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.