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Reflections

The Yamas – There Is More To Yoga Than Postures

There comes a point in everyones life when our brains are so full of thoughts, decisions and emotions that we come to a stop. Our joints dry up like the tin man in The Wizard of Oz and we slow down and stall.

I read a parable about two monks who were about to cross a river when they saw a woman who needed help to cross. One monk carried her and the other monk berated him after, “We are forbidden to touch women,” he said. “How could you do this?”

“I put the woman down on the other side of the river,” replied the other monk, “but you are still carrying her.”

I have carried thoughts and worries with me for a long time. I carried them like a great weight, my shoulders and back were constantly tense and I did not realize I could put it all to one side.

We pick up our problems and hold onto them for dear life like they are our precious possessions. So important are these problems that we carry them everywhere. We do not put them down.

After a time, I realized that three simple things would allow me to put down my burdens:

  1. Exercise
  2. Fresh air
  3. Meditation

For me, yoga is a door way to these paths, it is also a catalyst for consistency. Yoga is not just postures, it is not just meditation, these are important aspects of yoga but each is only one of eight parts.

The Eight Limb path of Yoga is laid out as follows:

  1. Yamas – Moral restraints
  2. Niyamas – Observances
  3. Asana – Postures
  4. Pranayama – Mindful Breathing
  5. Pratyahara – Turning Inward
  6. Dharana – Concentration
  7. Dhyana – Meditation
  8. Samadhi – Union with the object of meditation

I instruct yoga once a week at the Rob Lee YMCA on Burrard Street, guiding people through the asana (postures). I do my best to emphasize the importance of breath, though I find it difficult to get that across but in light of the above, I teach only a small part of yoga in my classes.

Over the next week I plan to explore one of the eight limbs of yoga in more detail – The Yamas.

The Yamas, to me, are a moral guide to how we should make our way through life. They are just as much a part of yoga as the postures we practise in class. The yamas are as follows:

  1. Ahimsa – Non-harming
  2. Satya – Truthfulness
  3. Asteya – Nonstealing
  4. Brahmacarya – Moderation
  5. Aparigraha – Nonhoarding

We can all practise an aspect of yoga without ever stepping on a mat.

Ahimsa

We can inflict violence on ourselves and others in many different ways. Physical violence plagues our planet, sometimes it may be hidden behind closed doors other times it is out in the open rearing its ugly head for all to see.

There is the violence of rage, which can be silent and contemplative, seething like a sickness, or loud and boisterous like an angry thunderstorm.

The violence of thoughts, when the anger rises in our minds and we think of lashing out.

It can be as simple as an unkind word or thoughts which, when we allow them will light a spark that can burn into an anger that sits with us, hidden in the background.

I have said before that a successful day starts the night before. My Sunday night consisted of staying up late working on the iPad. I found it hard to sleep after the screen time, the blue light firing my braincells up like a Christmas tree, my thoughts going back and forth like Forest Gump whacking a ping pong ball.

The result was that I stayed in bed later the next morning. It’s funny how much of a knock on effect that has. Instead of my regular 20 minute meditation session I gave it 5 minutes.

I set out with the intention of nonviolence but was not set up to carry that through.

I often talk about finding our true selves. I also wonder if we can lose our true selves. As I drove to work I met a lady who hesitated at a fourway stop. She looked at me like I was an idiot and I reacted in anger. That is where we lose our true selves, it is not the real me. Just like the monks at the river, I put that person down a long time ago, but he comes back sometimes. If we were face to face neither of us would have reacted like that.

Two more times I got frustrated on the way to work. A strong person would have noticed the impulse to react, felt it and let it settle and become still like a ripple in water. The person who meditated for twenty minutes that morning would have let it go also.

Meditation (Dharana), just like the Yamas is another part of yoga. They are all interdependent. One leads into the other. Yoga is a way of life, not just a physical practise. That was obvious to me on my first day to examine the Yamas.

Satya

Tuesday brought me to Satya (truthfulness). It is a difficult one to put into action. It can be interpreted in different ways. This evening I was coming to the end of a difficult yoga practice when bridge or wheel pose was offered by the teacher.

Sometimes I will attempt wheel for two or three breaths when my body is warmed up and I decided for my third round I would go for it. The offer from the teacher was either pose.

It was then I realized that I was doing this pose for my ego rather than because it was what my body needed. This was the truth of my yoga practise. I came to the matt open to honesty and ready to practise truthfully.

Satya refers to truth both in thought and action. It can be found in many places in our lives, we just need to open our eyes to it.

There are many forms of dishonesty but dishonesty with ones self is the most difficult to escape. It is invisible and sneaks into our lives like a dark ghost in the night. Only with constant practise and mindfulness of Satya can we ward off this spectre.

Asteya

Asteya (non stealing) can take many forms aside from the obvious, for example, when we do not give our full effort to those who have paid for our services, we retain some of the attention and effort which has been promised to others.

This is human nature, I take out my phone in work and see a notification which is more interesting than what I am working on and my fish mind takes the bait. We fly to the shiny object like a moth to a candle.

How many times through out the day is our time or attention stolen by those who it is not intended for. My attention is intended for those who have put their hard earned cash into paying for it, or for those who I love and who deserve my attention and those who are kind and have earned my respect through friendship or courtesy.

The mindless attention leaches on social media and plastered over unsightly billboards do not deserve our attention, yet they latch onto us and drag us down into the depths of cat videos or online shopping and literally steal hours a week from us.

Non stealing can be looked at either directly or indirectly but either way the most precious things we have, our time and attention can be stolen from us or else not directed towards those who deserve it. Our most precious gifts should be held tight to our chests and given to those who matter most or those to whom we owe a debt.

Brahmacarya

This means moderation. I am vegetarian but I am also a realist. The world will never turn vegetarian or vegan though, this change would have a huge impact on climate change and eliminate unethical treatment of animals.

Eating meat is natural in the animal kingdom but over consumption is not. We eat so much beef that cows farts are literally choking the planet to death.

Whether vegetarian or carnivorous, we all have a responsibility to the home we will pass onto our children. Eating ethically sourced meat mindfully, in moderation will have an impact on this planet of a magnitude many of us do not realize.

Brahmacarya can save us, for we have nowhere else to go.

Brahmacarya can also apply on the mat in relation to the extent of the physical practise. We are always encouraged to push our selves. According to David Goggins, when we think we are spent, we have only reached the 40% mark.

This is true, but we must keep in mind humility and moderation. Taking your body straight to handstand without the experience and practise is not pushing yourself to your limits, it is pushing yourself to certain injury. It will serve your ego rather than your development.

Aparigraha

Non-hoarding. We often, by our nature, accumulate items. We fill our lives with stuff which takes up space both in our homes and in our minds. There is nothing more freeing than letting go of items we don’t need.

A cluttered space is a cluttered mind. The things you own start to own you. More space and more things require more time and maintenance. In my opinion we should only spend our time on those things we really love. If we free ourselves from those things that do not add to our lives we liberate our minds.

Just like the monks who crossed the river, we are guilty of mental hoarding. We hold onto emotions even when the moment has long past and they do not serve us. Often times I find my mind wander back to some perceived wrong which I still carry like the monks at the river. I hoard it.

In conclusion I encourage you, if you are a yoga practitioner, to go deeper and explore how we can take the entire practise, not just the the postures and breath work, off the matt into our everyday lives. Practise yoga every day, not necessarily twisted like a pretzel or meditating on a mountain top, but by being aware of the eight limbs of yoga and putting them into practise as much as possible.

There is much to offer, dig deep and you will find it.

If you liked the blog you would pay me a huge compliment by sharing it.

Thanks for reading,

Peace.

George

How My Yoga Practice Has Changed: Early Pregnancy

Currently I am 19 weeks pregnant, almost half way. So far, the journey has been full of changes and surprises, not all bad.

Usually I am a very active person. My favourite forms of exercise are Yoga (Hatha, Vinyasa & Kundalini), hiking, walking, snow shoeing & snowboarding. The mentioned are the exercises I gravitate towards and enjoy doing. They have been tried and tested and for me are easy to do & go to regularly. Until pregnancy.

The biggest difference for me since getting pregnant is my lack of drive to want to do a more physical Yoga class. The walking, hiking and snowshoeing no problem but going to a tough Vinyasa or sweaty Kundalini does not appeal to me right now. Before, these were my favourite classes. (By the way snowboarding has been postponed until next year. I fall a lot and I’m too scared of doing something damaging to my body or the baby)

Yoga was a huge part of my exercise routine, on average I would practice 4 times in the studio and self-practice once or twice at home. I also teach, however that has been postponed since December as my student is away on vacation until the end of January.

IMG_9197

Currently I am attending 2 classes a week, a prenatal class and a Yin or soft Hatha class. Both classes are very relaxing and I feel really safe. That’s the thing its not that my body is not able for my usual yoga class it’s my mind freaking out that I may be doing something that might hurt the baby. I have gone to my usual classes and felt anxious and uncertain of how I am feeling. So weird. I know that is ridiculous but I cannot help the way I feel……it’s so strange. There are some poses that do not feel good right now, like extending my legs into the air and staying in downdog too long, the blood pressure in my head gets too much.

Yoga for me was as much about the physical as it was about the mental. However, these days its definitely more about the mental. I love the reassurance from Theresa the prenatal teacher on how you can feel whatever you feel and its ok. She mentions that we as pregnant ladies should take moments each day of self-compassion, speak nice to ourselves and give ourselves a break. This advice can apply to all of us, not only pregnant ladies.

We all might be going through a big change it doesn’t have to be pregnancy, maybe the go to workout routine doesn’t work anymore, maybe focusing on the softer, lighter more reflective activity maybe what our bodies need. Maybe it’s my body telling me its ok to take it easy for the next while even though my brain is saying, you are getting lazy, you need to be working out more, don’t be one of those pregnant ladies who blames the lack of doing on their physical state!

This is where I can go down a rabbit hole and where I need to listen to my teacher’s advice of having more compassion for myself. The fact that I still want to practice yoga is great, the fact that I go walking everyday (yes at a slower pace) is healthy for the baby and great for me too.

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This is where I have to let go of my judgements and start supporting my decisions to slow it down. Maybe this is what I need right now, embrace it and enjoy my moments of fresh air & reflection before the arrival of a baby.

My promise to myself moving forward is to show myself more compassion, meditate, reflect, get as much fresh air as possible on my walks, breath, practice my 2 yoga classes and be ok with that. Be thankful I can do all of that and be grateful for a healthy body which is carrying such precious cargo.

Would love to hear if you went through similar experiences or you have completely different experiences during your pregnancy.

Thanks for reading.

Chat soon.

Theresa xx.

Milestones: Tracking The Journey Through Life

I have been thinking about milestones recently, but what are they?

Long ago milestones assured travelers that they were on the right path or that they had arrived at a destination. They were often used to signify the centre of a town or a starting point of importance.

I see them as being definitions of where you are at and where you have come from. They can direct you in life and show you where you have come from and where you may end up.

Life has different milestones for everybody, different markers in life so to speak. Some people would consider these markers good or bad, but I don’t think they are either. They just are. They are turning points. Not necessarily pointing out the path but highlighting where a change will take place. Death, life, change…

I drifted through life for a long time, even when I was in college. I was lost and I never knew what I wanted to do with myself. Nevertheless completion was a milestone. It was a launching point for the rest of my life.

I put no thought into the course I took in college. It just happened to work out ok. I got lucky and it allowed me to leave Ireland during the recession and start into a career that brought me to where I am now.

Moving to Canada was the next major milestone. Having lived in Vancouver for the last eight years I have seen amazing things and met some of my best friends here. On the other hand, I sacrificed years with my family including the last five years of my mother’s life. Was it worth it? I do not know.

Death was another milestone. It is a difficult thing to speak to someone that you know will die in a matter of days. It’s funny how you still talk about the ordinary things. I am eternally grateful that I was with her for that last week. It is a shame she could not live to see me marry Theresa who she loved like a daughter. Nor did she get to meet my niece, here newest grandchild.

These milestones have marked my life but they have only shown me where to go in hindsight, in reflection. When we walk the road of life and come to these milestones, they may not show us where to go immediately. It is only in looking back we you will learn from them.

It is with this sentiment that I approach the next milestone of my life. Through sacrifice, loss, friendship and family, I do not see that path I need to take but I can see what is important. It is with this knowledge that I will embrace the next marker in life and welcome my child into the world.

Peace,

George

 

 

Your Breath Is One Of The Most Powerful Tools You Have: Use It

What is the breath? It is the intake of oxygen through the lungs to burn through fatty cells and produce energy. We also get rid of body waste like carbon dioxide through exhaling.

I remember walking past Lululemon when the new building in Kitsilano was under construction. I saw flashing red text which said “Breathe in. Breathe out.” Why do we need to be reminded to breathe? We’re not going to forget some day and faint.

We do, however, need to be reminded how to breathe. We need to be reminded to breathe deep into the belly and expand the lungs through the side ribs. We need to be reminded to breathe deeply and mindfully.

Most people take short, shallow breaths which may trigger a fight or flight response, where as deep, belly breathing calms the mind and helps the body relax.

When I teach my yoga classes I try to make the breath, rather than the pose, the primary objective. It is difficult, even in my own practice, to follow this to the letter but I try to make the breath the guide through the class. If the breath is shallow or you are holding your breath it is a warning sign. What you are doing is not working.

The same principal applies in life, just like in your yoga class. Your breath should be used, both to guide you and to assist you through life.

Have you ever had anxiety before a meeting, before public speaking, during a difficult conversation or during a difficult time in your life? Do you think that your breath was deep, slow and even? No, you will probably find that it was shallow and uneven.

The breath will guide you or react to your situation but you can also take control of your breath through deep mindful breathing and, though it cannot change the chance events that will happen in life, I guarantee you it will change how you react to them.

You can use your breath as a rudder through life to direct yourself mindfully in the direction you want to go. You can use it to slow down and think through a situation to make a true choice rather than a snap decision.

You can use the breath as a shield to carry you through life and difficult situations. If you make a conscious effort to use your breath every day it can be truly life changing. To take one, two or even five minutes every morning for some deep mindful breathing and also take the time to mindfully breathe when faced with a difficult situation.

Over time you will train yourself to use the breath as a solid foundation on which you can move through life.

So tomorrow morning take control of one of the most powerful tools you have and make it work for you. Rather living a life in a reactive mindset, use your breath to seize the present moment and steer your life in the direction you want.

Peace,

George

Top 5 Tips: Yoga As Public Speaking

I have been teaching my regular Yoga class at YMCA for three weeks now and I have subbed a few classes also. I wanted to share some of my (limited) experience in teaching with respect to speaking. Teaching a Yoga class, no matter how many students you have is a form of public speaking.

Speaking in front of a group of people doesn’t bother me too much, but if I do feel nerves I try to trick my brain into thinking that it is excitement that I feel, not nerves. My top 5 tips for speaking as a yoga teacher are as follows:

  1. Be yourself
  2. Speak from the belly
  3. Maintain good posture
  4. Slow the breath and breathe deep
  5. PRACTISE PRACTISE PRACTISE

“Be yourself, everyone else is taken,” (Oscar Wilde). Stay true to tour values, otherwise it will be transparent and that will show through your class.

Why do you teach? In all likelihood it’s because you love Yoga. If you get to the why, then you will find the passion and it will shine through in your class. Confidence will flow from that passion. I see this with my own teachers, I see their love for Yoga and their love for teaching and I see it flowing from them in confidence and power. Keep your teachings and offerings true to you.

Speak from the belly. As Max Strom advocates, take your voice from low down in the gut rather than high up in the chest. Not that this is a problem for Max as he has probably the deepest voice I have ever heard. Is it coincidence that he was one of the most impactful teachers I have ever practiced with?

Research has shown that politicians with deeper voices will receive more votes as a deep voice conveys greater physical strength, competence, and integrity. This perception may stem from our more basic minds, coming from a time when physical strength was important in a leader. You are the leader in the class situation, taking the students through the routines and postures.

As Yoga teachers we must be heard. The act of projecting our voices will affect our confidence and mood. Tony Robbins makes a point that people who are slumped and speaking in a low voice will neither project nor hold confidence. Robbins encourages people to speak quickly and energetically. I don’t agree with speaking quickly in a yoga environment, at least not for me, but an energetic voice does not have to be a quick voice.

Carry presence in your voice. Carry presence in your posture. Most of us as yoga teachers will practice what we preach and maintain good posture. Not me though. I find myself slacking on posture all the time. Stand tall with your core engaged. Keep your chest proud and shoulders back. Just like smiling effects your mood (click here for my blog on smiling), posture will affect your mood and confidence. Fake it till you make it (with regard to confidence). If you don’t feel the confidence then pretend that you do. Act like you are confident and the confidence will follow. As yoga teachers we are leading a group of people that look to us for instruction and guidance so we should carry ourselves as such a person. You are awesome, so act accordingly.

If you have the time and space to do it, try a power pose before the class. Stand tall, feet slightly apart with your chest proud and your arms outstretched and look up. This is a classic power position and whether you believe it or not, you will feel more confident after spending two minutes standing like this.

Stay connected with your breath and body and get out of your head. We must Endeavour to remain present both as we practice and teach yoga. A daily meditation practice will help, but also before you teach, get grounded and let your bare feet touch the ground if you can. Slow the breath down and breathe deep in to the belly. Become present. This will also help with your delivery.

Practice your class before you teach it. Practice with a mirror, a camera, teach your friends. If they are not willing then teach yourself, but practice. For my wedding speech, I knew the speech but I didn’t practice saying it out loud. I wanted it to seem spontaneous rather than rehearsed but that was a mistake. I am not an experienced Yoga teacher so maybe you will reach a point that you don’t need to practice and it will just flow, but for me, I need to PRACTISE, PRACTISE, PRACTISE. It also takes away the stress.

Be aware of your tone of voice and body language. Keep your chest open and inviting. Students may unknowingly mirror you. If you come to class with a bad attitude it will almost certainly carry through to your class and to your students.

Don’t over think what you have to say. Keep your words and your class simple. Over complicating anything is a recipe for confusion.

Try to catch the filler words (“uh”, “erm”, “um”, “well”, “so”, “like”, “hmm“, etc.). If you don’t think you do this then you may want to record yourself.

I bought a Bluetooth voice recorder for $50. It clips to my shirt collar and connects wirelessly to my phone. I don’t use this in any of the public classes I offer, but my friends don’t mind me recording my voice during the private classes. Also when I put a new routine together, I work through it myself first, and record my instructions, then I take my own practice a few times. It really helps me see where I need to improve with my delivery. I also bought a Tripod for my Iphone for $20 so I can record a video of my practice.

I also intend to write out my instructions and practice saying it over and over and over (like we have been thought in Yoga Teacher Training). Repetition. Say it again and again until it rolls off the tongue.

Try not to take things personally. If a student leaves the class for example, it could be for a hundred different reasons and in all likelihood has nothing to do with you. You don’t know their story. Try not to read anything from student’s faces. If they look angry or unsettled, they may just be having a hard work out. That doesn’t meant that they are not getting what they want from it.

The fear will be there. It will only go away with experience and practice. There is no such thing as the perfect class. Perfection is a state of mind. Forgive yourself when you stumble or if your class wasn’t what you wanted. It doesn’t matter. The great thing about the present moment is that it starts afresh all the time. The past doesn’t matter. Learn from it, use it and move on. It’s ok to mess up and fumble.

Peace,

George