Happy Day 54

Today is the 54th day of the year. I feel festive. After all, 54 is half of 108, a most auspicious number. Plus, it’s mid February and I’ll celebrate anything that helps me embrace this long, cold month in Montreal.
As mentioned in my previous posting, I feel ready to embark on a new adventure. My original plan was to start sun saluting again. This time, I thought I’d do 54 surya namaskar for 54 days, but after some soulful reflection and a brief chat with Lisa Lajoie, one of my confidants at the studio, I’ve had a change of heart. I still want to invest energy in a personal practice of 54 days, however, I want to do something totally new and different. Sun Salutations are so 2010… This year, instead of Surya Namaskars, I’m going to explore Chandra Namakar, the Moon Salutation.
I did a little research today and came up with enough ideas for my practice with Bossa today. The flow is so beautiful. The lunar salute is like a fluid dance that circles around the mat. No up dogs and no down dogs. Very different from the sun salutation. I loved it. Bossa, who was one of my premier 108 sun saluters last year, also enjoyed the change. It took us about a hour to do 54 at a pleasant pace. I definitely have to videotape the sequences and share them, but first, I need to practice different combination of postures and figure out what makes the most sense.
I’m really looking forward to next six weeks or so of Moon Salutations. I’m not promising that I’ll blog everyday like last year, but I will definitely chronicle the journey somehow. I’m stoked to hear that some of you are planning on joining this 54 day plight in your own delicious way. I’m smiling inside, because Craig, who is somewhat of a reluctant yogi, is currently in the office doing his own sun salutations and yoga practice to the new Radio Head album. This is totally on his own accord, without any prompting from me. He came home and asked where his mat was and threw down. How very interesting… :)
Anyway, please share your stories and experiences with me and our little solar/lunar salutation blog sangha (community) about your 54 day plan. It keeps us all inspired. Speaking of inspiration, isn’t this a great photo of the moon? It’s Craig’s photo, which I ‘borrowed’ from his blog. See his moon post.

Lastly, in case you are curious (I was), here are some other interesting facts about the number 54:

  • A Rubik’s cube has 54 colored squares;
  • +54 is the international calling code for direct dial phone calls to Argentina;
  • There is 54 milligrams of caffeine in Mountain Drew, my student Glenn’s favourite and most nostalgic beverage;
  • A score of 54 in golf is referred to as a “perfect round”, but  has never been achieved in competition, not even by Tiger;
  • Studio 54 sounds like it was a pretty radical place to hang out at back in the day or so Max, the 84-year-old yogi tells me of his frequent disco nights spent there;
  • The 1998 movie 54 was about Studio 54 and starred Ryan Phillippe and Salma Hayek (I didn’t see it);
  • And there are 54 cards in a deck of playing cards, if you include the two jokers.

Death

It’s Friday evening at the end of an intense few days.

Someone close to me died this week. She was 53-years-old. My aunt’s best friend for nearly 30 years and a woman I saw almost everyday because she worked at the hair salon below my studio. She used to pinch my cheeks when I was little and her husband gave me first hair cut when I was one or two. My father took me to their salon, which was then in a big shopping mall. I was wearing overalls of a gender neutral color and I suppose my dad wasn’t paying much attention, so they buzzed my feathery blond head, thinking I was a boy.

Even though they called the cops on my kids yoga camp this summer, our families are tight, so this death has touched me deeply.

She had bad migraines for many years. She tried a little yoga and said it helped her a lot, but then wedding season started and she got busy. Then she got sick. The doctors couldn’t diagnose her. Meningitis? Tuberculosis? They ran so many tests, but nothing was conclusive. After a few months in the hospital, she got better and in July, she came back to work. She seemed very weak. She was back in the hospital at the beginning of September and it was determined she had “lymphoma of the brain.” Her brain was “full of lesions.”

Tragic, yes. But apparently, she died with a smile on her face.

* * *

I spent a long time contemplating death this week and the rituals surrounding it– the wake, the funeral, the eulogy, the burial, the reception. The grieving process is interesting, because we spend our whole lives trying to avoid death and when it arrives, and there’s a 100% guarantee that it will, we are so unprepared. I often wonder why.

Several years ago, I read this fascinating book called “A Year to Live.” Written by Stephen Levine, a counselor and teacher of healing and meditation, it is about the process dying fulfilled and satisfied with the life we’ve lived. Having spent more than 20 years working with people in palliative care, Levine observed that most people panic at the face of death because of the feeling that they are unprepared and that their lives are somehow unfinished and unresolved.

Buddhists believe we should always live in preparation for our death, so that we leave no unfinished business behind.

With this as a premise, Levine decided to enact the ultimate New Year’s resolution: to live one year as though it was his last. After all, he writes, “No one knows the day on which the last year begins.”

Levine’s book is full of suggestions on how to do this, but his most important and most profound suggestion is to commit ourselves to the simple practice of forgiveness and gratitude.

This theme is also present in another amazing book I just finished. “Five People you Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom is such a beautiful story. Here’s one of my favourite quotes:

“You have peace,” the old woman said, “when you make it with yourself.”

Day 69 – The Gratitude Day

It’s 3:45pm, a few hours before the party at my yoga centre. There still seems to be a million things to do, but I figured I’d take a break now, while I still can. I have sequestered myself at my parent’s house, which is just a few minutes away from the studio.

Tonight is a celebration of gratitude for all the supportive people in my life and for all those who contributed their energy in making Om West special. In the spirit of gratitude, I decided to dedicate my 108 practice to the people I appreciate. I included my 9:30 am class in part of this ritual, which was further enhanced by the beauty of lake this morning. Every six sun salutations, we honored a different person. I envisioned the person happy and healthy and recalled happy memories of time spent together. It was a beautiful way to channel my energy and ground myself. I am so thankful to be surrounded by great friends, great family and great students. I was a bit overcome by emotion thinking.

I must now ready myself for this evening. I will tell you all about it tomorrow!

Day 67 – Community support heals headaches

I feel like I’m at that point in the marathon where, although I’m past the halfway mark, I’m feeling very tired and there’s still so much further to go. Seriously, there have been several times this week where 108 sun salutations seems like 108 million and each one is really effortful. But here’s where things get interesting and I am so grateful to have people practice with on days like this.

Today was particularly challenging, because I woke up with a bad headache, which turned into one of those migraines that make you want to puke. I had so many errands to do in preparation for a big party I’m hosting at my studio on Friday. However, this time, I refused to take any pain killers, because I really wanted to stay in contact with the pain, so I could better understand it. As I wrote in the past, the reason I don’t like pain killers is because they numb me and I have no reference to how I’m really feeling. So, even though I’m clearly under strain, with a pain killer, I can push myself harder because I don’t feel the discomfort or pain. The result is that later, when the pills where off, the problem is still there and usually I have an even worse headache. Anyway, I didn’t want to go through that again today, so all day I just observed how I was feeling and how I was breathing.

I noticed that taking deep breaths was soothing and so was eating. My soy latte also gave me a little relief. But I was still concerned because I was scheduled to lead a 108 practice at Island Gym in L’Île-Perrot at 7pm. And indeed the first third of the practice was almost murderous, but then slowly I started to feel better. I think it had something to do with the breathing and movement and for the energy of the people practicing with me.

Steve Maier, a strong yoga teacher I’ve know for ten years hosted me in his class at the gym. There were more than 20 of us and the group was enthusiastic and committed. I think this, combined with Steve’s help in teaching, really helped me get through the practice and clear the headache. I also had a few students join me from Om West, which was a bonus.

I’m now at home and feeling relaxed. I’m really thankful for all the people who are supporting me in this journey, this pilgrimage. It makes a such a difference in my energy. It’s inspiring. Plus, it no longer feels like me alone. It feels like a community project.

OH, AND WE RAISED $207.08 for the DAVID SUZUKI FOUNDATION TONIGHT!!! Awesome. Thank you so much.


Video chat with instructor Steve Maier

PS I forgot to mention the reiki treatment my friend Isabelle did on me at a distance. I’m sure that helped as well. (By the way, Isabelle is an incredible healer– acupressure, reflexology and reiki. I highly recommend her. Her contact is serenityflow@hotmail.com, in case you are interested.)

Day 58 – Dealing with Grief

(The thunder blot: a simple shoulder & chest opening pose)
(Simple locust pose: back strengthening posture)

Grief is a really tough emotion to deal with. It’s oppressive, suffocating even, and seems never ending. Yoga’s not a miracle cure, but it helps to make sense of the emotional experience and provides a little reprieve from suffering and gives hope.

Today, one of my long time students one-on-one burst into tears at my simple “How are you?” Her best friend of 32 years died on Friday after a long battle with cancer. Heartbreaking news at the beginning of a suyra namaskar practice, but if you can’t cry in yoga, where can you? We talked for a while about her friend and then we decided use our practice to elevate her happy memories and dispel the grief.

Surya Namaskar is a highly effective practice for dissolving sadness and other emotional blockages, as it encourages movement throughout our system and brings light. Back bends are also releasing, but we must consider how fragile we feel, as doing many deep back bends can stir up a lot of emotion and can be overwhelming.

We did 72 sun salutations, focusing on fluid, graceful movement and on stability. We added standing poses, opening poses for the chest and simple back bends like the ones featured in the photos above. We finished with a meditation. She said she felt better, so I suggested she visualize green light around heart in order to continue her healing process, as I know this has helped me in the past.

If you have any other suggestions on how to deal with sadness and grief, please share them.

————————————–

On a lighter note, here’s the video of the Eka Pada Urdhva Dandurasana Salute
I said I’d put up:

Day 50 – Prayer in a rainy good time

There was wonderful energy in the practice group this morning at Crudessence. Most of the people had done a 108 with me before, but was a couple of newbies as well, which is awesome. We started with a seated meditation to centre and set a personal intention for the practice. I suggested everyone choose a mantra that begins with “I am,” so the intention would be simple and clear. An ‘I am’ mantra can be as simple as “I am happy,” “I am healthy,” or “I am confident.”
We used this mantra during the sun salutations as way to align the mind with our physical yoga postures. For example, if the mantra is “I am happy,” then the work is to find happiness in the pose by adapting it accordingly. I love this way of practicing. It’s super simple and extremely fulfilling, because it allows us to express what our intention (ie what we want) through breath, body language and emotion, so that it becomes true in the moment.

I can’t remember why I started playing with this mantra style yoga, but I believe was germinated in my practice four and half years ago. I remember doing my first solo 108 on my 24th birthday. I was told that doing 108 sun salutations was auspicious and brings power to prayers, so I made a nine different prayers, one for each set of 12 surya namaskar. I don’t know exactly how I phrased them then, but eventually I think the prayers were simplified to ‘I am______.’

Today, I decided to return to my mantra from the day: “I am letting go and allowing the universe to take of me.” With each silent repetition of the mantra, I made a conscious effort to let go of the urge to work too hard, so I could be guided into an easier way to move. It was really nice.

(Special thanks to Anthea and Miranda guiding of some lovely surya namaskar variations. Anthea taught the vijnana sun salutation in more detail and Miranda chanted beautifully before leading us through the traditional Sivananda salute.)

Create your own ‘I am’ mantra:

What quality do you need? How do you want to feel?

* Care to share your I am mantra? Post it here!

Day 48 – Refocusing the intention


In conversation this afternoon with one of my confidants, it became clear that perhaps with all my recent event planning, fund raising and blogging of my 108×108, I lost track of original vision and the true reason why I wanted to take on this intense challenge in the first place. So, I spent a good part of today contemplating.

I initially wanted to do something that would challenge me and my practice more than ever before. I wanted to transform myself and elevate my consciousness. I wanted to grow spiritually and emotionally. I also wanted to test my knowledge of yoga to see if I actually know what I’m talking about and I want to see what it would feel like to practice everyday for 108 days without a break. As well, I wanted to connect with others and learn from as many teachers and students as possible. I wanted to unite the yoga community through surya namaskar, a sequence we all know and express in our own uniquely fabulous way.

I know this is all still true and relevant to me and important. My plan is to continue elaborating on the vision. But now I must sleep on this.

* Today’s picture is truly radical. It was shot tonight during my last set in the Old Port by Craig and features me in natarajasasna, the dancer. (I often throw this posture into the beginning of surya namaskar A).

Bonne nuit.

Day 31 – Only connect… (Chakra #7)

I had an amazing practice this evening in Viateur Park near my house. It’s a lovely spot with a little water canal thing running through it. The sun was starting to set, but it was still warm. I practiced all by myself for just under three hours. The time passed so quickly, I could have stay out longer as I was really starting to get into a deep meditation, but it was starting to get late and as I mentioned yesterday, I am trying to go to bed earlier. (Last night, I managed to sneak in before midnight, but only by about 25 minutes or so. Tonight I’m going to try harder, because I have a 7am practice date with my neighbours.)

So, today we are discussing the seventh chakra. Located at the top of the head, the crown chakra, or Sahasara in Sanskrit, is associated with the ‘color’ white, and as mentioned last week, its sound is AUM or OM. This energy centre is kind of like the gate keeper for all the other chakras. When it’s out of sync, everything else is affected. Not only does this chakra control the nervous system, but it also is the point of entry for spirit and the divine. It gives us a sense of being connected to “something bigger” or to you know, “G-O-D” or whatever you want to call it/him/her. So, when the energy in this area is balanced we have ‘faith that everything is working effortless the way it’s supposed to’ and feel supported, reassured, confident, strong, creative, optimistic– all this good stuff that we channel down into the other areas. This is my experience anyway.

I spent a bit of time last night and today contemplating how I could integrate the chakra into the practice, beside just OM-ing through another sun salutation. I thought about what make me feel connected to something bigger than myself and I kept thinking about nature and trees in particular. Then on my way to the ayurvedic school, I caught an interview with botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger on CBC’s The Current about the magical properties of trees and everything made sense. In her discussion, Ms Beresford-Kroeger talked about the healing properties of trees and how trees communicate with each other. Did you know that if one tree is sick, the tree next to it produces an antibody for its illness? Crazy. The botanist also discussed how our genetic blueprints are so closely connected with trees.

I found the link to the interview. I highly recommend you have a listen: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2010/05/may-18-2010.html

Anyway, my thought process is that trees and nature remind us that we too are part of nature and that everything in life is beautifully connected.

Surya Namaskar Recipe: Day 31 – The ONE Salute


Practice by yourself outside in nature under the canopy of some big, old trees. Take a moment to connect to your surroundings. Become sensitive to sounds, smells and feelings. I recommend you even loose your mat for at least part of the practice and take the time to feel your hands and feet and heart on the ground. Appreciate. You may even want to say a little prayer or ask for some divine guidance to channel its way through you.

TIPS:

  • Avoid practicing between 11am & 3pm (The sun is too strong then)
  • Bring a long sleeve shirt or blanket to wrap yourself in when you finish
  • Find level ground or not, if you want to challenge your balance!
  • Do it in bare feet without a mat
  • My friend Christine say to “stand on your head. Richard Freeman says, ‘You are crowning yourself with the earth!'”
  • If buggy, wear thin long-sleeves and as my mom says, “Pray to the Diva of the Mosquitoes and ask to be left alone.”
  • Turn off your phone and loose the ipod
  • Take time to watch the clouds pass by and the movement of the leaves in the trees



Day 30 – Sleep is powerful medicine (Chakra #6)

I went to bed at 10:30 last night and it was glorious. I slept so well and woke up so happy. I got right into organizing my week and made a lovely plan for myself and my staff. I’m not normally a ‘planning’ kind of person, but I don’t really have a choice now that my schedule is so full. Plus, it feels good to get things down on paper.

After a quick lunch meeting with Marianne, my studio manager, I brought my mat down to the water. It was heavenly. I did my whole 180 outside looking the lake and then taught two classes outside. The warm sun, the soft breeze, the birds chirping… I was seriously tripping. Everything just flowed beautifully.

(Here’s a picture taken this evening of my class in tree pose practicing in our ‘studio by the lake.’)


My goal this week is to be in bed before 11pm everyday. I’m sure it will make a huge difference in my energy and state of mind.

I am generally an optimistic person, but I am much more enthusiastic and focused when I sleep before midnight. In ayurveda, sleeping between midnight and 2 am is considered very important, because this is when your liver rejuvenates itself, and your liver is your main filtration system. If it’s working well, we feel refreshed and positive and if it is sick, we feel sluggish and frustrated.

Speaking of sleep, today’s theme is Ajna, the sixth chakra or the brow chakra, which governs the pineal and pituitary glands and is responsible for sleep. Also known as the third-eye chakra, this energy centre is associated with the color indigo and is also connected to our inner awareness and intuition. Its mantra is ‘KSHAM.’

As my teacher points out, it’s only effective to repeat KSHAM when sitting still and focusing on one point. So, I started my practice in meditation. Sitting comfortably, I relaxed my body, and took in my surroundings through my senses– I listened to as many sounds as I could hear, I enjoyed the feeling of the sun and breeze on my skin, I smelled the scent of the nearby lilacs, tasted the fresh air and watched the light sparkle in the water. Then, once I was comfortable, I closed my eyes, focused my attention on my ‘third-eye’ at the centre of my forehead, and began to repeat KSHAM silently.

After about five minutes, I felt a shift. I felt light, calm and energized. I then began my practice with the intent to allow my intuition guide me. By this I mean, whatever I felt I needed to do I did, be it hold a pose or even invent a new sequence to release tension in a particular area, so for today’s Surya Namaskar, I invite you to try this practice:

Surya Namaskar Recipe: The Inventor’s Salute


With your eyes closed, allow yourself to be guided into a sequence you invent along the way based on what you need and what feedback you are receiving from your body. Be really attentive as to what feels good and go with that. (It’s best that you practice alone for this one. Music is often very helpful.)

More info on the Third-Eye Chakra
(from Jamie Lee)

Ajna Area of consciousness for the celestial body
Relates to: Clear sightedness, the bringing together of opposites (ida and pingala unite at the point), inspiration, insight, telepathy, access to the Higher Self (Guru), the pineal, pituitary, brain, ears, eyes, realization of full potential
Gland: Pineal, Piuitary
Sense: Thought
Element: Electric or Telepathic energy
Personality: ‘I am who I am’
Balanced Energy: Charismatic, open to guidance, not afraid of death, not attached to material things, can experience telepathy, past lives or astral travel, self- fulfilled, can be celibate, may have experienced Cosmic Consciousness
Excessive Energy: Proud, religiously dogmatic, tyrannical, demonic
Deficient Energy: Non-assertive, undisciplined, weak-willed, extreme sensitivity to the feelings (energy) of others, afraid of success, schizophrenic

Day 29 – Express thyself (Chakra #5)

It’s about 3pm on Sunday afternoon. The sun is shinning and it feels like summer. I’m sitting in Mount Royal Park with about 4000 other Montrealers. This is our inner-city beach without water. It’s a giant celebration here every Sunday afternoon. We call this event “TamTams”, because of the huge drum circle in the center of the Park near the angel monument. I thought I’d come here to write this afternoon so I can be inspired by all the wonderfully expressive people. This is fitting because today we are onto the fifth chakra, our throat chakra, the centre for communication and expression.

It’s a wonderful atmosphere. Next to me, there is a group of people juggling bowling pins. In front of me, there are two girls painting. A little further on, I see some acrobats playing around and there is even a bunch of slak-liners practicing between the trees. (Slak-lining is similar to a tight rope walking, but the rope isn’t tight.) There are people of all ages, lots of different kinds of pets, guitars, drums and tamborines everywhere. Of course, there also dozens of hacky sacs and frisbees being tossed about.

Craig is off exploring with his camera and I am gearing up to complete my last 48 sun salutations for the day. I’m having a hard time getting started. This a great place to people watch and the heat from the sun is making me feel a little sleepy, but I’ll get to it in a moment.

This morning, I led 24 sun salutations at my Ayurvedic school for my teacher’s Sunday group. I thought it would be nice to integrate the chakra mantras with surya namaskar as I’ve been writing about these last few days. But, Anita, my teacher, came in part way through the practice and said it is better to hold a stable position when repeating the mantra for the root chakra (Lam), the heart chakra (Yam) and the third eye chakra, which we will get to tomorrow. So, I will have to correct a few of the sun salutations I’ve posted. My suggestion for the Root Salute from day 25 is to repeat “Lam” in mountain pose while focusing on the stability of your legs and feet on the ground. Anita says this will be much more effective than saying the mantra throughout the salutation. She says the same for the Heart chakra Salute. However, Anita says it’s ok to do sun salutations with the mantras for the second and third and fifth chakras as those energy centres need movement.

The throat chakra, or Vishudha, is located at the throat and is connected to our ability to express ourselves. When this chakra is balanced, we speak truthfully with compassion. When it is blocked or out of balance, we have difficultly communicating and taking responsibility for our actions. To effectively strengthen the throat chakra, repeat its mantra “HAM” in a meditative position while visualizing the color light blue. Another great way to clear this energy centre is to express yourself through writing, art, music and dance.

Drumming is a great way to express oneself and I must point out that drums are also very grounding and good for the root chakra. Listening to the tamtam drums as I practiced on the mountain gave my sun salutations a nice earthy rhythm.

Surya Namaskar Recipe: Day 29 – Express Thyself Salute (5th Chakra)

In an effort to open up and free my throat chakra, I substituted ustrasana, the camel pose, for cobra in the basic sun salutation. Ustrasana is known to open up the chest and throat and clear congested energy from the fifth chakra. Here’s a description of the pose and its progressions:

Camel Pose {Ustrasana}

Camel is a back bending posture. It provides a stretch for the front of the body, groins, ankles, neck and thighs and a stretch the deep hip flexors. It helps improve posture by opening the front of the body and stimulates the organs.

TIPS: press down through the tops of your feet and bring your hands to your heels at the same time. You can also rest your hands on blocks.

Beneficial for:

  • Mild backaches
  • Menstrual discomforts
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Respiratory ailments

Not beneficial for:

  • High and low blood pressure
  • Migraines
  • Lower back or neck injuries
  • Insomnia
  • Knee injuries

My dedicated yoga student, Amber is featured in these camel posture photos. She has been practicing at Om West for nearly three years and is currently in my Advanced Student Teacher Apprenticeship Program.