Monthly Archives: October 2015

The Yoga of Hallowe’en

photo by author

photo by author

Squeeeee!!!!! Its the eve of All Hallow’s Eve. I am practically vibrating with excitement! Or maybe that’s the sugar.

I was running out of the house today  to get to a yoga class I’d been planning to take. But while rushing across the schoolyard beside our house, I was overtaken by the primary grades Hallowe’en costume parade. Stopped me in my tracks. A train of fairy princesses, superheroes, space ships, ghouls and witches unfolded before my very eyes. Missesd the yoga class. But Hallowe’en is its own kind of yoga anyways, and one of my most favourite holidays EVAH!!!!

Just what does all this have to do with yoga?

Well, for starters, there are all those delicious reminders of death. But in a nice, fun, playful way. We pull out the skeletons, plant fake tombstones in our front lawns and let our kids dress up like the Grim Reaper. Its a good exercise for a society that for the most part does its best to pretend that death just doesn’t even really exist. Its baby steps towards the realizations of impermanence – and most importantly our own impermanence – that are foundational to the teachings of the Buddha. A classic Buddhist meditation is a contemplation on 3 facts about death:

1) Your death is coming. No one in a human body has ever escaped death – not even the Buddha, not Jesus, not Mohammed. At some point, you will shake off this mortal coil. And every day you’re closer to it.

2) You have no idea when you’re going. Most of us behave like we’ve got forever, or at the very least, we’re going to die sometime in our late 90’s, at home in bed, in our sleep, with the cat curled up at our feet. Oh, and of course, painlessly. But no one knows when the hour of their passing will be. The Zen Buddhists say you might not make it to the bottom of that cup of tea you’re drinking.

3) You can’t take it with you. When you go, you take nothing with you except the contents of your own mind. At the moment of death, nothing else can help you – not your job, not your money, not your house, not your possessions, certainly not your body, and not even your loved ones. So it behooves us to start considering just what the state of our mind is.

“Oh those Buddhists – what a bunch of downers! They really need to lighten up.”  But that misses the point. If we could truly realize these facts about death – not just in an intellectual way, but in our bones – it would give to our lives an immediacy, an urgency that is liberating, not condemning. You see it sometimes in people who are terminally ill and know they don’t have long to live. I saw it in my mother-in-law Vita last year, as she fully and completely enjoyed life to the hilt in her last few weeks with us, filled with joy and gratitude. We’d get down to what’s really important and letting go of anything that wastes our precious time here.

Hallowe’en is also the number one season when we get a glimpse of the possibility of a magical realm that may be lurking just beneath a very thin veil in our mundane, day to day lives.  Can we really be so sure that’s its not? Albert Einstein said, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” So which are you going to choose? I go for miracles. Its way more fun. Maybe there really is a nymph or a superhero living under your roof with you….

There is so much to love about Hallowe’en, and as Ram Dass says, its all grist for the mill of practice. I do love snack size Snickers bars and even those weird molasses Hallowe’en kisses. But the number one thing I love about this holiday is, of course, the costumes. I still love to play dress up. I’ve always contended that deep down, if you’re really honest with yourself, everybody secretly wants to wear glitter eyelashes, sequins, feathers and have pink hair. But maybe that’s just me.

I so love to see other people dress up too. Watching the grade school kids tramp around the damp autumnal field in their costumes filled me with joy. Seeing how happy and free they are to really BE a princess, or a cheetah, or zombie, as they prance or slink or float across the schoolyard. You see the amazing creativity of parents who’ve helped to fulfill their child’s dream. There is always the costume that no one gets – except the kid that is wearing it. And that kid feels like a million dollars. Because all of a sudden, she IS Candy Girl. Or the heroine of her favourite, but obscure, novel. Or the High Priestess of Zod.

Yoga means union, to yoke, to find communion – with the divine, with our truest self – which is divine. Making that connection requires that we loosen and eventually completely drop our current small sense of self,  in order to allow space for something much, much bigger. Its not that we will be without an identity altogether, but rather discover who we truly are. If we take up the mantle of Hallowe’en, and stop taking ourselves so damn seriously, we can enjoy the fluidity of our identity. And perhaps find that we are no more (or less) any of the roles we inhabit day to day – Parent, Employee, Spouse, Artist, Successful, Depressed, Workaholic, Disorganized, Broken – than we are Green Lantern, Angel,  Clown or Pirate. We can let go of who we think we are, and who we think we’re supposed to be. Hallowe’en gives us license to fully embrace and quite literally embody our deepest desires about who we want to be. And that is a yogic practice.

So…… who are YOU going to be for Hallowe’en?

 

 

 

 

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Moving with ease through change: a new home for TYS College – with FREE yoga to celebrate!

By Galileo (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

By Galileo (Public domain) via Wikimedia Commons

Our Moon Yoga practice is all about learning to move with ease through changing cycles – of the moon, of our breath, of our bodies, of our lives. These ever changing cycles are the essence of life itself. No movement, no life.

Tonight is a perfect time to enjoy that big huge autumnal full moon, while we pass through the changing landscape of our yoga community at TYS College. Tonight – Mon Oct 26 at 8:45pm – I’ll be teaching my last Full Moon Yoga class at The Yoga Sanctuary College in the 2 College St location. Please join me as we say thank you and bless up this lovely special space one last time.

As you probably know, TYS College is moving to beautiful new digs at the end of this month. The 2 College St building, the historic Oddfellows Hall, is ungoing extensive renovations. But true yogis move with ease through all kinds of change – so we are taking our yoga to 1 Wood St, effective Nov 1. Our new studio is just the other side of Yonge St, one block north of College, opposite the Second Cup in the Marriott Hotel.

Because we are so excited about our new home and as a housewarming gift to our TYS family, we’re inviting everyone to enjoy a week of FREE classes on the house at the new College & Yonge location from Nov 9-15. Your next Moon Yoga class on Thur Nov 12 at 8:45pm is on the house! This offer applies to both new and existing TYS students. Call 416-928-3236 for more details.

TYS Founder Cynthia Funk will be teaching a FREE candlelit Hatha class this Fri Oct 30 from 7:15-8:45 in the big room at College St. It will be a lovely opportunity to grace this space one more time with presence and love.

tys college yelp

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Sangha on the Shelf: A Path with Heart

A-Path-With-Heart-Jack-Kornfield

“In undertaking a spiritual life, what matters is simple: We must make certain that our path is connected with our heart. Many other visions are offered to us in the modern spiritual marketplace. Great spiritual traditions offer stories of enlightenment, bliss, knowledge, divine ecstasy, and the highest possibilities of the human spirit. Out of the broad range of teachings available to us in the West, often we are first attracted to these glamorous and most extraordinary aspects. While the promise of attaining such states can come true, and while these states do represent the teachings, in one sense they are also one of the advertising techniques of the spiritual trade. They are not the goal of spiritual life. In the end, spiritual life is not a process of seeking or gaining some extraordinary condition or special powers. In fact, such seeking can take us away from ourselves. If we are not careful, we can easily find the great failures of our modern society – its ambition, materialism, and individual isolation – repeated in our spiritual life.

In beginning a genuine spiritual journey, we have to stay much closer to home, to focus directly on what is right here in front of us, to make sure that our path is connected with our deepest love.”

~ Jack Kornfield, “A Path with Heart: a guide through the perils and promises of spiritual life”

My own copy of this book is well-thumbed, with folded over pages and passages highlighted. I return to it again and again. If you stay with this path long enough, you will experience the highs and lows, the bliss and the disappointments, heartbreak and healing, rich periods of discovery and deserts void of a single drop of inspiration. Kornfield’s guidebook offers sage advice for every one of them.

Jack Kornfield trained as a Buddhist monk in Thailand, Burma and India, perhaps most notably with the Thai Forest master Venerable Ajahn Chan. The book opens with the story of his return in saffron robes to the United States in 1972. He waits for his sister in law at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door salon. All eyes are on the Westerner in the saffron robes. The moment is a turning point for him. He instantly realizes that if he can’t integrate what he’s learned into modern American life, its not going to work. This experience drove him to give up his ordination, and his work as a teacher continues to address the need for our spirituality to be relevant and real.

He is a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society, along with Sharon Salzman and Joseph Goldstein, and also the Spirit Rock Centre in Woodacre, CA. He has led international gatherings of Buddhist teachers of all traditions, including the Dalai  Lama. He holds a PhD. in clinical psychology, is a father and activist. There’s a good chance that the meme you just shared on Facebook with the lotus that says its the words of the Buddha are likely from Kornfield’s “Buddha’s Little Instruction Book”.

The book is laid out in a progression that matches the stages of going from zealous newbie, intermediate practitioner learning to integrate wisdom into life experience, and the hallmarks of a mature practitioner and human being. Each chapter ends with a meditation or exercise to explore the thoughts and ideas contained there in a hands on way.

Part 1 is titled “A Path with Heart: the fundamentals”. Before going anywhere near the nuts and bolts of meditation, he asks us to compassionately examine our own hearts and reflect on our most human motivation to practice. I often find it helpful to return to square one with these early chapters, to check the roots of my practice, and remind myself of what’s really most important.

Part 2 addresses “Perils and Promises”. How to turn difficulties into the fodder for our practice, dealing with recurring issues (he calls them “insistent visitors”), what to make of unleashed energy, or passing through the “Dark Night of the Soul”.

Part 3 is “Widening our Circle” – the running theme here is how we relate to the wider world through our spirituality. There are chapters on how to leave retreat or intense periods of practice and re-enter the world, and how to breakdown our ideas of boundaries between our “practice” and our “real life”. Kornfield explores how our sense of self come to bear in our relationship with others, and how to deepen our compassion. This section wisely addresses working with a teacher, as well as how psychotherapy may intersect with meditative approaches.

Kornfield does not shy away from the all-too common phenomena of breakdown in spiritual communities, including abuses of power, sex, money, drugs. As responsible practitioners, we must also turn the light of awareness on our own communities, to honestly evaluate both the good and the bad, recognize the shadow side of the particular sangha and practices we’ve chosen, and to examine how our own habits and behaviours may contribute to dysfunctional dynamics. The Insight Meditation Teachers Code of Ethics is included as an appendix. Most organizations only create such a document in hindsight out of painful necessity once problems have already occurred. Perhaps this code may be useful in helping other communities avoid such problems before they arise, or to individual students who are feeling unsure about the actions of their own teachers.

Part 4 brings us to “Spiritual Maturity”. In the final analysis, its not how many hours of meditation you’ve sat, or how long you spent in retreat or the number of mantras you’ve said. The real question is, how has your heart changed over time? Kornfield provides an outline of 10 qualities of spiritual maturity that we can all aspire to and cultivate, no matter where we are on the path. The final chapters eloquently ask how we bring our own contribution to the mystery of life, what Kornfield calls “The Great Song” and what it means to touch the intimacy of life moment to moment.

Throughout the book, Jack Kornfield weaves rich stories, anecdotes, poems and quotes from a wide range of wisdom traditions. It’s all presented with humility, humour, wisdom, and of course – heart. An indispensable handbook for life on the spiritual path, regardless of where yours takes you.

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Learn How to Meditate this Fall

photo (credit unkown) via Wikimedia

Curious about meditation but just don’t know where to start? Or what to do with yourself once you do? Or you tried it and fell off the wagon?

I discovered meditation years into my yoga practice. I began my home meditation practice rather secretively, in the early morning hours before my family was awake – partly for the quiet, partly because I was a bit afraid of what they might think or say. I didn’t quite know what to do with myself, but enjoyed the peaceful time and regularity of it. I started with just a few minutes a few times a week. Over time and with some good, solid instruction from experienced teachers, it became a daily practice that’s deepened, become a true pleasure rather than an obligation, and a foundation for wellness and happiness in my life.

I’m offering an introductory workshop at The Yoga Sanctuary Danforth twice this fall that will help to de-mystify the whole thing. You’ll leave with some simple techniques for use both on and off the meditation cushion (or yoga mat).  We’ll talk about the benefits, what meditation is and isn’t, how to fit it into your busy life and how to know if you’re making any progress.

Whether you want to learn to meditate or deepen your practice, you’ll find this workshop provides meditation methods that research suggests can do everything from lower your blood pressure to essentially rewiring your brain. You’ll learn practices for both “on” & “off” the mat that will reduce your stress levels, improve your concentration and increase your well-being.

This class demystifies meditation and shows how this ancient practice is easy and can successfully work into anyone’s busy life. You’ll leave the class after practicing several types of meditation and takeaway just the right practice for you. Curious? Or just want to enhance your practice? 
Join us for this practical and enjoyable workshop.

Pre-register here.

Learn How to Meditate

This workshop will be presented twice:

Sat Nov 21 from 9:30am-12 noon

Sat Dec 12 from 9:30am-12 noon

at The Yoga Sanctuary Danforth – 95 Danforth Ave, 3rd floor (at Broadview)

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Falling in Love with Your Breath

Wind and Wave, by Franz Stuck (1863-1928). Public domain via Wikimedia

 

What is your relationship to your breath? Something to contemplate…. on the yoga mat, on the meditation cushion, on the subway or in line at the grocery store.

To think of your breath as the Beloved – how would  you treat your Beloved? Would you restrict or obstruct it? Would you push it? Would you let it become ragged? Would you indulge one part of it but not another?

Or would you surrender to and enjoy each breath in all its fullness. With gentleness. With trust. With love.

 

“In Chan [Chinese Zen], you fall in love with the breath.

You think about the breath while you’re sitting, eating, and walking. After you finish your work, you think about the breath. The breath comes to your mind. You want to get close to the breath. There is a tenderness, sweetness, and intimacy that you want to share with the breath. You want to give your time to the breath; you want to give your whole self to the breath. You want to take care of the breath.

The breath, being your most loyal and loved one, will not desert you. It will not stop searching or looking for you when you are lost. It will find you; all you need to do is just be still.

When you cannot find the breath, you don’t get angry, in the same way that when you cannot find the person you love, you don’t get angry; you just keep thinking: Where is she? Similarly the breath, being your most loyal and loved one, will not desert you. It will not stop searching or looking for you when you are lost. It will find you; all you need to do is just be still, and it will come to you by your side.

Give yourself to the breath as if you are giving to the person you love. Give it your life. Your everything. Have this kind of intimacy, longing, and fondness for the breath. Forgive the breath when it becomes short and rough. Do not rise up in anger against it. Accept the breath as it is. Love and accept it.

Falling in love gives you energy. It is the same when you fall in love with your breath. You think about the breath when you wake up. You are enthusiastic. You have energy.

Falling in love with your breath is called the meditation of love. People sometimes think that in Buddhism love is something that is frowned upon and relationships are no good. This is because relationships necessarily involve attachment and grasping, and Buddhism often teaches us to detach.

Chan teaches us to love with no attachment. To care without imposing. To love in the way we love the breath.”

~ Chan Master Guo Jun, from “Essential Chan Buddhism: The Character and Spirit of Chinese Zen”

 

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Tibetan Heart Yoga now on the Danny

Hearts_on_a_window_sunset

photo credit: Thomas Guignard via Wikimedia

I’m bringing my favourite workshop to the neighborhood! I’m offering a 2 hour Tibetan Heart Yoga workshop at Ankh Yoga on Sunday Nov 29 from 1:30-3:30pm.

Merge your yoga with mindfulness and compassion to unlock your heart chakra. This yoga series from the lineage of the Dalai Lamas releases energetic knots surrounding the heart, to increase our warm-heartedness and dispel feelings of isolation. Using meditation, mantra, breath and asana, we’ll practice sending a loved one everything they need for true happiness – in turn, planting seeds for our own.

Includes an introduction to your subtle energetic body and its function that you can apply to any yoga you do. You’ll find familiar yoga poses in this series, as well as some unique to the Tibetan tradition. This is a compact practice that can be done in under 40 minutes – perfect for anyone looking for a simple, effective home practice. Suitable for all levels.

 

Tibetan Heart Yoga Workshop

Sun Nov 29 from 1:30-3:30pm

Ankh Yoga – 2017 Danforth Ave (at Woodbine)

$35.00+hst. Please note – pre-registration is required for this workshop. Sign up here.

 

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A new home for The Yoga Sanctuary College

tys college

“Any place that is holy is made so by the beings who visit or live there. A place becomes consecrated or hallowed ground by the practices, interactions and intentions of those who occupy the space. This feeling, also called Bhav in Sanskrit, can be felt in an external location but also can be brought with you wherever you go.” ~ Jivamukti Yoga teacher Jules Febre

This room – Studio 1, “the Big Room” at The Yoga Sanctuary College – is rich in Bhav. The polished floors and arching ceiling are infusued with the blood, sweat, tears, practice and prayers of thousands of yogis since sisters Cynthia Funk and Kimberley Sopinka opened its doors over 16 years ago.  Cynthia told me stories of preparing the room, how the men who laid the original floors (including Cathy Keenan’s father) continuously chanted Buddhist mantras during their work, filling the space with blessings.This week, the girls announced that TYS College will be moving this fall, due to major renovations at 2 College St. TYS College will move across the street to 1 Wood St, and regularly scheduled classes will continue.

The only constant is change.

tys dim

I will never forget the very first sun salutation I taught in this room. Hosting events with my own teachers Lama Marut and Sharon Gannon. Chanting and rose petals during my teacher training. Partner yoga with my husband, when he did his first ever headstand. Sweet kirtan with Dave Stringer.

The room is full of the presence of so many of my teachers. All the wonderful TYS faculty. All my fellow YTTers in my teacher training, who shared their questions and insights and bodies and let me clumsily manhandle them in adjustments. But none more than those who have posed as “students” in the classes I’ve taught there.

tys window

“When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may just be the beginning of a great adventure.”  ~ Pema Chodron

We’ve got one more Moon Yoga class at 2 College St on Mon Oct 26 at 8:45pm – I hope you’ll come and enjoy the space while we’re still there. Starting in November, we have a beautiful opportunity to take our Bhav with us and infuse a new home with all our sincere practice and good intentions. Please see below for a message from TYS co-owners Cynthia and Kimberley on the move, and stay tuned here for more updates. Join me and the rest of the TYS family at the beginning of a great adventure….

TYS Hogwarts

Dear Yoga Sanctuary Students,

We are happy to announce that our College St. studio is moving to a new space. It has been our pleasure to have built our beautiful yoga community in our current 2 College St. location. It has become a second home for many of you, as well as some of our teachers and staff, and we will cherish the memories that we have created together in this unique architectural gem over the past 16 years.

You may ask why?… This past summer we were informed of imminent renovations to 2 College St. These will be rather extensive and we will therefore need to vacate for the work to be done.  Our new location is going to be 1 Wood Street. The entrance to the new location is on the south side of Wood St. (Wood and Yonge) across from the Second Cup at the Marriott.

Our new studio space has high ceilings in both practice studios, and better yet, dedicated heating and air conditioning! We have exciting plans for this location and look forward to welcoming you all there.  We have a tentative move-in date at Wood St for the first week of November.

You will be able to enjoy the same great classes you have come to know and love in our new space. Our current schedule will remain the same.

Stay tuned for more details!

Lots of love!
Kimberley and Cynthia
The Yoga Sanctuary Owners

 

 

 

 

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