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

We Need This Darkness

You know this feeling you have right now?

The feeling you feel you shouldn’t be rearing its ugly head because you’re a generally positive, loving person who strives to see the silver lining in every situation?

A person who:

– does their work, both inside and out

– tries their darndest to follow their heart and believe in more than what we can see, touch, taste, smell and hear

– puts themselves out there and takes risks for the sake of a more meaningful life

– takes care of themselves as best as they can with the time allotted amidst the demands of work, life, family, friendships, partnerships, and ‘extra-curriculars’

– is as kind as possible, as giving as possible, as grateful as possible…

What I’m trying to say is, you feel like you’re a good soul who adds value to the world and is doing everything they can to have a more meaningful, whole-hearted, love-and-joy-filled, abundant life.

BUT. (Yes, here’s the BUT.)

This week, it feels different.

It feels…hard. Deflating. It feels like everything you do is going nowhere, like you’re running up hill and just getting exhausted.

Like you have nothing to show for every ounce of positive energy and gratitude you feel you invest into every single day, for every net you cast out into the world…

As though you try your best to paint the day with rainbows and see everything through rose-coloured glasses, but this week, you’ve lost sight of the pot of gold, the view is a bit grey, and all you’re doing is getting soaked from the torrential downpour over your head.

You might be saying to yourself, ‘I know that everything really is all good… but why do I feel so damn scared/low/doubtful/confused? What on earth am I doing wrong?’

I FEEL YOU.  And I wish I knew the answer to instantly make you feel exactly how you want to feel — happier, full, with far less doubt and totally lacking in any kind of sticky-feeling fear. Maybe swimming in the murkiness that is arising is our task at hand, without willing it away, running from it, or wanting it to be different than what it is.

Maybe this feeling — this weird, icky, scary feeling RIGHT NOW — is the gateway to a new chapter in our life. Perhaps we need to know that it’s possible to be fully present in where we are, and see the horizon at the same time.

And in terms of doing anything wrong or right… I’m going to bet dollars to donuts you’re doing what you can. If you’re committed to a more meaningful existence, the steps you are taking to create that for yourself is part of your process. You’ve assembled a real tool-belt for yourself and you’re getting more adept at whipping out the tool you need in the time you need it. Or maybe you’re realizing that you need more tools, and the thought of how you’ll acquire them is daunting.

It’s all part of your journey of living fully in your humanity.  You WANT to make a change. You WANT to be BETTER.

But guess what?

That would translate as putting in an order for Transformation, and with change comes its own brand of unravelling. When you commit to transformation, the veils start to fall. As things start to shift, there it comes: the grand-scale revealing of every single fear you’ve ever had, trying without fail to convince you that you’re making the wrong choices, that maybe you were wrong in taking those risks, and maybe that pep talk you gave yourself about being able to handle everything that comes with the change was just a load of bull…and yes, when you said you were open to EVERYTHING what you actually meant was everything that is GOOD, EASY and PLEASANT.

So why the panic? Why the fear? Why the doubt?

The answer to your questions and how you feel lie completely within your own heart, but I am willing to share my heart with you in the hopes that we can all see that we are not alone.

The truth is, friends, that we need this darkness.

We need the doubt.

We need the fear.

If we didn’t have any of these things, we would never change, and we would never experience the moments of clarity and lightness in our life that we wish made up 99.9% of our existence. We would remain complacent, stale, stuck, and resign ourselves to the fact that we can absolutely be ‘happy’ with the status quo, even if it leaves something to be desired, even if it doesn’t fulfill what we think we are meant to contribute to this planet.

Every day, lately, has provided a lesson that vulnerability, paired with taking the courageous steps necessary to change your life, makes for one massive catch-up in the feelings department. Brene Brown calls it a ‘vulnerability hangover’ and it couldn’t be more aptly named.

I recently gave notice at my job — a decision I have been agonizing over for some time that is neither rooted in rational thought or financial responsibility; a decision that took herculean strength to formally acknowledge the need for change in, and to finally articulate those words, “I feel like I’m coming to a crossroads.” Over the last few months, I have been committed to strengthening myself both inside and out, and with that work has come a lot of change, and a healthy dose of backlash to make me doubt the emergence of a ‘better’ and more empowered version of Me. I’ve been working with beliefs that have kept me safe (and sometimes stuck) for most of my adult life to date, and am now seeing with true clarity how they are no longer serving my growth and development. I am also seeing how I have chosen to keep these beliefs alive, and how I can, in equal measure, choose to build a more positive belief system that benefits me.

What happens when you begin to stretch beyond your perceived limitations of yourself is that it’s harder to put up with your own BS. It becomes tiring to listen to your own excuses, your old ‘tapes.’ I would hear myself tell the same old story of how I feel doing this particular work, and how I have all these things I love doing on the side but barely have the time or energy to invest fully in them, or how I am stretched thin and don’t always have much to show for it. It was like being a security guard with a permanent placement near a TV monitor in a war exhibit and having to hear the same old monotonous story play over and over again. After a while, it got harder to tune myself out, and the stunning mirror I have in my husband would reflect back at me my discontent of how my precious energy was being inappropriately invested (if I had any), and yielding very little returns. Sure, I had an income, and I am grateful for that. But once rent and bills were paid, there was very little show for it. That, in itself, spoke volumes.

One day, as I was attempting once again to summon up every ounce of get-up-and-go I had to make my way to work, my defenses dropped completely and my partner-in-life staged an impromptu intervention. He looked me in the face with his big, blue eyes and said, “Did you ever think that maybe you weren’t meant to live an ordinary life? I know you feel that this is what you *should* do, but clearly, it isn’t making you very happy. How many people teach Yoga Nidra & write about Purpose?”

“TONS,” I believe was my answer that came through snot-laced tears.

“Sure,” he said, “but none of them are you.”

I’m pretty sure that little truth-smack made me cry harder.

This conversation became the impetus to sharing with my irreplaceably wonderful boss that I had decided the time to close this chapter was coming soon. Though I felt nervous to actually articulate my truth, my heart was leaping with validation. Telling each of my coworkers about this decision (women whom I have come to love and cherish) has felt like breaking off a piece of myself every time, but what has come back is genuine, unconditional support, and affirmative words that remind me I am making the choice that is unequivocally right for me.

I have been reminded that it takes courage to follow my heart and give permission for my soul to be stretched in the ways it is yearning to be expanded… On the same token, I have every reason to feel completely and utterly afraid of the unknown, of lack, of failure. Acknowledging my own truth and my own needs felt like a million bucks, and then Monday rolled around…

I went from feeling liberated by this decision, to doubting everything that had anything to do with me doing what I love and having any sort of future success with it.  By Wednesday, my ability to be positive and “Just Trust” was shot. Doubt and Fear instantly sat heavily on my shoulders. I filled with the panic of “what if,” of “not enough,” of possible judgement, or even questioning if there is a need for what I have to share with the world.

But before I felt I had to change all of my heart junk into something more positive, I had to take a walk with Doubt & Fear.

I had to validate them and thank them for stopping by…but I let them know quite firmly that I had no intention of them stopping ME.

It’s been a hard week for all of us. I know this because I have had a conversation for every day of this week with someone who is “feeling it.” But not a single person who is feeling this heaviness (whatever they feel it is attached to for them) has given it permission to knock them down completely. Brave souls.

Maybe it’s in the stars, but I’m starting to think that, really, it’s just US. It’s Spring. Something is changing. Our souls and the world are calling us into something more…something greater…something lighter. Who we are and what we believe about ourselves is being tested…and truth be told, it feels downright awkward, hard, painful or fearful. But don’t let yourself be paralyzed by the darkness. Feel it. Know it’s there to propel you forward, to take that step even closer to the edge of the nest…

Take a deep breath…It’s time to fly.

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Why I Retreat (Part 2)

(…the ‘to be continued’ from Why I Retreat Part 1…)

As the saying goes, “Leap & the net will appear.”

I leapt.

To be honest, I felt like I was falling for some time.

Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I’m not exactly sure I knew where I would land, or when. The period of time of nearly a whole year that I was ‘looking for It,’ did not always run smooth, but I persisted.

What I didn’t always see at the time was that I was planting seeds.

One of the seeds I came to nourish, develop and fall in love with during that time of transition was with a group of yoga teacher friends. My dear friend Anita and I tossed the idea out there that it would be cool to try our hands at putting together a retreat. Fueled by the idea that we could share this transformative experience (as in Part 1) with others, I saw beauty in this organic formation of a group of good-hearted people who would come together in a magical place to unwind, practice and grow. Whoever these people would be, I knew they would be joining us in a similar manner to how I dove into all my own retreat adventures – by feeling a strong call to be there, whether to heal, to rest, to have fun, to get re-inspired or to simply feel reprieve from the snow and cold.

Inspired, we approached our  yoga teacher friend Jeff Mah with our idea. The intention was pretty clear: a yoga getaway in a place that would take your breath away, opportunities for people to practice, eat amazing food, soak up the beauty of nature, re-connect with themselves (and some new friends!), and return home feeling like a million bucks.

One year after Bali, One More Breath Retreats (a team comprised of Jeff Mah & his partner Hilary YoungAnita Athavale, me and our incomparable chef Brett McDermott) brought a group to Maui. Bringing this dream to reality involved countless hours of e-mailing, phone calling, coordinating and gathering around Jeff & Hilary’s kitchen table, or (one of my most favourite ‘tasks’) sitting on Brett’s living room floor sampling the kinds of foods he envisioned serving up to our guests. (Drool.)

When the retreat arrived at last, I remember stepping off our flight and walking out into a classic, balmy Hawaii morning. The sight of the palm trees and feeling of the soft, warm, humid air turned us all into mush. We had only been on this island for a matter of minutes when Jeff said, “Guys, we’re totally coming back here.”

And we did.

As we had expected, the nicest, down-to-earth group of people came together and willingly agreed to be our guinea pigs for two very different experiences that I am positive none of us will soon forget. No matter how each participant chose to spend their time, our hope was  that each person who joined us would leave on departure day feeling that they had found even a sliver of what they needed.

Our first retreat (in 2012) fell over the Leap Year and one of our cherished retreaters celebrated his leap year birthday half way through our week together. That night, I remember looking around at this big-hearted group that had banded together to kick off John’s upcoming year with laughter and good cheer. As this community-away-from home celebrated their new-found friend, I saw another layer to this Leap Year celebration.

Each and every one of these amazing people had seen themselves in our dream as vividly as we had seen them in it. They saw us jump, and had whole-heartedly jumped in alongside us.

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 Still flying high from the second Maui trip in 2013, a new opportunity to retreat presented itself in our own backyard.

My Dad had been raving about his multiple return experiences to a hidden gem called Maurelle Island off the coast of Vancouver Island, BC. Go With The Flow Adventures is the luxury kayaking dream/brain child of a wonderful couple named Brody Wilson & Cristina Fox. Brody was keen to marry the meant-for-each other activities of Kayaking and Yoga. We would paddle the calm waters of the Discovery Islands during the day, have daily yoga practices both at the luxury base camp and out in nature on our paddling trips, eat delicious home-cooked food (again, good food — very important!), and allow ourselves a week to simply, well, go with the flow.

We were SO in.  Kayak + Yoga = Kayoga! Then Mother Nature threw an unexpected test our way.

Just over a week before we were due to leave, Southern Alberta was hit with a devastating flood.

Our hometowns of Calgary & Canmore declared a state of emergency.

No matter whether the flood affected our own neighbourhoods directly or not, we were all in shock.

Our hearts were torn. Was this really the time to skip town when the entire city was putting on gumboots and venturing down into the affected areas to help out with the clean up?

Two of our guests who were to join us on the trip were feverishly working with a host of volunteers to save their family home.

The highway between Calgary & Canmore was a mess.

For a moment there, it was hard to see how this was going to happen as we had hoped. But something inside me told me that the timing of this trip couldn’t have been more perfect. We were all emotionally drained. Stressed. Exhausted. Our city had been working around the clock to get life back on track for its citizens. As I visualized the quiet, island oasis that I knew Maurelle would absolutely be for us, I couldn’t help but feel that our perception of Mother Nature right now was a bit skewed, and that all we needed was to be reminded of the healing  forces of nature .

I searched  for a sign to validate my feeling that getting some reprieve from the stress and chaos of a city in crisis was actually a good thing and not something to feel guilty about.

Hallejulah. I found this quote (and promptly plastered it on top of a beautiful image that Brody had sent me).

nature restores

It was hard for every single one of us to not feel guilt-ridden about getting away, if only for a week.

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 It turned out that a week was all we needed.

Maurelle was pure magic.

There was laughter and tears.

There were groans as shoulders and hips were stretched.

There were sighs as we settled into Yoga Nidra and relaxation.

We couldn’t get enough of the quiet and stillness there, being out in the fresh air all day every day, rolling our mats out overlooking the water, the incredible food, the hot tub, the paddling, the fluffy white bathrobes, the stars that lit up the night sky…

It was the best medicine. 

When we saw the relaxed faces, bright eyes and contented smiles on our guests as they (somewhat reluctantly!) began their journey back home, it became clear to me why the retreat experience holds a value that can never be quantified:

When we give ourselves the opportunity to rest, relax, heal, and brighten our own inner light, we have SO much more to to give to the world. 

The photo below shows one of the most painful sunburns I have ever had the privilege of sporting. More than that, though, I snapped this photo in Bali as a reminder of why I retreat, and now, why I have felt inspired to share this experience with others. What I can see in my own eyes and face in this picture speaks volumes — that I took a leap and gave myself permission to let go, unwind, take care of myself, have fun, be quiet, rest, get grounded, explore, connect with my own heart and re-fill my tank so I could be a better person in my day-to-day life.

Call it cliche, but Morocco, Mexico, Bali — and then eventually Maui and Maurelle Island — have all changed the way I love, think, and live.

In each of these places, I have gotten to know myself better just as much through the exhilarating moments as I have through challenges on my yoga mat, or recently, in the kayak!  When I retreat, I dig deep. It isn’t always easy, but every time, I feel I have found strength and energy to make my life and world more meaningful.

Isn’t that what it’s all about — how well you lived, how well you loved, and how you shared your light to help illuminate the world?

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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…

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.