RSS Feed

Category Archives: yoga education

Ever wondering what it was like to be a part of a teacher training program? Our teacher trainees, past and present, share their experiences with us.

Let Your Backbone Slide.

The spine has always been a mysterious yet fascinating part of the body to me. It makes me think of dinosaur bones and our connection to all of the creatures and beings that have become before us, as well the ones that surround us now. I see my connection to history—both my familial history, but the larger, global family. And, one of my most favorite cues I use when I teach (and love to hear when I practice) is to bones of the spine, one vertebrae a time.

What a responsibility and what attention and care—not to mention breath—one must bring to the bones of the spine, whether your bringing them down to touch ground, or standing and stacking as you unroll the body to standing.

I spent a morning recently in a workshop with Stacey Hauserman and Heather Cracower about the spine; together, they brought this magnificent structure to life. It was a wonderful refresher on the spine, it’s construction and it’s function—and how it connects to the rest of the body. What was even more amazing to me, as a teacher, and well, as a human, really, was witnessing the new awareness that my fellow classmate began to tap into, in their spines.

Understanding movement in the spine, it’s challenges and what they could do, as practitioners of yoga, to protect their spines from harm. Here are a few things that Heather and Stacey shared with me, to share with you:

1. The instructions given in a led class are not be appropriate for every body and a good understanding of your habitual postural pattern will empower you to modify poses when necessary, to ensure safe alignment and prevent injury.

2. We speak a lot about the concept of a neutral spine and there are many reasons for that: this position allows your muscles to be in their resting position (less strain), there is decreased pressure on your discs, increased joint congruency (improved joint health and motion) and it ensures that weight bearing is through the vertebral bodies and facet joints as intended. Again and again, we need to find a neutral spine alignment.

3. Learning to effectively use our core muscles will help to decrease abnormal motion at the joints, decrease overuse of back and hip muscles which can lead to strain and pain and help to support and stabilize your lower back and sacroiliac joints.

4. The combination of muscular imbalance and repetitive movements (like chaturanga performed during each vinyasa without the shoulder joints being effectively stabilized) can lead to injury.

5. Remember that the spine has natural curves (i.e. kyphosis in the thoracic spine and lordosis in the cervical and lumbar spines) and this is our home base. Work/sport related stresses can create an increase or decrease in these curves, and our goal is to re-establish an alignment that more closely resembles this home base, not eliminating these curves, but making our way back towards ‘home,’ towards neutral.

*Your practice should never cause pain in your body, and if you find you are experiencing any pain or discomfort in the spine, or any part of your body, please talk to one of our teachers or therapists at the studio. We are always happy to help you revise your practice and offer variations that work for you. We want you to practice yoga for life!

~ Written by 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. 

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. 

Ankle-Twistasana & Guiding Life

Photo: Flickr/Foxtongue

“Sweet are the uses of adversity.”

~Will Shakespeare

Recently, I’ve been blessed with an injury (yes, you read that correctly: blessed).

It happened in the grander yoga studio of life, namely Kensington Market, where a teacher named Pothole decided I needed to try a curious pose called ankle-twistasana. 

Now, twists are renowned for their multifarious benefits as organ detoxers, spine mobility inspirers and circulation motivators—but this was a twist of a much more subtle, energetic kind.

True, when Pothole helped thrust me into the pose, the physical results were far from subtle (excruciating pain, stumbling to ground, moaning, etc.) but it was what this twist set into motion that really defined ankle-twistasana. As I stumbled onto that hot pavement, eyeing Pothole angrily, like most great teachers, Pothole didn’t play into my mind-games; it just stared back at me, witnessing my incipient transformation, with a blank, stony gaze.

I writhed in pain for some two minutes, hoping it was like former ankle-twistasanas and the pain would subside quickly and assuredly. Indeed, the pain did eventually dissipate and I managed to bike home—only to find my ankle twice, if not three times, its normal size. This was clearly going to be a tad more complicated than I first envisioned.

The next morning, I awoke with great expectations to be able to power through a self-practice class with my usual passion only to find myself haplessly trying to evade stings and stabs of pain with every pose. As I sat around my homespace that day, bereft of my usual ebullient swagger, I shared coffee with some old friends I hadn’t seen in a while: Frustration, Self-Pity & Right-Pissed. They were, of course, quite happy to see me and I indulged them in lively conversation.

I reviled at the thought of having to rest again, having only recently overcome a previous injury—and at such a soaring height of asana alacrity in my personal practice. Swaddled in poor me’s, viscous like a victim, I gave my life a long, distrustful look of distaste and resigned myself to, well, resignation.

Salvation came (as if often does) on the wings of friendship; a merry mate, after listening to my complaint department blathering on relentlessly, interjected quite assertively that the universe wanted me to rest and to take a look at something I’ve obviously been missing in life that was of the utmost important.

Ultimately, life had served me a lemon and I was resisting using it. Inspired, I cut the lemon into four nice quarters, squeezed them into hot water and decided to drink. I was an aspiring tantric yogi, after all, which carries a fundamental allegiance to the flux and flows of life. Resistance is anathema—and thank goddess for frank friends.

For anyone practicing yoga, we know that resistance sucks. You know that moment in class when you’re pushing-pushing-pushing but you can’t just seem to find that steady-eddy sensibility—that transcendent hush where each breath is counted and strength is a sighing stream of victory?

That’s when you just have to let go as if to say, Body, I know you’re plugged into the universe in ways I can’t totally comprehend right now so tell me, how should I practice? 

As we surrender, pushing against the walls within, we suddenly find a whole space open up, allowing breath to expand, limbs to unfold and peace to take a grander shape…the body is wisdom.

So, I went to the park to meditate and open myself up to the greater currents of destiny that seemed intent that I hovel in respite.

And indeed, during that meditation there was a tremendous sense of relief as I went about performing a kind of psychic asana, aligning my mind with the terrain of circumstance before me, opening to embrace the change that my twisted ankle presented and breathing in the possibilities that might just be from doing life a little different for the next little while.

It turns out destiny did need me to rest for a week.

I was lucky enough to be able to also clear my schedule of professional commitments and settle into respite. And as the week began to flow, I found myself relaxing into study of numerous texts I’d been already enjoying but now with much more time on my hands to dig in deeper. The time allowed me to go at a slower pace so that integrations of knowledge were given credence to connect. I made sure I continued practicing yoga in all the ways beyond asana, taking daily to meditation, pranayama, chanting and just all around focusing on being present in the great yoking of mind-body—with constant enthusiastic embodiment.

I began to revel in this pace, taking time to work on new music, to ruminate on some deep patterns in my life I intended to shift, to be grateful for things and to also take a mighty step back to vision the currents of destiny and take a creative role in choosing where I wished them to flow. I made time for timelessness and allowed my days to unfurl organically, not with any crunching schedule or tension timing.

This was tremendously revealing and confirmed why, as one spiritual teacher advised me, time is the anti-christ (dramatic, yes—but try a day without any planning, lending oneself to the magical pull of coincidence, synchronicity and destiny and you might come to a similar conclusion).

My ankle recovered nicely and one day, a friend asked how I was doing—I returned with a beaming smile, saying, “Gosh-darn, this has actually been the best week of my summer. It’s been truly a week of tremendous revelation, cultivation and inspiration.” I then looked down at my ankle, endearingly, smacked a kiss on my hand which I quickly smacked on the ankle, ‘I love this ankle!’

Yep, Will had it right; there is a sweetness to all adversity, when we decide to embrace it as an expression of a greater force of life that may know better than we what is best for us.

This lends itself to some curious spiritual inquiries—is life somehow guiding us? Does destiny exist? Does this mean there is a God, I mean really, who trained Pothole to be such a great teacher? I have my own answers, which may awe-inspire some and, thus, have a certain value. But, the most valuable teaching is direct experience. (Ah, the book of life!)

In that vein, I encourage everyone, the next time something comes from seemingly out of nowhere to disrupt our ‘normal’ rhythm of life, to take a moment to consider embracing it—instead of the more commonplace posture of resisting or even avoiding it.

Even if it’s something brutal. Actually, especially so.

Each time I embrace whatever comes my way, life takes on a certain magic—the same feeling I get when I’m improvising a musical piece and I’m utterly lost in a field of effulgent beauty that is marvellously going somewhere that is always amazing. The ancient Taoists of Chinese mystical lore were quite clear that there is a guiding realm to life that speaks through the heart constantly.

When we follow what they call the way of nature, we are always in this flow of spontaneous wisdom.

It’s a wild way to live because, as we often find, the urgings of the heart can make us do things that are seemingly absurd (like taking a week off of yoga and work). But, if we can surrender just an ounce of faith, we might find the universe in there, rapping at the door of our soul with a magical adventure of destiny to bestow on us, if we’d but yield our incessant need for control, authority and the illusion of security (another blog post indeed!).

Life is good. How do I know?

It showed me so…

 

~

Written by Darren Austin Hall

Darren Austin Hall is a modern day Druid, meaning he somehow integrates being a healer, poet-sacred musician and mystic teacher, all in one. Formally, he has training in Chinese Medicine and some eccentric shamanic arts and informally, life has initiated him in a plethora of other wisdom ways, thanks to a cacophony of extraordinary teachers, friends and experiences. He is especially passionate about indigenous culture and the Earth as a living being that loves us all dearly. Darren is most renowned for his work as sound healer and sacred musician. He performs his unique quartz crystal singing bowls and intuitive chanting for yoga classes and in immensely powerful concerts, that also combine other exotic instrumentation and spiritual textures. He is currently studying to be a yogi at Octopus Garden and is clearly a Gemini. Check out his website: http://www.InnerTraditionsHealing.com.

Beacon of Light

Last night I had a dream
wherein my subconscious beckoned me to make a choice,
to buckle down on a concrete dharmic path,
with warriors, poets, activists and gods dancing
‘round my head.
Oh Gaia, Sophia,
Oh Jesus, Buddha, Hare Hare Krishna!
Is my destiny with Kundalini,
Dancing Shiva, Waking Shakti?
Shall I be Hindi?
A tantrika yogi in for a life of ecstatic bliss?
Dare I be a Taoist?

Oh. God.
I am beneath a boulder called philosophy
and what once seemed so sweet to me
is now the shadow that follows me…
sneakily.
Weighing heavy on my chest
and I am doing my best
to tease out this eternal question of
“Who am I?”
“What should I believe?”
It’s somehow difficult to conceive
that with the vastness of spiritual revolution
there is only one.
One single path tailored for the entire population.
And right before I burst into a thousand yogic pieces
of intertwined flaming gunas,
I am awoken by the sound of:
“Rise and Shine sweet thing
The Sun’s out to lunch and you are the maker of your own warmth.
You are your own light at the end of the tunnel,
Simply transparent and transparently
simple.
Rearrange your idealistic mind
On this term defined
As ‘perfection’ as a spiritual notion.”
I am then challenged to put forth what, in my heart, I truly know.

And so:
I know that truth, itself, is change,
that nothing remains the same.
That the million-molecular-makeup of my entire body
moves and ebbs and flows
to the sound of music in the airwaves.
That everything shifts and dies away,
and that this body will too, one day.
I know the truth and power of love
and the softening in strangers faces
When met with compassionate withstanding.
Reaching out to make clear that
No, we are NOT separate,
we are similar souls inhabiting different bodies.
And that just because your journey looks a little different than mine
does not mean I will forget or leave you behind.

Regardless of the name of our path,
if what we deeply believe in continues to transform us into kinder,
more playful, AWEsome human beings
then we have found our perfect practice.
Because, let’s face it:
All the brilliantly bound books and texts in the world
will not make us good people
if our paths are not rooted in our hearts.
And these philosophies started with one
coining these terms of life.
So why can’t we begin our own philosophy
through the whispers of our own hearts?

We are set a part
and were born whole into this world,
connected to the rhythm of the earth
and the pounding in our souls
that no book
or bible
or sutra could shed a light on.
And what if we reached into the sky for answers
only to find our own hands reaching back in
wholly wisdom
As if to say:
“Darling, open your heart and close your eyes, and you will find a big surprise.
Realize that no,
You don’t need to manhandle yourself into full Padmasana to achieve enlightenment.
That no,
not one other individual can give you the blue prints to your own spiritual action.
And nope,
you don’t need to spend the rest of your life in solitude
on top of a mountain
in contemplation.
Because although the view would be magnificent,
there is something significant
about the inner workings of your own buddha nature.

That beneath societal conditioning and fragmented philosophy
there is innate, divine wisdom inside you and me.”

If we remember kindness and simplicity
and find practices that make us sparkly
we become more powerful than superheroes.
More loving than can ever be measured.
And here it is where we delight
in our birthright
to be our own Guru
and our own beacon of light.

*An inspired response to chapter eleven in Jack Kornfield’s book, A Path With Heart.

~

Written by Megan Marie Gates

Megan Marie is currently blissed out on the following things: hoola-hooping, impromptu dance parties, spoken word poetry, biking, delicious espresso/food/people, intuitive singing, shaking her asana, writing love letters, art in all its brilliant diversity, wandering the globe, picture-taking, tantric texts and making her yoga practice as curious and playful as humanly possible. She is a graduate of Octopus Garden’s 200hr YTT and is currently finishing the 300hr program with Scott, Pat and company.