Just Sit Still: Taming the Puppy Mind with Meditation

Me meditating at Kits Beach in Vancouver

For years, I had the hardest time wrapping my brain around meditation. It seemed like a daunting task that required a great deal of skill. I remember saying to myself, “I really want to learn how to meditate”. So I asked one of my favourite teachers at the time how to do it. He said simply, “Just sit still.”

I was not impressed. This was certainly not the answer I was looking for. As a trained dancer, I am a technician. I was hoping for some advice on technique, some concrete, tangible explanation to what felt elusive and overwhelming . The answer I got felt like a cop-out.

I knew that meditation had a multitude of benefits, including reduced anxiety, increased serotonin levels (boosting mood and relieving mild depression), enhanced immune function and increased self-esteem. I was convinced I needed to master it.

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Back To Life: Yoga for Low Back Pain (Part 3: Transverse Abdominis)

Previously we discussed the role of the hamstrings and the psoas muscles in regard to a painful low back. If tight, both muscle groups have the ability to pull on the lumbar (lower) spine, creating pain and even injury*. This week we will discuss the core’s role in stabilizing the lower spine, specifically transverse abdominis (or TVA).

Transverse abdominis is the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, wrapping around the torso from front to back and from the rib cage to the pelvis.  It acts as a corset supporting and stabilizing the low back. We use transverse abdominus without even knowing it when we “suck in” our stomachs to fit into a tight pair of jeans.

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Back to Life: Yoga for Low Back Care (Part 2, Hamstrings)

As we discussed in part one of this series, the majority of those who suffer from lower back pain do so because of muscular imbalances that we can correct with some simple exercises. Last week we discussed the psoas muscle and it’s connection to a healthy and balanced low back. This week, it’s all about the hamstrings.

The hamstrings are a group of three muscles (biceps femoris, semitendonosus and semimembranosus) that are located on the back of the thigh. Their origin is along the sit bones (ishial tuberosity) and they insert down into the bones of the lower legs (tibia and fibula).

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Back to Life: Yoga for Low Back Care (Part 1, The Psoas Connection)

Most of us, at some point, will experience some form of lower back pain. Whether it is from sitting on a plane for too long, from gardening or from something more serious, like a disc injury, it is one of the most common complaints I hear from my students.

For years, I have had my own struggles with low back pain. Over a year ago, I was told that I would need back surgery, a diagnosis I took very seriously. As a dancer and yoga instructor, I rely on my body every single day. But who doesn’t? What injuries often teach us is that we take our bodies for granted and it’s time to change our ways.

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Burn Fat with Awareness: Yoga for Weight Loss

My journey in yoga began as many of yours probably did: I wanted a work out, I wanted to increase flexibility, I wanted that yogi buzz of blissful relaxation… and I wanted to lose weight. While first focused on postures and technique, I soon began to realize there was much more to this practice than physical postures alone. My intentions, my goals and shock-horror–my feelings were waiting to surface.

Since I began my journey over 10 years ago, I have lost over 40 pounds.  Now I am not saying this happened over night, because it certainly did not. I had tried every diet under the sun. I would have success for a limited amount of time, and then the pounds would pile on again, usually adding a few more to boot. Yoga is not a quick fix, but a long term tool to build the relationship between your body and mind. It requires patience, compassion and persistence…

…Still with me? Good.

It took me a long time to realize that I was literally burying my feelings with food, and then even longer still to undo the habits that had gotten me to the place I was at. Yogis call these habitual reactions, samskaras. Samskaras are like little tracks or ruts of a wheel in a muddy road. The mud hardens into permanent fixtures, then anytime a car travels down that road, the car’s wheels want to slide into those tracks. It takes a lot of awareness and effort to derail that car, but it is possible. What you practice gets stronger; this I know for sure.

What yoga continues to teach me is how to sit with uncomfortable feelings. It allows me to sit and feel whatever comes up. Those sensations can often be very overwhelming, sometimes they even seem unbearable. What we know is that those feelings won’t last forever. If we really sit with them and see them through, rather than distracting ourselves with tv, food, alcohol or gossip, they will dissipate and lessen their grip and their track will begin to soften.

As a yoga instructor, one of my responsibilities is to provide my students with an experience of themselves. Sometimes when we really see ourselves, we do not like what we see. But once we see ourselves as we truly are, faults and all (and without judgment), we can accept, assess and make changes as necessary. It is those who cannot or are not willing to see that stay stuck in the mud.

As I began to acknowledge my feelings, I also began to recognize and differentiate between them. Where before feelings of anger, sadness or boredom might be confused as feelings of hunger, I can now recognize feelings of hunger as just that. We often reach for something to eat or drink when we are nervous or have feelings we don’t quite know what to do with. Once I became aware of this, the mindlessness began to lessen. I eventually began eating only when I was physically hungry and slowly, the pounds began to drop. Now I savor food, rather than mindlessly consume it.

So unfortunately I cannot provide you with a yoga prescription that you can practice for a week in order to shrink your waistline and reveal the “new you”. The good news? The “new you” has been there all along, just waiting to be recognized.

As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said, “Do your practice and all is coming.”

See you on your mat.



Beating the Winter Doldrums

Me saluting the sun at Kits beach. Photo credit: Pure Souls Photography

As a born and raised 2nd generation Vancouverite, you would think tolerance of wet weather would be ingrained in my DNA. You would think these windy, rainy, gray days that end at 4:30pm would feel like home to me. Nope.  No way. In fact, I think dealing with them becomes more challenging each year that goes by.

Today was one of those days. I didn’t want to get out of bed. I meandered through my day with a forced smile (like they say in show biz, “fake it ’till ya make it”), but really I was relieved to have some quality time with my couch at the end of the day. As I sat staring mindlessly at the TV, I felt drained and blue and all of a sudden I found myself way down in the dumps. Hmmm… maybe some home made guacamole will help…Nope. Perhaps a glass of wine… No again… I’ll just search the web for something to make me smile… No luck.

I realized it had come to what I knew all along. I needed to get my butt up off the couch and as Olivia Newton John said circa 1983, “ Get Physical”.

So after a last ditch attempt of retail therapy at Ikea, I dragged myself to my gym and pumped out 40 minutes of cardio. Within minutes, I felt a hundred times better. Gotta hand it to those endorphins, they know what they’re doing. I followed up my gym visit with a home practice of yin yoga full of hip openers, twists and mild inversions.

Amazingly, within a relatively short period of time, my mood did an about-face and here I am feeling energized, calm, focused and (drum roll, please) happy.

What got me off my couch in the first place was the memory of my experiences at the gym and with my yoga practice. Sometimes it seems like it takes all the effort in the world to get me to my mat, but ultimately, I know how I’m going to feel after-wards: healthy, energized, strong and… happy. It is that memory that brings me back again and again.

So it is time for bed now and I expect to have a restful sleep tonight. Not just because of my new pillows from Ikea, but because I took the time to be good to myself. My needs have been met. I will go to sleep and do it all over again tomorrow… and love every minute of it… or at the very least, I’ll love how I feel in the end.



Flipping Myself the Bird and Other New Year’s Resolutions

Happy 2011, y’all!

I have finally come out of my holiday comatose of good food, good drinks and good company. Although I always look forward to the holidays, there is something to be said for getting back to routine.  So I am back to it. Back to teaching, back to the gym (along with the entire world, or so it seems in my gym), and back to my yoga practice.

I usually resist the urge to make New Year’s resolutions, but the last few days I have been thinking… It is a natural time to pause, review and make new goals, is it not? So what the heck, here it goes:

1. Beat procrastination. Seeing as I have been meaning to write this post since January 1st, and it is now January 9th, I’m tempted to say I have already failed on the procrastination front. However, it is still the beginning of January, and there is still hope. In 2011 I will take “I’ll do it later” out of my vocabulary. Now is the time. Carpe Diem.

2. Love Boat Pose. Dear Navasana: Why are you the bane of my existence? Perhaps if I practice you every day without fail, I will learn to love you like I learned to love my grumpy, great-auntie Freida who could make me laugh and cry within the same 30 seconds. It is my resolution to try.

3. Flip my inner critic the bird. We all have one. That voice inside that usually shows up when we least expect it. The voice that tells us we are not good enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not perky enough. Well I am plenty strong and more than good and I could care less about being pretty or perky, so this year, I am finally standing up to myself. Stop the bullying already! Every time that useless voice comes up, I am going to turn around and flip it the bird. I just did it right now. Feels great. Give it a go.

4. Remember to soak it all in. I remember being a kid during summer break and complaining to my dad that I was bored; nothing to do. He told me to enjoy it while I could because “when you’re older, a year will pass in a blink of the eye”. He got that one right. My life is blessed with so many amazing people and experiences. It is my hope for 2011 that I will remain present in each situation, resting my attention only on what is in front of me, and not the millions of other distractions there are in this fast-paced world. Perhaps then I will actually be able to slow the hands of time, or at least hear the clock ticking.

I’d love to hear some of your resolutions, and how they are going so far.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2011!