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Category Archives: deepening your practice

Has yoga changed your life? If so, how? Do you take yoga on the road with you when you travel? What is your favorite yoga pose? We want to hear from you! Tell us about your practice, in words, photos or even a video!

B.L. (Before Lululemon).

(source: dorasfitness.tumblr.com via LeeAnn on Pinterest)

I think a lot about how and when yoga enters into someone’s life; I wonder why some people do yoga and some don’t and I am curious about where people practice.

I think about exposure, interest and access, because yoga was so helpful for me when it came into my life. I decided to share how yoga took root and continued to grow as I grew over the years, as a way to bring others into this conversation I have with myself.

(source weheartit.com via Jennifer on Pinterest)

I was born in the spring of 1975, to parents who lived on a commune near the University of Waterloo, where my dad attended classes. Being hippies was all the rage and so my parents jumped aboard the groovy train, like most of the students on campus during that time.

As a baby, people playing music, dancing and practicing yoga surrounded me inside and outside our home.

My family eventually moved to Toronto, to establish a new life for our family. As I grew and started to try to fit into the world of the 1980’s, I was quick to reject anything that seemed too hippie-ish, as to distinguish myself from my parents.

Yoga came back into my life when I was 15 years old—I was rummaging through my parents record collection and found wedged in between my dad’s Neil Young and Bob Dylan albums an old yoga book, that looked as though it had been stuck for the past decade amongst the old vinyl records. My only memory of yoga was seeing a guy with long hair in overalls standing on his head in some field near our home. Curiously, I flipped through the book, laughing at the hilarious clothes and hair of the yoga models. I was about to put it back when a heading on relaxation caught my attention.

The one simple instruction that stuck with me was to breathe slowly in and out through my nose as a way to calm the mind.

About six months later, I found myself sitting at my desk trying to focus on my English final. Tests stressed me out which made it hard to stay focused. As I re-read the first question, I remembered the yoga book, about calming breaths.

I quietly took a breath in my nose and let it out…nothing happened. Then, I took another and another. I was so busy focusing of breathing that I forgot to worry. I was able to read the question again and get started on my test. After that day I forgot about yoga again, until my first year of university.

In that first year, I struggled to keep up with all the work assignments; I did not sleep well and became super stressed during midterm exams. My roommate heard the school offered free yoga in the evenings and asked if I wanted to go. I remembered the brief moment that yoga helped in high school so I decided to finally check out a class.

I felt a little awkward, because I didn’t know what I was doing in that first class. After the class, I miraculously slept through the entire night…and I was finally hooked on yoga!

The summer after I graduated, I got a job as a canoe guide for kids and teens in Algonquin Park. On Friday nights, the camp hosted hobby nights, where the campers got to do an activity of their choice. They were looking for different activities to offer when they asked if anyone knew yoga. Since I had practiced the most out of the staff, I was volunteered to teach.

(source: moonmuck.tumblr.com via Nick on Pinterest

Once again, I found myself staring at another old book with funny dated pictures, that I found in the camp library on Hatha yoga. The following Friday night, I taught my first yoga class to four 11 year old girls. It was pretty funny to see us attempt to balance on an uneven dock, with the mosquitoes chomping at our ankles.

The next week, I left on a two-week canoe trip with nine fifteen year old girls. I planned a demanding route, which meant we paddled and portaged for hours each day. By nightfall we passed out in our tents as soon as dinner was over. By day five, our bodies were feeling to effects of hours of paddling and portaging. On the morning of day six, I decided to loosen my body with a few sun salutations. A few girls came out of their tents to see what was going on.

By the end of that week, all of the girls were practicing with me in the mornings. Without instruction, they started following my movements and asking questions about yoga. Besides our bodies loosening up, I noticed us operating as a more connected unit.

Once again, I was thankful for the way yoga came back into my life at the exact right moment.

I have come a long way from the days when I thought yoga was a practice done by hippies living outside of conventional society. I am thankful that my yoga practice fills me with questions and curiosities about myself. I love that this practice is flexible enough to fit all ages, ethnicities and sizes and want to share in the experience with others as they make their own way down their own yogic path.

Ultimately, I am amazed that each time I roll up my mat at the end of a practice I feel different from when I walked into the room. Spread the word…

~

Written by Elisse Peltz

Elisse Peltz was introduced to yoga in high school, when she stumbled upon a yoga instruction manual in her parent’s library. Her experiences since then have only deepened her belief that yoga has the ability to strengthen, rejuvenate and heal the human spirit. In 2004, she became a certified instructor at Yoga People in New York. Elisse has since completed a Restorative Teacher Training at Yogaspace in Toronto, the teacher training at Octopus Garden and she became a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy Practitioner.

Elisse provides psychotherapeutic counselling for children, youth, adults and families where she combines her passion for yoga with traditional psychotherapeutic techniques. She has taught at Twist Yoga, Octopus Garden and Yogaspace studios as well as schools, boardrooms, weight loss clinics and in people’s basements to encourage accessibility for all types of people. Elisse has had many amazing teachers who have guided her along the way. Currently, her most influential teacher is her two-year-old son, Izzy.

Humbling Asana Inspired Questions.

Yesterday, I attended another wonderfully balanced yoga class with the brilliant Pat Harada Linfoot.

The asana (yoga postures), at times, resembled what you might run into at a bootcamp; we were pushed hard but the sweetness that flourished from the sustained effort was so fruitfully rewarding.

The journey out of my head and into my body seemed effortless—the carefully constructed inversions felt comfortable and supported, and the restorative postures at the end of our practice were gateways to many deep layers of unfolding and unwinding. I felt a little extra yoga-stoned on my walk home. Yum!

While settling into a particularly long hold on the first side of one-legged forearm dolphin plank (ouch!), I pondered the concept of balance.

We are consistently told by our loving teacher that we are to listen to our bodies; to come out of a pose if it feels like it is too much; that child’s pose is always an acceptable place to come, to stay.

On the other hand, how do we define the line between pushing ourselves into the discomfort required for evolution (in this case, burning abs and triceps, in order to one day be able to successfully do inverted forearm balances) and respecting the body’s limits (giving ourselves the necessary, gentle space to rest and just be)?

This is a theme that consistently comes up for me in yoga practice and so obviously translates off the mat, to all areas of life.

How do we know when we should sit with discomfort for the sake of growth?

When should we push through?

How do we know when we are pushing ourselves too hard and when we should be more carefully connected to the concept of santosha (contentment)?

This means, gratitude and acceptance of wherever we are, knowing that it’s exactly where we are meant to be.

What I have come up with, at least in the context of my asana practice, is that I always know what I am up to if I’m paying attention.

Listening. Staying present. Perhaps this presence can be cultivated in all aspects of life. Career. Family. Matters of health. Love relationships.

It’s humbling to have glimpses of this…and then realize that I could look into this for many lifetimes and still only scratch the surface.

~

Written By Michelle Stevenson

The Meaning of Community.

photo: sunday-suppers.com via pinterest

Sangha (Pali: सन्घ saṅgha; Sanskrit: संघ saṃgha; Wylie: ‘dus sde) is a word in Pali and Sanskrit meaning “association”, “assembly,” “company” or “community” and most commonly refers in Buddhism to the monastic community of ordained Buddhist monks or nuns. This community is traditionally referred to as the bhikkhu-sangha or bhikkhuni-sangha. Within this community those who have attained a higher level of realisation are referred to as the ariya-sangha or “noble Sangha”. (Wikipedia)

During last month’s Sangha gathering, we set the foundation of peace, for of our monthly meetings as a community. 

We asked you to open your minds (and your hearts) to consider what you were bringing into the space; creating a canvas of sound with our voices through chanting, exploring the meaning of ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truth) in the context of community, weaving a rich tapestry of how we define community, using Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as our guidelines on how we gather.

We asked you to step into the beginner’s mindset and to consider the value of having people around you that support you, engaging in the ancestral tradition of Sangha.

The upcoming Sangha will build on the ideals of creating conscious community by exploring what it means to be more fully alive and how the practice of yoga directly supports this process.

As a building community, we regularly engage in work that supports personal growth and evolution;at it’s most basic stripped-down philosophical essence, yoga is a practice of polishing and clearing away what obstructs a full aliveness and presence to Nature.

This practice needs to address all levels of our being in order to be ultimately nature-connecting. Just physical practice alone, however vital, will not build greater resiliency and spiritual transformation, unless combined with ways to regularly process difficult emotions, such as anger and grief.

Waking up, being more fully present and engaged in community, requires regular connection to both our own nature and the bigger context of Nature around us. Although this connection to nature is something that is ever-present, it often tends to be obscured.

How is it then that we can reveal what it is to be more fully alive and connected to a deeper sense of meaning?

Join us tomorrow, Wednesday, October 3rd, from 7:30pm-9pm, for our second Sangha gathering. 

~
Written by Scott Davis & Bryonie Wise

A Complete Practice.

image: quatriemedimension

For many of us, the idea of a ‘complete’ yoga practice may seem like a mystery (at least it was for me).

My initial relationship to yoga began with physical movement, the practice of postures or ‘asana.’ Since taking over five hundred hours of yoga education at Octopus Garden, the depth of yoga that’s present outside of physical movement has become more apparent.

For those that don’t know me, my name is Taryn, and I am the studio co-manager, a practitioner, teacher trainee and now, the humble assistant for Pat’s ‘Complete’ class on Thursday mornings. I’ve coined the ‘complete’ class as your ‘one stop shop for a full practice.’

But what does ‘full’ mean?  What does ‘complete’ mean?

On Thursday mornings, we explore breath work (pranayama), chanting, meditation and restorative postures. If I were to consider myself a ‘yoga baby’ in terms of my experience with asana, I am ‘in utero’ with regard to my meditation and restorative practices!  This is why assisting such a class presents a challenge!

Can I sit with the room while we explore meditation? Can I be of service to practitioners as they settle in to a deep restorative posture? How can I assist when these aspects of yoga are my own personal edges?

I take a breath, zoom out to the larger picture and realize, we all share these challenges.

Someone’s complete comfort with one aspect of yoga, may be an absolute struggle for another; it’s the diversity presented by each of us that carries this practice and it’s what allows us to be of service to each other.

Zooming out even further, a complete practice happens off the mat and outside of the studio. Can we share our stability with others when we play with our strengths? And can we rely on others when we face challenges?

I like to think that there is an unspoken solidarity amongst the people with which I share this city; I’ve got your back, regardless of whether I’m encouraging an inward curve in your lumbar spine or if you need help navigating the street car schedules.

That’s my humble take on what means to have a ‘complete’ practice—I invite you to attend this class and share your own definition with me.

~

Written by Taryn Diamond

Taryn has made her way through both the 200-hour fundamentals and 300-hour advanced teacher training at Octopus Garden.  She has also been trained in restorative yoga with an emphasis on Ayurvedic principles.  She left her work in the activist world with Oxfam Canada to co-manage Octopus Garden and pursue her yoga studies and teaching.  Taryn teaches weekly classes at Hart House and at the Engineers Without Borders office. 

Prenatal Musings

photo: flickr/mahalie stackpole

Nothing else in my life has taught me so much about my bodies as the transition from a non-pregnant, non-parent, to a mother—by bodies I mean not only pre- and post-baby physical body (although that’s certainly relevant) but also my mental, emotional, spiritual and (yes!) body of bliss.

When I learned I was pregnant for the first time, I was terrified.

In reaction to that fear, I spent much of my pregnancy resisting any need to soften—I continued to work full-time at a desk job, worked part-time planning a yoga festival, picked up subbing opportunities to teach yoga on evenings and weekends whenever possible—and planned my wedding to my long-time partner, amid significant family strife. I also practiced vigorous asana at least 3 times a week (usually 4-5) and biked everywhere I went. First trimester exhaustion? Who knew? I was exhausted from the rest of my life long before sperm met egg!

My son Jasper grew steadily and joyously in my belly and I began to feel a deep sense of curiosity joining with my ever present sense of anxiety. Part of it came from me—but a larger part was coming from the little guy’s ever-increasing excitement to see the world outside of his mama’s tummy.

In the meantime, I changed the basics in my asana practice (no core work, no deep twists etc) only because I had amazing teachers, who consistently encouraged me to work safely, despite my own drive to do more, more, more. I refused to listen to the voice inside me that could guide me to what felt right and what wasn’t so hot for that day; I felt that every guideline was an externally imposed restriction that really didn’t apply to me.

I would push things whenever I felt I could—I absolutely refused to soften. I did more training—not one prenatal yoga training, but two. A five-day yoga retreat? Of course. Slowing down meant admitting that everything was not in my control and I absolutely could not do that.

Jasper was more than eleven days past his due date. My water broke two days before my labour started! Out of all my bodies, my physical body was the only one that was ready and we all knew it. (Sidenote: that was the last time that Jasper waited for me for anything, so I truly treasure the memory).

Then…labour.

Which was pretty awesome—what my body could do and feel and all that I could handle—I’ve never been so focused. All of my years of yoga practice made sense; I was in every moment so completely that language became irrelevant. Breath, sounds and sensation consumed my entire sphere of awareness.

Together, Jasper and I ensured that Jasper arrived. Eyes wide open. In gratitude for my part of his journey, he pooped all over me. I laughed and cried and fed my baby for the very first time while my husband, sister and midwives glowed with love and joy and the goddess energy of transformation.

Then…parenthood.

So far, labour has been the easiest part! I’m learning that I do indeed have limits; that my family has to come first, which means I have to say no to things outside of my home that I truly want and need to do. Letting go of any semblance of controlling my own life—loving my child and husband so much that it feels more essential than breathing.

Breast feeding. Childproofing. Never, never sleeping. Toddlerhood. Absolute bleakness…and absolute joy.

So, the next time a ‘+’ sign appeared on one of those ironically impersonal, life-changing sticks in my own bathroom, I cried again. My husband cried too. And then we laughed and hugged and hugged our first little guy who has taught us more than he will ever know. And now?

I teach prenatal yoga with the knowledge that pregnancy is one of the most transformative times our bodies will experience but that, like all transformations, there is effort and unease and anxiety and a need for community to make it through.

I am digging into this pregnancy (now seven months plus) with a love of softness that tempers and beautifully contrasts my need to explore and push boundaries and experience all of life; I include the experience of letting go of control as one of those experiences I am savoring.

I listen to the tiny voices inside my heart and inside my belly that tell me when something is working and something is not. One of them is mine and one of them is my second son’s; his voice is really relaxed, kind of surfer-dude. He tells me constantly ‘Mom. Relax. It’s all going to work out. We’ll handle it one day at a time’.

I feel so very lucky.

~

Written by Morgan Cowie

*Morgan’s prenatal class runs on Monday evenings from 5:30-6:45 and her Parent/Baby is on Tuesdays from 11-12pm.

Morgan Cowie is a teacher and co-manager at Octopus Garden Holistic Yoga Studio. She teaches all levels of classes, including prenatal and postnatal. She is the founder of the Open Arms outreach project and is passionate about yoga for all people everywhere. Morgan believes that mindfulness, compassion and love are the keys of all relationships, especially those between parent and child. She is the mother of one toddler and one soon-to-arrive bundle of joy.

The Magic of Restorative Yoga.

photo: Bryonie Wise

If you have ever been to a restorative yoga class, you know what a magical experience it can be.

We asked Scott Davis during a recent information session, to share with us how he came to his restorative practice, the importance of restorative to our everyday lives and what we can expect from his upcoming Restorative Teacher Training.

Click here to listen to what he had to say.

Scott weaves into his restorative teachings the 5-element theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine, linking our practice with nature; with the flux of seasonal changes, he develops the sequences to produce the greatest benefit to the mind, body and soul.

Here’s a Restorative Transitional Season Sequence for early Fall:

Principles:

1. Improve digestion/absorption and transformation/transition.
2. Strengthen and connect to the abdominal centre and core line of the body.
3. Organ = spleen/pancreas, stomach.
4. Increase balance, harmony and equilibrium through pose/counter-pose sequencing.
5. Improve the health of the muscle tissues and the action of holding the blood.
6. Element = earth; connect to the healing power of the earth element and all that that entails.
7. Emotional spectrum = mindfulness/equanimity to anxiety/worry.
8. Paramita = generosity.

Props needed:

2 blocks
2 straps
2 blankets
1 bolster
1 chair
1 sandbag
1 eye pillow

Sequence:

  1. Centering/Cocooning (connects to physical center and creates a healthy energetic boundary to support healing).
  2. Gentle seated twist (activates and vitalizes digestive system).
  3. Adho Mukha Svanasana with forehead support (inversion relaxes the downward pressure and load on the abdominal vicera).
  4. Matsyasana variation (expands abdomen and releases tension in digestive system).
  5. Balasana with bent or straight leg versions (gentle compression on abdomen to sooth and support digestion).
  6. Parvritta Balasana (gentle twist supports wringing action of digestive system).
  7. Supta Virasana (opens and releases stomach meridian).
  8. Upavista Konasana (opens and releases spleen/pancreas meridian).
  9. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (promotes organic relaxation of digestive system).
  10. Chair Resting Posture w/weight on abdomen (soothes nervous system, promotes movement towards parasympathetic/”rest and digest” response).

Still not sure if restorative is for you? Check out our schedule and join us for a restorative class. Interested in registering for the upcoming training with Scott? Check out further details here. 

I Was That New Piece of Clay.

Pottery seemed like one of the more challenging crafts to learn and I must admit, I was afraid to try.

My inner perfectionist thought, “There are too many variables at work and possibly working against me: a high speed wheel spinning clay and whipping water around (messy!) and my unsteady hands attempting to create shapes…What if I can’t do it? What if everything I make turns out lopsided?”

Since half the battle of trying something new is simply putting yourself out there, I signed up for a 8 week course with my ceramic savvy friend, who is an Artist in Residence at the Harbourfront Centre.

What became clear to me during the first few classes was how focused and meditative it was to work with clay; it was easy for my attention to zero in on the first day—but as the weeks progressed, challenges did show themselves.

“Centering” seems to be the most difficult part of working with the clay. This means that I had to get the clay smack-dab in the middle of the wheel—and yes—as it is spinning at the highest speed. Easier said than done.

I had to be in control of the clay, while at the same time letting it do its thing (with help from cylindrical force), all the while trying not to zone out on the cool swirl of the wheel spinning; in the beginning, I felt like the wheel was trying to hypnotize me and as the weeks went on, I allowed it to.

I found the clay easy to work with, yet I had to be cautious when manipulating it to make sure I didn’t throw it off its center. Once the process began of drawing up (think what gives height to a vase) the clay, any diversion in attention—or even a glance away—could send the clay off center and potentially ruin what I was working on.

So, without being distracted by other shiny objects around me, I would let the spiral of the clay hypnotize me…watching the water spray out around the edges, focusing into the sensations of warm wet clay in my hands. I attempted to create something (anything), all the while not becoming too attached to what I was making—for it could change in a moment!—and that so-called ‘perfect’ vase would get badly warped, or the walls would get too thin, and with a humble sigh, I would squish it back into the pile of clay I began with.

It was neat starting over, because it required a new batch of clay and starting from the very beginning, again; you couldn’t reuse the previous ball of clay, because it had to dry out…and that is what reminded me of my yoga practice.

Interesting how starting over reminded me of yoga—but the reset with a new batch of clay is exactly how I’ve come to understand my asana practice—because after having a regular practice for sometime, I took a year off.

What’s rarely talked about openly in the yoga world is when people take a break from practicing yoga—or if it is spoken of, it is wrapped in guilt and shame. More importantly, what is often meant as asana (just one aspect or limb of the practice), ends up being referred to as the entirety of yoga.

Just because I stopped attending classes at studios, or didn’t do daily sun salutations, didn’t mean that I wasn’t practicing yoga; I had many changes in my life and with that, I needed to step back, regroup and examine what yoga meant to me…which is also a part of the practice—and, for me, more important than how my shoulders were doing in downward dog.

Although I have emerged with (some) answers and (more) questions, it has become clear to me that I was caught up in my idea of what the practice should look like from the outside, rather than examining and appreciating the ways it has transformed me, on the inside.

When the time came and I went back to class, I unrolled my mat and discovered that my body was that of a beginner; in a standing pose, I watched my mind trying to tell my body that it should be able to do—what it used to do. I realized that I was that new piece of clay and like in my pottery class, I came back to it, from the beginning, all over again…but this time a little wiser and kinder with my reasons, in my heart, for why I was there.

Remember, the first step in working with the wheel in pottery is centering—and that is what I did in my asana practice; I gently thanked my mind for reminding me of where I used to be, then shifted my attention to my heart, my center…and to where I actually was.

I was happy to have created a few things in the pottery class but also appreciated the greater lessons of impermanence, patience and a better understanding (and letting go) of my ideas of perfection at the wheel, on the mat and in my life.

~

Written by Lindsay Gamester

As a coffee aficionado, free form dancer and lover of ice cream, Lindsay enjoys contemplating the mysteries of life while attempting to balance on a slackline. Yoga has influenced her being in ways often not able to transcribe but instead she attempts to integrate the teachings into daily life, crafty projects and musings on her blog. Lindsay is personally dedicated to being awesome and helping others to experience their awesomeness as a humble student, teacher and woman of the 21st century. Currently, she is enjoying life in Toronto, obtaining her B.A in Humanities and being part of the OG community.