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Monthly Archives: July 2012

Dive in!

Photo: Bryonie Wise

“Promise me you will not spend so much time treading water and trying to keep your head above the waves that you forget, truly forget, how much you have always loved to swim.”

~ Tyler Knott Gregson

The Remover of Obstacles

Print by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw

“The son of Shiva and Parvati, Ganesha has an elephantine countenance with a curved trunk and big ears and a huge pot-bellied body of a human being. He is the Lord of success and destroyer of evils and obstacles. He is also worshipped as the god of education, knowledge, wisdom and wealth. In fact, Ganesha is one of the five prime Hindu deities (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and Durga being the other four) whose idolatry is glorified as the panchayatana puja.

Ganesha’s head symbolizes the Atman or the soul, which is the ultimate supreme reality of human existence and his human body signifies Maya or the earthly existence of human beings. The elephant head denotes wisdom and its trunk represents Om, the sound symbol of cosmic reality. In his upper right hand, Ganesha holds a goad, which helps him propel mankind forward on the eternal path and remove obstacles from the way. The noose in Ganesha’s left hand is a gentle implement to capture all difficulties.

The broken tusk that Ganesha holds like a pen in his lower right hand is a symbol of sacrifice, which he broke for writing the Mahabharata. The rosary in his other hand suggests that the pursuit of knowledge should be continuous. The laddu (sweet) he holds in his trunk indicates that one must discover the sweetness of the Atman. His fan-like ears convey that he is all ears to our petition. The snake that runs round his waist represents energy in all forms. And he is humble enough to ride the lowest of creatures, a mouse.”

~ Courtesy of


The Discomfort of Evolution: Yamas, Niyamas…and Arugula.

Photo: Flickr/timlewisnm

I experienced an intense epiphany this morning at breakfast, which consisted of a half-caff americano, a Portguese custard tart and a giant bowl of arugula, dusted with lemon juice—a winning combination indeed!

This particular arugula was a more fully developed and mature than the typical baby arugula found in commercial outlets and restaurants. These greens, from Sunshine was the spiciest arugula I have ever tasted.

Being an herbalist, I am no stranger to bitter and pungent medicine…but this experience took things to another level. It was so hot that my eyes began to water! Outstanding! I actually had to take breaks between bites to allow my tongue to calm down.

Besides the party in my mouth, there were many other steps in the chain reaction caused by this strong stimulus. Digestion tends to be my weak area physiologically, so it’s always a thrill to feel things kick into high gear as they did during my spicy arugula adventure.

Digestive function is like any other muscle or organ system in the body. Without use, these systems atrophy. It’s the cliché “if you don’t use it, you lose it” rule. Unfortunately, we have culturally grown to prefer things to be bland. Bland food, priorities and emotional connections with others, through the widespread use of technologically advanced communication. We prioritize comfort—and bland is comfortable.

The problem is, bland and comfortable often produce stagnation. Physical stagnation (i.e digestion), emotional stagnation, spiritual stagnation. Our evolution is often our greatest source of discomfort because true growth usually requires it.

This morning, my belly was so happy after the arugula stimulation but eating it was like a workout. There were many moments when I had to breathe, focus and push through in order to finish. I did so because I am aware that if we don’t challenge our digestive systems on a regular basis, if we don’t regularly consume foods that inspire scrunched up faces, our digestive fire will become stagnant.

With this theme in mind, I reflect on my two weeks, spent with Pat Harada Linfoot, studying the yamas and niyamas, in the context of asana and beyond. These were typical Pat-style classes, which are physically challenging, even for the advanced practitioners. In addition, Pat shaped the theme of each class around a different principle of the yamas and niyamas. Ethics and the practices that accompany them are not comfortable subjects to sit with, especially during a physically challenging practice. But that, for me, is the essence of my yoga practice: intentionally putting myself in states of discomfort for the sake of my evolution.

Each of Pat’s classes over the two weeks were masterfully woven. She has an undeniable gift for inspiring her students to take steps toward discomfort as she holds a safe space, expertly accented with warmth, love and humor. The most challenging day for me was day seven of our journey, when we studied the subject of Santosha (contentment).

This was my Facebook post after class that day: “Day seven into my journey through the yamas and niyamas: today our practice focused on Santosha—contentment. My wise teacher spoke of balance with contentment as we must live in a state of discontentment in order to affect change. How do we cultivate a deep satisfaction with things, exactly as they are, but still maintain our desire for evolution?”

I still have trouble sitting with this one.

What I have learned through practicing yoga, studying philosophy and eating intense arugula, is that I am not willing to live a bland life.

I have a desire for evolution and I am prepared to experience discomfort for the sake of growth. It’s what we do every time we roll out our mats. We are practicing grace, focus, humility and compassion for ourselves in uncomfortable circumstances. I think that is much more exciting than exercising for the sake of a six-pack!

Immense gratitude to Pat—I feel so blessed to have such incredible inspiration in my life.


Written by Michelle Stevenson

“Every day is an opportunity to make our lives medicinal. What we do, eat, feel, breathe, give, love, share. Medicine is not only the pills we take (or don’t take)—it’s how we live. How we collaborate. How we inspire. How we teach others and how we teach ourselves. That’s my life, my medicine. My nerdy herbal, healing foodie, acupuncturist, yogini, musician, seamstress, wool wizardress, student/teacher, wonderwoman medicine. I’m the creation of my own ideal physician!” Michelle Stevenson is a medical herbalist and acupuncturist.

Visit her blog at or connect with her on Facebook.

Welcome Monday with Your Vast, Limitless Heart.

Photo: Bryonie Wise

“When you begin to touch your heart or let your heart be touched, you begin to discover that it’s bottomless, that it doesn’t have any resolution, that this heart is huge, vast, and limitless. You begin to discover how much warmth and gentleness is there, as well as how much space”.
Pema Chodron

My Week with the Yamas

My Week with the Yamas

Over the course of two weeks this summer, Pat Harada Linfoot took over the 1pm class and each day, from Monday through Friday, masterfully unfolded the yamas and niyamas. Magically weaving the theme of the day into each class, we moved, breathed and embodied the seed that had been planted in our hearts. Joined by special guests, JP Tamblyn, on our very first day and accompanied by Darren Hall, on our very last, after each class I came away with a new understanding of our daily yama or niyama.

On day one, ahimsa settled onto the very bottom of my soul and from this foundation of non-harm and non-violence, everything else could be built. I would move with awareness and compassion and love for my body, respecting it’s limits and embracing the unique way in which my body expressed each pose, even if my downward dog or warrior three looked nothing like the ones surrounding me.

In yoga, we often speak of building a pose from the ground up and I began to understand the many ways in which I harm myself and others, with my thoughts, words and actions. I could see how I judge and how I point fingers and how I accuse and how I kill myself—and my loved ones—with my aggression and anger.

What if, instead of lashing out, I paused with whatever emotion or reaction was arising within? What if I paused long enough for this feeling to run its way through my body so that I could truly feel it and own it…and what if I could do this with compassion and love? What if I allowed my frustration to be embraced by my heart and what if, through some yogic alchemy and old-fashioned patience, I allowed that hurt and that anger to be turned into love?

And so the first yama, ahimsa, is joined by the second yama, satya (truth). Because when you promise not to hurt yourself in your practice, you are confronted with the truth of who you are. You are confronted with the truth of your body’s limitations (or lack of), you are confronted with the thoughts that might try to nudge their way into your asana, beginning to pull at the thread of your mind, distracting you from diving deeper into yourself and getting closer to the truth.

Our bodies are masterful and intelligent…and they are sneaky. We hide our memories in our hips, we store uncomfortable emotions in our lower back, we sweep our feelings under the carpet and tension and pain collect in our muscles and bones. If you have every held pigeon for longer than one minute, you know that over time, as your body begins to settle—twitching and yearning to move out of discomfort—the hip begins to open and like a vault has been sprung open, all sorts of ‘stuff’ starts to arise. It can be confusing and scary and our fight or flight starts to kick in because we are so very afraid of the truth. The truth of who we are and how we feel and what our truth is.

The foundation of our practice, of our very existence, continues to strengthen; ahimsa and satya like roots growing deeper into the earth, we are ready for the third yama—asteya (non-stealing).

Rather than looking at our lives and our practice and everything that we are as lacking something, can we say with love and honesty, that we are enough? Can we aspire towards abundance, gratitude, joy, interconnection, inspiration, trust, co-operation and faith? Can we erase all doubt that we are where and who we are supposed to be, in this time, in this place? Can we let go of the clutter, of the noise, of anything that no longer contributes to our higher selves?

Pause for a moment; sit straight up and root your feet into the ground. Place your hands over your heart and close your eyes. Repeat this, ‘so hum’, over and over, until you can feel the vibration in your bones.

I am enough. You are enough. So hum. So hum.

And as we harness this energy, as our roots continue to grow deeper and deeper, with the first three yamas beating in our hearts, we can welcome brahmacharya (wise use of energy), the fourth yama, into our practice.

Brahmacharya encourages us to find balance, to use moderation, both on and off our mats and to invite in spirit and the idea of connection. We find ways to contain ourselves yet allow ourselves to be open to the possibilities of the universe. Leading us into savasana at the end of fourth class, Pat’s showered us with these words:

“Belief in connection. Belief in a power greater than self. Belief that love, kindness, compassion, joy, fuels the connection to ourselves and to that power. Embrace all parts of ourselves and overcome feelings of separation from ourselves and others.”

And finally, the fifth and final yama: aparigraha (non-greed or generosity).

Over the course of the week, I witnessed my teacher and my fellow practitioners, continue to give to each other. We came together in a space held by love and opened up our minds, bodies and souls to old ideas presented in new ways. We challenged everything we understood about our practice, emptying ourselves of patterns and comfort and released our hold on what we thought we knew. We embodied generosity and practiced as individuals, yes…but also as a community.

And at the end of each day, our hearts knew how deeply we loved and how fully we were able to let go.


Written by Bryonie Wise

Bryonie’s life is rooted in the belief that when we come from a place of love, anything is possible. When not teaching yoga (or playing her crystal singing bowls) she can be found most afternoons at the dog park, with her camera, her love and her dog. She has also been known to make leaps into the great unknown. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.