The Hummingbird: An Incredible Gift Of Light And Presence

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I recently had an experience that I found to be meaningfully connected and shared the story with my nephew. He enjoyed the story but, as a scientist, he challenged me on the significance that I ascribed to it because for him, the universe is reactive and intelligent. He suggested that the value that I was seeing and the meaningful communication in such an event was similar to the meaning one might find in their horoscope. I agreed with him to a point but shared my belief in the interconnections of all things and explained that this particular incident and its related symbolic meaning resonated with me. For denoting meaning can add a certain spiritual dimension to our existence and enable us to delve deeper into self-reflection and find greater meaning in our otherwise material world.

This meaningful experience took place on the cottage deck in the late afternoon while my mother and I were engaged in conversation. On our deck, we have a hummingbird feeder as well as a hanging plant that the birds seem to like. We have always enjoyed the presence of many hummingbirds and my mother has always appreciated their loveliness. This is her 61st summer at the cottage; I can only wonder at the multitude of beautiful memories she holds, including the images of these special birds frequently drinking the nectar of the plants and at the feeders. Spanning decades are many strong memories of my parents so often mixing the sweet red juice and filling up the bird feeders.

While chatting, we suddenly noticed a hummingbird on the ground. We hadn’t noticed an impact but assumed that the bird had flown into the window and was either stunned or was dying. It remained motionless. Deeply saddened, I felt an immediate need to support this hummingbird in its transition. I just couldn’t let it be alone in its stillness in case it was passing.

Bending down, I carefully picked up the hummingbird and rested it in the palm of my hand. In awe of its delicateness and perfection and acutely aware of how special it was to actually hold such a beautiful animal, I steadied myself. There was a profound solemnity and sadness in this moment for I believed that it was dying. Softly stroking its head and its fine and exquisite feathers, I spoke in a gentle voice, assuring it that it wasn’t alone. I was completely unselfconscious and gratified that perhaps in these moments I provided comfort to the hummingbird. I stole a quick glance at my mother; she was watching, listening intently, and smiling.

Then, I noticed the hummingbird’s tiny eyes begin to move. It lifted its head up and opened the two sides of its beak, breathing in the air. The bird then dropped its head. After some time, as I continued to speak in a gentle and soft manner, its eyes moved again as if looking for the source of the sound. I held it close against my chest so that it could feel my presence and heartbeat, and hear my words of comfort. Once again, it lifted its head, opened its beak and breathed in. Though a cliché, it really did feel as if time stood still. Then, I felt the bird create a slight movement in my palm, and it suddenly lifted off and flew up. As the bird alighted, I was so happy and cheerfully joked with my mother saying, “I am a Healer!” We laughed, and then sat together and shared our feelings about what we had just experienced and witnessed. My mother was deeply moved by what she had seen and heard. I am grateful that we had shared this unique occurrence.

Immediately following our visit from the hummingbird, my mother encouraged me to write about it. I wanted to learn about the symbolism of the hummingbird and my curiosity was piqued. As I researched, I discovered that the hummingbird is not an ordinary bird but one that has spiritual and symbolic meaning associated with it. It is a symbol of all the good things that exist and when it appears out of nowhere, it spreads happiness and joy into the lives of those who it passes. I was surprised that hummingbirds are considered spirit animals that are used as a mode of communication by the spirit world. It is believed that your loved ones who have passed away may choose a hummingbird to communicate with you to let you know that they are well, and that they are still with you through your life’s ups and downs. It is not a coincidence; they come into your space for a reason.

These were very meaningful moments. I reflected about the rarity of being able to hold a hummingbird in your hands, the smallest bird who rotates its wings at a remarkable 80 times per second in a figure 8, the eternity symbol. They are the only birds that can fly backwards. It is believed that the hummingbird helps us to claim our power as infinite spiritual beings of light; for this reason, it is relevant that I spoke of the light to the hummingbird without knowing this.

In Native American culture, hummingbirds are often portrayed as a healer, a light bringer, or as a spirit being who helps people in need. Also, because of how lightweight they are, and their ability to quickly and effortlessly change direction or speeds, the hummingbird reminds us of the power of adaptability. Are we willing to step back, observe, look at things from a new perspective, and then quickly shift into action as needed? Thus the hummingbird as a spirit animal represents flexibility – our ability to accept, adapt, and implement change – and to feel light heartedness and joy.

Once again, I am in awe of how the interconnections in the universe continually unfold and manifest themselves. Everything is connected. I am currently in the process of clarifying my passions and joys, and honing in on my wish to be purposeful in my life. After decades of teaching and providing therapy, I feel an even stronger desire to continue helping others on their healing path. My intention is to help those in need of healing through yoga therapy, and to increase my yoga therapy services. In addition to how the symbolism of the hummingbird resonates with me regarding my professional work, the hummingbird’s message of the power of adaptability is also incredibly timely on a personal level. A new health issue has arisen for me which necessitates the need for acceptance and to utilize the power of adaptability with these changes and challenges.

The experience that I shared with my mother was a very beautiful one. The splendor of the hummingbird, and the powerful experience that I had with it is something that my mother and I will always cherish. I am touched that this very meaningful gift – that literally fell from the sky – was granted to me. Perhaps the hummingbird truly is my spirit guide!

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” – John Keats

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A Reflection on Mortality

In the past year and a half, I have lost two close friends; one had a terminal illness and the other succumbed to a sudden and fatal heart attack. These unexpected losses unhinge and deeply touch you because of the pain of loss as well as because the unexpected change greatly magnifies the fragility and impermanence of life. When this happens, we have no choice but to embrace the change, and we are harshly reminded that life is short. However, this kind of loss can become a means to set an intention: to develop gratitude for all of our blessings including those we share our lives with, and for living another day.

These tragic and untimely deaths combined with my yoga and mindfulness practise encourage me to focus on several important things. These include: being more present and more appreciatively engaged with my surroundings and with my loved ones; opening my heart to be more giving, loving and compassionate; practicing my yoga to remain connected and in touch with my body and somatic way of knowing; respecting and listening to my body’s messages, and to take care of it; celebrating solitude as well as connection; limiting screen time and spending as much time as I can in nature, and doing what I truly want to do.

After our very lengthy winter, we are reminded that everything is always changing. For now, the trees and flowers have bloomed, beautiful scents fill the air, and daylight lasts longer. As we navigate the cycle of life and manage the ups and downs and the joys and hardships, we can choose to honour our loved ones who share our lives or who have passed by continually redirecting our attention to the present and by focusing on the journey rather than the destination. Our overall experience of life will be fueled by and filled with gratitude, contentment, awareness, and meaningful moments.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live, deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau

Yoga is something one lives, not something one does.

 

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YogaBuds Studio in Toronto – a very unique place to study Yoga and Mindfulness for all ages

How you practice your yoga and live your practice is much more meaningful than which yoga asanas or postures you can or cannot do. Over the almost four decades and various life stages that I have sustained my yoga practice, I have come to realize that great symmetry has been created between my life on and off the mat. My practice and life merged into a single path. I have always been inspired to stay connected to the authentic yoga principles, philosophies and practices, and to live a life infused with spirituality. My teaching has reflected this for in my YogaBuds studio I have tried to illuminate for my students – kids, teens and adults – how the yoga practice can become intrinsically bound to every aspect of life.

YogaBuds Teaching and Mindfulness

Through my teaching, my students are given insights into the important messages and lessons of yoga. I often share personal stories about living a yogic lifestyle and describe how to carry your yoga with you throughout your day and into your life always. Developing a mindful awareness to our actions and thoughts is key for integrating yoga into our lives. The ultimate goal of yoga is to quiet the mind. Through the combination of yoga practice and mindfulness, students are guided to quiet their mind and be fully present. In class students have many opportunities to observe the multiple distractions running through the mind, to practice grounding, connecting to the breath, and drawing the attention back into the present moment.

Increasing self-awareness of one’s posture and understanding the relevance of good posture for overall health is a key component of the YogaBuds curriculum. Students are encouraged to pay attention to their postural habits including how and where tension is held. With mindful awareness and positive intentions one can pay attention wherever one is – seated at a desk or in a chair, while driving or on the computer or even while waiting in line – and create improvements by changing old habits. Students are taught how to implement simple modifications if for example the chest is concave, the neck is bent forward, or the body weight is unevenly distributed. One of the most important outcomes of these improvements is undoing the detrimental and cumulative effects of technology on posture and the prevention of future health issues.

The first Yama: Ahimsa

All yoga practice has its foundation in the first yama: Ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-violence and compassion. We should strive to keep this in word, thought and action. When we successfully do this, life and practice align. This is yoga. We can make a choice to remain conscious of this and practice this both on and off the mat. We can choose to be thoughtful, friendly, courteous, non-harming and non-judgmental and demonstrate loving kindness to all: family, friends, strangers and most important, to our selves. I believe that when we remain cognizant of this very important yama, or tenet of yoga, and practise Ahimsa, we will feel a sense of abundance and gratitude. This then leads to a sense of well-being, and a profound feeling of wholeness, contentment and joy.

Accepting our limitations and moving forward

Daily living, stress and personal anxieties combined with the aging process provides us with ample opportunities to manage the unexpected and unwelcomed changes that life regularly brings forth. These challenges may include mental or physical health issues, injuries, conditions, loss and pain. Learning to accept our limitations and adapt and adjust to them while on the mat teaches us to also do this when confronted with other challenges off the mat. Through the ongoing practice of asana (postures) and pranayama (breathing) and dhyana (meditation), we learn how to create stability in our body and steadiness in our mind, and experience a sense of inner spaciousness and stillness, first in the studio and then out in our lives.

Indeed, yoga is invaluable for learning how to stay present with the ride and how to be accepting of whatever unfolds. Through commitment and devotion to our yoga practice we can derive the many physical, mental and energetic benefits of this timeless tradition. We are capable of accessing calm in the chaos. An open road lies ahead and we can thankfully take our yoga with us on the go.

 

“Breathing in I calm my body, breathing out I smile, dwelling in the present moment, I know it is a wonderful moment.” –Thich Nhat Hahn

 

To learn more about YogaBuds, CLICK HERE

Continuity and Change with Time

pexels-photo-210590Continuity and Change with Time at Yogabuds Studio in Toronto

 Music and Yoga: Timeless and Always New 

Many years ago, I took my mother to Massey Hall and surprised her with concert tickets. As she recognized the first of Yanni’s songs, she turned to me with great enthusiasm and said, “That’s my song!” The venue was intimate, the music exquisite and this shared moment in time, very special.

Fast-forward almost thirty years: my 94 year-old mother and I have listened to Yanni many times together this summer. In the past, we listened to recordings on cassettes. Today, we listen to my Spotify playlist on a wireless speaker. This past July, I attend another Yanni concert and noticed that while some things were unchanged, there were also so many apparent differences from when we first saw him in concert years ago.

The Budweiser Stage is large, the population is Toronto at it’s multicultural best and technology prevails enabling us to watch Yanni and his ensemble on large screens. My husband is with me but because of our Yanni connection, I wish to share a taste of the evening and a sampling of his intense and soulful music with my mother. Sending her video Snaps throughout the evening, she texts me back, “Give Yanni my regards.”

Years pass and much changes but in spite of all the change, much remains constant and there is always an underlying unity to everything. For example, each time one steps onto one’s yoga mat, it is always new and different yet the yoga remains as the foundation and the constant element. At Yanni’s recent concert one could easily observe how he has been embraced by so many cultures around the world, and how his beautiful music has spanned the years. I also reflected on how my yoga has carried me across the bridge of time, meeting my needs at every step and junction along the way.

 Learning to Pay Attention at YogaBuds

The syllable gu means “darkness” and ru means “light.” My students often hear my belief that the guru is really an inner source of illumination that awakens awareness and transforms the darkness. I stress that the light is actually the Self within us and that we must strive to access our inner light and become our own best guide.

Yoga is not infallible and the wrong pose or a pose executed wrongly, or an incorrect sequence or practice can result in the worsening of a condition, cause an injury, or create agitation or disturbance in the mind. At YogaBuds, students learn how to pay attention and to bring an acute awareness to all that we do, moment-to-moment both on and off the mat. In turn, we learn to be more present in real time and better able to listen closely, and respond, to our body mind’s messaging. Then our yoga really begins to meet our needs.

CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOGABUDS

A Kidney Stone, Pain and Yoga 

In the past few months I learned that I had a kidney stone. Although the doctors consistently discounted the stone as the source of my pain because it was not causing an obstruction nor passing, I believed otherwise. My yoga training has taught me to be highly attuned to my body’s sensations; to trust in myself and in yoga; and, how to explore and work with pain, my own and others. Listening closely to my body, its messages directed me to what was needed to modify in my practice and how to do it. By being mindful and by paying attention, it became apparent which poses were helpful and which were more likely to be causing irritation, inflammation or pain. For example, when I stopped practising inversions, my pain eased.

In the weeks prior to the shock wave Lithotripsy procedure scheduled to pulverize the stone, I continued to modify my practice. With the intention of trying to bring a sense of ease and softness to the act of breaking the stone, a hard mass, my practice included more restorative yoga poses with meditations focused on the theme of softness. I would never really know if these intentions and practises would help but I knew that it certainly couldn’t hurt! As the doctors settled me onto the table on the morning of the procedure, I began to practise my meditation just when the sedation was being administered and took effect. Thankfully, the procedure was successful and I am once again, pain-free.  Perhaps my yoga truly made a difference.

 Continuity, Change and the Underlying Unity 

Recently, I saw a photo of myself from my early twenties. Even though so much has changed, my personal style, clothing and smile have remained the same as has the environment in which the photo was taken. In fact, the photo was taken very close to where these words are being written. Although photographs freeze time, and the passage of time certainly creates and reflects changes, much remains the same. I am immensely grateful that my sustained yoga practice has been and will be my constant amidst the multitude of changes that life will undoubtedly bring. And through all that is yet to come, I hope to continue to see the underlying unity in everything and go with the flow with awareness and acceptance just as the river waters meander along its many winding bends.

“Yoga allows you to find a new kind of freedom that you may not have known even existed. To a yogi, freedom implies not being battered by the dualities of life.” –B.K.S. Iyengar

“Life moves. There’s no death. There’s no birth. Life is like a river… moving without any stop.” B.K.S. Iyengar

Iyengar Yoga: What, Why And Where To Practise It In Toronto

YogaBuds Studio in Toronto practising Iyengar Yoga

An Iyengar Yoga Class at YogaBuds Studio in Toronto

What Is Iyengar Yoga?

Iyengar Yoga is based on the teachings of the yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar whose trainings and practice of over 70 years resulted in great innovations in the teaching of yoga. Iyengar Yoga is one of the most widely practiced forms of yoga in the world and is accessible to anyone, independent of their limitations or capabilities.

Props may be used to reach a deeper penetration into the poses, and combined with longer holdings of poses assist students in executing an asana without putting them at risk. There is a lot of diversity of practice and in the safe sequencing and structured progression of the poses, which prevents overuse and injury. The Iyengar approach to yoga is also therapeutic in nature.

What further distinguishes Iyengar Yoga is the emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture (asana) and breath control (pranayama). The very high degree of attention paid to correct anatomical alignment and detail in all poses makes each pose healthy for joints, ligaments and muscles. This combined with the cultivation of self-awareness, intelligent evaluation and deep inward reflection results in also developing the mental benefits of a full meditation in action. Effective alignment helps to achieve balance between body, mind and breath.

In addition to acquiring optimal body alignment, the Iyengar method develops strength, stamina, stability, suppleness, mobility, flexibility, and relaxation through the asanas. Regular practice improves overall health, posture and concentration, and quiets the mind to promote well-being. Students learn to be fully and vibrantly present in the moment.

Certified Iyengar Yoga teachers complete international standards of comprehensive and rigorous certification which take years of study. Certified teachers are able to tailor poses to individual’s needs.

Why Choose Iyengar Yoga?

There is nothing else that comes close to the depth of Iyengar yoga. The clarity, understanding, safety, and fullness of the practise is unique to this methodology. From your first Iyengar Yoga class taught by a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher, you will recognize the incredible wealth of information available for the evolution of one’s practise and developing consciousness.

Some Of The Benefits Of Iyengar Yoga:

  • Improve physical, mental and psychological health
  • Improve posture and breathing
  • Increase energy, vitality, focus and concentration
  • Improve balance, muscle tone and structural issues
  • Increase strength, balance, coordination, flexibility and mobility
  • Release emotional tension and stress and experience peace of mind
  • Learn mindfulness and how to be exist fully in the present moment
  • Bring intelligence, awareness, self-knowledge and clarity to all aspects of oneself, mind and body

Where Is The Best Place For Iyengar Yoga In Toronto?

YogaBuds is the best place for studying Iyengar Yoga in midtown Toronto. It is a warm and welcoming home-based studio with limited space so class numbers are small. Small classes create a safe space for each student to learn, as he or she receives a lot of individualized attention. There is a lovely sense of community as well.

YogaBuds director, Temmi Ungerman Sears who has over 36 years of personal practise teaches all the classes. She conveys her passion, insights and understanding of Iyengar Yoga with authenticy, humor and precision.

The studio is unique it that it provides Iyengar Yoga classes for all ages including young children, teens and adults. There are yoga classes for families, as well as for mother and daughter. All classes are taught in the traditional Iyengar methodology regardless of age.

Accompanying traditional Iyengar yoga is a strong dose of creativity. Stories, philosophy and metaphor are also infused in all classes. In addition to the asanas, pranayama and yoga sutra readings and discussions, mindfulness meditation is taught in each class as well. Experiencing meditation in action is a component of the Iyengar methodology.

Students are encouraged and expected to sign up for a full session in order to make the commitment to the practise and thus reap the many benefits from it. All classes are taught by YogaBuds director and founder, Temmi Ungerman Sears, Certified Iyengar Yoga teacher and Certified Yoga Therapist.

“The practice of yogasana for the sake of health, to keep fit, or to maintain flexibility is the external practice of yoga. While this is a legitimate place to begin, it is not the end,” says B.K.S. Iyengar. “Even in simple asanas, one is experiencing the three levels of quest: the external quest, which brings firmness of the body; the internal quest, which brings steadiness of intelligence; and the innermost quest, which brings benevolence of spirit.”

To learn more about YogaBuds, CLICK HERE

Magical Moments of Gratitude and Abundance

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Yoga is the flow of energy – within our selves and everywhere. For we are comprised of prana, the life force, and as yoga connects us to our selves we connect to prana. We are made up of our parents’ genes, our unique talents, skills and personalities, to the elements, to one another, and to so much more. With continuous yoga practice, one begins to experience the flow as it is as well as where it may be stuck in our bodies or minds.

Each morning during vacation I practice for several hours with the ocean as the backdrop. The sound of the tide connects me to the rhythm of my own breath and to my movements. For all yoga is attention training. As we focus on the ever changing flow of energy – of our respiration, in and out, of the elements of the pose and all of our subtle adjustments – we then stop, remain still, and experience the essence of the pose and the fullness of the moment. All dualities slip away and we are here. And here in the moment, I experience a deep sense of connection to everything. I feel such gratitude and abundance, and contentment flows, like my energy or prana.

My discovery of yoga in my early twenties was simply a surprise and a blessing. I have never wavered in my practice or studies since my first class 36 years ago. My awareness of consciousness and my appreciation of the vastness and beauty of the minutiae of the present moment continues to deepen as does the connection that I feel to the breath, the pause, the flow. One late afternoon I watched a lone swimmer quite far out in the ocean until my eye could no longer see him. As he vigorously swam for miles I knew that I was witnessing a most incredible expression of the mind-body-breath connection. As I watched his prowess, fluidity, rhythm, speed, and focus, I was amazed. I felt immense gratitude to observe such a incredibly beautiful moving meditation, and another example of the flow of energy.

Recently, I had a very meaningful dream. A white baby goat was the dream symbol that spoke to me as clearly as a bell ringing across a meadow. In my dream, I am sleeping and the goat is curled against my side next to Sarah, my black cat. As I am leaving my dream state and gradually awakening, I am confused and upset for I realize that it is only Sarah who remains next to me, in real time. In despair and still half asleep, I ask out loud, “but where is the goat?” All day the imagery of the goat stayed in my consciousness. I was struck by the contrast between the white and black and thought it suggested dualities. My husband suggested that I research its meaning. As I read I was excited to learn that dreaming of a white goat is a symbol for good luck and happiness and that it further symbolizes balance, respect and grace. But what I found really interesting is that the most common meaning is that of abundance and mirth.

Receiving my morsels along the path of yoga are like the crumbs discovered by Hansel and Gretel guiding them on their journey home. As I meander down my long and winding path tasting the rewards of yoga, I recognize that yoga has taught me devotion and has granted me many gifts: serenity, health, balance and joy. It has also provided me with a space to be – to find stillness and softness, strength and balance. From adolescence to middle age, from being single to married and through three pregnancies and deliveries, with the pillars of love and loss, wherever I am at in any given moment in time, yoga has been my Light and has ignited my own inner Light. I have learned to be present, to find space around my heart, and to connect with others, heart-to-heart. Daily I sit in gratitude and abundance. Perhaps my goat will come again soon to visit.

This Hanukkah Season: Connecting with Your Inner Light

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During a recent Shabbat family dinner in which we were discussing Judaism and God, my daughter’s 24 year-old boyfriend Ryan stated, “I’m always questioning and I’m always looking for answers. But I’m also accepting the reality that it’s okay not to have an answer.” His words have helped me to further understand him and the mindset of some young people today.

As tradition tells, when the Maccabees liberated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, a miracle occurred because only one day’s worth of oil for lighting the Menorah lasted for eight days. Hanukkah is probably the most well-known example of the symbol of light within Judaism, as it celebrates the miracle of the light in a historical event that took place in 165 BC. As with the other major Jewish holidays, the festival of lights offers the deeper meaning and opportunity for introspection. Although we may question the veracity of the story when we reflect on the story of Hanukkah, we may also be inspired to simply accept the concept of the miracle that it describes. The symbol of light and the miracle of light are indeed the holiday’s related messages of renewal, hope, and turning away from darkness.

One of my sweetest memories of raising our children involves the excitement and pride that they each experienced nightly during the eight nights of Hanukkah as they would recite the prayers and kindle their own menorah while we would light ours. Sometimes their grandparents shared in a meal, making the evening even more meaningful. Each child’s face was warmly lit both from the reflection of the beautiful light emanating from the menorahs and from within. For as we light the candles, we become like the glowing menorah, casting light in and around us, and lighting up the world. The lit menorah is a reminder of the miracle that inspired the holiday but it can also act as a reminder of the many miracles and blessings that comprise and envelop our lives today. The ritual of candle lighting both on Shabbat and during Hanukkah brings us together and bathes us in the warmth of family, connection, history, and tradition. I personally don’t know what has more meaning than that.

Light is fundamental to Judaism as a sign of God’s spirit and guiding force and when we light the Shabbat or menorah candles, the light represents joy and hope. Historically, light is one of the most universal and fundamental symbols for it is the source of goodness and the ultimate reality, and it has been universally associated with divinity or godliness in almost every culture and civilization. While darkness invoked fear and anxiety, light offered hope and protection to the ancient world. Hence, in every culture you will find the duality of light and darkness personifying God and evil, or order and chaos respectively.

When stress or sadness threatens to overwhelm us, we can choose to access our religious or spiritual beliefs, or practice mindfulness with a focus on our breath and the inner light. When we do this, we have an opportunity to slow down, quiet our thoughts and mind, and visualize the light spreading and permeating each and every cell. Tapping into that inner source of light and goodness and accessing the divine light can truly help to manage or even mitigate the impending darkness or chaos that surrounds us.

In my work with students and clients in both yoga classes and in private yoga therapy sessions, I always strive to draw attention to the concept of light. During the quiet meditation that starts the practice, as well as during the final resting pose, I will often guide and instruct others on how to quiet their brain, open their chest and reflect on the inner point of stillness and light within their heart. Through the guided meditation coupled with their openness and receptivity, my students gradually become more able to access their own inner healing and loving light, even visualizing it spreading beyond them selves. Additionally, it also believed that the Aum – which we chant together to formally begin or end the practice – will illuminate those who are touched by it.

It is believed that when we choose to focus on the light that shines in the mind as pure light, it will then reflect objects accurately and lead to right discrimination, mental clarity, and brilliance. When the mind is free from impurities, the original luster and light for the Self manifest in the mind and illuminates it like the sun that shines in the clear, bright sky. In the body the eyes represent the sun and the moon since they are filled with the light of Self. As the sense organs, they have limitations in perceiving truth. The Upanishads, a collection of texts written between 800 BC and 500 BC that form the core of Indian philosophy, declare that between the eyebrows there is the light of the Self – the third eye – which can see without seeing, and which can perceive beyond the mind and the senses the truths that are imperceptible to them. When our mind and heart are open to the depth and wealth of the inner richness that is bathed in light and love, it not only illuminates our spirit but spreads outwardly to touch those we care about.

As we approach the winter solstice and the days grow longer and darker with the world appearing to be out of balance with frequent and random acts of violence, it is even more important to meditate on the idea of light and enjoy the ritual of lighting the menorah with our loved ones. By maintaining the tradition and having trust in its stories, including the miracle of Hanukkah, we tap into the source within. We may not be able to have the tangible answers that Ryan is seeking but we can find in our hearts the light to brighten our path with humility and integrity, to embrace and illuminate our relationships with kindness and love, and to enhance our lives with faith and meaning.

 

 

Inspiring the yoga passion

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When I run into someone whom I haven’t seen for a long time, I am often asked “Are you still doing your yoga?” Fortunate to have discovered it at a young age, I have never swayed from my commitment to my yoga and mindfulness practice for 36 years. In the early days of my teaching career, my husband commented that I was different from others because the majority of people will generally try new things but eventually move on to the next trend. Yet this incredible multilayered eight-limbed approach with its multiple benefits has kept me hooked for almost four decades! My yoga practice has been the foundation from which I live my life. But what exactly is it that keeps me coming to the mat? How has my learning curve been maintained and how has my passion been sustained over the years?

Although this practice is 5,000 years old, it is only in the past fifteen or twenty years that yoga has become an integral part of mainstream society. In the early 90’s I was invited to audition, and was hired for a spot in a car commercial that included a few yoga practitioners in a yoga posture. This was one of the first ads to use yoga as a marketing tool; today yoga is a billion dollar industry. Because my understanding of yoga and the myriad of its benefits runs deep, I often cringe at the commercialization of yoga and the dilution of its essence. For it is the essence of the practice and its value that has drawn me to it over and over again and which relates directly to and informs my life.

The essence of the practice is the single-pointed focus that spreads through one’s entire being and into one’s life experience. Richard Rosen speaks about this in his CD “Pranayama: Beyond the Fundamentals” and I find his words to be very inspiring. He says, “Yoga is simply about attention training, and the goal of all such training is presence. Presence is the essence of what the yogis call the juice, the rasa. Presence and essence arrive from the same Latin word, to be. Simple being is our true nature.” Rasa, a Sanskrit term that means “sap”, “essence” or “fluid” is the juice of the practice, the nourishing energy that infuses us with life. Remaining mindful of the rasa during the practice helps me to keep the spark alive. But to stay present for any length of time is a challenge. Using the breath, focusing on the rasa, and attuning to the alignment, precision and detailed execution of the posture helps to anchor our presence in the moment.

Every time I step on the mat I have the opportunity to ask myself: What do I want to see more of in my life? I can then set an intention to use the energy of the practise to help make it real. And then, the relevance of the practice shows up long after I have stepped off the yoga mat. This is in part what keeps me wanting more and returning to the mat. I have always shared with my students my belief that consistency is key for it is one of the pillars of a strong practise. In spite of the busyness of life and the many challenges that it presents, I have discovered that once committed to yoga, cultivating inner life and mindfulness unfolds. And as these benefits permeate my life, enthusiasm for the practice is naturally ignited. Through learning the philosophies of yoga and practising the 8-limbs of yoga, yoga values such as gratitude, contentment, non-harming, and non-attachment become ingrained. The tenets of yoga create the lens through which I view life and ultimately how life is lived.

The effects of the practice has a direct impact on how you feel, perceive, understand, and interact with yourself, with others and in the world. The amount of postures and breathing or pranayama techniques to learn is truly staggering; I try to approach each practice with an enthusiastic beginner’s mind and infuse the practice with a new level of curiosity. It is as if I am studying and experiencing each posture for the first time because I come at the pose from the inside out, feeling the pose and experiencing sensations all over. Each time I practice the posture, I learn more about myself and experience something different. Self-study or Svadyaya is a Niyama meaning rule or laws and svadyaya is one of the five internal observances or tools. It connotes introspection and “study of self” which results in increased self-awareness and self-understanding. The learning is constant and I am simply never bored with the poses nor the practise.

Creating change in body and mind in order to execute the more advanced postures and breathing or pranayama techniques is an ongoing challenge and process. Learning and refining old or new poses, providing my body mind and spirit with what is needed on any given day, or learning what is needed to facilitate the healing of a specific issue, injury or condition further maintains the learning curve and sustains my interest. Over time, I develop an intense and refined alertness to states of being and to the subtle body, and I experience a greater understanding of how the poses or asanas or poses deeply affect me. Each cycle of breath is different as are the many distracting thoughts that pull me away from my practice. Witnessing these differences and distractions provides an opportunity to refocus my attention and maintain my presence in the moment. Regularity of practice done with intention and focus supports my understanding of myself and the practise continues to deepen and replenish me like a well that is never emptied of its water.

Other ways that I have kept the spark and fire alive have included regular month-long studies with the Iyengar family in India over a span of twenty years, and with other teachers around the world. While on vacation, I will take classes in different systems of yoga to learn both what I like and don’t like and what I might bring from that learning to my practice and to my teaching. When I return home, I happily immerse myself back in my own practice of Iyengar yoga with a renewed sense of freshness and gratitude. Even though the discipline of yoga is serious, it is important to me to ensure that I am enjoying myself and having fun. Other ways I create inspiration may include adding different elements to my practice such as changing the environment or adding something to it. Weather permitting, I will unfold my mat outdoors or I may choose to play music, light incense or candles, enjoy related readings including Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, or explore yoga photos from BKS Iyengar’s “Light on Yoga” or other books. Undoubtedly, Guruji’s life – his practice, teachings, writings, and profound influence in the dissemination of yoga worldwide – continues to be one of the best inspirations for my own lifelong practice. But ultimately, the greatest inspiration for my yoga is my actual practice! This is what truly keeps the flame alive.

Investment advisors will tell you that you have to accept fluctuations in the market and maintain your focus on the distant horizon line in order to realize the long-term benefits of the investment. The yoga process is the same for when we keep showing up on the mat and continue to make our deposits in our practice, over time our investment grows. Like the market, there may be downturns or occasions when we crash but if we trust in the process and maintain our commitment to it, inevitably even a single spark of passion will stay ignited. We feel its impact as it spreads within us and then outwardly into the world. Passion can be slow burning or intense but when we practice yoga on a consistent basis over the years, the benefits will manifest into our day and we will feel nourished. It simply keeps us wanting more.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” -Confucius

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating the small and big moments

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When I recently commended my very dear friend on her incredible valiant spirit and positive outlook, she responded with: “Life is just too short.” Her poignant words were as sharp as a glass shard as she fights desperately for more time. I am truly in awe of her for how she has maintained her hope, positivity and strength as she copes with her failing health. She is simply unwilling and unable to stop loving her three daughters and husband as she remains surrounded by light, the support and love of her family and friends. I want to tell her how much I will miss her but I know to do so would mean that I would not be in the moment with her and I don’t want to miss that. For moments are all we have.

We so often become bogged down in the mire of petty disputes, old dramas and current perceived hurts and crises. But it sadly takes a tragedy, either of a personal nature or such as the current onslaught of terrorist acts, to be piercingly reminded of the precariousness of life and its preciousness. It is our challenge – and our responsibility – to remain fully present: aware, attuned and appreciative of each moment, moment-to moment. It is very important to remain cognizant of the importance of cherishing our loved ones, and to experience joy, sanctity and celebration in all the mundane and celebratory aspects of our lives. Yoga and mindfulness provide us with the roadmap for our journey and the skills and tools needed to stay present-focused with the understanding that there is something greater than our individual selves.

For years I had a long-held desire to become a Bat Mitzvah, to earn the right to read from the Torah scroll. On April 22, 2017, I crossed a significant threshold of adult Jewish life and became Bat Mitzvah, reclaiming my rightful place as a full adult member of the Jewish community. As I cemented my Jewish identity more deeply and embraced the totality of my Jewish self, I connected to my congregation, with the historical and current Jewish communities, and contributed to making Canadian Judaism more vibrant.

Standing in front of the congregation, I gazed at the beautiful Torah script and felt these special moments touch my soul. The intense shaking of my hand as it moved the yad or pointer over the Torah surprised me. Yet my mind was completely focused on chanting the words of our ancient text. I chanted from a very inward and centered place, and experienced how history and the present moment merged. I truly felt the strength of the Torah within me and was profoundly moved by the sanctity of the moment.

Of course, this milestone in my journey as a learner was one of the bigger and more celebratory moments in my life. But equally important are the quiet simple ones such as my resent visit with my girlfriend; playing Scrabble with my elderly mother and consistently losing to her; having brunch with my husband and kids, or just relaxing with a coffee and my purring cat. Indeed, life is mostly comprised of the small moments. And it is up to us to choose to experience the sanctity and meaning in all of our minute daily experiences as we also consciously decide how best to react to the lesser things that challenge our balance and equilibrium. Refocusing our attention on our blessings and the abundance in our lives will help to preserve openness of heart and calmness of mind. Over and over I find myself rising to the challenge to embrace all that life presents while staying connected to what is truly meaningful and remaining as fully present as possible.

Walk the Path, Live the Practice

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Keeping my yoga and mindfulness practice fresh and inspiring has been very important while sustaining my practice for almost thirty-five years. People often remark about my apparent “discipline” but I don’t see myself as disciplined. Rather, yoga is simply a practice that I consistently return to with awe and devotion. It is a practice in consciousness fostering a deeper connection with our selves while promoting a sense of grounded calm over reactive chaos. Through persisting with yoga practice, self-awareness is increased and is expressed through our actions and behaviors.

During the past sixteen months I have managed many personal challenges and losses including supporting a very dear friend with a rare and terminal cancer. Witnessing the drastic and turbulent changes that are occurring in the U.S. and around the world at this time is anxiety provoking. Recently, I even had a very disturbing encounter with someone at Cosco and his actions included keying my car door. Thankfully, my yoga and mindfulness practice helps me to pacify the inner turmoil and to manage many strong, unsettled and unfamiliar states of being including feelings of anger, sadness and angst. Through my own process of trying to make peace with myself through the practice, I try to inspire others to do the same.

I feel very fortunate to be able to guide others and help them with their various issues and conditions in both my group classes and private yoga therapy sessions. The Eight Limbs of Yoga propose a gentler code for living soulfully. The yamas and niyamas remind us to connect with our true human nature, to try to live in peace, health, and loving harmony with everyone and everything. In actuality, the real benefits of the practice occur when we are off the mat when we can employ the tools that yoga teaches us. Today, as I observe the plethora of ailments that people of all ages suffer from, especially increased anxiety, stress and depression, I truly believe that the yoga and mindfulness path holds the key to so much.

Grateful to have received what I believe to be the highest quality instruction from many wonderful teachers with whom I have studied since 1982, including studying for a month at a time in India over a twenty-year time span, it is a privilege to carry on the legacy and the teachings. Studying at the source with the Iyengar family including the late B.K.S Iyengar, was incredible. I cherish the adjustments, instructions and feedback that Mr. Iyengar gave me when he chose to demonstrate on me or meet with me privately. In turn, I strive to provide my students with excellence in teaching, authentic connection, encouragement and safety.

The 13th –century Persian poet Rumi said, “When you start walking the way, the way appears.” I discovered meditation at age fourteen and taught myself how to meditate from a book while seated in a winged back chair in the family rec room. Drawn to yoga at age twenty-one, I experienced my first pose on an exercise pad at university long before yoga mats were available on the market. During four decades of study and teaching, my practice has accompanied and supported me through: adolescence, adulthood and middle age; three pregnancies and childbirth; raising my children while founding children’s yoga in Canada; and establishing YogaBuds, my yoga studio.

As we navigate the life cycle with a consistent yoga and mindfulness practice we are provided with so many tools to examine, surrender, accept and overcome our struggles and the unavoidable stressors that arise. Though we travel forward on this path, yoga simultaneously freezes time when going inward to tune in and experience a range of emotions and feel wholeness, clarity, self-acceptance, empathy and loving kindness. Similarly, saying Kaddish early each morning last year helped me to find acceptance and peace within as I grieved and missed my father. Approaching my daily yoga and mindfulness practice with an open mind and heart, I begin with the intention to joyfully greet the day with a recognition and sense of full abundance in my life. I also acknowledge and pacify whatever inner angst there is, feeling gratitude and contentment and becoming more wholehearted. To me, this is what it means to walk the path.

To stand steady and comfortable and face the horizon while feeling grounded whether in tadasana (mountain pose), or in sirsasana (headstand) or in a myriad of other asanas (or poses); to listen to, watch, feel and control my breath; to raise my arms as high as they can go…To bend and extend my body forward or backward; to turn and twist it, to lower my brain below my heart and feel humbled… To experience an incredible sense of inner spaciousness, internal peace and oneness with all things, nature, God and people…To practice awareness and mindfulness; to live guided by an inner moral compass; to feel gratitude, compassion and contentment, and to let go and find acceptance…To me, this is what it means to live the practice.

“Life means to be living. Problems will always be there. When they arise navigate through them with yoga – don’t take a break.” – BKS Iyengar