Showing Up

It is far earlier in the morning than I would care to be awake, the second morning within the bookends of this week that I have found myself wondering, “Really?! Now?! Can’t I just sleep?!”

I immediately think of my friends with babies. This is their norm, except the bonus is that when they wake up, they have the eyes of a sweet, innocent little soul to look into; I am sure I could promptly get the comeback that this early-rising of mine doesn’t involve someone needing something of me, or the cacophony that ‘needing’ creates, and at least I am waking to relative quiet, to my own thoughts…

True enough, I guess…

I am falling into that place of recognition and gratitude for the moments of ‘freedom’ where I will, one day, have the needs of my children at the forefront of my mind. I know the frustration of restless slumber (and early rising when there is no clear desire to do so) is strikingly similar across the board whether we have children or not, and being the baby-lover and wannabe mother that I am, I still haven’t heard a single one of my new parent friends say they look into the faces of their young early birds and wish that little smile wasn’t there to greet them in the wee hours. Like any other, parent or non-parent, I’d prefer to have some good sleep so l can live fully in the world and in the lightness of my own being. Until parenthood becomes my reality, what I am waking up to when I am called out of bed at what would be referred to as ‘ungodly hours’ (others would say this is some of the most ‘godly’ time of all) is far less tangible…and let’s face it, waking to the hamster wheel of ‘my own thoughts’ is not always what could be deemed a relaxing experience.

It may not be a baby crying out for me, but something else is.

In previous incarnations of this scenario, I would resist. I would lie in bed, my mind processing scraps of thoughts and seemingly unrelated emotions, tinged by an overarching shade of exasperation at the fact that I’m not sawing logs like the darling man in bed beside me.

Very recently, I’ve stopped resisting.

There must be a reason for this. Go with it.

Show up.

I have really come to appreciate that Yoga is labeled as a ‘practice’ – a commitment to coming to a mat with whatever you’ve got, over and over and over. As a student said to me yesterday, “there is comfort in consistency.” The container of the practice can look very much the same in some contexts, but the more I release expectation and surrender, the more I learn. It’s bigger than just learning, though. It’s experiencing something in present moment time, exactly as it is meant to unfold, with all its kinks, smudges, and glimmers of light.

When I come to my mat, I almost ritualistically ease back into child’s pose with a sigh (the comfort in the consistency), gather the steadiness of my breath, then start to move instinctively, with no real knowing of what might arise.

What if I do this in Life? What if I silently answer “Present” right off the top, open up… and trust?

I wish I could say when I began to see the truth-telling mirror of Life and Practice, but I can certainly attest that, in the lead up to our wedding, there was a distinct acknowledgement of how futile it is to micro-manage and control — how we can set the foundation, the main plot points, but what unfolds from there is all up to the moment, that we need to be OK with that, and for extra brownie points, see that as being the magic. I used to be one of those people who tried to fit life into a box because it was a thing that we humans had to do. Doing so created an anxious need to know more, to know what’s next, and to be assured of all the details so I could feel at ease. Before I went to Bali, I remember pestering my teacher for as many details as I could as to how the whole week of training would go, what material we would cover, who I would be rooming with, blah blah blah. She gently called me out on my need-to-know-ness and did something really great that has radically changed my perception of how things can or should be:

She gave me enough to reinforce a strong, positive feeling in my gut, enough to get me from Point A to Point B safely and on schedule, and not nearly enough to cause my own expectations to ruin the experience.

Show up. Trust. Allow.

The result? Mindblowing. Changed my life. For real.

I’m not only seeing this yielding to uncertainty through glass-half-full, rose-coloured glasses, though I can attest that showing up with peace in my heart and nearly-zero expectations has yielded to some of the most beautiful, most connected and honest moments of my life to date. Just as truthfully, there have been seemingly normal, happy days that have been game-changers in more shocking ways than I could have ever expected. Regardless of their ‘tone,’ these events have shaped my life, each carrying their own lessons, wisdom and experience. I don’t regret them existing for a single second. They are my teachers.

Showing up, however, becomes much harder when things don’t go the way you planned, or when you feel like things aren’t going your way. Within the last few days, I have faced unexpected obstacles and that heave-ho of resistance, which, in the past, would have had me turning away from the horizon and feeling all my efforts were in vain; or contrarily, feeling I need to put on a brave face and just get to the other side, to a place that feels “better” than whatever is being felt in the Now.

These methods don’t seem to work so well for me anymore. As Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.” Before you see the other side of the forest, you need to face the trees…and sometimes those trees are knotted, scary, have crazy faces and sing creepy songs.

On Sunday morning, reluctant to get out of my PJs and greet the world, I took solace in Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent interview with Oprah. It was like the internet heavens opened up and, in the form of a Liz (some of my favourite people on this planet are Lizzes), what I needed to hear was dropped into my blanket-covered lap.  In their discussion around Joseph Campbell’s concept of “The Hero’s Journey,” Liz brought in the idea of “The Call” — that this “Call” may very likely come at an inopportune time, and when called, you are faced with a choice: refuse the call, or answer.

Refuse? Go ahead, but expect nothing to change.

Answer? Well…buckle up.

Back when I chose the path of Yoga practice as an anchor in a time of uncertainty and tumult, I was naive to the fact that I was committing to answering a call that would ring not just once…but over and over and over again. The physical postures still teach me and humble me to no end, but it is through the quiet, meditative practice of Yoga Nidra (and in particular, in the past year of working through my limiting beliefs in the space of that practice) that has required digging to untouched and sometimes murky depths. Each belief, each day, each scenario, each interaction, offers me the opportunity to either put up the blinders and stay stuck and safe, or to recognize the faces of my limitations and conquer them heart on, to clear space amidst the weeds, sow seeds of positive intention and be totally open to how they will blossom.

Now, I see with more clarity the nuance of what needs to Be and what needs to fall away for something better, what needs to be ‘slept on’ and what needs to be faced. I have also had to reconcile myself with the fact that, no matter what we may be working through, there is a time for being alone and processing your emotions without the filters, risk of judgement or lofty expectations from anyone around you. There is also, however, an immense strength and courage in being present in your community, in your tribe, simply as you are.

On Monday morning, once again awake before the crack of dawn and still not quite on the other side of my cloud, I felt a habitual pull to stay in my pajamas, to conquer my to-do list from the comfort of home and avoid human contact for one more day. Only 24 hours before this, this cocooning was my most potent form of medicine, but on this particular day, something was calling me from the other side of the haze. I gathered the bits of me I felt were intact, cobbled them together and promptly took them out the door for a long walk to the yoga studio to practice. When I walked through the door, I saw beautiful, familiar faces of those who, whether I knew it or not, were all fighting their own battles that day. I knew in an instant that I had made the right choice. We all rolled out our mats and showed up to what was.

Messy and true, “what was” was the gift.

“What was” was the doorway, and no matter what I may find on the other side, I chose to answer the call. I choose to answer. I choose to listen.

It’s Wednesday, October 8th, 2014. It’s 4:30 AM. Your eyes are wide open. Why sleep? Why not just be what you are: Awake.

Show up. Allow. See what unfolds.

What unfolds is THIS. What unfolds is here.

How will you show up today?

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Why I Retreat (Part 1)

It was the Winter of 2007. As I rode the wave of the exhilarating beginning of my life-long love affair with Yoga, I found that, no matter what my day held, I could always look forward to ducking away to my ‘Yoga home’ (a.k.a. studio) at the end of the day. I would roll out my mat, and relief would flood over my body. Good day, bad day, it didn’t matter. Yoga had become the cornerstone of my day and I couldn’t imagine my life without it.

Two years into my yoga practice, I discovered the next best thing:

The Yoga Retreat.

I clearly remember the day I received an e-mail from Ally Bogard & Tanis Fishman, two teachers that have deeply inspired me and helped me along ‘the path’ (as we yogis tend to call it). They were holding a women’s only Yoga retreat in Morocco.

I got full body chills.

I knew I had to be there, come hell or high water. It scared the crap out of me (in a good way!). I didn’t know how I was going to afford it… Morocco was a whole new cultural kettle of fish from my home and native land of Canada…

My heart pounded but everything in me said “GO.” I threw caution to the wind, e-mailed a simple ‘sign me up,’ and vowed to figure out the logistics later.

A few months later, I found myself eating tagine, drinking obscene amounts of Moroccan mint tea, kissing snakes, riding camels, and  navigating the maze of ‘riads’ in the markets of Marrakech. All that, and I hadn’t even done any yoga yet.

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And then, we landed at the retreat centre. It was like no other place I had ever seen. Every single morning, as I opened my eyes to meet the sight of the ocean through our balcony window, a deeply contented grin would engulf my face, and I had to pinch myself. Was this real? Was I really here? In the first practice Ally led, I remember her saying that the earth we were sitting on that day was African soil. (AFRICA!) With the sound of the surf ringing in our ears, the ocean breeze caressing our skin, I knew we were in for an unforgettable week.

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Needless to say, it was all that and more.

We practiced, we meditated, we laughed, we cried, we explored, we danced, we ate (one of my favourite parts of yoga retreats — the food!), we slept deeply, we went inward, and we grew. The 26-year old woman I was starting that retreat in Morocco was not the same young woman who left. My eyes and heart had been pried wide opened in a way that a 90-minute Yoga class had come close to, but hadn’t quite accomplished yet. Retreats were magic. I knew that I was hooked.

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ImageSince that life-altering trip to Morocco, I have flung myself whole-heartedly at retreat/training experiences that have given me that undeniable message of “GO!” from the first invite. My experience in Morocco led me to jump at another unforgettable retreat in Baja California Sur, Mexico in 2010 with another of my most admired & respected teachers, Sasha Bahador.

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I had the bug for sure. Each time I returned home from these retreat experiences, I found a new depth of connection within myself, which of course, began to permeate everything that I did, and the choices I made.

In 2011, I took one of the biggest “I-don’t-know-how-and-I-don’t-know-why-but-I’ve-just-gotta!” risks of my life and followed Ally Bogard, yet again, to an advanced teacher training in Bali. I wasn’t even a yoga teacher at that point, but I knew it was the next stop on the path to deepen my yoga practice. It was in Bali, in fact, that I taught for the first time (read my blog post on that experience here), and had my perception of the world, of who I was and who I was meant to be, blasted open. It was in deep study and reflection there that I realized it was time for me to make some huge changes in my life that would lead me closer to where my heart was calling me. This realization was both exciting and terrifying. (The fish tacos & mango lassis certainly helped!)

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When I returned home from Bali, I made the challenging decision to quit the job I had been in for 3 wonderful years. This studio community of coworkers had become a second family that I loved very dearly and it was a decision I didn’t make lightly. Just as I knew my visits to Morocco, Mexico and Bali were all part of my bigger life plan, I knew it was time for a change. With no real sense of how or where the net would appear underneath me, I put all my faith in my gut, my heart and the powers that be, and took a giant leap…

Where did I land?? Stay tuned for Part 2…

Fear + 7 Minutes

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This past Mother’s Day, I had the incredible privilege of teaching an hour-long Yoga/Yoga Nidra practice to a group of amazing Mums at the Kids Cancer Care Mother’s Day Brunch. The journey to get to this moment brought back a remembrance of what brought me here in the first place.

It inspired me to look back to the moment that sparked my being where I am now. 

In March 2011, I took part in an incredible advanced teacher training program through Gaiatri Yoga. When I received an e-mail about this training a few months prior, my heart nearly stopped. I wasn’t a yoga teacher and had adamantly said that I wouldn’t ever be. The reasons were 3-fold at the time:

1) I loved my yoga practice far too much (still do) and hated the idea of ‘giving it up’ to be in my head/teaching brain whenever I hit my mat.

2) My Dad is a teacher (not yoga, though he could now!) and whenever ‘teaching’ came up, I pictured Dad tearing his hair out over poorly-written papers and saying ‘Never become a teacher!’

3) At the time, I managed a yoga studio and cringed at the idea of being the one who was consistently relied upon to sub at the last minute. I wasn’t even a teacher and I occasionally got asked to lead a sun salutation or two to buy time if a teacher was late, and that just made me want to barf.

Ok, so an ‘advanced teacher training’ hardly seemed like my fit.
But it was in Bali.
And it was with a teacher I admire immensely — my time spent with her on retreat in Morocco saw my heart and practice grow, and I was ready for a boost.

No matter what anybody said to try and deter me (“It’s so expensive!” “It’s so far away!”),  no matter how healthily fearful I was of the unknowns I may face there or how big of a hole it would leave in my bank account, I knew I needed to be there. So I jumped in with both feet, figuring I would worry about the financial part later, and made it clear that I was attending this training solely to grow my personal practice, with no intention of teaching whatsoever.

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Flash forward to March 23, 2011 in Canggu, Bali, Indonesia.

A sweaty, quiet young woman sits on the front porch of her little ‘house’ she is sharing for a week with a hilarious young man who wears primarily sarongs and speedos. This good-hearted guy has ordered the young woman a large glass of red wine paired the most delicious coconut chocolate pudding you can imagine, and left her alone to write. Flicking away the occasional bug and listening to the crickets, birds and jungle-y animals perform their nightly serenade, she writes:

“I taught today. For the very first time. We were instructed to teach a 7-minute sequence — 3 mins dharma talk, 4 mins teaching postures or a simple posture, and interweaving the theme, based on something we had recently worked through or was working through us. I picked “Peace.” It is still coming up. And though I am not here to find peace here, per se, I am here to cultivate it to take into my own life back home.

I was terrified when I was told I would be amongst the first ten to teach a section of the group. I told  Ally [Bogard] flat out that I was scared. She acknowledged my feelings: “I know. And this is why it will be so great for you.” She was so great & supportive, gave me a temporary out if it scared me to the point of vomiting, and said she had confidence in me. So…scared as I was, I mustered my courage and did it this afternoon.

7 minutes went quickly & I just went with what I could dig up. I talked about this concept of Peace, how it applies to daily life, shared an anecdote… Ally was holding a steady presence beside me at the front of the room. I could tell she was there to support me the second I needed it. Not too far in, Ally moved from the front of the ‘classroom’ with me back to her place further back on the couch. “You’ve got it,” she said. 

So it wasn’t much — getting them to breathe and ruminate on Peace in a restorative posture of their choice, shift to child’s pose and continue breath and imagery, then I gently brought them to a forward fold, and roll up to standing. That was 7 minutes. Done. When I finished, Ally said “How did that feel?”
I cried.
“Alright,” I said.
“Please tell me it felt just more than alright,” she smiled.
“Better than I thought,” I replied.
One of the girls said, “Did you say you’ve never taught [yoga] before?”
I shook my head.
“Not in this lifetime,” Ally said, “but many lifetimes before that. So what does this bring up for you?”
“A lot.” I couldn’t put it into words.
She smiled. “I have nothing for you. That was perfect. Thank you.”

I couldn’t say then where this moment would lead me. I have a greater idea now. More often than not, the idea of teaching still makes me want to barf, but I’ve learned to ‘trust the practice,’ follow my gut, and know that each time, it will get easier…and that all I need to do is start.

I can’t exactly say now where teaching will take me, or how the bigger picture looks… 

But I can say this: I never thought that a bit of fear & 7 minutes could change my life.

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