Watching the pouring of the ghee, my mind would often become transfixed on the steady stream of golden liquid. It brought a sense of one-pointed concentration. And, as my focus would eventually waiver, I would contemplate the many layers of the scene that all pointed to the same experience of undistracted focus - the complete focus of the priest as he gracefully handled the ladle, the continuous stream of the ghee flowing down, and the totality of my senses focused on the action. I recognized this as a kind of absorption, an experience of the state of yoga.Read More
When yoga and movement instructors refer to working "your core" they're usually referring to the stabilizing muscles of the torso and pelvis. While I understand and appreciate this use of the term, it doesn't felt quite right to me. The core of something means its most fundamental, central and foundational part, that which holds the greatest significance and importance. I guess I simply disagree with the idea that my "core" is a set of muscles, no matter how significant and important they are. I consider this sense of an unchanging center to be the deepest and truest core. It’s an experience that is perhaps more subtle than the physical core, yet in my experience, even more powerful.Read More
By providing an experience that can't be replicated on one’s own, whether it’s a lot of hands-on adjustments, spa-like amenities, an awesome playlist or an essential oil massage during savasana, studios might create dedicated customers but they also contribute to a culture of reliance. This, of course, is good for business. It can also be enjoyable, fun and stimulating. But it’s not necessarily good for yoga.Read More
Like the progression of an archaeological dig, our inner excavation in yoga moves from the gross to subtle and from the overt to the more hidden. At the beginning of practice, we may (and often do) have very little connection to what’s going on in our bodies and minds. Little by little, though, the practice starts to work on us.
Beloved Senior Iyengar Yoga teacher Mary Dunn used to talk about how at first you learn the pose and then you learn yourself in the pose. Through skilled guidance and our own effort, we start to bring the mind into the body. At first it’s the awareness of how to get our bodies in and out of the shape of the poses safely. Then, we begin to understand more about our particular bodies in the shapes of the poses. We learn what comes easily to us, what’s more difficult, and how to work with and balance those tendencies. We come into relationship with our breath and our minds. In the quiet, reflective moments of the practice we learn to integrate all this new input into our beings.Read More
Over the years I’ve had students from all walks of life - artists, doctors, lawyers, musicians, politicians and more. They all come into class with their yoga clothes on, put their mats down. As the class starts to move and breathe together, the outer differences dissolve. No matter how significant we might be in our outer lives, yoga is a great equalizer - our hamstrings all need stretching, our shoulders all need opening, and we all need a break from the business of the day. There can be great freedom in just realizing this opportunity to pause from the roles we play in the world for a time to simply move and breathe with awareness. For a little while, the ego softens, and we are free to be exactly, only and all of who we are in that moment.Read More
My hatha yoga practice played an essential role in this shifting the nature of my inner dialogue from critical to compassionate. Asana became a way of cultivating self-acceptance. I used practice to cultivate a loving relationship with myself, consciously honouring my body as an instrument of service to the highest. Over time, I started to experience my body as strong, beautiful and even sacred, like a temple for the divine. Taking care of my body and keeping it strong and fit through asana felt like an offering. Asana became an act of self-love.Read More
It’s fascinating and disturbingly ironic to me how images of yoga in the mainstream industry can reinforce such a narrow notion of beauty and in doing so, run so completely counter to the self-acceptance and self-love that is at the heart of yoga practice itself. As if we didn’t have enough to work with, what we’re trying to do in yoga often means rejecting the way our discipline is portrayed in the media.Read More
It's Pranayama week in my classes. Here's a refresher on the significance of Prana for us as yogis and specifically in alignment-based asana practice.Read More
How do you know if you’re trying too hard in yoga? Or not hard enough? How do you know when it’s right to persevere? When it's time to let go? In navigating the path of creating, and re-creating balance, these are questions to ask ourselves repeatedly in order to fruitfully direct our efforts in practice.Read More
It took me a long time and a lot of contemplation into the nature of "right effort" to get fully behind what a balanced yoga practice looked like. In my case, it meant not not going to where I could go in every pose, and doing less of what felt easy and satisfying. I had to practice more of what was uncomfortable, harder and less immediately gratifying in order to build the stability needed to create balance. Less sukha, more sthira.Read More
The idea of using the body to explore the spirit, of fully inhabiting our physicality for the sake of going beyond it is fascinating, isn't it? It's one of the reasons why posture practice is especially potent. Through it, we have the opportunity to actually embody spirit, to cultivate the transcendent within our very flesh and bones.Read More
Transformation in yoga can be viewed as a process of un-layering. It is a journey we embark on again and again, each time returning back to what we are beneath the cloaks that we wear to navigate our way in the world. This is certainly how the journey of yoga has felt to me.Read More
Here’s last week's part 1 on the topic of yoga-related injuries that addresses common causes of yoga-related injuries and tips to avoid them.
Thanks to research and investigation, not to mention the woefully infamous 2012 New York Times headline, Can Yoga Wreck Your Body?, the conversation around yoga-related injuries has greatly expanded over the past several years. Notably, through Matthew Remski’s WAWADIA project, many long time practitioners are now sharing stories that document and explore the multi-layered and often nuanced psychosocial and cultural dynamics at play in both acute and chronic yoga-related injuries.
What to do if you get injured during practice
It seems obvious, but I’ll say it anyway - stop and rest! Lying on your back with your knees bent is usually a good, all-around resting pose. Breathe gently if possible, exhaling through the mouth to soothe and relieve. Ask for assistance and do whatever is needed to take care of yourself right away.
Always communicate with your teacher if you experience pain in a pose or get injured during a class. A safe practice atmosphere includes feeling welcomed to share whatever does not feel right in your body, especially physical pain and injury. This needs to be met by your teacher with respect and attention to your immediate concerns for support and safety.
Again, to state what might be evident: Get a clear medical diagnosis and the necessary therapeutic, and perhaps medical, attention your situation requires as soon as you can.
After you’ve attended to your immediate needs, take time to reflect on what happened as objectively as possible. If the injury happened while you were practicing on your own, can you pinpoint the movement or action when you first felt pain? Try to become aware of what you were doing that caused it. Be as specific as you can. Then, inquire as to what actions or alignments will be healing as you move forward. Ask a teacher you trust for guidance and do your own research and exploration in practice.
If the injury happened in a class setting, the ask yourself:
- What caused it? Was it a particular instruction or even physical adjustment that led to the injury?
- Was it how I listened to, interpreted or implemented a particular instruction?
- Was I overdoing it?
- What was my internal reaction to the injury?
- What happened after? How did the teacher respond? Respectfully? Defensively? Not at all?
Consider your practice environment:
- Do you feel safe?
- Do you feel seen?
- Do you feel respected?
- Are your encouraged to attune to and respect your body’s limits, even while working deeply and intensely?
- Do you feel a sense of competition in class? If so, examine it. Is it your own tendency? Is it somehow encouraged by the setup of the room, the use of mirrors, your teacher’s attitude, the style you practice or other aspects of the practice atmosphere?
In my case, my feelings of shame and embarrassment in my knee getting stuck during the advanced practice that I shared last week was a big warning sign that I didn’t feel safe and respected. I needed to do the inner work of looking at the reasons behind that. These included old feelings of not fitting in, unworthiness, and insecurity about my body. I also needed to take a good hard look at the outer environment of the particular yoga community I was part of and acknowledge that there were also external factors, including the attitude of the teacher, that subtly encouraged my inner response.
Ahimsa, Non-harming, is one of the basic tenets of yoga practice. We can use ahimsa as a framework for approaching our experience of yoga in general, and working with injuries more specifically. Consider how you apply and practice ahimsa. It might show up as being super vigilant to be aware of and attend to any physical vulnerability during practice, or using the quality of your breath in asana to soften a tendency to overwork or push yourself past healthy physical limits. Ahimsa can be practiced in more subtle ways too, like committing to an inner attitude of self-compassion during yoga and finding ways to remember and practice it.
‘The yogi is someone who uses everything to her advantage.” Unknown
My point in offering you all these questions is to encourage you to use your injury and the circumstances surrounding it – how it happened and why it happened - as an opportunity to learn about yourself, reflect on your practice, and examine the psychological or emotional undercurrents that may have contributed.
Sometimes this means rethinking the poses you usually do or even the style you usually practice. Since many injuries can come from overdoing it in some form you may need to re-evaluate how you are practicing and be open to the possibility that what once served is no longer optimal for you. Since the body is always changing, our needs are always changing as well. It may be time for a shift in how, where or with whom you practice.
You might also discover that you are really well supported in your practice with a generous, responsible and knowledgeable teacher who can help you work through your injury and an uplifting community of fellow students bolstering your growth.
Whatever the outcome of your reflection, using an injury as an opportunity for learning and growth will make you a more responsible, informed and self-reflective practitioner. Not only will your individual experience of yoga deepen and evolve from this work, but you’ll also be helping to create and uphold a yoga culture where qualities like respect, compassion and integrity can thrive.
Evolving Your Yoga Series
April 14 - May 18, 2017
I'm so excited to be offering my first 6-week series on Evolving Your Yoga at Happy Tree this spring. Students and teachers of all styles of yoga: You'll get so much out of these weekly contemplative and practical talks on how to deepen, expand and integrate your yoga practice - I promise. I hope you'll join me! Juicy topics include:
April 13 - Evolving Your Yoga: Principles for deepening, expanding and integrating practice
April 20 - Mud to Lotus: Transformative Approaches to Practice
April 27 - Finding Balance: Embracing the pairs of opposites
May 4 - The 1 before the 0000s: Nurturing the Inner Relationship
May 11 - Remembering Wholeness
May 18 - Connecting to your Steady Centre
Interested in the series but out of town? I'll be opening a few spots for a web-based version of this series later in the spring. Contact me if you're interested in participating.
I share the stories of my knees to illustrate a couple of important things about yoga-related injuries – they are physical, and they are more than physical. How we work with them will teach us a tremendous amount about our bodies and our own unique bio-mechanical vulnerabilities. And just as importantly, working with injuries in yoga is a precious opportunity to examine our inner dialogue as well as the larger cultural and psycho-social dynamics at play in our practice environment.Read More
Do you forge ahead and get to class even when you're sciatica is flaring up? Do you stop practicing completely when your physio tells you you have a torn meniscus? How do you adapt your practice after you injure your shoulder playing tennis? How do you know what’s right?It takes sensitivity and awareness to respond to changes in your physical condition and adapt practice appropriately. Therefore, working with an injury or illness can actually be a turning point in your yoga if you approach it as an opportunity for learning and self-discovery.Read More
How to keep yoga practice interesting, fresh and enjoyable to maximize the benefits of your practice time.Read More
This week - Practical tips for getting to the mat and structuring your independent practice.Read More
It's only in self-guided practice, what we do when no one else is telling us what to do, when we have only ourselves to rely on, that yoga becomes an intimate and powerful engagement with our bodies, minds and hearts. Free video included!Read More
Greetings and good wishes for a very special holiday season and a happy new year of 2017!
Reflecting on the winter solstice yesterday, the image that came up was a single candle flame glowing the darkness. Not original, I know, but it signaled to me what might be obvious. These are the days to restore light and find ways to share it -wherever and with whomever I can- by being a kind and compassionate person.
I debated what to say in this last blog post of the year. On the one hand, I have a lot to tell you. At the same time, all my individual goings-on seem quite insignificant in the face of the huge upheavals we’ve experienced this year.
Wherever we stand on the political spectrum or how strongly, I think all of us can agree life on this planet doesn’t feel quite as stable as we might be accustomed to. Many of us feel deeply unsettled, still stunned and in grief at the state of affairs in the US and around the globe. Collectively and personally, we are being called to leave behind what was familiar and comfortable to stake out new and uncharted territory.
I think we are all (or at least I am) searching for ways to find steady ground, whether that is taking up daily actions and communications with the American leadership, staying informed or turning to our local communities for comfort and support.
Nourishing connection has been a great support for me during this last part of the year. I feel renewed gratitude for all the great people I know - teachers, students, healers, sadhana sisters and brothers, and friends. You form an extended, expansive community of like-minded souls I feel blessed to be part of. And I’m genuinely interested in knowing what all of you are up to!
So it’s in this spirit of kinship and connection that I’m writing this end-of-the-year letter.
Year 2016 was a year of big change for me on a professional level. In April 2016, I sold my share of Shri Yoga, the studio I helped to create and co-direct since 2011. I’m still a part of the teaching staff there but I’m no longer involved in the management of the studio.
This shift has freed me up to work on my upcoming book Evolving Your Yoga and its companion workbook. I hope it will be a valuable guide for students of all styles of yoga to deepen, evolve and enrich their practice, as well as expand and integrate the benefits of practice into their lives more fully. I’m excited to dedicate more time to this project in the new year.
In the past several years I’ve become more and more interested in supporting continuing students and new teachers to become more independent in and actively engaged with their practices and the subject of yoga. A vision started to take shape that led gave rise to the idea for the book and my online teaching.
In 2015 I developed The Skilful Yogi, an online mentoring program for yoga teachers. (Skilful only has one ‘l’ in its Canadian spelling). For the past 2 years I’ve led teachers through this 3-month program of guidance in personal practice, study of yoga philosophy and refining their teaching skills. I worked with many wonderful teachers who blossomed with the opportunity to come together and hone their skills in this online format. I hope to expand upon this really valuable form of continuing education and professional development for yoga teachers in the future.
Also last spring, I fulfilled a 20-year dream of travelling to Africa to launch the World Spine Care Yoga Project in Botswana. Co-creator Erin Moon of Vancouver and I worked for 1½ years to create this program without ever meeting face to face! We trained 13 Batswana to teach classes in posture, breathing and mindfulness to spinal care patients at World Spine Care clinics. Thanks to all of you who supported this project. It is thriving and making a difference in the daily lives of many people. The opportunity to share yoga with underserved communities like this is so gratifying. I’m on the lookout for more service projects closer to home in the coming year.
Thank you for all you do to uphold the light in yourself and in your communities. I send you and your loved ones all my best wishes for peace and meaningful connection in the days and weeks ahead.
If independent Practice is something you’re being called to focus on in the new year, I invite you to my free webinar On Wednesday, January 11, 2017. I’ll discuss:
- The top 10 challenges to practice and how to overcome them
- How your practice serves you in your life right now
- How to structure your practice
- What to practice whether you have 15, 30, 60 minutes or more
- Tips that work for getting to the mat and really making practice happen
- And, you’ll create an intention for your practice this year and a personal practice plan to serve you in the weeks and months to come.
My new online course begins on January 23, 2017. It’s called Love Your Practice! and it’s designed to help deepen, reinvigorate and enrich your personal practice through sequences, videos, inquiry, more sequences, more videos, more inquiry …You get the idea. For any of you who know its time to recommit to practice, I highly recommend this course. Based on the feedback I’ve gotten from students, I think you will love it.
For Montreal folks…
We’ll dive right into the New Year with a one-day retreat at Shri Yoga on Monday, January 2.
I’m delighted to announce that beginning January 6, I’ll be teaching a new weekly class on Friday 4:30-6pm at Happy Tree Yoga, Melanie Richards’ sweet and welcoming studio in Westmount, I’ll also be part of the Master Class series there this winter.
And, I’ll be leading more Evolving Your Yoga talks and workshops at studios in the Montreal region.
Meditation 101, my 4-week course designed to help you establish a regular meditation practice, is happening at:
Shri Yoga - Tuesdays, 7:30-9pm in January
Sun & Moon Yoga in Dorval - Thursdays 7:30-8:45pm Thursdays in February
At it’s best, yoga practice makes us better equipped to show up fully for life as it is in all its messiness, while remembering that there is something more sublime, something extraordinary and perfect holding us in its embrace.Read More