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Last Monday was my final plane trip of the summer, ending my final journey before I settle down and hit the books really hard before my Naturopathic Licensing Exam in August. Although some in my position chose to defer travel until after the exam, I decided to intersperse my studying with a hint of fun to keep myself refreshed and motivated.

Arriving home on Monday night made me reflect on the several trips that I have been so fortunate to take part in so far this year: some to familiar places (home), some to far away exotic places (India), and this most recent trip to a much anticipated music festival in Chicago with my sister-in-law. Many people work for vacation: travel tends to be quite high on people’s priority lists, especially now as it has become more available and convenient for those of us in the developed world. Yet, each time I embark on a vacation, I find myself questioning why this is such a coveted activity. Travel is not always (okay, it is rarely) a comfortable thing: we are uprooting to place ourselves in unfamiliar and unpredictable places and situations. When travelling with others, we put ourselves at risk of possible contradiction and confrontation. When travelling alone, there is an element of danger and risk. This does not seem to differ much from life itself- with the exception of more “adventure” being packed into a shorter time frame. It really does make one aware of how life is a journey in itself: fluctuations between comfort and discomfort, ease and dis-ease, feeling grounded and feeling overwhelmed. In addition, it makes one aware that the remedy for all of this is presence, breath, and acceptance- in life as in travel… and in yoga as in life.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it. ~ Greg Anderson

In this week’s practice, we paid attention to the similarities between the journey we take through a yoga practice, in comparison to the other journeys we take. As our “flight” departs into the skies of sun salutations, emotions and feelings and thoughts fluctuate between optimism for the journey ahead, to fear, through acceptance. Our body temperature goes from cold to hot, as we begin to self-regulate and adjust to the “altitude”. We experience discomfort (from cramped seating) and flow (once we’ve found a good book or movie to watch) all in one flight. And as we touch down, we face the unknown of what lies ahead. Just as in a good trip, regardless of what has been “planned”, there will always be room for mishaps, blips, and unexpected events. Yet, as in a good trip, equanimity and acceptance help to get us through these twists and turns. We breathe into it- whether we’re facing the fact that we’ve boarded the wrong train, or whether our thighs are fatiguing faster than we expected in Warrior II. We acknowledge the situation, we check in with our own safety and security, and then we deal with the situation at hand.

The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination. ~ Don Williams, Jr.

What makes a trip/journey memorable anyway? There are 2 types of things I remember about my vacations: the times of pure and complete flow- of sattva- and the unexpected (and sometimes unwelcome) twists and turns. A good vacation story is not complete without these two types of events.

A yoga class is no different. We remember how present we feel in that 5th sun salutation flow, when it becomes second nature again. The joints stop talking, the mind slows down, and we are in the moment. Breath seems to come and go effortlessly, the one bead of sweat trickling down our nose is just perfect. I compare this to watching a sunrise/sunset on the beach, pure relaxation; gliding effortlessly through the sand or water; taking a long, deep breath of fresh air.

On the other hand, we also remember THAT pose. Yes, THAT one. The one we “couldn’t do”. The one we never thought our teacher would have the guts to introduce on the second class back after a few months off. It was hard, it was uncomfortable, it was almost mean. The mind started talking louder, expletives start to sneak their way into our peaceful yogic state… until we remember to breathe through it. All of a sudden, there is a flash of acceptance, realization that we’ve made it through the pose. And then those magical words, “… and… RELEASE!” I equate this memory to that memory of the 2 hour traffic jam that you get caught in (“…on my vacation! I’m forced to waste 2 hours of MY VACATION!”), the hotel that has somehow lost your reservations, or the realization that you have forgotten your favourite hat on a blistering day of touring. But, when you think about it, without that traffic jam, you may not have had those two hours to roll the windows down and just rock out to your favourite two CDs with your travel partner. Without the blip in your accommodation plans, you may not have found that perfect little bed & breakfast (where you met the nicest couple from Hawaii, who is willing to host you if you should visit). If you had remembered your hat, you would have never ventured towards the little market to find another favourite hat (and the most delicious coconut to quench your thirst!). After you have taken yourself out of the uncomfortable pose, you realize that you have opened up something that wasn’t there before. You are better for it.

If we approach each yoga practice as a little vacation, we can more easily understand our own reactions to life situations. Consequently, by then practicing equanimity, presence, and acceptance on the mat, we start to gain insight on how to take this off our mats, and into our real life vacations… or even, into our journey through life itself.

Pose of the day: Although I took the students a step further into a challenging Revolved Half Moon (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana), I find that the pose Parivrtta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair pose) is perfect for illustrating the theme of this class. Nobody (that I know personally) loves Chair pose… especially when held for long periods of time. Thighs start burning, teeth must be coaxed into a non-gritting (smiling?) state… Add a twist, and it’s even difficult to remember to breathe. Your teacher is reminding you to squat lower, while your legs “inadvertently” try to straighten. Shoulders begin to tense up and creep toward the ears (luckily, your yoga teacher is also there to remind you to relax those as well). Then, 3 breaths in, you find yourself twisting a little more. You’ve found your breath- inhale and lengthen the side body, exhale and twist a little deeper. You feel a release deep inside your spine. You find yourself looking upwards, and, though your legs start to tremble a little, you may be smiling. the magic word (“…and… RELEASE!”) comes, and you curl out, feeling wrung out, but pretty darn good. The other side can’t wait. Yoga is all about putting ourselves into minor physical discomfort for the greater good. Time to share your joy with others and twist the night away.

As my students know well, I love to discuss how yoga applies to everyday life. Beyond the physical benefits and the stress relief, the practice of yoga teaches us lessons far beyond the obvious. In my first class back after a small hiatus from teaching, I introduced this session’s theme: How life is reflected in yoga, how yoga is reflected in life.

As with all “first ____ back”-s, I thought the first class back would be a fantastic way to illustrate this analogy. It is not a “first” for anyone, just like the first day of school after the age of 5 or 6, the first day back to work after vacation, the first day of a new job in the same field, getting back to the gym after a break, first time seeing your family after a while away. We have been in a similar position before; we have past experience with similar events. We can “half” know what to expect… yet, it is actually this element of the situation that can work to our detriment. Unlike something brand new, when we return to something that we recognize, we have preset expectations. Expectations of what may happen, expectations of how others may behave, expectations of ourselves.

As we start this new session of yoga, we may be feeling a little apprehensive. Perhaps it has been a while. There is a conversation running through our heads: “…will i be able to do___?… has Jenn changed as a teacher?… will she make us do ____?… have the others been practicing?…”. There is excitement, dread, uncertainty, with a dash of experience and knowledge. And this conversation in our head we are having, what does it serve? It is partially a protective mechanism- to protect us from disappointment, to guide us through the experience: how we should be acting, what skills we need to use in this situation. However, there is always an element of the unknown as well. In yoga, it is no different. This is why we try to slow down a little in yoga and take note of the thoughts, take note of our body’s response, and weed through the useful and the useless.

In asana practice, we can utilize this and exercise our acceptance and presence in these situations. Flowing through a basic set of postures this week- nothing new, nothing crazy- we can take time to listen to our bodies and our minds. You will notice some new feelings, some old. You will hear that voice again- sometimes positive (“oooh! my favorite pose! I’m good at this one,”), sometimes negative (“I hate this one. Why can’t I stay balanced?”). The trick to finding the flow in yoga is the same as the trick to finding flow in life: listening. Be aware and flexible in your body and mind so that you can adapt to the moment at hand. Breathe, and enjoy.

The subconscious is ceaselessly murmuring, and it is by listening to these murmurs that one hears the truth. ~ Gaston Bachelard

Pose of the day: Warrior II

Stable, familiar. Use this pose to slow your breath and look inside. How do you feel? Appreciate that your legs are grounded, they know what to do here. What happens when your thigh begins to burn? Do you let your mind take over?

Remember that the breath is always there. The earth is beneath to support you. Whether it is holding a pose past the point of comfort, or feeling somewhat out of control on that first day back to work (discomfort can also come from the pile of papers on your desk) you have done it before. Release your disappointment, breathe in the new experience, and tackle it head on. You are a warrior.

Just me…

2010 Journey

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