Thursday, January 4, 2018

A divided self, a divided world

If asked what characterizes the current state of our world, the first word that comes to mind is division: us vs. them; right vs. wrong; winners and losers; black and white. This is a very simplistic way of viewing things, when one considers that there is far more grey than black and white. Not everything can be defined, cut into neat little pieces for easy consumption, or be easily understood.

It's simple to lash out and blame all our current ills on Trump, Putin, rapacious corporations, the media, etc., etc... If we are to even begin bridging the gaps, we need to look at the divisions within ourselves, at how we so easily compartmentalize without asking the big questions.

We sit back and proclaim that climate change should be addressed but we're unwilling to change our lifestyles. We bemoan cruelty to animals but continue eating meat because we're so far removed from its source that all we see is the neat little package in the grocery store without asking ourselves where it came from, how the animal was raised and how it died.

We are masters at lying to ourselves, at ignoring those dark corners we wish didn't exist, at whitewashing pain, ugliness and struggle, at extracting with surgical precision those parts of ourselves that don't fit into the current accepted narrative. If we are at war with ourselves, how can we possibly begin to bring peace to a fractured world when it is simply a reflection of our inner state?

We are not separate from anyone or anything. We are each other's caretakers and keepers of our environment, and other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. We are failing miserably on both counts.

As Gandhi proclaimed: "Be the change you want to see in the world." The only place to start is with ourselves. Can we quiet the constant stream of mental noise and distraction that only allows us to skim the surface of things? Can we summon the courage to delve deeper, get acquainted with our soft underbelly and befriend it? Can we find out where our fear resides and try to release it? Can we be brave enough to be still and listen?

Every choice we make matters. Wouldn't it be better if those choices were conscious ones?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Unlocking our POWERful potential

This past July, internationally-renowned yoga teacher Bryan Kest was in Ottawa giving a weekend of master classes. If you're wondering who that is, along with being credited for its creation, he coined the term "Power Yoga". Ironically, he mentioned to us that he was open to suggestions for a new name to replace "Power Yoga" since he felt the term was perceived as intimidating.

I tend to agree. I practice and teach this type of yoga, which can also be classified as a vigorous type of "Flow Yoga" but as soon as you throw in the word "Power", people wince and retreat in terror. I'm beginning to think that, intrinsically, we don't like to be challenged. We avoid stepping out of our comfort zone. We stick with what we know, and what we think we're capable of. Problem is, we're always capable of so much more than we think we are. But we'll never find out if we don't step beyond our perceived limitations.

I'm the first to admit I'm lazy. My default setting is sloth - exerting the least amount of effort most of the time. I have to consciously fight against this tendency. Sometimes, sloth is totally appropriate and called for; yin and yang. But my yin gets greedy and wants all the attention. However, when I do work actively against my laziness and commit to an active, empowering yang practice, afterwards I can feel every inch of my body teeming with something I can only describe as "aliveness".

It's not always a pleasant experience. I usually feel bitter when I'm being challenged. Of course, the other side of that coin is that afterwards, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment for not having walked away from something that reminded me of my own strength and resilience, and left me feeling like a million bucks.

Kest also reminds us that we should approach this type of yoga practice with moderation. Sure, it can be challenging but we don't have to go crazy. It's possible to find a balance between effort and ease when we tell our ego to take a hike and release any notions of physical or athletic "performance". What it truly comes down to is a steady breath and being present. Can we allow ourselves to feel challenged yet remain calm? Imagine how effectively we could deal with our daily lives off the mat if we simply mastered that.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Song Without Music

Me: "You know how much I love spending time in the kitchen." Boyfriend: "With a phone and a take out menu."

Now that I've kicked off this post with the requisite witty humour, I can turn to other insignificant things, such as my playwriting. The idea recently flashed in my brain of sharing some of that writing here on my blog, kind of like a story in serial installments. I mean, why not?

A few months back, I began very preliminary work on a musical; the writing part, that is. I'm not sure where that project is headed but I wrote my first ever song lyrics. It's not exactly an uplifting ballad as I was exorcising some demons at the time but I think it could be a catchy tune. I call it: " A Song Without Music". 

Good morning, good morning 
You're my wife, short of a ring
You're my mother, only better
You're my daughter, don't run for cover

Good morning, good morning
Under my thumb, blessed underling
It's the only way I know, the only love I can show
Look pretty, don't think. Hint at desire, leave me on the brink

Good morning, good morning
Your submission is a sacred thing
It's your calling, weaker sex
You've got no strength, no muscle to flex

Good morning, good morning
I'm the master and you the slave adoring
My psychic steel rod violating your space
Hunting you down, because I need the chase

Good morning, good morning
Come to me and say good morning
Good morning, good morning
Bend the knee and say good morning 

Stay tuned for my next creative writing installment. I think I'll go with a comedy next time.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Stereotype cancer - an insidious disease

Yesterday, I found out that a beloved figure in the yoga world, Michael Stone, had passed away, following a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, a struggle he kept mostly silent and hidden. Shock rang through an international yoga community at the sudden death of one of its own. The tragedy of his passing seems all the more bitter at the thought of his internal struggle with demons largely out of his control.

It also reveals a soft underbelly of the yogic community: an expectation or preconceived notion that yoga teachers have their shit together; that they easily rise above it all and are able to remain in a continual state of zen-like balance. They're vegetarians or vegans, don't drink or swear and lead a squeaky-clean life. These stereotypes are also propagated, ad nauseum, by popular media and frankly, are reductionist and far off the mark of what yoga and meditation are all about.

But yoga is not the only victim of stereotypes. They are widespread and pervasive, and they are harmful. In my former job, every morning when I stepped into the office, I felt like I had entered Stepford suburbia, and if I didn't conform to some incredibly narrow-minded idea, imposed by others, of who I should be: a happy, smiling, pleasant, social and above all, easily acquiescing female, I paid the price, either with social isolation or eventually, in my case, dismissal.

Stereotypes are an insidious cancer that refuse to recognize the full depth and breadth of each individual, and leave no space for variety, vulnerabilities and flaws - the very things that, if brought to light and shared with one another, actually draw us together and create community.

It is a terrible tragedy that Michael Stone felt compelled to remain silent about his mental health issues, but it is a silence I fully understand. I grappled for more than a decade with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in complete silence. I couldn't bring myself to tell my family physician I was suffering these strange symptoms that were not physical. I felt I couldn't tell my parents or my friends. Only when I was living on my own and the symptoms progressively worsening, did I finally seek help because I could see the downward spiral awaiting me if I continued to do nothing.

It was one of the best decisions of my life. I sought treatment and am completely open about it now. I've managed to let go of the shame I used to feel about it, and I'm fully aware that I'm not alone. However, there remains a stronghold of shame and misunderstanding around mental illness, one that needs to be removed, so those who are suffering can rise to the surface, come into the light, and seek the help and support they need.

As a yoga teacher myself, my students should know that I am not perfect. I have shitty days. I struggle. I make bad decisions. I eat meat. I drink alcohol. I use swear words, sometimes profusely, but that takes nothing away from my passion for yoga and devotion to sharing it with as many people as I can. We need to allow space for people to be who they are, and release these rigid ideas of who we think we should be. All we need to be is ourselves.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A letter to the ladies...

For the past five months, I've been a teaching assistant for a 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training program. Yesterday was graduation day, and marked the end of the journey. This group of 22 students was special indeed, being made up entirely of women. And it is to those strong, fierce, incredible ladies that I write this entry.

As we began our journey together, five months ago, I was also at the beginning of a new existence. Due to an enduring personality conflict with my boss, on November 7, 2016, I was dismissed from my job. I had been working there for 14 years, and suddenly, the life I knew was gone.

I remember coming home on that November morning, after the deed was done; a beautiful, sunny, unseasonably warm day, feeling a mix of shock and euphoria, because, on the one hand, that job was my security blanket. It paid very well and had great benefits. On the other hand, I had been in abject misery for years.

I felt a lot of shame over being fired. Even though I was unhappy and the work was unfulfilling, it was still a stinging rejection and a public embarrassment. I had been unceremoniously kicked off the island.

Shortly thereafter, I remembered having read about an opportunity to apply for a position as a teaching assistant for PranaShanti's upcoming 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training. The first time I had seen it, my interest was immediately piqued. However, I was still employed at the time and figured I couldn't swing it, what with the day job and an upcoming theatre production in February 2017. I guess the Universe had other plans.

One of the first things I did following my dismissal was apply for that teaching assistant position. I felt like I had been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue what I really wanted in life; to shed the doubt, move fearlessly toward my dreams, and delve into teaching yoga full-time. I was absolutely thrilled when I learned I had obtained one of two spots to assist with the teacher training program.

Over the next five months, I sat in awe, listening to you share your stories, your fears, your struggles, your vulnerabilities, and watching as you stepped into the unknown, spread your wings, and soared. It was a reminder to me, and one that I desperately needed, that I wasn't alone and that I didn't need to be perfect to be loved.

Your courage, determination and sass have helped put me back together after feeling shattered and lost. This blue string now wrapped around my left wrist is a welcome reminder of the best herd of cats I've ever hung out with.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Curbing carbs and sweatpants

There's nothing that induces guilt quite like seeing my vegan stepdaughter's bowl of fruit on Instagram after eating scrambled eggs with cheese and six strips of bacon, my greasy fingerprints still visible on the smooth surface of my iPhone. I always have the best of intentions when it comes to nutrition but then I find myself polishing off an entire box of KD and washing it down with a couple beers. I suppose I'm a bending contradiction, being a yoga teacher and food abuser.

As I write this, I'm being a time abuser, procrastinating getting to my playwriting by blogging instead. I'm a little too hungover to have ideas. I could sit here and stare blankly out the window wondering why I'm not outside on this unusually warm, mostly sunny day. Although, occasionally I hear a slightly aggressive breeze on still bare trees and that encourages me to stay indoors.

I've recently discovered that I can wear my sweats and slum it at Timmy Ho's without judgment because they have free wifi. No need to pull together my hipster cool outfit for Starbucks. Of course, spending the afternoon writing at Timmy Ho's doesn't have the same legitimacy as being seen in more trendy coffeehouses but, in the end, not having to change out of my sweatpants into something more uncomfortable for sheer vanity wins out.

This is what happens when you stop working in an office and cease wearing socially acceptable clothing. Now I'm consumed with making loose-fitting fleece fashionably respectable. Let's remove the stigma of the sweatpant; the assumption that a fleece-wearing person has given up on life. What if the opposite were true? That life is so good, I need to be comfortable to enjoy it; that a skirt and high heels will impede my creativity and hence, ability to make a living using said creativity. My talent for rationalization is truly something to behold. 

I've even started doing yoga in my sweatpants. The once sacred space of the skin-tight legging is giving way to loose-fitting fleece. Where will it stop? Is there a support group for an addiction to comfort and soft fabrics, and complete lack of regard for highlighting my female desirability? 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Does flaming out fan my inner flame?

Beware expressing unbridled enthusiasm for profound life changes because once the fairy dust clears, fear and self-doubt creep in. "WTF am I doing?"; "I'll never make it in this business."; "How will I make ends meet?"; "I should just give up now, and find another cozy cubicle where my soul can atrophy in peace."

I know, I know... You're all like "Dude, join the human race. We all feel that way." I just need to momentarily believe I'm the only one who's ever felt this way in the history of time, so as to have an effective pity party. If my feelings of inadequacy are diluted by the masses, what's the point of complaining? Maybe I'm just tired, and seeing things through the embittered eyes of exhaustion.

If you're not careful, constant enthusiasm and optimism will burn you out, especially when you're not used to it. Pessimism comes much more naturally to me. Existential crisis feels like a soft, warm blanket in which to comfortably wrap myself. Does familiarity breed contempt or laziness? And is laziness so bad? Perhaps it's only mislabeled. Maybe laziness is really contentment. Ceasing to constantly need better, bigger, faster, stronger, and getting really comfortable with "what is".

Maybe contentment is really gratitude. Gratitude for this hot cup of coffee I'm drinking this morning; for an able body that lets me gracefully (mostly) move through this life. Maybe constantly chasing the spotlight or some idea I have of "success" is only indicative of an inner emptiness I'm trying in vain to fill. As Marianne Williamson states: "To the ego, self-acceptance is death." What if I agreed to die? Figuratively speaking, of course.

Maybe an experiment is in order. What if I expressed my creativity with no other intention? Just create for the sake of creating, with no thought to any particular result, no desire for praise or recognition, no utility or value judgement. It might be a golden opportunity to mine that deep chasm of self-hatred instead of embarking on yet another futile pursuit to placate it. Or a great excuse to start drinking heavily.

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