Category Archives: Yoga

Taking the One Seat: alignment for meditation

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So you’ve decided that meditation is a great idea, you’ve committed to the time (starting with just 3 minutes a day is great). You are so stoked.

But one of the first hurdles that most of us face is our own body. Aching knees, a tired back, cranky ankles. How to find a comfortable position that we can maintain for the duration of our session, so that the body doesn’t become a distraction? How should I sit? Full lotus? Half lotus? How about “no lotus”? 

yoga-2095502_1920.jpgTaking the One Seat: alignment for meditation is a workshop where I’ll share some of the many options available for your practice – sitting on the floor, on a chair, lying down, using props and more. There are so many more choices open to you. Knowing how to use your body in a variety of positions and settings also means that you can drop into your meditation anytime, anywhere – at home, at the studio, in your office, while travelling and more.

We’ll figure out how what we do with our body affects our state of mind. Explore your sense of alignment from the inside out, inside of fitting your body into a prescribed shape. Then – take that new unique and personal sense of alignment off your meditation seat and into your yoga practice.

Taking the One Seat: alignment for meditation

Sat April 15 from 9am-11am

at The Yoga Sanctuary Danforth – 95 Danforth Ave (at Broadview)

$30+hst. Pre-register here.

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Filed under Buddhism, Classes, Dharma, Events & Workshops, Meditation, The Yoga Sanctuary, Uncategorized, Yoga

Getting grounded after deep practice

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This weekend I was blessed to enjoy deep and powerful healing, sharing and ritual with some equally deep and powerful women. One of those gatherings that you didn’t realize how much you needed until afterwards. I’m so grateful that all the causes and conditions lined up for it to happen, and for what each and every woman in the room brought to it. I’m savouring the afterglow, and know that I’ll be moving into the lessons it offered for a very long time to come.

I’m also feeling wiped out from the experience. In the best possible way. But feeling a little tender and raw. I’m craving some stillness and quietude to get back into balance. To integrate where I’ve been. To become grounded.

Sometimes our practice goes deeper than we’re used to, or quite ready for, taking us out of our comfort zones. It can release and stir up powerful energy in our bodies, heart and minds. Our nervous systems are thrown for a loop. With practice, we learn how to stabilize those energies and work with them. With deep listening, we become more familiar with ourselves, and learn what best supports us and what’s not so helpful.

In yoga we use the Sanskrit word prana to refer to this inner energy. The Chinese call it chi, or qi. You could think of it as life force, or inner energy.

The Tibetans call it lung, or wind. The word lung (sounds like “loong”) can also refer to lots of other things – a direct spoken transmission from a teacher (because it comes on their breath), or the breath itself.

They often use the word lung to refer to an imbalance of energy in the body, or a “wind disorder”. Your lung or prana is all stirred up or stuck or just not flowing well. It is quite literally dis-ease. When you experience lung it can show up in an infinite variety of symptoms. Problems with sleep or digestion. Mood swings. Headaches. Skin issues. Spaciness. Sluggishness. How lung shows up is as individual as we are. It could feel like a hangover. Or it could feel like 3 cups of espresso racing through you. You never quite know. The effects may present themselves physically, emotionally or mentally.

Remember how when you took your first yoga classes, you always went home in tears? Or angry? That’s lung. The practice of yoga opens up the channels that the prana travels through, obstructed energy is released – just like opening up the kinks in a garden hose. But until we’ve gained some stability in our practice, our nervous systems are not quite sure how to integrate the new energy that has been made available.

Following a period of deep or intense practice, take some time to check in with yourself and see if you may be experiencing lung. Lung doesn’t just follow periods of meditation, retreat or yoga. You might be experiencing it after an emotional family visit, travelling, caregiving for the birthing or dying, a lengthy speaking or teaching engagement, or a funeral.

The number one message of lung is this. Don’t push.

Listen deeply for what you need in your body, energy, heart and mind. Then, honour that. Be mindful that you are always changing – what worked last week might not be what you need today. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error, and that’s all part of the learning process. Systems such as ayurveda or traditional Chinese medicine which respect our energetic health and constitutions can be particularly helpful. But there are are also many ways you can ground yourself and provide some immediate self-care. Here are some to try:

  • Get offline. Need I say more? Reduce sensory stimulation. Put the phone down, shut down the laptop, skip the news. Give your nervous system a break.
  • Get wet. Water is so healing, inside and out. Keep yourself well-hydrated with lots of room-temperature water. Aim for at least 2 litres a day. Minimize your intake of dehydrating coffees and teas. Enjoy a warm bath or shower before bed.
  • Get oily. Adding some oil – inside and out – can also help ground you. Use a body oil after your bath or shower. Traditional ayurveda recommends natural sesame oil (not toasted) or sweet almond oil. At bare minimum, one of the best things you can do to combat lung is to put some oil or lotion on your feet at bedtime, and then cover them with socks. Choose high fat foods like nuts, nut butters or avocados, or drizzle some extra extra virgin olive oil or sesame oil on your food. Sometimes indulging in some greasy – yes, that’s right, I said greasy – food is sometimes just the ticket, especially if you usually eat a light and healthy diet with lots of fruits and veggies.
  • Get moving.  Do something to bring you back into your body. Enjoy a gentle yoga practice, a walk, dancing in your kitchen. The operative word here is “gentle”. Go for a massage, or give yourself a foot rub.
  • Get outside. Enjoy the healing energy of the great outdoors, surrounding yourself with trees or walking by a body of water. Even if you’re stuck in the city you can always look up. Gazing at the sky is a great remedy for lung.
  • Get heavy. Add an extra blanket at bedtime. Put your meditation cushion on your feet while you sit. Or add some gentle weight on your belly during svasana. Sometimes adding some weight on our body helps remind us to let go.
  • Get grounded. Literally.  Put your hands in the dirt and get gardening. Or simply lie down on the floor, or better yet the earth.

For a more in-depth exploration of lung and meditation practice – what it is, its prevention and remedy – check out this article by Tibetan Buddhist nun Venerable Lhundrup Nyinje.

Lung: the Meditator’s Disease

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Creating peace

hugging earth

The headlines and internet these days are heartbreaking. Refugees, racial violence, corporate corruption, poverty, degradation of the natural world.  Many have reacted to recent events with fear, disguised as anger and rage. Even so many people I know who have directed their lives towards compassionate action seem to feel despair and have weary hearts.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama said last week that we can’t just pray these problems away – we humans created these problems, so its up to us to solve them. But I do believe that our yoga practice has a place as part, though not the whole, of the solution. After all, peace begins at home. The first step to creating peace in our homes, communities, countries and world is cultivating more peace within our own hearts and minds.

Right now feels like a perfect moment for the Tibetan Heart Yoga practice. This unique series, from the lineage of the Dalai Lamas, merges our physical yoga asana with mindfulness and compassion to unlock our heart chakras, releasing the energetic knots there, dispelling feelings of separation and increasing our warm-heartedness. 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.

I’m happy to be offering Tibetan Heart Yoga this Sun Nov 29 at Ankh Yoga on the Danforth, from 1:30-3:30pm.

The workshop will also include 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.

With a very specific mental application while moving through the poses, we can direct this practice to an individual or whole groups of beings. Who will you do your practice for?…

they set my aunts house on fire
i cried the way women on tv do
folding at the middle
like a five pound note.
i called the boy who used to love me
tried to ‘okay’ my voice
i said hello
he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?

i’ve been praying,
and these are what my prayers look like;
dear god
i come from two countries
one is thirsty
the other is on fire
both need water.

 later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere”
~ Warsan Shire

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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Filed under Ankh Yoga, Buddhism, Dharma, Events & Workshops, Meditation, Tibetan Heart Yoga, Tong Len, Yoga

Today I Rise

A dear Dharma sister sent this stunning video to me today. It is so perfect for this moment, as we emerge out of this potent new moon. I hope that it touches your heart and inspires you as much as it did me.

Despite an online search, I haven’t been able to track down the individual(s) who created it. Perhaps it is simply a gift from the dakinis and angels.

How will you rise? Now is the time. Now is your time.

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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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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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