Forget Your Perfect Offering

There they are, glaring at me as if to rub in my face that the self-deprecating thoughts around my ‘2015 Writing Dought’ are well-founded.

Little graphics of calendar pages…”May…June…July…August…September…” all blank.

As far as this little statistics widget on my blog is concerned, I’ve done nothing, created nothing, experienced nothing, captured nothing, and shared nothing, when in fact, my silence speaks louder than any words I could articulate. There are stories to share, and despite my own resistance, I know full-well that our “Truth-Stories” need to be given wings, not tethers, if they are to serve their purpose. When they land in the right ears and hearts, they can build bridges, create bonds, and remind us that, though we may seem worlds and experiences apart from each other, there is a very vulnerable, human part of us that is longing to be seen for the beautiful, complex and fascinating creatures that we are.

One such example came across my path yesterday.

I spent the day teaching Yoga in a high school — four classes of grades 10-12 who take this particular course to enhance their athletic performance. The thought of me being the person to teach them (let alone challenge!) these highly physical teenagers was almost laughable, in my mind. (You may understand my hesitation a bit better by reading this post here…)

The early morning hours before the alarm went off found me wide awake, thoughts racing. My fear of not being able to give them what I would assume they were expecting (a workout) was high, but my knowing of what they most likely needed (relaxation) was deep. Even so, I succumbed to doubt, to the useless dialogue of “who am I to do this,” put my pajama-clad self in child’s pose on our bed and cried, all nerves as to how I could serve this group to the best of my ability.

When my tears subsided, I reached for a book on my nightstand that my Mum recently gave me, opened it to a page — any page — to see if any wisdom would surface to reassure me.

There they were — four lines from Leonard Cohen‘s song “Anthem” that reminded me what, all this time, I had been forgetting:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The part about the crack in everything letting the light in always gets the fanfare, but all I saw was that second line:

Forget your perfect offering.

Four hours later, nearly thirty Grade 10 boys who, upon arrival in the room, had been whacking each other with yoga mats, were now sitting in peaceful stillness so deep I was trying to figure out how to make it clearer that the class was over and the time had come for them to pack up, get changed, and move along to their next class. As they began to filter out of the gym, a quiet boy approached me.

“I just wanted to say thank you for the class…I don’t know if you’re familiar with the 12 Steps at all…anyway, whatever we just did made me feel really centered. I haven’t felt this centered in a long time, actually. I really needed that.”

In daring to give me a truthful micro-glimpse of his own imperfectness, what this young man unknowingly offered me in exchange for some simple, strong poses and a quiet relaxation were deeper lessons than he probably realized.

Perfection — in who we are, what we do and how we do it — is overrated. Offer whatever it is you have to share, from whatever experience it is you have to share it from, no matter how deeply you doubt or fear your inadequacy, or the likelihood that you may meet rejection or failure. Turn to your truth; offer it, if you can. Silence and inaction, though safe for a while, only keep us stuck and alone.

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Sticks, Stones, Elvis & Apples

When I was 23 or so, I worked at a Summer Drama day camp.

One of the lessons I taught the kids in my class that particular Summer was around the power of thoughts and the impact of words not only on others, but on our own self-concept and well-being. At the time, I believe there was a story from Elvis Stojko circulating about how he felt his own negative or positive self-talk had a significant effect on his performance as an athlete. I told the kids this story, then we would put the theory into action by pairing them up for an experiment to see whether Elvis (or whichever amazing athlete it was!) was onto something. 😉

Kid #1 would stand strong, planting their feet firmly into the floor, their only task being to not let themselves be moved from that spot, no matter what. When they felt they were holding steady, Kid #2 would try to push them out of position.

During the first pass of the ‘experiment,’ they were to hold a negative thought they typically had about themselves in their minds and repeat it to themselves as they attempted to stay standing. They always fought SO hard to stay grounded as Kid #2 pushed…

No matter how hard they tried, none of them managed to stand in place for long.

In the second pass, they would hold a positive thought (or the image of someone they loved who they felt believed in them) in their minds. If they imagined a loved one, I encouraged them to visualize this person cheering them on, saying positive things about them. Kid #1 would stand their ground again, holding that positive inner space, and without fail, it took herculean efforts from the second child to push them off their resolute footing.

The “Elvis Day” always left the kids deep in thought, and uncharacteristically speechless.

Whether they were in the early stages of setting their own limited, negative beliefs about themselves (or having them set for them), or entrenched in the tumultuous brain chatter of their teenage years, this particular lesson was always an “aha” moment. It suddenly became very clear to the campers that the quality, tone and intention of what we say to ourselves and to others matters more than we can even begin to understand — that negative thoughts/words are the “sticks & stones” of the emotional/mental body, and that the wounds sustained from them can be very deep, with scars and imprints that last just as long (some, even longer) than their physical counterparts.

I loved seeing a startling reminder of this concept today in the form of Danielle LaPorte‘s 25-day Good Apple/Bad Apple experiment. What happens to an apple after you praise it for 25 days? Even more shocking is what happens when you talk smack to it.
Have a look-see (and be amazed) on Danielle‘s blog here.
It might be just the proof we need to do a little Spring cleaning on our thoughts, words and intentions…

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To Burn & To Give Light

What is to give...fire ALLISONGThis quote from Victor Frankl was shared by my University acting/movement teacher in a class over a decade ago and it has stuck with me ever since.

Life will not always be a walk in the park.
We will be tested.
We will have to walk through that darn fire as many times as we need in order to learn, to grow, and to evolve.

And guess what?

That’s perfectly OK.

Lately, I’ve been feeling it comes to this:

Just as that lovely lady said to me the other day — that the only way to grieve is through grieving — let that lesson apply to ‘the burn.’

When you’re in the fire, in the struggle, recognize and honour that this is where you are, and that this, too, shall pass when it’s time.

When you’re giving light on the other side of the fire, embrace that state fiercely. Appreciate the joy and expansion you feel now for what it is, knowing that it is a byproduct of you having survived the blaze intact — changed, yes, and perhaps even more resilient than before — and that it, too, is just as impermanent as the struggle.

Don’t worry…you’ve got this.

xo A.

A little goes a long way

What if we started to break up the big, heaping chunk of love we felt we had to give into little bite-sized pieces? That way, we wouldn’t feel like we needed to exhaust ourselves to the maximum limit every single day and fall into bed at night feeling we have nothing left.

What if we were to simplify and watch what beauty can unfold when we put the most attention (and INtention) into the smallest (and seemingly most insignificant) things?

I had a great heart-to-heart yesterday with the two lovely women who work at the front desk of my dentist’s office. Even as they were both dealing with clients making payments and booking appointments, they would always (sometimes in tandem, which was making us all laugh) lift their eyes from what they were doing to smile, wave and acknowledge any new patients who were coming in for their appointment. I could see the look on the patient’s face light up — even though they may have just been coming in to get their teeth cleaned or a crown fixed, there was a knowledge from the moment they walked in the door that they mattered.

Acknowledging the existence of another human being out in the world is the simplest form of kindness and love we can give to a friend or stranger alike. In acknowledging someone else, we silently acknowledge our own humanity and the ways in which we are all connected in this life.

The little bits of love you think won’t have an impact have the power to grow a heart the most.

xo A.

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The simplest way through grief

The other night, I had the privilege of teaching a woman her very first yoga class. Seeing her eager, smiling face throughout all the awkward downward dogs was a reminder of the kind of presence our practice — and our life — needs from us. Every time is the first time. Her enthusiasm for simply being able to connect with not just her body, but herself as a woman, was written all over her face when she left, and in the gratitude she expressed as she rolled up her mat.

On her way out the door, she told me that she had been processing a sudden, tragic death of a loved one these last few months, and grief had taken up shop in her heart as a result. When I expressed my condolences, she said, “Thank you, but you know, the thing about grief is that we can only get through it by grieving.”

It sounded so simple, but the poignancy of this statement hit me hard. We can only get through by being fully in it — nowhere else than where we are, feeling nothing else than what we feel. These emotions knock us down, but in the falling, they are meant to be met on the ground, face-to-face, eye-to-eye, with compassion. Only then can we begin to rise, and in owning the state we are in, catch a beautiful glimpse of grace.

So wherever you find yourself today, recognize your courage to be in it…to be where you are. High or low, I encourage you to find even a sliver of appreciation for where you may be, for this crucial step on your journey. Know that it is simply a tiny piece of the whole. And all is well.

xo A.

Original image source: littleblogoflettinggo.wordpress.com
Original image source: http://littleblogoflettinggo.wordpress.com

Tending to our “Emotional Hygiene”

My brother recently recommended this TED talk (below) from psychologist Guy Winch — an engaging, thought-provoking look at how our minds deserve just as much TLC as our bodies do.

“We all know how to maintain our physical health and how to practice dental hygiene, right?” says Dr. Winch, “We’ve known it since we were five years old. But what do we know about maintaining our psychological health? Well, nothing. What do we teach our children about emotional hygiene? Nothing. How is it that we spend more time taking care of our teeth than we do our minds. Why is it that our physical health is so much more important to us than our psychological health?”

“We sustain psychological injuries even more often than we do physical ones, injuries like failure or rejection or loneliness.” He continues. “And they can also get worse if we ignore them, and they can impact our lives in dramatic ways. And yet, even though there are scientifically proven techniques we could use to treat these kinds of psychological injuries, we don’t. It doesn’t even occur to us that we should. “Oh, you’re feeling depressed? Just shake it off; it’s all in your head.” Can you imagine saying that to somebody with a broken leg: “Oh, just walk it off; it’s all in your leg.” It is time we closed the gap between our physical and our psychological health. It’s time we made them more equal […]”

There are two defining moments in my past that I feel have led me clearly back onto the path towards the practice that I consider to be the most powerful tool in my emotional first aid kit:

In 2007, I came to Yoga (and eventually my highly cherished practice of Yoga Nidra) as a way to process the pain of a twice-broken heart.

In 2011, I became fully committed to Yoga Nidra as my primary practice in the wake of a minor concussion I sustained from falling backwards (while standing completely still, adjusting my toque — so Canadian, eh?) on an ice rink. After that tumble, all it took was a single downward dog to know that my physical practice would be on hiatus until further notice.

Each of these “injuries” — one definably emotional, the other physical — brought up a full spectrum of feelings to wrestle with: grief, anger, frustration, shock, confusion, sadness and pain, to (most unexpectedly) profound and life-altering joy, lightness and gratitude for not only surviving these setbacks, but for finding clarity and meaning in times of upheaval.

That said, despite the nature of the injury — physical or emotional — I found something in this practice that I couldn’t quite seem to get anywhere else:

Peace.
Intention.
Something to hold and walk me through the challenges rather than just get over them.

Having successfully recovered from both of these upsets, as I continue to explore and share the practice of Yoga Nidra alongside women and men of diverse ages and backgrounds, it has been a real revelation to hear the stories — the “whys” that explain the reason these students are finding themselves outside of a more physical yoga practice and actually craving what Nidra offers — quiet, stillness, relaxation, intention, and an expanded state of awareness that transcends all the limitations and clutter we impose on our physical being. are seeking a way to not only stay connected to the steadiness and peace the time on their mat brings them, but to also find alternate ways of taking care of their physical and emotional well-being; a way to take an active part in their own healing process, whatever that may be.

Though there are many students that come to practice who are experiencing a hiatus from activity due to injury, what tends to emerge in time is that, even more so than (or in tandem with) the physical, there is usually an emotional challenge that is taking centre stage, or some variation of stress that has surfaced as a result of being put out of commission by unexpected injury or illness.

I hear from students quite frequently that they are struggling with anxiety and/or depression, high personal/work-related stress levels, or trying to cope with major transitions in their lives. I also see a lot of ‘caregivers’ tuck eagerly into their long savasanas as a way to give back to themselves when they’re not giving tirelessly and selflessly to their children, to ailing family members, or to the patients they see in hospitals and clinics around the city.

To be clear, I am not a medical professional, or a “healer,” or a psychologist. What I am sharing with you is my observation from being around some truly remarkable human beings who grant me the privilege of hearing why they are seeking respite in this stillness and how, in doing so, they are finding what they need — whether it’s a deep rest, a profound revelation, or simply a community environment to bring them out of loneliness and isolation. It reminds me that, behind the masks we wear to help us brave our crazy, chaotic world, there is a dire need for safe spaces where we can be just who and what we are; a permission of sorts to seize any opportunity for our tired minds and hearts to be refueled, and our perspectives significantly shifted.

Dr. Guy Winch is right — we are taught to instinctively tend to our physical wellness, but our emotional wellness is just as important in ensuring our ability to function in society, in our places of work, and in our families. Even then, so many of us are prone to prioritizing our workouts over “work-ins.” (After all, how many calories could we possibly be burning lying on the floor for an extended period of time? ;-)) We are a chronically exhausted, burnt-out culture that stubbornly insists on pushing forward, over-committing, over-giving and self-sacrificing, even in the face of strong, physical signals that tell us to back off and take better care of “number 1.”

If the body is the dumping ground of the mind, then how long have our minds and hearts been begging for our attention when the body finally gives out?

Maybe it’s just me, but given 30 minutes of zero distractions and a yoga mat (or just a comfy piece of floor), I’d be Nidra-ing without fail. I wouldn’t be so gung-ho to share this practice as much if I didn’t feel I had found a life preserver I can always reach for when I need it. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t take will to commit to being consistent and actually do the practice (especially in tougher times), but it’s that soft, intentional focus on both my physical and emotional wellness that allows me to be a much better wife, daughter, sister, friend, teacher, and human being.

Now if only we could find a way to use relaxation and meditation to floss our teeth… 😉

What seems impossible…isn’t.

Isn’t it funny how when we’re in the midst of difficulty, we never know how we’ll reach the other side? We doubt that we’ll ever feel less pain/sadness/frustration/grief/anger/disappointment/… than we do in that moment, or in the days that follow that time as we process what we’ve been through, or what we’re grappling with. In the temporary narrowness of our vision, we fail to see how on earth we will ever get by, how anything could be any different than it is right now, how we could ever stop hurting, or at the very least, hurt less.

If we look really closely, really attentively at our lives, it is possible to see the inevitably of change — how the world changes, how we change, how life is changing us; how the strength of the emotions that weigh on us the most can, and will, somehow diminish. How they do, in fact, get to be less of a burden on our hearts…when we’re ready.

It doesn’t mean we forget, but it does mean that we can attempt to move forward.

There have been times where I’ve flat-out declared that I am completely uncertain as to how I’ll make it through the pain of something — a heartbreak, a loss, a significant change. It feels truthful because it is the truth of the moment, the daunting sight of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. The ‘blow’ typically feels like the tip of the iceberg, the lowest ebb, or maybe it just takes some perspective to see it that way — the tiniest shaft of light in the darkness to guide us back into a brighter place.

They say time has its own way of healing. It’s true. But we need to, at the very least, give ourselves that, and to recognize that we may not be the same on the other side, but we will be a much richer soul for having navigated that tempest.

When we feel like we’re making baby steps in the world, let’s keep in mind those mammoth trials that cracked us open, but we somehow still managed to emerge from stronger, greater lessons we’ve learned for having been taught, and higher mountains we’ve climbed that have shown us a perspective on the world that we wouldn’t seen have otherwise.

We may have scars, bruises and bumps as a result, but they serve as a reminder to celebrate our victories, no matter how small. Even the littlest triumphs are a benchmark for hope that deeper peace and healing will find us in due time, and our rejoicing will be profoundly steeped in gratitude.

There is nothing like the jungle gym/obstacle course/playground of the human heart to show us that what seems absolutely impossible…isn’t.

What Seems Impossible ALLIG 2015