Our Planet Needs You Now

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We are living in turbulent times.  Our planet is burning, people are enslaved for the clothes on our backs and the food in our bellies, animals are slaughtered for our overconsumption while being housed in horrific conditions, and wars have degenerated into immeasurable human atrocities seemingly for the engagement, or perhaps entertainment, of our 24-hour news cycle.  It can be easy to explain everything for our own insular self-affirming self-righteousness, reject those who don’t think like us, and surround ourselves in the comfort of isolationism; however, this is the opposite of what we need to confront these issues.

I am a United States Citizen who grew up in a military family.  We lived in communities around the United States and abroad. Over seven years ago I became a Canadian immigrant through my marriage.  I am privileged – white, middle-class, able-bodied, straight, healthy, late 30s, well-travelled and well-educated.  I recognize what this privilege affords me on a daily basis as I move through the world, traveling to different places and meeting and working with people.  This privilege has kept me safely in a bubble of like-minded souls for way too long.

It can be easy to “other,” to keep “doing as I do.”  It can be easy to only speak to those who think and act like me.  It is “comfortable”.  It is “safe.”

However, comfortable and safe will not stand against the multitude of injustices in the world.  What we require is activism.  We need those courageous enough to march, picket, boycott, and protest.  We need the leaders in politics and our corporate world to openly and firmly reject policies and programs that suppress, exclude and destroy. These leaders must openly support those that flourish in the name of inclusion and creation.

As a yoga practitioner, I sometimes get frustrated when I hear the “we are all one” and “go within” as the mantras for our time, as though they are a soothing salve for the tragedies that befall us on a daily basis.  Yes, these are true and heartfelt sayings and they can make a difference in our internal mental states; however, the yamas and niyamas, the true foundations of our practice, ask us to work from a much more active and radical place.

They ask us to seek non-violence in all we do – toward all living beings, including ourselves.  They ask us to be truthful and to not cheat, steal, or covet.  There are aspects of contentment – to truly value what we have in opposition to overconsumption.  To be disciplined – especially when faced with situations, groups, or individuals that take us away form our truth.

Most importantly, these foundations ask us to be students of ourselves.  In my mind, this immediately invokes the phrase “history is doomed to repeat itself” when in reality, it doesn’t have to.   Self-study means we take time to examine our habits and patterns, to see what works for the benefit of ourselves and for the benefit of our fellow humans.  It also works on a community-consciousness level.  When we see people acting in recognition of previous damaging habits, patterns, and systems that caused pain and suffering, there is a shift toward another and much more beneficial way of behaving, do-ing, and be-ing in this world.

This is what I am hopeful for during these challenging times.  That there are enough of us on and off the mat, who work with consideration of these powerful foundations.  That the yamas and niyamas can serve as the grounding pieces so needed during a time of great upheaval.  They can be the motivating forces behind compassionate, but forceful, action against destructive forces all around us.

This Friday, a new leader is taking the oath of office to become the 45th President of the United States.  I am personally devastated by the outcome of this election and I am terrified for what the next four years mean for our planet and people around the world.  At the same time, I am buoyed by the spirit of hope and change that continuously pervades in political, economic, and social landscapes.  Movements like Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, and the Women’s March on Washington all serve to remind us that while we could stand silent, we can also be positive forces for good in this world.

In addition to these macro-movements, we must also take it upon ourselves to invest in the micro-movements of our daily lives – to have conversations with those we don’t agree with; to give money, time, and energy at local levels; to support those who need love; and to show compassion for ourselves, others, and this beautiful Earth.

We are merely passing travellers in this lifetime – stewards of our land, environment, and institutes. It can be easy to pretend that our personal lives won’t make much of a difference.  I am here to tell you they can.  So, choose to speak out.  Choose to be brave.  Choose to reach out.  Choose to stand with others.  Choose to be active in any way you can and that feels right for you, and pushes your personal comfort zone.

This world needs you, Brave Soul.  Now more than ever.

Yoga and the Release of Perfection

Heather Backbend Asana

I am a reformed perfectionist.  Yoga helped me get there.

I used to worry incessantly about the details.  I would get wrapped up in ensuring the final product or event or…anything, was done to my exacting standards.  At the time, I didn’t understand the impact my perfectionist tendencies were having both on myself and on others in my life.

In regards to myself, insomnia was a constant companion.  In fact, in my quest for perfection in college, I exhausted myself to the point where, one frosty winter morning following my 4 AM – 6 AM on-air shift at our college radio station, I returned to my dorm room and collapsed halfway into my space and halfway into the hallway.  Needless to say, some of the other residents on my floor were wondering what was up with the girl laying on the floor snoring!  I would rehearse dance pieces over and over again, never feeling as though I really put forward a performance that met my personal expectation.  I abused myself with food and my inner monologue, constantly pushing myself further and further until one day in my early 20s, I became so ill, I literally could not walk and instead dragged myself across my apartment floor…which is where my roommate found me and immediately demanded that I go into therapy (note:  I did just that and am forever grateful to my friend who used some tough love in the moment I needed it the most).

As for others, my friends and family watched from the sidelines as I demanded more and more from my body, soul, and mind.  In turn, I demanded more from them as well – although I wasn’t aware of it at the time.  In order to not send me into a fluster, they entertained my exacting standards for everything in life.  I remember setting up for a party I was hosting in my space one summer.  My now-husband had never, up until that point, experienced my need to ensure everything was perfect for the impending arrival of guests and stood in wonder (and, without doubt, some annoyance) at the agitated flurry I was making when re-arranging the way he set up the plates and silverware on the table (note:  I am grateful he chose to stick with me after witnessing my perfectionist edge…he’s been a witness to this journey of letting go).

My need for perfection lessened, but still persisted, with the help of therapy and self-reflection.  I didn’t want to live in the space of demand constantly.  It was becoming more and more exhausting keeping up with the demands I kept putting in front of myself.

There was one place of respite…my yoga mat.  There, anything and everything could happen.  Toppled over in a pose?  No problem…just try again!  Unable to get your leg behind your head?  Meh, who cares?!  Handstands freaking you out?  No need to push myself into something my body and system aren’t ready for.

In short, I was learning the art of the “perfectly-not-perfect.”

My release of perfection has been slow, but yoga has been instrumental in showing me that the perfection I sought was simply an illusion and, more importantly, a distraction.  If I could wrap myself in the cloak of striving for perfection, I could avoid the harder work of changing what made me unhappy.  I could avoid the tough conversations.  I could subvert my anxiety and self-consciousness by distracting myself with the hard work being a perfectionist entails.  I could avoid…myself.

Yoga taught me there isn’t perfection to strive for…only the perfect that already exists NOW.  Being in the NOW means meeting yourself fully and completely, just as you are.  My process of meeting myself has taken time, but I’ve fallen in love with the person I am – because she is “perfectly-not-perfect!”

When I meditate and am fully embodied in the present moment, there is nothing else to consider, nothing else to do, no striving, no working toward something.  There is only what is.  Once we realize that every moment on the mat is this series of “nothing else to consider, nothing else to do, no striving, no working toward something” we are suddenly free to experience everything and realize that the perfect is right here with us RIGHT NOW.

I’ll admit that I get frustrated when I hear people talking about yoga as though it is a series of goals to be accomplished.  As if there is some end game to our practice once we achieve a posture.  In reality, there is beauty in the never-ending process that our practice provides because it has the ability to teach us about our divinity and the perfect that exists in us just as we are – regardless of if we ever do full Hanumanasana (Monkey Pose – splits), or not.  It is the perfection in every moment of getting there…the beauty of BEing in that process…that is really what our practice can be about celebrating.

Celebrate your perfection, just as you are.  Celebrate the perfection in others, just as they are.  There is nothing else we need to do in that regard.  When honouring our perfection in this very moment, we (and those around us) are suddenly free of expectation, free of the to-do list, and free of the disappointment that comes with striving for something that can never be attained (because it never existed in the first place).

You might even fall in love with your “perfectly-not-perfect” self.

8-Limbs and Relationships

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The 8-Limbed Path of Relationships

I perceive the practice of yoga to happen both on and off the mat.  Everything I practice in stillness, movement, observation, manifestation, and letting go on my rectangle of rubber, I also put into practice in my daily life – or at least that is the goal.

So it goes with the theory behind yoga.  Many of you are familiar with Pantajali’s 8-Limbed Path of Yoga that includes the following:

  1. Yamas – ways in which we relate to the world
  2. Niyamas – ways in which we relate to ourselves
  3. Asana – the physical practice of postures
  4. Pranayama – the practice of controlling breath with intention and mindfulness
  5. Pratyahara – the withdrawing of sensory experience to allow for full observation of self
  6. Dharana – focus and concentration
  7. Dhyana – meditation practice (uninterrupted concentration)
  8. Samadhi – bliss state

These eight limbs enable us to grow our practice in a way that builds upon each step.  As we can see, the physical practice is only one small part of how we practice yoga.  It is also a way for us to prepare our bodies for everything that follows including breath control and meditation.

This also applies to the relationships we have in our lives – with others and with ourselves.

When we take the time to observe how we relate to the word through the five Yamas:  non-violence, telling the truth, non-stealing, refrain from excess, and non-coveting, we are preparing ourselves for what it takes to develop meaningful relationships.  It pays not to treat others with violence.  My friends and family want me to be truthful with them.  I want to be truthful with myself.

This leads to the practice of the Niyamas.  In this limb, we find the “values” of cleanliness, happiness/contentment, the development of consistent patterns to develop heat, study of self, and the overarching belief that there is something bigger than us (spirit, God, Gaia…).  The Niyamas can help us in relationships in allowing others to just be.  To just be content with where things are, to know that it takes effort to maintain good relationships, to understand that there is something larger that connects all of us and that we are part of a larger fabric.

As in yoga, the Asana, or physical practice, is a small piece of the puzzle!  So it goes with relationships.  While it is always nice to be physically present with those we love, it is our ability to move beyond the physical that defines the depth of our most precious partnerships.  I love being able to hug my friends or hold the hand of my husband, but I know that my relationships persist because we go deeper than the physical.

The next four limbs – Panayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana – for me all embody a sense of intention and mindfulness.  Relationships do well when we tend to them, just like a garden requires consistent care.  By remaining focused when in the presence of someone else – free of all other distraction (including your cell phone!) can bring about a state of full awareness when in connection with another.   Think about those times when your friends or loved ones have truly listened to you with their whole heart.  It feels incredible!  By observing our behaviours within our relationships, we engage in the self-study required to understand what it takes to be our best self in conjunction with another.

Last but not least…the bliss state!  Those times where you are feeling truly valued, loved, connected, and appreciated by others.  These moments are precious…when we are in full alignment with who we are in the presence of a loved one.  Even more so, when we can allow that person to be in full alignment in who they are with us!  To me, this speaks to vulnerability and letting go of expectation.  That we can be truly one with those we love…just as they are.

What do you feel about the eight limbs in relationships?

Wishing you love, light, and peace, Heather

Yoga Everywhere

Yoga Can Happen Everywhere

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One of the things I love most about yoga is that it is never contained.

Yoga can be done (and should be done!) everywhere, anywhere, and all those extra spaces in-between!  Some of the most profound work I’ve done in my practice hasn’t taken place within a studio with a yoga mat under my feet.  Rather, it has come in the quiet in-between moments.  Those moments on airplanes, standing in line at the shop, talking with a friend, or making a connection with someone new.

The asanas are important and I am so glad we have spaces to support people moving and meditating on the mat.  After all, that was my first introduction!  But, at the end of the day, yoga is so much more.

This realization is something that grows larger for me each day as life unfurls in new and unexpected ways.  Yoga allows me to breathe through the ever-constant change that each of us experience.  Yoga allows me to feel empowered and strong.  Yoga provides me with a path to better health and well-being on all levels – mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, and energetic.

The power of yoga rests in its history.  In the incredible journey from beginning to now.  In the ability to shift and respond to the changes that have occurred, are occurring, and will occur.  Yoga, when we think about it, has been evolving from the first recordings of this practice.  It has crossed borders and cultures and has evolved in ways no one could ever imagine.

Yoga simply IS.  Yoga is in the moment, every moment.  It is right where it should be for this place and time.  For each of us who practice, this place and time will look and feel different depending on what changes and evolves in our own lives.  Yoga, at its core, demands us to come face to face with these quiet in-between moments.   Those moments where we don’t think yoga is happening, but, when we look around…we see it is happening everywhere.

Yoga will be happening in Bali!  Join Cat Kabira for a foundation training like no other this September and October!  More details here!

 

Holding Space

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Yoga, for me these days, is less about DO-ing and more about BE-ing.  When I teach or when I am practicing, I am more interested in holding space for what is coming up.  Holding space for exploration of emotion, idea, and feeling; rather than analyzing, predicting, and assessing.

As our personal practices evolve, we might find ourselves migrating.  In this migration, we might find there is more space for silence and just observing.  When I began my yoga journey, I primarily focused on alignment, execution, and a cerebral understanding of what this practice of yoga is all about.  Nowadays, my practice is more of a full-on sensory experience.  I am no longer as concerned with mastering that headstand or the precision of the pose.  It is more about the essence of my entire life.  Am I living in accordance with my own personal ethics?  How am I putting the yamas and niyamas into practice every day?  What emotional, mental, physical, and energetic impulses/reactions/sensations occur as I move through my life – both on and off the mat?

This is holding space for possibility.  Holding space so we have this room to explore and just be, with no expectation or judgement.  From this place, everything becomes possible because we are no longer boxing ourselves into a preconceived notion of how-this-should-be-done.

It’s freeing!

I recently returned from Bali where I was assisting and teaching with Cat Kabira during her 200-hour foundation yoga teacher training.  During those five weeks, I explored the edges of holding space.  Of knowing that when space is created, we – all of us – have the opportunity to step into our own personal power.  In fact, it is when we DO LESS, that we ALLOW FOR MORE.  I witnessed people stepping into their personal power on a daily basis, trying it on and seeing just how good it feels to set boundaries and not apologize for who they are.  I witnessed transformations in people’s personalities and practices, both on and off the mat.  I witnessed myself stepping into the space of doing less and, as a result, enjoying the process of life even more.

Having the time and energy to hold space is an incredible privilege.  I am aware of how precious this place of “doing less” is.  These brief moments of being, not doing, are an incredible gift and one – when we are fortunate enough to have them – should not be taken lightly.

How can we all DO LESS in order to BE MORE?  How can we hold space for others to just be – without reservation – fully and completely who they are?

The next time you are on your mat, I encourage to let go of any ideas of what “should be.”  Explore your practice from a place of spaciousness and freedom. A place where everything is possible, and nothing is off the table.

Simply. Hold. Space.

I’m lucky enough to hold space next with Cat Kabira in Bali again for her September/October 200-hour yoga teacher training at The Yoga Barn!  Join us there!

Pinecone

Pinecone

I went for a hike this past weekend.   On my own. To get away and to be surrounded by nature. To know I could go on my own, feel the sun beating down, the cold air fuelling my lungs.

I came across a pinecone…lying there in the path and I thought of just how symbolic it is.

Barbs on the outside protecting the precious seeds – those starters of life – on the inside.   Only unveiling that soft, fragile interior at just the right moment, the moment after the long fall from the highest branches above.

We all have to go through that fall at time in our lives. The drop that impacts our sense of self, our foundation shaken, all that we have known turned upside down. That free fall enables us to transform into just what we were meant to be…

That free fall is a terrifying journey – one that requires trust and a knowing that others have gone before and many more will follow after. That this fall is part of what is meant to be in our lives, so that we can give more, be more, and give back in a much greater capacity than we ever thought possible.

I’ve been in this free fall for a while know…wondering when my feet will hit the earth below. Wondering when it will be my turn to share, and give back, and flourish in the ways I believe I can. Every time I think I’m just about to land, I have another few more feet to go.

That falling is scary, sometimes lonely, and requires a patience that I am continuing to cultivate. It conjures up a longing for the familiar, but a knowing that once I land, nothing will be the same.

This journey from the upper branches to the earth below is also my preparation. My time to ponder what is to come and ensure that I am truly ready. It is a chance for me to ready myself to spread my wings and open wide…body, mind, and soul. It will be the moment when the barbs no longer will provide me with the armour I’ve had on for so long, but I will instead allow the glow of inner light to spread far and wide…just like the seeds of the pinecone do.

We all have our “pinecone moments.” Some last a moment, and others can feel like they are lasting a lifetime. We may have more than one journey in our lives.

Trust. The ground underneath will catch you…

 

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!

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