In the year ahead

Dense fog a head on a highway
Will forgiveness, kindness, and gentleness lift the fog ahead?

2019 was a rough year for me. I felt out of place, uncertain, overwhelmed—like my life had been uprooted. A plant yanked out of the ground rather than a seedling pre-emptively watered, carefully dug up, padded in burlap, with the root structure lovingly secured for replanting.

Our resettling from Copenhagen to Zürich was not gentle for me. It was fast and I felt like I shouldered the brunt of the work—especially as my husband started his new job before both his contractual start date and his official last day at the Danish office. It still feels like I’m expending more emotional effort making Zürich feel like home, but at least the husband and the dog are fairly settled and happy. Their contentment makes it a little easier to believe that leaving Denmark might not be the worst thing ever.

This time last year I had just given notice at a job I liked and was good at. Where I was surrounded by supportive colleagues who believed in my abilities, sought out my input, and occasionally got drunk alongside me at Friday bar. I was about to announce my departure to the co-operative yoga studio where I’d found (and helped create) a beautiful, welcoming community. We had started to break the news to our friends and extracted promises to come visit. I’d hurriedly met with a relocation consultant about the logistics of moving our stuff. I was strategising how to transport our dog and ensuring her veterinary requirements were in place. My visa application was underway and I was waiting to hear when I’d have to travel to Stockholm to submit all the documentation at the Swiss Regional Consular Centre for the Nordic and Baltic Countries. I was also preparing to meet my teenage niece in London for her first European trip as well her first time alone on an airplane.

January 2019 was full of frenzy. January 2020 is much quieter, with much more time to ruminate. It’s nice to have a breather and the opportunity for contemplation, but it’s also letting my brain fill with ‘what-ifs’ and ‘what-nows’—and the sense that life is incomplete, imperfect, and a little uncomfortable in Switzerland. That comes along with the feeling that I’m doing everything wrong. My mind tells me that not feeling ‘at home’ in Zürich is clearly all my fault. I was able to build a happy, fulfilling life in Copenhagen with lots of support and connections and a strong sense of worth. Why haven’t I been able to make that happen here?

As I contemplate the year past and the year to come, one line in Neil Gaiman’s annual New Year’s blog post rings particularly true:

I hope that, for all of us, in the year ahead, kindness will prevail and that gentleness and humanity and forgiveness will be there for us if and when we need them.

From A NEW YEAR’S THOUGHT… posted on January 31, 2019 by Neil Gaiman

I need the reminder to be kind and gentle with myself and my new city and all the people and experiences that come my way. And being able to forgive to the universe (and probably my husband, too) for a premature Danish departure would likely lift some the fog and allow me to enjoy the Swiss sunshine—and perhaps make this place feel more like home.

Gaiman specifically talks about the refugee experience in his last post of 2019 (he’s a tremendous supporter of UNHCR) and I cannot possibly compare my plight to that of millions of forcibly displaced people around the world. But these hopes for the year ahead—kindness, gentleness, humanity, forgiveness—are universal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve resettled, are long-settled, or something in between we could all use the reassurance and optimism these words bring.


Photo by unsplash-logoMarkus Spiske

Darkness inspires deep relaxation

This coming Saturday I’m teaching a special extra-long yoga class at Younion Yoga to mark the Winter Solstice. It’s the third year I’ve led this seasonally-driven session and I particularly love using yoga to embrace darkness on this longest night of the year. The inspiration for the practice fits perfectly with my teaching style: deliberately slow, purposely restful, mindfully self-centred, well-supported—and with a bonus literary touch. 

Slow yoga is advanced yoga

I did my first yoga teacher training with Shakti Mhi in Vancouver (she’s now in Tel Aviv). Her 200-hour training follows traditional hatha lines and Shakti was never a fan of sweating profusely during a practice. An overall sense of peace, comfort, ease (often known as sukha in Sanskrit) underlies Shakti’s asana teaching style and she focused on maintaining relaxed, natural breath—no huffing or puffing here! Well, unless it’s part of pranayama (breathing exercises). 

These principles underlie how I teach so-called ‘regular’ yoga and perfectly fit my favourite styles: yin and restorative. I give lots of space for rebounds between poses, encourage students to move slowly, and suggest relaxed, long holds. Many yogis love an athletic, quick-paced flow (think vinyasa), but that’s not my style. Shakti spread the gospel that slow yoga is advanced yoga—and I’m definitely a convert!

Supervised almost-napping

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that an ideal savasana (meaning resting in corpse pose) is at least 10% of the total practice. So seven and a half minutes for a fairly standard-length yoga class and nine for a longer 90-minute session (but why not round up to 10?). That might seem counterproductive (after all, isn’t the purpose of doing yoga asana to move?!?), but I really believe that this intentional, conscious rest is where we soak up most of the benefits. It’s a way to press pause and reset.

For a tiny fraction of the day we’re allowed to be in a space where there’s nothing to do, nowhere to be. Isn’t that a powerful method of self-care? To be suspended in that state just before slumber, where the mind drifts and wanders. To put your everyday worries and anxieties on hold and simply float. 

I often encourage this suspended animation by leading students through a yoga nidra practice before leaving them in quiet repose. Moving through the physical self, directing attention to different body parts (up to 108 distinct points), yoga nidra helps release tension throughout the physical being. I’ve been told that my voice has a hypnotic quality during yoga nidra that lulls students into a deep peace—or allows listeners to tune out and let the words simply wash over them.

Holding the space

To my mind, every yoga teacher exists for a singular purpose: to create an environment where students can surrender to their yoga practice. I think of this as holding space for my students: taking on a bit of their burden and supporting them in ways that allow them to discover what they need. 

I always have a plan for what postures to teach and in which sequence, but often the class pulls that framework in a different direction. Students might feel unwilling to leave a particularly juicy pose and we stay for an extra minute or two, maybe it takes three times as long to get everyone sunk into their props, or perhaps the asana I was thinking of simply isn’t suitable for a class filled with students who have knee problems. Whatever my original intention is for the class, I am willing to end up wherever the students need to go that day.

As an active teacher, it’s important for me to give my full attention to each student. Seeking out clues in a pinched expression or a twitch in a limb. Offering additional props or a gentle touch. Actively encouraging students to express any discomfort or uncertainty. And inviting silence in the room to help quell the noise in their minds. 

When I teach, I am fully present. Completely engaged with the class unfolding around me. Always thinking about how to support the people who have chosen to practice with me. I bring that tranquil focus to the room—letting students immerse themselves in their own experience and recover their own energy. 

My way is not the highway

While I want to take care of each and every student, I also know that they are responsible for their own practice and, ultimately, they are their own best teacher. I can yammer on about a pose, but it’s most important how it feels for them. It doesn’t matter what I observe externally or intuitively, what counts is students being aware of how the poses impact them—and adjusting to suit them.  

Bernie Clark, author of the amazing Your Body, Your Yoga, has a great metaphor about students as pilots: 

“Ground control is full of helpful advisors: your doctor, dentist, accountant, lawyer, yoga teacher… They want to help, but you’re the one flying the plane.“

Taken from Jodi Dodd’s interview with Bernie Clark on Shut Up and Yoga 

When students are mindfully self-centred, they aren’t worried about offending me by refusing a suggestion or modifying the posture to suit their own unique needs. They are concious of fitting the pose to the person, not forcing themselves into something just because that’s how someone else thinks it’s supposed to look. 

Adding a little bit of storytelling

The first time I led a Solstice yoga session I was inspired by a beautiful composition from Margaret Atwood (well-known for dystopian novels such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood is a superb poet as well). Her Solstice Poem conjures up all the darkness and brooding of the longest night—and hints at the promise of the days to come.

This is the solstice, the still point
of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
the year’s threshold
and unlocking, where the past
lets go of and becomes the future;
the place of caught breath, the door
of a vanished house left ajar.

A portion of ‘Shapechangers in Winter’ by Margaret Atwood

The poem evokes the power of this longest night and I’ll read the whole thing aloud during one of the long-held restorative poses of the session. 

It all comes together for the longest night

The Relaxing Winter Solstice Yoga on Saturday, December 21st starts with a short welcoming meditation, then a handful of yin yoga poses (well-propped, but still with a bit of intensity and held for around five minutes) that lead into a couple comfortable, long restorative yoga positions. We’ll then find a supremely-supported corpse pose and bask in around 20 minutes of rest. I’ll do three readings during the practice and kick off savasana with a mesmerising yoga nidra, recalling childhood bedtime stories and my own introduction to guided relaxation at summer camp

And in 2020 I’ll continue teaching a 75-minute Yin Yoga class at Younion Yoga every Tuesday evening, the occasional Restorative Yoga class on Fridays, and probably subbing a few classes here and there.

Rejoice that the days will slowly start getting longer soon (well, in the Northern Hemisphere, at least) and channel the darkness into deep relaxation!

Dark days, inner light

Your inner light lights up your outer world. - Matshona DhliwayoIn the long, dark days of February, it’s worth remembering that we can create our own light. The greyness in Copenhagen is sometimes oppressive (the clouds hang so low!), but we can tap into our inner light and allow it to illuminate our outer worlds.

“Your inner light lights up your outer world.”

~ Matshona Dhliwayo
Canadian-based philosopher, entrepreneur and author

Thankfully, the days are starting to get longer and the promise of Spring is creeping closer! And, even more thankfully, I have the joys of chatting with family, teaching yoga, spending time with friends, walking the dog, enjoying food and drink, practicing yoga and loving my husband to fuel my internal light until the Earth’s rotation around the Sun brings on more daylight!

A wish for bravery & joy

A wish for bravery and joyI’m stealing a New Year’s wish from Neil Gaiman to share this year. He posts these kind of wishes most years and they’re all really lovely!

This one rings particularly true as I step into a very unknown future! There’s a whole lot of newness to look forward to in Calgary (job, home, yoga studio, friends, climate), very little that’s nailed down, and infinite possibilities for happiness!

It’s a New Year and with it comes a fresh opportunity to shape our world.

So this is my wish, a wish for me as much as it is a wish for you: in the world to come, let us be brave – let us walk into the dark without fear, and step into the unknown with smiles on our faces, even if we’re faking them.

And whatever happens to us, whatever we make, whatever we learn, let us take joy in it. We can find joy in the world if it’s joy we’re looking for, we can take joy in the act of creation.

So that is my wish for you, and for me. Bravery and joy.

Neil Gaiman, author
New Year’s wish from 31 December, 2011

 

Wishing everyone a very Happy New Year and an incredibly brave and joyful 2015!

Walk into the dark without fear

Permission to be yourself

You need no one's permission to be yourself.While at an isolated yoga retreat, I read an article in Quartz about a three-day work week. In this very business-focused publication was a gem that fit in perfectly with all the self-help peace-love-and-happiness philosophy that a yoga retreat implies:

You need no one’s permission to be yourself.

Mohit Satyanand
Entrepreneur, mountain-dweller, actor

At least in this instance, the business and spiritual worlds agree: discover who you are and don’t let anyone prevent you from being true to that.

Magnetic nature

Believe in the subtle magnetism in NatureIt was quiet on the Heide (heath) this morning. Just a handful of other walkers and a few joggers in the distance. The flock of sheep that appeared a few days ago had vanished, leaving only droppings and scents to entice my dog, Sofie.

Sofie ran and sniffed; alternating between joyously sprinting and burying her nose in the grass. I ambled along, taking whatever path struck my fancy or following Sofie when she ran ahead.

We had nowhere to be and nothing to do. Free to drift along enjoying the wide open space and revelling in a bit of solitude.

I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.

~Henry David Thoreau
American author and naturalist

Sofie on the HeideIt’s wonderful having the vastness of the Heide so close. Sofie loves her daily off-leash walks here and I love the directionlessness of the space. It’s possibly to feel truly lost, despite the buzz of an unseen highway along the edge of the field and the knowledge that the Heide is enclosed by development.

At the centre of the Heide the surrounding apartment buildings and nearby stadium are no longer visible. There are few markers, which makes navigating fairly random, and often paths peter out, leaving us wading through tall grass.

In the end, though, we always find our way back home.

Maybe it’s Sofie’s homing skills or maybe it’s the subtle magnetism of nature.

 

Lotus in the mud

Rise like the lotus from the mud
Background photo from Adn! via Compfight cc

The first studio I taught yoga at, Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre in North Vancouver, is closing on June 30. While I no longer live nearby and haven’t taught there for more than six months, I acutely feel the sadness that comes with its end.

I took some amazing classes at Bound Lotus with some phenomenal teachers. I was honoured to teach incredible students and still keep in touch with a few. I attended many wonderful events and even slept over as part of an overnight gong bath! I spent hours there helping with administrative tasks, working with the founder on planning, or simply sitting at the tea table chatting.

Even my dog, Sofie, loved being at Bound Lotus. She enjoyed participating in meditations, relished the adoration she received from students and teachers, and eagerly came with my husband to pick me up after teaching. I know Sofie picked up on the energy of the space and felt welcome at the studio, just like students did.

Sofie relaxing at Bound LotusBound Lotus felt like my yoga home for many months – I lived just a couple blocks away and it sometimes felt like I spent more time at the studio than I did at home.  Although geographical distance now means I won’t notice its absence so acutely, I will certainly feel a void knowing that the space is no longer there.

If geographical distance isn’t an issue for you, I hope you’re able to get to Bound Lotus for a yoga class, meditation, or the Summer Solstice event before the end of June. Breathe in the smell of the homemade Bound Lotus tea chai tea, luxuriate in the wealth of colour-coordinated props, soak up the atmosphere… and maybe think of me.

I hope that the community will carry on in some form once the studio doors close and that something beautiful will come out of this sadness.

There is the mud – and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus.

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
Vietnamese monk and teacher

My wish for every that person who ever attended a meditation, practiced yoga, taught a class, drank tea, celebrated an event, or simply passed through the doors at Bound Lotus is able to rise gloriously and beautifully – just like the lotus from the mud. And my wish for Heather, the founder of Bound Lotus and the person who loved it most, is that whatever comes next is made even more magnificent through the grace of all the goodness that was Bound Lotus.