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.

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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.

Day 27 – Crudessence Yum Yum (Chakra #3)

One-quarter done!!

Wahoo! To celebrate, we had an amazing practice and dinner at Loft Crudessence, which is a gorgeous space overlooking the city skyline. Nice people + nice sunset.

Check out the View!


Be creative + Invite your own surya namaskar

I’m off to a party for more celebrating. This one is in honor of my dear friend Maya’s 30th Birthday.

Ta ta for now ; )

Day 26 – Finding the Creative Flow (Chakra #2)

The hockey madness has settled (a little) and the broken glass along Ste Catherine’s has been swept up, so it’s time to move on to a discussion about creativity and the second chakra…

The creative or sex chakra is situated just above the pubic bone. Its Sanskrit name is ‘Swadhisthana’ and it is associated with the color orange and the mantra ‘VAM. It is responsible for our emotions, sex, reproduction, and creativity. When Swadhisthana is in balance, we are imaginative, creative and have a healthy sex life.

Today, I have two videos for you. One of my friend and artist Jamie Lee talking about his new painting and where creativity comes from. The other video is my sun salutation to energize the creative chakra using its mantra, VAM.

To see more of Jamie’s art, visit his website: www.mythirdeye.info

Other ideas to spark the creative fire…
1- Surround your self with books and images that you like
2- Make an ‘I LIKE’ list of all of your favourite things
3- Go to the museum
4- See Cirque de Soleil LIVE
5- Give yourself space to think: go for a walk alone without music or a cell
6- Take a candle light bath with lavender
7- Stage a bed-in with the one you love
8- Join an artist’s exchange – everyone draws a name and you have to make a piece of
art for person whose name you chose.
9- Check out the websites of cool artists. Here are links to some of the people who
inspire me:

May I ask, who and what inspires you, my friends?

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Surya Namaskar Recipe: The Creative Balancing Salute
VIDEO

(I know, chanting mantras can seem a little nerdy, but it feels really good after. If you are shy, find a quiet place, so you can practice without interruption.)

Day 25 – Go Habs go! (+ Chakra #1)

Montreal has what we call “Habs Fever.” Our hockey team just won Game 7, 5-2 against Pittsburg, which means we are off to the Eastern Conference finals. People are going absolutely crazy. Cars honking, bottles smashing against the pavement, strangers hugging and high-fiving. The main street, Ste Catherine’s, was turned into a pedestrian street in honor of tonight’s game and as much as I’d like to join the fun, I need to be a good yogini and finish my 24 sun sals, do my blog and head to bed early-ish.

(Oh, the sacrifices! Just kidding, I’d, honestly prefer getting to sleep before midnight.)


I watched the second and third period in the McGill ghetto with Craig and his buddies after teaching. It was pretty exciting and sitting with them during the game was truly a cultural experience.

Craig and his ten best friends meet in a basement apartment on Durocher and watch every Canadians game together. It’s really entertaining to watch them react to each pass, whistle and goal. Several of them have “playoff beards” and almost all of them, including my dear boyfriend, are wearing an item of clothing they refuse to wash until the playoffs are over. (Seriously, Craig freaked out thinking I had washed his grey t-shirt, which I didn’t.) They are a great group of characters– an actor, an engineer, a comedian, a musician, several entrepreneurs, a film producer, and a guitar maker. They scream at the TV, threatening throw their beer bottle at the flat screen if the refs make another bad call. They refuse to let their upstairs neighbour in the door, because last time they did, the Habs lost. But the best part is, they do a group prayer together before the game, whereby one of them, this game it was Craig, leads the gang in his rendition of the Lord’s Prayer. Amazing dedication.

Speaking of dedication, it’s DAY 25! I can’t believe it! I’m almost 1/4 of the way through. I thought time would pass slowly, but now it’s really moving fast, and honestly, despite the tough moments I’ve had thus far, I’m really enjoying this experience. My practice and even writing this blog gives me something to look forward to and it’s becoming more and more cathartic for me.

This morning, I got up at about 6:30 am and meditated for about 25 mins before starting my sun salutations. I wanted to get a bunch done early so I could watch hockey with Craig tonight. Like usual, I didn’t feel like changing into “yoga gear,” so this is me in my pajamas practicing in the living room. (I highly recommend yoga in pjs, it’s really comfortable.)


Nevertheless, sun salutations in pjs is not our featured practice for today. Today, I thought we’d continue along the chakra path and tweek the basic sun salutation with the mantra “LAM.”

Surya Namaskar Recipe: Day 25 – The Root Salute


‘LAM’ is the mantra associated with the root chakra or the sacral chakra known as muladhara in Sanskrit. This energy centre corresponds to the color red and rests at the base of the spine or coccyx. It is connected to earthly pleasures and our basic survival. It is in harmony when we feel grounded, secure, and confident. (As we, Montrealers, do now that the Habs beat the two best teams in the NHL.) However, when the root chakra is out of balance, we feel insecure and fearful.

To balance muladhara in a basic sun salutation, like surya namaskar A, repeat the mantra LAM three to ten times while holding downward dog. Alternatively, as mentioned yesterday, you can repeat the mantra throughout the sun salutation every time you exhale, and like with AUM, L – A – M should be held for equal lengths of time.

WHAT IS A CHAKRA, ANYWAY? My definition:


Chakras are powerful energy centers located from the base of the spinal column to the crown of the head. The word “chakra” comes from the Sanskrit word “cakra” meaning wheel or circle. A chakra is often described as a “wheel of light” and each of the chakras has a distinct color and specific functions corresponding to certain organs. When the charkas are in harmony, then the body is in harmony. When the charkas are congested or not functioning optimally, then there is unease and stress in the body.

Day 24: Ommmm….

I would like to discuss Om.

Unlike what most people assume, “Om” or “Aum” is not a word, at least not to me. It’s a vibrational sound that has come to mean peace, balance, harmony, etc., because chanting Om has that effect on the nervous system. It’s a really beautiful practice, to sit and repeat Om. It clears my head (+ helps to relieve headaches) and I always feel amazing afterward.

Anita, my ayurvedic teacher asked me to teach sun salutations to my classmates at the ayurvedic school this morning. I was honored and as it is my 24th day of 108, we did 24 lovely sun salutations (the rest of my 108, I did on my own after school). The group is a mix of yoga teachers and yoga beginners, which can be a challenge to lead, but I think they enjoyed the practice and Anita asked me to teach again soon.

We have been talking a lot about the chakras (energy centres in the body) and the different mantras that help heal the body. Om/Aum is the mantra corresponding to the highest chakra, the crown chakra, located at the top of the head. This energy centre, known in Sanskrit as Sahasara, relates to the integration of spirit and universal wisdom with personality. It is also responsible for the nervous system and our sense of feeling connected.

Our sun salutation for today is a basic Surya Namaskar A with Om-ing.

Surya Namaskar Recipe: Day 24 – The Om Salute


1- Start in Mountain.
2- INHALE, raise arms.
3- EXHALE, fold forward.
4- INHALE, come up half way, long spine.
5- EXHALE, step back into plank and lower, from knees or toes, into chaturanga.
6- INHALE, cobra or updog.
7- EXHALE, downward dog.
8- Holding downward dog, repeat Om/Aum three to five times.
*Start with a deep inhale, and then exhale the AUM slowly. The sound Om/Aum is three parts in one: A – U – M. Each part should be held for equal amounts of time.
9- INHALE, step, walk or jump forwards to the top of your mat. Lengthen the spine.
10- EXHALE, fold.
11-
Press down through your legs, INHALE, and rise up to standing, extending the arms above your head.
12- EXHALE, hands come down in front of your heart.

* You can also Om all the way through the sun salutation (ie every time you exhale).

This is Anita, my teacher. She is so passionate about what she does and she is truly inspiring. She has two ayurvedic clinics, one in the West Island and one in NDG.
This is her website: http://www.ayurvedamtl.com