Blog On Hold – or Nope, That’s About It, Blog On Hold

Hello Yogis,

I’ve been neglecting this blog as my personal blog fills up more and more. My practice has fallen off too. Winter (I have SAD) kills my momentum and recovering from having all the viruses meant I moved almost all of my yoga to my personal yoga space in my house.

I’m not shutting the blog down, but updates are on hold for now, while I decide what to do.

I think I’m past being critical of other people’s classes. Reviewing classes was a way to get me out to them and, frankly, I stand by the fact that yoga is subject to criticism, like any other exercise class. Still, I don’t have that drive to say what’s good and bad in other people’s work. It’s like I’m too tired for that.

So where does that leave this blog? Like I said, on hold.

I’ve loved discovering yoga and I’m glad you guys journeyed with me. If I find my path again, you’ll be the third to know. :D

Namaste,
Heather

Yogic Survivors – or – From Trauma To Tranquility

I like yoga. I suppose that’s clear. I also use yoga. I use to yoga to try to relax, de-stress, heal and find solace. I use it when my body is being unfriendly or my mind is too cluttered. I use yoga so that I do not get lost in past trauma.

We all have trauma. We all have loss. For some of us, though, that trauma is so severe or so long term that we cannot easily separate ourselves from its effects on our bodies and minds. For people like me, yoga can be a great tool.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the sorts of yoga and the types of yogic settings I find most conducive to my own healthy experience. What I’m going to share here are my own observations. I hope people feel free to share their experiences in the comments. This is my advice to yoga instructors looking to create a space that is safe for survivors of trauma and those who suffer the after-effects (like post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia or anxiety.)

1) Change the Layout
A typical yoga room is laid out in a grid, whether exact or loose. The students face the instructor. It looks like this:

Untitled 18

The problem with this layout is that, save the people in the back row, everyone has someone at their back. I always take a spot in the back row. I feel self-conscious being watched and I don’t feel safe without a wall at my back. I know that may seem extreme, but there you have it.

Solution? Lay the class out like this:

Untitled 18 copy

With this layout, everyone’s back is covered and everyone can see the teacher. In fact, it’s changes the entire dynamic, moving away from formal and classroom-inspired to casual and free.

2) Change the Numbers
A typical yoga class has somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 people. With this many, elbows get bumped, spaces get invaded and trauma survivors like me can feel trapped. Solution? Smaller classes. Half sized should do. Here’s the deal: I know that the more students you have, the more money you make. I know yoga is a business, no matter what else it is. Perhaps you could think of this as karma. (No? Not gonna work?). You charge us full price, but you understand that you’ll be seeing fewer of us. I suppose some survivors wouldn’t mind paying a premium for a safer environment, but a girl can dream, can’t she? I acknowledge that this presents a potential problem. Smaller classes might mean turning people away. I suppose a work-around would be to make it a pre-registered class. Commit to 8 weeks, and you get a guaranteed small class and a safer place, plus every week you see the same people.

3) Change the Script
Most yoga teachers have a pretty solid sense of where they are going before a class starts. There are things you say and do every week that help set the tone and pass along vital information to students. Consider changing that around a bit. Somewhere in your intro, offer students a chance to share their class-applicable triggers (dimmed lights, being touched, chanting and heavy scents are all likely.) By giving your students a chance to help create the space, you’ve empowered them. By allowing them to place limits on things like touch, you’ve given them ownership of their own bodies. Explain any changes you’ve made to them. Explain that they should stop if they are uncomfortable. It is better to be safe than to be perfect. To be on the safe side, even if a student is cool with touch, announce yourself before making contact.

4) Change the Space
No yoga room seems complete without a few key elements – statuary of religious icons, symbols of spiritual ideas and candles all rate high on my yoga-room-recognition scale. So why am I about to suggest you sweep these things into a closet for this class? Religion and spirituality can be a very positive pursuit, however, whether good or bad, religion is generally tied to heightened emotion. People who have had negative religious experiences may intellectually disconnect and those with positive experiences may feel overwhelmed and, again, disconnect. Since one of the biggest services that yoga provides to PTSD sufferers and the like is the opportunity to be in the moment, this potential disconnection is counter to the benefits a class provides.

5) Change the Ending
We all love savasana, right? Um no. Imagine you are a survivor of sexual abuse, physical abuse or combat. Now imagine just how many triggers are going to be tied to lying, arms and legs spread, on your back, in a dark room full of strangers, with your eyes closed. Yep, I pretty much hate savasana. No matter what trauma one has survived, this position is strikingly vulnerable. While attaining the ability to lie happily prone may be a great long term goal for a trauma survivor, there’s no way one hour of yoga will get me ready for it. I’m always the first person to get out of this pose. That’s not to say that every trauma survivor will feel as I do. For some, it may be just what they want. Still, I suggest offering alternate positions for your group to finish and rest in. I generally default to child’s pose. By offering alternate poses or evened altered versions of poses, you can help your group find their own comfort zone.

I know that this is a lot of work. It’s not a few simple changes, it’s an entire re-thinking of how yoga is approached. It’s also a commitment to bringing peace to group that needs it very, very desperately. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts and consider creating the sort of space trauma survivors need. I hope that other survivors will offer suggestions below, which I will include in a follow up blog. Teachers, please add your thoughts as well. Together, we can create something profound. Together we can find moments of peace.

Namaste,
Heather

Rawlicious Review – or – Putting the Din in Dinner

rawlicious-logo

the basics

Rawlicious Yorkville Rating: ♦♦♦◊◊
20 Cumberland St. (map)
(416) 646-0705
Closest subway station: Bay

the ratings

Atmosphere (♦◊◊◊◊)
Is loud an atmosphere? This place was loud. Not visually. Not abstractly. The volume of patrons was actually unpleasant. Perhaps it was a result of the layout or the proximity of the tables. It could have something to do with the crowd (slightly tipsy ladies who lunch.) I found myself wishing I had brought my headphones to drown out the din. While the food is clearly designed to promote the yogic ideals of relaxation and body care, the noise level drove me to eat as quickly as I could, just to escape. The design was spartan, neutral walls with the sort of art and furniture that graces hotels and design TV shows. Not terribly inspiring.

Cost (♦♦♦◊◊)
I ordered the pizza of the day and a mint hot chocolate. When eating out, I look at the food in front of me and figure out what it would cost me to create the meal I’m consuming. I add value for fresh ingredients, skill and training of the chef, and the fact that I don’t have to prepare it myself. The food was more than worth the money. It was a complex meal that managed to cleverly substitute flavours that weren’t available (Rawlicious is vegan and gluten free) with delicious alternatives. At $11, the two slices of pizza may have seemed small, but they were packed with healthy ingredients. It was the $4 hot chocolate that gave me pause. Quick and easy to make, poured from a $3.50 container of almond milk that would easily make a half dozen more drinks and served in a small coffee cup, the hot chocolate could either have been larger or less expensive. I doubt it cost more than fifty cents to make. If you’re looking for a value, dig in on the entree, but skip the beverages, all of which land between $2.75 (Perrier) and $10.00 (Superfood Smoothy.)

Correction: Rawlicious contacted me to let me know that their almond milk is made on site. While that still lands on the pricey side, it does help explain the cost. – Heather

Food (♦♦♦♦◊)
The food was delicious. Really. I’m not a gourmet. I grew up choosing between frozen or canned, so my palette is not sophisticated. My palette would watch reality TV, if it could. It’s low brow that way. Still, this was divine. The crust of the pizza was satisfyingly soft and rich, the topping was tangy, and made me forget I wasn’t eating cheese. The fresh veggies on top were vibrantly tasty. The raw-ish onions were a bit much, and detracted from the overall yum-ness, but I can forgive. The hot cocoa, though pricey, was also tasty and I’ve since started making it at home in the same way.

Healthy Options (♦♦♦♦♦)
You want vegan? They got vegan. Low fat? Yep. Gluten-free? Heck yeah! Any trendy mix of berries, nuts and fruits that will currently oxygenate or anti-oxygenate or whatever-enate your body? This is the place. Since it’s their mandate, they are chock-full of healthy choices.

Service (♦♦◊◊◊)
This is where Rawlicious fails. They were busy. There were never fewer than twenty patrons in the store. On staff, there was one lonely server and one chef. While I adore the concept of slow food, this isn’t a place you want to sit in for long periods of time (see loudness above.) My water glass spent more time empty than full. No one noticed when I had finished my meal. No one offered me dessert or coffee. Eventually, I just went up to the front, paid and left. The staff were friendly enough, though the chef did have a look like she was tolerating the commoners. The main challenge was, I think, numbers. Too many of us, not enough of them.

the conclusion

Rawlicious gets a three. I’ll be returning again, but here’s my dilemma: Who would I bring? Anyone looking for this style of food would want a more mellow environment. Anyone cool with the noise would probably want a bit more meat on their plate. Most likely I’ll be calling ahead and getting the food, the real selling point, to go.

His Fordship or Why This Is Not Okay

I posted this on Facebook, but in order to share it a bit more widely, I’m posting it here. No, it’s not about yoga. No, it’s not going to mean much to folks outside of Toronto. Still, I wanted to share it.

Sigh. Okay, here goes. I grew up in Rexdale, the Mayor’s hood. When I was a teenager and homeless, he defeated a bill to have a group home for kids put in a nice part of Etobicoke because there were, as he said, “No homeless people in Etobicoke.” When I ended up in a group home later on, it was near Dundas West station, far, far away from my school, friends and job. I needed to re-find an entire life because Mr. Ford and his buddies didn’t want a group home in their back yard.

I grew up in a blue collar family. I did not have a millionaire dad who owned his own business (like his Fordship does.) I had a janitor dad and we lived, five of us, on that salary. We did not do drugs. We did not skip work. We did not expect forgiveness when we messed up, just because we asked for it. That’s the blue collar ethos.

Despite being homeless, living in a group home and pretty much scraping the underbelly of Toronto life, I have NEVER done crack. Never. Not in a drunken stupor. Not accidently at a party. It’s not something you do by accident.

By doing what he does, in the backyard of my old hood, he supports a drug culture that ruins neighbourhoods and destroys lives. People actually die because of this. This drug culture made living in Rexdale a dangerous and harsh experience. People he knew are dead. Actually dead. Not funny, ha ha. Not funny at all.

I am allowed to not like this guy. I’m allowed to be stunned when people who work hard, live clean and try to be good people defend him. Don’t pretend this okay. He is not a good person. His behavior is ultimately damaging to Toronto, to his own home neighbourhood and to people trying to build a good life from a rough start. He is not a blue collar hero. He’s a broken baby-man-child who needs a big frickin’ time out.

Ad It Up – or – Bye Bye Buy

I’ve now finished a month of trying to purchase only what I needed, and there are several stories to tell from that time. In a way, it spread out to include so many other concepts of want, need, have and the compulsion to have that it prevented me from having the time to actually talk about it.

Let me just say that I now have a different job and my house is almost unrecognizable in it’s cleanliness. It’s been a far bigger experiment than what I had expected.

Just 9 of the 163 ads I recorded

Just 9 of the 163 ads I recorded

But for this entry, I’m getting back to the meat of the thing. The compulsion or desire to acquire. In a quest to better understand why I, and others, consume so much, I spent a morning taking a photo of every ad I saw. I had intended to take photos for the whole day, but within three hours I had seen and recorded so many ads that my camera phone battery died. 163 in total. In just a few hours, I was advertised to 163 times. It should be noted that I hadn’t gone online in that time or I’m sure that number would be doubled. The first ad I saw, I imposed on myself. It was my coffee cup with its Starbucks logo. I didn’t even make it past my morning brew without seeing an ad. On the way to the bus, I saw dozens of leaf bags, each with a logo for the shop from which they were purchased. People had paid money to advertise all along the block for the Home Depot, Canadian Tire and Lowe’s. Every pole, bus stop or shop window had another ad. People were walking billboards selling me Nike, Adidas and New Balance. The message was simple. Consume, consume, consume.

In one morning I was told to buy 163 times. Imagine if, in one morning, any other concept were imposed on you 163 times. We would call it social engineering, propaganda or worse. We might be incensed or at least deeply cynical of this repeated imposition into our physical and mental space. Not once in my morning did I see anything that might encourage me to take care of people, share, be a good neighbour or be more loving. To tell us to be better people – that, again, smacks of propaganda. Why, then, are we so neutral to the idea of being so consistently told to be consumers? Why do we allow it to so fill our space that it becomes, to our perceptions, part of the scenery, as harmless as bricks and windows and potted plants?

Is it any wonder that we are consuming ourselves into poverty, debt, environmental damage and a half dozen reality shows featuring hoarding? If we are trained to follow the rules on signs (drive this fast, exit through this door, do not trespass,) can our minds filter the passive admission of so many ads without many of us falling into the obedience that has been so trained into us? Is mass, advertised capitalism a reflection of free will or the elimination of it? When the masters of manipulation use science to figure out exactly how to get us to buy buy buy, at what point do we have the duty to start tearing down these airbrushed, falsified, wastes of mental space and give our poor, overstimulated brains room to figure out what we really want, without someone telling us? Aparigraha. Non ownership. Not an easy concept in a society where we are so determined to sell ourselves out.  Please share your thoughts. And feel free to ignore any ads on this page. ;)

Whatever Lola Wants – or – The Cornetto Conundrum

I’ve run into a bit of a snag in my quest to explore the yogic sutra of aparigraha. For those of you new to my blog – hello! – and let me explain the sutra, to the best of my understanding. Aparigraha is the concept of non-posessiveness or non-ownership. While this mostly applies to objects, it can also be applied to anything in your life to which you cling – lovers, family, opinions, even identities. But my humble beginning in approaching the sutra is to try, for one month, not to purchase anything I do not need. I’ve done pretty well, limiting my purchases to healthy food and home ownership expenses. My husband, deciding that he is not interested in this particular experiment, has continued with his usual purchases. He also, sweetly, buys me treats on occasion, including things I am currently going without (like sweets.) Not buying these things myself makes the gifting even more appreciated, as it was with a bottle of wine from my dear friend Shawn or dinner and Neil Gaiman tickets from my brother and sister-in-law earlier in the month.

That's right, I blame the British.

That’s right, I blame the British.

Alas, I am weak and human. I’ve made my first non-necessary purchase since I began this quest – though I blame Edgar Wright. Later this month, the Cornetto Trilogy is playing at a local movie theatre. Three films by my favourite director who is not named Joss in one ice-cream-filled evening? What? Seriously? Is this a test? If it is, I’ve failed. And after avoiding the temptation of a Margaret Atwood reading, too. I didn’t really buy the tickets. I told my husband not to buy the tickets in a way, he informed me, was certain to get them bought. Yep, I cheated. I cheated and I know it. And I don’t really blame Edgar Wright. Or the crazy talented folks in his hilarious films. Or the entire British Empire for using the BBC to nefariously engrain in me a sense of humour that can only be satisfied with prat falls done by folks with posh accents. Nope, I blame me.

I seem to have a problem giving up experiences. The things that I cannot put off. If I don’t do this now, it’s gone – poof – into the ether, never to be seen again. So I will be going to the films. I’ll let you know how the experience goes, with all of this in mind. Damn you, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost! Why do you have to be so freaking brilliant? Why?

Sigh.

Now I have to wonder, would I have learned something amazing about myself by actually going without this? Is it like an alcoholic taking just one drink? No, that’s a pretty flawed analogy. After all, we need to consume to survive in our current society. Right? We just don’t need to consume Cornetto. Do I try to reset after this? Do I accept that doing with less doesn’t mean doing without? Any thoughts appreciated. (Translation: Tell me I can be a good person and still enjoy brit-com.)

:D
Heather

All The Somethings, Feeling Nothing or Aparigrasping

I am very empty this morning. I had strange dreams, desperate ones that saw me robbed, full of madness and weeping for help from cold sources. I ache. I want to weep and – I was about to say I don’t know why, but, of course, I do. It’s just which why to choose?

My mother is ill (maybe – tests pending.) Either way, there will be surgery. I haven’t seen her in over a decade. She is something I let go, knowing it was not best for me. Something I did not hoard. Something that I realized was not mine. Still, the space she left is hollow and echoes with unheard apologies and oh so many possibilities that distance makes seem real. They are not real, but my imagination is vivid.

My job is complicated. After a month off, I know that I’ve tied my wellness to it in a way that can’t continue. So there are choices to be made and I hate making large choices. I usually let them make themselves. I let them cascade into unbearableness – a place that can not be fixed. Then I walk away.

I am an aunt again and there is a life in the world that I already know I will not give as much to as I should. I never know whether I expect too much or whether I am just falling short.

And in the midst of this, I am exploring aparigraha – the yogic principle of non-possessiveness. For the last few weeks, I have been cleaning my home. I have been filling bags and stacking shelves and trying to let things go. Letting things go is hard for me. Not immediately replacing them, even harder.

Once everything I owned fit in two bags...

Once, everything I owned fit into two bags. (From my webcomic)

Why do I cling to things? In truth, it’s something I’ve done since childhood. I’ve tried to sort out why, and I have several dazzling theories that I’m sure will fascinate you, right?

We moved when I was a child. Not once, but many times. Sometimes away, sometimes inside of our city. I went to three schools in the fifth grade. Friends changed. Rooms changed. I changed. But my Cabbage Patch Kid was reliably consistent. My books always came with me.

My mum was a consummate consumer. She could spot a bargain at 20 paces. She filled our under-funded house with twenty-five cent notebooks and five for a dollar socks. We didn’t always have what we needed, but we always had, dammit!

When I was kicked out as a teenager, I left with just two bags of my hard-fought stuff. (Yes, my Cabbage Patch Kid was in there.) After that, it was a struggle to get what I needed. I adopted my mum’s pattern of hunting for bargains. People thought I was eclectic and artsy when they saw my old man pants and retro t-shirts. Perhaps I was, but they were fifty cents. You can’t argue with fifty cents.

Except this month, I’m arguing with fifty cents. Even if it’s a great deal and I like it, I’m not buying it. Unless I need it. I’ve been working on what need means. So far this month, all I’ve bought is food. Even then, only food I think my body needs. Not what it wants. Oh, it wants chocolate, by the way. It really, really wants chocolate. A few items have made me wonder if they fall into want or need. In a panic attack, I really wanted a Zevia soda pop. I had been in a crowd (seeing the brilliant Neil Gaiman) and by the end, I was pacing in my own body. I was nigh loopy. Even then, I stopped to ask myself, is this a want or a need? Finally, I just bought myself the damn soda pop. It was cool and sweet and soothing. Oddly, I remember it distinctly. Perhaps because I asked the question, or because it was a rare treat that week, it was sweeter. I’m not sure.

So yes, I am sad and determined and on a mission. There are bags and bags leaving my house for my local charity, so others can bargain hunt them. That is where I am.

Namaste,
Heather