Living Yoga

Ganges sunset

Watching the sun set over the Ganga during my pilgrimage to India

What does Living Yoga mean to me? My experience and journey has evolved over the past number of years. Two years ago, I may have said it meant taking a class once or twice a week – becoming better at poses and quieting my mind for a minute or two. Now, it means so much more. Yoga is my spiritual path and practice to connect with my higher self.

From focusing on perfecting poses to connecting with the inner divine is quite a leap. The shift in my experience and understanding of yoga didn’t happen over night. It’s been a slow and organic process of learning and becoming gradually more dedicated to a personal practice. Practicing yoga has heightened my awareness of who I am, who I want to be and the joys of living a fuller life. It’s a work in progress that will span this lifetime and likely a few more.

On May 12, yogis and yoginis from cities and towns in Atlantic Canada will gather to share their yoga experiences at the 1st annual Living Yoga Unconference happening in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Over the past two years, I’ve come to know and practice with many wonderful yoga teachers and students in Halifax. I was also very fortunate to meet many more from all over the US, Mexico, Brazil, Canada and of course India at the Kumbha Mela pilgrimage this January and February.

The Living Yoga conference will be one more opportunity to meet and learn from fellow seekers who are “living yoga” in their own unique way. Hearing Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s keynote will surely be a highlight. I’m still digesting the many lessons and his inspirational words from the pilgrimage. He shares his wisdom and experiences with such openness, love and a sincere desire to help others on their spiritual path.  Pandit Rajmani lives yoga with an infectious joy and passion. I look forward to learning from him in person once again, and the many others attending the conference.

Small steps

“Sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkara-asevito dirdha bhumih.” Yoga Sutra 1.14

Yoga sutra 1.14 is a teaching I must remind myself of daily. Simply put, practice makes perfect. Geshe Michael Roach and Christie McNally offer this translation:

“You must cultivate your practice over an extended period of time; it must be steady, without gaps, and it must be done correctly – for then a firm foundation is laid.”

My practice has definitely deepened over the past two years as I learn and experience more of the yoga teachings. It’s become less vatic in nature with increased commitment and discipline, two things I’ve admittedly struggled with my entire life. The shelves and cupboards in my house are full of half read books, a half-knitted baby sweater for my step-son Logan (he’s nine now), partially completed scrapbooks and various other craft projects. I’m surrounded by constant reminders of my tendency to start personal projects with great intention and excitement but never stick with them long enough to realize the wonderful satisfaction of completion.

The unfinished items I find most amusing are the almost mint condition books on procrastination and how to become more organized. Note to self and to all you other procrastinators and perfectionist types out there: you’ll never finish any of these books. However if you buy enough of them – and they all say pretty much the same thing – you’ll likely end up reading an entire self-help book one day and gain some insight. For me, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned for overcoming paralyzing perfectionism is to take small steps.

It’s with small steps that I’ve cultivated and deepened my yoga practice. Each day I rise before dawn to complete my morning ritual, or step on my mat or sit for meditation, I feel a sense of accomplishment for taking one more small step on this life-long journey of self-realization. I pause, smile, breathe deeply and thank myself for “showing up”.

As I read this sutra today it motivated me to venture out for an early morning class at NY Loves Yoga. Vacations are ideal excuses to push pause on one’s practice. But not this time. The class was a challenging, fast-paced, flow focused on stoking the fire at the third chakra. Opening and closing the practice with Om Mani Pedme Hum sung to a harmonium, Christine’s infectious energy, and the wonderful sense of community made for an enjoyable second experience at the studio and a fantastic start to my day.

So as I look forward to the next three weeks of intense practice at the Himalayan Institute and taking in the Kumbha Mela, this week’s small, positive steps have added to the foundation upon which I will continue to deepen my practice and embrace this experience.

First leg: NYC

This trip includes two days in New York City before boarding the plane for Zurich tomorrow night. A few people hinted that I was being overly cautious by leaving two days early to catch my flight but last night left me feeling confident about my planning. After a 6.5 hour delay leaving Halifax for Newark due to snow and scheduling issues at Newark, I finally arrived at my hotel exhausted but relieved to have completed the first leg of the trip.

Today was great. The weather was crisp but perfect for walking around the city in January. The hotel – Astor on the Park – leaves much to be desired but the price is right and it’s right across the street from Central Park on the Upper West side. Looking on the bright side, this two-star joint may help with the transition from the full comforts of home to my unheated, straw hut in India. The area is residential so it was a bit of a jaunt to find a cup of coffee. However, this is New York so a Starbucks is never too far away. Warmed by a much needed Americano I set off in search of a yoga studio about 10 blocks south.

Tucked in to a small spot on West 83rd between Columbus and Amsterdam Ave is NY Loves Yoga. Having researched studios in advance, I had high hopes for this place. It didn’t disappoint. The studio is small but very welcoming. It possesses many of the qualities that I love about my studio in Halifax – friendly staff; a cozy, serene space; and an unpretentious atmosphere. It’s great for visitors who need to rent a mat and just want to drop-in without registering in advance. The teacher, Will, was great. Thanks to his guidance and assistance, I successfully (and confidently) did Ardha Chandrasana (half moon) and a few other poses I hadn’t tried before. I left limber and light and ready to explore NYC for the afternoon.

It was only a short walk from the studio to the 81st entrance to Central Park.  Today’s destination was the Alice in Wonderland Statue on the east side of the park near 76th St.  After a few pics with Alice, the Mad Hatter and the Rabbit I was off to the Met. Personal favourites included the incredible installation of a ceiling from a ceremonial house of the Kwoma people in New Guinea; the Buddhism Along the Silk Road exhibition (a wonderful collection of 5th to 8th century statues and artifacts from Japan, Nepal, Tibet and China); the modern art exhibit including Georgia O’Keeffe’s Black Abstraction; and the Autumn Landscape stained glass window in the American Decorative Arts gallery.  It would take days to fully explore and  appreciate everything the museum has to offer. I hope to be back one day soon.

All in all, a wonderful day spent strolling around this great city. Time to dream about what tomorrow may bring.

P.S. I’ll add pictures when I get a chance to upload them to Flickr

Starting the Journey

In just a few hours I’ll be off to the airport to fly from Halifax, NS to New York City – the start of my journey to the Kumbha Mela in Allahabad, the second oldest city in India.

Celebrated every 12 years, the Kumbha Mela is known as the largest spiritual gathering on earth. From January 27 until February 25, tens of millions of people from around the world will gather at the confluence of three great rivers – the Ganga, the Yamuna, and the Sarasvati – to attend the festival. I am fortunate to be one of them.

I will join sadhus (holy men), preachers, sages, devotees, media, yogis and others who will gather to share spiritual teachings, deepen their practice, and experience the powerful energy of collective consciousness, devotion and spiritual discovery.

Eight months ago I learned the Himalayan Institute was leading groups to the Kumbha Mela. The quiet, knowing voice inside told me I was meant to take this journey. Over the past two years, the spiritual practices of tantra hatha yoga taught by Swami Rama in the 5,000 year old lineage of the Himalayan Masters, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute), Rod Stryker and many other teachers from the Institute have enlivened my life. Discovering my prana (life force energy) and its transformational power has set me on a path of living my best life. I have Dorothy Spence from 108 Yoga in Halifax to thank for introducing me to these teachings.

Since first traveling to India 11 years ago, I’ve always dreamed of returning to this incredibly complex, spiritually rich, beautiful country. It’s with extreme gratitude and excitement that I will board a plane on Friday with several fellow yogis from Halifax to begin this pilgrimage to India. The next 21 days promises to be an incredibly interesting, eye-opening, and likely life changing experience. I can’t wait to share this journey with thousands of fellow seekers.