A fresh start and a new you

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My family loves to play a wonderful interactive board game in which each player anonymously writes their answer to statements read out loud from a card. The reader then shares all the answers, and each player has a turn at guessing who wrote which response. My parents recently played this game with my daughter, her friend and myself (a first for my 92 year old father). His answer to “Things… I dream about” was both funny and poignant. He wrote, “I dream about waking up.” Why is it that in our complacency we generally fail to awake to each new day with an acute awareness and appreciation for it? Sadly, it sometimes takes learning about a loved one’s terminal, observing a horrific car accident or attending a funeral to be nudged and reminded of the exquisiteness of life.

Many opportunities to harvest this appreciation and to make a fresh start each day are available to us from the minutiae of daily life to grander life events. Interestingly, in the span of one year, our body mass is recreated with new cells as we produce approximately fifty to seventy billion cells each day. So in essence, we continually experience a fresh new reproduction of our old self and our new cells have a fresh start. Autumn is a transitional season changing from summer to winter defined by new beginnings. We observe the summer’s green hues fade, replaced by the vibrant colours of red, yellow and orange. The magnificent colorful leaves eventually fall from deciduous trees and the new cool feeling of winter arrives. We are also keenly aware of the transformation from the easier summer manner of living to the more hectic pace of September as kids return to school, we sign up for new programs and our calendars fill up.

The Jewish New Year which takes place in September, is a time of reflection providing us with a renewed opportunity to unlock more of our potential for Jewish tradition teaches that God began with one person to teach us about the potential inherent in each of us. And as the year begins with focusing on that, we realize that we have the ability to have an impact on the world. We can ponder the simple questions: How can I actualize more of my potential? How can I contribute, even in a small way, to make a difference in someone else’s life or to make the world a better place?” As we reflect on these significant questions we can also recall that each new day provides us with a fresh start to implement change.

If awareness is what is desired, one can choose to consciously greet each morning as a new beginning and carry out morning rituals to foster this awakening. To fully relish the experience of a favorite morning ritual, I often close my eyes as I take the first sip of coffee, enjoying its warmth, the taste and aroma. My sigh, like the purring of a cat, is one of pure contentment. Regardless of what lies ahead, I welcome the new day with a simple pleasure and with appreciation for it. In these times I am fully focused on the existing moment. When we are cognizant of the importance of remaining aware and being present we are more able to experience the fullness of the moment. And as we become more proficient at noticing when we zone out, we become better at developing our ability to return to the moment, and to restarting all day long. In fact, yoga and mindfulness is about beginning again and again.

When we notice and savor the preciousness of each moment or as many as we remember to, we are realizing the Latin aphorism, “carpe diem” or to “seize the day” and/or a certain moment in time. A more literal translation of “carpe diem” would be “Pluck the day as it is ripe.” When we pluck it or enjoy the moment, we are seizing it bit-by-bit or bite-by-bite, and as we practice the bites become bigger and more frequent. We feel alive. What we do in life we bring to the mat and what we learn on the mat we carry into our life.

Yoga practice takes us to a place of inner calm and stillness and leaves us with a sense of wellbeing. During practice, authentic heartfelt experiences may occur for the asanas or postures help to ground us in the present and soften our heart while the breath anchors us in the moment and each cycle of breath begins anew. Staying with the asana or pose or with the breath is difficult and as I meet the challenges of practice, I either succeed or fail. It is difficult but not too difficult and it does get better.

Each and every time on the mat is a truly different experience as is each repetition of an asana or pose. Thus each practice is absolutely new at each moment with present, mindful awareness. As I practice santosha, or contentment, happiness flows. As I sit in gratitude, I feel a sense of abundance. And as I honour the yoga lineage, my teachers, and my yoga by remaining committed to my practice throughout my lifetime – in spite of the unexpected – I develop my ability to remain in the moment, start fresh, seize the day and embrace and appreciate the beauty of life.

“Dream as if you will live forever; Live as if you will die today.”
― 
James Dean

 “Our true home is in the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the Green Earth in the present moment. To appreciate the peace and the Beauty that are available now. Peace is all around us, in the world and in nature. And within us — in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed. It is not a matter of faith; It is a matter of practice.”

— Thich Nhat Han

Mindfulness and Moderation in contemporary times

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What do the Kardashians and the iPad have in common? The iconic and radical Kardashians series first aired on TV on October 14, 2007 and the magical and revolutionary iPad was first released on April 3, 2010. Both inform, engage and entertain. Heavily diversified, they are everywhere providing content for media consumption and limitless distraction with mindless material. The Kardashians, like the content of many apps available on the iPad, involve virtual people on a screen. They have amassed phenomenal fame and status and are global icons or brands. Both Apple and the Kardashians are brilliant business empires, successfully infiltrating millions of homes by selling a lifestyle and maintaining an incessant presence.

My son, however, believes that the Kardashians are a microcosm of what is wrong with society while his girlfriend shares her feelings about the allure that they hold for her. If indeed they may be considered to be the worst of what society offers, the iPad in this regard differs for it can provide some educational benefits. However, when observing toddlers and even young babies mesmerized by the scintillating imagery and sound on their own iPad (a virtual soother), I can’t help but question how we have arrived at this juncture of superficiality and one-dimensional communication and focus?

It has become commonplace to see extremely tech savvy young children totally captivated by the tablet or smartphone. I once observed across the aisle on a five-hour flight a very quiet two-year old (an anomaly). This little girl was completely hypnotized by her screen and sadly her parents did not engage with her at all. I found this situation with the “portable babysitter” to be very disconcerting and unnerving. Today it is wide spread to see parents in restaurants focused on their phones while their children play on their own devices. My one-year old great-nephew is adept at navigating the touchscreen, swiping and tapping it. The potential detriment to the social-emotional development of the child because of the limited sensory environment of the iPad combined with the frequency and duration of usage is concerning. Most disturbing is the potential for the disconnect from that which is truly of value: genuine face-to-face social interaction, direct human-to-human communication with others and true connection with one’s authentic Self.

If we don’t remain cognizant of how the Kardashians hook us with their false identities and how the iPad pulls our consciousness outward, we risk the separation from our essential nature and something precious may become lost from so much time devoted to these one-dimensional worlds. But when we connect with our authentic self that transcends the body and mind, we access that which is pure, unchanging, permanent, and perfect. We are calm, clear, and centered. Operating from our authentic self, we tap into our inner resources of deep joy and peace and are able to navigate life’s challenges with grace and equanimity. When we interact with others with full presence and honesty we are not only in union with our true nature but our hearts align and real connection is created. But how can we do this if we are so focused on “reality tv” (an oxymoron) or on our various devices?

Although the origins of yoga are speculated to date back to pre-Vedic Indian traditions, the actual date of its development is difficult to pinpoint. Suffice to say that yoga is at least several thousands of years old. If we choose to use the tools and practices of this age-old science, art and discipline, we learn how to access our inner authentic self and not be mindlessly influenced by the current novelties of our times. Yoga teaches how to use our own internal mechanism of self-regulation. For the young child, teen or adult, practising yoga, a hands-on activity, is key for the development of sensory-motor and visual motor skills and for learning to self-regulate.

Through the consistent practice of yoga, self-acceptance flourishes and self-esteem increases. We do not need to follow others obsessively on TV, Instagram and Facebook and become influenced or negatively affected by what we see. Instead, we can consciously choose to practice yoga and minimize the impact and possible side effects of too much TV or mobile devices. We can observe people like the Kardashians and reflect on the illusory nature of their brand, and we can use our iPads and other devices while also monitoring our children’s and our own usage. Then we can access all the riches and richness of our contemporary times – and our inner selves – as we practise mindfulness and moderation in all that we do.

“To see a world in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower, Hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.” – William Blake

A time for reflection

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First day of summer and a crow’s screeching woke me at 6:30 a.m. It’s persistent annoying call felt like an unwelcome intruder, aggressively pulling me out from a deep sleep. My ears searched for it and there I found it – on the apex of the roof of my brother’s cottage right next door. After getting up I still felt very unsettled and couldn’t even focus on reading, my early morning ritual. On the dock with coffee in hand, I watched seventeen Canadian geese slide into the water from our property and glide away. I counted nine babies. Later in the early evening light, I noticed a heron standing absolutely motionless as if in meditation on the grass near the lake . After some time it simply lifted off with such grace. Sharing the very end of the day with my son, we sat together at the edge of the dock and watched a beaver leisurely swim along the shoreline and the quick startling movements of a fish surfacing for an instant on the water.

My senses open. And I reflect. It is believed that sometimes animals and birds may choose people and I laughingly wondered if perhaps the crow had chosen me for its presence remained all the day, screeching away intermittently. This seemed strange for I had never previously experienced this. Always open and aware of whatever messages the universe may be sending my way, I briefly read about the symbolic meaning of the crow. I learned that the crow may choose someone to become that individual’s spirit or totem animal. That chosen individual is then supported in developing the power of sight, transformation, and connection with life’s magic and mysteries. So this carries the power for deep inner transformation.

What are the lessons and transformations that this summer will deliver? Summer is generally a time of reflection for me. My four-hour kayak rides provide me with solitude while surrounded by such natural beauty. I exercise, and experience exquisite quietude and repose. Then my yoga practice which sustains and teaches me so much is practised in the same exact spot that I have spread my mat on daily for thirty-two summers. Here I practice to the reflection of the sky and trees on the water, with life pulsing all around me. The presence of the Divine is felt, and each day is sacred and savored. Here, on this simple dock, truth and beauty surround me. Perhaps the crow will join me.

“The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it. When the mind is still, the beauty of the Self is seen reflected in it.”            – B.K.S. Iyengar

THE ART OF ACCEPTANCE – IN THE HEART OF DIFFICULTY LIES OPPORTUNITY

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What is your experience of pain? Where do you feel it? And how do you express it? In the past week a close friend, a yogi and very skilled yoga teacher shared her recent diagnosis of glaucoma. My son, an avid athlete and talented pianist had a second cast put on his arm post-surgery for his wrist. I learned about my cousin’s 10-year old daughter, a national level gymnast, who re-fractured her knee, and her resultant inability to bear any weight nor walk without aid. For several weeks, I have also had to manage a very painful and partially torn tendon in my arm.

We all have a different way of managing injuries, conditions and pain. Everyone’s path to health – and to healing – is different. How we deal with injuries, conditions and pain and approach the short and long-term impact on our lives varies greatly. How we grieve our losses, cope with and adapt to the new realities and norms, and handle our pain greatly differs and reflects our individual abilities to accept change. Sometimes all we need is a change of perspective.

My friend has demonstrated her usual aplomb, positive spirit and spirituality during her process of accepting her glaucoma even though it means that her yoga practice will be forever changed. Her love for inversions will remain but only in her memory. My son has managed his pain by not focusing on it, consciously choosing to redirect his focus elsewhere and without any complaint. My elderly parents with a multitude of health issues continue to push through it all with such remarkable resilience and inner strength. They have never allowed their issue to define or confine them.

Yet in spite of the inspiration from others and my general positive outlook, I have actually had a difficult time coping with my injury, the pain and the limitations from it. Even as I tried to apply the knowledge and lessons from years of yoga practice – in that it meets me where I am teaching self-acceptance and being in the present moment – it was still several weeks before I could finally make peace with my injury and see it simply for what it is. Recognizing that until I completely stopped struggling against this circumstance, I would not be free and would continue to suffer, I finally accepted this new reality and understood that it is what it is. With the right dose of positive attitude, trust and patience, I would get through it. Yet the truth is that even while trying to cultivate acceptance, the challenge remains in trying to develop patience with the recovery process! This is evident through my continual monitoring of the pain, and endless ponderings about whether it will be okay to participate in my many beloved summer activities and sports.

But I also recognize that life throws us curve balls all the time and forces us to face all kinds of challenges while coping with different sources of physical, emotional and mental pain. Years ago, I planted the seed of yoga in my life and have since watched it grow in beautiful and meaningful ways. Right in front of me I observe the continual growth of the plants, trees, grasses and flowers in our garden. Through my yoga and from nature, I have learned that nothing remains the same, even seeming to blossom in a matter of hours if not minutes. Then, something new occurs for change is ever present. This is simply the way it is. In Canada, we have four seasons, and as we accept the changes between the seasons, we try to find the best in each one.

In our personal lives we need to also develop a trust in the universe and an acceptance that everything, including our dharma or truth, happens for reasons that are far beyond our comprehension. Like the weather, our healing process is also one of change. We have to have faith in what will be and accept what is for change is truly the only constant. When confronted with personal struggles including health issues, we are challenged to cultivate acceptance, maintain a positive attitude, nurture our patience and remain open to the many lessons that can be learned through adversity or change. And it is through embracing the challenges and the process of transformation that the opportunity for personal growth arises. When I become thankful for the hard times then I know that I will change and become stronger.
“Don’t worry about a thing. Every little thing is gonna be alright.” – Bob Marley

“Embrace Change. Change is not something that we should fear. Rather, it is something that we should welcome. For without change, nothing in this word would ever grow or blossom, and no one in this world would ever move forward to become the person they’re meant to be.” – BKS Iyengar

My inner compass: Experiencing new perspectives while finding true north

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Last summer I was very fortunate to join my friend in his two-seater plane on a flight over the many lakes surrounding our cottages including our own Pine Lake. From this unique aerial perspective, we had a very different vantage point to view the land that my parents had purchased and built a cottage on almost sixty years ago. The light was beautiful and the colours of the sky, trees and water were magnificent and calming. With a combination of awe and excitement, my eyes took in everything and I captured many beautiful images with my camera. Like in sirsasana or headstand, my perspective was changed and the view was quite spectacular.

When Mark dropped me off, I gave him a quick kiss and hurried down to my kayak. Drawn to be out on the water against the backdrop of the setting sun, I wanted to encounter my lake again in the intimate manner that I was familiar with. I reflected on the fact I had actually been in the water enjoying my early morning swim almost twelve hours earlier. I was excited to once more appreciate the lake by riding in my kayak, and thought it especially interesting to do so immediately after having just seen it from such a different perspective. The strong images from the flight endured and I carried these and my camera with me. As I kayaked around the bay suffused in the translucent early evening light, I was fully connected to the moment. I enjoyed the landscape and continued to photograph the stunning scenery. Eventually, when darkness came I returned to the cottage.

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The next day I created a slideshow from the photos I had taken from the plane and from the kayak – two very different viewpoints. With a quick glance, I randomly selected a song from a playlist that my friend Annette had just given me. Interestingly, the song was absolutely perfect for the imagery even though I wasn’t familiar with it and had spontaneously chosen it. It was as if an inner sense functioned as a guide, like the needle of a compass. Deciding to present the slideshow as a gift to my parents, I invited them to watch it on our TV later that evening. Our cottage is situated at the entrance to a bay and there is a protruding rock on the shoreline that we call The Point. I called the slideshow “A natural point of view.” My parents watched it a few times and appeared to be intrigued and very happy from such a different perspective. I believe that there isn’t any object that I could have possibly purchased that would have provided them with as much pleasure as this presentation of imagery, music and meaning.

When my friend flies his plane or I ride in my kayak, we travel in a forward direction. Mark uses his simple and not so simple instruments, including a compass with its northward facing needle a true indicator of physical direction while I simply kayak towards whatever captures my interest. But in life, we are often challenged with many unexpected detours from the path we think we are safely traveling on. Very recently, I needed to ascertain and trust where my moral compass was guiding me. I also had to draw upon the strength of my convictions to remain connected to my compass and follow this particular course despite facing strong resistance from two others. At the same time, one of our daughters had been struggling with a decision about choosing between two top-ranked international graduate schools. Although I supported the process of gathering the facts to help make an informed decision, I strongly advocated for her to also access her inner compass so that she could ultimately be guided towards her intuition, feelings, and the right path. She wanted to know my husband’s and my opinion but we wouldn’t share these with her until she successfully navigated with her own compass towards the destination that is right for her.

One year ago, I was a chaperone on a two-week teen Holocaust education experience that took place in Poland and Israel. This experience was truly life transforming. Standing at the horrifying sites of mass graves in forests and at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka and several other death camps, I could not help but reflect upon the spiritual and moral questions raised by the events of the Holocaust and question how humanity had gone to such depths? Never has there been a rational answer to how this could have happened because there are no answers. Regarding the failure of institutions and nations and the consequences of personal choice and of indifference, Elie Weisel says that the Holocaust is a lesson about responsibility.

At the center of the unprecedented tragedy of the Holocaust is the murder of European Jews. In Lithuania, Latvia and Poland, nine out of ten Jews perished but in Denmark, nine out of ten Jews survived. What enabled the Danish government and its people to express public outcry and uphold human values? What allowed other non-Jews elsewhere to risk their lives during to Holocaust to save Jews from extermination by the Nazis? These individuals followed their moral compass at immense personal risk and have been awarded the honor of the Righteous Among the Nations. They teach us that every person can make a difference. As I ponder how I would have acted in those times, I also dedicate myself to take responsibility today to never remain indifferent to injustice and to always try to be guided by my moral compass.

Where does mindfulness and yoga fit in with all of this? First of all, we can’t always be in perfect alignment in our asanas or postures, nor with our compass points. But we can check our selves, our course, and change direction when we know which way is the best to go. As we age, we physically move away from our center; however, in our practice, we can lie down over blocks or bolsters on the mat or sit on them in a meditation, encouraging the heart to naturally open thus enabling us to access our epicenter. We breathe in quietly and breathe out softly, and learn to listen. With closed eyes, we move inward and try to lessen the internal noise, distractions, defenses or external influences. Then the inner compass may be illuminated and clarity arises; at other times we can just simply enjoy the practice. Ultimately, yoga practice is an adventure that we go on bringing with us our courage but not any expectations. Then gems and pearls will come for something will surface from the depths like a scuba diver who slowly breathes her way back to the surface bringing with her the treasures and insights she has experienced.

My August day in flight and on the water provided me with incredible new perspectives on the land that has great meaning and history for my parents and family. Wherever we are we can always try to access our moral compass to guide us towards our true north and to enlighten us with new perspectives. Land the plane, disembark from the boat, lie, sit or stand steady on or off the yoga mat and explore your internal landscape to access and navigate life from your own inner guide. When you live in satya or truthfulness, you will live the life that you are meant to and live a life of love.

The Light, Truth and Freedom

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There are times when clouds block the light. Carl Jung, the father of spiritual psychology, suggested that our shadow parts similarly create blind spots for us that limit our ability to see the light, or the truth. However, when we are willing to look behind that which blocks us we may experience illumination. When we pay attention, develop awareness and stay attuned, then perhaps the light can shine through and we may be able to understand that which is the truth.

Oftentimes, our longings or old belief systems may influence our perceptions and convictions. In fact, these may be so pervasive that they become our sense of reality even when they are illusions. Reality remains distorted and elusive. How then do we counter this tendency towards illusion or distortion and develop the skills needed to be aware and attuned in order to live in satya, or the truth?

A few months ago, I spent two restless nights tossing about after experiencing hurtful behaviors. On the third morning, I spent a few hours in a beautiful natural environment. In my solitude and sadness, I retreated to a very quiet inner place and meditated. Feelings arose, and I simply sat with them even though they were uncomfortable. Welcoming the tears that fell spontaneously as my heart unfolded, I created for myself a symbolic cleansing of sorts. So much of what I walked away with included a new sense of freedom and a commitment to accept the truth. No longer would I have expectations that would simply never be fulfilled. It was as if the sunrays carried the truth on them and I could now be receptive to it. This was a powerful experience and my desire to create and implement change was absorbed into my psyche and being.

This may sound easier than it really is. But when we are truly committed to acknowledging old habits and recognize reality without distortions we have to challenge ourselves to go beyond what is comfortable and eventually truth and authenticity can be known. When we practice yoga and mindfulness meditation, and remain in the asanas or postures while staying present and attuned to the feelings, thoughts and sensations that arise, we are more able to be receptive to what really is in front of us. Sometimes, it might take a long time to reach this place of acceptance but it is important to try. Gradually, we can begin to trust our inner knowing.

There is an old Biblical phrase that states, “The truth will set you free.” When we remain in bondage to illusions or falsehoods, there is no freedom or light. Next time you feel uncomfortable and something is gnawing at your heart, sit back, open your chest, focus on your breath and listen to all the sounds surrounding you, and perhaps you will also hear the inner messages of your heart. Once we are dedicated to that which nestles in our hearts, we can access the unspoken truth. Then the heart can rest when it is in Satya. And when you have a deep inner conviction, much in the world will support you.

Temmi Ungerman Sears

“There is no god higher than truth.” ~Mahatma Gandhi

Sutra II.36   Dedicated to truth and integrity (Satya), our thoughts, words and actions gain the power to manifest.

The Spirit of the Snake – It’s meaning, metaphor and message

photoWhen one looks out at the ocean, a natural horizon line is seen. The water meets the sky and the colours are contrasted one against the other. During my practice this morning, I observed the beauty of the ocean’s aqua-green against the blue-grey sky. Then the white sailboat came into view as it coasted into the thin horizontal line that had been my focus. In the same moment, I began to hear the person to my right speaking Russian loudly on her phone while the couple to my left was Face Timing with their friend on speakerphone. I tried to apply my yoga and mindfulness skills in order to stay with my practice and sustain my quiet inner focus. To pretend that this was easily accessible or without frustration would be untrue for it was a daunting task! I knew that it was attainable but was I up for the challenge? Could I move out of my own way and resist the tendency towards attaching to the external sensory distractions?

In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali – the most ancient and revered sourcebook for yoga practice – the fifth limb is called Pratyahara and it means “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses.” The practice of pratyahara remains elusive but in this stage we make an attempt to draw our awareness away from the external world without completely losing contact with it and direct our attention internally. Keenly aware of my senses while simultaneously trying to draw my awareness from the external world and cultivate a detachment from my senses, I struggled with wanting to watch the boat across the horizon and appreciate the spectacular contrast between its whiteness and the warm colours of the ocean and sky or the birds in their magnificent v-formation overhead. I heard the conversations nearby but kept returning to my breath, counting up to sixty cycles at a time in order to not to allow the input from my sense organs to create disturbance in my body or mind. And as I tried to bring the awareness to reside deep within myself I also tried to remain in a state of non-reaction in order to still the feelings of annoyance that were arising.

The practice of mindfulness provided me with the opportunity to also observe my thoughts, judgments and frustrations without attachment. Thankfully, I persevered and was able to complete my yoga practice in a satisfying way. As with everything, life on the mat is simply a microcosm of our greater experience. On the mat we practice the eight limbs of yoga, experiment and try new things and hopefully reach to our potential. As we practice pratyahara and withdraw, we can objectively observe our habits that are the ones most likely to interfere with inner growth. Deep down I know that my old habits are deeply ingrained but I also know that if I stay with the practise and commit to all that I need, new ways become clearer to see and slowly slowly, they replace the old.

Yoga has formed the fabric of my life and includes my working philosophy. It is simply a vehicle for the process of transformation. And as my practise unfolds and evolves, I continually discover more about my self and what transformation really means. Several weeks ago my teachings included bhujangasana, or cobra pose and many of the teaching points that I presented pertained to the meaning or symbolism of a snake shedding its skin. The fact that snakes can shed their skin to allow for continued growth has always fascinated me. When a snake outgrows the skin it’s in because its skin has a limited capacity for growth and enlargement, it simply sheds the outer layer and starts fresh. Encouraging my students both young and old to embody the essence of a snake, my instructions focused on helping them to execute the pose safely and to feel the essence of a snake as it slithers along the ground, rises up or sheds is skin. My intention in fostering experiential learning and facilitating group discussion about the snake and its shedding process as a metaphor and a narrative is to inspire a personal connection to the snake. In this way, increased self-awareness can occur and a deeper idiosyncratic meaning of yoga can unfold for each individual.

My ongoing exploration of the pelvic area and increased understanding of the lumbar spine, sacroiliac joints and tailbone stoked my interest in teaching bhujangasana or cobra pose. When teaching bhujangasana, many of my instructions addressed the necessary actions to engage the correct muscles in the area as well as the inner more subtle work that involved the sacrum and tailbone. While having a massage at the end of the week, my massage therapist worked deeply in the lower back area and spoke about how strong my tailbone is. I inquired if she meant the muscles surrounding it and she agreed but also stressed that my tailbone itself was strong. She reminded me that it is my base, my truth and my stabilizer, my rudder and my guide. When I clued in on Miriam’s focus, I realized the synchronicity and underlying connection between all things! With amazement and joy, I shared with her that the snake had held intrigue and fascination for me all week.

The horizon line remains even as day transforms into night. My asana or posture may be static even as my inhalation dovetails into an exhalation. Whether we focus on a symbol such as a snake shedding it’s old skin, or identify our tendency to hold onto old habits that no longer work for us, we can recognize that the change process is not simple nor is change easy. Every moment that we are awake and aware, we can observe the ongoing process of change. We can then consciously choose to remain rigid or to embrace the opportunities for change that we are presented with. For just as the snake by natural cause sheds its skin and replaces it with a new one, we too are constantly replenishing our cells in an ongoing unnoticed process in which dead cells are continuously coming off. Even if we resist the idea of change and accept that the change process has many stages and is hard, we are indeed constantly changing. And as we practice yoga and mindfulness and learn to incorporate yoga practice including the fifth limb of Pratyahara into daily life, we embrace the truth that these processes and the various challenges that we are given are truly transformative ones and give meaning and direction to our life.

Temmi Ungerman Sears

December, 2014

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”Tatah parama vashyata indriyanam.”

“Through that turning inward of the organs of senses and actions also comes a supreme ability, controllability, or mastery over those senses inclining to go outward towards their objects.”

Mindfully Celebrating the Mundane and the Magnificent

Lying in the tent, loud thunderclaps overhead and heavy rain pounding the canvas,
one wonders what else there is to think about?

For the rain is relentless and intense and really the only thought is whether we will stay dry or not. The rhythmic loud sound is like a mantra and keeps one fully present in the moment. Camping in Zion National Park in southern Utah is a blessing. Stunning golden and salmon coloured cliffs and bare rock with distinctive ponderosa pines ring the canyon within which we remain. We spend our days hiking, creating with our cameras and relaxing with one another. Yesterday after our hike, I sprawled in the lazy river and felt the coolness of the calm green water as it gently glided over me. Yet today, the incredibly fast flowing river brings dangerous and deadly flash floods and the muddy brown water declares its unsurmountable power. Every moment in nature is an opportunity to observe constancy and change, to cherish wide open expanses, and to internalize the richness of this deeper reality. To be fully present, to go within, and experience something much greater than my self – this is in part what yoga means to me.


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We become so bogged down with the incessant details of daily living – the myriad of responsibilities, distractions and stressors to be managed. These are of course a natural part of life but the tendency to equate this busyness with meaning is a falsehood. When we are distracted by the fast pace, the to do’s, the external trappings, and the ever present information, entertainment and stimulation that technology brings us, we may lose sight of what is truly valuable, including the joy and pleasure of the simple things. If we stay stuck in the web of busyness and distraction, we may potentially squander the opportunity to celebrate our lives. The celebration includes the spectacular grandeur of our daily blessings, both large and small. We must not forget to celebrate the truly important gifts that we have been given – the gift of life, our breath, our health and our loved ones.

Yesterday, seated cross-legged among the trees in shade high up in the mountains, I watched the clouds as they continually moved across the sky, dancing their own private dance with the mountain peaks. This moving palette certainly makes for a far better viewing than the massive TV screens that are a constant wallpaper in our homes, doctor’s offices, restaurants and even elevators. I meditated on the changing light and landscape, and listened carefully to the gentle breeze, the rustle of the leaves, and the song of the bird nearby. I noticed the textures and shadings of the rocks and the mountains, and I appreciated the canvas of red rock, blue sky, and green trees. My husband was nearby with his camera, slowed down by his art. Refusing to give up film, and steadied by the tripod and his mind, he was an art form in this fascinating landscape to observe and appreciate as well. Celebrating a milestone anniversary together with the start of the Jewish New Year in such a magnificent magical place as Zion, feelings of immense gratitude, contentment and love flowed through me as the Virgin River flows through this sanctuary.

Yet the challenge when I am back in my normal environment is to remember to remain cognizant of what is really important and meaningful in small glimpses and moments of time: to breathe slowly and deeply with awareness, appreciating that each cycle of breath is a gift of the Divine, indeed of life; to focus with fresh eyes on our loved ones, to truly see them and listen to them with tenderness, respect and receptivity, appreciating their uniqueness; and to be present, moment-to-moment, breath by breath, celebrating the joy and beauty of each day.

As a yogi practising my yoga in both enclosed and wide open expanses, I recognize the sacred trinity – a finely woven thread as silken and delicate as a golden one – that runs between my mind, body and spirit. This thread is my sharpened focus that enables me to set my intention to remain awakened, and to celebrate daily both the mundane and the magnificent. Of course, the challenge is more easily met when settled in such natural and exquisite surroundings. So I will try to sustain these sentiments and my commitment to remaining mindful of that which has true meaning. In doing so, I hope to remain connected to all that is important and to celebrate the many blessings that comprise my life.

Riding on the waves

Occasionally, my husband of almost twenty-five years will tease me by declaring that I am never in the moment. I think to myself, “And who is the yogi here? And who is the yoga teacher?” But when I separate his words from my ego, I get their meaning and I have to admit, if only to myself, that at times my husband is right in some of those moments in time! I am always appreciative of him and especially for his nudges and encouragement to me to keep evolving. Practising being fully present requires diligence and commitment as does remaining consistent in one’s yoga practice. When life gets in the way it is all too easy to slip from these practices but as greater symmetry is developed between life both on and off the mat, mindfulness envelops us in most of what we do. And herein lies the inspiration to keep plodding along.

For weeks, I have been struggling to figure out what feels right to write for my blog. I have missed my connection with my students through my written words, and even with myself through the creative process of writing. For during this past year various demanding situations claimed my attention and absorbed my motivation for writing, even at times influencing my yoga practice. Each challenge seemed to touch my body mind and spirit and brought me head on into the present moment. It dawned on me that writing about what has challenged me, what has sustained me, and where I am right now would make the most sense as I would then be sharing from a place of truth and honest intentions.

After returning home from travelling to India with my daughter last summer, I discovered that I had become afflicted with various intestinal issues and parasites. It took several months and various courses of antibiotics before I regained my health. My yoga practice was compromised because my body simply knew that it wasn’t interested in nor capable of moving in intricate ways. Recognizing that to everything there is a season, patience and acceptance guided me during this time of modified practise. In addition to these physical challenges, my family of origin became immersed in a very emotional business transaction. This stressful situation took an incredible amount of energy and time while I was concurrently preparing over several months for my role as a chaperone on a Holocaust educational trip. This journey was very impactful and truly dominated heart and spirit. While in Poland and Israel this spring with 300 sixteen and seventeen year old teens and eleven Holocaust survivors, we visited cemeteries, ghettos, death camps and death facilities, memorials and mass graves in forests. This was a deeply disturbing and powerful experience. As a chaperone on the March of the Living, I was responsible for the participants while simultaneously living history and experiencing these horrors through my own eyes.

On my personal march through these various transformational experiences something was required in order to manage it all. That something was my yoga. Thirty-two years of devotion to yoga practice has formed a foundation for my life and supports me with what I need in order to feel a sense of well being, wholeness and joy even while coming up against a challenge. Many of the lessons learned and the skills honed over the years from yoga practice enabled me to successfully navigate through the turbulent waters I faced during the past year. For yoga has taught me how to remain present and centered for the ride and I am able to do this because my life and my yoga merge into a single path. When I am riding on the waves I move completely into the present moment. It is my belief that in ways well beyond my comprehension, I was also being asked during the past year to simply trust in the universe and to trust in the Truth.

Processing these recent impactful situations will take a long time. However, finding my passage onto the yoga mat and back to the keyboard feeling inspired and excited, it seems that my creativity is again being sparked. This makes me very happy for I have longed for stillness and solitude and presence in moments that are unbridled with external stressors. By tapping into an authentic and honest place, I can remain true to myself, listen and nurture my spirit and sit still for my creativity to surface. Thus, yoga, mindfulness and creativity are all practices that are inextricably bound to every aspect of my life and for this I am most grateful.

Remember, the door to the sanctuary is inside of you.”

– Rumi

Invest wisely in your health!

Early this morning I heard on the radio that OHIP announced that many changes are coming to how physiotherapy services will be funded. The story focused on a 104 year old woman; however, my thoughts quickly turned to our youth and to the baby boomer population and I thought about how yoga is also such a valuable asset in one’s life. As a long-term practitioner of yoga, I understand first hand the multifaceted benefits of a sustained yoga practise over time. I have also been privy to how quickly new students derive the immediate benefits of the practise as well as seeing the ongoing effects and positive changes for students who have remained on the path for many years.


Canada is an incredible country and we have much to be proud of and thankful for. For example, with governmental support we are encouraged to begin making payments towards RESPs when our children are very young. These are worthwhile investments. Similarly, by investing time and payment towards one’s well being and acquiring the life skills that yoga teaches and reaping its many benefits, we are better equipped to maintain good health (mentally, physically and emotionally) while also engaging in preventative measures against future adverse potentialities. When we consistently practise yoga, we experience how it enhances our life today while also arming ourselves with invaluable tools in preparation for whatever future challenges we may have to face.

I often joke that my youngest student is five years old and my eldest student is 86 years young. Yoga is for all ages and stages and I have been blessed to be able to share this discipline with thousands of students over the years. Having entered my fourth decade of practise, I have observed how the yoga process has continually demonstrated its immense meaning and value for me. I can only hope and believe that for my own aging process, like good aged wine, the richness and rewards of the sustained yoga practise will improve becoming even more pleasing, developed and multi-layered because of the significant amount of time and investment that I have put in.

Don’t wait. Don’t search elsewhere because Iyengar Yoga is the finest system of yoga available today. It is highly refined, safe and thorough, and its certified teachers are the most knowledgeable and well trained in the world. Don’t go to yoga for simply a fitness class or settle for less! Forget the drop-ins; make the commitment to a full session of yoga and sign up your kids, self and loved ones to classes or private sessions at YogaBuds this fall. Surely what you put in to your yoga practise will come back in spades, and your investment towards good health will return excellent dividends. Awaken your wellness at YogaBuds today. Now is the time to invest.