Yoga Off the Mat

Have you done the “Sat Nam” meditation before? It rhymes with “But Mom”.  The Kundalini yoga folks use it alot.  I read that it means “I Am That” and I didn’t really get it before.  It also means “That” as in the “Truth” or the “Divine”.  I don’t really get that either, but it came to mind recently.

At work I was moved to sit next to some geeky guys who I didn’t know from Adam.  I wasn’t happy with the change, not the geeky guys so much as the changes.  I said some not-nice things about my new neighbours.  I was angry.  I was in SERIOUS RESIST MODE.  

I’m not going to repeat what I said in front of the whole interweb but to the dear friends I confide in (ok, let’s be honest it’s “Rant at”) thank you for liking me anyways.

It’s a funny thing about being unkind, we hate being victims of it but we all do it to.  In Leah McLaren’s column on the weekend, she was talking about her body and how one of her breasts is larger than the other which earned her the nickname “Biggy Small” in high school. OK it made me laugh but can you imagine? 

We say kids can be so cruel, but we all can and it’s not nice to see in yourself.  Heck if you think seeing it is bad, try blogging about it.  And that’s the point.  The minute we close ourselves off and say “oh boy that’s so not me” it’s just your Shadow side coming into play.  That’s the icky stuff we don’t really want to see.  You say “I’m A and I’m B and you can bet I’m C, but I sure has heck ain’t D”.  But you are.  Maybe just a little.  And so am I.

Because the fact is, we don’t get to choose.  I Am That means it’s a package deal.  And if it does fold back to the Truth or the Divine (I don’t pretend to understand this, just stumbling through the dark here) it’s because we need to accept it all.  It all just is.  And it’s all good. The Light doesn’t exist without the Shadow.

And when we’re able to get our heads there it reminds us how much we’re all connected.  Even when life cheeses us off and we choose to focus on how we feel so darn seperate.

So here’s how I know that to be true.  The other day sitting next to my geeky neighbours somebody brought up Firefly which is a favourite cancelled show and then we talked about what Joss Whedon is going to do next and we agreed that it will hopefully be more Firefly than Buffy.  And then we talked about how Summer Gau rocked in Firefly and amazing that fight scene was, it was like an intricately choreographed dance number, and yes, she used to be a dancer, she hurt her ankle and went into acting and no wonder she got picked up for Terminator, she’s been great we haven’t seen her blink once and thanks to the writer strike we finished the “series” by watching her jeep get blown up and since Fox hasn’t said they’re renewing the series (hello! you owe us, why do you think we even turned *on* the TV during the writers strike!?) we may never find out what happened.

(Sigh) So yup, I’m a package deal.  I can be unkind.  I am a geek.  I Am That. 

I’ve been going through some emotional craziness lately.  I’ve been having to say good-bye to some people in my life and I’m not real happy about it.  It made me think about a Sylvia Boorstein article I read in January’s Kripalu Online newsletter. 

She was talking about teaching at meditation retreats and students ask her how it feels to be peaceful all the time.  And she tells them it’s just not that way.  After her decades of meditating she’s not necessarily peaceful all the time but she’s wiser about her decisions and kinder.  That sounds pretty good to me.

She wrote that when the chips are down and you’re feeling an avalanche of emotions and you’re tired and exhausted the mind gets confused.  All those things you know to be true and all those things you know about being peaceful go out the window.  And you get into your stories.  The angry ones, like “this isn’t fair”.  The pity-party ones like “poor me”.  And the scared ones like “I won’t survive it if things don’t change”.

She says:

I continue to suffer, stumbling around in stories of discontent, until I catch myself, and stop, and allow myself to know, and deeply feel, that I am frightened or confused or disappointed or angry or tired or ashamed or sad — that “I’m in pain!” Then my own good heart, out of compassion, takes care of me.  It all happens when I am able to say to myself (I honestly do use these very words). “Sweetheart, you are in pain. Relax. Take a breath. Let’s pay attention to what’s going on.  Then we’ll figure out what to do.

God I love that.  Her method just stops the stories in their tracks and injects a huge dose of compassion to the difficult reality of what’s going on.  What a great way to catch yourself instead of letting yourself squirm around in pain, wishing you weren’t in pain.

And maybe “sweetheart” isn’t your term.  Maybe you’re more of a honey, baby, darling person.  I’m more of a nickname person myself.  Pity the person who comes into my life and has their name mangled by me over time – with love of course.

My little brother finally broke down and said to me, “Cor, it’s not Crick, it’s Jonathan”.  I can’t remember how that particular nickname evolved but he’s so cute.  I still forget sometimes and he just looks at me.  But I can’t help it, I love him to pieces.  And most people who love me just call me Cor.  So that’s the one I picked for myself.  It’s not super original, but it reminds me that I care about myself too even when life sucks.  I need it especially when life sucks.

Reminding yourself to breath is so simple.  But when you’re breathing and focusing on your breath, your mind can’t really go churning off on painful tangents.  Sylvia says:

Pain is pain. Knowing the story of the distress is helpful for choosing a response but my first response….is to not be mad at it, or at myself for falling into it…. Sweetheart reminds me that it isn’t my fault that my mind is embittered, that something has upset it, that I’m in pain.  Even if I see that the source of my suffering is my own mind’s refusing to accommodate to its challenge, I can still feel compassionate about that.  No one purposely suffers.


I’m reading Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture called Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.  Get it for yourself on video or transcript.  He talks about the value of playing football when he was a kid.  He says the real value is in the head fake indirect learning.  It wasn’t about the dream of playing professionally or really, about playing at all.  It was all the other stuff that had the most value – learning preserverence, teamwork and sportsmanship.

And the head fake bit is what I love about yoga too.  And that’s the challenge for the teacher.  How do you take a room full of newbies who want to ‘get fit’ or ‘touch their toes’ and help them do that as *well as* learn about mindfulness, compassion, yamas and nyamas – in an eight week session?

Well, of course you don’t.  Teaching them the poses injury-free is often a full-time job in itself. 

But the best head fake learning is what we take in from doing the yoga itself.  That a few simple deep breaths can completely alter our physiology and perspective.   That the sweet spot, the eye of the storm, is being in the moment.  That just doing the poses, whether we touch or toes or not, is its own reward.

Christie Blatchford, a columnist in the Globe wrote on the weekend about going to Kandahar, Afganistan.  She shares a cab at 3 in the morning with Bobby, a woman from Sydney Nova Scotia:

She is returning from leave back home in Cape Breton to resume her civilian job as a cleaner at a big coalition base at Kandahar Air Field.  She is 61, almost 62, though she looks 15 years younger, and says of herself, “When I got married, I was scared to death; when I had my kids, I was scared to death; when I got divorced, I was scared to death.”

So she decided to shake things up in her life and applied to work for a civilian agency that staffs the Canadian part of the air field.  She says she’s never been anywhere but loves the job and couldn’t wait to leave home again to get back to it.  She’s not afraid of anything in Kandahar.

What a woman huh?  I don’t know if Kandahar is in my future, but god help me be as fearless in my life as Bobby is.

I read somewhere, “you’re perfect as you are” and just about coughed up my lunch.  Most days I feel like that’s as far from the truth as I can imagine. 

Let’s take my hip for example.  I’ve been having issues with it for years, it’s what got me into yoga in the first place.  And now I need to be pretty gentle with it or it flairs up bad.  Like have trouble walking when I get out of bed kinda bad.  Lately it’s been extra cranky from roaming around Montreal for hours in flipflops (I guess I’m *not* 18 anymore, lookit that). 

Anyhoo, my response is to try to ignore it and either wish I didn’t have hip issues or feel bummed out because I clearly do.  I pretend it’s not starting to bug me.  It starts as discomfort for a couple days and then gets tight and painful.  It’s like having rocks in my left butt cheek.  Painful rocks.  Then I go into high “fix” gear to work on wrestling it back to normal again. 

But what i’m slowly realizing is that this is an opportunity to learn to chill on the resisting and wishing-things-were-different front.  I need to just baby my hip at the discomfort stage and get on with it. 

Accept it for starters.  From there, learn to treat myself with more TLC.  Notice that this is the perfect motivator to do yoga *every* morning – something I haven’t been able to manage so far. 

And the fact that I have the opportunity to learn these lessons is pretty cool.  I’m learning them slowly so that they can really sink in and take effect ;-).  My cranky hip is a great teacher.  It’s been teaching me all kinds of things that I’ve been waiting to learn. And that means I’m exactly where I need to be.  And that’s perfection, just as it is.

I saw 300 last night on Imax.  Watching the Spartans do their thing made me think about training to be a Warrior in yoga.

In one scene a paltry army of 300 Spartans are being pelted with about a million arrows.  The sky is dark there are so many arrows.  These guys are each huddled under their shield.  One dude says, “We fight in the shade!” and they all have a good chuckle as they wait for the shower of arrows to end. 

It made me think – wow, it sure takes a Warrior to keep your sense of humour and focus in that situation.

In another scene a dude’s eye has met with a spear and the King comments about his eye and he says, “It’s only an eye. God has graced with me a spare.”

It made me think – wow, it sure takes a Warrior to lose your eye and keep your perspective.

Now thank god I’m not on an actual battlefiend in my day-to-day life, but there are days when I feel like I’m being showered with arrows.  And how often am I able to stay clear and focused enough to maintain a sense of humour?  How often can I keep my ground enough to say, “thanks for the shade guys” while I wait for the arrows to land so I can continue on.

And when it feels like I’m being poked in the eye, can I say, “whew, thank god I’ve got a spare.” Without getting wrapped up in “woe is me” and other useless roads I may travel as I react to my circumstances.

I met an amazing Warrior recently, she came to my Level 1 class.  She just fought cancer.  Her doctors told her she’d die and she didn’t.  She’s dealing with physical issues and trying to get back in shape. She managed about 1/3 of the class.  I could sense her frustration and told her she was doing great.  She said, “well, I fought for my life and won, now I guess I’ll have to fight for my body too.” 

What a Warrior huh?  I have a hard time accepting where I’m at on the yoga mat if it’s not up to my exacting standards.  I’m sure not at her level of acceptance and toughness. I hope to learn some Warrior skills from her.

I just love articles by Phillip Moffit (Yo Phillip! When’s the book coming out?).  Did you catch the one in the latest Yoga Journal?  It must be the February issue, about Starting Again.  I’ve had the opportunity to use that one a lot lately. 

It’s about noticing that you’re stuck in your mental patterns or whatever useless activity you expend your energy on when you’re stuck.  And you try to stop and notice. And Start Again.  You Start Again by coming back to the present and doing the next small doable task that gets you back on the road toward your goal.

I love that.

It’s great on the yoga mat.  We all forget to breath and can Start Again every time we notice.  We all have poses we dislike and what a perfect strategy for that.  How can I Start Again with this pose and take a fresh perspective?  Instead of just diving into it full of grumblies like a sullen teenager. 

And of course it’s great off the mat too.  My big lesson these days is in letting go and these two ideas go hand-in-hand.  I’m embarking on a big project with my Honeybunny – the details don’t matter.  But it’s an in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound kinda thing. 

And I Want. It. Bad. 

I can see it, taste it and smell it.  You know the kind right?  And we reached a roadblock.  Not just a road sign, but a mountain of boulders in the middle of the road.  And I crashed.  I went through anger, victimy stuff and all the emotions that patchwork together to form my own stuck patterns. 

And when I was able to get my head on a little straighter I asked myself – what do I need to let go of here to move forward?  How can I Start Again with this one? 

It’s a lot bigger task when it’s something you really care about.  But I found out it’s also a lot bigger relief.  It’s like finding and using that “letting go” muscle.  And when I pulled it off it was like stumbling out of the dark cave.  And with that fresh perspective I felt like I could get creative with my roadblock.

What else can I Start Again with?


So my HoneyBunny does an annual trip to the Lush store for me for Christmas.  I’m serious about my baths and let’s just say their Floating Island bath melt single-handedly keeps me happy and scale-free throughout the winter. 

Last year he threw some Smitten hand cream into my stocking that I used at work.  I’d lift off the plastic cap, bath my hands in almond yumminess and life was good.   I finished it off right before the holidays and reported that someone should let Santa know I’m ready for more.  Santa rocks – he came through for me.

So I bring my new pot of Smitten to work, try to lift off the lid, but it doesn’t just snap off like the last one.  In fact there’s a little lip under the lid on this jar, so I couldn’t really get under it.  So I started grabbing office supplies to peel the lid up.  I finally peel the, now dented, lid off and discover – it’s a screw top.  The Lush folks have redesigned the packaging and it *never* ocurred to me to try to just twist it off.  Ha!

So because I try to see the teacher in *all* things, even moronical moments like this – I wondered how many other blind spots do I have to things in my life? 

How many other things do I assume are x because they’ve *always* been x.  Or heck, they were x once and I just decided I didn’t need to look any farther.  I decided I didn’t even need to check for y, or that outlier, z. 

It’s so easy to do in yoga too – how often do you just dive into a pose rather than ease in mindfully to see what’s fresh, interesting or different there today? 

Here’s to be open to the snap-off’s *and* the screw-tops in life.


Yoga Journal had an article recently about Pratyahara, or sense withdrawl.  Savasana is the best example of it and meditation is too – being motionless and withdrawing inwards.

I’m on vacation (yaye!) so I’ve been thinking about how to find that stillness off the mat too.  Yesterday I was on the couch, looking out the window and there were just a few small snowflakes slowly falling.  It was dead quiet around me. I let my mind empty.  I was being nothing more than the Snowflake Watcher.  My body felt dense and solid and calm like it does in Savasana.

Then I became conscious of what I was doing – so much for an empty mind.  But I had it there for a moment.  Just me and a few snowflakes :-)

Wherever you are in the world – may you find the stillness and calm of a meandering snowflake this season.

I’ve been reading a book on Manifesting, and while it’s not the most accessible read I got to a part that just blew me away.  First here’s some background from the book:

The Universe wants to give you what you desire and there’s plenty to go around.  But you aren’t connected to the stream of Wellbeing if you’re in a crappy mood.  If your emotions are in a lousy place you’re resisting and you’re not open to receive the good stuff.  If you’re in a good place then you’re open to accepting the good stuff that’s headed your way.  So when you’re in a lousy place your job is to find a way to get back to *something* better so that you can be open. 

I’ve been working on this lately and the part I have an issue with is when I’m drowning in despair how do I make the leap to happy?  When i’m in despair I’m lucky if I can leap to a healthy lunch choice.  When I’m in a lousy place I think – what buddha belly do i need to rub here to transform my “just wanna die” feeling to Bunnies and Kittens with a shot of Bliss?

The book says that you can’t think about it in terms of simply good vs. bad emotions.  That all the emotions have their place in a heirarchy.  So for example, we might feel like anger is bad and we shouldn’t feel mad at stuff.  We should just let it go and magically move to the Bunny and Kittens part.  But the book says that anger is valuable because it’s a step up from depression and despair.  Think about how totally useless and powerless you feel when you’re despairing.  You’re in total victim mode, you’re in a slump, you can’t move off the couch.  With anger you’re energized.  You’re not in victim-mode.  You’re acting against the stuff that bugs you or at least having a darn good rant.  So here’s the heirarchy of emotions they lay out.

Rage gives you a feeling of relief from depression, grief, despair, fear, guilt or powerlessness.

Revenge gives you a feeling of relief from rage.

Anger gives you a feeling of relief from revenge. 

Blame gives you a feeling of relief from anger.

Overwhelment gives you a feeling of relief from blame.

Irritation gives you a feeling of relief from overwhelment.

Pessimism gives you a feeling of relief from irritation.

Hopefulness gives you a feeling of relief from pessimism.

Optimism gives you a feeling of relief from hopefulness

Positive Expectation gives you a feeling of relief from Optimism

Joy gives you a felling of relief from positive expectation.

“Overwhelment” makes me chuckle.  I didn’t know it was a word but man, have I spent some serious time there.  I have a vacation home there.  Anyhow.  Our job is just to reach for a better-feeling thought.  A thought that will lead us to a better emotional state.  We’re not jumping straight to joy.  We’re simply plotting a path to hopefullness.  It’s a journey.  The bunnies will be there when we arrive.

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