If you stick with yoga long enough, and perhaps not even very long, it’s certain you’ll be dealing with the question of what to practice when you get injured or sick. Do you forge ahead and get to class even when your 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.
I’m going to set aside the hot topic of working with yoga-related injuries for the moment because they bring up a whole other set of important and nuanced questions that I’ll explore separately down the road. Here, I’d like to address how you...
I learned how to downhill ski in my early 20’s. I avoided it until then because I have a big fear of heights. But there I was, visiting a friend who was working in one of the most beautiful resort towns in the Swiss Alps and decided to go for it. I signed up for a one-week of Swiss ski school. Everyday, our group would follow our instructor down the mountain like little ducklings following their mother. I learned all the basics of managing the various types of ski lifts (one of my biggest fears), and navigating the beginner slopes, stopping, slowing down, making turns. I was in good hands and supported every step of the way in learning how to turn, control my speed, stop and get up when I fell down. By the end of the week I felt capable and ready to forge out on my own.
The safety of the group and the guidance of an instructor I trusted quickly gave way to insecurity and low-grade panic. I was on my own, with no one...
The nautilus shell is a symbol of proportional perfection. It is a logarithmic spiral, a pattern found throughout nature in the form of spiral galaxies, plants and flowers, animal horns, and even the flight patterns of some birds. There is a sense of perfection, symmetry and order to spirals in nature like the nautilus shell. They remind us of a mysterious yet somehow very real harmony underlying the outer, sometimes chaotic dance of our lives. The beauty and perfection we observe in nature helps us remember the subtle, mystical world that lies just beneath the surface of our ordinary, usual awareness.
Yoga echoes this idea that there is a transcendent, unchanging reality that is full, perfect and whole. It’s overlaid in everyday life with the ups and downs of material existence, which at times can seem and feel so completely imperfect. The image of the nautilus reminds us of a larger perspective, what Ram Dass calls “The God’s eye view of life.” It...
The ancient chambered nautilus shell is a potent symbol for our evolution and growth as yogis. As the animal grows, it builds larger and larger chambers for itself to live in. It seals off the smaller ones, which are then filled with gasses that allow it to stay buoyant as it moves through the ocean waters.
The spiral itself is a universal symbol of movement, energy, and expansion that radiates from the center out. In the Tibetan tradition it symbolizes the origin of the universe. In the Yoga tradition Kundalini Shakti, the power of spiritual evolution, is described as a serpent power that sits tightly coiled at the base of the spine, spiraling upward when awakened within a seeker.
Like the chambers of the nautilus shell, we can view our path as yogis as evolving into progressively more expanded states of being. Over time, the lessons we’ve learned, the knowledge we’ve gained and assimilated through practice and reflection become part of who we are. We use the deeper...
“Maman, everything is covered in snow!” my daughter said as she woke me up Monday morning. Seeing the first snow is always an exciting time in our house. Looking at our backyard with her I recalled the coziness, comfort and peace I usually feel in that moment. Not so this year. As in so many other ways, life feels different, uncomfortable, and profoundly unsettled since the US election results. I was very much aware of an underlying sense of sadness, fear and concern that I, like many, have been carrying around for months, and which has only deepened over the past several weeks. It’s a new reality, this lurking feeling that the near future is NOT warm and cozy, and quite likely, at least in the short term, everything is NOT going to be OK. We feel we are poised on the battlefield, being called on to stand up as warriors for the most essential truth we know - the dignity of the human spirit.
And, like so many, I’ve been trying to...
From where I sit in Southern Quebec it’s clear that this week is about letting go. In nature, of course, that is happening gracefully, organically and precisely as it should be. In my own very human life, however, letting go isn’t always that natural or easy. Why is it that my mind and body clearly prefer holding on to unproductive thoughts and limiting patterns rather than releasing into the great joy of just letting it all fall away? Hmmm...The good news is there's yoga!
By releasing tension and temporarily turning the mind inside, yoga invites us to surrender habitual patterns of movement, thought and feeling and welcome in more ease, freedom and inner calm.
The value of letting go is immense. It refreshes us and creates space for clarity to emerge. Whether its how to better align our hands in Downward Dog, or taking a fresh look at a situation we’ve been dealing with, letting go allows us to see new possibility in familiar places.
Shoulders and upper...
Thanks to everyone who responded to my yoga practice survey (and there’s still time to take it if you have not already). Here is one of the questions I received:
I continue to practice a variety of styles of yoga - mostly when I go to classes. I realize I can become more expert in one style if I practiced one style. However, what are your thoughts about sticking to one style of practice regarding personal and spiritual growth?
The phrase regarding personal and spiritual growth guides my answer to this question. The decision to stick with one style of yoga or not depends, I think, on your intention for your practice.
If you do yoga to feel good in your body, or to explore new and different ways of moving, then I would say go for it and take advantage of all the wonderful variety that’s out there.
Likewise, if you are interested in using yoga for physical fitness you might benefit from practicing a variety of methods that work together to...
Like cooking a hearty soup in autumn, working your feet is, of course, grounding. And, you'll likely feel a happy resonance of waking up your feet right up into your hips and pelvis. This week, I'm sharing a few favourite Vajrasana variations for enlivening up your feet and ankles. Try this 8-minute sequence at the beginning of a practice and see how it changes your standing poses, and your inversions too.
Be forewarned that these fall into the somewhat-intense-in-a-delicious-way category, if you get my drift. And, as usual, always modify and adjust as appropriate for you.
See this post from last year for a primer on working your feet in standing postures.
Calling all teachers: The next session of my online mentoring program begins October 31st (spooky, I know). It's a rare opportunity to dive into wisdom of yoga with a group of engaged, curious and collegial teachers. This time around, we'll be using the essays in Light on...
Do you know about Father Joe Pereira?
A few weeks ago he was in Montreal to offer a series of workshops including a 2-day training on Iyengar Yoga for addiction. At the end of the training, I had the opportunity to speak with him about the role of service for the yogi. He told me:
“Service is a natural outcome of a practitioner who looks at this practice as a gift. … you can’t keep it to yourself, you want to share it with somebody. “
Notice how this may already be true for you. How do you feel after a...
Our free, online bonus content is designed to complement and enrich your experience of Evolving Your Yoga. Resources like video pose tutorials, downloadable journaling prompts, breathwork, guided visualizations, and more will support your exploration of each of the Ten Principles for Enlightened Practice.