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.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Exploding head ass kicking

I realize it's been a while since I last posted here. I'd like to say that's going to change and I'll write more frequently but I've been busy posting pictures of my cat on Instagram.

Since my last post, my entire life basically blew up. Ok wait, I should be more specific: my entire professional life. I best word this carefully for legal reasons. The Universe decided I needed a good kick in the ass in the right direction, and surprised me with a new life. How's that for equanimity?

So now, probably for the first time in my life, I'm pursuing what I really want to do: teach yoga and write plays, like, full-time. It's scary as shit, crazy fun and I've never been happier. Every day is different and I'm fully in charge of my destiny which is daunting at times but it's really forcing me to focus my energy where it needs to go, and trust that everything will work out, hence my renewed obsession with social media.

Whereas sloth used to be my biggest challenge, now I have to learn how to turn off my brain and take some time for myself because I'm so stimulated all the time with shit that I love and am totally passionate about. It's like being on life crack. It's an adjustment and I have to be careful not to OD. I was living in black and white, and now everything is in full f*cking technicolour. The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Yesterday, I got hooked up with Bryan Kest's Online Power Yoga classes. What does this mean? Yoga, every f*cking day. Yeah, I'm still learning not to take a puff of that life crack pipe too often. My head's about to explode.

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