Saturday, October 29, 2016

What Yoga Means to Me

A couple of months ago my colleague Jody asked me to write a short article on what yoga means to me, so I have been thinking about it for a while. Life is so busy lately that I can only write it in the back of my mind, but the idea has been percolating. After teaching yoga for almost twenty years it has turned into such a part of my work and social life that it becomes a bit like water to a goldfish. I am surrounded by yoga so much so that meaning is definitely there, all encompassing but hard to articulate. It would be an easier question to answer during the honey moon phase of falling in love with yoga, but yoga and I have been married for a long time. What yoga means to me, hmnnnn. Let me think about that.

Yoga has meaning on so many levels. My conceptual mind quickly kicks in with lots of answers about the spiritual meaning of yoga. Yoga means joining daily life and spirituality, it's about delving into experience with awareness and training the mind to come into rest in present reality so that the illusions of some other life cease to exist. One comes alive in the present and the dissatisfaction of seeking something that is somewhere other or happening at some other time falls away. You discover peace and contentment within, in this human body right now. And so on. My mind likes to follow those kinds of thoughts. But really that is a bunch of recycled analysis and reflection from the honey moon era. In reality I think that is only part of it. I do like to engage in that kind of dialog and I think those thoughts have merit but now I think that is actually a bit superficial, or one-sided. It only paints a positive picture about "yoga reality". When we try to paint only a positive picture, our vision is actually a bit narrow, and I would say, not even very compassionate.

The part that is missing from the idealization of the yoga or human experience is the more vulnerable side. When I was in love with yoga and it's wonderful ways, I had yet to come to terms with the areas of my own insecurity that I was using yoga to avoid. In the long run I have had to struggle and suffer after the yoga-love vibe wore off and find a way of practicing that supported me in deeper ways. After losing my mother suddenly and developing PTSD my idealized experience with yoga spiraled down and disappeared as quickly as it takes to flush something down the toilet. Yoga can make you feel high which is pleasant and I'm still a fan of the yoga-bliss that comes from a cathartic practice, or a heart warming group class, however yoga is also a great friend when you are down. Yoga is not just a fair-weather friend. Sometimes people get discouraged after life throws them a curve ball or shit-storm and they think that perhaps that yoga thing was not really that much help after all because it didn't save them from feeling discomfort.

What I have noticed in the long run that yoga is there waiting for you, like a friend that will patiently wait for you to go through your stuff and when you are ready, the awareness that you had developed before is still there ready to listen. If you can let go of some of the superficial goals like having a perfect yoga pose, you will find that you can apply your awareness to your pain and discomfort, and with patience in meditation practice, or postures, you can use the tools of yoga to help you heal and ride the waves of experience whatever they are, happy, neutral or sad. Like some friends that stick with you, sometimes you get angry with them, you might even abandon them for a while out of disappointment or frustration. Yet the truth is that life contains joy and pain and the in-between. True friends stick with you through all of that. Yoga was there for me through all of that and my yoga practice has become like a true friend to me, a genuine spiritual friend that I can trust. This is what yoga has come to mean to me. Thank you Jody, for asking, I have been hanging out with yoga and maybe taking this trusted friend for granted!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Mindful Eating by Coleen Nolan

What is Mindful Eating? Mindful eating is a way of eating that connects us with hunger and fullness cues (physical and other types of hunger), allowing us to choose foods for their satisfaction and nutritional value, while cultivating flexibility, curiosity and self-acceptance. This lifestyle choice is based on living mindfully.

One definition of mindfulness is: “a cognitive state marked by stable attention (awareness), that disengages habitual reactions, allowing inner wisdom to emerge.” More simply, being mindful means being in the present moment, without judgement. Paying attention to what we are doing while we’re doing it allows us to notice what’s going on inside (thoughts, emotions, physical hunger, fullness, etc.). This is also known as ‘inner wisdom.’ Knowledge of what foods nourish us best, healthy portion sizes, etc. helps to develop our ‘outer wisdom.’

Practicing mindful eating employs inner and outer wisdom to help us re-discover a healthy and joyful relationship with food and eating. Unfortunately, our natural tendency, as humans, is to prefer high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt foods. When this is coupled with an instinct to eat beyond physical hunger, ignoring our natural internal hunger cues, we often find ourselves overeating mindlessly.

Resources: The Centre For Mindful Eating is an excellent resource for mindful eating enthusiasts. They offer free teleconferences, articles, and workshops.

For local, live sessions on mindful eating in the Halifax, NS area, contact me at: coleen.innerpeas@gmail.com or by phone: 902.222.9485

Coleen Nolan, MSc, PDt, CYI is a Halifax-based registered dietitian and yoga teacher. She is available to meet with individuals or groups, and is based out of the Therapeutic Approach Health Centre in Halifax. http://www.halifaxhealth.ca

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Fresh Coffee and Broken Glass

What do you like? What makes you happy? It's different for everyone. I love a fresh cup of coffee. I appreciate the aroma, the process of making it or receiving it. I was just served one at Freeman's here on Quinpool Road. Yes, it is a temporary enjoyment. Something I can see, feel, touch, taste, smell, and perceive it with my mind. I have missed some cups of coffee, where I was lost in thought or I was just drinking the idea of a cup of coffee and I was too rushed to appreciate the actual experience. So today I practice mindfulness of coffee, and mindfulness of life. Life is short, may as well appreciate it.

Yet, the next thought that my mind churns out is about loss. I think the hope of getting something "good" arises with the psychological shadow of fear, in this case the fear of dropping the clear glass cup. A thought yes, but something we can make use of too. It's possible to just let go of that thought when I see it. Yet if I were to drop the cup, and see broken glass going everywhere, I would also be able to practice compassion. No one wants to drop a cup of coffee and deal with wet broken glass. So may I be free of such suffering, real or imagined, and may all beings also be free of it, and free of hope and fear.

And with that I am signing off and getting back to this  .... cold  ... cup of coffee ;).



Tuesday, April 24, 2012

One Breath at a Time ~ Poem by Tomomi Kojima

One breath at a time
I hold onto a glimpse of everything in this world
All the smell, all the tastes, all the touch
Wetness of fog
How oddly green the grass looks
Sound of the air
Roughness of rocks

Because my time is limited
I may have another day, or another moment.
I don’t know how long it lasts

When I feel how hard and lonely this journey is
I remember we are all on our little boats
Dimly lit by our little lamp
We can only see a foot ahead
But I see many dimly lit boats a foot around me

We’re all heading towards the same direction
But we don’t know where it’s heading

All I know is that we need to keep rowing
Because we need to keep growing

This world, they say it’s an illusion
Maybe it is, maybe it ain’t

But I can feel content either way if I know this moment is all I’ve got
I’ve decided to live with this totally raw way of living
One breath at a time
Until my breath runs out.



Tomomi Kojima is a registered yoga teacher and poet. See her website to
find out more about Tomomi:
www.tomomi.ca

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Triggering Mindfulness

...Part 2 in a series on Meditation, Yoga and Triggers. See #1 here.


Sometimes we get triggered by something that sends us into an emotional upheaval of anger, passion, fear or any other conflicting emotion. You might be in a yoga pose that taps into some buried memories that are stored in the body and you have an emotional release, or you are in a grocery store line-up someone says or does something that triggers a reaction of anger. You can probably think of some of your own personal examples. It's good to have compassion for ourselves and others when these things happen because we are all vulnerable to being triggered by situations and memories. There are many teachings on the mind of compassion that help us take advantage of these experiences and make use of them. Yet, this in only half of the picture.

"...we are all vulnerable to being triggered by situations and memories. There are many teachings on the mind of compassion that help us take advantage of these experiences and make use of them. Yet, this in only half of the picture."
The other side of this picture has to do with the positive qualities of mind and the deeper capacity we have for mindfulness and awareness. As human beings we have many positive potentials that can be triggered besides our memories and habitual tendencies. Some of these positive potentials can be triggered suddenly and to develop them we must apply ourselves, to recognize them and stabilize our ability tap into their presence.



For example, an intense experience that triggers our anger or passion can equally trigger our mindfulness, awareness and compassion. When someone we are attached to moves away, or dies, then this experience of loss can awaken us to our vulnerability and also to our deeper potentials of love, compassion and wisdom. When we discover that we can be mindful and aware in the moment, through meditation, then we also discover that we can be mindful and aware in daily life with positive, neutral and also negative experiences. Rather than reacting unconsciously to situations, we can tap into our awareness and see our reactions clearly. When this happens, then our experience becomes an opportunity for waking up rather than another painful reaction that feeds into itself and causes further suffering.

Yes, we can have many reactions to life, people and situations that throw up a lot of negative emotions. Its important to realize too, that we can also trigger our deeper strengths. If we are habituated to thinking negatively, then we may need to do a little bit of "self-hypnosis" in order to look at things differently and see what we may have been missing. Simply studying about mind and practicing meditation can be helpful. In practice we can look at triggers as something that can go either way, and that we are the ones who are in control of how it plays out. Is our trigger going to trigger a defensive reaction of anger or is it going to arise as an opportunity for us to see more clearly and to better understand ourselves? The choice is up to us, especially once you have the skills and knowledge about how to do so. This requires both study and sitting meditation. We need to know how mind works and how to tap into its potential and then we can actually do it.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Mindfulness for Goofballs Most Popular Post 2010-11

Hi,

I am re-posting this article as it was the most viewed post over the past year.
Interested that Mindfulness for Goofballs was #1. There must be a lot
of goofballs interested in meditation out there!


http://amindfulnessblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/mindfulness-for-goofballs.html

Cheers,

Mike Munro

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Shopping in Yoga Class ~ Before Zen I think about food, After Zen I think about Food.

Before I started meditation practice I would think about all sorts of things I had to do. My mind would wander about what to do next, what groceries to get, who to see, what party to go to etc.


Then I was introduced to meditation and yoga. I was given a practice for letting go of thoughts and focusing my mind on the present. When sitting in meditation or doing a yoga pose one brings one's attention to the present. It is quite a blissful experience to fully arrive in the present you know. I often tell yoga students to leave their shopping lists at the door in their coat pockets. The "to do" lists and expectations can be put on hold until after practice. This is generally a good practice for any contemplative art. There is however, a serious potential pitfall. 

The pitfall has to do with perfectionism and taking sides against thoughts. While we direct our attention to the present, it does not have to mean that suddenly we are against thoughts. The grocery list may still come up in your mind while practicing. A mistake people make is to then judge themselves as "bad meditators" or "bad yogis" just because they shopping list arises in their minds. The practice is not to shut off and shut down the mind. The practice is to allow the space for the thought to arise, to see it and also let it go. If that is allowed to happen then there is no judgment necessary. It takes relaxation.

I know this because I have been through it myself. When I started meditation I thought about groceries. Then I tried to suppress the thoughts of groceries in search of a better experience. There had to be some better experience more spiritual than thinking about groceries right? That became stressful. So now I let the thought come up, and let it go. It's not about not having the thought, but letting it arise and letting it go. It seems that it can be included.

So what has changed since I started this practice 20 years ago? I still think about what I have to do, what to get at the store. Maybe its just that I am content either way. I found myself thinking about what groceries to get at the store yesterday in class and giggled. With relaxation comes a sense of humor. If you are trying to make it "perfect" chances are you will find yourself way too upset about something that is just an ordinary thing.