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.

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Finding the Stillness

Life doesn’t wait for nor consult with anyone. Change can occur in any moment. So practise. Be present. Learn where your center is and how to access it for when you need to go there. My sweet fifteen year old, a strong athletic intelligent beauty had a sports injury a few months ago. An emergency room doctor’s use of the wrong splint on her fracture resulted in a hospitalization and two serious infections, one life threatening. Thankfully, antibiotics and time facilitated the healing and we averted having to face anything worse than a terrible interruption in our lives and a scare.

The second time in a year and a half staying in a hospital advocating for loved ones, I again had to know where to go inwardly in order to remain grounded, calm and focused while still occasionally moving at a frenetic pace. In the first situation, my parents were both hospitalized at the same time. This past February, the work was endless supporting our daughter while trying to prevent her from slipping through the cracks in the system, unsuccessfully. However, I am grateful beyond measure for the many years of yoga practise that helps to weave together the fabric of my life. From this practice and the acquired skills and lessons learned, I was again able to tap into the source of my stability when needed, and for this, I am most grateful.

When life is spinning fast, and stress penetrates the skin, when change is in every moment and time just marches by, I try to move through the concentric circles that protect my heart. This is done symbolically while standing still in Tadasana (mountain pose). As I breathe, I ground through the soles of my feet, engaging muscles while quieting the mind, and I move in to access inner stillness. I am thus able to stand inside of the stillness for postures are tools to help reach deeply into yourself. I remain on my yoga mat, literally and figuratively, for as long as I need to.

The yoga mat is a symbol of the practise. It is a concrete manifestation that delineates the sacred space that one goes to when practising. It is a living mandala. For standing in the centre of the mat, the path leads home to one’s own inner point of stillness. This is found inside of the heart. When change arrives, in its simplest or grandest form, what is constant remains. The consistency of the practise, the strength of the connection with the Divine, and the rhythm and mystery of the breath… this is what remains constant and what pulls you towards where you need to be.

It really is simple. It is committing to remaining present and aware, awakened in each moment – breath by breath, moment to moment. Life passes. Time moves in one direction. But my yoga has taught me to stand still in the fullness of each moment. When I tune into this place, my reality has meaning. My practise has taught me to keep coming to the mat, year in and year out, to keep learning and to live my life with the understanding of what it means to be alive and to be present. My practise has taught me what yoga really is.

I don’t know what curve ball will be heading in my direction next. But I do know without a doubt that there will be one. And with humility and gratitude, I will continue to step onto my mat, to pause long enough to breathe with awareness and serenity, and to remain present in the Now. I will be standing still to catch the ball.

Living Life With Grace Through Yoga

I recently experienced a major milestone. It was the 20th year anniversary of my yoga practice. I first discovered yoga during my university days, and it has since been a major component of my life. It has remained a constant throughout all of the life stages that I have passed through. My yoga has evolved with me as I matured from a young single woman into marriage, pregnancy and parenthood. Yoga, in all its manifestations, has enabled me to live my life with grace. Throughout the past 20 years I have successfully woven yoga into the fabric of my hectic life, and it has greatly helped to sustain me.

As a professional and mother of three young children, the struggle to achieve a sense of balance in my life is ongoing. In addition to nurturing myself and my marriage, providing for my children’s needs and schedules, managing the household and housework, I also run a business and teach weekly yoga classes and workshops to kids, adults and families. I am blessed to have discovered many valuable work-life balance tools which I strive to daily implement in my journey towards balance and wholeness.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that literally means “yoke” or “union”. Through the process of yoga, we bring into unity the three aspects of the self: mind, body and spirit. We also create a balance between active practice and passive surrender. Harmony is created inside of ourselves as all aspects come together like the different performers playing a symphony.

Over the past few years, yoga has moved rapidly into the mainstream. However, the very essence of what yoga is at risk for becoming lost due to the commercialization of yoga. Yoga is about so much more than the attractive appearance of the superstars and models doing yoga and the vast array of props, products and paraphernalia available. The 5000 year tradition of yoga is becoming diluted as yoga offshoots and hybrid forms of yoga are being developed, as studios pop up on every corner as quick money-making ventures, and as the advertising industry at times misrepresents yoga in campaigns that distort its meaning and value. As the marketing of spirituality and the false pursuit of the body beautiful is promoted, people believe that enlightenment and inner beauty can be bought. So for the average woman interested in pursuing yoga, how can she understand what yoga is really about? And how can she learn to apply its richness to her life?

Understanding the Yoga Journey

Beginners come to yoga for relief from stress, physical issues or pain. If the practitioner is consistent in her practice – even just weekly – she observes that her posture begins to improve. If she does miss a class, she finds that she really felt its absence in her week. She discovers to her delight that the body and the postures are really just tools to teach her how to quiet the mind and to connect with her inner self. And that the key to achieving balance in her life is in accessing this center.

The student comes into class, and stands on her mat. The practice begins. The breath has new meaning. Possibly for the very first time ever, there is a new awareness of breath and of the breathing process. The brain cells begin to settle, and there is a meditative quality in practicing the poses. The intense focus on the body and the execution of the postures, or asanas, increase one’s concentration and attention span. All other unrelated thoughts are absent. Challenge and pleasure in movement is felt. The normal experience of an hour or two is altered: time dissipates. Then class is over – the fluctuations of the mind are stilled, the body is well stretched, muscles toned and joints lubricated, tensions are released. The student joyfully steps off her mat and into her world outside of the studio.

Chaos ensues. Traffic jams. Late for car-pool. Deadline at work looms. Return home. One child’s scraped knee, another battle between siblings. While on the phone asking her partner to pick up milk, the pot boils over, the baby spills the can of apple juice and someone is at the door. What happened to the tranquility of the yoga studio? How to remain calm in the present moment without the desire to flee? Where to find the inner point of stillness that the teacher referred to?

There are no easy answers, magic formulas or simple roadmaps to follow. However, committing to a consistent practice of yoga over time does teach you how to return to your center when needed. In class, as you quiet your thoughts, observe your breath and follow the instructions being given while in a pose you learn how to stay fully connected with yourself in the moment. As you learn to detach from external stimuli and distractions and to take your awareness inwards, you are drawn to your core. You begin to discover your own sense of stability, strength, balance and calm. Learning to stand firmly in the basic standing posture called “tadasana” or mountain pose, creates a sense of grounding from the feet. As the rooting in the feet occurs, the spine and spirit begin to ascend up. Eventually, regardless of what surrounds you, you will be able to maintain your poise, steadiness and focus. Then when you have stepped off the mat and into your life, you will be well equipped to tackle whatever challenge presents itself to you with equanimity and grace.

From Injury to Alignment, Winter 2010

At the end of a full week lived with my usual fast pace, I strained a muscle in my lower back. All plans for the day came to a halt and I immediately put myself into yoga postures as part of a specialized back recovery yoga practise that would help facilitate the healing. One of the stressors that contributed to my injury was visiting with my uncle the previous day, and observing his rapid loss of quality of life, descent into dementia and inability to get out of bed. Saddened by this and also focused on other family issues while managing all aspects of home life and work, my body was containing many intense feelings. I was primed for it to respond as it did. No matter that I have studied and practiced yoga for more than half of my life, my own vulnerability and susceptibility to stress still occasionally manifests itself in familiar yet painful ways.

I felt intense pain in my lumbar spine but knew that I would be able to ride through it over the course of a few days if I trusted the yoga therapy process. I needed to continue to honour the pain as my teacher in order to learn what I needed to at this time. Iyengar yoga is so powerful in all ways and especially in its therapeutic application. My friend, (not a yoga practitioner) dropped in just as I was working through the correct sequence of poses coupled with the necessary usage of props and adaptations, and was amazed at how I knew what to do for my injury, and at the yoga postures themselves.

Iyengar yoga is different from other systems of yoga in many ways. Though not everyone is drawn to this fantastic methodology developed over a lifetime of devotion and work by BKS Iyengar, it cannot be disputed that Iyengar yoga is a gem for everyone. There likely isn’t much that Mr. Iyengar’s brilliance hasn’t addressed and healed in over seventy-five years of experience. During my ordeal with pack pain, I was so gratified to have been taught how to work in an integrated way with limitations, injuries, conditions and pain. When I apply the potent therapeutic application of Iyengar yoga to work through my own issues, I am then more able to support the process of my students and clients. For this opportunity, to heal and to learn for myself and for others, I am most grateful.

The lesson is given to me, yet again, on how the body speaks out loud. It carries and conveys the stress, the emotions, and the challenges of our lives. Our inherent areas of weakness react. Listening to what my body has to say, and working with it, offers an opportunity for personal and professional transformation. As I listen and respond both intuitively and intellectually to the needs of my body, I offer it what it needs to heal through the specialized sequence of yoga postures, conscious breathing, and mindfulness. Again, I live my life in tandem with my yoga. After my injury, my practise was refined to meet the needs of the day. I simply adjust my practise, and apply my yoga in a way that is health promoting in order to bring my mind, body and spirit back into balance. As I work to realign my Self, I bring alignment to my life.

Awakening to the Divine Light – Thanksgiving weekend, October 2009

Some of my best yoga moments are not when I am on the mat.  Years of devotion to yoga have helped me to learn how to see that which is worth seeing and how to recognize value in what is really important. I am thankful to have learned how to be fully present in the moment and how to capture the experience with awareness, awe, and appreciation. The colours of the fall palette right now are at their warmest. They are stunningly rich and deep, and I simply love them. The crimsons and reds, ochre and mustard, rust, cornelian, apple greens, lime and dark greens – these colours are at once calming and inviting, and I am intrigued and excited as I stare unabashedly. Contentment and gratitude are my companions. Yesterday, amidst a sky of thick clouds, there was a fleeting moment during which the clouds separated and a small ray of light permeated through. The sun’s late day light cast it’s reflection on the water as it danced and shimmered across the lake’s surface. And today, when the sun emerged in the late afternoon, the light was again spectacular. As my kayak slowly skimmed the edge of the bay, I was enthralled by visions of the trees around the bay’s edge. In one section at the front of the forest three exquisite birch trees created balance and contrast. The environment beckoned me as I took in the glistening drops on the leaves from an earlier freak snowfall; the sun setting across the lake; the vivid torquoise sky; and the blending of a multitude of colours amongst the trees. Grateful to have the opportunity to be here as I brace myself against the bitter wind, I am a solitary figure on the water.  I steer the kayak around the lake on this cold Thanksgiving weekend, and it is breathtaking. The cold wind and fresh air are invigorating. The intimacy that I experience with nature and with God uplifts and inspires me. In viewing this masterpiece that is God’s creation, I understand what is meant by “the oneness of all things.”  The words of the yoga philosophies speak clearly to me. During my participation in a very challenging yoga Intensive this summer in France, many questions about yoga arose for me. Some of the clarity that I have been seeking as I explore what yoga means to me, and what I want from my yoga practise, came to me during my kayak rides this weekend. Some of the insights pertain to my asana practise and what it should be comprised of.  For many years, I have believed and have stated repeatedly, that what yoga truly means is living it each and every day both on – and off – the yoga mat.  This understanding continually deepens for me. Today I did my asana practise before my foray into the cold air.  My yoga practise, no longer about performing the asanas, later continued on the lake without any separation or break having occurred. Among the lessons learned from studying yoga are the understanding that what is really important is to open the heart to each moment; to share the fullness of that moment with those you love; and to be an honest, kind and good person. It is recognizing and appreciating the divine light in all. And, it is being fully awake for the ride. 2009