Sweet Potatoes, and a Plea

 

 

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Sweet Potato

Friends, I have a dinner solution! When it’s 5:30 PM on a rainy day in April and you haven’t the foggiest idea what to make for dinner, the answer….is (NOT five this time, Ashtanga pals) SWEET POTATO!  Go home and  preheat your oven to 375 F. Wash one sweet potato for each member of your family. Use a knife to make x-shaped cuts into the sweet potatoes so the steam can escape. Bake your sweet potato at 375 for 45 minutes. While it’s baking prepare condiments in bowls. Serve each person one baked sweet potato dotted with butter or olive oil, and have them customize their spud with condiments. (Mine were fresh green beans, homemade salsa, black bean hummus and avocado). If you have young ones, I have heard that bacon bits make everybody happy! Et voilà—dinner! You’re welcome.

And now, a plea….

“You’re not a mom, so you don’t really get it.”

“But you get to give them back at the end of the day!”

“Clearly you don’t have kids of your own.”

“Teaching isn’t the same thing as parenting you know.”

YES!

I know. I fully acknowledge that teaching is not the same thing as parenting. It doesn’t even come close.

Yet….in my eleven-years of teaching children eight hours per day (not even mentioning the extra hours for grading, calling and emailing parents, prep work, clubs, school concerts) I have, in addition to teaching the curriculum:

-Held a sobbing boy whose father had died the day before. He was at school so the rest of the family could organize the funeral.

-Carried a ten-year-old with a sprained ankle from the yard to the school.

-Explained long division to countless frustrated little souls, using base ten blocks, markers, white boards and whatever bits of humour would help.

-Put on band-aids, mopped up vomit, calmed the scared.

-Cut up birthday cake, cheered the victorious hockey team, laughed in delight at my students’ accomplishments.

-Silently handed tissues to the girl who didn’t get the lead role in the musical

-Physically separated fighting children, and yes, even had a chair thrown at me.

-Consoled a boy in a red leather jacket whose friends said he couldn’t dance by watching him do the best moonwalk I’ve ever seen.

-Spent the evening after graduation sobbing (at home, so my students wouldn’t have to see me ugly-cry about their awesome milestone).

Doing all of this is hard. Way harder than teaching grammar or writing report cards.

For all these reasons, no matter how much I disagree with parents of my students, I hardly ever say so. Why? Because if my job is hard, Parents, yours is harder. You are trying to see through a think layer of love to do your best, in a bruised and busy world , to raise decent and accomplished human beings. You are doing so while working full-time, running a house, and trying to keep up with current events and basics like tax returns.

BUT I have a small request. I will continue to try not to question your choices. Please, in return, would you refrain from the casually cruel comments mentioned above?

Some are childless by choice. And some of us are childless because of the many twists and turns of life. I take full responsibility for all the of the choices, both good and bad, that have brought me to this place in my life, where I am, as you say, “not a mom”.

I stlll hope I do get to have a partner and a family. I hope I get to mother a child of my own. OR help parent the children of my partner. OR adopt. It doesn’t really matter how it happens. In the meantime, friends who are parents, please “tread softly, for you tread on my dreams.”

 

Learning to Listen….

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There’s a reason I love this photo, and it has nothing to do with the fact that it shows me in pindasana pose. What I love about this photo is that it was taken by a friend, and in the background you can see another friend in final relaxation, and another doing amazing backbends while our teacher, the incredible Tim Feldmann, hangs back until she needs to come up.

What I love about this photo, in short, is that it showcases the beauty of a Mysore room. Each person moving through their yoga practice alone, yet united by a strong purpose, and held in the space of a yoga teacher’s gaze. A moving diversity of body types, dreams, exertion and rest.

Since I came back from my intensive in Miami, I’ve been so grateful to assist my teachers for Saturday Mysore. For the record, here’s what I’ve learned about yoga from being a Mysore assistant.

Your practices are so beautiful. Not because you look like Kino when you get there, though some of you do. But because you pause on your way in to steady your breath before twisting into Marichyasana D. Because you’re terrified but willing to try Bhujapidasana again. Because you’re rolling on your own to exit Garbha pindasana, one softly curved vertebrae at a time. Because through the repeated practice of silence, breathing and asana, your body and spirit have taken on a grace you do not perhaps know you possess.

You are SO hard on yourselves. I thought it was just me. But in the course of assisting, I’ve heard you say to: I can usually do this better. I’m so stiff today. And I’ve quietly witnessed the tears you blink away, the look of defeat as you wipe the sweat away. So I want to say this-and yes, sometimes I’ll need YOU to say it to ME–You got to your mat today. You did your practice, breathing in and out of every posture, even if you did cry. So you did well today. Every stone in the wall of the cathedral is useful and contributes to the solidity of the structure. All practice is good practice.

You are stronger than you think. Abhyasa—practice—builds physical and spiritual muscle. But it also gives us the willingness to look beyond our own limitations. But I don’t bind on this side. Hmm, is your knee ok? Shoulder? Ok, I think you DO bind on this side. And also—Wow! You got up into headstand today. Vairagya—surrender. Surrender to your strength, too. You are more than what you seem, and what you might be is so much gentler and bigger and more brilliant than you can imagine.

Go easy on you. Well, I’m sick today, but I want to practice.  Please be compassionate to yourselves. Do some Sun Salutations and see how you feel. Ashtanga is a practice of healing…not destruction.

Listen. In assisting in the Mysore room, I’ve relearned something important. Likely something everyone else already knew, but just in case…Teaching is a form of listening. Practice is a form of listening. In becoming attuned to your own body, you create space for the truth of your life to bubble up. In assisting and teaching others, you hold space for them to listen to themselves. To hear someone breathe a little more deeply as you press them softly into a squish (forward fold), to know when someone needs help to come out of a pose and calm down is a blessing. It is a privilege to be able to offer others the chance to listen deeply to their souls.

I’m grateful every day that I’m learning to listen.

Inspiring Ideas for 2015

 

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Dali Monastary, Darjeeling, India

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) Plan adventures, both near and far….Why not plan a trip to look forward to while you survive the bleak, frozen-fingered month of February? A Dutch study from 2010 found that anticipating a vacation gives your mood a bigger boost than the trip itself. So by all means, plan a trip to a place you can daydream, read, and obsess about for a bit before. But also plan adventures closer to home. Take a fitness class you’ve never done before. Sign up for a knitting workshop. Leave town for brief hiking expedition. For me, the year 2015 will include a trip to India. To Mysore, of course, to study Ashtanga at the source. But also, I hope, to Agra, Jaipur and Darjeeling, to inhale the green breath of the tea plantations high in the mountains. (Yes, I’m aware that India is also chaos, poverty, riot and color..and I’m looking forward to it ALL 🙂 Closer to home, I’ll be catching the Art Spiegelman show at the AGO. And trying a Barre 3 class. And maybe trying to corral a few friends into doing a salsa lesson with me at Lula Lounge…

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2) Go veg more often…Since returning from Miami, I’ve been eating and cooking mostly vegetarian food (it’s a yogi thing…more on that in another post). I don’t really want to preach about it, because I believe in the power of gathering over dinner, and good food cooked with love. I’ll always eat whatever the people I love serve for dinner, even if it’s meat. But on my own, I eat vegetarian food. So far I feel lighter, happier and more alert this way. In my case, it makes a difference in my practice. Studies show that reducing meat consumption is good for all of us, and the planet. And, gingery lentil soup, jam-filled vegan cookies, black bean burritos…are YUMMY. It’s not about deprivation, my friends. Check out some of my favorite vegetarian chefs: Angela Liddon of ohsheglows.com and Amy Chaplin.

3) Take up a practice...it doesn’t have to be yoga. But it could be yoga 🙂 🙂 If you practice, keep practicing. When it’s dark and cold out so early, it’s easy to let your warm covers seduce you back into slumber. But take heart…once you get there, the shala’s heated. Do yoga, take deep breaths, keep a gratitude diary. If your practice is writing cheerful notes to put in your children’s lunches, keep on doing that. There are so many little but important ways to celebrate our days. Don’t let anyone make you feel like these things are trivial. They’re not. They hint at the heart of why we’re here.

4) Put details behind your dreams…If you’re thinking of making a big change, or even just a little change, create a plan. Write down two or three different versions. Make budgets. Talk to people. Not so they can talk you OUT of your plan. But so that you can back your optimism up with realistic detail. More on how I’m doing that soon.

5) Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes...Something I’m working on is having more compassion for myself and others. Sometimes it’s really hard, as when you feel someone is making an unreasonable request of you. Ultimately though, yoga’s only worthwhile if we’re living it off the mat too….

After all that happened last year, I’m trying to strike a balance between regrouping and moving forward. My hopes are quieter now. but they are real.

Is it too late, on January 22, to wish everyone a Happy New Year? Nonetheless, I do wish all manner of health and fun and good fortune to YOU, my loyal readers. May you rock this year. May IT rock you, in the best possible way. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes: “Transformation is risky, but sexy.” Here’s to making 2015 a year of salutary changes.

 

Three Stars and a Wish

As we close out 2014, just wanted to say a few words….It was a roller coaster year, marked by illness, depression, and a slow but sure recovery. And an amazing experience to end the year. Here, in order, are my three “stars” and one wish about this year.

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STARS

Family and Friends: Mom and Papa. My seestor and her kind fiancé. Aunts, uncles and cousins. All my friends in Toronto, at Howard, at Breathe, in Miami. During the worst parts of this year, from June to November, you lifted me up. For hugs, encouragement, spontaneous dinner invitations, laughs, listening when I was ranting, handing me kleenex when I cried. For being there at the airport when I got home from my big adventure. For your love. If I have recovered from my depression, it is because of you. THANK YOU.May I be there for you in the same way you were there for me.

Yoga: Because no matter what else was happening, placing my feet in samastithi always meant a better day. Because this practice has taught me more about health, effort, love, and letting go than anything else I have tried. Because Marichyasana D is getting easier. Because Svitlana and Christine keep placing me in Supta Kurmasana with infinite patience, believing I am getting somewhere.  And Tim Feldmann’s dropback assists were a revelation (Who knew being tossed upside down could be a blessing? )Yoga has brought me friends near (shout out to the open-hearted early morning gang at Breathe) and far (shout out to the amazing yogis from all over the globe who studied with me at Miami Life Center. Check out my course roomie Sydney’s website Sydney Resner Yoga. Proud of you, friend 🙂 Yogis are always kind, fun and compassionate people. They are often vegetarian, animal lovers, travellers who live lightly on the Earth. Their hearts and minds are open. I am grateful for this path, and all who travel it with me.

And that means everyone–busy moms doing a quick downdog while their toddlers crawl underneath them, busy construction workers who meditate, and all those with whom I practice. There are seasons of practice–seasons where you can do more, seasons where you can do less. Working, taking care of family–it’s all yoga. Yoga is about the quality of awareness you bring to Life–the sthitau, or steadiness of mind.

Writing/Books: This space to write about yoga. My short stories and the amazing coaching I have received from Editor and Writer Stephanie Vandermeulen. The escape, or the peace or being wrapped up in a good book. It was Emily Dickinson who wrote: “If it makes me so cold that no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.” Thank God for the words that feed our souls.

WISH

Perspective: A year ago someone asked me a question to which I wish with my whole heart I had said yes. With my depression coloring every interaction, the walls of my world became charcoal. I was a drama queen, unable to understand the feelings of others and convinced my sadness and anger were the only important things, I feel such shame about this now. I wish I had sought treatment sooner. Then I would have the perspective to know that  it doesn’t matter who owns the house or whose ex comes for dinner. I wish I had known that conversation with people you love is way more important than an extra half hour of sleep. May I know it now, and cherish the people around me.

Happy, Healthy 2015 to everyone who reads. Back tomorrow with some inspiring ideas for the New Year.

Two Books…

Just a quick post to suggest two good books for those who are still in that snuggly, turkey and cookie induced post-Christmas haze.

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Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald—How can you go wrong with MacDonald, actress, documentary host and author of the heartbreaking novel Fall on Your Knees and quite possibly the funniest send up of Academia/Shakespearian parody, Goodnight Desdemona, Goodmorning Juliet? MacDonald does not disappoint. In her tongue-in-cheek new novel Adult Onset, she reveals what’s really going on behind the remodeled red-brick façade of that middle class house in Toronto: mayhem. MacDonald’s heroine and alter-ego, Mary-Rose MacKinnon, is a writer happily married to her same-sex partner. More cogently for the narrative she’s a mother of two, including one school-aged boy and a spunky, sparky toddler daughter. In this book, she struggles with depression, not-so-latent childhood trauma, her partner’s absence, and the daily battle to get her toddler to put on her boots. Not necessarily in that order. Hilarious and moving, this book will surely delight and harrow all the moms out there. And, from the very first line, an homage to the opening of Dante’s Inferno, we know we are in the hands of a literary master.

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Nominated for the Giller. Both the funniest and saddest book I read this year… the story of children’s writer Yolandi (Yoli) and her suicidal sister Elfrieda (Elf) a classical pianist. To describe it as the story of how Yoli considers helping Elf end her life would be to diminish this so-true-to-life-you-can-smell-the-hospital- disinfectant-and-feel-the-Winnipeg-cold novel. Poetic. Hard to read. Full of one of family’s awkward attempts at normalcy in the face of the incomprehensible. A book so full of laughter, love and sorrow it should come with a warning label. Easily the best Canadian book of 2014.

Back tomorrow with some reflections on yoga, living and the year that was.

 

Resurfacing in Miami

Hi Everyone….

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I haven’t posted here for a long time because I have been struggling with whether what I have to say has any value for my readers. In my daily life of teaching a middle grade, yoga and writing, it often feels like the only adults whose opinions matter are parents, preferably parents with several children and a mortgage. Or in yoga, those whose dropbacks flow fluidly like water, or in writing, those who have already published several books. Being a mere practitioner in all of these areas, and not a parent to boot, I fell into a very low place in my life.

After fighting through depression and a break-up, I needed the chance to heal and grow. So I resolved to do somehing about it. That something was taking unpaid leave from my job to complete a one month Ashtanga Intensive with the great yogis Kino MacGregor and Tim Feldmann. (I was very blessed to be accepted into the program !) At their shala, the Miami Life Center, in Miami, Florida. Palm trees, white sands, turquoise waters. And eight hours of yoga teacher training per day. At the moment, we are half-way through.

So, even though I am merely a pilgrim in yoga as in everything else, I thought my readers might be interested in what we are learning here.

Firstly, I am learning with a fun, open-hearted group of yogis from all over the world—Hong Kong, China, Australia, England and all over the US—and there’s me, the lone Canadian. Our group includes a former member of the military, organizers of music festivals, artists, photographers, entrepreneurs—who all share a common passion for yoga.

Our Intensive is wonderful and exhausting and very worthwhile. The remarkable Kino MacGregor teaches us Chanting, Yoga Philosophy, Vinyasa and Adjustments. As a teacher, she is strong, kind and very knowledgeable. Her philosophy lectures reveal long study and deep reading of the Sutras, Vedas and all the different points of view and commentaries on those philosophies. Her Vinysasa workshops have been demanding. The first Thursday we learned the Vinyasa Count for Surya Namaskara A and B by doing 54 sun salutations while reciting the Vinyasa aloud at the same time. I’ll never hear « Ekam Inhale » in quite the same way again !

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Please excuse this view of my bottom! It’s not every day you get adjusted by Kino MacGregor. Photo Credit Yanni Demelo.

Tim Feldmann, Kino’s husband, is equally brilliant. He has practiced yoga and meditation for twenty years, and was a professional dancer before that. In addition, his own experiences of injury make him an insightful teacher of anatomy. Tim is very even-keeled, with with vast humour and culture at his fingertips. Our classes with him have been hands-on, (« Locate the vastus medialis on your partner. Locate the psoas ») and full of precise anatomical knowledge, expertly applied to yoga. All underpinned by a deep understanding of the breath and yoga philosophy.

In addition, we have been treated to guest lectures and workshops with equally erudite friends of Kino and Tim. Among them are the great Ashtangi Tim Miller, Ayurvedic specialist Jesus Caballero, Sanskrit scholar Ma Bhaskarananda, and other talented teachers at MLC, including Patrick Nolan and Daylene Christensen, and the wonderful Mysore assistants.

Yes, there have been breakthroughs in my practice, thanks to great assists. Hands to the ground in Prasaritta Padottanasana C, binding in Marichyasana D, and stronger finishing poses. But by far the most important epiphany for me has been about Vairagya, which is the Sanskrit word for non-attachment, or surrender.

I am terrible at Vairagya. Abhyasa—effort, disciplined practice, and Tapas—heat or zeal, now these things I understand. Tell me to send my shoulders strongly down my back and press my palms and I will do it as though my very life depends upon it. But Vairagya—non-attachment, surrender ? THAT is hard. The other day, when Tim was adjusting me in baddha konasana A, pressing my back forward with each exhale until my nose almost met the ground, he felt me tense up. He paused for a moment and said « Find Ishvara (God) Andréa. TRUST. » And just for a moment, at the end of the exhale, I did.Floating there on the breath, deeper in this pose than I have ever been, I finally understood what Kino and Ma Bha and Jesus had all been saying—we are all part of a Higher Consciousness. Beyond,the body, mind and soul, in the space of the exhale, we really are all One. Each of us is but one story told by the Higher Self to which we all belong.

And in that space, we are all worthy.

An Interview with Jaimee Horn

Bookish Yoga Girl Presents : the Yoga Heroes Series Yoga Heroes will be a regular feature on this blog, and will spotlight amazing yoga instructors, scholars and therapists from Breathe Yoga Studio and the wider yoga community of Toronto.

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Photo Credit: Tim Bermingham

Jaimee Horn

I’m so pleased and grateful to present our first interview with dancer, writer and Breathe yoga instructor Jaimee Horn. Even though Jaimee was immersed in an advanced yoga training, when I asked for an interview, she immediately said yes. Originally from Ottawa (as so many good people are !), Jaimee’s background in dance, together with her yoga practice have given her a rich and subtle body awareness, as well as profound knowledge of anatomy. But it’s Jaimee’s particular brand of yoga magic that keeps students coming back for more. Whether making an epic batch of healthy « bliss » treats for a moonlit yoga event, leading fluid vinyasa, or breaking down the intricacies of headstand, Jaimee puts her students at ease. Her humour and compassion shine through in every class. She would say that it’s important not to stress about your practice, because « after all, it’s only yoga .» Yet, as you will see, yoga has changed Jaimee’s life in many ways.

Jaimee Horn talks about her practice, being awake, and her favorite kind of journey…

What brought you to yoga? When I first discovered the practice of Yoga, it was a way for me to cross train my body. I was actively living my life as a professional dancer and interpreted Yoga as a way to stay active and in shape, but not as a mindful practice or lifestyle. The desire to slow down my Yoga practice did not present itself for almost two years, but when it did, the need to listen deeply challenged everything I had identified with up until that point. I felt conflicted. My truth was changing and although it was messy, there was no doubt that I had to attend to the words my heart was whispering. Once I discerned that my previous dance life’s work could inform my work as a yogi, the transition from dancer to yoga instructor happened fluidly.

How has yoga changed your life, outlook, relationships?  The short answer is that I am more aware and awake then I was before. The less abbreviated answer is that it has changed a lot … I’ve created space for the people and things that inspire me, I’ve learned the importance of creating rituals, I met the person I love the most in the world, and I feel more connected to my life’s purpose; all because of Yoga. I sleep better, I feel more grateful, ask more questions, and have more confidence. I make more informed choices, I have a voracious appetite for knowledge and information, and every time I learn something new I eagerly dissect it. Life is exciting, busy and beauty-full.

There are brief moments that I feel like what I’ve chosen to do pales in comparison to some of the noble causes being fought for by others, but then I remind myself that there too many ways for people to numb themselves to ailments such as chronic fear, anxiety, pressure and corruption; that are so prevalent in our society. I’ve chosen to help people connect to their body and expand their consciousness, and do my best to hold space for them to listen; because that feels like the most authentic and worthy way I can be of service.

Where do you think the yoga world will go next? I think we are on the edge of a big shift… Once upon a time there was this major industrial revolution… And then not so long ago there was huge progress in the IT industry. Next up (in my humble opinion), will be a significant adjustment to what we value in our lives; a spiritual revolution of sorts.

So, where do I think the Yoga world is going next? I think it will start to infiltrate more parts of our lives, and significantly affect how we make decisions outside of the studio. For most of us, Yoga begins by doing poses on a mat with the guidance of a teacher; but it quickly becomes so much more than that. It becomes a way of life. I hope that with as many people practicing Yoga as there are now, that we will begin to make more mindful decisions about our own wellness and what that entails, the happiness of others, and the holistic health of our planet.

Current pose/family of poses you are curious about I am not so much curious about a particular pose or family of poses per say, but I am very interested in how to sequence postures in a way that is effective and tidy, but sensuous. I am interested in the rhythm of the practice, the experiential anatomy of the body and the energetics of the asanas.

Your best advice to new yogis…Find a studio that is offering a basics or foundations workshop for brand new yogis, and sign up. Don’t just roll in to any class with your well-intentioned partner or best friend that has been practicing for a while because it jives with your schedule. Odds are that experience will be more intimidating than supportive. It doesn’t matter if you are a former dancer or a pro-athlete or if you have super awesome body awareness. Yoga can be hard and there is room for injury when you don’t know what you are doing. Start at the beginning with other beginners.

Finish this sentence…“The best journeys……will have wine at the end.”

Where can you find Jaimee? Well, she’ll be offering an Arm Balancing Workshop at Breathe on Sunday, October 19, 2014. For more details, please check out Breathe Yoga Studio and www.jaimeehorn.com

Thank you Jaimee, for your time and insights.