When I first started to settle in to a regular yoga practice, I became aware of the areas in my body that habitually hold tension. As my practice deepened, there were moments of frustration; times when it felt like I would never be able to fold my head to my knees; release my jaw without a deliberate thought to do so; feel graceful as I moved through a vinyasa. Sometimes, the thought that I would never be able to let go of this tension actually prevented me from releasing. I was so afraid of what I might not be, that I wasn’t allowing myself the room to grow.
This morning, as I flowed through some Sun Salutations before sitting on my mat for forward folds, it occurred to me that I have a tendency to hold onto thoughts in the same way that I was holding onto physical tension.
As I folded over my ankles in baddha konasana, letting my hips release and open, I realized that this habit of getting stuck in a certain pattern of thought is holding me back.
As I released my hamstrings into janu sirsasana, and folded much lower than I used to, I exhaled deeply, audibly, and fully. Again, and again, I sigh and exhaled and released. In janu sirsasana, in downward dog, in half lord of the fishes, I let go of physical and emotional tension.
The beauty of yoga is that it heals. It heals wounds we didn’t know were there. As we twist and turn and flow and breathe, our body learns to release. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, we release, we become more flexible, and we become stronger. As we continue to move our bodies on the mat, yoga transfers into our daily life, into our mind, into the tiny corners of our life, dusting out old locked closets.
Releasing the tension in my hips from years of carrying children and running will be a lifelong journey. Releasing myself from the fear of what I might not ever be able to be is my challenge. Stepping up and facing these emotions, these knee-jerk reactions, these barriers I’ve put up, it all comes out on my mat.
I inhale deeply, exhale with a sigh; fall out breaths, one after another, over and over again.
Lately, it’s been so easy to focus on the difficulties. Lately, I find it harder to get out of bed in the mornings, more of a challenge to pull on my sneakers or step onto my mat. Lately, I’ve been tired. Really, really, down to the core of my being, exhausted. I’ve wondered if I could do this. I’ve wondered why it feels like I am being put through a difficult test at this time in my life. I’ve wondered what coming out of the other side of this is going to look like, because lately, it’s hard to see.
Last Monday, as I sat on the side of the highway in a broken down car, I called Steve. Of course he came to pick me up, took me to the rental car agency, called the dealership and volunteered to deal with them for me. I broke into tears. Not tears in my eyes, but really crying. It was one of the moments when I felt the most overwhelmed, this was just one more thing on top of a plate that is too full. He hugged me. He held my hand. And later that day, when I asked for his help – not help doing laundry or help making lunches or help running the dishwasher – but helping me finally talk about the things that have been leaving my heart so heavy, he opened his arms and folded me into them and said, “Of course, Mama. I’ve always got your back.”
I’m not sure why life has seemed more difficult than usual this fall. But despite everything, despite the stress and the strain and sometimes even the arguments; despite ironing out the technicalities of working together and running a business together, in that moment when I finally let myself open and expressed my vulnerability, he was there. When I was able to express my vulnerability honestly, instead of deflecting to blaming statements (as we are so prone to do), not only did I create the space that allowed Steve to step in and help me (something that is not easy for me to do), but I was also finally able to honour myself. In the moments after my tears ended, I was finally able to hold space with love for me.
In the days that followed, I took the time to have lunch with my dad. I ran an extra hot bath and lingered there. I spoke honestly about my feelings when I was asked. I vocalized what I need.
And while yes, there is still stress, somehow I know in my heart of hearts, that it will all be ok. That eventually, this moment will have passed. No, I don’t know what life will look like on the other side, but I do know that I will be stronger, that I will have developed a deeper understanding of who I am and what it is that I am able to give myself to grow my love of self. That will in turn strengthen my marriage and my relationship with my children. That will increase my confidence as a business owner, mentor and yoga teacher.
I had tea with a friend last week, and after she had gotten the weights off her own chest, she looked at me and asked, “How do you keep it all together?”
While it’s not the first time someone has asked me that particular question, or implied that my life was perfect, or commented about how I don’t struggle with jealousy/inadequacy/anxiety/fears, it always makes me very uncomfortable because: I don’t. I don’t keep it together at all. Some days, I am falling apart at the seams. Some days I want to stay in bed. Some days, I. Just. Can’t. Deal.
I spent a mostly sleepless night last Saturday, worrying about things that escalate from “concern-worthy” to “life-ruining” at 2am. Sunday morning, my husband left for his yoga teacher training course, and I crawled back into bed. The kids were downstairs watching (too many) cartoons. I wasn’t able to sleep, but I did spend some time wallowing in self-pity. I wanted to stay in bed, in an empty house, all day. I wanted to take some time to cry alone, drink some tea and maybe read a book. I wanted to take a bath without anyone knocking on the door asking when I would be done. I wanted to let myself come undone. More so on Saturday than in a long, long, time, I wanted to wallow in self-pity and thoughts of This is too hard. That wasn’t an option for me on Saturday, because my husband was away and I have kids to take care of.
So, I pulled myself out of bed and made a cup of tea and had a shower while my older daughter sat on the toilet and talked to me through the steam. I cleaned the house and did laundry and my girls played together and we read books and I helped them with their homework. And then it was their bedtime again and the day had passed and it hadn’t been so bad after-all. I sat in the hot-tub with my husband and we talked and then watched a movie and went to bed and slept soundly. The next day, life didn’t seem so hard. I went for a run in the cold November air and all the storm clouds that had been lingering eventually floated away.
It’s been everything piled on top of each other lately. No one thing has made me feel overwhelmed, but when I pile opening a business with kids with a husband who works and is doing his MBA and kids’ activities and laundry and trying to keep the house somewhat clean and time to train and time for yoga and time for myself… it just adds up to too much sometimes.
So, the answer is that I don’t keep it all together. This road has been difficult. Oh yes, there are blessings and moments of laughter and many moments of connection. But there have also been tears and arguments and angry words and deep hurts. There have been days when I have really struggled to have patience with my kids, let alone finding the strength to get down on the floor and play with them. There have been days when I look around at my house, at the laundry and the dust and think I need help, here. There have been days when I’ve fallen asleep at 8:30 on the couch.
Most of the time, I’m not quite sure what the answer is. Most of the time, I am not able to look past tomorrow or next week. And so, everyday, I get down on my knees at least once or twice and ask for help. I talk to God or the Great Mother or the Universe, or whatever it is that you’d like to call our higher power, and I ask for help and strength and guidance and patience. And I say thanks for strength and guidance and patience. Everyday, I open myself up to receiving, because it has become glaringly obvious to me, that I really can’t do this on my own.
Vegan Challenge. Or Vegan Cleanse. Or Vegan torture, I’m not exactly sure what to call November.
First off, let me just put it out there that I’m not a good vegan. Last weekend, I wanted to indulge, so I bought some chinese food, the kind from the freezer section. Anyway, it didn’t occur to me until afterwards that there could be eggs in the spring rolls. Sure enough, egg whites was one of the ingredients. Oops. And then this morning, I had a 10k run planned. Factor in a busy weekend and not getting to the grocery store and there was nothing in the fridge except dairy. 10k on an empty stomach is not possible, so I mixed yogurt with my granola instead of the usual almond milk.
Aside from my uninformed and informed slip-ups, I’m just… not really liking it, to be honest. I went meat free a month ago and have not once felt deprived or like I was missing out. I have zero desire for meat or fish. But taking it to a level of veganism makes me feel like I’m missing out. Maybe like I want to eat a muffin more now because I can’t because it has eggs and butter in it. It feels like I have to make 100% of all my own food, and while I make probably about 90% on a regular basis, that extra little bit feels like a big deal, especially on a week when I haven’t had time to fold the laundry or get a proper order of groceries.
In any case, other than my little pity-party, I am going to stick with it for November. I do think that it will get easier and that I’ll get more organized and maybe even see the value in it. (Disclaimer: I have reduced/eliminated meat for a lot of reasons, but the biggest reasons have very little to do with the treatment of animals. Thus this makes some eggs baked into a biscuit not that big of a deal for me.) It’s day five and I’ve slipped twice. That doesn’t bode particularity well for the rest of the month, but also keeps me aware of the fact that it’s important to keep the fridge stocked with fresh groceries, to keep the cups for the Magic Bullet clean and not rolling around in the backseat of my car, and of course, above all else, not beat myself up about an oopsie.
Today begins day one of my 30 day Vegan challenge/cleanse. I’ve been meat-free for almost a month, so while there will be no grand shock to my system, I do have a few concerns thoughts.
First and foremost: my morning tea. I gave up coffee about a year ago, after realizing that it was causing upset stomach and severe headaches. I tried reducing to one mug a day, but it seemed better to just let it go. So I did. I still miss it, to be honest. So instead, I have a cup of tea each morning. Tetley tea with 2% lactose free milk (my 7 year old is intolerant). I’ve been experimenting this week with replacements for my milk, from almond to coconut and everything in-between. It’s just not the same. So this morning I made myself green tea in my travel mug instead.
Secondly; lunch. Now, don’t get me wrong. No meat is not an issue, and I am lucky enough to work at a yoga studio with a café full of healthy and delicious lunch options. That said, vegan takes things to a whole new level. I figure it’s best (for my wallet as well) to plan on brining my own lunch. That’s not a big deal, as most dinners I cook enough for two family meals, and considering that my kids eat about as much as baby birds, there’s always a lot of leftovers. I plan on bringing yesterday’s dinner for lunch.
Lastly; baked goods. While a sweet tooth really isn’t my vice (I’m more of a salt-lover), I regularly bake muffins, biscuits and other homemade snacks/lunch box fillers each weekend. Everything, everything has eggs or butter or milk in it. Of course my kids prefer the fluffy blueberry muffins to the lower-sugar option of oatmeal apple muffins, but I know that trying out some new recipes can circumvent this situation. If anything, this may prove beneficial for my kids. While we eat very healthy, with little to no candies/junk, the kids do love Mommy’s homemade baking.
That said, these are all fairly minor concerns. I do find myself naturally eating less than I used to, I’m not completely convinced that this is from the change in my diet but more likely the combination of increased business and heightened stress (I’m the opposite of a stress eater). This week also marked week one of my half-marathon training, so I am very confident that my appetite will be up and running (hah!) in no time.
Last week, I began to incorporate a new practice into my morning and evening routine. After getting out of the shower or washing my face or brushing my teeth, without makeup on, I look myself directly in the eyes and say, I accept myself completely, right now.
The first day, I inhaled deeply, closed the bathroom door and leaned over the counter. As I looked into my own eyes (for the first time in a very long time), the first thought that came into my mind was, When did you start looking so old? I exhaled. I inhaled. I exhaled again. The emotions came, wavelike, swelling and then passing and I spoke out loud: I accept myself completely, right now.
It’s so easy to let ourselves travel back to when “it was easier” – when our kids were small, or before we had children. Back when the laundry didn’t pile quite so high, when we weren’t as busy, when we had more time for friends or a social life or a spouse. It’s so easy to wish we could get back what we once had. After childbirth, women focus on “getting their body back.” After a rift in a relationship, we plan out how to “get back what we had.”
While I truly believe that it’s important to set positive and realistic goals, the one major fault with this wording is that we simply can’t go back. We move on from where we are today.
From the perspective of a mother who struggled with accepting the new version of her body after childbirth, I deeply understand the desire to get back what was. But going back would mean no baby. Going back would mean losing the experience of carrying and birthing a child.
From the perspective of a woman who has dedicated herself to building and maintaining a marriage that is filled with love, one that honours both of us, that maintains respect, acceptance and kindness, I deeply understand that sometimes fear grips around your throat very tightly. Sometimes all you can see is that vulnerability means an increased likelihood of painful loss. But that’s not how we grow. That’s not how we honour. That’s not the path to happiness.
I’m not saying that I’ve never made mistakes and slipped up and said hurtful things and made the wrong choices. Oh no. My life has been littered with words lashed out in anger and fear. I have felt the cold grip of panic, the fear of loss, the certainty that I am not nearly strong enough to make it through this life. But ultimately, I always come back home. Ultimately, I remember that fear and anger (directed outside or in) are not the tools to building a life of intention.
We can’t go back, but we can evolve and grow and become stronger than we were. We can become more connected to the light that shines from within and grow stronger after moving through a challenging time. We can continue to learn that peace comes by accepting ourselves completely, exactly as we are today.
It’s been three full weeks since I made the decision to reduce most meat, most of the time from my diet. While I did indulge in turkey and gravy at Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve been essentially meat free since October 6.
First of all, I’m going to preface all of this with saying that I am the type of person who wants, craves, needs and can’t resist forbidden food. I lost all of my baby weight by the time my second daughter was 5 months old by old-fashioned caloric restriction a-la Weight Watchers. Each Monday after being weighed, I would have my cheat meal (it usually consisted of a huge piece of chocolate cake and vanilla ice cream or a bacon cheeseburger with onion rings from our local pub). I lived for those cheat meals. They got me through the weeks of being hungry and feeling just a little deprived. While I’m not saying that what I did wasn’t healthy, it certainly wasn’t sustainable. Since then, every time I’ve tried to restrict a certain type of food, it’s met with failure. No bread for three weeks ends up in a four-day bread binge (with complimentary guilt!). Restricting, or eliminating, just doesn’t work for me. This old gal’s got to feel the freedom. The caged bird doesn’t sing. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Since I reached my goal of 140lbs in 2008, I’ve been trying to lose “the last ten pounds.” Regardless of how good or strong I felt, regardless of how much my husband expressed his pleasure at my physique, I always saw my wrinkly stomach, my love handles, the soft inner thighs. Often, they were the only things that I saw.
Lately, I’ve been coming to realize that I really don’t want to live my entire life wishing I could lose ten more pounds. I’ve starting to actively focus my attention on how I want to live my life, from the way I love to the way I live. How many hours over the past five years have I wasted critiquing myself? (Too many.) How many days have I wasted by allowing myself to be dragged down because I “felt fat”? (Too many.) There’s nothing there that serves me. There’s nothing there that sets an example for my daughters. There’s nothing there that makes me a better person. So I’ve been trying to let that go. I’ve been visualizing the life that I want. Images of my husband and I sitting closely on the couch, heads thrown back belly-laughing; Images of walking on the beach, happy, smiling and confident in my own skin; Images of teaching yoga to a room bursting with people, leading the class with strength, humility and grace. This is the life I want, not one spent tugging my shirt away from the softness on my stomach.
The crazy thing is, that since I’ve changed the way I eat, a lot of that food guilt has just… disappeared. To be clear, I have been eating nearly 100% whole foods. I haven’t substituted meat with non-meat alternatives, I’ve added in beans, seeds and legumes instead. Last night at supper, I finished my bowl of vegetable soup with lentils and still felt hungry, so I had a second. And I didn’t feel guilty. This weekend at the movies with my kids, I shared a kid’s pack with my seven year old, chowing down on popcorn in the afternoon without guilt.
On top of that, my digestive system has been uncharacteristically active. I’ve been going to the bathroom everyday, sometimes even more than that! This is a pretty monumental change in my life from where I was a month ago. And lastly, I’ve lost about five pounds. After deciding to accept myself completely, as I am right now; after deciding to eat what my body actually wants, without fear of what others might thing; after finally starting to move forward from living my life wasting energy on wishing I was skinnier. The weight just… left (full disclosure? I think I pooped it away!).
Don’t get my wrong, I’m not ready to start branding myself with the “V-Word” or preaching from the street corners, I’m just happy to say that this seems to be working – really working in a sustainable, satisfied and happy kind of way – for me right now.
PS: I’ve been so energized by this change in myself, I’ve decided to do a 30 day Vegan Challenge for the month of November. I don’t see it being that difficult except for one staple in my day: the dollop of milk in my morning tea. That ounce of liquid is what I anticipate to me the most difficult change of all. I’d love for anyone out there to consider taking the plunge with me, just for 30 days, to see how you feel!
When I first became aware of the yamas and niyamas (two of the eight limbs of yoga) in the Yoga Sutras, I read them as a list:
With the nature of an individual who thrives on lists, I decided to approach one at a time. Starting with Ahimsa: loving kindness. I would learn to express and practice loving kindness to the exterior world as well as to myself. Then I would move on to Satya (truth).
What I came to realize is two fold. Firstly, there is no conquering of these inspired teachings. There is no one moment when it becomes possible to check Ahimsa off the list. Secondly, the yamas are profoundly intertwined with each other, to the point of being unable to separate. I came to realize that “yoga” requires a different approach than say, training for a marathon.
While there is something extremely satisfying to setting a goal (marathon), creating a plan (training program), acting out this plan (training runs) and achieving said goal (medal at the end of the race), as my understanding of the yogi path deepens, I understand that some journeys are life-long.
Brahmacharya is the conscious decision to use our life force to unveil our dharma (our life’s purpose), instead of frivolously dissipating it in external pleasures (most often interpreted sexually). At first, this meant nothing to me. I’ve been in a monogamous and committed relationship for a decade; I haven’t recklessly dissipated my sexual energy in a long, long time.
As I began to dive deeper into my understanding of self, I came to re-examine my relationship with alcohol. It dawned on me that my generation uses alcohol as a socializer, as a stress relief, as a reward, as commiseration. We use alcohol as a way to numb ourselves to whatever is happening today, good or bad. We use it as an excuse to escape this moment.
Once I began to understand the nature in which I consume alcohol, it became much less appealing to me. I realized that I don’t need a glass of wine in my hand to enjoy the company of my friends, to release the stress from my day, to feel the freedom to do whatever it is that I want to do. I stopped drinking alcohol without any regret or sense of missing out at all. The awesome side effects included most notably lack of hangovers, reduced anxiety and increased awareness of the present moment.
By applying Brahmacharya to my daily life and “indulgences”, instead of interpreting it as harnessing sexual energy, I began to better understand how to respect myself and the gift of life that I have been given. I’m not saying that I’ll never indulge again. I’m not even saying that I’ll never indulge too much again. But again and again, as I begin to apply these ancient values to my own life, I end up traveling into a deeper sense of connection with my spirit and with the world around me.
Since I’ve opened my eyes (and my heart) to the possibility of profound joy, love, spirituality and power residing within me, it seems like the possibility of profound joy has increased.
One year ago, I was getting ready to start my yoga teacher training. Here I am today, running a yoga studio with my husband. To say that my life has changed over the past year is an understatement. My life screeched to a halt and took a dramatic turn off the path I was cruising down.
This past year has been one of deep introspection for me. It’s been difficult, very difficult at times, to sit quietly and have old wounds, fears and insecurities surface. There have been days, weeks, even months that this progression tried the relationships in my life. I re-evaluated everything. To say I pulled my skeletons out of the closet to examine them isn’t quite correct: More accurately, when I began to embrace a yogic lifestyle, those skeletons fell out into the hallway and demanded attention. I had two choices: return to my old ways (which involved a lot of fingers in the ears and la-la-la-la-I-can’t-hear-you’s); or, sweep up the mess and throw it out.
I feel much more peaceful now than I used to. I feel healthier in a way that can’t be credited to physical activity. I feel a glow of energy within my body that I am able to connect with quite easily on most days. I feel… happy. I feel love and laughter bubbling to the surface more than anxiety and worry, and oh, what a glorious relief and joy and blessing that it!
One aspect of my life that received focus this year was the way I ate. Not only what I was consuming, but how and why I was eating. First things first, I was raised in a healthy home, with real food made with love. Yes we ate apple pies and muffins, but my mother spent her afternoons (and often weekends) preparing nurturing, healthy food for us. We had popcorn, but never really chips. We indulged, but always understood the foundation of being healthy: eat your veggies. I am very grateful to my parents for many things, but one of the main ones is their gift of instilling in me a healthy relationship with food.
About six months ago, I reduced my wheat intake at the suggestion of my triathlon coach. I had eliminated wheat before, but eventually the thought of never having another pb&j sandwich made me feel so panicked that I ended up eating three. At once. This time, I told myself it was for training. This time, I told myself that I wasn’t eliminating, I was reducing for the benefit of my health. If I really wanted some pb&j, I would throw some gluten free bread in the toaster. I realized that my internal dialogue determined my success (lightbulb = ON!). Here I am, six months later, and I don’t consume much wheat. I wouldn’t label myself as strictly wheat free, I simply avoid it for most meals. What I’ve realized is that freeing myself from labels has increased my likelihood of success.
At the beginning of this week, I decided to go meatless for one week. It’s been, well, great. At the risk of divulging too much information, it has become fairly obvious to me what was creating my sluggish digestion. I feel energetic and satisfied. So I watched some documentaries. One called Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead and one called Vegucated. The first was the story of a man who lost a ton of weight through juicing. Funny and emotional, it was a great story (and got me to put a juicer on my Christmas wish list). Vegucated was the story of three people who tried a vegan lifestyle for 6 weeks. It was in this film that there was footage of slaughterhouses. Now, I am aware that a lot of people watched Food, Inc when it was released in 2008 but I didn’t. I’ve read extensively about what happens in slaughterhouses. I’ve given a lot of thought to the energy that I’m consuming when I eat meat that lived and was killed in those conditions, but there’s nothing that quite drives something home like the visual, is there.
On the couch with a blanket over my face sobbing, I peeked through my fingers to watch pigs, cows, calves, chickens, lamb be slaughtered. And it turned my stomach.
Now listen, I am not the person who is going to get up in your face if I disagree with you choices. I am not the person who is going to argue my own opinions. As I continue my journey, I feel that it is crucial for me to maintain an open mind and open heart in how I live my life and how I influence others.
I’ve decided to mostly reduce meat. Again, I’m avoiding labels here because ahhhh never another BBQ’d hamburger or chicken wing! Panic!! I’ve decided to focus my diet towards a vegetarian diet (at this moment, I’m going to continue eating diary products and eggs, although am very much considering a 30 day vegan challenge for the month of November) until I’ve finished my half marathon in Feburary. At that time, I’ll assess. If at any point, I really want to indulge in some meat or chicken soup after Christmas, then I’ll approach that situation when I come to it.
This decision isn’t based solely on my bleeding heart, but also on the fact that my family history is rampant with cancer and I have every intention of living a long and prosperous life, surrounded my grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
For me, for my body, for my mind and for my whole health, this is what’s best for me. For today.
Last weekend, when my kids were playing outside and my husband was mowing the lawn, I slipped away for some alone time in my sneakers.
I turned right out of the driveway, down the long hill, cool air flowing through my hair: I always feel like I’m flying when I start. I felt my skin start to tingle with the heat that my increased blood flow produced and then the sweat came.
Tapas: the purifying heat. Coursing through my body, flushing my face and I was breathing deep and steady. My feet followed the road, rolling through my neighbourhood, past people on their Sunday afternoon strolls, past kids on bikes. I turned right again, up a hill. My legs tired, my face sweaty. I felt happiness swell within me.
In yoga we practice honouring the body. Moving into an asana for the body, not for the ego. With a regular and mindful yoga practice, we become more in-tune with ourselves, in every sense. I’ve had yoga teachers tell me to honour my edge, to back off poses with the ego in mind. And while I have definitely succumbed to the voice of my ego telling me to push my body just a little deeper into that pose (and consequently, have suffered for it), that’s not something that I practice on a regular basis.
Yoga has taught me to be gentle with myself. Yoga has helped me understand my body’s biomechanics. Yoga has helped me understand and realize and even begin to practice true acceptance of myself the way I am today.
My sluggish kapha self loooooooves lingering in restorative poses. My sluggish kapha nature would much rather check facebook with my sneakers on then hit the road for a run. So, for me, the Edge isn’t catching myself before I crank into trikonasana, the Edge is pushing myself to get that Tapas flowing.
I practice yoga because it brings me home to myself.
I run because it makes me feel alive.
So, last Sunday, as I wound my way back up the road to my house, I veered left instead of right into a wooded trail in my neighbourhood. Halfway up the steep, steep hill, I stopped, turned off my headphones and placed my palms onto a maple tree.
I felt my pulse in my fingertips. I let the music of my heartbeat lead me into connection with nature. I closed my eyes and felt the heart energy that flowed through my palms unite with the wisdom of the Great Mother. I let emotion flood over me. Waves of sadness followed by waves of compassion and love, tumbling from my heart in this sacred moment of connectivity. I stepped closer and wrapped my arms around the tree, embracing the trunk as lovingly as I would my child. And in the quiet moment on that trail, the Great Mother embraced me back. I knelt down and kneaded my hands into the soft moss that grew on the earth, envisioning my fingers growing roots deep in the soil, connecting with the energy of that tree; of nature; of the entire world.
Imagine how different our lives would be if we let ourselves slow down for long enough to connect with something outside of ourselves? We spend so much time worrying and fretting about tomorrow and yesterday, that we forget how powerful this moment can be.
Imagine how different our lives could be if we found our Edge and honoured it?
Imagine how different our lives would be if we opened our hearts and embraced a tree?