Guest Post: Everyday Shakti (“Power”)

by Treena Orchard

My yoga journey began in January, as a way to deal with heartache- new year, old sorrows. I needed to move, not just out of my apartment but out of my head and the disappointment that had taken root there. There are only so many times I could cry or limp through my days feeling angry and hurt, only so many times I could listen to that broken heart soundtrack featuring Tina Turner (Typical Male, You Better Be Good to Me- wishful thinking, clearly), Alicia Keyes (Fallin), Lauren Hill (X-factor), and that 1990s favourite by Mazzy Star -Fade into You.

I wanted to do something else, but hadn’t done yoga for years. Is this what I want to do? Where? When? Do I still have yoga clothes? These are the questions I asked myself while scrolling through the studio options, weighing the pros and cons of each one: ‘Only does hot- nope, never done that, not ready for that’; ‘Too far away, I’ll never go’; ‘Too trendy, not up for seeing all matter of fit young things sweating up a pretty storm.’ Then I came upon my goldilocks place: ‘It does hot and normal yoga, is only a block away, and it looks cool.’

I chose a non-hot Yang/Yin class because it seemed the most basic place to start and with trepidation and excitement I strode through the red door of The Yoga Collective, ready to begin. As the Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then Sundays too, began adding up so did my strength and desire to do more. It was like rekindling an old relationship with myself through my body, welcoming back the knowledge stored in the muscle’s memory. To remember is to become aware of something again and like our guru Robin often says at the end of class, when we’re all zenned out and just about to utter ‘Namaste” in unison, it’s like coming home.

Does all this goodness mean that I was totally on board with the 30-day challenge when talk of it first began to circulate through the studio? Hell no—NO. No, I can’t do that. That’s what my Vancouver friends did, super fit people who were into super cool things- namely yoga, brunch, and being from Vancouver. Could I do a yoga challenge too? Do I want to? I thought about it a lot and talked with my fellow women yogis, who seemed to be in the same see-saw place as me, wanting to do it but not quite sure about making the commitment. Making a commitment is making a promise and being dedicated to something, serious business.

Despite the positive traction that has been made to reframe how we talk about failure as well as success, I’d be lying if I said the prospect of failing didn’t matter. The image of a circus appeared in my mind, not an innovative, fashion-forward Cirque de Soleil thing but a more carny, less health and safety variety. I am high atop the crowd in a shiny, non-cotton leotard with those dreadful ‘spice’ coloured tights, traipsing inch by nervous inch across the tightrope towards a piece of wood nailed to a pole or some such fictional symbol of a successfully completed 30-day yoga challenge.

Clearly, I really wasn’t sure I could do it. I did not want to fail and my primary concern was related to the physical nature of the challenge. Could I really do yoga every day? I’d only been going three times a week…The tipping point came when Robin said that he decided to hold the challenge when he thought we could do it. Enough said. Fuck it, I might not finish it perfectly but I’m going to do it. I was excited and proud of myself for making the decision.

But, I still felt nervous, especially as Day 1 crept up. These feelings continued into the first week of the challenge, when I was rather obsessive about “doing yoga” and “making time for yoga.” Happily, those feelings began to melt away as the incorporation of yoga into the rhythms of my daily life became ever more seamless. Time itself began to bend to the clock of yoga, which became the measure by which I paced, organized, and rearranged all other things. Tick-tock went the mornings and nights of practice.

As the days passed I felt stronger physically and mentally and those 30 days were an exceptionally creative time too, not just for ‘work work’ but also my own writing, reading, and thinking. The 6 am classes were my favourite. As I walked quietly through my apartment, packing my water bottle and looking at myself in the mirror before heading out into early summer’s dawn, I often thought of Sylvia Plath. During the last months she worked in the very early hours, the only time she could steal away for herself and her beautiful, caustic reflections on a life that was fast slipping away.

Women have always done this, always found ways to make room for themselves and their ideas, the things that matter. They have done this despite and because of others, whether it be the children they love, those who hurt them, or the world that remains caught up in repetitive cycles of patriarchal madness. We must make time and take space for ourselves because no one else will give it to us and because it is essential for our minds, souls, and bodies. Whether it’s a ‘room of our own’ or a yoga mat, amidst lemongrass diffuser mist and beside women and men who have become our friends, we all need that place where we can dwell inside the universe.

Treena is an anthropologist working in the School of Health Studies at Western University in London, Ontario. She lives with her adorable cats Shiva and Mr. Marbles, her art and books, and gets back home to Saskatoon as often as she can.

 

 

 

Guest Post: A Compatible Movement Practice (part 2 of 3)

Really, yoga is literally right next door to my home: zero commute time, zero extra carbon emissions, frequent classes with highly-regarded teachers… Plus, the people coming in and out just exude a kind of peaceful stretchy wisdom I should want to want for myself. The yoga people are actually very nice, not all of those people are cis-straight women with lululemon bodies. So I suppressed my trepidation.

Over several introductory sessions, I was relieved that nobody seemed exasperated with me for being unshaven, restless, too tightly-wound to touch my toes, and allergic to anything form-fitting. I did feel physically worked-out after each class, and the teacher seemed to be full of insight. My partner had long since gotten with the program. She does yoga regularly and even looks forward to it. It’s so clearly good for her. We could be a happy yoga household, right?

Yet I remained lukewarm at the prospect of going back, setting up the colorful mat that would define my bubble for the hour, and imitating pose after pose. If that first series of yoga classes felt like a sustained insult to my mildly butch self-image, surely I should embrace this as the spiritual challenge of working through the yuckily gendered semiotics of my embodiment. (“My ego feels like it’s in downward dog the whole time. Is that a good thing?,” I asked my friends.) Who was I to reject stamina and coordination and enlightenment? Something about the bodily discipline of yoga felt vaguely stifling, as though I might be able to visit, but could not make a home for myself there.

My yoga-loving partner listened patiently to my ambivalence. She did not crave the things I had treasured in past practices — things like laser-focused intensity, swinging hard at things, having to react quickly to shifting stimuli, being occasionally upside-down and underwater with my legs wedged into a boat. But she listened. I began to own my yearning for adrenaline and kinetic challenge. I yearned for these things, during yoga, the same way my kid craves coffee ice cream instead of the rest of the rice and veggies on her plate.

But here’s the hard thing about self-knowledge: Knowing that I crave something is not the same as knowing whether it’s good for me. And I felt as though the whole world had begun quietly chanting at me that it was time for my middle-aged self to learn to Eat Those Veggies. (My partner, meanwhile, loves all vegetables openly, and doesn’t understand how eating them could seem like a chore.)

Luckily, my therapist dismissed my yoga-vegetable-guilt-complex and forged ahead with brainstorming further ideas for a workable fitness regime. As I parried each suggestion with logistical objections or a picky aversions, I braced for a lecture about rationalization, laziness, and self-sabotage. Instead, she urged me firmly to focus again on aikido. She had seen the way my eyes lit up about aikido when I narrated my long history. “Scour the internet!,” she said. “Get leads from every dojo in driving distance, email friends of friends of friends to get recommendations for freelance instructors. Put out an SOS on craigslist, if that’s what it takes!”

Aikido and I had been seriously together for only a year, back when I was about 30. A relationship can only develop so far in one year, but I was a single and child-free itinerant academic when we met, so I had been able to immerse myself in dojo life, learning from an elegantly-bearded and compact Burmese sensei who radiated gentleness and precision. When I left that city because of a job, I found myself in a place remote from any aikido community. At the time I didn’t grieve much, since various projects kept me busy. But whenever I talked about it, there was a telltale sigh of loss.

So of course I rolled my eyes at this therapist and told her I had already done plenty of looking, and I was rusty at aikido by now anyway, so this yearning was pointlessly nostalgic. Surely I just needed to grieve like a mature person for not having an aikido connection anymore and find a way to hang in there and fall in love with… yoga?

But I promised I would put in a good faith effort at finding an aikido connection again. And on that Monday afternoon, my online search turned up an actual dojo within a workable half-hour drive, with all the right signs of hosting an active and friendly community. (I swear, it was hiding from google last time I looked!)  I dashed home, rummaged through storage for my old wrinkled gi, and drove there just in time for the 6pm “basics” class listed online.

See Part 1 here and Part 3 here

A question for our community: Which animal would you most like to do yoga with?

As you know, this blog, if not all the bloggers, has been a big supporter of goat yoga. We’ve written about it often.

Today when I posted about cat yoga on our Facebook page, Tracy said she thinks that it makes more sense than goat yoga. She shared the story and added, “Much better idea than the perplexingly popular yoga with goats.” Tracy’s not a goat yoga fan. To each their own. But that got me thinking.

What animal would you most like to do yoga with?  This is different of course than that animal doing yoga!  (See Animals doing yoga better than me.and Penguin Yoga.) Bonus points if you can share why. What about yoga with that particular animal attracts you?

I love what my searches for unicorn yoga turned up!

 

Goat Obsessions & Yoga (Guest Post)

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a bit of an obsession for goats. My family raised goats when I was a kid and we had several babies born on our farm. My team at work knows I’m obsessed and even decorated an office tree with paper goats for my birthday. So it was no surprise that when goat yoga became a thing many of my friends tagged me in videos on Facebook.

Last week Sam put out a yoga call but I had plans, so this week when she went back, I joined her. Turns out this place is 15 minutes from home. Finding a yoga place close to home is a big deal, because I live in the middle of nowhere, so I was pretty excited.

Normally I’d be a bit nervous about going into a new yoga place. I’m barely flexible and weight lifting doesn’t really help. I complain-bragged the other day to a co-worker that my biceps get in the way for some of the poses, so its hard.

When I told my husband I was going to goat yoga, he said he knew I was going for the goats. But, really, why can’t I do both?

The beautiful thing about goat yoga is that it’s real yoga, there are a lot of beginners, so the poses aren’t terribly difficult AND they don’t take themselves too seriously. There are no yoga snobs at goat yoga. If you need to pause because you can’t do a pose, don’t want to do a pose, or need to pet a goat, you do. No judgement. If you’re self-conscious about stopping you look at a goat, you smile, breathe, think about your life choices and jump back into the next pose.

This is seriously, the best way to do yoga.

Sandi is a feminist in the throes of what some would call her mid-life crisis, having gone from exercising only her mind to lifting weights and throwing heavy objects.  Her natural curiosity and need to know everything serves her well in a career in research as well as all things health, science and well…life really.

 

Here’s the info on goat yoga in London, Ontario.

GOAT YOGA AT THE FULL CIRCLE RANCH:
Ocean Yoga & Pilates comes to the ranch for “GOAT YOGA AT DUSK” Every Wednesday from 7-8 p.m. all summer!

Find tranquility with by connecting with yourself, your breath and nature.

Come join us for a unique experience of yoga at the ranch. The goats and other animals will join the classes which are held in the indoor riding arena, rain or shine.

Things to remember:
• Join us for a peaceful experience to pause, play and pet the goats (and other ranch friends!)
• Class is run rain or shine, as it is held in the indoor arena (it is not heated, so please dress for the weather)
• It is a ranch, you may get dirty! Puddles may appear, sprinkled with chocolate chips… bring your old mats and yoga clothes
• You also may get snuggles and/or playful nudges
• Class starts at 7 p.m, registration starts at 6:30 p.m. There is no pre-registration.
• After class yogis are welcome to visit with the other ranch animals from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Cost:
•Adults $20 per class
•Children (6-12 years old) $10 per class
•Kids under 5 years old free
*Children must be accompanied by an adult

•Cash only please

Place: Full Circle Ranch located at 44632 Mapleton Line, Central Elgin (Just 10 minutes outside London, off Highbury Rd.)

 

In praise of small changes

Small and steady changes in the growth of a potted plant-- four stages

I love my Saturday morning Artemis studio yoga class.  It’s not too early (9:30am– I’m not a morning person), and I love the atmosphere.  It’s a beginner-level class that I’ve been going to since I restarted yoga a year and a half ago.  My friend Norah and I often meet there, and we both continue to make new discoveries about our bodies while going through the now-familiar poses and flow sequences.

Our teacher, Joanne, is all about going small in yoga.  What she constantly emphasizes in class (in a good way) is how the movements we make to get into the poses are going to be small, not drastic.  What she likes to say is that we all want to stretch or bend a lot because we think it means we’re good at yoga.  However, it tends (at my level of practice) to mean that we’re not working the muscles the pose is meant to work.  Of course, it might be cool some day to do this:

Extreme Acro-yoga pose: woman with chest on floor, left leg up an back, right leg extended to front, arms by side.

Extreme Acro-yoga pose: woman with chest on floor, left leg up an back, right leg extended to front, arms by side.

However, in Joanne’s class I’m really enjoying getting comfortable in downward facing dog.

Jessamyn Stanley, yoga teacher and body positivity advocate, in black leggings and orange shirt, facing down on the mat, with arms out in front, legs back on mat, in inverted V.

Jessamyn Stanley, yoga teacher and body positivity advocate, in black leggings and orange shirt, facing down on the mat, with arms out in front, legs back on mat, in inverted V.

After a year and a half of resuming yoga, I finally get it.  Downward Dog used to feel painful and unpleasant, with all my weight on my arms, wrists, hurting.  But shifting my hips up and back, I now find the energy in my legs and hips takes a lot of the pressure off my arms, and in fact the pose feels restorative and a little bit restful.  Whaddya know…

Now, this will sound silly, but one pose I’ve never felt completely comfortable with is mountain pose.  For those of you who don’t do yoga, mountain pose is this:

Tadasana, mountain pose-- standing on may, feet together, arms out to side or in prayer position at your chest.

Tadasana, mountain pose– standing on may, feet together, arms out to side or in prayer position at your chest.

Mountain pose is basically just standing up on the mat (I know, I know– it’s more than that; but still…) So what’s my problem?

I have bigger thighs, so putting my feet together doesn’t feel totally comfortable. So I’ve been doing a variation– standing with my feet hips’ width apart.  I thought that would make me more stable– wider platform, more stability, right?

One version of foot position in mountain pose-- feet on the floor hips' width apart.

One version of foot position in mountain pose– feet on the floor hips’ width apart.

Turns out, that’s not right for me.  Lately, in mountain pose, I have kept looking down to see where my feet were, and futzing with different positions.  Nothing felt really super stable.

Yesterday in class, we were doing some variations on chair pose.  It looks like this:

A woman standing, feet together, knees bent, arms above her head and straight, in chair pose.

A woman standing, feet together, knees bent, arms above her head and straight, in chair pose.

I tried doing this with feet apart, but just for fun, put them together for the pose.  Wow, that felt better!  I didn’t know I could do that.

Taking this idea and running with it (well, since it was yoga class, I had to be still with it), I switched up my feet for mountain pose to now look like this:

Foot position in mountain pose-- a pair of feet together, toe mounds touching, on the floor.

Foot position in mountain pose– a pair of feet together, toe mounds touching, on the floor.

Wow– what a difference!  I could finally relax into the stability of the pose, which serves as the foundation for all the other poses in yoga.  It really shifted something for me.  Feeling stable on the ground is a pretty basic requirement for balance.  I’m working on this in several areas of my life.  What a pleasant surprise to find that making a very small change made such a big difference.

Readers, have you experienced the effects of small changes or shifts in physical practices?  I’m really interested to hear your stories.

Goat yoga, anyone?

I thought it was a joke but it’s not. Instead, it’s another take on yoga: yoga with goats! It started in Oregon and is now thriving right here at the Full Circle Ranch. I think of ranches as places to go ride horses. But yoga with goats? Now that’s an unexpected innovation.

White baby goat with black markings on lower legs walking on a yogi's back. Yogi is wearing a red t-shirt and is in downward dog pose, though you can't see the whole pose here because the shot is edited to focus on the goat and not reveal yogis' identities.

White baby goat with black markings on lower legs walking on a yogi’s back. Yogi is wearing a red t-shirt and is in child’s pose, though you can’t see the whole pose here because the shot is edited to focus on the goat and not reveal yogis’ identities.

Sam first brought it to my attention, asking me if I would go so I could blog about it. This is a strategy of Sam’s–to encourage me to do things for the sake of the blog. This is how I ended up doing Olympic distance triathlons, running way too far, owning a road bike, and spending an afternoon at the velodrome. I’m often game to try anything at least once. Sam probably thought of me as the goat yoga guinea pig because I’m the resident blog yogi.

I’m also vegan, so you might think I’m an animal lover (Sam knows better than to think that). The thing is, I care about animals a lot. I don’t think they should suffer so someone can have a tasty meal.

But I’m not really into them. And I really don’t want to do yoga with baby goats running around the “studio.” I confess I’m not totally immune to animal cuteness. And baby goats are cute for sure.

Two baby goats on a patch of green grass. The kid that's predominantly brown with white and black patches faces front, the black kid with white ears, top of head, and some white in its talk is leaning down eating grass. They are both immeasurably adorable. I still don't wish to do yoga with them.

Two baby goats on a patch of green grass. The kid that’s predominantly brown with white and black patches faces front, the black kid with white ears, top of head, and some white in its talk is leaning down eating grass. They are both immeasurably adorable. I still don’t wish to do yoga with them.

When Sam first told me about it, I didn’t realize it was with baby goats. Hence, my immediate response: “I’m not going to goat yoga lol. I’m not into farm animals. I’m more of a purist.”

Minutes later I got a text from another friend: “Welcome home! A few of us are meeting up on Wednesday to do a yoga class with baby goats. Do you want to join us?”

Oh, baby goats! And non-yoga friends. What the heck kind of sensation is this goat yoga anyway? I felt briefly tempted.

The concept is to give yoga an unpretentious, playful cast. Also to combine activity with “nature” (I don’t really consider farm environments to be equivalent to nature, but we’ll overlook that here).

Here’s how it went down last Wednesday:

About 10 of the curious kids puttered around the barn while yogis were striking their poses. The baby goats made the rounds to different yoga mats, munched on some hay and got plenty of pets and cuddles during the hour-long session.

Unpretentious yoga appeals to me. Yoga with baby goats wandering around doesn’t. If yoga (even with baby goats) is too tame for you, there’s apparently CrossFit with baby goats too:

Like Sam, I’m a “let a thousand flowers bloom” type of person. It doesn’t draw me to it, but maybe it’s your thing. Kittens I might go for. And for the record, I understand the limitations of writing about a thing I’ve not done. Like I said, do it! Try it! I’m just not an animal person but maybe you are.

If you want to do goat yoga here in the London, Ontario area, you can find information about it here’s what you need to know:

Full Circle Ranch Goat Yoga

When: Wednesdays 7 to 8 p.m. all spring and summer

Where: Full Circle Ranch, 44632 Mapleton Line Central Elgin, Ont.

Cost: $20

Website: www.fullcircleranch.ca

Phone: 519-280-0959

If you do decide to do it, please report back.

Does yoga with baby goats appeal to you? If so, what’s the draw?

Beginner’s mind– hauling it from the mat to the boat

pink rock with inscription "have a beginner's mind"

This weekend was all about being a beginner again.  Which is supposed to be a good thing, if the story about the beginner’s mind is to be believed.

In yoga and meditation, teachers often talk about “embracing the beginner’s mind”.  This means something like cultivating increased awareness of many of the features of your current experience (including features we tend to ignore or take for granted), in order to learn and grow.  It also teaches us that life is in a constant state of change, and accepting, even incorporating this acceptance into our practice (of yoga, meditation– anything really) will enrich it for us.  Here’s what The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness says about beginner’s mind:

In yoga, we’re often told to approach poses with beginner’s mind—to seek spaciousness or find the nuances that allow us to discover more about a pose and our relationship to it. [It’s easy to lose] sight of that and focus… simply on completing the flow, hitting a pose, or making it to Savasana. That’s when yoga becomes less about “skillfulness in action” and more about calisthenics.

Beginner’s mind is tough enough in yoga class, let alone embracing it off the mat. An open state of inquiry can be no match for the larger voices of our everyday expectations and demands…

Steven [Leonard, meditation teacher] says, “To truly embrace beginner’s mind, we must soften around our tendency to assume. We’re always assuming what our experiences will be, assuming we know what we like and dislike, assuming our view is the same as it was yesterday. To assume that anything stays the same is to be caught in delusion.” When freed from the fetters of assumption and judgment, our experiences become truer reflections of what is. And what is in one moment is not exactly the same in another. The space between is where learning and growth occur.

Okay, got it.  Let go of assumptions, take what comes.  This plan went really well in my Saturday morning yoga class with Cathleen, my favorite yoga teacher at my favorite yoga studio, Artemis Yoga (please forgive my plugging this place, but I have a soft spot for small business owners at places I love).  She uses fun and funny metaphors (often involving us driving our own car, parking, traffic, etc.) which help us disengage from judgment, in part because we are smiling or laughing.  And in her beginner classes (this was one such), everyone gets  a chance to rediscover beginner’s mind through the gentle pace of the class, variations on basic poses, and holding basic poses longer (if we want).  I was able to reconnect with downward facing dog in a new way on Saturday– using blocks under our hands, I sank into the pose much more, with heels on the floor (which doesn’t happen usually for me).  It reintroduced me to the pose, made it fresh.  I felt reinvigorated, ready to face the world with a new perspective.

Until I arrived at my second activity of the day:  kayak rolling class.  This is taught in a local YMCA pool by the marvelous Kevin of Rock Paddle Surf in Salem, MA (yeah yeah– I’m doing the small business booster thing again) and his marvelous wife Gillian.  I took one rolling class last year, but for me it’s going to take a whole bunch of instruction to get close to rolling a sea kayak (FYI– they’re looong; like 16ish feet long, okay?).

So my beginner’s mind and I pulled up to the parking lot, where everyone else was unloading their boats.  The session is for instruction for noobs like me, and also for folks to practice their rolls and rescues in their own boats.  And of course there was the one guy who tried to paddle standing up in the cockpit.  He went splash!  a lot.

I was very nervous about this class.  In my last rolling class I didn’t feel settled in my boat, and kept worrying about being able to get back in it (getting out of it just happens spontaneously, which is fine).  I tried to remember what I’d learned earlier in the day:

rocks with inscription "In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”

Frankly, I wasn’t sure how to translate this bit of wisdom into my current situation.  I figured that embracing my current state without judgment might help calm my waves of panic, but on the other hand, sometimes my current state was underwater, which provoked the perfectly reasonable judgment “Whoa! Time to get out of here!”

Except I was wrong.  Turns out,  beginner’s mind is EXACTLY what you need when you’re in the water, upside down in the cockpit of your boat, holding your paddle and trying to figure out how to do that hip snap to get you topside again.  Luckily for me, I don’t mind being underwater in a kayak– it’s actually kind of interesting.  But I kept trying to analyze the situation and make some decision about which way to move my hip (and which hip to move) while down there.  It was very confusing, and I kept moving the wrong way.  Of course, either Kevin or Gillian was right there to haul me back up, so I wasn’t scared.  But I was frustrated.

I’ve got two more rolling class sessions scheduled for March, and then a weekend-long kayak workshop in Charleston, SC in April.  Maybe I’ll get the roll, maybe I won’t.  I don’t have to have one in order to be a sea kayaker (although it comes in handy).  But I want one.

It’s clear to me now that I’ll need to leave judgment and assumptions and expectations (with their accompanying fears) behind in order to be in a proper state to hear what my body, my boat, Kevin, and Gillian are telling me.  After all, kayaking is like life.  Sometimes, we’re right side up, looking to the horizon.  And sometimes, we’re here.

person in a sea kayak underwater in a pool, sweeping a paddle to come back up