Ugh, I GET this. Do you?

Ok, BIG “Honesty Moment.”

And to be fair, someone else probably coined that term, and probably says that they made it up.

I’m not going to claim that I did or that I didn’t since, really, it’s the most unoriginal (and literal) thing to call a moment of truth.

But sometimes “literal” is brilliant — that’s just what it is, a moment of honesty; those are the two words that genuinely come up when I am about to say something that I feel to be gut-wrenching-and-heart-gushing truth, or when I see something that draws up a neglected file of haphazard, half-processed materials from the recesses of my brain; from the messy file room of EVERYTHING that I have been thinking, worrying, musing, sorting, contemplating as of late…

And this is when the worry comes that I’ve ALREADY written about something to this effect (see Nothing Is Yours), and perhaps I am only triple underlining the fact that, no matter how hard we try to be original in this big, bold, creative world, we still find ourselves coming up short and re-inventing someone else’s wheel. And maybe I’m being unoriginal or predictable by drawing from a beautiful writer who I consider, at afar, to be someone who teaches me a great deal more about the world within and without us than she probably will ever realize (or ever intended to when she wrote her wildly successful memoir unveiling her journey into wholeness after heartache).

Today, on the good old Facebook, this torchbearing warrior goddess of truth shared this:

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It hit me so hard that all I could bring myself to comment back to her was “Yes. This. Yes. Ugh. Yes.” Or something to that effect.

Original!?

NO!

Eloquent!?

HARDLY!

Authentic?

HECK YES.

Even our speechlessness can be the most truthful response of all.

I am certain A LOT of you will get this too, so naturally, I’m sharing it.

And now, trusting in my own words, I’d like to share something else:

Navigating this world from the space of my heart (and trusting my intuition) has made my life richer, more colourful and more meaningful. It has also made things both clear and confusing in equal measure. There are stretches of the journey where I feel well-equipped, strong, confident, hopeful, and absolutely in my stride. On others, I feel like I’m missing a shoelace on one shoe, short on snacks, tired, losing daylight, and needing to pause for an indefinite period of time to gaze up at the perceived Summit and wondering how on earth I ever thought I could get up there. There’s also the part of me that gets much joy out of seeing other awe-inspiring people succeed, witnessing them finding that place of flow and meaning in their lives, the space and clarity where everything is clicking. After all, they have earned it. I’ve seen them struggle and press on to be where they are, to realize their dreams, and they deserve every single second.

Another of part me just wishes I was up there with them already, bypassing the part that I’m working with, and coming up with mere scraps of clarity. It can feel like I’ve been asked to solve a Rubix Cube to proceed, and I ain’t NO master of the Rubix Cube!

The compass that guides me in my life will never direct me wrong. I know that to be true. On some legs of this journey, though, the needle begins to spin every which way, pulling me between what I know within myself to be more valuable and more lasting, and the realities of the material world. I have already answered The Call; I can’t un-answer, nor would I want to. I am 7 (maybe even 8) years deep into this particular answering and there is absolutely no turning back. I have chosen my work, and I would never wish to undo anything that has unfolded, or bypass the mysteries and beautiful surprises yet to come. For everything that I ever feel is unclear or uncertain in my life, there are many more things that I know in my bones to be true, good, and purposeful.

You can’t put a price tag on those.

We’ve probably all heard at some point that we are here to offer our unique gifts to the people of this world and to the planet we live on. I am fortunate to know some incredible people who have the best intentions to make lives healthier, happier, brighter, and more easeful… Lucky me, I am surrounded by this kind of light a lot of the time. But what if, by job description or title, what you do isn’t unique?

The other night, I had the immense privilege of helping out at Mastin Kipp‘s ‘Growing Into Grace‘ event here in Calgary. It got my week off with such an epic bang that I am reeling to piece together everything I learned and all the questions that have come up as a result… which are really an extension of all the questions I have been asking since I leapt to find greater purpose in my work life 3 years ago. I’m going to bet that the vast majority of the people in the room that night want to do some variation of what he does — write/blog, teach, speak, inspire, mentor, lead, and ultimately, change lives for the better around the world while having financial wellness that not only allows them to take care of themselves, but also to make contributions towards the betterment of others.

And if I’m even more honest, I would love nothing more than that myself, in my own unique way. (“Unique” meaning in knowing for certain what my capital-S Service is that I enrich the world with, and how I offer it. We’ve already acknowledged, even silently, that this world is practically being taken over by blogging yoga teachers. ;-))

Mastin told us that, before he began this ever-growing venture that became The Daily Love, he checked to see how many people do something to the effect that he does:

90,000 people (!!!!)

Later on, when I heard one of the ladies there mention this kind of work was something she felt she could/wanted to do, I felt any fragments of a dream I had created for myself start to dissolve. And why, WHY, would I do that to my own dreams, just because someone else was showing a sliver of confidence in their desire to create something more meaningful for themselves?!

I know in my heart that everything is here, that you can only truly be THERE by being HERE, and that THERE is really just HERE. 

Read: The treasure you are seeking is in this moment.

You are already living your purpose, whether it is your ‘job’ or not.  

HERE is IT. THIS is IT.

And then, some days, I feel like I couldn’t be more far away from where I feel I need or want to be, and HERE just seems to be a puddle of uncertainty and fog.

I am also learning that what falls away in our lives is just as important as what falls into place.

Grace.

What was never ours is giving us the gift of something greater…an opportunity. I wouldn’t call myself a religious person, but I’ve got my eyes on the bigger picture through it all. One definition of Grace is “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration.”

Regeneration. Re-inspiration. An opportunity to dig deeper, burn brighter, dream bigger, see clearer.

When you’re navigating rough seas, nothing feels better than knowing you are not unique in your seeking, that you are not as alone in your storm as you may feel. Being “unoriginal” never felt better than when you are facing life’s trials.

Be that as it may, what we DO need to know is that, though each of our situations may not look much different from the outside, our ability to be authentic about it, to summon our courage and tell our story… IS.

The steps along the path may be smaller some days, but they are still steps worth taking… And I’m going to let Liz close this one, because hey, I’m not going to re-invent the wheel, and her authenticity speaks loud and clear to me this morning:

“So whatever it is that you dream of doing (creating, traveling, loving, inventing, transforming) just do it. Don’t worry if you’re the 100th person to do it. Just do it, anyhow, and be sure that you bring the highest purity of intention to your pursuit. Act from a place of your deepest authenticity, and the rest of it will take care of itself…
And trust me, if you are authentic, you WILL be original.”

~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Asleep, Awake and Dreaming

One of the rituals I most enjoyed in childhood was waking up in the morning, shuffling to the kitchen, and after “good-mornings” were exchanged between my parents and brother and I, we would launch into a recall of our meandering through our individual dream lands. My brother, always a champion of the hilarious, nonsensical dreams, had stories that would make us laugh and shake our heads as if to say, “What the….?!”

I mention my brother for a reason. Not only is he one of the most important and loved people in my life, he is the person I remember most vividly as populating my dreams from the earliest age. My deep care, love and concern for my younger sibling was shown to my childhood self in strong images that I have never quite been able to kick. I wouldn’t call them nightmares, but for an older sister navigating growing up on her own terms, they could certainly be called as such… Whether it was dreaming of walking into a giant hotel elevator and finding my brother tangled in the wires snaking out from the electrical panel inside, or seeing him climb to the top of a high diving board at the local pool to jump into the water below and, as he was hurtling towards the ground, realizing it was pure concrete, these dreams would cause me to wake with a start…and eventually, upon stumbling into the kitchen, finding floods of relief in learning that these images were mere figments of my imagination.

Inevitably, there he would be, eating cereal like nothing had ever happened. All was well.

When I look back on those particular dreams, they so starkly contrasted what actually would be occurring in waking life. Little boys can be very daring, but my brother would never have so willingly thrown himself at a hard pool deck the way he did in my dream. They show me now how I have always had an almost motherly concern for his well-being, and I am grateful to learn that in hindsight. Dreams are one of my most cherished teachers.

Nowadays, when I wake up from my dreams in the morning, though the imagery and circumstances I have dreamed about may still cling to the hyper-real artistry that dreams so fascinatingly possess, I often am seeking to find the separation between what is dream, and what is real.

When I committed to getting to know myself more deeply through the path of yoga, meditation and self-inquiry, I wouldn’t have fathomed that I would begin to see so many parallels.

My work, while awake, is now seeping so densely into my work while asleep. It is becoming hard to distinguish which is which.

 

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‘Cliff Jumping’ by Katie Moyle

 

Not even a week after Joel & I were married, we found ourselves in a scenario that has become a powerful symbol in our first year of marriage, but one that epitomizes much of what I consciously feel is the theme of most of the last decade of my life.

I call it, THE LEAP or to melt it down into one word, JUMPING.

There we were, each in turn standing at the top of a high rock in the middle of a lake, staring down at the water below and weighing the options: summon deep courage and Jump, or turn around to take an even more difficult journey over jagged rocks back down to where we came from. I climbed to the top of the rock first, felt the fear arise, and then pushed with all the strength of my legs to fly off the rock (screaming all the way, mind you) into the blue below. Joel, however, took more time. Always a more calculated soul, this particular challenge was unlike any other he had ever faced. With the sun beating down on us, I steadily treaded water for what turned into the next 40 minutes, calling out to the top of the rock where he was pacing nervously back and forth, encouraging him to take the leap, that it was ok, he would be fine, he could do it. The act of committing to the rest of our lives together had come with such certainty and ease, but this was a whole different beast. I watched him venture to the ledge, assess the height, turn around and check out the path from where he came… I knew he was trying to think his way through it, but this was one moment that couldn’t be rationalized or over-strategized. It required that instant of surrender where the outcome had to be released, the fear transformed into fuel.

A leap of faith. An unconditional acceptance of the unknown.

For a very long time, I played it pretty safe. I wasn’t a party animal.  I steered clear of high school dances, and in university, I chose my parties very carefully. I moved out of home a bit later than most. I’ve never been into high-adrenaline sports or behaviors. I’m the gal who gets an immense amount of thrill from a good conversation with a close friend, a day of exploring a new place, or spending time with a good book and a cup of tea (bonus points if this is in Summer, the tea is actually ice cream, and the ‘reading nook’ is under a canopy of trees). I will make a legend out of an incredible meal (even if it’s poutine on a rainy day!), or be jazzed for days after spending time with a baby. Heck, I actually encourage my friends to send photos of their little ones whenever they like.

You catch my drift…Simple pleasures = massive impact.

When I first began my exploration into the world of Yoga, getting past the awkward stage of figuring out ‘the moves’ aside, I began to love and appreciate its predictability, the consistency of the sequence it followed. There was steadiness and stability to it. In an uncertain time, it became a rock. The feeling of the free-fall of brokenheartedness had become so exhausting, and coming to Yoga, to my mat, felt certain. The movement in the physical practice kept me moving forward in my life, even if I felt as if I was going backwards on some days.

Then, I decided to give Yoga Nidra a try — my world, and who I am, began to change.

This practice wasn’t about movement. It was about stillness. It was about finding a place that was so still that you could access a depth inside of you that you barely knew existed. It was about working with a single, powerful intention to break down the barriers that you had so meticulously and purposefully built up over time. I wish I could remember at the time if I was willing to tackle those barriers, but clearly, I sure as hell was ready for something to shift because my whole world began to shapeshift. I grasped a hold of my intention like a life raft, and the more I worked with it, the more transformed, for the better. Even when things were messy, they became achingly beautiful and dripping with meaning and a deeper sense of purpose. I became stronger. I became brighter. I became more joyful. All the things that I held at the altar of my intention were breaking through dammed up spaces inside me that had been clogged with sadness, hurt, anger and grief. I felt it all. I never denied it. It all began to flood from me, and before my eyes, transform into a strength and resolve I never knew I could access.

THAT’s when I started to jump.

THAT’s when THE LEAP began to permeate everything.

I started JUMPING, and I feel like I’ve been doing it every day since.

The jumps I took, at that time, were in relationships. Even the jumps that appeared to draw me away ended up bringing me closer. Letting go, and finding a depth, a closeness, a realness, that I hadn’t felt until then. Appreciating what they were meant to be, how they were meant to serve and teach me, and how they could bring me closer to my heart, no matter the timeline, no matter the outcome. In recent years, the JUMPING has become more about my Purpose. It has become a practice of listening deeply to my gut, my heart, and not succumbing to the fear that wants to prevent me from moving forward. It’s about getting out of my own way, meeting the walls head on, facing the beliefs that keep me small, feeling the illusion of security melt away and resting in the uncertainty of presence, change and a steady increase of inner light.

My life IS the THE LEAP. My practice is JUMPING.

And in my dreams, I Jump too.

The dream I had 4 nights ago was so vivid and real, it makes me vibrate to recall it.

I was having a conversation with the teacher who brought Yoga Nidra into my life, the teacher who continues to guide and inspire me to infinite depths in this mysterious, potent practice. In this dream, Tanis told me that a small group of us was going to jump off a rock. With the ‘Honeymoon Jump’ fresh in my mind, I told her I was well equipped — how high could it be, really? If I could jump off that rock, I could jump off this one. “This one,” she said, “is much higher… Significantly higher. I’ve jumped from this rock before, and if you do, the healing you will experience is substantial.” If she’s done it, then why can’t I? Soon enough, we were wading through waist-high water towards what appeared to be the edge of an infinity pool. Water spilled from the pool over a smooth, stone ledge. The sound of a roaring waterfall echoed through my ears. How high is this rock? How far from the ground are we? I felt my insides begin to churn as I reached my hand out to touch the hard stone, the single wall of rock that was keeping us at this height. I peered over. The drop was massive, but I couldn’t see the water. All I could see was dense fog. The small group that was with us strode confidently through the water towards the ledge, and without any hesitation, began to hurl themselves into the abyss below. One by one they went…leaving me and Tanis to bring up the rear. I was terrified. More than that, I was scared that I would be the last one up there, the only one left in hesitation and paralytic fear with no seeming way back besides diving in. Tanis swung one leg over the wall. This is my moment. In a second, she’d be off. “Tanis, can we jump together?” She reached out to clasp my hand in hers. Both sets of our legs were over the wall, and before I had time to think, Tanis initiated our jump. I expected to feel the plummeting sensation of dropping like a stone, but the fog all around us instantly created this deep web of support. We were held. We had taken the leap, and we were falling, but we were held every step of the way. As we dropped through the layers of fog, a vortex of light appeared beneath us, and just as we brushed the edge, I woke with a start.

Shuffling my way into the kitchen that morning, I replayed this scene over and over in my mind.

I knew the Dream leap had ended, but the waking one was just beginning.

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…

Let Us Jump

Isn’t it inspiring to see someone who has reached a certain level of success with their craft, their art, or their skill? There is a confidence to them, either quiet or shining for all to see on the surface. In them, you see a sense of knowing what they do, knowing their gift, talent or skill inside and out. There is effortlessness to what they create. It just flows. We can see a clear recognition that they have become (for lack of a better word) an expert, a master, an elder in their own unique arena.

For some reason, I can’t help but think of Arthur in ‘The Sword In The Stone’ (the Disney movie, of course), learning from Merlin to swim as a fish, to navigate the treetops and master the awkward social interactions that come with being a young, cute, innocent squirrel. For us ‘young’uns’ figuring out our path, there is nothing more valuable than having a mentor, or maybe even a hero — someone who will share their wisdom, knowledge and lessons. Someone who walks the walk, talks the talk, who will take a chance on us so we, too, can stretch and test our wings in the way they did many years ago. Obviously, someone trusted their ability to make a leap of faith once . If they hadn’t, chances are they wouldn’t be where they are now.

A few years ago, a friend and I saw Billy Joel in concert. He was brilliant and clearly a master. It was also evident that his brilliance and success may have led him down a path where he was undoubtedly the most important person on it. It made me sad, to tell you the truth. So many young, shining musical talents have so tragically shown us that getting rich and famous too early can have detrimental effects; that sometimes, brilliance has a high price tag. On stage here was a legend who was showing us that if the bad habits that are by-products of success don’t fatally harm you, they can still have a negative impact. The music was amazing, but by the end, seeing a middle-aged man doing pelvic thrusts on his piano bench was a bit…well, tacky. I came to the show not even a fraction of the Billy Joel fan my friend was, but I, too, got caught up in the wild elation of the audience when he would (finally) play one of his most well-loved piano ballads. When the lights came up, and the stadium started to clear, I felt a touch of disheartenment, even if only for my uber-fan friend. I equated it to going to a performance from my all-time favourite musician or band, and paying $150 to watch them slowly get drunk and disorderly in front of my eyes. Multiply that times the thousands of people in the stadium paying that ticket price or more…that’s a helluva salary to get paid to do something that an audience member could see (and shake their head at) in a neighbourhood pub for a fraction of the cost. Of course, it wouldn’t be a musical legend you’d be watching, and if you were lucky, you’d hear ONE of their songs blaring from the bar’s sound system.

Let’s just say this: the veil had dropped. My impression of this bright-voiced singer had changed in a way I hadn’t anticipated.

And then, 7 years later, I saw this video.

Seeing a musical icon truly hear and respond to this Vanderbilt University student’s bold request re-affirmed my faith. Seeing their collaboration was a reminder that no matter how far you travel along your path to mastery of your art (no matter what that ‘art’ is), it never hurts to remember and re-connect with where you came from, to see the spark in someone who is finding their way out of the departure lounge with a suitcase full of potential. It never hurts to take a chance, to say “Ok,” to see where a little twist of fate is leading you. This one moment where you lay down your ego may be the moment this ‘apprentice’ is looking for, to test their chops, spread their wings…and soar.

Let us jump. Who knows what you may be helping to launch. If all goes well, this one moment will be one that you, and the now-unknown person you have chosen to share it with, will always remember and, hopefully, never regret.

I think Mr. Joel summed it up perfectly: “Good luck to you, Michael. I think you’re gonna do fine.”

Why the dancer in me (who yearned to dance) loves Yoga

Yoga videos. They are everywhere.
Sped up, slowed down, jazzed up, stripped bare, Hollywood glamorous, or iPhone masterpieces that capture the building up to, or getting right to the heart of, that one elusive shape that justifies why we call Yoga a “practice.”

Yes, that one holy grail of a pose that makes Yoga skeptics, pooh-pooh-ers and naysayers affirm to themselves once and for all that placing one’s feet on top of one’s head (regardless of which direction they may be coming in from for landing) does not make world peace any more attainable, rent any cheaper, or credit card debts any lower. As someone very near and dear to me once said, “the world would be a much better place if people stopped twisting themselves into pretzels!”

For the record, this person is now one of the greatest Yoga enthusiasts I know, and can frequently be found taking in an upside down view of the world…in a headstand.

But for the sake of generalizing here, don’t worry. I’d be the first to gently offer up thoughts from the other side of the coin:

No matter whether you are putting your feet on your head, standing upside down on your hands, backbending yourself into a rainbow, sitting quietly cross-legged, or lying motionless on the floor in savasana, Yoga has the ability to deepen who you are if you let it. It has the power to shine a light on the qualities in yourself that you have buried away because, somewhere along the line, you lost faith in their capacity to flourish, whether through your own self-judgement or the criticisms of others. Yoga has a different impact on each and every life it touches. Some are unchanged by the practice because they forget or deny to take on the part where ‘the practice’ moves into the world beyond the short rubber runway beneath your feet. Others are transformed in the most positive ways, and for good — softened where they were hardened, opened where they were closed, inspired where they were once searching for their spark…

I took my first Yoga class at 17. It was one of the most physically challenging things I had ever done…but amidst the awkward downward dogs, something clicked.

I had recently graduated from high school where I had been turned off from anything related to using my body, unless it was acting in Drama classes or the school musicals. Even there, I was self-conscious to a point. In Musical Theatre, I yearned to dance as confidently and with as much grace and coordination as those who probably spent time every day in a dance studio. Oftentimes, it took me twice as long as the other kids to gain my footing with the choreography…

And then there was Gym class.
It’s sad to think that my primary recollections of Physical Education (the time where I should’ve been thrilled to get to know my body) involve the humiliation of having to wear a bathing suit in the presence of unforgiving teenaged boys, being left to partner up with the teacher in tennis lessons (I was, admittedly, HORRID at tennis), and praying that I wouldn’t end up having to Cha-Cha with the meanest (and most popular) boy on the rugby team in Social Dance. Yes, even Social Dance — the part that was supposed to be more creative, fun, expressive… more like Musical Theatre! — became an object of dread. Sure, I wanted to be able to dance like all the dancers in the school musical, but this was the last place I could envision myself finding my inner Gene Kelly, let alone cultivating a single shred of self-esteem.

In short, I hated Gym.

Wait, I re-phrase. Perhaps I would’ve been tolerant of Gym if I didn’t have any reason to be afraid of it. Each sport, each subject area, felt like another opportunity for me to suck at something, and risk being made fun of for it. And even more tragic, it wasn’t just me who felt this way. There were other girls who had all the same reasons to be anxious of being in command of their bodies too.

Enter Yoga.
THANK. GOODNESS. My saving grace.
As awkward as that first class was, something kept me going back. I’ve heard it said that you choose all the players in your life’s story, and I must confess, my choice in a very first Yoga teacher set the tone for a wonderful journey. With her steady, reassuring presence, I had found a place where, no matter how ‘bad’ I was, no matter how much of a confused novice, I still felt accepted. There was no judgement. In fact, better yet, I felt nurtured, and encouraged to continue. It was a refreshing contrast to the old high school feeling of wanting to curl up in a ball and be visible to no one. I could be me, and I could be in my body, no matter what that looked like…and (hallelujah!) that was more than OK.

As I grew more familiar with the sequences and postures, simple sun salutations began to feel like dancing. *Gasp!* I was dancing! When I moved and breathed, I felt graceful. More than that, I felt…beautiful, and strong. It was something I could never have said about myself in a decade of Social Dances. Maybe my body wasn’t open, flexible or strong enough to do all the fancy postures (to this day, there are many postures that remain untouched, barely explored or just highly modified) but I felt ease, and peace. I felt that I could grow more fond of my body because it was doing something that made me feel deeply content inside.

To this day, I see my yoga practice as a form of expression, my dance, with as much to share in stillness as in movement.

Life will be what it will be, but the simple act of sweeping my arms up over head as I inhale, lifting my gaze upward, and then falling, floating forward as I exhale to fold over my legs, touch my toes, a soft smile on my lips… At last, this sense of peace.

I don’t need to be a dancer in this lifetime, but let me have THIS dance.

When I found this video featuring Elena Brower moving through a short, simple sequence in front of a video installation at the MoMA, it took my breath away. Yes, this 5-minute Yoga video on the internet highlighted part of what I see to be the beauty of the practice of Yoga: simplicity, ease, quiet strength, connectedness…the breath, body, mind, heart, spirit, all united in the moment. This is as magical to experience from the inside as it is to witness, something so vibrant, alive and passionate it blows the locks off the doors of your heart; the courageous act of using a vocabulary of movement and shapes to create a story with our one unique body, our own unique breath.

A dance…a deep surrendering to the dance.

Slow/Fast Balance

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It was in University when I somehow subscribed to the idea of moving quickly. I had to move fast. It was what took me from the Fine Arts buildings over to my English classes across campus. It got me moving, my heart pumping, my legs working, even if for only a few minutes, in between long periods of sitting, listening, reading and learning.

Walking fast mattered. Keeping aside completely the fact that there is probably a bit of a tendency in my family to walk swiftly, when I walk, I don’t just saunter. Oh no.

I dash.

For those with long strides and quick gaits, it is like finding a soulmate. I am always surprised at how joyful it is for fast-walkers to discover the pace with which I approach a walk and hear them say, “YES! Can we walk together EVERYDAY!?”

For those with shorter legs, or with naturally stroll-y ways, or even worse, my poor pregnant friends (you know I love you and will walk slowly for you anytime!), it must be, well…annoying? Disappointing? Frustrating? A challenge? When my fast-walking-ness came up in my father-in-law’s ‘welcome to the family’ speech, it really gave me pause. It was no secret to me that he enjoys picking on this endearing habit of mine — he is 6-foot-4 and has legs for days, and still, I could really get his head shaking by walking 30 paces ahead of him, then doubling back, and walking another 30 paces forward… Now THAT would be annoying.

WowWalking swiftly has become one of my identifying traits. We live in a culture of speed, of efficiency. We are, in fact, so fast that we don’t feel fast enough. We are so efficient, that we don’t feel we can get everything done. In fact, we are so adept at multi-tasking that we don’t even realize that we are eating lunch, answering e-mails, responding to an incoming text, and thinking about all the things that we need to do today, tomorrow, this year…all at the SAME TIME.

One of my Yoga teachers shared this piece of wisdom and I haven’t forgotten it: ‘You teach what you need to learn.’

I never anticipated becoming a teacher. I resisted it. I still, on occasion, hesitate to call myself a ‘teacher,’ unless I am talking to someone who really just needs some sort of identifier to know with a bit more clarity what exactly I do, goshdarnit, and then I can say, ‘Well, I teach Yoga…currently, twice a week.’ I have designated those two classes as the classes that people can come to when they want to move slowly and mindfully, to breathe deeply and more fully than they do all day (or perhaps all week), to be still, to get inside their own experience and not worry about anything else if they can help it.

There is no coincidence that I teach a practice (Yoga Nidra) that involves lying as stalk still as possible for a substantial period of time; a practice that encourages breath, quiet, relaxation, visualization, creativity, imagination, and cultivating clarity by working with a single, solitary intention.

The truth? I teach this because it is one of my greatest lessons. The ‘speed-walker’ needs stillness and quiet. Craves it, in fact. And the speed-walker, when faced with having to move more slowly due to illness or injury, well, it disappoints me just as much as it does anyone being stopped in their tracks. Even more so, it is the idea of achieving that balance that appeals — of moving quickly and efficiently when we need to and enjoying the ride…then, just as fully, allowing ourselves to really slow it all down when we can, and tap into to the heart of who we are.

No clutter, no noise. Just US, at our core.

I am inspired when I hear students tell me that they have come to class as their first class back after rehab-ing from a head injury, or post-pregnancy, or because their doctor has prescribed yoga and meditation to them for anxiety. I could tell you a good handful of stories, but from where I sit, let’s just say that I have seen both personally and with those near and dear to me, that our desire for speed and to ‘do it all’ — whether physically, or through intense periods of stress, or both — can often lead us to some hard knocks and falls, especially when this is sustained and pushed through over long periods of time with little-to-no respite. The little cosmic joke in all this, of course, is that what is needed to get us back on our feet…is — you guessed it — to move slowly, or sometimes, not at all. To take care of ourselves. To listen to ourselves. To rest.

In the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, I took a walk with a dear friend of mine out in the countryside. It was bitterly cold out, but stunning with the snow all around, the ink-black sky filled with stars. As the cold nipped at our skin (and at the feet of his very patient puppy), I felt it…that need — let’s face it, that habit! — to move quicker…But then I realized what I had to gain from this moment, and the answer was ‘EVERYTHING.’ 2 AM, spending the first hours of a brand new year bonding with a great friend under the vast night sky, chatting about where life was taking us, how big the universe is, and how small we are in it… Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great conversations while speed-walking, but this was one of those moments where all I could do was stop, take the moment in, and realize how lucky I was to be standing still just where I was.

Ferris Bueller really did say it best, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

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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