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?
At 24, on a lunch break from work, I peed on a pregnancy test. I knew, I already knew what it would say before I even bought it.
I went home that night, to the apartment that my boyfriend and I shared and told him. So we went and bought another pregnancy test and I peed again and he locked me out of the bathroom while he stared at the clock and two little pink lines and he walked into the hallway and looked at me with a beaming smile and announced what I had known, deep, deep in my heart for weeks.
To the book store I went and I looked, red-faced and embarrassed, through pregnancy books because oh my god what would people think? What if I saw someone that I knew? Nice girls like me didn’t get knocked up at 24 with a boy they had only been dating for 18 months.
Pouring through the pages later that week, I came to the spot that explained the developmental stages of the fetus week by week. Now it seems far away and so, to be honest, I can’t remember if it was week six or week seven, but I read: The baby’s heart has started to beat.
My eyes filled with tears and the relevance of what other people thought fell away and from a very deep and primitive place, I was connected to the little soul inside of me. 18 months together or not, I already knew I was going to marry Steve. We had already had many conversations of babies and weddings and a future together. And so, like that, two became three. And so, like that, I had fallen in love with my baby. My baby. My baby. I was thrilled. I was terrified.
Here we are, eight years later and for the first time, I’ve stepped outside of the home. Sure, I’ve dabbled before. I went back to university a few years ago, the girls have been in childcare outside of our home a few days a week for most of their lives.
I did a lot of soul searching last year, and while that sort of searching definitely kicks up dust that can take a long time to settle, it always came back to my belief that in order to be a good mother, I have to be good to myself. I’ve always known that staying at home with my children full time is not what I want. It’s not me being the best mother I can be, because I become short and cranky and bored and resentful. At the same time, creating a certain balance and energy in our home has been my priority, and so I’ve never been willing to dive into a job that requires that much of my time.
Until now. I gave this a lot of thought and I came to the conclusion that opening a yoga studio was the right thing for us to do. My girls are a little older now, both in school and they enjoy spending time with their sitter, so for one or two hours after school they head to our next door neighbour’s house until my husband or I show up to take them home. There’s tae-kwon do and gymnastics and highland dancing and dinner and baths and reading and snuggles and tears and whining and laughter and lots and lots of hugs and kisses. And there is a big basket of guilt that I have been carrying with me.
It was unexpected. It surprised me. I tell myself that this feeling of guilt doesn’t serve me. I tell myself that just because the picture of their life doesn’t match the picture of my childhood doesn’t make me a bad mother. I tell myself that I am more present in the time I spend with them than I would be if I were at home all day. I tell myself it’s only the beginning and I’ll get used to it, and that they’ll get used to it and yet… it’s still there.
There’s no easy conclusion here. It doesn’t seem like a simple solution will arise (remove x, add y and you will discover z). It feels murky and confusing. It feels like I’m wandering here, alone, and no matter what anyone says, it’s me who has to figure out how to lead my life this way, finding room for everyone and everything that matters to me. It won’t always be confusing; it won’t always feel like I’m choosing between three different things on a To-Do list. Logically, I know this, I really do. But then again, I’ve never been a very logical person.
I ran three races last week, hosted a corporate event and a system wide training program at our studio, we opened the doors yesterday and lived to tell about it. Smiling and sleeping soundly, no less.
Last week was a little nutty, to be honest. As I drove around town feeling somewhat like a mad-woman last Thursday, I realized that my heart was pounding and my eyes were seconds away from filling with tears. I’m so overwhelmed, I thought, I’ve made a mistake. I should have just left things as they were. I wish I was a stay at home mom. Realizing that this train of thought was about to tail-spin me into tears, I acquired myself a cup of tea (my Scottish heritage runs deep, and there is not much in life that a cup of hot tea won’t fix, in my opinion), parked my car beside the water and took ten minutes to myself. I drank my tea and closed my eyes and took deep breaths and after a short time, felt much better.
That was the worst of it. I ran a 5k race on Friday night in the pouring rain, and a 10k Saturday morning before arriving at the studio for the afternoon. By Saturday night I was exhausted, physically and mentally, so I spent Sunday with my kids. We watched a movie, went to the grocery store and did some meal prep for the week.
Monday morning arrived with blue skies and optimism and hope and excitement and, on top of all of that, yogis in the studio during our classes!
So much is unknown still. Will my energy level continue? Will I manage to have dinner ready for the whole week every Sunday? Will I burn out? Will the fact that I miss the kids’ tae-kwon do class every Monday night eventually start to wear on me? Will I ever feel on top of the laundry and cleaning again? And the answer to all of these questions is simply: I don’t know. If I focus on the unknown, my heart starts to race, my stomach knots. Because the known is in the future. The unknown is scary (especially to neurotically organized planners like myself). The unknown makes the picture look fuzzy, because you can’t see what you’re walking into.
Brave and fearless are two words I’ve heard so much throughout this journey. When I think of brave and fearless, I think of my husband. He sees what he wants to accomplish, sets a plan and follows it. He doesn’t stress when conflict or obstacles arise; he simply handles the situation. Myself, on the other hand, I am far from fearless. In fact, sometimes it feels like I’m afraid of everything. And brave? Well, I don’t know about that either. Does bravery worry so much? Does bravery burst into tears when it’s tired? Does bravery eat chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon because it feels stressed?
Yet, despite all of that, despite the doubt and despite the unknown and despite the fear, what always comes back is a deep understanding that this is right. That this is what we are called to do. In university, I spent a lot of time worrying about what job I would have “when I grew up” (see above: unknown future = stress). I had no idea what I wanted. No idea. I only knew that I wanted to help people. It took until my 30’s but here I am, creating a space to help people, in every aspect of their lives. And that’s how I know it’s right, because in my heart I know it’s what I’ve always wanted, I just didn’t know what it would look like. And I certainly didn’t know it could be so scary.
My younger daughter started school this week.
She has been eagerly waiting for this day for well over a year. At four, she would walk with her older sister and I to the bus stop each morning, often wearing her own backpack, slowly creeping to the end of the bus line and the older children climbed up the steps. She followed them to the bus stairs, where we would pull her back each morning.
On Wednesday, she proudly took her place at the front of the line. She jumped up and down excitedly as the bus slowed to a stop in front of her, and then without a moment’s hesitation, she hopped up the steps and took the same seat that she has watched her sister take for the last two years. Together, my two daughters popped their sweet faces up to the window and waved goodbye with beaming smiles filled with love and excitement and the potential that the new school year always brings.
I smiled wide and waved and blew kisses. As the bus pulled away, I turned and walked home beside my husband, tears falling down my cheeks.
How am I suddenly a mother to two school aged children? Where has the past half-decade gone? Long past are the days spent changing diapers and organizing naps and quiet cuddles with nursing babies in the early morning light.
When I was that mother, I thought it would never end. I thought I’d never lose the softness of a baby’s downy head. It didn’t occur to me that the sweet milky breath of an infant would be replaced by stinky sneakers littering the hallway so quickly.
Here we are now, married for 6 years, together for a decade, full blown kids in tow who eat a lot and swim and skate; kids who need a drive to gymnastics and highland dancing; kids who bring home homework and empty lunch boxes; kids who shower and wash themselves.
While I love this moment in our family, and while I excitedly step into our new chapter, I realize that as fast as the last ten years have gone, so will too the next ten years. And when I think that way, my throat becomes awfully tight.
I took my kids to swimming lessons today. As they splashed around practicing front crawl or rocket ship, I heard one of the other parents complaining about his son’s performance in the pool.
Trying to ignore the negativity and something that was none of my business, I focused on keeping my attention on my own kids and smiling or giving them a thumbs up when they looked my way expectantly.
After quite a few really negative comments and groans of disappointment, I realized that I wasn’t succeeding in blocking out this man’s negative energy. I felt something simmer inside of my chest and so instead of saying something rude or inflammatory to him, I picked up our towels and moved to the other side of the pool, where I wouldn’t be able to hear him.
The lesson passed and all of the kids climbed out of the water and as we walked to the car, my older daughter asked me why I had switched seats. So I told her the truth. I told her that one of the other parents was saying unsupportive comments to his son and it was making me feel really sad. It made me feel sad for that boy, because he was trying his best, and that we don’t go to swimming lessons because we already know how to do things perfectly, we go so that we can learn how to swim.
There have been times when I’ve wondered if I’m making the right choices as a parent. There have been times when I feel confident and times when I don’t. I want my children to know love, to understand respect, to feel confident in themselves. I hope that a sense of centre has been instilled in them at a young enough age that as they come into challenging times during their life, they are strong enough to stay true to themselves. Or at least that they don’t stray too far for too long.
When my first child was born, I was overwhelmed by the love that blossomed inside of me. I was humbled by the honour of raising another human being. It felt to me that motherhood was a sacred duty. I’m not saying that there was never a long day or that I never lose my patience or speak too sternly, but I have not lost that feeling: my children are sacred gifts to this world and I have been given the privilege of being their mother.
Being a mother opened my eyes to the fact that all children are sacred gifts, and as we were all children at one time, then we are all sacred souls here on earth for a short time.
It broke my heart to hear the words coming out of that man’s mouth; the frustration and displeasure that he directed towards his son. I knew in my heart that the frustration was coming from deep within, from a place that had nothing to do with anyone other than himself, and that there was no way his son would be able to perform well enough to earn praise. I felt sadness for that boy, because he was trying his best. I felt sadness for that man, because there was deep pain living within him.
Lately, I’ve focused a lot of my energy on staying centered. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. Over the last few months, my center has been elusive a lot of the time. I’ve eliminated a lot of things that seem to pull me away from myself (alcohol, wheat, processed food, toxic energy) in an attempt to stay true; in an attempt to honour myself. It hasn’t always been easy, and I haven’t always been successful, but I remain optimistic that with practice and patience, it will become easier.
That’s why I switched seats at the pool. Out of the shade and into the sun. Away from the negativity and into a place that allowed me to keep the focus on my kids.
I remind myself that it’s all part of the journey. That everyday is one more step on the path, that everyday is going to be exactly the way I decide that it will be. Each morning (and sometimes multiple times through the day), I take breaths and think positive thoughts. Whether I’m meeting contractors, scrubbing the tub or reading a book to my girls, each experience will be the way I decide that it will be. It makes a difference in my life, in my kids’ life and in my husband’s life. Who knows the ripple effect that could cause.
“Yours is the energy that makes your world. There are no limitations to the self except those you believe in. ” Jane Roberts