all right here, now, alive.

And the Universe Said…

Inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places.

I came across this poem a little while back and felt compelled to share. Turns out these wise and inspiring words were a part of the ending sequence on a video game. They ring true from any source.

I also included a recording of a Yoga Nidra class I lead last weekend. May both bring you closer to your heart, your true nature.

And the universe said I love you

and the universe said you have played the game well

and the universe said everything you need is within you

and the universe said you are stronger than you know

and the universe said you are the daylight

and the universe said you are the night

and the universe said the darkness you fight is within you

and the universe said the light you seek is within you

and the universe said you are not alone

and the universe said you are not separate from every other thing

and the universe said you are the universe tasting itself, talking to itself, reading its own code

and the universe said I love you because you are love.

– wisdom from Minecraft

Heart Centred Yoga Nidra recording

Be Still

“Your innermost sense of self, of who you are, is inseparable from stillness. It is the I Am that is deeper than name and form.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Life is motion. On a physical level, to completely cease all motion is to die. Only at death are we motionless, or still. So what does it mean to “be still” when we are holding a posture, seated in meditation or even in deep sleep?

We never truly render our bodies still nor should we for complete stillness equates to death of the body.

Through the act of becoming still something shift. To reach a still state we must embrace slowing down. Like torpor experienced by hibernating animals, we begin to slow our bodies and minds down but not with the intention of turning away from the world. Coming toward stillness is coming into direct experience with the world around us.

Stillness is often described by the well-loved metaphor of stilling ones mind as though a pond, free of ripples. Even though the top may appear perfectly still underneath life is swimming. But in the act of the winds ceasing to blow and the disturbances on the surface ceasing to occur we are able to see more clearly through the waters. In the act of stilling we are able to come into a closer experience with our true nature.

In the experience of our energetic body, motion creates vibration. Sound is a result of vibration. Once the vibrations are stilled or slowed there is less sound. In the silence we are able to hear. We can understand sound as the information our ears receive but there is the physical sound or the vibrations our body receives as well as the vibratory information our eyes receive.  In slowing ourselves toward stillness we are reducing the many forms of vibration within our experiences.  As this form of all encompassing silence is reached we are able to experience the world around and within free from the disturbances of all the vibrations.

 “Be the silent watcher of your thoughts and behaviour. You are beneath the thinker. You are the stillness beneath the mental noise.” ~Eckhart Tolle

In the experience of slowing down there is a subtle sensation of expanding.  Coming toward a still state brings with it deep experience and alignment. To bring oneself into stillness is to bring one self into alignment with the movement of the natural world or what some call flow. To be still is to move in sync with the universe.