|Kids Yoga Camp 2008|
|Kids Yoga Camp 2008|
|My mom and grandmother Baba|
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.
|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.|
|A portrait of my grandmother with a letter from Quebec Premier Jean Charest,
expressing his condolences upon Baba’s death.
Lastly, in case you are curious (I was), here are some other interesting facts about the number 54:
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.”
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!
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, in case you are interested.)
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.
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!
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).