Of Star Stuff

saganWe’re approaching Valentine’s day and talk of love is all around us. Hubs and I are generally pretty lazy about these sorts of things but I would be remiss not to give the spirit a nod in my classes or here on the blog- so today we’re going to talk about a different level of love, and why it’s the obvious conclusion.

Carl Sagan may not have been thinking of it specifically when he said this famous phrase, but he was talking about prakriti. Prakriti is a huge idea but put very simply it’s a universal force that is the constituent element of everything that exists- Sagan’s “star stuff”, if you will. What I take from this- the yoga philosophy and the scientist- is that the natural reaction to this information is love and compassion for all beings. Y’know, obviously. If, at our core, we are all connected by this energy that is never created or destroyed but only changes, we have to recognize the intrinsic value of all life. The Christian Bible takes note of this when it instructs, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31) because your neighbour and you are one (ok, the Bible doesn’t say that part but I’m extrapolating). And while we’re at it, you can extend that love to yourself because inside you exists the very same material, the same forces, as all the marvels of the universe. It’s pretty cool, right? As you can see from the very broad array of sources I’ve quoted from here, this idea comes up throughout human history and geography, which I think is good evidence that it’s well-founded. I like this line from Max Ehrmann’s poem The Desiderata, too:

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Chemistry calls them elements, the Vedas call them gunas, but fundamentally the idea is the same- everything is connected by its composition. And connection equals love.

It’s easy to see the star stuff in the people you love. But when you pass a stranger on the street whose eyes you might avoid, or you’re about to engage in some harsh self-criticism, remember- we are one and the same. We are all children of the universe- we have a right to be here, and to be loved.

We’re celebrating Valentine’s at Nova with a few events we’ve called Lovefest, including a karma class for Syrian refugees. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/112935562426002/

 

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The Ahimsa of Doing Less

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Pressure to do more comes from many sources; work, school, family, friends all place demands on our time, and this is compounded by the crafted images on social media that make it seem like everyone is doing more than us and in better lighting, too. It’s easy to ignore the subtle signals of the bodymind that ask us to slow down, to nourish ourselves with quiet and stillness.

The problem with ignoring those messages is that they tend to grow louder the more they aren’t heeded. Sometimes to the point that, in an effort to get its needs met, the body insists we stop by way of illness or injury. Once we have no choice, then, we rest. But it doesn’t have to come to this! We can listen to the quieter expressions inside and heed them to foster a healthier, kinder practice and way of life.

I spend a good part of my time when teaching encouraging students to do less. Now that yoga is in popular consciousness in a major way, we all have seen images of common poses and maybe have an idea of what they “should” look like. But each body is different, and striving to, say, get your nose to your knee in janu sirsasana, is not right for every body, every day. Only an honest look inside can tell you how deeply to express a pose to the greatest benefit to you at that particular moment. This svadhyaya, self-study can help us practice in the spirit of ahmisa, non-harming. Cultivating that compassion through awareness is one of the greatest lessons we can learn on the mat. When we look inside and really feel with curiosity and gentleness where we are at a particular moment, we’re able to really intelligently, safely move our practice to a deeper place, without fear of going too far, too soon and setting ourselves back with an injury. Conversely, when we attempt to go further than the body wants, we often get out of alignment or let go of crucial support (core connection, anyone?) to get to a particular place and risk hurting ourselves in the process.

This can apply to life in general, too. Where are you pushing beyond the edge? Finding yourself overwhelmed and unable to function? Could you pull back a little, extend yourself some compassion by taking a deep look at what is really serving you and letting go of things that are taking away your energy without giving back? This kind of self-care can help us to live more fully in our truth. The start of a new year is a great time to take stock of what is and is not serving you, and in the spirit of compassion, dedicate yourself to taking on only those things that nourish you. This doesn’t mean that every moment will be filled with ecstatic joy. Someone will still need to clean the bathroom, of course, because sometimes things that serve you aren’t fun. But a spirit of inquiry and intentionality can help us to do less when less is what is needed.

Congratulations, you failed

It’s a new year, time to take stock of what was and look forward to what’s to come. Over here, it was a hard year to top- the arrival of our new baby, some exciting new career opportunities, really good times spent with family and friends. 2016 is looking pretty great from here and I’m so excited to see what’s next!

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

It’s likely that there’s a lot of talk in your yoga life about intention-setting, about letting go of the past, about being mindful of what you invite in. Yes. Absolutely. But I want to talk about failure.

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In our practice as in life, we set goals. We strive. We work hard. And sometimes circumstances do not conspire in our favour- we fail. But here’s the thing- that’s where growth happens. This is where we are challenged to take those intentions from our yoga practice, equanimity, non-attachment, the ability to be “alike in victory and defeat,” as Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, off the mat and into our lives. It’s easy to get down, to fill your head with negative self-talk and decide not to try anymore. What is hard is to stare into the eyes of failure and say, “Thanks, what were you trying to tell me exactly?” If it’s an asana we’re talking about maybe it’s your body telling you to take more time to warm up, or to back off that edge a little more and take it easy. If it’s a life goal, maybe the goal wasn’t fully in tune with your path. Maybe the road you took to get there wasn’t the road for you. Failure is a chance to take a look inside and to line up your actions more closely with that which is most true to you. To this end, we can embrace the gifts that failure has for us and use them to live that truth, fully and joyfully.

I hope all your best wishes for 2016 come true. But if the don’t, don’t get down. Look for the wisdom in the failure, and get going on your path to awesome.

 

In the spirit of newness this time of year embodies, I have two new classes at Nova starting this week- Happy Hour Tuesdays at 4 PM and Buddha Babies for moms and their pre-crawling little ones on Fridays at 10:30 (this is a six-week pre-registered session-to sign up go here: https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/classic/home?studioid=12800)

See you on the mat! Happy new year!

Hippy Deodorant

If, like me, you solve all your problems by rubbing coconut oil on them, you hate spending money and you prefer not to put weird chemicals on your body, well, here’s a nice treat for you. Auntie Hope’s Hippy Deodorant satisfies my desire not to spend money, to smell excellent and to keep things natural, AND it takes all of ten minutes to make.

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To make this marvelous concoction, you’ll need:

4 Tbsp coconut oil, melted

2 Tbsp cornstarch or arrowroot

2 Tbsp baking soda

Ten drops of your favorite essential oils (I chose a blend of lemon, patchouli and lavender for this latest batch but you can use anything at all that you like. Lavender, rosemary and tea tree are a few oils that have good anti-bacterial qualities to keep you smelling fresh longer. Avoid peppermint if you’re a nursing mother as it decreases milk supply.)

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Melt the coconut oil and blend in the remaining ingredients until no lumps remain. Pour into the container of your choice (I use a small mason jar) and let cool. Stir or shake a couple of times during cooling to keep the baking soda and starch evenly distributed. To use, rub a dime-sized quantity onto your underarm after bathing and delight in your fragrant and resourceful self.

Drink Golden Milk!

All credit for this glorious beverage goes to Erin Chafe of Healthy Blossom, whose office is on the top floor of Nova. You can find her website here: http://www.healthyblossom.ca

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Golden milk is realky delicious and gets some really good anti-inflammatory spices into you.  Great for chilly old November nights.

Golden Milk:

1 cup milk of your choice (I like coconut)

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp turmeric

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp coconut oil

1 tbsp honey

Whisk all this in a small pot til hot and enjoy!

Sitting in the Fire

Sitting in sukhasana, it’s easy to maintain a steady, rhythmic ujjaii breath. If it’s a good day, thoughts melt away in those first few moments of the practice, and you pour your awareness into your breath, into the present moment. It feels good. You are winning at yoga.

Later, in your fourth arm balance of the class, it’s harder; you can lose that focus, hold your breath, tighten up. Even after you release a challenging posture, the breath can be scattered, the thoughts might wander to what you’re going to do after class, or that thing someone said. It is part of our natural makeup to want to avoid difficult situations.

But yoga teaches us to learn to sit in the difficulty, the fire, the tapas, and receive its teachings, because we seldom are transformed by things that are easy. Taking this lesson off the mat can be so hard, but is so important.

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When I was young, I met the eyes of everyone I passed on the street, and smiled at everyone. Over time, I became fearful and stopped engaging those around me. I judged people as worthy or unworthy of my attention. I’ve been trying to let go of these judgments and  sit with that fear, live my yoga off the mat a little more. I can’t say that any sweeping revelations have come, yet, but I can say that it feels good to be recognizing the essential goodness of everyone and everything again. Can I meet the eyes of the elderly woman and the homeless man with equal ease and comfort? No. But perhaps they both have lessons for me, and pushing through the fear might bring me closer to them.

I’m currently doing a teacher training that focuses a lot on the core, cultivation of which is a natural way to engage with that discipline, that fire. We’re constructing the poses from deep inside the body and it’s making me aware that there is so much opportunity still to build strength. I thought my practice was pretty strong until I started thinking about it in this new way and now I’m finding myself shaky and tired.

And that’s just it. In the shakiness, the exhaustion, the fear, lies the pathway to our truth. If we shy away from it, we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to learn. Sitting in those places of discomfort gives us a chance to dismantle barriers and become stronger and wiser.

No really, just breathe.

“For you are fearfully and wonderfully made.”

It’s so easy to take the magic of the body for granted. It is, after all, designed to function without too much work from us. Our hearts beat thousands of times each day, our eyes blink, our lungs fill and empty. All these things will happen whether you pay attention or not. And good thing, because it might be hard to get anything else done if we had to focus on all that! But what happens when we bring awareness, joy and gratitude to this moment-to-moment magic that is a intrinsic part of our physical life?

As a doula, I am blessed to witness the power of our intuitive selves as people bring babies into the world. I trust birth, and I trust the body and spirit to be up to the task. But it is hard, demanding, sometimes exhausting work. And often the tool that can see a woman through is careful attention to her breath. As she tunes in to her inhales and exhales, she can ride the waves of the surges of labour without being overwhelmed by them. The breath keeps her anchored in the moment and gives her strength. I can’t recommend a prenatal yoga practice heartily enough to expectant families- it can be truly instrumental in a happy and satisfying birth experience.

If the breath can see us through these challenging and transformative experiences, then of course in our daily lives it can also bring about a change in the way we see things. Taking a few moments, especially in the midst of difficulty, to focus on this simple process, can help us to see a situation in a new light and to approach it more calmly.

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Take a moment, wherever you re, to close your eyes and observe, without judgement or change, your breath. Where is it happening in the body? Is it rapid or slow, deep or shallow? Then begin to deepen your breath, feeling the belly soften and move forward as it fills with breath, the rib cage inflating all the way to the collarbones. Then release the breath, feeling the shoulders relax, the natural tone of the abdomen as you press all the air out of the lungs. Repeat this ten times, in stillness, feeling that each breath out removes obstacles, releases tension, clears out physical and emotional stress; each breath in invites brightness, goodness and newness into your body and your life. As you move through all the events of your day, the hard and the easy, try to bring some awareness to this essential process that we often don’t give the attention it deserves. See how things might change when you take the time to nourish yourself with mindful breath.