Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Pregnant Yoga

I am now in the last month of my second pregnancy and thought I would take this opportunity to talk about my experience with practicing Yoga while pregnant. I practiced yoga in my first pregnancy, and in my second pregnancy and in both I gained roughly 60 pounds. By the end of these pregnancies, at times, I felt like foreigner in my own body. The general expectation is that you are not to admit these perceived short-comings of Maternal Goddessness. I am not the perfect Goddess, according the Modern New Age scripture, it seems, as I am fully admitting that I have felt funny, awkward, uncomfortable, frustrated, weird at times when I am pregnant. I also have felt wonderful, awe-struck, dewy-eyed and euphoric. There is an important part about the learning that happens when you practice asana while pregnant. You are forced to acknowledge that we are transformative beings. This opportunity does not come up too much in life. It challenges our over-dependency on the cult of body in the west. For some unknown reason, we are not really aware of our transformative nature in our regular day-to-day lives, despite all arrows pointing towards the target of truth; that nothing is permanent and nothing is fixed. We think we are static and we think we can control our state according to our own self-appointed rules. We act out of will and believe, blindly, that our will is a rule that the Universe acknowledges. It is not. So... when you practice Yoga asana while pregnant it is important to remember the following things;

You are not your body, and more than ever before, you do not own your body. As Maitriyogi said,
"Oh King, this body, which is like something you have borrowed for a short time and must return"

 Give in to the changes in your body; (don’t or...) Do asana that feels good; slow down, settle down, listen.

You are different than everyone else around you. Revel in this knowledge. Also, love yourself through your practice; know that you are strong. Let this knowledge seep from your pores as you flow through breath and movement or stillness. 

Even if you are simply lying in the quiet in savasana, enjoy the strength that pregnancy and, ultimately, raising a child delivers; it is not solely a physical tangible strength, much of this comes from a place beyond skin, bone and muscle.

Know that you will change again, but you won’t change back. Be happy and well with this knowledge.

Feel great love for yourself and the life inside you. Talk internally to this life force while you flow through breath, movement or stillness. In the end, this is YOUR journey; you and the life force within. Externalizing this journey and relying on others to guide you is something that has placed fear in the hearts of many a strong woman. You have got this.

Of course, there are other details that bare mentioning; like the do and don’t list of what to stretch and what not to stretch, of what poses are considered safe and which ones are to avoid... but, I believe these factors to be tertiary to the above. More on that here

I am sure I could say more about the experience of practicing while really very pregnant, but, sleep and rest are beckoning ;)

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Fast-Food or Self Serve...

I believe that Yoga is largely about service. Service to Self, Community and, ultimately, The Universe. Over the past few months I have been actively avoiding the studios in my city. I have not found  a studio that I feel and see embodying the qualities that I believe Yoga embodies. I like to practice my asana with people. I thrive off the energy of community. I am a natural collaborator. Unfortunately, as of late, I do not see spaces that are fostering Yoga communities that serve. The aims of the common Modern Western Yoga Space seem obvious, down-right transparent actually. When it comes to most studios I have encounter in this city (and others for that matter) it is about capital; make money, create a niche, create an image, make money... Each space homogenized enough that one feels, looks and sounds like the next only with a more expensive and trendy lounge area, or more attractive and younger teachers, depending on what their image is. Thankfully, after a six month break from any studio yoga what-so-ever I recently stumbled upon a new space that, in the early days of our relationship seems humbly centered in a practice that serves. I was careful to seek out the most non-pretentious space possible while I was shopping for my new space. I looked for something humble. No flashing neon signs, or pushy self-promotion for me. I realize that I may be over-looking the difficulties involved in starting up a studio... but, frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn! 

This blog post is from the perspective of a middle-aged practicioner (That's me); not a Yoga teacher or a studio owner. Just a 37 year old woman, who looks and acts much like many other 37 year old women who wants a Yoga space to call her own. I have had enough hard-sells and phony dogma served with my Yoga for this life-time (and the next!) and, call me crazy, but I still believe that somewhere, somehow, there is a space for average people like me. The people who do not wear 140 dollar branded yoga pants because they don't serve. Sure they are a flattering fit, I get that, but they are just not worth it and they are the fuel of an engine of commercialism that I do not prescribe to. Self, Other or Universe. These pants and other adjuncts to the commercial Yoga movement serve The Almighty Corporation and not much else. I am looking for a studio space where people who think that if a Yoga class is practiced at a public park or beach or community-funded conservation area it should be free, or at the very least, a by-donation Karma class with the profits going back to serve the community itself and not cost $20 per person... money that goes to the teacher or studio that uses the public space for a means to a financial end. I want a studio space where  people who practice a slower asana, a tempered asana feel welcomed and comfortable, not as though they need to compete with their obviously younger, hotter counter-parts (and teachers). These are just some of the wishes on my personal wish list and this blog post is, clearly, about indulging in the hopes that there are readers out there who get it too. The new studio I have been visiting makes me think there is and here's why in ten simple steps...

1) The classes are priced according to the market

Though I personally do not agree that a practice that requires a mat, no shoes and loose baggy comfort clothing should cost an average of $15 per drop-in class, what I do agree with is asking the market rate for your classes when you open a new studio in a community of established studios. This is respectful and also, your students will know that your studio will a) stand the test of time (i.e. not go under in 6-9 months, or in the summer when people choose to move their practice into the sunshine) and b) your students can plan to pay equal amounts over the year and thus, develop a daily, weekly Yoga practice with no financial surprises. 

2) The teachers are consistent and stable, and happy and the owner is present and visible as members of the community

Turn-over of teachers (or staff) in any employment setting is never a good thing. Be wary of the studio that has rapid turn-over of their teachers or instructors. It is not easy getting teaching gigs in the Yoga business. Teachers do not leave frequently unless they are unhappy, under-paid or inconsistently paid or disrespected. If the studio has a OZ complex; i.e. the owners are never there or pop in from time-to-time to check on things this probably means they are not interested in serving the community, as they are not consistently a part of it. 

3) There are Karma classes and the studio gives back to the community

The studio is serving the community through active fundraising and offering Karma classes so those who cannot afford classes can still practice, at least once a week. This studio is currently honored through signage on a main street near by, placed there by the recipient of the most recent Karma fundraiser; the SPCA. 

4) Some studios offer the opportunity for people to trade skills

Some studios will ask for help with cleaning and even desk responsibilities in exchange for free Yoga. I have always respected a studio that allows for this opportunity.

5) They offer a wide array of asana classes for a wide array of people

I realize this one can be controversial. Everyone these days seems to have a take on how Yoga should be practiced. There are rules. Firstly, I would like to point out that Yoga (traditionally speaking) was never actually meant for studio spaces and group classes. It was a practice and relationship between Self and sometimes teacher and student, guru and disciple. The studio class is an adaption, so why not adapt it so it fits all kinds of personalities, body types, needs, energies. This is possible. I think these days it is called fusion but regardless, a studio that creates a space where diverse teachers can teach to diverse needs aims to reach out to the whole community, not just the niche community of people who appear young, hot and fit. 

6) They offer classes throughout the day at a variety of times

This is simple but a necessity. It came as a huge surprise to me (and a huger disappointment) that group fitness was literally almost unavailable to me after having children. Many classes are during peak parenting hours and do not have on-site babysitting or classes that single mothers (or mothers who carry the brunt of parental responsibility) can attend. All studios should have evening classes (*8 p.m.) and morning classes (*6 a.m.) for their community members who do not fit the mold of worker ant 9-5er. If anyone cares suggest a spinning class in Mississauga at 8 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. I am still searching for one, 3.5 years postpartum!

7) The students are a visible array of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and experience

This is very important. The studio attracts a real community. There are older people, younger people, bigger people, smaller people, mothers and daughters, men and women, pregnant people and teens. It is obvious that all people feel welcome and comfortable in this space. A true must of any studio space I will step into to!

8) They are not heavily laden with yoga accessories, frills and whistles

Yes, this space has a few small things it sells at the front desk; some incense, some eye pillows but I do not feel like I just walked into a Lululemon when I walk through the door. I do not feel an urge to spend more money or pressure to buy more stuff. I am not distracted. There is no homogenized zen music, no tea lounge or inspirational diet, yoga, lifestyle book nook. There are just cubbies for your shoes and a small quiet studio for practice. In fact, this studio does not even have a shower, as I was told by the studio owner herself, it is not necessary as you will not sweat enough to require a shower the instant you come out of class. I like this element of this studio, as my personal belief is that yoga empowers through breath not tempo or pace. 

9) There is no acro yoga, glow-in-the-dark yoga or disco yoga

I am sorry if I am offending anyone here, because I do know there is a market for such things... but to me, these are distraction from the journey I am on with my Yoga. I do not want to hang from the ceiling, practice in a dark room with strobe lights or to pumping music (in fact, unless the music is extremely subdued, I prefer to practice to the sound of my breath and the breath of the others in the room). I see the purpose of music as guiding for some, but think it must be moderate and measured. 

10) There is no stream of rhetoric or dogma served with the classes

The teachers at this studio just teach. I do not have to worry about having someone read me quotes from the latest self-help or inspiration coffee table book and I do not have to consider how I may live a happier or richer life throughout my asana class. I am just guided through the poses, with verbal prompts that are sensitive to those who may need assistance (props etc) and there are moments of silence as well. Long moments, in fact. I personally have come to treasure this quality in the classes at the studio (and as a teacher myself, have learned things from this). A poignant instruction is worth a thousand vapid ones. One of my esteemed past teachers frequently offers this instruction while we practiced asana together, FEEL HAPPY.

If you are living in the Mississauga area and, like me, this kind of studio practice sounds appealing, please check out YogaCity, they are also on Facebook!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Abundance and Mindfulness

Spring has arrived! The yellow crocus have fiercely pushed through the trampled under brush and there is a gallery of wonderful wet earth smells everywhere. There are puddles to jump in or over, the sun is getting up with me or before me. I feel alive... It is good.

My mind perks up in these early days of spring. It's like I've had a whiff of smelling salts every time I step out the door. I've cleaned my shelved soul, opened the windows, thrown out the damaged goods and I am letting the chilled air pour into all the dank corners. I also returned to the studio. Meh.

Why, oh, why can't I find a decent place to practice yoga within twenty kms of my home? Please help.

Also, why are there so many 'new' yoga's, that claim the name of a powerful ancient soul practice, that are ALL THE SAME?

Signed, desperately seeking community, depth and mindfulness xo

Saturday, February 9, 2013

A Yoga Teacher's Mid-Life Crisis

Hello Again!

It's been a busy beginning to the New Year (incidentally, today is the beginning of the Chinese New Year - Year of the Snake!) and I've taken a little hiatus from blogging over the holiday season. There have been a few developments that lead to this; I find the holiday season stressful, I get S.A.D during the darkest days of the year and need to regenerate energy by self-focus, meditation (this involves a lot of cooking of stews and soups, burning candles, long, hot detox baths, spending any time I have with family and good friends and not blogging ;). Today is a beautiful winter day, we received the gift of at least three feet of soft, white snow over the last 24 hours, and the sun is shining down making everything diamonds. It's breath-taking! I'll be out there soon, skiing by the river, but I'm inspired and wanted to share!

One of the developments that took me off-line for awhile was that I have stopped teaching yoga. This is not really a big deal, and it's happened before (I stopped teaching when I had my first child, through my pregnancy and until 8 months post-partum) but, for the most part, I've taught yoga in studios across the GTA for the past ten years. The 'crisis' part is that I don't think I'm going back. Ever.

And here is why...

I love Yoga. I believe yoga is for everyone; small, big, thick, thin, able of body, working with challenges... Everybody deserves yoga. I also have been confronted (again) with the fact that yoga as a capitalist system does not work. I've always put this behind me, as though it was not my business because, ultimately, it was, well, not my business! My attitude was that I was merely a contract teacher working under the umbrella of a studio. My recent experience challenged this perspective through rather emotional measures, and that is good. I was essentially 'fired' from a yoga studio. The reason I was given was that, "I'd created reactivity and tension" in the studio. Okay, fine.

The development leading up to receiving the email that told me I was no longer needed to teach my three classes a week, 48 hours before I was expected to teach them, was that I had not received a pay cheque for over two months. I'll preface this by saying that teaching (yoga) is not my main source of income and so I did not starve or miss credit card payments. I should also say, that after several emails expressing my discontent, I was eventually paid in-full for my services. I was made to wait, and to pursue my payments... And I was vocal about how disrespectful I felt this was. Employers have a responsibility to their employees to pay them for their services, timely and based upon contractual terms.

I was vocal, also, about my commitment to my discipline and training in yoga. I had been asked to not teach my style of yoga by the owners of this studio several months early. I suppose it was not considered 'marketable' (though the classes, at roughly ten dollars per student per class, were always full - an average of 25 people per class, so one would think there was a fair profit/expense margin) and I did try my best to comply to the wishes of the owners, without denying my basis understanding of yoga, as taught in my teachers training course and through my ten year relationship with my discipline.  Ultimately, my understanding of yoga was not a good fit for this studio, and I was let go in an email that sited my attitude as the reason for my removal from the studio, stating, "you to have the potential to be an outstanding teacher, but your attitude at the studio and around business decisions" has effectively lead to your termination. I was also encouraged never to return.

I'm not here to air my dirty laundry, but the description above will help with the argument I am developing. It seems obvious to me that a person who is good at their job should not be 'let go' because they do not share the same attitude as their employers. Similarly, a person who is committed to their 'practice', does not need money to have a continued relationship with said practice. I'm in an interesting position at the beginning of the Year of the Snake, where both of my jobs, and (unfortunately) my entire income, are deeply rooted in my passions. Some people are never so lucky! There is not a day that passes where I pine for another life, another moment, other than the one I am in. I don't check my seniority or my retirement date because I am happy; right here, right now... But, when your making money from your passions an interesting thing happens. Your passions are suddenly controlled by your pay check and vice versa... And that IS a tricky business indeed.

(to be continued)...