The Yoga in Uncertainty

2016 has begun.  I’m finding there are two different starts to the year out there as I talk to family and friends…

There is the “Oh-my-goodness-this-is-going-to-be-the-greatest-year-ever!” camp.  January was inspired, creative, fired up, connected, and full of goals accomplished and intentions set.  That is awesome and I am giving you all virtual hugs and high-fives for rocking it out and being a source of inspiration to me (no joke, you all are the ones that keep me going)!

There is also the “Oh-my-goodness-I-can’t-believe-January-took-that-long-why-do-I-feel-so-unsure-and-unsteady-and-what-direction-do-I-turn?” camp.  January for this group was filled with sadness, anxiety, confusion, shakiness, and, most of all, uncertainty for what this year will hold.

To those in the second camp…I HEAR YOU.  You are not alone.

Uncertainty can be one of the hardest places to sit.  When I looked at the words associated with uncertainty, this is what came back: doubt, qualm, misgiving, apprehension, quandary, reservation, scruple, second thought, query, question, question mark, and suspicion.  For those of you feeling uncertain out there – myself included – these words might ring true…in fact, you might have some additional words of your own you’d like to add to the list.  No wonder we don’t like being in this space.

I mean…really. don’t. like. it.

Uncertainty is exhausting and when it feels chronic, it can be hard to push through and see the silver lining.  From what I’ve seen and experienced, uncertainty can be felt in the root of our energetic system.  That place where we feel grounded, stable, and secure.  I’ve noticed when that sense of stability is missing (especially when it pertains to our basic needs – food, shelter, etc.), the rest of our energetic system can be affected, thus impacting our ability to be creative, feel empowered, give love and attention, voice our fears and opinions, and see what options are ahead of us.  When uncertainty is present, our entire body can feel out of alignment – physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

There are some methods to deal with this uncertainty and I thought I would share two of my favourites with you.

The first is a simple grounding meditation that gets us connected to our Root Chakra (Muladhara).  Our Root Chakra is located in the very base of the reproductive organs and, when properly engaged and aligned, can enable us to feel strong, stable, and connected.  When we are disconnected from our Root Chakra, it can cause alignment issues through the rest of the main seven Chakras as they travel up the mid-line of the body.  This in turn can affect our emotional, physical, and mental states.  To tap into your Root and feel more grounded, I invite you to practice this short and sweet meditation…

The second is to identify, name, and write down those feelings you want to invite into your being.  By mindfully thinking about this and writing a list of what you want to feel, it can help ground you in your desired feeling state.  Do you want to feel Joy? Empowered?  Secure?  Loved?  Heard?  Visible?  Whatever feeling you desire, put it on paper and take some time to think of ways you can invite that feeling into your life.  I recommend doing this practice at least once at the start of the week and then revisiting your feelings as often as you wish (I tend to look at mine in the morning and the evening each day).

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I hope these little practices help!

Sending you lots of love and light, Brave Souls!

No Quick Fix

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I was speaking with one of my close friends (who also happens to be a yoga teacher) yesterday.  We were talking about some of the articles we’ve been reading lately, about the complicated and relentless western society we find ourselves living in, and about yoga’s place in all of it.

So much of what we are surrounded with tells us how we should act, what we should look like, what success is (or isn’t), and that contentment is a far-off dream that takes years of hard work and sacrifice to find.  In my opinion, it has led to an unrelenting desire for a quick fix, an adrenaline shot of happiness, a quick-fire solution to all of our problems.  As a result, we have lost an appreciation for what occurs on the journey to get there. Not only that, we want our journeys to be fast and painless, with little to no disruption occurring in our lives.

The same can be said for the overall approach to yoga in the west.  Coming to North America 1920s, yoga was initially introduced to the masses via a studio in Hollywood set up by Indra Devi (a yoga pioneer for sure).  Before this, those who wanted to pursue yoga would most likely have had to travel abroad to find and then study under a teacher.  To appeal to our overall desire for a better-looking body, the entry point for many to this practice was via the physical.  As time has gone on, our ability to commodify and package yoga as a “quick fix” for body, spirit, and mind has taken off in ways I’m sure the original yogis could never have imagined.

Here’s the catch, yoga isn’t just about the physical practice and it surely isn’t a quick fix.  If anything, a deep and intentional practice of yoga will deconstruct and potentially ravage your world as you know it.  Through mediation, breath, movement, and philosophical study, we have a tool that will bring deeper levels of awareness, and – as a result – can create a world in which we become seekers, critical thinkers, more empathetic, and in tune with “the-way-things-can-be” as opposed to “the-way-I’ve-always-done-this” or “the-way-things-should-be”.

Enlightenment comes at a price and it is a long path that leads there.  It means breaking out of your comfort zone and seeing what lies beyond your boundaries.  This is the reality of our practice both on and off the mat.  If you are truly invested in exploring these practices, it requires a brave heart and a willingness to delve into the darkness and not just hover where the light is.

The Yoga Sutras touch on this in a variety of ways.  They explain the discipline required, the mental clarity and focus needed to truly practice.  In fact, yoga only begins once a person has done their preparation.  That occurs even before we begin we actual practice of yoga itself!  Imagine that!

Consider this the next time you are looking for that easy way out.  Yoga is a discipline and one that asks you to work harder, deeper, and with way more heart.  In my mind, a yogi is one that is willing to go that extra step…the one courageous enough to stay in it for the long haul.  The one who may never achieve balance in Vrksasana (tree pose) but is always ready to give it a try.  The one whose mind wanders during meditation, but makes the time to pursue the practice.  The one whose breath goes deeper with every inhale and exhale.  That is what the journey is all about…trying, striving…and finding grace and ease along the way.

Namaste, Heather

A Quick Guide to the Chakras

When we work with our energetic alignment, oftentimes, we are working with the seven main chakras in the body.  Think of these as points of energy from which we can set intentions and bring our focus when working with movement, our breath, and meditation.

I created this quick guide for those who are interested in a reference for the chakras (just click on the image below for a PDF).  I’ve also blogged in the past around my experience with the chakras here, here, and here.

This little piece is in no way comprehensive, and gives just the very highest of overviews.  There are a variety of places to find out more and I encourage every practitioner to explore their energetic body!  It can deepen and enhance your practice – both on (and off!) the mat!

Chakras

Finding Daily Inspiration

I’ve been there.  In a rut.  Feeling less than inspired, not sure where to turn for motivation, and having the sense that everything around me -especially my goals and dreams and intentions – are getting lost in a deep haze.

When I did my yoga teacher training in Bali, there was a small altar set up in one corner of the room.  A small table covered with a beautiful piece of cloth, a statue of Ganesha, incense and candles burning, and flowers as a reflection of the bounty of nature all around us.  Each morning, a small ritual was performed in which the candles and incense were lit and those of us in the training were invited to add elements of our own lives to the altar – photos of loved ones, notes and letters, and elements from the earth (stones, shells, flowers, and leaves).

Every morning when I entered the space, I would take time in front of the altar…to set an intention, to ask Ganesha to assist me in clearing obstacles from my path, and to remember why I was there.  This daily practice touched me deeply.

For so many years, even the word “altar” inspired complicated feelings in relationship to religion.  Growing up as a Roman Catholic (and now no longer identifying with that faith), the altar always had a sense of being a forbidden space – especially for women.  I grappled with this as I meditated and experimented with a different approach to what an altar could and can be.  A space that is welcoming for all.  One where my intentions and beliefs can exist alongside others.

I brought this practice home and created my own little altar at home.  I included a candle, a small statue of Ganesha, some rocks, stones, and crystals from my travels, and an image of the White Tara.  These small objects remind me of my purpose.  They are items I cherish and they inspire me each and every day as I take time to meditate in front of this sacred space I’ve created for myself.

This space helps me get over my ruts, is my motivator, and clears out the haze.  It is a place for grounding, observing, and listening to my deepest truth.  When I make time to sit in this space, I am nourishing my body, soul, and spirit and giving myself the gift of inspiration.

I encourage you to create your very own “Altar of Inspiration” to see what it can do for you!  I’ve created a little guide that contains five simple steps for manifesting your altar.

I hope it helps you create a space that is nourishing, welcoming…and inspiring!

To receive your free guide, just click on the image below or click here!

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What I See On The Mat

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I see your good days and your bad ones.

I see your laughter and tears, your strengths and your fears.

I see your light and your dark.

I see your comparisons to others and your belief in yourself.

I see your doubts and your assuredness.

I see your transformation and the places where you may feel stuck.

I see your happiness and sadness, your joy and your heartache.

I see your ability to keep going and your knowledge of when it is time to rest.

I see you supporting and encouraging others, and your struggle to support and encourage yourself.

I see you trying something new and your comfort in those things that are familiar.

I see your body, soul, mind, and heart.

I see your moments of brave.

I see you.

 

 

And you…are perfect, beautiful, strong, smart, and loved.  Even in those moments when you may not feel that way…especially in those moments.

If you ever need to be reminded of that, just let me know and I’ll be sure to tell you.

Choosing Respect in Yoga

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Folks, I need to talk about judgment in yoga.

We experience a lot of judgment in our lives.  We experience it coming from other people, from ourselves, from magazines at the checkout in the grocery store.  Judgment has a really great foothold on our psyche and generally ends up making us feel like we are coming up short.

The last place I want to see judgment manifesting itself or rearing its ugly head is in a yoga class.

I’ve been amazed over the past year by the number of people who have come up to me and commented that they find my classes so refreshing because they are free from judgment.  I’m not saying this to pat myself on the back.  I am, in fact, saddened that this has been said to me SO…MANY…TIMES.

Each person is unique…with their own individual strength, flexibility, emotions, and body structure.  I find that to be one of the most beautiful parts of teaching yoga…that I get a chance to meet all of these amazing people with their own incredible story written in their emotional, physical, and spiritual bodies.  I choose to work with each person in front of me, fully recognizing that each of us brings our own experience of movement, stillness, and the universe to the mat.

I absolutely love this part of sharing yoga, meditation, and breath with other people.  It’s my jam and I learn an incredible amount from every single person I practice with.

I am also writing this to let each and every person reading know that they should not stand for judgment…in a yoga class or anywhere else.  Motivation?  Yes!  Encouragement?  Yes!  Genuine guidance?  Yes!   Judgment?  Hell NO!

I urge you…

Choose spaces that allow you to come to your mat fully and authentically.  Do not shy away from your own talents and your own experience.  You are worthy of RESPECT and HONOUR (from your teacher and those you practice alongside).  Choose teachers and spaces that ooze this out of their pores.  Your teacher should take care with you and your physical, emotional, and spiritual presence and you, in turn, should expect nothing less.

Love, light, and peace, Heather

What I Learned From Falling

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This photo will make a lot more sense when you read below!

I woke up last Friday feeling tired…as in, really tired.  The bone-tired that makes it really hard even just to get out of bed.  I’d had a week battling insomnia and wasn’t feeling very motivated to do much of anything.  My body was telling me to rest, but I didn’t listen.  I convinced myself a that a short two-mile run was exactly what I needed.  Even as I was lacing up my running shoes, I could feel my eyes wanting to close and the muscle fatigue growing just a bit deeper.

9:30 AM  – Head out the door and start a slow jog down my block.

9:31 AM – Have an unsuccessful make-out session with the pavement.

In my exhausted state, I tripped a minute into my run, caught myself with my chin, took a hunk out of my left front tooth, skinned both knees, and bruised my pelvis.  I was shocked from the fall and must have made a sound as I hit the dirt because the older gentleman running in front of me (who I am so grateful for!) stopped abruptly, turned around, ran to my side, and between “oh no’s!” kept asking if I was all right.  He offered to walk me back to my building and to call someone, but in my embarrassed and hurting state, I told him “Thank you, no,” limped back home, washed myself off, got an appointment with a dentist that afternoon, and did what I should have done in the first place…RESTED.

Here are some things I learned from the experience.

Lesson 1:  Embarrassment causes tears before the pain does.  I felt foolish and clumsy and awkward.  I’ve run the same route for almost a year now and couldn’t believe that the cement under my feet could be that hard (note to self: pavement is HARD!).  It was amazing how much more painful my emotional state was versus my physical pain.

Lesson 2:  People are awesome.  There have been a number of times in my life where I’ve fallen, dropped something, or needed a hand.  Sometimes, people won’t stop.  They will be embarrassed for you and look away (or point and laugh).  The majority of the time – those times that restore my faith in humanity – people stop and check on you.  They offer to help you back to your feet, check out your shattered tooth and bruised ego, and offer to call someone if you need them to (even if the number is long-distance and their cell phone plan stinks).

Lesson 3:  I am vain!  I’d only ever experienced this awareness of just how vain I am once before.  When I looked in the mirror after my fall and saw the gap in mouth and the giant swollen bruise on my chin…I started crying harder.  Again, embarrassment flooded my body.  The first time I felt this way was when I had emergency surgery on my right eye for a detached retina.  When they took the gauze off my eye, I was devastated at my appearance.  This whole event was a reminder to me of just how jaded I am by my attachment to looks, and not to what truly matters… my soul, my goodness, the light that is within.  A good reminder to check myself and a reminder that I am not what is on the outside.

Lesson 4:  Get up and try again.  I felt nervous going out for another run after Friday’s incident, but on Sunday, I laced up and after 2.5 miles, my stomach finally released its knots and I was able to get in some decent mileage.  In short, “try, try again.”  Whether it is meditation, yoga, surfing, a work project, being a good partner or friend…we almost always have the opportunity to get out there and give it another go.

Have you had a similar experience?  What did you learn?

Namaste, Heather

P.S.  My tooth – thanks to some quick work – is just fine (grateful for dentists with skill and open spaces on their calendars) and my body is getting less sore by the day!

Motivations for Living Authentically

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Authenticity ties into our practice of Satya (truth), one of the five yamas.  One interpretation describes it as “that which is true, actual, real, genuine, trustworthy, valid.”  Our ability to be true, actual, real, and genuine directly relates to our ability to live authentically.

I’ve been having great conversations with people regarding what it means to live authentically…both on and off the mat.  While many know what it means to live authentically, I’m now beginning to wonder what the motivation is for living authentically.

During one recent conversation with my husband, we discussed why people might seek to live authentically and whether it is motivated internally or externally.  Do we see others living this way and it inspires us?  Do we have a stirring inside that calls us to live authentically?  Is it a combination of the two?  Regardless of where the motivation comes from, the desire to live a more authentic life is a good thing…for everyone!

Let us step onto our mats for a moment, shall we?  When we live authentically on the mat, we are stepping (literally) into a space where we make choices around our practice (mediation, asana, pranayama) in that moment.  We choose to listen to our bodies and breath and respond in concert with that or we choose to seek a different ideal based on a photo or image which may or may not be in sync with what we need in that moment.  This is where we also examine what role the ego plays in our ability to live authentically.  Are we pursuing something (a difficult pose, for example) from a place of ego or are we pursuing it because we truly feel it is in line with our authentic expression of our practice?  What is your personal motivation for achieving that pose?

This is interesting because we as humans, for the most, do want to strive to get better and achieve more.  It says something to us when we reach the next level or accomplish a goal.  As long as the ego isn’t at play in those developments, our ability to learn more, grow more, and achieve more can be a truly authentic expression of ourselves.

Off the mat, our authentic expression might manifest itself in how we interact with loved ones in our lives.  How do we share how we are really feeling (or do we)?  How do we express love or anger?  Maybe showing up authentically off the mat is easier when things are going well in your life or when they are harder.  Maybe we find ourselves being more authentic with some people and not others.  What motivates us in these situations?

In order to better understand your motivations for living authentically, take a moment the next time you are on (or off!) the mat to ask yourself…

     “Am I living my authentic life?”

Simply observe your responses.  You can then dig deeper by examining:

     If yes, think about what brought you into this space of living authentically.

     If no, where are you not able to fully express your truth? 

The answer may differ on any given day given day depending on what is happening in our lives, and as a result, our authentic expression might change in response; however, taking the time to ask this simple question can be a powerful way to come into your truth and to better understand and accept yourself for who you are, in this moment.

Because there is no one else like you.  Your authentic self.

How do YOU Live an Authentic Life?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and watching and soul-searching and deep-diving lately as I examine what it means to live a truly authentic life.

Part of it means being truthful and honest with yourself.  Part of it means owning what you and how you do it.  Part of it means asking for help when you need it!

There are many aspects to living an authentic life, both on and off the mat.  I am curious to know how you live an authentic life!  What do you feel it entails and how are you putting it into practice?

So, help me out by watching this little vlog and then take a moment to head over here and leave a comment!