The Art of Letting go

As we sift through drawers, closets, and forgotten boxes, the dust makes my eyes water and my nose stuff up. Emotions well inside. I remember the young student who gave me this red card with the embossed deity on it the cover. He was seven at the time he was in my kids yoga class, but he must be in Cegep now. There’s also an astrology book found in this collection of stuff. The instructor who gave it to me way back when doesn’t speak to me anymore because of a disagreement. In other box, I find every attendance sheet of every class I ever taught since 2004. I can’t believe that was eight years ago, and I really can’t believe I’m in the process of packing up and moving out of my studio.

 

This was my week to sort through everything at Om West and decide what stays, what to recycle, what to discard, and what to bring home. On Thursday afternoon, I sit on the floor of Studio 1 and sort CDs. There are a couple without labels. I put one into the player and the notes of Yann Tiersen’s theme song for Amelie begin. Suddenly, I’m lost in a cloud of memories and undistinguishable feelings. I stare at the window and try to regain my composure. “We’re almost done,” I tell myself. “Soon this will all be over.”
I’m not very good at organizing, so trying to figure out what to do with all these accumulated documents and materials is stressful for me. It’s a lot of small intestine work, my friend Nadia would say. I feel constipated, both physically and mentally. But miraculously, after three days and several car trips later, we’re done, and the studio has never, in its 15 years of existence, been more orderly. 
By 8:30pm, Craig, who all day was helping me sort and stay focused, is waiting by the door. The car is packed. But all of a sudden, I have an urge to sit and have a good cry. The lump in my throat has become so large, it’s restricting my breath, and my lower lip is quivering uncontrollably. It finally hit me— All the decisions I made here, all the people I met, all the events I’ve hosted… I never before realized what I actually created and did in this place. I don’t want to leave. I feel like going back upstairs and hugging every wall.  
Craig walks over and puts his arms around me and whispers things like, “Everything is still going to be here next week,” and “Think about all the you’re now going to have.” But I know I just have to let myself release emotions until I feel better.
We eventually make our way home. I am comforted by conversation with Antoine, the new owner, and a bowl of warm Thai curry that is delivered to our door.
So now the sorting is over, and it’s end of a monumental year.
Craig and I are in Bancroft, Ontario at Kat and Vito’s alpaca farm. My friend Jamie Lee, the artist, and Ron Obadia, chocolate yoga co-founder are here too. I’m happy to be celebrating the start of 2012 surrounded by beloved friends. We have a big bonfire planned tonight and I brought a box of paperwork to burn. This will be my way of symbolically letting go of the past.
It’s the dawn of a new beginning, and the start of a new adventure. I’m ready and I’m so stoked.

 

Kids Yoga Camp 2008

 

——
Practice your own letting go ritual this weekend: 
Write down anything and/or everything that has upset you. Then, as soon as you are done writing, destroy the paper by burning or shredding it.
Cleaning out closets and storage boxes can also be liberating. 
Then, take time to be silent so inspiration can come.
 
Happy Happy New Year. May peace and joy prevail.
 
 
 

Death becomes us

I’m sad.
Remember that beautiful baby alpaca I wrote about yesterday? Well, this afternoon, I had the misfortune of walking into the barn and finding Walnut dead, crushed under the weight of his sick mother. I ran into the house to get Vito to help me move the mother alpaca, but sadly, it was too late. It appeared as though the mother had collapsed as baby Walnut was feeding and trapping him beneath her. The mother alpaca has been getting progressively worse and is expected to follow her baby soon.
We buried Walnut’s body in the back of the property. Having had such a strong bond with the little alpaca, Kat was inconsolable. In his quiet way, Vito was also clearly deeply affected. In fact, we all were.
A sad lesson in the impermanence of life…
As Kat put it, “I know death is part of life, but I don’t know why it is still so shocking.”

My Baba & the Lineage of our Teachers

OM
VANDE GURUNAM CARANARAVINDE
SANDARSITA SVATMA SUKHAVA BODHE
NIH SREYASE JANGALIKAYAMANE
SAMSARA HALAHALA MOHASANTYAI
ABAHU PURUSAKARAM
SANKHACAKRASI DHARINAM
SAHASRA SIRASAM SVETAM
PRANAMAMI PATANJALIM
OM
In Ashtanga yoga, we say a Sanskrit chant before each class to pay respect to the lineage of yoga teachers dating back to Patanjali, the ‘divine descendant’, who, as legend has it, wrote the Yoga Sutras.
My take on this tradition is that since yoga teachers have many forms and anyone who has touched our heart is a yoga teacher, the chant honors all the people who have guided us and contributed to our lives. In the prayer, we recognize the wisdom of our teachers, but we also recognize that the wisdom of our teachers comes from their teachers, so we also honor our teachers’ teachers’  and teachers teachers’ teachers’… And with this humbling intention, we begin our practice.
It’s in these tender moments that I always acknowledge my maternal grandmother, who in many ways influenced my path as a yoga teacher. She died ten years ago this weekend. She wasn’t a yoga instructor per se, and as far as I know, she never practiced asana, but my grandmother was a guru, my guru. We called her “Baba” or “Babs.” This was easier for us three grand-kids to say than ‘Babcia’, the Polish word for grandmother. (Ironically, “Baba” is also an honorific term used in Hindi and mark of respect to refer to Sufi saints.)  Nevertheless, my Baba’s real name was Krystyna.
My mom and grandmother Baba
To mark this significant anniversary of my Baba’s passing, we are currently hosting an art retrospective of more than 60 of her paintings, graphics, and weavings at my yoga studio. It’s was my mom’s idea to transform Om West into a gallery, and the exhibit is incredible. Her talent is remarkable, and I am proud and honored to be able to present my grandmother’s work to our community of yogis and friends.

Born in Białystok, Poland on August 21, 1919, my grandmother was fiercely courageous, strong willed and direct.  She and my grandfather (who passed away in 1974) immigrated to Canada shortly after World War II and settled in Sherbrooke, two hours south east of Montreal, where they raised my mother and her two siblings. Baba loved her garden, her art, her cat, her family and coveted her independence and freedom.

My grandmother taught me about nature, energy, creativity, intuition, and spirituality. Curiously, Baba was a clairvoyant. Although she would rarely talk about it, she did say that strong intuition was  a  gift that many of the women in her family shared.  Deeply spiritual, Baba was devoted to the teachings of Jesus. However, in later years, Baba was also interested in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, and became a follower of Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru. As a kid, she exposed me to various meditation temples and ashrams, which was the ideal preparation for me as a teacher of yoga and meditation.

Thinking of Baba now and observing her powerful artwork on the walls of my studio,  I’m overcome with emotion, which is hard for me to express. I wish I had asked her more questions when she was alive, but I am making up for it now. I talk to her in thought and prayer and I occasionally feel as though she is really close to me particularly when I’m sitting alone about practice, and oddly, when I taste dill, because she used to put it on everything.

 

As mentioned, at beginning of the Ashtanga chant, I usually invoke her memory, and sometimes I get so caught up in thoughts about her, I actually forget the words to the Sanskrit  ashtanga chant! Thankfully, my students understand that I’m a bit quirky when it comes to the order of things and discerning my rights and lefts, so someone is always quick to fill my long awkward pause.
Me posing with Baba’s abstract work from the 60s & 70s
My brother Stefan, my mother Marta and cousin Kalil
My cousin and I keep checking who owns what so we know
who we have to negotiate with to acquire the pieces we want.
Studio 2 features Baba’s landscapes, which she switched to in the early 80s.
Baba’s landscapes from the 80s & 90s
A portrait of my grandmother with a letter from Quebec Premier Jean Charest,
expressing his condolences upon Baba’s death.
Kocham cie, Babs.

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.