Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Butterflies and Yoga

A few weeks ago some friends of our ordered over 120 caterpillars for our children to take home and learn from.  I thought in taking part that it would be a great experience for my children.  Imagine having 8 caterpillars crawling around in a big glass vase in your home.  We fed them thistles, I brought in sticks and leaves to make a really nice habitat for them.  The caterpillars grew big and fat and then crystallized on the sticks and the material at the top of the vase.  A week or so later we have butterflies.  For now the butterflies are in my kitchen.  We have fresh fruit out for them daily along with sugar water.  They have the warmth of the sun and best of all no predators.  When the butterflies are ready they are free to fly outside through our patio door that is open most of the time.  For now the babies are learning to flap their wings and seem happy in my kitchen.

Through this process I of course think how does this relate to yoga.  Obviously the overeating caterpillar who sleeps and eats all day is not a great comparison.  However then I thought that this process is kind of like a mediation for them.  Really the ultimate goal of the caterpillar is to become a butterfly.  As with enlightenment, not necessarily a goal but certainly something that requires a lot of contemplation and mediation.  Just like the caterpillar.  We assume the caterpillar is sleeping when he is not eating but perhaps his bug size brain is thinking about becoming the butterfly.  If you think you are the butterfly you will become one.  After all who knows what happens when they crystallize and turn from a caterpillar to a butterfly.  Perhaps this is the ultimate mediation.

Then of course the butterfly itself is reborn, its karma is recognized.  It either becomes a butterfly or dies.  The butterfly itself has a tremendous practice.  It has to continue to flap it wings to remove the moisture so that it can fly.  Now its job is to eat sugar and flap its wings.  It does this until the flight is relaxed and easy.  This task or practice reminds me of the physical or the asana practice of yoga.  We do the same postures over and over.  Not so that a posture looks perfect but so that you are able to achieve a relaxed and balanced posture, to fly like the butterfly.

When our butterflies chose to leave our family will try really hard to practice aparigraha or non-attachment.  We have fed and loved these butterflies for many weeks.  Observing their moments, their challenges.  Using encouragement (yes I talked to them).  They have become miniature members of our family. 


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Never too old.

I have been teaching a variety of classes for many years.  I used to teach computer courses, then yoga, then childbirth classes.  I love it.  I think one of my favorite things is the interesting people that I meet.  I love sharing my knowledge but I love learning new things from and about them too.

I taught a yoga class this morning and met a new student.  We got to talking after class and she mentioned she was just getting into yoga and really liked it.  For the past several years she has been running marathons.  She is doing the next Boston Marathon and then that will be her last one.  She has come to yoga for something new.  She felt that she was getting to old for marathons.  I said that she didn't look at all that old and certainly not too old.  She told me she was 68 - imagine the sound when my jaw hit the floor.  Amazing 68 and running marathons.  68 and just starting to practice yoga.

Just goes to show that you are never too old to try something new!


Monday, May 24, 2010

Difficult Decisions

The past few months have been full of new beginnings and closing old chapters.  I am finding making these decisions to start new and end old both exhilarating and scary at the same time.  Most of these decisions have to do with my family and how some of my life choices affect them.

For just over two years I have been working on Sundays and the occasional Saturday at this wonderful store called Milkface.  It is a place where I feel at home.  They sell nursing bras, nursing clothing and baby carriers.  They are also a tremendous resource to parents in out community.  My husband has never been a fan of me working there.  It is not the concept, he loves them too.  It is that I have been spending an entire day away from my family when we could be together.  So after months of him badgering me to quit, I did.  I was so afraid to.  I love the environment and the family that owns it are AMAZING to work for.  I had to put all of that aside and put my family first.  You know something I am really enjoying spending those Sundays with my family.  I now try to get all of the week-end "work" done on Friday.  Things like washing the floors, laundry, changing beds and tidying.  This means that on the week-end we can spend our free time together and it is really nice.

I had also started teaching a yoga class on Sunday mornings.  The timing worked and did not really eat into our family time too much.  I taught this class for six weeks and decided that it was not for me.  I had one person coming, which is not enough.  The owner asked if I would switch the type of class and I said no.  It felt good to do that too.  There were a few issues, one is that I was not making enough money to make it worth while.  I teach yoga because I love yoga, but at the same time I need to make a little bit of money.  Especially if I am to be away from my family for a couple of hours.  The other small issue was that I had to prepare a snack for the class to share when class was over.  This is probably what was costing me the extra.  I barely have time to cook and bake for my three children some days, let alone for strangers who may not show up.  For these reasons I have decided to let this class go.  It has been difficult for me to say no.  Again the difficulty lies in the fact that I love the centre and the woman who owns it is lovely.  I just need to put my needs first I guess.  I am sure that as one door closes another will open.

I am looking towards the Fall in planning my schedule.  I am wondering if there will be more things that I need to let go of.  I want to be home with my family in the evening.  Not just being home for dinner and then leaving to go and teach a class.  I want to be more a part of their routine at night.  I feel as if I am missing out.  I say that but I am still home with them from 2:30 when they are done school until 6pm when I leave to teach.  I know many working parents don't even get to spend that much time with their kids.  When we decided I would be a stay at home mom it was so I could be involved in their lives.  I am seeing as they are getting older that they are slowly slipping away and it happens so fast.  My fear is that they will become adults and I will wonder where the time went.  Being present in every moment with my children is what I want for them and for me.  Not present just for the time we have for now.  As doors to my professional life close, I think the many doors to my family life will open.

Hari Om,

Sunday, May 16, 2010


I spent this last week-end away from my family at a retreat in Prince Edward County.  I had some trepidation going into this.  I had not yet been away from my still nursing toddler before.  I had not been to this retreat before.  I had no idea where I was going.  I was afraid of sharing a room with someone as I would be pumping milk. 

I registered, paid my money, asked about private pumping places and got some directions.  I even offered to drive three other women that I knew who were going.  It was lovely.  The drive was great, I got to know three women who I had briefly spoken in class so much better than I did before.  I may have even made some long term friends from the feelings of it.  We did not get lost, in fact the drive was very straight forward and so scenic and beautiful.  We were there before we knew it.  We were shown our rooms and I was so lucky to have a large room with a double bed to myself.  I guess pumping has its perks.

It was different to retreats that I had attended before.  This was way less regimented.  There was snacks between meals.  The yoga sessions, and discussions were all optional.  I of course exercised my option to attend, after all that is what I was there for.  The beds and rooms were cozy and comfortable.  Not cots or bunk beds lined up with a thin sheet for bedding.  The food was lovely, fresh fruit, oatmeal, pasta, curry and homemade desserts.

The other main difference was that the facilitator and "staff" did not all become inaccessible between sessions.  This was so nice.  They were there to eat with us, and there during free time to chat about whatever.  I even took a bike ride with our teacher which was lovely.

The yoga was fabulous.  This was the one known thing about this trip.  I have been taking classes with Kat for some time and she was one of my teachers in training.  I knew it would be great, but the environment made it that much better.  Kat is someone that I would call "shiny".  She glows from the inside out and this did not change in a retreat setting.  The discussions were also fantastic and although I did not always have anything to say or ask I enjoyed listening.  We even practiced laughter yoga, which I had not done before.  We basically were on our mats laughing hysterically for about 10 minutes.  It does sound silly, but we were in that kind of a mood and it worked.  It was really heart opening and energizing to just sit and giggle, contagious in fact.

You would think that a mother of three who is away on a retreat would want to take an opportunity like this to sleep.  I did take a short 20 minute nap on the first day but that was it.  I actually took the time to get out of bed at 6:30am each morning.  Go down to the yoga studio and meditate for half and hour to forty five minutes before the others woke up.  As a mom of three I don't often get to meditate in the morning and often practice my meditations at night.  I relished in the opportunity to be able to do this in the morning and sit and have a long leisurely meditation.  The retreat would have been worth it if I had only done this.  Well, maybe not... but it was a great part of it!

The other portion I LOVED was silence from 10pm until 10am.  Yes we were sleeping during a lot of this but we were also awake in the morning for several hours.  I even went for a walk with one of my friends in silence and enjoyed some morning air, which was lovely.  People can communicate without speaking.  I enjoyed the silence so much that I think I may try a silent "vipassana" retreat next time.  I did discover that I had a few demon's to slay through this.  Lots of voices in my head lots of thoughts to examine.  This really is something I would like to explore further.  I did however have a hard time coming out of it, even though it was such a short time.

One of the attendees asked me how I keep up my yoga and meditation practice as a mom with three young children.  I simply said that the practice changes when you have children.  You learn to become more present in the moment.  Not so focused on what I wished I had of done or what I still have to do.  It is also a very large exercise in ahimsa, in being kind to myself.  My meditation practice is not at an ideal time.  I meditate a night rather than in the morning.  My practice is often short as I get interrupted.  My body is often tired and I am physically not always where I want to be.  One of my teachers once said that "being a mom is a spiritual practice in itself sometimes".  I really believe that and try to accept that.  I also told this woman that I take it where I can get it, like being up at 6:30am at a retreat when everyone else is sleeping.  She had noticed that I was up and meditating early, wondered why I wasn't sleeping.  It made sense to her when I told her I needed to seize these moments to appreciate my practice.

I think I have written enough.  For those who my be reading who have never been on a retreat before, I encourage you to try it.  Relax, rejuvenate and enjoy.  Be present in all it has to offer you!

Om Shanti,

P.S. For the retreat centre I atteneded:
For my teacher that I respect so much:

Monday, May 3, 2010

Chatty Cathy's - Help please!

I started teaching a class at a community center.  Very different from teaching at yoga centers...  Where do I begin.  The class was very large, that I can deal with and am OK with.  The more people I can share my love of yoga with the better.  The room was loud.  There was a squash game or jump roping or tennis or something going on in the room behind us.  There was an aerobics class above and the pounding on the ceiling was scary.  I am guessing a room next to or around the corner as the constant slam of a door that felt like ours was very apparent.   All of these mild distractions are easy to deal with.  I play music, I remind them to use the external distractions as a way to improve focus and of course ignore it.

The one thing I have not experienced before was people who talk the entire time.  I have as a participant made the occasional comment, heard the occasional comment.  A laugh, a giggle, a question, an excuse me, occasional noises.  This was different!  Two women at the back of the class had a conversation through the entire practice.   They never took a break.  I am a talker, I know that.  Get me on the phone or in a room with my friends and I can talk.  I do however know that there is a time and a place.  I do not chatter constantly during yoga, meditation, church, plays, presentations that kind of thing.  I can turn it off. 

They started as soon as they walked in, probably before they walked in.  I thought OK they will stop when the practice begins.  NOPE!  During the centering portion of the class, chat chat chat.  During postures, chat chat chat.  During integrations between postures, chat, chat, chat.  Preparing for savasana and centering for this, chat chat chat.  A bunch Chatty Cathy's.  They were quiet for the relaxation/savasana portion, all seven minutes of it.  I swear it must have been killing them.  As soon as I said "bring awareness to your breath".  It started again, chat chat chat.  I said several times "let us enjoy the silent space".  I don't think they heard me because they just kept talking.   I swear I have never heard or seen anything like it.

I tried a few techniques to shut these women up but nothing worked.  I was talking to other women at the end of class so I did not get to talk with them and come to some understanding.  I know they are paying for this class, but so are the other 18 women.  For some yoga is just another exercise class.  However, for others it is meditative and spiritual and a certain amount of respect is required.

For next week during the centering and opening part of the practice I will prepare something to remind these women that it can be a spiritual practice for some.  I am putting it out there to anyone who may be reading... do you have any suggestions to quiet the Chatty Cathy's???


Expect the unexpected.

I think I am now referring to myself as the substitute teacher.  Or as my children like to call it, the surprise teacher and really - it is.  As a yoga teacher who also has a young family I don't always have the free time to have a regular class as our schedule is always changing.  So from time to time I show up for other people and teach their classes and this is fun.  It of course has it challenges.  The first being that the regulars see your face and you theirs.  I am usually offering a smile and a verbal "welcome".  They often grunt or sigh as if to say "who the hell are you and where is our regular teacher?"

Last week I taught a class in the West End at Metta Massage and Yoga.  A lovely space where I have substituted before.  The teacher I was teaching for told me that it was rigorous class with an ashtanga flair.  I planned my class according to these instructions - it was a strength and stretch class.  I had all these really powerful asanas planned with some amazing challenges and some lovely deep powerful stretches.  I am sitting waiting and ready.  The five women who came to the class were not at all ready for the class I had prepared.  I had three women who were in their 50's and not at all fit, one younger woman who was full of injuries and the other who was returning to yoga after a two year break and this was her first time back.

So I quickly scanned my plan and said no way can I teach them all of this and half of these postures are totally not appropriate.  My strength and stretch was more about strengthening their minds and helping them gently stretch their bodies.  Strength and stretch was a beginner hatha class and that was just as much fun.  They tried things that they had not tried before and felt great after the class was over.

We had an interesting conversation as they were leaving.  One woman said "I wish I had time for this everyday".  I said right back "you do".  They all looked at me as if I had three heads.  I told them that yoga does not have to be a 90 minute practice and that everything they did counts.  I they only have five minutes that is OK.  If they are waiting for something on the stove it is a great time to throw in a few sun salutations or a five minute meditation.  Of course 20 minutes is ideal but it all counts.  I have never seem five women look so relieved in their lives.  I think some teachings do people a dis-service if most people are walking around thinking that they don't have time for practice.  More teachers should spread the message that it all counts.  Be gentle on your mind and your body and just do what you can when you can.  That rigorous practice is not always possible for householders with hectic schedules and lives.

Hari Om,