Sunday, February 25, 2018

Lost Burberry playlist traffic meltdown

I recently suffered an unexpected break up. It felt like I had lost a limb, it was so sudden... I ran to catch the bus one afternoon, and the next thing I knew, they were gone. My Burberry sunglasses had slipped out of my pocket, and probably landed somewhere along the sidewalk. By the time I noticed, it was too late.

We'd been together for almost a decade, through much sunny weather, and those weirdly bright overcast days when wearing shades puts you in the category of annoying hipster trying too hard to be cool but you don't care because squinting causes wrinkles, or so you've heard. 

My Burberrys had been incessantly dropped, scratched and even forgotten overnight in a yoga studio, but we were always reunited, until recently. I was like a lost puppy looking for its home, forced to wear my cheap aviator knock-off "back-up" pair of shades. I've morphed from classy Audrey Hepburn look-alike to trashy Abercrombie and Fitch walking advertisement (from the neck up only - I'm not a pre-pubescent tween girl after all).

Goodbye super cool awesome shades. I'll never look this good again.
Prior to this trauma, I had a full-blown technology-related breakdown at that ill-fated bus stop (I'm beginning to think it's cursed). I had recently been trying to free up memory on my ancient iPhone 6, when I came across a suggestion online that said all I had to do was sign out of my Apple ID account and then sign back in. So I did that. And it worked. And I was elated. Until I got to that damned bus stop on my way to teach a yoga class and pulled up my playlists to pick one out for my upcoming class.

OH MY F*CKING GOD WHERE ARE ALL MY PLAYLISTS!!!! They had disappeared. I spend more time on my class playlists than on personal hygiene so I completely lost my shit. Once I managed to somewhat compose myself, I figured there must be a way to fix this. So I went to Settings, then to Music, and realized that my little sign out / sign in trick had turned off "show playlists on all devices". So I turned it back on. My playlists came back, and I wallowed in shame at my total and complete slavery to technology.

Following my Apple aneurysm at said cursed bus stop, the bus arrives, I get on, and then quickly realize we're stuck in an unusual traffic jam. I have less than an hour to get to the yoga studio, where I'm expected to be teaching a class. It's rush hour and I realize the situation is reaching a critical point so I get up and go ask the bus driver if there's any chance we'll be across town in about 20 minutes. His look said it all: "Not a chance in hell." We're still fairly close to my house, where the car is sitting in the garage. I have a decision to make. I get off the bus, run to my house, cursing all the way there, jump in my car and pray there's no traffic on my secret "back route" which usually takes at least 20-30 minutes. I have about 20 left, and I'm desperately trying not to behave like a race car driver on crack.

Miraculously, I arrived at the studio three minutes before the start of my class, completely stressed and out of breath but I had my playlists, so life as I knew it could go on.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

From Obsequious Omnivore to Vivacious Vegan

A couple years ago, my stepdaughter became a vegan. On a weekend ski vacation, she hinted that her father and I should try it too. We politely scoffed, both convinced that it was a great choice, for other people. We were happy omnivores. I was also still working for the animal agriculture industry at that time, convinced that we were doing all we could to minimize animal suffering.

About a year and a half later, I was fired, so I had a lot of time on my hands, and I was also freed from the karmic handcuffs of animal farming. I engaged in what my partner and I call "Netflix research" which basically consists of watching a shitload of documentaries on one particular subject (because Netflix breeds obsession) and afterwards declaring oneself an "expert" on said subject. In this case, the subject was, in a nutshell, how to stay alive, without getting fat or sick or precipitating an already near planetary apocalypse by contributing to the raping and pillaging of the planet.

I could feel my love of greasy bacon slipping away, to be replaced by what can only be described as a "social conscience". Also, there seems to be a lot of evidence that meat and dairy are crappy for humans (I'm an expert now). I know, I know, who to believe? They told us eggs were the root of all evil, and if we continued to eat them our cholesterol levels would rise faster than a hooker's skirt on payday. Then sugar was bad, until the sugar lobbyists pointed the finger at dietary fat. Then gluten was deemed the poison du jour, and all things wheat became public enemy numero uno. So who's telling the truth?

I guess what really got to me was: a) the not dying part, and b) my ardent anthropomorphizing of animals. Call it an epiphany or the result of reading too much Deepak Chopra, but I can't eat anything anymore that had a face, and parents. So, my research was then transferred from Netflix to Google. If I'm going to attempt veganism, how the hell do I go about it? I barely know my way around a kitchen. Perfecting the balance between butter, cream and a powdery pouch of Kraft cheese was, up to that point, my greatest culinary achievement.

(FYI, this is not an endorsement. I was not paid to write this, although I could use the cash. Just sayin'.) I stumbled upon the Forks Over Knives meal planner online. Aha! How to eat vegan, for Dummies. There is also an associated documentary which, of course, I watched on Netflix, prior to finding their handy meal planner. I thought to myself: "With this kind of guidance, I might actually be able to do this."

My boyfriend was working in Europe at the time and I asked him if, upon his return, he would mind if we tried veganism, on the condition that I would take charge of all our meals. He quickly agreed, if only to be relieved of almost exclusive responsibility for our meals up to that point, and also doubting this would last more than a couple weeks, so why put up a fight?

It's been about three and a half months, and I've stuck with it so far. I've set off our smoke alarm at least twice trying to roast vegetables in the oven, and I recently made guacamole so salty, I broke out into a sweat as I ate it. I bought an eggplant for the first time in my life, and can now say "nutritional yeast" without laughing. I poop every day, I can make a pretty decent smoothie (when I follow a recipe and don't freestyle it) and I haven't burned our house down yet. What more can a girl ask for?

Thursday, January 4, 2018

A divided self, a divided world

If asked what characterizes the current state of our world, the first word that comes to mind is division: us vs. them; right vs. wrong; winners and losers; black and white. This is a very simplistic way of viewing things, when one considers that there is far more grey than black and white. Not everything can be defined, cut into neat little pieces for easy consumption, or be easily understood.

It's simple to lash out and blame all our current ills on Trump, Putin, rapacious corporations, the media, etc., etc... If we are to even begin bridging the gaps, we need to look at the divisions within ourselves, at how we so easily compartmentalize without asking the big questions.

We sit back and proclaim that climate change should be addressed but we're unwilling to change our lifestyles. We bemoan cruelty to animals but continue eating meat because we're so far removed from its source that all we see is the neat little package in the grocery store without asking ourselves where it came from, how the animal was raised and how it died.

We are masters at lying to ourselves, at ignoring those dark corners we wish didn't exist, at whitewashing pain, ugliness and struggle, at extracting with surgical precision those parts of ourselves that don't fit into the current accepted narrative. If we are at war with ourselves, how can we possibly begin to bring peace to a fractured world when it is simply a reflection of our inner state?

We are not separate from anyone or anything. We are each other's caretakers and keepers of our environment, and other sentient beings with whom we share this planet. We are failing miserably on both counts.

As Gandhi proclaimed: "Be the change you want to see in the world." The only place to start is with ourselves. Can we quiet the constant stream of mental noise and distraction that only allows us to skim the surface of things? Can we summon the courage to delve deeper, get acquainted with our soft underbelly and befriend it? Can we find out where our fear resides and try to release it? Can we be brave enough to be still and listen?

Every choice we make matters. Wouldn't it be better if those choices were conscious ones?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Unlocking our POWERful potential

This past July, internationally-renowned yoga teacher Bryan Kest was in Ottawa giving a weekend of master classes. If you're wondering who that is, along with being credited for its creation, he coined the term "Power Yoga". Ironically, he mentioned to us that he was open to suggestions for a new name to replace "Power Yoga" since he felt the term was perceived as intimidating.

I tend to agree. I practice and teach this type of yoga, which can also be classified as a vigorous type of "Flow Yoga" but as soon as you throw in the word "Power", people wince and retreat in terror. I'm beginning to think that, intrinsically, we don't like to be challenged. We avoid stepping out of our comfort zone. We stick with what we know, and what we think we're capable of. Problem is, we're always capable of so much more than we think we are. But we'll never find out if we don't step beyond our perceived limitations.

I'm the first to admit I'm lazy. My default setting is sloth - exerting the least amount of effort most of the time. I have to consciously fight against this tendency. Sometimes, sloth is totally appropriate and called for; yin and yang. But my yin gets greedy and wants all the attention. However, when I do work actively against my laziness and commit to an active, empowering yang practice, afterwards I can feel every inch of my body teeming with something I can only describe as "aliveness".

It's not always a pleasant experience. I usually feel bitter when I'm being challenged. Of course, the other side of that coin is that afterwards, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment for not having walked away from something that reminded me of my own strength and resilience, and left me feeling like a million bucks.

Kest also reminds us that we should approach this type of yoga practice with moderation. Sure, it can be challenging but we don't have to go crazy. It's possible to find a balance between effort and ease when we tell our ego to take a hike and release any notions of physical or athletic "performance". What it truly comes down to is a steady breath and being present. Can we allow ourselves to feel challenged yet remain calm? Imagine how effectively we could deal with our daily lives off the mat if we simply mastered that.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Song Without Music

Me: "You know how much I love spending time in the kitchen." Boyfriend: "With a phone and a take out menu."

Now that I've kicked off this post with the requisite witty humour, I can turn to other insignificant things, such as my playwriting. The idea recently flashed in my brain of sharing some of that writing here on my blog, kind of like a story in serial installments. I mean, why not?

A few months back, I began very preliminary work on a musical; the writing part, that is. I'm not sure where that project is headed but I wrote my first ever song lyrics. It's not exactly an uplifting ballad as I was exorcising some demons at the time but I think it could be a catchy tune. I call it: " A Song Without Music". 

Good morning, good morning 
You're my wife, short of a ring
You're my mother, only better
You're my daughter, don't run for cover

Good morning, good morning
Under my thumb, blessed underling
It's the only way I know, the only love I can show
Look pretty, don't think. Hint at desire, leave me on the brink

Good morning, good morning
Your submission is a sacred thing
It's your calling, weaker sex
You've got no strength, no muscle to flex

Good morning, good morning
I'm the master and you the slave adoring
My psychic steel rod violating your space
Hunting you down, because I need the chase

Good morning, good morning
Come to me and say good morning
Good morning, good morning
Bend the knee and say good morning 

Stay tuned for my next creative writing installment. I think I'll go with a comedy next time.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Stereotype cancer - an insidious disease

Yesterday, I found out that a beloved figure in the yoga world, Michael Stone, had passed away, following a lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder, a struggle he kept mostly silent and hidden. Shock rang through an international yoga community at the sudden death of one of its own. The tragedy of his passing seems all the more bitter at the thought of his internal struggle with demons largely out of his control.

It also reveals a soft underbelly of the yogic community: an expectation or preconceived notion that yoga teachers have their shit together; that they easily rise above it all and are able to remain in a continual state of zen-like balance. They're vegetarians or vegans, don't drink or swear and lead a squeaky-clean life. These stereotypes are also propagated, ad nauseum, by popular media and frankly, are reductionist and far off the mark of what yoga and meditation are all about.

But yoga is not the only victim of stereotypes. They are widespread and pervasive, and they are harmful. In my former job, every morning when I stepped into the office, I felt like I had entered Stepford suburbia, and if I didn't conform to some incredibly narrow-minded idea, imposed by others, of who I should be: a happy, smiling, pleasant, social and above all, easily acquiescing female, I paid the price, either with social isolation or eventually, in my case, dismissal.

Stereotypes are an insidious cancer that refuse to recognize the full depth and breadth of each individual, and leave no space for variety, vulnerabilities and flaws - the very things that, if brought to light and shared with one another, actually draw us together and create community.

It is a terrible tragedy that Michael Stone felt compelled to remain silent about his mental health issues, but it is a silence I fully understand. I grappled for more than a decade with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder in complete silence. I couldn't bring myself to tell my family physician I was suffering these strange symptoms that were not physical. I felt I couldn't tell my parents or my friends. Only when I was living on my own and the symptoms progressively worsening, did I finally seek help because I could see the downward spiral awaiting me if I continued to do nothing.

It was one of the best decisions of my life. I sought treatment and am completely open about it now. I've managed to let go of the shame I used to feel about it, and I'm fully aware that I'm not alone. However, there remains a stronghold of shame and misunderstanding around mental illness, one that needs to be removed, so those who are suffering can rise to the surface, come into the light, and seek the help and support they need.

As a yoga teacher myself, my students should know that I am not perfect. I have shitty days. I struggle. I make bad decisions. I eat meat. I drink alcohol. I use swear words, sometimes profusely, but that takes nothing away from my passion for yoga and devotion to sharing it with as many people as I can. We need to allow space for people to be who they are, and release these rigid ideas of who we think we should be. All we need to be is ourselves.

Monday, May 22, 2017

A letter to the ladies...

For the past five months, I've been a teaching assistant for a 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training program. Yesterday was graduation day, and marked the end of the journey. This group of 22 students was special indeed, being made up entirely of women. And it is to those strong, fierce, incredible ladies that I write this entry.

As we began our journey together, five months ago, I was also at the beginning of a new existence. Due to an enduring personality conflict with my boss, on November 7, 2016, I was dismissed from my job. I had been working there for 14 years, and suddenly, the life I knew was gone.

I remember coming home on that November morning, after the deed was done; a beautiful, sunny, unseasonably warm day, feeling a mix of shock and euphoria, because, on the one hand, that job was my security blanket. It paid very well and had great benefits. On the other hand, I had been in abject misery for years.

I felt a lot of shame over being fired. Even though I was unhappy and the work was unfulfilling, it was still a stinging rejection and a public embarrassment. I had been unceremoniously kicked off the island.

Shortly thereafter, I remembered having read about an opportunity to apply for a position as a teaching assistant for PranaShanti's upcoming 200-hour Hatha Yoga teacher training. The first time I had seen it, my interest was immediately piqued. However, I was still employed at the time and figured I couldn't swing it, what with the day job and an upcoming theatre production in February 2017. I guess the Universe had other plans.

One of the first things I did following my dismissal was apply for that teaching assistant position. I felt like I had been given a once in a lifetime opportunity to pursue what I really wanted in life; to shed the doubt, move fearlessly toward my dreams, and delve into teaching yoga full-time. I was absolutely thrilled when I learned I had obtained one of two spots to assist with the teacher training program.

Over the next five months, I sat in awe, listening to you share your stories, your fears, your struggles, your vulnerabilities, and watching as you stepped into the unknown, spread your wings, and soared. It was a reminder to me, and one that I desperately needed, that I wasn't alone and that I didn't need to be perfect to be loved.

Your courage, determination and sass have helped put me back together after feeling shattered and lost. This blue string now wrapped around my left wrist is a welcome reminder of the best herd of cats I've ever hung out with.

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