Monday, 30 April 2012

Nowhere to go. Nothing to do. Just Be.

A lot of people say that Yoga makes them “feel good”. No matter what stress happens in my day or week, once I get in a Yoga room, lying on my mat, I already feel better. Once I hit the last Savasana of the class, an almost blissful feeling comes over me and stress has melted away. Now, there are many reasons that Yoga makes people feel good, but for me, I believe I can narrow it down to one: Presence.

One of my favorite quotes reads: “You can clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present”. Yoga promotes breathing, moving and feeling everything in the present moment. No room for worrying about the future or ruminating about the past. It isn’t an easy task all the time, but, learning to remain present has taught me a lot in the Yoga room. It has taught me to be patient with myself when my arms shake in my arm balance. Compassion, when I feel frustrated. It forces me to feel vulnerable when I open my chest in bridge pose, but allows me to feel safe and supported by my own strength. It has shown me the benefits of moving outside my comfort zone and has encouraged me to try (insert ANY challenging pose), sometimes fail, and try again. It reminds me to let go in forward folds, and of any fears, expectations or outcomes. And then, in the last Savasana of the class, I am able to “just be” and stay present with the joy that comes over me.

Sandra McNeill 
 Sandra is a current member the Yoga Centre Winnipeg 200hr Teacher Training Program.

If you are following this blog, you may have noticed that the recent posts have been from current members of the Yoga Centre Winnipeg 200 hr teacher training program.  The majority of posts, and perhaps all, in the next two months will be from them. They have been given an assignment to write a blog addressing something that inspires them in their yoga practice or teaching.   We thought it would be a great opportunity to feature different voices in the yoga community: some may inspire, some may provoke. Whatever the case, it is an opportunity expand our circle of awareness and embrace the symphony of others in our community

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Taking the Plunge


    “A ship in the harbour is safe, but that’s not what a ship is made for.” This is one of my mother-in-law’s favourite sayings. I use it often when giving advice to others. It was with this in mind that I agreed to teach my first yoga class.

    The moment I enthusiastically said yes, I began to doubt my decision. How could I be sure my ship was actually sea worthy? As with any yoga challenge, I first had to trust the wisdom and experience of my yoga instructor. She seemed to believe I was ready for this step. Next came the really challenging part; trusting myself. I had to believe that I had all the tools necessary to successfully complete this task. Besides, it’s just yoga, right?

    How to begin? What kind of class should I teach? Looking for inspiration thought about my own yoga instructors. What was it about their teaching methods that really connected with me? What kind of classes was I passionate about? I knew immediately what to do. I love it when my own practise becomes like a dance. I decided to develop a yoga flow class. I would built up an asana sequence that was repeated and added to several times, just like choreographing a dance .I would keep the poses simple and basic, gradually adding a few more challenging poses for the students to attempt if they were game. I tried to keep it light hearted and fun.  I felt happy about the class I had created. Was I really prepared? Again, I remembered my own teacher saying “trust yourself “. Time to take a breath and take the plunge!

   Turns out, you can’t be prepared for everything. When I arrived at the venue the morning of the class, I found myself locked out. Yikes!! After a few phone calls, I managed to get inside and calm myself. As the students began to arrive, a young woman came forward to tell me she was pregnant and I’m thinking “but I haven’t covered that in teacher training yet!”. As the class progressed I found that I became more and more confident. As I guided the students through the poses and I followed my own instructions, my own practise became calmer and more grounded. I was having fun! The students all seemed engaged and enthusiastic. I wasn’t prepared for the joy I felt at the end of the class. An unexpected gift.

    So it all worked out and I made it safely back to harbour. What a ride!!   

Deborah is in  the Yoga Centre Winnipeg 200hr Teacher Training Program.

If you are following this blog, you may have noticed that the recent posts have been from current members of the Yoga Centre Winnipeg 200 hr teacher training program.  The majority of posts, and perhaps all, in the next two months will be from them. They have been given an assignment to write a blog addressing something that inspires them in their yoga practice or teaching.   We thought it would be a great opportunity to feature different voices in the yoga community: some may inspire, some may provoke. Whatever the case, it is an opportunity expand our circle of awareness and embrace the symphony of others in our community.

Friday, 20 April 2012

More from the teachers in training

If  you are following this blog,  you may have noticed that the recent posts have been from current members of the  Yoga Centre Winnipeg 200 hr teacher training program.  The majority of posts, and perhaps all, in the next two months will  be from  them.They have been given an assignment to write a blog addressing something that inspires them in their yoga practice or teaching.   We thought it would be a great opportunity to feature different voices in the yoga community: some may inspire, some may provoke. Whatever the case, it is an  opportunity expand our circle of awareness and embrace the symphony of others in our community.

Yoga Blog –   Review of “The Science of Yoga: the risks and the rewards” by William J. Broad (Simon and Schuster, 297 pages).

By Andy Park
Science has been described as organized skepticism.  By contrast, my dictionary defines belief as “a principle, proposition, or idea accepted as true, esp. without positive proof”.  In the protracted conflict between science and belief that began in the 17th Century, science, when done well, has trumped belief in every area of human endeavour.  It does not matter what you believe; if a well designed, replicated experiment says you are wrong, then so much the worse for belief.

Given the supremacy of scientific thinking in our age, you would think that people would welcome the guiding light that scientific study could bring to the practice of yoga.  Yet the controversy – frequently spilling over into hostility - that met a preview of William Broad’s “the Science of Yoga” was quite astonishing.  Perhaps because the preview article (in the New York Times) focused on the touchy subject of yoga injuries, it seemed to strike at the core of some strongly held beliefs about the safety of yoga.  Some responses to the article retreated into denial, while others suggested that there were too few data on injuries, and therefore, yoga is safe. 

But you can not prove a negative, and the absence of data on something doesn’t show that it is not happening.  I know from bitter experience that improper alignment can hurt you.  And respected teachers, such as Mark Stephens (author of “Teaching Yoga”) have noted the rising incidence of injuries, especially in hot yoga.  Broad notes two types of injury: the sudden “ouch” of a strained Achilles or shoulder muscle, typical of sports injuries, and the more insidious damage that can accumulate over decades of practice in challenging poses like headstands.  Data or no data, Broad records that leading teachers have been quietly modifying some of these poses to improve safety.

If “The Science of Yoga” was just about injuries, it would be a very boring and negative book indeed.  Fortunately, it is about a lot more than that.  In Broad’s words, he seeks to cut through the “frothy hodgepodge of public claims and assurances, sales pitches and new Age promises” to “discern what’s real and what’s not, what helps and what hurts – and nearly as important, why”.  And to a great extent, I believe he has succeeded in his aims.  As we are led through the scientific story of yoga, we learn, among other things, that the history of yoga is not quite what we might have thought it to be, and that some of the benefits are surprising. 

The origins of yoga turn out to be a sometimes seedy, sometimes criminal carnival of wondering showmen, with a side order of ritualized tantric sex.  The Twentieth Century saw yoga being both sanitized and investigated scientifically by a remarkable cadre of Indian yogis and physicians who trained the “gurus” who brought yoga to the west.  One of these men, Jagganeth G Gune, established both an ashram and a laboratory, where he did pioneering studies of the effects of yoga on blood pressure and of Pranayama on oxygenation of the bloodstream.  In the latter investigation, contrary to obstinate myth, Gune found that Pranayama did nothing to enrich oxygen supply.  Yet the oxygen myth has persisted, being repeated down the decades in the face of repeated experiments that confirmed Gune’s findings, demonstrating the pernicious power of belief in the face of facts.

The truth about oxygen, as in many scientific stories, is both more elegant and more complex than the myth.  Fast yogic breathing, it turns out depletes carbon dioxide (CO2) in the blood, often producing feelings of exhilaration.  But it also reduces oxygen supply to the brain, and reduces mental acuity as a result.  Slow breathing, on the other hand, has the opposite effect, increasing CO2 in the blood, which in turn dilates the cerebral blood vessels, improving oxygen supply to the brain.  Voila; mental acuity improves.
I’ll take my practice with some Ujjayi breath and a state of calm alertness!

William Broad reports many other interesting benefits of practicing yoga.  We’ve all seen those seemingly ageless yogis or yoginis who are still kicking yogic ass in their sixties and seventies.  We’ve got some science for that.  It turns out that an hour of yoga per day can increase their stocks of telomerase, a crucial enzyme for the maintenance and repair of DNA, by up to 30 percent.  The researchers concluded that their findings had important implications for “cellular longevity, tissue renewal…and ‘increases in life span’ ”.  And yoga will not make you lose weight – some styles actually slow metabolism.  But the feeling of wellbeing that yoga engenders may stop you gong to the fridge for that midnight snack. 

The list of benefits goes on, but Broad finishes up pretty much where he started – that is, with sex.  Some yoga poses (you’ll have to read the book to find out which ones!) produce marked increases in testosterone, especially among females, which might partly explain yoga’s popularity with the girls!  Scientific investigations of couples learning yoga together have confirmed that it can improve both emotional and physical facets of relationships.  

The bottom line: science reveals yoga to be more interesting than all the hyperbole and New Age drivel with which modern society has burdened it.  And the science of yoga is only just beginning.  As Broad points out, yoga currently makes little contribution to formal health care because the science behind the benefits is not yet fully developed.  And some phenomena, like the creative spinoffs of Kundalini arousal, are still only poorly understood by science. 

Broad concludes that yoga is at a crossroads.  One path leads further into the foggy slough of New Age bafflegab and increasingly corporate yogis vying for “market share among the bewildered”.  The other path sees certified yoga teachers with a solid background in science and anatomy, playing an important role in societal well-being.  I know which path I’d like to follow.
Andy is a member of the Yoga Centre Winnipeg 200hr teacher training program

Monday, 16 April 2012


By Andrea Robin

When people think of the word “intimacy”, they automatically associate it with romantic relationships. And it sends some people running for the hills. I have come discover that intimacy is an essential part of all close relationships. And while it isn’t always easy to do, it’s totally worth it. It involves making yourself open and vulnerable and allowing people to see who you really are. Tearing down any walls you’ve built up around you from past hurts and letting yourself be open to being hurt again. All in the name of love.

I had read some years ago, that if you cannot gaze into the eyes of the person that you are dating/married/ seeing/etc that there is something intrinsically wrong with that relationship. A lack of true intimacy. It doesn’t mean that relationship can’t be healed with a little (or a lot) of work, but both partners have to be willing to put in the time and effort. I’ve noticed in my Couples yoga classes, that during the asanas in which you are supposed to look into your partner’s eyes, so many couples are uncomfortable with it. As the weeks go on, some couples stop coming to class (granted, that could be for a variety of reasons). But for the couples that continue to come to class and work on looking into each other eyes, I can see a change in how they relate to each other. Both physically and in how they verbally communicate with each other.

I’ve noticed a change I myself since I’ve started practicing Partner yoga. I’ve been teaching it for a while, but teaching is not the same as experiencing. Experiencing the asanas and eye connection has made me a much better teacher and showed me that it’s safe to trust and open myself up to someone I barely know. I’ve sat in a position with my partner that would make most married couples blush. But because we already had a positive connection with each other, and are working at deepening our trust of each other, we understood what it was that we were doing. I felt safe. And I was able to open up to him, much quicker, in such a way that would have taken me months with other people.      

You don’t have to being doing Couple or Partner yoga for a deepening of intimacy to occur. You know how you sit with close friends when discussing something really important to one of you? You are very close to each other, possibly touching knees or hands, and really looking into their eyes so they know you are listening and understanding them? That’s how we should strive to talk to all our friends and family, all the time. Your children will feel heard and important. Your friends will be grateful for your advice and just being there for them. You will connect on a deeper level of understanding and love with everyone in your life.

Next time you are talking with your mom, dad, child, friend, lover or anyone you care about; make an effort to really look into their eyes and give them ALL your attention. Really listen to them and validate what they are saying. And then share a piece of yourself with them. If it is a positive, healthy relationship, you will both feel honored to have been the one to share that conversation with. Your sense of trust and communication will have deepened and your feelings of love will have grown with it. Be brave. Anything done with the intention of love can only result in a positive outcome, no matter what it is.       
Andrea is a member of the YCW 200hr Teacher Training program.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Overcoming Obstacles

By Marcie
I can’t say I loved yoga the first time I attended a class. After that first class I actually left the room thinking “what is all the fuss about?” Not someone to give up, I decided to give yoga another chance and from that second class on, I’ve been hooked. Yoga has changed my life in many ways, mainly by allowing me to completely step away from the demands of my life even if just for 90 minutes a day. My practice leaves me feeling rejuvenated, grounded, calm and at peace. Each day I find that what I am learning from my practice encompasses more of my life off my mat.

At the same time of filling my life with positive experiences, my yoga practice has at times been one of the most frustrating activities I’ve encountered.  They say yoga shouldn’t hurt, but when you live with chronic lower back pain, it’s been a practice in itself learning how to practice yoga without pain. Most postures didn’t cause discomfort, but any posture involving a backbend brought on pain and frustration. I would leave my mat often questioning “is the pain worth it?” Yet there was something that always brought me back to my mat. My challenge with working with my obstacle was finding the right balance. Initially I would push myself into the posture and attempt to breathe through the pain. It didn’t take me long to realize that approach wasn’t working so I avoided backbends all together but I found something was missing in my practice. What I needed to learn was how to practice backbends with my limitations.

It was this desire to learn more about my own personal practice that drew me to the teaching training program. Although I had practiced for 2 years prior to starting teacher training, I knew nothing about props and just how much they can help reduce limitations. I often recall the day I found details of the training program online just 3 days prior to the start of the training and I am grateful that I made the quick decision to apply and that they found room for me. I truly believe that had I not found the Yoga Centre I would no longer be practicing yoga as without all the knowledge I have gained though this program and the teachers, I would not have been able to overcome my obstacle.

For some, a posture like backbend through the chair brings joy, for me just the mention of the posture caused frustration. With the patience and guidance of my teachers, we have finally found what works for me. I have found the right balance that will allow me to move into this backbend with minimal pain. It wasn’t a quick and easy journey but over time I have learned to enjoy this posture and have been able to move onto more challenging backbends. I can’t say I love backbends, but I’m hoping that one day I will. 

Injury or limitations can be great teachers. The life lessons I have learned from this experience are:
  • ·         To not compare myself to others, I have to focus on what my body is able to do (self acceptance without judgement)
  • ·         That I had developed patterns and I had to learn to change those patterns, to let go before I could move forward
  • ·         That it will take time. I have to be patient, I have to wait and allow change to come

My yoga is a journey, a lifelong practice and with patience, awareness and kindness to myself and my body, I know it is possible to overcome any obstacle that I may face. 

Marcie is a member of the YCW 200hr  Teacher Training program

Monday, 9 April 2012

the beauty of yoga from one generation to the next

By Avery

I just finished reading a recent blog posted by a fellow teacher trainee and wow did it ring home!
I too grew up in a home where yoga was ever present. I recall my mother lying on her back in a brown bodysuit and feeling oh so embarassed. She did this most mornings, and also coupled this with a very healthful environment at home.
We were often greeted after school with what I used to refer to as "brown-a-million-ingredients" cookies, which was my mother's special healthy cookie recipe. There was no "white" anything in my home as everything was whole wheat, whole whole wheat, or green. I would often enviously stare down my friends' lunches at school, which largely consisted of  white bread sandwiches and pop drinks, as I choked down my hovus cucumber alfalfa sprout sandwiche at the age of 8.
My mother would often tell me that she too grew up in a home with yoga and healthy lifestyle. My grandfather was the true speciman of healthy lifestlyle, incorporating nutrition in his diet at all times, walking wherever he went, and "stretching" on the floor most days. At the age of 90 I recall him looking 70 and having more energy then most 50 year olds. My mother in turn appears 20 years younger then her actual age. But I can't attribute it all to my mother, as my father who is well into his 70's is a regular exerciser and healthy eater.
As my fellow trainee mentioned, could this be just genetics? Well, I tend to think not. Although as a young child I often resented the yoganic environment I grew up in, I now look back and am so thankful.
As I grew up I was always active, and adopted healthy eating patterns, it wasn't until I was in my late 30's that I turned to yoga.
A good friend and I started off on adventures to different studios to "find" something. Having 3 young children at home made these adventures difficult as I needed to be home, but as my kids got older more time was freed up and I dove into yoga. I haven't looked back since. I had always carried a bit of extra weight, even though I exercised daily and ate reasonably. But when I began doing yoga regularly, that weight just seemed to melt away. I felt more connected to my body and knew what it did and didn't need. Prior to yoga, I would often feel I needed to fix a problem with food. A cramp or pain in my stomach meant I should eat. The reality was these pains could often be attributed to many other causes and a yoga pose would eliminate any discomfort. I was hooked.
As I began to take classes, the environment started to appeal to me more and more and I found myself craving the restful and peaceful yoga studio. As a self professed type A person, I felt more at ease and relaxed after a yoga class. I was able to slow things down for myself and realize it would all be ok. I actually would feel a physical and emotional sense of calm and could just breathe through a moment where I would get uptight. It amazed me because I had never been able to let things go before, and something just clicked.
When I started the teacher training program I really didn't know what to expect. What it has brought to me is a new direction in life. Prior to having kids I was a lawyer, and I wondered if I would ever go back to law when my kids were older. I was often asked by others "will you go back?". I can now definitively answer that question with a "no, my path is with yoga".
Avery, is a member of the Yoga Centre Winnipeg 200hr Teacher Training program

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The Love of Yoga

 by Char Ducharme

When I was very young I remember my mother and my aunt doing what I know now to be a wall stretch, legs up the wall and some basic toe touching and warrior poses. I thought they were weird. Then my aunt told me to breathe. I informed her that I already was breathing, or how else could I possibly be living? “You would do good to learn to do some of this stretching and one day you might need to learn to breathe in a much more effective way.” She would tell me. I would poo poo the both of them and seek out my childhood friends for some wily adventures.

Over the years I had thought a lot about my aunt and my mother. They were both incredibly beautiful women inside and out and seemed to defy the aging process. They very rarely if ever complained about pain in their older years and I found myself wondering about them even more. My aunt had moved to Minneapolis but came to visit about once a year. I would drag out my sweats as I knew she was going to make me do some stretches with her. In her infinite wisdom she did not call it yoga as she probably knew I would think it was even weirder.

Over the years, as I grew up, my mother and aunt would constantly be told that they never aged. “What is your secret?” Others would ask them. I wondered if it was purely genetics or was it their diet. The wonderings I had of my mother and my aunt and how they seemed to be able to take life in stride soon gave way to my own years of turmoil and…ahem…lessons that I needed to learn.

Many years later, in my late twenties, I took a beginner class to get back to the basics of yoga and really learn the fundamentals. The instructor was very knowledgeable and after seeing and feeling the results in my body so quickly, I fell completely in love with yoga. And like a partner in life that you want to get to know more and spend time with and trust, I wanted to commit to it all the way. Yoga gave me my life back, not only in the asanas, but in the meditation and breathing techniques. I decided to go even deeper into the practice knowing full well it would be a life-long pursuit of ‘knowing’. The saying that you learn by teaching struck me with such a resounding soul filled echo that I decided I needed to become a yoga instructor. What better way to learn anything than by teaching it? One thing life had taught me so far is that those that you think that you will be teaching more often become some of your own best teachers. The path to becoming a yoga instructor has been nothing short of an amazing journey into myself and the incredible life around me that I used to take for granted.

Yoga gives me strength, confidence, patience, energy, vitality, deeper spiritual insight, a calm I’ve never experienced before, a centering and balance I never thought was possible and a tolerance for myself and others that amazes me every single day. That in itself is quite a feat for a once very high strung perfectionist with OCD tendencies. Yoga grounds me and centres me and I see it as a metaphor for life and authentic living. If I am out of alignment in yoga, I can feel it in my body and it affects my everyday business. I simply centre and get back into alignment and all becomes well in my universe. If I am out of alignment in life and authentic living, I can feel the undertow of life tugging and pulling. I simply get back into alignment and life is normal again, the normal that I have come to know and love and have been so blessed to call my life.
Hey Aunt Charisma, I am breathing – a breath unlike anything I’ve ever felt before in my life!
Char Ducharme 
Char is current member of the Yoga Centre Winnipeg 200 hour teacher training program

Sunday, 1 April 2012


With Easter and Passover right around the corner, and being in the middle of leading a 6 week meditation course focusing on gratitude, it seemed like a good  time to blog about gratitude.

Many spiritual teachers, self help gurus, and  people who love their lives say that one of the keys to happiness is an 'attitude of gratitude'. Some people find gratitude is loaded with religious connotations and expectations, they relate more to the word appreciation.Whatever you call it, it is no secret that looking on the bright-side lends itself to seeing the bright-side which lends itself to a brighter experience of life.

 But how do you get there?

After a recent bout with the flu,  I became extremely grateful for my health. In fact as the symptoms eased I was grateful to be able to sit up, and even to walk around! But lets face it less than a week later, I have moved back to taking being vertical for granted. Certainly a brush with losing whatever we hold dear can trigger some genuine gratitude for what we have or what we could lose.

Rather than waiting for loss to snap us into a state of appreciation, we can practice connecting to what we have to be grateful for. Some teachers suggest a gratitude journal, others mention a daily practice of naming just 5 things we are grateful for. Meditation teacher Tara Brach speaks of having a gratitude buddy- someone you exchange daily emails with simply listing a few things you are grateful for.

I've found i have to start pretty basic: 'grateful for the breath,  grateful i have two working legs, grateful i have a roof over my head, grateful for indoor plumbing'.  The appreciation is real, but there is a slight disconnect.Other times some magic takes hold, and the deep sense of gratitude fills my entire being: I notice the sun coming in the window- grateful for light-(that alone feels like enough). Grateful for space (is there anything else?) -and breath- for life around me-for all that is!

Whatever method you choose, consciously creating a daily habit of appreciation can be a powerful practice, and an effective one, even when things seem grim, and especially when things seem grim.

In addition to consciously remembering what we are grateful for, Brach and other teachers emphasize one of the keys to cultivating gratitude is connecting to "what is," to the present moment.

One of the reasons I love yoga so much is that it connects me to what is. As I slow down and focus only on breath, and posture, I am instantly transported into the moment. There is nothing but breath and body. Gratitude is a natural consequence!

 But, some days even yoga becomes an opportunity for distraction- am I doing this posture correctly? What can i teach about this pose? When can i come out of this pose? What will i do next?.... I am transported out of the moment and back into the world of shoulds and coulds.  Of course there are also the times when I do the poses and am thinking about a stuff completely outside of the yoga room, once again my connection to gratitude collapses.

 The remedy is simply practice. Stop, notice I have left the moment and come back. Even if I  have to do it a thousand times a minute, I am training my mind to stay focused and giving myself tiny tastes of 'what is'.

Ultimately, I am so appreciative to have the opportunity to spend my days contemplating gratitude and seeking the moment.

I offer a wish that all beings know love, peace, well being and joy.