Saturday, 28 May 2016

My Yoga Journey

I started taking yoga classes, with a friend, a number of years ago.  My thinking at the time was it would be a good addition to my fitness regime.  Many years of running and other fitness fads had left me with very tight muscles.  Yoga would be a good way to stretch it all out!  Little did I know the path that yoga would take me on over subsequent years to the present.

I started with a very beginner series of classes at a fitness centre - it was a good way to develop both a yoga practice and a friendship as a friend and I commuted to and from class.  Once the “term” was finished, yoga disappeared from my life for a little while.  I then started another series at a local community club and another with the leisure guide.  This lead to a regular practice of hot yoga that spanned a number of years.

I quickly discovered that yoga had an immediate impact on my physical body.  I always came out feeling really good - stretched out and content.  I continued running and racing 10 k’s and half marathons and experienced very few injuries.  What I didn’t expect and what had an even greater impact, was how yoga impacted my mind.  My beginning years with yoga came at a time when I worked full time in a stressful job and was in the midst of raising teenagers - with all of their accompanying activities.  I had totally bought in to our society’s messages about busyness, having it all and the stuff “out there’ that we all need in order to be happy.

I would leave yoga classes feeling both stretched out and content.  The time on my mat gave me the space I needed to clear my mind and really think about my life and where I wanted to go.  It changed me from being a go go go type of person to taking my time and savouring life more.  it seemed that whenever I needed a little guidance, the messages that my teachers had for me combined with the movement and breathing was exactly what I needed in that moment to figure things out.  Slowly moving through the postures on my mat was and is where I go to get the space I need to ponder and the answers come in those moments of silence.   It’s hard to explain what yoga does for the mind, body and soul - it’s a little bit of mysterious magic!  Yoga helped me make a career change a few years ago and helps me in my day to day relationships.  In my day to day life, I find I am much more relaxed and don’t feel like I have to do it all or have it all.  There is a certain contentment with the little things and an appreciation for life.

The more I practiced yoga, the more I wanted to learn about it.  I read books and magazine articles.  I wanted to try and figure out the how’s and why’s of yoga magic!  This lead to a decision to deepen my practice by participating in the yoga teacher training at the Yoga Centre.  The two years of this journey has opened up my eyes to so many things about yoga, such as; theory, the chakras, alignment in poses, Sanskrit words, philosophy, great discussions with peers and teachers - all in a safe friendly environment with extremely knowledgeable, caring teachers.  It has passed me way past my comfort zone in practice teaching and in working on poses that this stiff tight old body sometime rebels against and at other times finds ease.  I’ve been able to take this stretching, learning, breathing, calmness, into my everyday life… which has been beneficial for both me and the people around me.

I sometimes wonder where I would be and how I would react to life if I didn’t have my yoga practice.  I am very thankful that I found yoga or that yoga found me just when I needed it.  It has become a very important part of my life journey, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

A Yoga Journey

"It came to me so sweetly, and the word was like cool water on my over-heated body. Just soften. I heard myself say. Soften." (excerpt from Yoga Journal)

I had dabbled in yoga on and off for several years, for the most part, taking classes in local school gymnasiums or community centers. It wasn't until I experienced a class in a lovely outdoor setting in Mexico beneath the canopy of a gorgeous tree that I began to realize the depth and breath of what yoga is. Those outdoor classes and Sunday meditation sessions shifted my thinking, practice and commitment to yoga. After my three-month winter hiatus in Mexico I returned to Winnipeg and began practicing yoga regularly at different yoga studios. I started to read about  the limbs of yoga and integrate yoga into my "off the mat life."

The decision to register for the teacher training required courage. I worried about my age, level of fitness and flexibility, ability to complete assignments and about teaching others something I knew so little about. Our first meeting time was scary...meeting new people, introducing myself and hearing the details about what I had signed up for! Slowly I began to soften and feel at ease. I was among like-minded beautiful people, all journeying in their own unique and individual way. The group was lively, inclusive, supportive and varied. I knew that my decision to take teacher training was personal - it was a way to challenge and enhance my practice and it felt great to be reading and learning about something not associated with my professional life. I didn't know where my training would take me - perhaps on to teach, perhaps not. It was up to me to practice and study with intention, to let things unfold and to trust in the path of the universe.

Yoga has infiltrated all aspects of my busy life. I am a school teacher with a hectic unrelenting pace. I am also a part of the "sandwich generation" where I have adult children and grandchildren, one child living at home and an elderly mother with many needs. Yoga helps me to stay well. It reminds me to look after myself and to maintain balance. Dedicating time to teacher training and to attending classes is not selfish, rather nurturing. I have learned to approach life's challenges with a softer heart. A big learning piece for me is to recognize that I am not responsible for other people's thoughts, actions and behaviours. My approach and reaction to potentially difficult or uncomfortable situations has softened. Learning to look inward and to connect to my inner experience and to investigate, without judgement what is happening with my breath, body and mind has been life changing.

That once scary, intimidating yoga studio has become a place of refuge. As I sit or lie on my mat I am enveloped by a sense of calmness, caring and warmth. I can access that place of calmness and contentedness wherever and whenever I choose. One of the greatest joys on my yoga journey is sharing my insights and learning with friends, family and colleagues. After all, everyone needs some yoga in their life! Soon I will retire from the teaching profession. Perhaps my teaching skills, wanderlust and love for yoga will unite in this next section of my life.


Monday, 9 May 2016

Finding Heartland

My very first yoga class was in 1999 at a studio named Heartland Yoga. Heartland no longer exists, but my yoga practice has flourished as a result of that beginning. In fact, those first yoga classes sit in my mind like a beautiful photograph. When I’m struggling in my current practice, I remember those early days and I lean into those joyful moments when hope was cultivated deep within my spirit.

At that time in my life I was on the hazardous detour of perfectionism. I was chronically self-critical, constantly striving for more in my life and never giving myself the break that I needed. While I thought I was only investing in the health of my body, my mind, heart and spirit began to grow.

Yoga helped me to cultivate the courage to be vulnerable, imperfect and self-compassionate. It started me on the path of becoming real. What I mean by “real” is that I started to become more authentic, genuine, more in touch with my…self. Instead of thinking that I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it, I realized that just being me was good enough.

I was a farm girl who very abruptly made the shift to city life as a young adult. It was shocking. At that time, I simply thought that if I looked perfect and did everything perfectly, that I would avoid any painful feelings associated with others judgment. It was a self-destructive and unattainable goal.

Yoga allowed me to see that I was enough just the way I was. It gave me the capacity to be warm and understanding towards myself during times of great difficulty. It also allowed me to see that these thoughts were part of a collective mindset and that I was not alone. Most importantly, yoga helped me to be mindful and not get caught up in my thoughts.

Most of us are wading through uncertainty, self-doubt and self-criticism. Yoga has provided me with resilience in the face of this relentless “never enough” cultural message that we are all bombarded with on a daily basis. I am living and loving now with my whole heart.

I suppose the name of the studio where I first practiced was accurate. I discovered my “heart land” in yoga.

~ Jennifer ~