Travel while you’re young

Scenes of Germany and OktoberfestIn the last month I’ve noticed a lot of net chatter in favour of travelling while you’re young (most notably this piece from Huffington Post). Or maybe I’ve been more predisposed to notice these kinds of articles as we’re preparing for our own travels – although we just barely count as young!

My husband and I have entertained the idea of living in Europe since about 2004, when we less-than-seriously looked into getting UK visas. After spending time in England, France, and Germany last fall and my husband’s Eastern European adventure with my brother in the spring, we decided we were serious about living in another country.

Outside of a short stint in California, I’ve lived in Canada my whole life. While I love my country and I know living in another country will be challenging, I want to become immersed in a new way of life. I yearn for the empathy that comes with understanding how others live, the depth of cultural appreciation that cannot be gained simply as a tourist, and the insight that will come from recognizing all the ways cultures are alike and distinct.

After spending about a year applying for positions in Europe and getting no nibbles, my husband and I began evaluating options for moving overseas without jobs in place. We discovered this summer that we both qualified for visas under the German/Canadian Youth Mobility Agreement and the French/Canadian Youth Exchange Agreement – although we had to apply by mid-August when my husband turned 36.

The short timeline mobilized us and we applied for German visas a few days before my husband’s 36th birthday. When our visas were granted in just two days we took this as a sign that we were in for smooth sailing. Within a week we had signed the paperwork to list our condo, told our families and close friends, and begun the process of whittling down our possessions. Unfortunately, our hopes for a smooth transition out of our condo were scuttled by building re-piping work (five weeks of construction in our unit!) that meant we took our place off the market.

The construction is coming to a close, our condo is listed again, and now we’re hoping for a quick sale. We have just a few weeks left in Vancouver as our flight from Calgary to Frankfurt is November 4, with our year-long German live/work visas starting the day we arrive.

We decided to fly out of Calgary to get an Air Canada-operated flight (our dog, Sofie, is just the right size to fly in the cabin with Air Canada, but too big for most other airlines) and to spend a few days with my husband’s family. Tickets are booked, Sofie’s started the process to get certified for travel, and we’re counting down the days until our German adventure gets underway!

We picked Germany over France pretty much by flipping a coin. I was in favour of France, my husband was leaning towards Germany, but neither of us were opposed to either. Perhaps it was the beer and pretzels that cemented Germany as the front-runner!

We’re planning to start our German year with a couple months in Berlin and hope to travel to parts of Northern Germany (Hamburg, Hannover & the North Coast), along with Belgium, the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic while we’re Berlin-based. Maybe we’ll even brave Scandinavia in the winter!

We’d like to be further south in the spring and summer to explore into France, Italy, Switzerland, and that area and to allow my husband the chance to do some cycling trips through the Alps. We’re being pretty loose with the planning and being open to wherever the experience takes us.

Ideally, we hope to stay in Europe for at least a couple years, but we know that life (and visas!) could take us in unpredictable directions.

One of the things I’m most looking forward to is moving outside my comfort zone by being exposed to a German way of thinking and shaking up the routines I’ve settled into in Canada. I want to re-learn how to do things I take for granted now (like grocery shopping or taking public transit) and expand my horizons.

We’re looking for adventure and the opportunity to re-invent our day-to-day lives; embracing the idea of traveling when you’re young… and when you’re not so young, too!

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Unease in easy pose

Laura sitting in easy pose on a Hawaiian beachSukasana or easy pose is sometimes decidedly not easy. In fact, it’s name is often a misnomer and holding the pose can be very challenging for anyone who has troublesome ankles, knees, or hips.

Without a block or bolster under my seat, ‘easy pose’ becomes ‘incredibly-hard-and-uncomfortable pose’ for me within a couple minutes. Knee injuries, tight hips, and internal femoral rotation come together to make sitting cross-legged a hard pose to hold when I’m not propped. Which means I’m rarely in sukasana without something tucked under my butt – even if it’s only a folded mat or sweater.

Just about everyone who’s taken a yoga class has done easy pose. It’s often where a practice begins and ends and is the most common position for meditating. If you find sukasana decidedly uneasy, try adding height under your seat – props can make a huge difference!

Easy pose

Why it’s good

  • Stretches knee and ankle joints – and sometimes the hips as well
  • Help strengthen the muscles along your spine (erector spinae) and contributes to good posture
  • Helps calm your mind and manage stress when you hold the pose as part of meditation

How to do it

  • Sit on your mat or the floor, with your buttocks on the edge of a cushion, block, bolster, or folded blanket
    • Sitting on something tilts your pelvis forward and helps your knees come to the floor
    • The higher your seat, the easier it is to relax your hips and soften your knees
  • Bend your knees so they fall to the outside of your body and place one foot in front of the other
    • Avoid crossing your ankles, which puts pressure on the joints
    • Add padding under your ankles and/or feet if they are sensitive or if the floor is particularly hard
    • If your knees aren’t resting comfortably, support them with folded blankets or blocks
  • Find the centre of your seat by moving  back and forth and from side to side

    • You should feel evenly balanced – right and left, front and back
  • Straighten your spine, roll your shoulders back and down, and lift through your collar bones
  • Rest your hands on your knees or thighs or in your lap; relax your hips and legs
  • Feel the crown of your head float up towards the ceiling, connecting you with the sky; feel your sitting bones grow heavy, rooting you into the earth
  • Bring balance to the pose by alternating sides
    • If you’re holding easy pose for a few minutes, switch your front leg halfway through
    • If you’re coming into easy pose multiple times in a practice, change which leg is in front each time

To come out of easy pose:

  • Uncross your legs (using your arms and hands to help if you’d like) and slowly unbend your knees
  • Gently bring movement back into your legs
    • Straighten and bounce your legs
    • Rest the soles of your feet on the mat/floor, bend your knees,  and drop them side-to-side in windshield wipers
  • Carry on with the rest of your practice or the rest of your day

Easy pose externally rotates the hips, so you may wish to counter it with an internally rotated pose like deer (see how to do deer pose on YinYoga.com), although many people feel no need for any counter pose at all.

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Breathe in beautiful yoga

Breathe in coolness, calmness, tranquility, and serenityLast night I had the pleasure of doing one of my favourite poses, savasana, under the guidance of one of my favourite teachers, Brenda at Beautiful Yoga. It was extra meaningful as our lives are heading in very different geographical directions and the class was likely our last together.

Brenda was my very first yin yoga teacher and one of my biggest supporters when I was considering yoga teacher training. She instilled in me a love of slow movement and further developed my appreciation for guided relaxation and a really good rest. She also has an amazing voice – perfect for yoga nidra and magical for singing. Brenda’s voice often resonates in my head for days after a class and I was delighted that we chanted as part of meditation last night. 

My singing voice is nowhere near as magical as Brenda’s, but my speaking voice is also pretty perfect for yoga nidra! Happily, I’m doing a lovely long yoga nidra (guided relaxation) as part of the class I’m teaching tonight at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre.

When Brenda re-awakens students from savasana (corpse pose), she often instructs us to breathe in coolness, calmness, tranquillity, and serenity. Those words frequently echo in my mind and I’ll draw on them tonight to help students leave the studio feeling blissfully relaxed.

Hope you’re able to join me at 6:30pm tonight for yin yoga with extra-long relaxation! Or at the very least, that you’re able to breathe in coolness, calmness, tranquillity, and serenity wherever you find yourself this evening.

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Laugh at adversity

Text reading: laugh at adversity

There will always be impediments and obstacles. Any complicated process (like real estate transactions or renos!) will inevitably involve challenges. I’m reassuring myself that these are simply stumbling blocks, not immovable forces.

I contend that not only can you laugh at adversity, but it is essential to do so if you are to deal with setbacks without defeat.

~Allen Klein, American businessman and music executive

The man behind this quote has an interesting story involving lots of legal battles in the music industry. I may not want to channel his ethics (or lack thereof), but certainly the idea of laughing at adversity is a good one – ha ha!

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Nosing forward

Collage of Laura post-nose bleedA few days ago I trepidatiously did my first downward-facing dog in over a month. The last day I did downward-facing dog or any sustained forward-folding posture, I had an extreme nose bleed. The forward-folding may have contributed to a scab from the septoplasty surgery I had three weeks prior coming off, which triggered major bleeding.

On July 29, I had blood streaming from my nose and mouth for hours – more blood than I thought possible. Thankfully, Dr Nabi (the otolaryngologist who performed my septoplasty) met me at the hospital and we were able to stop the bleeding before I required a transfusion.

I was hospitalized overnight, but got to go home the next afternoon. After a night in a hospital ward, sleeping in my own bed felt incredible – even if I did have to be propped up to elevate my nose!

After five days with uncomfortable packing in my right nostril, I met Dr Nabi to have him take it out. Understandably concerned that removing the packing might trigger another massive bleed, Dr Nabi took every precaution possible – none of which ended up being necessary. The packing came out smoothly and cleanly, with almost no blood at all.

After the packing came out, recovering from the massive nose bleed was quicker and easier than recovering from surgery. While my hemoglobin levels were low and I was fighting an infection, I was in much better shape than after surgery. Eating high iron foods, taking lots of naps, and regularly rinsing my nose with saline all helped.

Laura in downward-facing dogWhen I last saw my surgeon, he was very impressed with the recovery and cleared me to return to regular activity – including downward-facing dog. But even after Dr Nabi’s reassurance, I was nervous about holding my head lower than my heart for any extended period of time.

I’d seen my therapist and worked through the emotional trauma of the massive nose bleed, but couldn’t muster the courage to come into forward folds. I devised several yoga sequences without forward folds to ensure I could keep up my practice, but yoga without forward folding feels a little incomplete.

Last Friday it finally felt like it was time. It had been over a month since my nose bleed, the nasal soreness was almost entirely gone, and I’d received a clean bill of health.

Initially, downward-facing dog felt foreign and scary. I moved slowly through a sun salutation sequence, nervously approaching each repeat of downward-facing dog. By the fifth round, I felt comfortable again and was content to hang out in downward-facing dog for a couple minutes.

I’m back to a full yoga practice again, forward folds and all, and have rediscovered the joy of downward-facing dog!

While the septoplasty process was longer and more complicated than I anticipated, it was worth it and I’d unhesitatingly recommend Dr Nabi. He’s the first (and hopefully only!) otolaryngologist I’ve seen, but I can’t imagine a better ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Hopefully, this is the end of my nose saga and now I just get to enjoy the ease of breathing through both nostrils!

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Find rest

Laura lying on a rock in savasanaWhatever your plans are for the last long weekend of summer, I hope they involve a bit of relaxation. There’s often a lot of pressure to pack the Labour Day weekend full of summertime activities before the whirlwind of fall, but what about enjoying doing nothing?

Find rest in the forest, in a park, at a beach, on your living room floor, maybe even on a boat. Take half an hour and just lie down.

It’s not lazy or self-indulgent, it’s a recharge.

If you’re looking for an easy way to find rest this weekend, join me at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre for a delightful end-of-the-month yin yoga class tonight. Class starts at 6:30pm and we’ll slide into savasana (corpse pose) no later than 7:10pm.

During savasana, my voice leading you through relaxing every part of your body will help you find a deep, conscious state of relaxation. This ancient technique of yoga nidra (guided relaxation) encourages a sleep-like state that reduces tension, alleviates anxiety, and fosters an overall sense of well-being.

Find rest over this last long weekend of the summer. Fall tends to be active and rushed; take some replenishing downtime that allows you to start your September feeling balanced and calm.

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Nature loves courage

Quote: Nature loves courageNature loves courage.

You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up.

This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it is a feather bed.

~Terence McKenna
American author, lecturer, and psychonaut

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Summer camp sukasana

Summer campers sitting cross-legged - with Laura in neon pants!For a few summers, this time of year meant going to camp on Gambier Island. I discovered a bunch of photos from camp a while back (including the one to the right), which triggered a memory of my first exposure to yoga.

One of the camp counsellors was obviously a yogi; she led the cabin in meditations and would help us prepare for sleep by doing guided relaxation. Summer campers sitting in sukasana (easy pose or cross legged) now seems a little silly (or maybe that’s a reaction to my crazy neon pants!), but that introduction to yoga obviously sparked something.

Summer camp was likely where my appreciation of yoga nidra stems from and the childhood connection is probably part of why teaching and practicing this form of guided conscious relaxation is so powerful for me.

The yin yoga class I’m teaching tonight at Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre taps into that summer camp spark: a short sequence of yin poses, 20-ish minutes of guided relaxation, then a long savasana.

Join me at 6:30pm tonight and say farewell to any stresses you’ve accumulated in July with a deeply relaxed practice. I might even wear neon for a little nostalgia 🙂

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Pose like an Egyptian

Laura holding sphinx pose on top of a big rockBack-bending sphinx pose can’t help bring to mind the Great Sphinx of Giza in Egypt. I like using that enormous limestone statue as inspiration when holding the posture in a yin yoga practice: level gaze, long neck, relaxed shoulders, and unstrained stillness.

Dogs are also phenomenal models for sphinx. My dog, Sofie, often flops down into sphinx to wait for the next bit of excitement to cross her path.

In a yin yoga practice, the purpose of sphinx is not to bend your lower back as much as you possibly can, but to use your arms and belly to support the weight of your torso and let your back soften. It’s even better if you can convince your neck, shoulders, hips, and legs to relax as well.

Resist the temptation to come into your deepest back bend; instead, find a comfortable compression through your low back. You can always intensify the posture as you sink into it. Likewise, you can always reduce the intensity if you’re getting warning signs that it’s becoming too much.

The gentlest sphinx is simply resting flat on your stomach with your chin on your hands – although that’s certainly resembles the sphinx in Egypt a lot less!

Sphinx

Why it’s good

  • Compresses the lower back, which counters our strong forward-folding tendencies
    • we rarely bend backwards in the course of our daily lives, but often bend forwards (e.g. while driving, working at a computer, reading, lifting groceries/kids/dogs)
  • Helps to create a flexible spine and tone back muscles
  • Stretches stomach muscles and helps open the throat and upper chest
  • Can release tension from the shoulder blades/mid-back
  • Aids in detoxification
    • releasing the pose give the kidneys a fresh supply of blood, which that flushes out toxins

How to do it

  • Start by lying facedown
    • let your belly press into the mat as you breathe
  • Draw your forearms under your chest with elbows bent
    • keep your elbows ahead of your shoulders
  • Rest the weight of your torso onto your forearms and relax your shoulders
    • feel your shoulders drop away from your ears; allow your shoulder blades to soften
  • Keep your chest and collar bones open
    • feel your lungs expand in all directions with every inhale and let go of tension with every exhale
  • Experiment with the positioning of your arms, hands, legs, and head until you find the right balance of compression in your low back, stretch along your front, and ease through your shoulders
    • To decrease compression in your low back:
      • draw your elbows further away from your chest, letting your torso come closer to the floor
      • widen your legs and/or your elbows/forearms
    • To increase compression in your low back
      • bring your elbows closer to your chest (just as long as they’re still ahead of your shoulders)
      • narrow your legs
      • rest your forearms on a bolster or block to bring your chest further from the floor
      • bend your knees and let your heels come towards your buttocks
    • To reduce stress on your shoulders and release tension in your upper back
      • rest your torso on a folded blanket, block, or bolster
      • place a soft, small weight (like an eye pillow or bean bag) between your shoulder blades to encourage them to relax
    • To stretch the back of your neck and stimulate your throat
      • drop your chin towards your chest without compressing into your collar bones – don’t round your upper back
    • To stretch your throat and compress the back of your neck
      • turn your face towards the ceiling, being sure to keep your jaw and throat relaxed
  • Keep your head centred between your shoulders and your allow your eyes to close or your gaze to soften
  • Hold sphinx pose for up to six minutes
    • adjust your head/arm/leg positioning as necessary to intensify or lessen the compression in your low back, but resist fidgeting

To come out of sphinx:

  • For a little extra stretch, inhale and draw the crown of your head upwards, without letting your shoulders come towards your ears
  • As you exhale, gently slide your elbows outwards, slowly lowering your torso to the mat
  • Rest on your belly for a few moments, enjoying the flow of energy and fluid through your low back

Child’s pose is good counter to release the lower back, but some people find that simply lying on their stomachs and letting their breath move to the area that was compressed in sphinx is enough to relieve low-back tension.

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The nose knows

NoseSurgeryThis time last week my nose was bleeding profusely, the result of septoplasty surgery some hours before. The surgery went exceptionally well; the surgeon was delighted, I had no adverse reaction to the general anaesthetic, and a recovery room nurse even called me “bright as a berry.” Everything from waking up at 5:30am that morning and not eating to pre-op prep through to walking out of the hospital was almost effortless – much easier than I thought it would be.

The recovery, however, was not as smooth as I had anticipated.

While there wasn’t much pain, there was a lot of blood. I didn’t clot quickly and, even with the packing the surgeon left in my nose to sop up the bleeding, I spent the first couple days changing the gauze underneath my nose regularly and wishing for thicker blood.

Thankfully, the bleeding stopped after a couple days and I was left with discomfort, wooziness, and the continued joy of sleeping without fully lying down.

After a solid day without bleeding, it was time to get the packing out. The packing is great for controlling blood flow and keeping tissues separate so they don’t fuse together while healing (particularly important as the point of the procedure was to give my nasal passages more space), but it does introduce greater potential for infection and it’s damn uncomfortable.

I wasn’t sure if the crusty strings dangling from my nostrils would come out with the packing or if they were part of the stitches. Turns out “packing” is code for “tampons” and the surgeon used those strings to pull them out.

Getting the packing out was brutal. All blood and saline and mucous and Otrivin. Without the general anaesthetic of the surgery, I didn’t have the luxury of drifting off into oblivion while thinking about my favourite vacation spot and having the surgeon do all the messy work without me seeing or feeling it.

I left the hospital much less bright than after surgery and continued to ooze blood from my nose through the night. The next day I started experiencing head-splittingly painful sinus congestion, which didn’t get any better when I burst into tears. Turns out crying doesn’t make sinus congestion any less painful… but decongestants do 🙂

Equipped with Benylin (not my usual cold-fighter Advil Cold & Sinus as the ibuprofen wouldn’t play nicely with the antibiotics and also acts as a blood thinner… not helpful when I’m trying not to bleed!), plenty of fluids, saline nasal spray, and lots of naps, I’m feeling much better. I’m still tired, but my nose hasn’t bled for three whole days and the soreness is manageable.

I’m reminding myself to take it easy and not to expect that I’ll be entirely well yet – the surgery was just a week ago!

While it’s too early to say if the surgery has been a true success, I am already finding it easier to breath through my nose. Even with the congestion (along with the sutures and scabs that must still be there), there’s an ease of movement through my nasal passages. The surgeon said he took a lot of bone out of my right nostril, so it’s no surprise that things are clearer.

I’m hopeful that recovery will proceed smoothly and that within a few months I’ll be breathing easy… any that maybe I’ll even have stopped sleeping with my mouth open!

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