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10 Yoga poses to do every day

I don’t always have time to hit up a 60 minute yoga class everyday. On the other hand if I waited to do yoga until I thought I had time then my body and mind would surely resent me.  These 10 poses however are something I do every day.  Maybe not all at once. Maybe not even on my yoga mat.  But these poses target a little bit of the major parts of the body.  It keeps the body flexible especially if it is a few days between a full class.  It also keeps my mind in check and decreases the amount of stress I feel on a daily basis.  So give it a try.

1. Child’s Pose ~ Balasana

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Child’s pose is generally a resting pose. But don’t be fooled. Your hips, thighs, and ankles will still feel a stretch.  This pose is great to reclaim your attention to the breath and fill up the upper lungs.  It can also be done at anytime during a class when the body needs to ground and re-center or take a break from a difficult pose or sequence.

To do this pose start on your mat knelt down on your hands and knees. Touch your big toes together and then take your knees as wide or as close apart as is comfortable. Exhale and lean your torso down between your knees. There are a few variations you may do with your arms.  In this picture I have them stretched out to the front of my mat while gently pushing the front of the mat away to encourage my hips down toward my heels. I also have my elbows lifted with a slight internal rotation in my shoulders. I find when my arms are engaged in this way I get a stretch in my upper back, however in a full resting childs pose I would either allow my elbows to rest on the floor or reach my hands back facing palm up and resting on the mat by my ankles.

2. Cat/Cow ~ Marjaryasana/Bitilasana

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Shown in the picture is cat pose. Cat and Cow is often a cycle of two poses that moves with the breath.  This cycle helps to awaken and loosen the vertebrae along the spine. It also helps to massage the abdominal organs and to stretch the abdominal, neck, and back muscles.

To do this pose start in a neutral table top position knelt down on your mat on your hands and knees.  Cat: As you exhale, begin to round your spine starting from the tailbone and finishing by gently tucking the chin in toward the chest.  Imagine a string is attached to your heart and is pulling it through your thorax up to the ceiling. Cow: As you inhale, begin to sink your navel toward the mat starting from the tailbone moving up the spine until you reach the chin where it should be parallel to the floor yet not hyperflexing the cervical spine. Imagine you are dragging the palms of your hands toward your knees without actually lifting them off the mat to engage the rectus abdominus muscle.  Move through cat/cow a few times to really warm up the spine.

3. Downward-facing dog ~ Adho Mukha Svanasana

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Downdog is a common pose found in yoga practice.  It’s benefits are many.  As a basic inversion, this pose is great for bringing blood to the brain, allowing you to feel more focused and energized.  It also stretches the back, hamstring, and calf muscles as well as strengthens the arms, shoulders and abs. It is a great releif for headaches, menstrual cramps and menopause symptoms. It helps improve digestion and can be therapeutic for high blood pressure and sciatic pain.

Often students have their hands either too far or too close to the feet.  To check the proper distance between the hands and feet start your pose off in a high plank. Hands would be directly under your shoulders and your head, neck, shoulders and hips would be in a straight plane with your heels which would be lifted off the mat.

I often get students to start this pose from a table top position.  Because the most important alignment in this pose is in the spine, and not so much in the legs, I find students can maintain that alignment easier this way rather than starting off in plank.  So while in table-top begin to lift your knees off of the mat a few inches. Then begin to push the front of your mat away from you as you keep the knees bent and begin to straighten the spine. The head should be in-line with the shoulders and the chest should remain open while engaging the muscles around the shoulder blade to squeeze them in and down toward the spine.  Once you have found length in the spine then you can begin to straighten the back of the knees being sure not to change the alignment of the pelvis. Encourage the armpit muscles to reach up in the direction of the upper thighs.  The heels either touch the ground or not, this is not an important aspect of this pose. However, to encourage length in the backs of the legs begin to pedal the feet back and forth bending one knee and then the other while still pushing the front of your mat away and pulling the navel in toward the spine.

4. Standing Crescent Pose ~ Indudalasana

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Aka: Crescent moon pose. This posture is great for stretching the side body and improving balance. A key pose in the moon salutation series, it also strengthens our oblique abdominal muscles and helps get rid of those pesky love handles. Try keeping the hips square and facing forward as you reach with clasped hands first straight up and then over.  We have a tendency to splay our hips out to the opposite side our hands are reaching.  But you will feel a deeper stretch in the intercostal (rib cage) and latissumus (upper back) muscles if the hips are square over the ankles.

5. Yoga squat ~ Malasana

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Malasana is a great hip opener. It also stretches the ankles and groins while stregthening the upper back muscles. To prevent any injury to the knees be sure to always have them pointed in the same direction as your toes.

To do this pose from standing (or mountain) take your feet a little wider than hip distance apart.  Then externally rotate your legs so your toes are pointing outward at approximately 45 degrees.  Begin to squat down, bending the knees until the torso fits snugly between the thighs. Bring the hands into a prayer position while gently pressing the elbows to the inside of the knee encouraging the groin muscles to stretch open.  Then begin to lengthen the spine while finding a balance on the four corners of the feet.  Again the heels either touch the floor or not, this is not a major part of the pose.  If you find it too difficult to hover your heels off the ground but can not comfortably get them to the ground try placing a rolled towel or a folded mat under the heels. You may also play with the distance between the feet seeing what feels best.

6. High or Low Crescent Lunge with an Arm Bind ~ Anjaneyasana

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Shown is high Crescent lunge where the back knee is lifted off of the mat as opposed to a low lunge where the back knee would be resting on the mat. Either one is great for stretching the hip flexors and psoas (posture) muscle.  I also like to bind my hands behind my back in this pose to get the added benefit of a heart/chest opener and a slight back bend.

To do this pose, start from standing at the front of your mat and stepping one foot back as far as is comfortable toward the back of the mat.  Begin to bend the front knee to a 90 degree angle (or as close to it as possible), while keeping the back heel lifted off of the mat. Engage the the thigh muscles while encouraging the posterior knee of the back leg up toward the ceiling.  Be sure not to let the front knee collapse in or outward.  That knee should be pointed toward the middle toe. Then clasp the fingers behind the back and gently lift them off of your glutes squeezing the shoulder blades together but trying to keep the tops of the shoulders relaxed away from the ears.  With any back bend the tendency is the hyperflex the cervical spine. Although a slight lift in the chin is ok try to keep the bend in the back of the neck to just a gentle curvature.

7. Chatarunga into a Cobra Vinyasa ~ Bhujangasana

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Chatarunga’s are great for strengthening the arms and wrists while toning the ab muscles. And cobra is great for stretching the abdominal muscles, bringing heat into the back body, stretching the chest and strengthening the tricep muscles (the back of the arms). Shown above is a low cobra pose. A full vinyasa from plank to cobra usually starts in a high or low plank position.  In plank the wrists are directly under the shoulders. Knees can be on the mat. The yogi then lowers the body or torso as a plank to the mat by tucking the elbows into the ribs and engaging the triceps and abdominal muscles. You then end in Cobra by pushing the front of the mat away from you as you gently roll the chest off of the mat beginning at the lower abs and ending at the cervical spine, remembering to keep the chin slightly tucked. While in cobra the pinky toes should be encouraged to the mat allowing the inner thighs to engage upward allowing the legs to slightly externally rotate, yet keeping the glutes engaged.  Try to keep the tailbone slightly tucked while allowing the pubic bone to rest into the mat.  This pose is  less about the height of the torso and more about keeping proper alignment, so if you need to lessen the back bend and keep the chest a little closer to the ground then please do that. It’s your body, you just have to listen to it.

8. Pigeon Pose ~ Kapotasana

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A great pose to lengthen the hip flexors and the psoas muscles and to stretch out the glute muscles.

To do this pose start in a table-top position on your hands and knees.  Then slide one knee up toward the wrist on the same side. Encourage that shin to move parallel to the front of the mat.  Don’t worry if it is not exactly parallel.  I have been practicing this pose for years and am still at more of a 45 degree angle.  Then begin to slide the back foot toward the back of the mat as you lower the open hip down toward the mat.  If there is any strain in the front knee try sliding the back foot closer to the middle of the mat.  You can use blocks under your hands to lift the chest higher creating a bit of a back bend and feeling a deeper stretch in the hip flexor — known as active pigeon.  Or another variation is to lengthen the spine and then lower the torso to the ground or a bolster to get a deeper stretch in the glute muscle — known as resting pigeon.

9. Two-kneed twist ~ Supta Matsyendrasana

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An amazing restorative pose, this two-knee twist helps to eleviate pain and stiffness in the back.  It helps stretch the chest, neck, shoulders, spine, and glutes. It’s also thought to help improve digestion, balance our emotions, and clear the sacral chakra – associated with creativity, self-esteem, and sexuality.

To do this pose start by lying on your back. Bend the knees so both feet are planted on the floor.  Then bend the knees toward the chest and gently allow them to lower over to the side perhaps even resting on the floor.  If you feel pinching in the lower back then slide the knees up closer to the chest.  Be sure to keep both shoulders down on the mat.  To get a stretch in the neck turn your face in the opposite direction of the knees and take the arms out long at the sides.  Feel free to use any props in this pose.  Sometimes it feels good to prop a rolled blanket under the knees.  Take your time in this pose, allowing the whole body to relax into the twist can take several minutes.

10. Easy Pose ~ Sukhasana

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Used in yoga and meditation alike. The benefits of this physical pose include opening the hips, strengthening the back and posture muscles, as well as stretching the knees and ankles.  However, there can be many other benefits to this pose depending on what you are doing whilst in it. For example, dhyana, one of the limbs of yoga often happens in this posture. Dhyana also known as meditation helps to decrease stress and enhance mental health and emotional regulation among other benefits. There are many different ways to meditate (I’ll save that for another post) but one I do everyday is breath awareness or mindfulness meditation.

To do this pose simply cross the legs while seated directly on your mat or on a block under your buttocks.  I like the block because it helps open the hips more and encourages length in the lower back. For longer stretches of time in this pose I’ll often find a pillow and blanket to sit on instead of a block.

Many of the limbs of yoga can be practiced in this position: Pratyahara – the practice of turning inward while withdrawing from the senses;  Pranayama or breathwork such as alternate nostril breathing.  Asanas or yoga poses were actually historically done to prepare the body to sit in easy pose longer with more ease and comfort.  So try practicing this pose and finding stillness on your mat for that special journey inward.

In all these poses the most important thing to remember is that the look of the pose really doesnt matter all that much. Every body is different. How it feels in the body is most important.  Be sure to focus on the breath and try not to let your inner critic make judgements on your practice.  When we practice with kindness we allow ourselves to show up just as we are.

Thanks for reading dear yogis.

Namaste!

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Another year, another beautiful transformation!

I have been doing some deep reflecting the past few weeks as I take shelter from the cold, dark winter nights inside where it’s warm and cozy . Reflecting mostly on the year that’s passed since it has been coming to an end. I thought about where I was this time last year. How I’ve changed. How things have changed. And the biggest change I can conclude from this year overall is: my spirituality. My faith in something bigger than me. Than all of us.

Let me explain a little.

You see I have waxed and wained between my love and resentment for the Universe my whole life. Source. Spirit. Whatever you want to call ‘IT’.  I was a true skeptic. It’s funny, I was born into a Christian family. Ukranian catholic on one side and Protestant on the other to be specific.  I went to catechism and learned plenty about the bible.  I had my first communion and as a young adult I was confirmed into the catholic church. It still wasn’t good enough for me though.  I had questions.  I wasn’t convinced.  I new it was a ‘sin’ to even question it. But spiritually I felt lost and empty. I never felt like I truly belonged there, inside of the church, praying to someone I questioned existed.   But it also felt a little safe. There were, after-all, a lot of people that believed it all to be something big, long before my parents and their parents were even born.  So I kept myself to the sidelines not speaking much of my inner struggle. But the waxing and waining continued well into my adulthood.  I was so confused by what I wanted in life.  And had no idea who I was down deep. Or where I wanted to go, do, or be. I felt insecure and scared. Then add a patchy spirituality on top of it all. Man, no wonder I was a train wreck!

Two summers ago I was introduced to meditation and mindfulness. It was simply one of the most challenging tasks I’ve ever undertaken. If you knew my type-A personality you’d understand. I’ve never been one to sit still and just feel. I became very interested in learning more about it and was introduced to some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books and the Buddhist lineage. I began to feel more open about spirituality in a different way. Not that meditation is spiritual for everyone. But it’s crazy the things that would come up for me during those times of stillness. It was a struggle. But it had me coming back for more at the same time. I could see some similarities on my yoga mat. The feeling of oneness. The feeling of being a tiny spec in this giant galaxy and yet big enough to make waves.

Needless to say I was curious. So I decided to sign up for a 200 hour intensive yoga teacher training (YTT) to learn more about the philosophy and understand more about Yoga beyond the mat.

YTT was life changing. I’ve never met a more open honest group of like-minded inspirational people in all my life. We were all so very different, yet all very much the same. I had many ‘ah-hah’, personally transforming, positive spirituality-inducing moments in those four weeks. Let me be clear it was not all sunshine and rainbows, sun salutations and cute Namastè bows. It was open, raw, can’t-hide-anything-but-nice-try kind of an emotional rollercoaster. From crying to laughing to holding side planks for what seemed like an eternity. It was epic. In fact my words could not possibly do it justice. The funny thing is, I never actually went into that training hoping to teach after, but when I left with my certificate in-hand I knew without a doubt that I wanted to share yoga and it’s philosophy with the world.

And that was how the year began to magnificently unfold. All with Viva la Lemon, this little sprout of a wellness company I had created.

And even though it grew more into a communal journey, my personal life continued to transform along side.

As my first backyard Summer yoga session started coming to an end, a close friend of mine was admitted to the palliative care floor at the hospital. He had been battling cancer for months.

I remember literally feeling my heart break for him and his family as we watched them bravely fight for his life.

It was an emotional time, but almost every day or at least every few days I’d try to visit. Most of the time the conversation was light but at times it became deep, as I’m sure it does with anyone who is faced with such a battle. We talked about our dreams. He talked about his plans of retirement and traveling the world with his beautiful wife. I talked about my dream of having another child. And sometimes our conversations would be about spirituality. And I remember not feeling so lost about it. Feeling like Yoga, the Buddhist lineage, and everything else I’d been learning about in that regard gave me a sense of peacefulness or clarity. I shared this with him as I stayed at his bedside one night in hospital. About a week later him and his wife asked me and a good friend of mine to speak together at his funeral. I was both honored, crushed with sadness at the thought of his funeral, and terrified of speaking all at the same time. But of course I said I would love to.

A month or less later I remember being at this meditation gathering at a girlfriends house. She had invited a special guest to perform sound healing with his traditional drums and Tibetan singing bowls.  I had spoken to the guest before class about my friend who had terminal cancer and about speaking at his funeral. His eyes welled up as I poured my fears out to him asking for advice.

He simply reached down into his pocket and gently placed this smooth crystal obsidian rock in the palm of my hand. He said he wanted me to keep it and to blow all of my fears into the crystal and then place it outside in a special area on the earth for it to be cleansed. The critic in my head thought he was crazy. Another part of me felt my shoulders become 10x lighter.  So then we sat in meditation as he guided us through a few different sound healing techniques. At one point he had us imagine a part of our body that needed healing. He began to rhythmically beat a traditional drum made of hide.  I immediately focused on my womb.  I wanted a baby so bad I thought more than anything that’s what needed healing.  Still holding the crystal in my hand I moved it over my lower abdomen and with every beat of the drum I felt a heartbeat inside of me there.  I kid you not. It was profound. It moved me to tears. I went home that night and did exactly what he told me to do with the crystal. The next morning I went outside and picked it up and placed it in my bra next to my heart. I kept it there everyday.

A week later I ended up in the hospital. The sickest I’ve ever been.  And nobody at the time could explain why.  I have never been so frustrated in all my life.  I had just started a new nursing position in public health.  I had just started a new fall session of yoga. I was so pissed, it could not have come at a more inconvenient time.  Not that being sick is ever convenient. But it took me to a dark place. I tried to focus on one good thing. That good thing was that I got to see my friend Chris on the palliative floor more! That was literally the only good thing because he was getting much worse. The last thing he ever said to me as I was giving my usual hug goodbye was, “Will you come back?”   “Of course!”, I replied. But when I did come back the next day, he didn’t speak…he just breathed. His eyes were closed. He looked comfortable. That evening people began to gather at his bedside. We sobbed and held hands as his breathing became more irregular and labored. We prayed with Joe, one of the kindest spiritual care guys I’ve ever met. And then we all watched Chris take his last breath as his soul began to transcend into nirvana. And in that moment, I felt this overwhelming energy of pure peacefulness wash over me. I can’t explain it fully but the energy in that room took my breath away. I think each and every one of us was meant to be there. The universe planned it that way. There was something bigger than all of us in that room that night and although it was comforting to know he was no longer suffering it also crushed us with sadness that he was gone.

I still had the obsidian Crystal on me that night. I pulled it out and laid it on Chris’s chest as I said goodbye. It was beautiful really.  I couldn’t imagine a more peaceful passing.

The next few days were awful.  Trying to get myself discharged from hospital and back home so I could grieve in the comfort of my own home.  I had so many anxiety attacks during those few days leading up to his funeral. I called a friend I’d recently met to come help me calm down.  She is a retired nurse and was into healing touch and energy work. She gladly drove out to my home to meet me.  She did her thing.  And although she touched my skin very little it was as if she was massaging my aching heart deep inside.  And when she finished, she tucked me onto my couch and placed a cool cloth on my forehead. As she gently pulled her hand away she said in this incredibly soft voice, ‘my dear, are you expecting?’  I burst into tears.  And she placed her hand back on my head smoothing down my hair and shushing me like a mother would her child. Reaching down to give me a big hug, I said, “No, but I have been trying for years.”  She smiled with this bright shiny twinkle in her eye and said, ‘no worries darling you will be soon.’   I had no idea how she could possibly know that but I tried to take comfort in her belief anyway.

So I went to the funeral. I said my piece and celebrated my dear friends life. And back to work I went while teaching yoga three times per week.

Yoga classes got pretty deep at times as I opened up and shared little pieces of my soul with my dear yogi family. It was quite liberating actually and sometimes I’d fear they’d never show back up again knowing of my truths. But thankfully I didn’t scare too many of them away.

Over the next month or so I happened to get in for some much anticipated fertility tests/procedures with my obstetrician. After going through some seriously uncomfortable hoops I remember sitting in the OB’s office with white knuckles waiting to hear the news.  He walked in and told me he couldn’t find a single thing wrong with either one of us.  So he wrote another prescription for yet a different medication and told me to come back in 6 months if I still wasn’t pregnant at which point he would consider sending me for possible invitro.  I walked out of that appointment feeling completely defeated.  I got into my car and roared out of the parking lot.  At the first red light I hit my steering wheel with my fist and burst into tears.  I looked up at the sky and yelled, “What do you want from me Universe, do you want me to conceive again or not!!!??? Just fricken tell me what you want!!!!!”.  Then I drove all the way home wiping tears from my face.

The next weekend was a new moon.  I felt terrible.  I was arguing with my husband, I was irritable with our son.  But I just blamed the moon.  I’ve learned over the years that it makes me crazy.  I’m one of those people.  So needless to say I went to bed feeling absolutely miserable.  The next morning I woke up at 5am.  I felt so sick.  I paced the house a little seeing if it would go away then crawled back into bed to read about what that particular new moon was all about anyway.  Creation it said; this moon was all about creating something new.  It occurred to me that I was a day late of getting my period. I literally ran to the bathroom to take a pregnancy test.  And what do you know, it was positive.  I cried and jumped for joy.  And as I laid in bed with this giant grin on my face I immediately thought of Chris.  Not many people knew of my struggles… but he did!  I thought if anyone would send me an angel from up there in the arena it would be him.  The thought of that gave me goosebumps.

A couple weeks later I got a txt from my healing touch friend. She asked when I was due.  I literally dropped my phone and held my breath as chills went down my spine.  How could she know something like that?  Only two people knew of my news.

I can’t explain it but I’ve never felt so… freaked out and spiritual all at the same time.  The energy or whatever it is; life force; its all around us.  I felt it.  I believe it.  And I get it now. The universe has a grand plan. It’s why shitty things happen to good people and vice versa. Its why things just can’t be explained. It’s why we are all here. To find our purpose. To live our life to the fullest.

I think of my friend Chris a lot.  I thank him a lot too. I think of this tiny life growing inside of me and how blessed I am. All the tragic things that have happened in this world lately have taught me to trust the process and that life is simply precious. To love those who are in my life and to not sweat the small stuff so much. He taught me that saying goodbye isn’t really saying goodbye at all.  That this world only leads to the next and that the universe knows exactly what to do.  This year has taught me many, many things.  Once again it will be a year I never forget. Spiritually more grounded and surrounded by people I love with all my heart in this perfectly imperfect life, I say thank you Universe – thank-you!

So here’s to universal love that lives in and around each and every one of us no matter what we choose to believe and no matter what kind of situation we may find ourselves in. May this new year be full of moments that inspire and deeply move each of you!! Much love ♡

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Top 6 reasons to do Viva La Lemon Yoga

If you have been thinking of doing yoga but are apprehensive or nervous then embrace those feelings and give this a read. If you have been practicing asana (poses) at home but are interested in finding deeper connections to the ancient practice then give this a read. Yoga truly is for everyone.
Here are 6 reasons you should consider practicing yoga with Viva La Lemon.

1: Expertise

• Nicole is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT, 200 hr) who received her training from a Yoga Alliance Certified School receiving certification in Hatha Yoga.
• Nicole also has a certificate in 'Core Strength Vinyasa' (CSV, 25 hr) Yoga and enjoys being a student of yoga through her own daily practice. Additionally, Nicole enjoys attending a variety of different styles of yoga sessions in the area.
• With over a decade of experience in the health care world as a nurse, Nicole is very knowledgeable of the human body including anatomy, physiology, and even pathophysiology. She also has a deep passion for wellness and self-care.

2: Grounded in Yoga Philosophy

• Nicole has a way of taking ancient Yogic teachings and applying them to modern day life.
• Nicole uses the 8 limbs of Yoga to facilitate her classes and encourages the learned experiences to transcend out into our daily lives off of the mat.

3: Relevance

• Nicole encourages students to stay sensitive and vitally aware of their body. Ahimsa, the first Yama or yogic ethical principle, means non-violence. Nicole helps bring awareness of the body's limitations and promotes ahimsa; yet encourages curiosity in opening body, mind, and spirit more deeply in poses.
• No two bodies are the same, therefore no two poses should look the same. Nicole encourages students to find relevance to each pose on their mat moving them along with verbal cues, offering variations or modifications along the way. She promotes a caring, safe, non-judgemental environment where each student is celebrated.
• Nicole makes space for students to stop along the path at anytime and work their edge. Nicole's deepest desire as a facilitator is for each student to seek and find their truth, their growth, and their full expression each day.

4: Connection

• Nicole believes in the power of connection, union, and community.
• Yoga is a Sanskrit word which widely translates to union. This has many meanings in yoga. However, Nicole believes that yoga unites the mind-body connection with Divine source through the practice of the 8 limbs of yoga.
• In Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras (3rd century B.C.E.) – considered to be one of the core texts of yoga – he begins with a simple sentence: Atha yoganusasanam. This is translated as 'in the present moment is the teaching of yoga' or more technically: 'now', not later, but right here in the present moment begins the instruction on Yoga, as laid down by the ancient sages, that is available to everyone. It means that anyone who wants to can begin the path of Yoga. Which is why Nicole is so adamant that yoga is for every body! That by connecting to the present moment anyone can benefit from yoga, helping everyone live their best life.
• Even though yoga is so much about going within, and connecting with our center, building connections both on and off the mat is Nicole's vision. Following class Nicole encourages students to introduce themselves to one another. Enjoy a cup of warm tea or cold refreshing infused water (depending on the class location). Having a short visit connecting with other students begins to spread positivity and that deeper inner connection with the present moment outward off of our mats. Of course there is no obligation to stay.

5: Wellness

• Students have many personal reasons for practicing yoga. Yoga is not a cure for the multitude of ailments out there or a quick weight-loss fix but it helps bring wellness and healing into your life when you practice with ahimsa. Bringing both mental and physical health to the body, mind, and spirit; you will be sure to find what you are looking for.
• Svadhyaya, or self-study, is about knowing our true Self and understanding the boxes we are trapped in. This process of knowing ourselves, and the boxes that adorn us, creates a pathway to freedom. "Know yourself so well that you will grow into your wholeness and greatness." — C. Lewis
• The 5th Niyama is Ishvara Pranidhana, which means to surrender. Nicole reminds us that life knows what to do better than we do. Through devotion, trust, and active engagement students can receive each moment with an open heart. Rather than walking against the current, surrendering is an invitation to move with the current, enjoy the ride, take in the view and feel well.

6: Authentic & Personable

• Nicole has been practicing yoga for 4 years. She is not affiliated with big marketing companies or big yoga studio chains. She brings her own understanding of the ancient practice of yoga to small rural communities in south-western Manitoba. She also adds other special touches of wellness to her class such as use of essential oils, healing crystals, soothing music and energy purifying smudges.
• At a Viva La Lemon class you will find Nicole to be approachable and personable. She does her best to cater to individual needs. She also offers private sessions to those who are interested in a more tailored practice.
• Nicole isn't interested in changing anyone. She believes in embracing our authentic selves, encouraging students to be unapologetically themselves in the present moment. "Everyone is perfectly imperfect in their own ways, when life throws us lemons, we embrace it and still find love and grace for our one precious life" — Nicole Barclay

We would love to see you out at a Viva La Lemon class. Check out the yoga page for upcoming classes.

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From running to yoga – A quest to find inner peace.

In my twenties I despised running. Actually what I probably dreaded most was cardiovascular training. Ugh! That word, ‘cardio’, still leaves a sour taste in my mouth. The thought of sweat stinging my flushed face as I struggle to catch my breath. Just something I did not look forward to. But after the birth of our son, I was atleast 20kgs overweight. At first the love and care for my newborn stole my heart and attention but as the year went on my negative attitude toward my body only grew. Looking at myself in the mirror was like a scene from a horror movie; I closed my eyes and tried to avoid looking at the scary parts. My selflove and confidence went to an all-time low. So my type-A personality and I began looking for solutions.
I started as I often do by looking around (and comparing) to the people I knew at what worked for them. A couple of family members were into running but that was a big ‘no way’ for me. There was absolutely no way I could run for more than a minute let alone finish a 5k without dying! But thankfully there were local friends who took part in a bootcamp and had lost a lot of weight and looked amazing and had the confidence boost I was looking for. So off I went to get my butt kicked by a professional body builder. It worked. Temporarily. I lost some weight. I felt a little more comfortable in my own skin but it hit a plateau. I became frustrated with all the hard work especially while trying to juggle my career and a family and getting absolutely nowhere. So it petered off.

I began to wonder if it wasn’t my body image that was causing so much disharmony as other aspects of my life. I took a step back and realized I felt extremely unhappy in my current job position. More than half of all my shifts were nights. Since sleeping habits change as you become a new parent my ability to sleep properly after a nightshift became a huge problem. Money was constantly a stressor. I felt unempowered in my place of work. I felt stuck! With no chance of change if I didn’t upgrade my education. I began to think that if I got a better ‘job’ and made more money, that maybe then I could afford to spend more time on my body image which in turn would make me feel happier.

 So off to school I went. Adding even more to my plate as ‘student’ became another responsibility. As the stress compounded so did my weight and further unhappiness with body image. I kept reminding myself of the end goal. Finish school first, worry about my body later. I kept repeating that over and over as I’d toss back an energy drink and a bag of chips at 2am while studying for another exam the next morning. It was no surprise really that my health took a major downward spiral. At age 28 I was hit by the metaphorical 2×4 when my doctor had to prescribe a medication for my blood pressure that was out of control. Talk about a wake-up call.

I couldn’t keep ignoring my health. It couldn’t sit on the back burner any longer. Fear became a motivating factor. On my summer break before the final year of my degree program I made some huge changes. I completely cut out meat from my diet. And refined sugar. And basically anything processed. I tried to stick to a raw diet and started walking every day. As the weight melted off that summer I began to feel like my body could handle more. As a broke student, mother, wife etc. I knew I could not afford a fancy gym membership or private trainer or bootcamp session. I had to find something I could do from home.

Running crossed my mind again. And since I was desperate to get my health back I figured I had nothing to really lose. I found a running app for free and started a couch to 5k program with no real intention of actually running a 5k race. Except the body is a fascinating machine. The more it is used the better it runs. So naturally running became easier. I kept it slow. I kept it do-able. After awhile it became an addiction. There really is such a thing as a runner’s high. Haha that was something I always found myself rolling my eyes at whenever I heard anyone talking about it. But it’s the real deal. The endorphins kept me motivated enough to sign up for my first 5k race. The second I crossed that finish line I wanted to sign up for another one. I no longer needed medication for my blood pressure.  The 5k goal turned into a 10k one. And as if that wasn’t enough, I wanted to run it by my 30th birthday, just a little over 5 months way. 

So I finished my first 10k race. It was 2 months after I turned 30.

I’m proud of my accomplishment. But I’m not proud of the conceited, over-confident, self-destructive attitude it rendered. My family took a backseat to my priorities. I was doing things with my new healthier body that I wanted to do and could do for a change. But deep down inside I still felt lost. Even though I felt healthy. I was not. Not in a holistic way, that was for certain.

Because I didn’t see it that way I pushed harder. I signed up with a running trainer and was forcing my body to the point of pain. Determined as ever, I would find a quick fix from a massage therapist, chiropractors, or acupuncturists just to get back out on the trail again. I dumped piles of money I didn’t have into custom orthotics and fancy running accessories. I became so attached.

Until one morning I woke up and couldn’t get out of bed.

I literally had so much pain in my hip I couldn’t walk, or sit, or lie down. I was crying in pain and ended up in the emergency department where I was diagnosed with hip flexor tendonitis. So needless to say I was cut off of running for weeks. Just like that. I was so freaking angry. How could something like that happen?!! I was finally getting the body I wanted, down 30 pounds, off bp meds. It wasn’t fair. But it was a sign. Looking back I’m grateful for it.

I spent those three weeks caring and mending my aching body. Not because I wanted to but because I didn’t really have a choice. I found a youTube video called ‘Yoga for Runners’. It was impossible. I remember watching the screen and thinking ‘you want me to put my foot where?’ My body was so inflexible. So I figured I should start with the basics. I found another video that was a little more suitable for my current body condition and gave that a try. I remember laying flat on my back and stretching my arms overhead and feeling my entire back clench up in a gut-retching spasm. Wow! 30 years old and it felt like I had the body of a stiff 90 year old. (I mean that in the kindest way). I remember laying there in the meditation part of the video not being able to have an in-breath for the count of 8 and thinking that was so ridiculous. Downward dog; as if they called that a resting pose!!! I never considered stretching before a run. Or any exercise for that matter, let alone holding a certain position for more than 30 seconds even during my brief post-run stretches. Needless to say, I was a huge skeptic.

I have never been a sit still kind of person. Type-A, adrenaline junkie, to-do list expert. I’m always on the go physically and mentally. So at the time yoga seemed to be a good counter-balance.  I accidentally fell into yoga unintentionally but it could not have come at a better time. I stuck with it and eventually I was able to do that ‘Yoga for Runners’ video. Once I was able to get back to running I felt much more resilient. My obsession with running faded and quite frankly I was scared of injuring myself again. It came as no surprise when I read the statistics that over 60% of all runners will injure themselves at least once. I had only been running for less than 2 years and was already a statistic. So I quit being so hard on myself and just tried listening to my body. I began running for the fun of it. It didn’t matter if I ran 2k or 10k. When something started to hurt or cease up I would just ease back a little. I tried focusing on my intention in the beginning which was to just get healthy again. That didn’t mean I needed to go out and run every 10k race that came up in the area. Don’t get me wrong for some people having that goal in mind is great motivation but not injuring myself became more important than a metal or a new personal record.

Not surprisingly my love for yoga grew. I started attending a local hatha beginners yoga class one night a week. I could feel the benefits in my body. What surprised me more was the benefit I felt on my mind – my frantic consciousness. The holistic wellness approach was much needed. I became more and more curious. Like I had opened up the door to a whole new world. Once I learned that yoga was more than just the poses, that it truly was a lifestyle – I became hooked.

Several years later I find myself teaching both my passions. Running and Yoga. I will forever remain a student of both these practices. Additionally, I have the humble honor of sharing them with others who are interested in selfcare. Running and Yoga support each other just as the mind supports the body. In my world, one can’t survive without the other. As my practice grows deeper I am able to develop that stronger sense of inner peace not just because of the physical benefits but because of the benefit it has in all aspects of my life. Harmony really can exist in all the chaos life has to offer. Those moments when you are out on an early morning run: you hear the sounds of nature, feel the movement of your breath, and your body is gliding along the trail. When there is no finish line, no competition, no membership or fancy equipment, no pain, no thoughts, no to-do lists just you and the road ahead. When the body, mind, and spirit are in pure equilibrium – those are the exact moments I cherish for the rest of the day. Essentially that is yoga. A state of being in the doing. In yoga the whole point of doing the poses or asana, a very western focus, is to prepare the body for meditation. Which is often how people become introduced to yoga. And the whole point in doing meditation is to find enlightenment or self-realization, liberation, moksha, or awakening. It is not just something you do for an hour on your mat but rather a practice for everyday life. Of course this is very simplified. It is no easy process. But it is a process, one that takes time and effort, a certain appreciation, and patience for the unraveling. It’s not a self-help, quick-fix fitness program. It’s a way to find inner peace and acceptance for the self and the world around us. “Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self” (Bhagavad Gita). 

This is why I love being a student and teacher of Yoga. To spread this ancient, incredibly life-changing practice and hopefully have an impact on others as I move through this sometimes chaotic yet beautiful world. From running to yoga to my vocation as a nurse: both the practice and promotion of selfcare and wellness — that is what gives me purpose and meaning. For what is the goal of life if not to share and connect and to love and create peace. To live awake in the perfectness of the imperfect. “The purpose of this glorious life is not simply to endure it, but to soar, stumble and flourish as you learn to fall in love with existence. We were born to live my dear, not to merely exist” – Becca Lee

As always, thanks for reading. 

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A deeper look at Self-Love

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection” – Buddha.

I once believed that the act of self-love was just the same as narcissism. I have come to understand the difference. And I can clearly see now that they are nowhere near the same. I think most of us know that narcissism manifests from arrogance. It usually stems from envy and then in turn encourages others to feel envious. Narcissists have grabby hands and want to pull others down in an effort to feel superior. Self-love, on the other hand, is way more personal. It does not involve others. Pure self-love encourages positive self-esteem but still this is very different from a narcissistic attitude. Self-esteem illuminates humility and accepts equality. It leads to the perception that all humans are of equal value. That nobody is superior or inferior (Firestone, 2012).

I once believed that proving your worth was more important than loving one’s self. That somehow quantifying my perceived value and using that as motivation to better myself was acceptable. But what standards was I striving for? Honestly. Every. Single. Day. I catch myself in this trap. Who makes these standards? I suppose our society as a collective does. It’s a communal effort we have all been a part of. As children we grow up learning the values, morals, and standards within our social circles. So nobody is really to blame. And we grow up either feeling good about meeting these standards (For example: big house, fancy car, important job, body thinner and firmer than a two-by-four) or they can be so unrealistically attainable for the average person that our self-esteems are crushed making us feel small and unworthy (Firestone, 2012).

“Feeling good about yourself as a person and acceptable for who you are allows you to move through your life with a sense of purpose [and meaning]. The acknowledgment that our physical selves all share the same fate (one day merely a container of organic matter), that our time on earth is fleeting; we accept that reality which gives each action more weight, each moment more poignancy”(Firestone, 2012). Radical acceptance of ourselves and our fellow human beings just as we are – that is self love in its purest form.

My struggle with self-love is real. It happens every day. Some days are worse than others. But this is not new to me. Growing up I was continually guided by my inner critic; callously harassed, judged, and bantered. I just assumed I was flawed. Never really measuring up to society’s or my inner critic’s standards. And of course my mind would continuously scan for proof of this. A walk through the playground as a young girl had all kinds of proof. ‘See she said your hair is frizzy, you must be flawed,’ my critic would say. So then I would try everything I could to smooth down my frizzy curls before school the next day. But it never stopped, something else would come up as substandard in comparison to ‘the rest of society’ which lead to a driving force of fervently trying to do better, trying to fit in, to be accepted by others. Always seeking approval from the strong inner critic. I tried desperately to avoid the pain from lack of self-love but in reality kept creating more of it; the wounds only grew deeper.  Becoming addicted to the need to feel accepted. The constant seeking of approval continued to grow even throughout my adult years.

What I didn’t really figure out until recently is that we have a choice to stop comparing, to stop listening to the inner critic, to stop the shaming of ourselves. A choice to accept ourselves and life just as it is. When we take responsibility and ownership; “when we practice radical acceptance, we begin with the fears and wounds of our own life and discover that our heart of compassion widens endlessly. In holding ourselves with compassion, we become free to love this living world” (p. 24,Tara Brach, 2004). And what a sweet breath of fresh air that freedom brings. We don’t ever need anyone’s permission to love who we are, just the way we are. We don’t need permission to accept where we are in life. We don’t need anyone else’s acceptance except our own. It’s not to say we don’t keep striving for our dreams if they will truly serve our dharma. But to prevent suffering it is important to let go of the attachments to the outcomes.

As the Dalai Lama once said, “The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” And I often wonder if attachments cause fear, anger, suspicion, etc. Our grabby hands clinging on to something with white knuckles – perhaps our attachment to looking a certain way, or being with a certain person, our attachment to our jobs or the white picket fences – the minute these ‘things’ are pulled from our little finger tips we experience anger, fear, hatred, resentment, etc. and this is what truly causes suffering, not the physical act of letting go itself. “ Letting go of the various forms around us. Letting go of our obsession with ‘stuff’, with ‘looks’, with the ‘acheivements’ – we can get a glimpse of ‘the most important dimension of human existence: the sacred, the stillness, the formless, the devine”( Eckhart Tolle, 2006).

Last year at a retreat, we spent basically the entire weekend working on an intention, also known as a mantra, vow, or in yoga – a sankalpa. It took countless hours unfolding the layers to discover what our own personal intention would eventually look like, constantly questioning and searching deeper. On day one I thought I wanted to find more spark in my life, to stop living and feeling like a zombie. But that was just a superficial layer of wanting to feel more appreciated. Which was just a superficial layer of wanting to feel loved. And by day three as we worked all the way back to our childhood, past the ego, the senses, the conditioning, when those feelings of lack first started, what I discovered is that all I really needed was my own unconditional love. That the suffering I feel now was really from a lack of loving ME even as a child.

So my intention became to love myself unconditionally. And later my sankalpa became “I am loved unconditionally.” This took a long time of self-reflection, of turning inward, of listening to my hearts deepest yearning. And even a year later, I find my inner critic looking for ways to prove my higher self wrong. But with daily practices I am able to slowly break down the brick wall of defense. And as I am able to love myself easier, peace and equanimity are slowly beginning to settle in to my core. As my compassion grows for myself from an authentic place I have this deep sense of wanting to share. Because maybe the whole world could use just the same. More love, compassion, acceptance. I truly hope I can give back in this regard. To promote radical acceptance of self. To encourage seeing the beauty of our authentic being, just as it is. Even just in some small way, whether through teaching yoga, writing these blogs, or just saying outloud – “Me too!

So to you my dear friend’s – choose love. Even when it feels impossible. Don’t hold yourself hostage; give yourself permission to live whole-heartedly in love with yourself. This you deserve. “Know that you do not need to effort to be loved or accepted for anything other than what you are. You are allowed to feel; you are allowed to BE as you so simply, perfectly are” (Sarah Blondin).

 

Thanks for reading, much love!

 

 

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There is Always a Choice

I have to apologize for my hiatus from writing for a while. I had put it on the back burner as I had experienced some negative energy and attitudes toward my previous posts. Eye rolling and sarcastic remarks; I knew it was inevitable but I guess I thought I was better prepared for it. Of course it was just all my perception of other people’s opinions. It is after all their birthright, to have an opinion, to judge etc. I had been getting better at not letting my feelings of unworthiness and shame rattle me. But in the right environment, with the right people, with a lack of self-love, acceptance, patience, and compassion – things can go awry.

Over the last few weeks, however, I have finally overcome this little bump in the road. I have come to welcome and embrace this negative energy. To hold space for the suffering I felt inside. And because of it I have found this new place of gratitude, knowing deep down that the universe was showing me this for a reason. That within the good there lives some bad and within the bad there lives some good. It’s called life. And thankfully along with the negative energy was lots of positive too. I was just too caught up in resisting and defending all the negative to appreciate all the good. And I’ll be honest fear still lives in me some days. Fear that I’m not doing the right thing. Fear that I’ll cause my family to suffer because of other people’s reactions. It’s real but it’s not my focus anymore.

So often we are faced with these challenging environments and situations.  But I truly believe they are meant to be an opportunity for growth. A lesson in finding grace. Finding love and acceptance. Acceptance of ourselves, of others.

And something I find fascinating is that we always have a choice in these types of situations – in life. A choice to call upon our warring self or our infinite self. Sarah Blondin explains:

“Movements like blades: sharp, short, deliberate. Carrying the weight and fierceness of a million invisible warriors behind her. She is angry, defiant, raging against her reality. Her breathing short and shallow – she breaths fire. She is the one who starts war. She is the part of you that is capable of burning down cities and waging war against the ones she loves. She is the part of you that hides under the surface. The part of you that surprises you when she shows her teeth. The part of you that you deny, push away, pretend does not live there within you. She is your darkness. The woman who dwells in the shallow waters of your being. She is in every one of us. She rides up on the back of the wave of your righteous ego, she feeds on the ideas that you deserve more, better, different. She lurks in the thoughts and emotions that keep you small. The notion that you have something to fight for, to reclaim, to preserve. She is the face of war. The part of us who can understand how we fight others. How we ruin our lives, how we can kill in the name of our beliefs. She is who we must look to when needing to find compassion for others who are captivated under her spell. She is who we must hold lovingly in our hearts when we see those caught in her grasp. She is who we must learn to love into gentle submission, for she only lives and breathes on our un-love. She can only survive when and where we have forgotten to love.

Then there is the soft one. The woman with long white hair, who moves like liquid, glides on her step, floats on light. She is tender – always tender. She comes when you ask for help. She comes when you fill your lungs with a conscious breath. She lives there beside the wicked. She is shelved beside the one who wars. There they stand within you, both hands open – a choice. The one who sees as an owl: able to look from all perspectives, gentle, hands soft as the skin of a plum, heart her language and tongue. She is able to withstand storms. She catches the furious pain of others, the difficult experiences you face, the things that make you want to fight, and she cradles them, swaddles them in unconditional love, over and over again. She loves all. She is the bottomless source of light, love. She is your essence. Pure and wise, she lives in your greatest depths, deep in your tissues. She is your greatest ally. She is who you can choose to embody, to call forth as you navigate your life.

Tightness in breath, sharpness in movement, darting in eyes – means you are calling forth the warrior within you to rise. You are bringing her up on the waves of contempt. One conscious breath inward, into your very depths, and she will fall. You have the power to call the soft one into form. You can choose.

There is no question which feels better, which one breathes us more alive, more vivid. It is up to you to choose the powerful choice of living as the soft one. Whenever you feel lost in a sea of raging thoughts and waves, she is there. I promise you! She serves where the other severs. She heals where the other wounds. She replaces, replenishes, restores where the other robs, pillages, eradicates, and steals your love. The same love of the world. It takes great strength, and determination to choose her when you are in the fire. It is not just a choice, but your choice. Nothing will suffer more than you, if you continue to choose war. A part of us enjoys the fighting arguably more than the peace. Such intensity and emotion is very powerful, palpable, weak and root but alluring in force. The gentle softness of the other is far less intense; it requires a dropping down and rooting rather than a rising up and spinning. They are two polar energies; forces living within you. The choice for you to make at every triggering moment in your life…. Notice all of the places you choose to fight instead of resting in your divine source. Anger and warring shows us we are afraid. Shows us we are trying to protect our vulnerability and softness. Your walls are there to stop you from feeling, to distract you from hurt. But feeling your softness, returning to your nature is the only thing that will set you free. The only thing that will feed your life in the ways that you are asking. Resist the reflex of protection. Your heart needs you to not be afraid any longer. It will heal your anger, your wars. It will save your world, your life…All war large or small, fought in the quiet of your mind, in the words you say to another, in the language you speak with your body, in the way you treat even the smallest of discomforts – is still war. Fight long and hard enough against your life, your circumstance, the people in your life, and you will begin to see the war first starts within you and spreads through your body like a tsunami of hate, and drowns any chance for wellbeing. Any chance for harmony. Any chance for grace. How tremendously powerful you are dear one. Don’t you see how much love you can create for yourself. How much suffering you can obliterate. How you can quench the dry, cracked earth around you by breathing the soft one within you awake. The world around you and within you needs you to be her, to stand in her unbeatable force. You are capable of being both, but please choose wisely dear one. For your quality of life and love depends on it. ” (2016)

So I made an effort to choose differently. The choice to call upon the soft one within my being. To wrap love and compassion around my darkness and others who may be under their dark ones’ spell. Filling my lungs with a conscious breath I choose to do my best at swaddling myself and others with unconditional love. For we are all one. The universe is as much inside of us as we are inside the universe. There is no separateness.

And thankfully this too shall pass.  A buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh (2010) explains, “Impermanence is the very heart of life” (p. 103).  Everything and everyone, is constantly changing.  I am not the same person I was just one second ago. And neither is any other living thing in this world. This is why growth is possible.  “Thanks to impermanence, we can change suffering into joy” (p. 64, Mcleod, 2012). We can choose peace knowing tomorrow brings endless possibilities. So whether I receive love or hate, I will continue to write. Write from a place of love and compassion, understanding and curiosity.

And just to clarify a little…

I am not writing with the intent to preach. That is not the point of creating this space. I am not a psychotherapist or Buddhist teacher. I am just a human pondering my purpose and meaning in life, learning to find happiness here, and sharing that with those who may have similar desires and interests. I am a student of this work, of these practices. I always will be. Always reaching new questions along life’s journey that has me thinking and feeling deeply, or seeing situations with a new light. And it is a vulnerable place but there is value in it for me. So thanks for reading dear ones. My only wish is that you may find some value too.
Much love VivaLa🍋 followers! So much love.

 

 

 


Blondin, Sarah. (2016). S02-OUR WARRING SELF VS. OUR INFINITE SELF (RELEASING ANGER). [Audio file]. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/liveawakepodcast/s02-our-warring-self-vs-our-infinate-self-releasing-anger   
Mcleod, Melvin. (2012). The pocket Thich Nhat Hanh. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. (2010). You are here. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications, Inc.

 

 

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Coming home…

As I drove home I could not help but worry a little about how it would be. Worried that all the unfolding and new growth that took place at the retreat would quickly wilt away as I entered into my old life. A little terrified I might end up in my old way of being. But the condescending voice in my head was not as loud anymore. The fear and worries were counter-balanced with love and excitement. My heart was yearning to embrace my husband and little boy. I missed them so much, not just because I was gone for two nights but because in reality I had been gone for years. Now I felt like nothing else really mattered. Just me and them.

The drive home felt nothing like the drive to the retreat. It wasn’t rushed or frantic. It was peaceful. Breathing in – I knew everything was okay, that I was going to be okay. Breathing out – I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be. I could feel a smile enter my body, not just on my face but one that penetrated deep within my bones. My heart was not beating erratically anymore; my knuckles weren’t white from gripping the steering wheel. I felt relaxed, and warm, and myself again. I actually enjoyed the drive. The scenery was beautiful. I had the window down a little and the air smelled earthy and wonderful, like a fresh rain. And instead of blaring the music like a dirty old habit, I just listened to my breath. I didn’t have a single ounce of urgency left inside of me. I just took pleasure in the moment.

As I pulled up into the driveway, I could feel this ache in my heart. I’m sure if I had any cry left in me I would have cried tears of joy. The house was perfect. The paint was peeling on the outside. The 1970’s look used to bother me. But right then it was perfect. Because it was home. It was my home. The flowers I had planted only weeks ago were blooming in full force; shining their colorful, smiling heads at me as I walked up the steps and opened the door.

Inside the house everything was tidy and quiet. The sun was shining through all the windows warming everything it touched. And there were my boys – sitting on the floor in the living room, building Lego. I didn’t say a word. I walked over to my 7-year-old boy knelt down beside him and scooped him up into the biggest hug I had in me. I held him tight. ‘Ugh this was everything that ever mattered to me’, I thought. My heart swelled.

Time stood blissfully still and I was speechless.

And they both just stared at me. Like I was perhaps a stranger. You could see the pondering in my husband’s eyes, he was quiet but I sensed he was eagerly trying to figure out what was different. And our little boy was curious too. “Mom you seem… different.” I smile and roll my back onto the fluffy white rug beneath us, staring up at the ceiling with a smile on my face and joy in my voice, “I feel different!”

Then my husband and boy laid their heads down beside mine. And we all stared up in silence for a few minutes. It was pure bliss. I was home, surrounded by my people.

All along I thought I would be going to the retreat to check out of my life, to check-out of the stress. But much to my surprise, I actually took the time to check-in. To realize I had been sleep-walking through life, one ordinary day after another, completely unaware of the treasure that lied within. Trying to cram 36 or 48 hours into a day that only ever had 24, in a constant quest for a better tomorrow. Going for weeks on limited sleep, strung out on trying to do more and more. Then at times when I felt defeated; when a better tomorrow never came, I’d completely throw in the towel. Try to numb myself out. Sometimes with a bottle of booze until the wee hours of the morning with friends who felt the need to unwind too. Only to start all over again in the morning. Running on a hamster wheel, like a zombie.

But finally, I was done. Done searching for a better tomorrow. No more sleep walking. As I laid there with them by my side I let out a big sigh. “We are going to be okay. Together. Here. Now!” And it was in that moment that I knew I didn’t need anything else. I didn’t need people or things. I just needed to love myself, and what was right in front of me. It was time to stop chasing after what I thought I wanted, and start wanting what I already had. It was time to stop investing in crap that wouldn’t matter in 5 years and start investing in myself and my family. It was time to get well again. To become whole.

My days looked very different after that.

I took time to work on myself. To find beauty, love and light in the little things. And I said ‘no’ a lot more. But only so I could say yes to myself and my family. Our home became a sacred place for me that summer. Waking up I always felt happy to be home. There was less yelling, less hurrying. Deeper more attentive conversations. There were more hugs and laughter. Things were better – life was better.

Every morning I would have tea in the sun-room and create space for myself. Whether it was 10 minutes or 2 hours, I made time for just me everyday. It became a ritual. And as I learned more and more about myself, about my truth – life got a little easier. And surprisingly it felt like I had more time. It felt like I could give myself more genuinely to those I loved. My practices became deeper as I learned more about coming home. Not just the structure around me but to the sweet space inside of me. Yes it got messy at times, and yes I spiraled into disintegration as things unfolded from time to time but I never got stuck there anymore. I had strength to pull myself up again. I had courage to reach out, to not bear it alone. I could breath deeper and sleep more soundly. I felt happier.

Of course I had a lot of help with that practice. Finding connection with a sisterhood of women who also had similar intentions was a tremendous help. I also worked more with the leader from the retreat, as she coached from a distance for another 6 months. I never felt alone. And for that I will forever be grateful.

Coming home was and always will be a warm welcome.

Thanks for reading.

If you are ever interested in having a mentor along life’s journey, or for extra help unveiling your true intention, or letting go of false beliefs that keep you stuck – check out my dear friend and life coach Micheline Green. michelinegreenlifecoach.com

 

 

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The Retreat

Have you ever been so deprived of stillness you forget what it feels like? Do the tiny seconds of stillness you might experience during your day cause pangs of anxiety that make your chest feel like it’s being crushed? When the world stops even for just a second, does it feel like a barren landscape with no vegetation, no light, no warmth? Do you immediately find something to fill the space, to wipe out the barren view? Check your phone, watch TV, read a book, go for drinks, go to the gym, anything but give in to the stillness? This was a dirty old habit of mine. Running from the stillness. Terrified of being alone with myself. To just be, to feel.

I remember driving down a winding dirt road, splashing through the mud puddles at high-speed, racing to get there in a timely fashion. Like a familiar habit I went through the checklist in my head the music was blaring to blast out any silence that might sneak in. I’m an over-thinker just as I am an over-planner, over-packer, over-controller. Enough bags packed in the seat behind me to last 3 weeks let alone 3 days. But as I headed down that road to the unknown, to retreat myself for 3 days, I tried to reassure myself I was prepared. Prepared for anything I could think of. Prepared for the unknown. I ran through all the lists in my head, and the ones that I had left at home for my husband too. The constant need to feel control fervently rising as the anxious fear of the unknown for the weekend became more apparent.

Yes I felt awake, yes I was ready for change, yes I was ready for the hand that reached out, for the big invitation – but at what cost? I felt like I was in a nightmare, naked; desperate to hide so that nobody would see.

Vulnerable, weak, frantic, and scared.

As I got closer to where I was headed, the mud got deeper and thicker. I was forced to drive slower. To concentrate more on the road ahead of me instead of the lists running through my head. I could feel the grip tighten on the steering wheel. The list reviewing turned into a bantering conversation in my head. ‘What was I doing? Why am I doing this? I should be at home cleaning and making meals. I should be doing something more productive than slipping away for the weekend with a bunch of women I hardly know, doing goodness only knows. But they sent an invitation. They reached out. But I didn’t have to accept. What if they need me at home? What if my friends want to get together? What if work is short? What if? what if…’

Back and forth both sides would argue. This happened a lot when I was alone – the bantering. But in the end I was able to talk myself out of all the reasons I should turn back. As I slowly pulled my car into the parking area at the retreat center, I drew in a deep turbulent breath. Held it for as long as I could and then exhaled as I gave in to the fear – allowing it to wash over me like thick syrup.

I looked at myself in the rear-view mirror. I looked old. I could see the dark circles under my eyes, my skin was dry. There was this sort of sadness in the fine lines that draped over the sides of my mouth. And the darkness in my eyes felt cumbersome. I don’t remember looking that disheveled. My eyeliner scraped across my eyelids so people didn’t think I just rolled out of bed. The silvery hairs shining at my temples. What happened to me? When did I become so….so ancient, so unrecognizable.

I pushed the mirror aside and dragged all of my heavy bags toward the entrance. Before I could set down an armful, the door opened. And there she was, the woman from the restaurant. The women who was emitting light and reaching a hand out toward me. The smile on her face felt genuine.

It felt like the universe was shining down through her smile and whispering to me, ‘it is good you are here’.

After I put my bags away in my room shared with two other women, I hurried down to meet everyone. The energy was light and welcoming. I slowly set my controlling habits aside one by one, since I came to realize there was no chance of controlling the journey this weekend anyway.

I remember standing out on the dock with sixteen other women. The lake was glistening in the late afternoon sun. The warmth was charming. It held a sense of peace in it. I stood there letting go bit by bit. No connection to the outside world, no Wifi, no tv, no phone. Forced to be fully present. Forced to engage. I became curious of the other people who accepted the invitation. Curious of where I would fit in. Curious of what the plans would be for the weekend.

A few minutes later the retreat leader appeared. Everyone hushed in an eagerness to hear her speak. I felt like a kid at summer camp. But there was a gentleness in her voice. A welcoming gesture, that we were all in safe hands.

As she spoke I felt a smile settle into my tense face.

Yes! This was what I had been waiting for. This was my inner storm’s great call to growth. And as quickly as I fell into a comfortable place, I was abruptly startled with her voice ending with, “Let’s have a moment of stillness. Let us begin this weekend by breathing in deeply all the beauty around us in silence.”

I could feel panic seep back in through any crack it could slip through. ‘Stillness – oh please no.’  This fidgety need to do something, think of something, anything. I looked away from everyone in hopes they wouldn’t see that stillness and silence did not come easy for me. That not doing a thing was harder for me than adding ten more things on my to-do list. As a low hum rang in my ears, I forced myself to keep staring out at the lake. ‘What was I trying to hide?’ I felt crazy. Even the voice in my head rolled its eyes at me and muttered ‘oh you are so pathetic.’

We all kept standing there. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. Even my breath was too loud. The water looked like glass, not a single ripple. The birds sang off in the distance and every once in a while you would here the buzz of a dragonfly float by. The uncomfortable stillness became more bearable as we kept standing there. Then after a few more minutes everyone quietly turned and walked silently up the path to the main cabin following the leader one by one. Taking slow, steady yet gentle steps. The awkwardness felt acceptable since the whole group of women did it together.

Now what happened over the next three days was pretty magical. It was not a silent retreat (thank heavens! I am so not there yet.) But it was messy and emotional, well for me anyway. It was a retreat for women to come together both as one and as an individual. It was a place where the great invitation was to step out on the edge and truly focus on personal growth and development. So much introspection, so much reflection. And there were many times of stillness. Even during mid activity. I remember going out in the canoe one morning enjoying the movement of each row with the woman behind me working simultaneously. And then when the timing felt right we just sat there in the middle of the lake watching the sun rise.

It occurred to me that I had let stillness become a forbidden place. That I had worked so hard at not having to be still that the very thought of it caused extreme feelings of displeasure. That ‘busy’-ness became my way of coping.

Thankfully the stillness did get easier.

I learned so much that weekend. About mindfulness, living simply with authenticity, about connecting to my higher self. About identifying the old patterns that kept me stuck and creating a life led with intention that would endlessly fill me up. The unfolding of layer upon layer was no easy task.

I could not possibly describe all the magic that took place that weekend. Not that I would want to ruin the sacredness of it. But I can tell you that I felt a shift inside of me. I had developed this new perspective about myself, about my life. In fact, I learned that I didn’t actually know myself that well at all. That I had become this person I didn’t really like to be left alone with. That I had neglected the heart and soul inside of me for so long that they had hardened and developed this thick shield to protect themselves – even from me! That all the guilt, false beliefs, negative patterns, and the constant grasping out there left me feeling dark and empty inside.

So I surrendered.

And the most important thing I learned was that everything I ever truly wanted, everything I ever dreamed of, everything I was searching out there for, was actually right here inside of me. That I was enough!

The message that became so vital to me, the beacon that shed so much insight the first time the leader spoke of it, was that we only have this one precious life. We all know this. But do we all cherish the fragility behind its paramount meaning?  Our one precious life, our journey. Honoring that; living our best life – that is truly living.

So before I left for home that weekend, I took a vow. A vow to nurture the seeds that had been planted that weekend and care for them forever. I took a vow to love myself in all my messy, crazy, imperfect ways through sickness and health. I took a vow to put myself first, to practice self-care regularly, so that I could connect to the people I love in a more authentic, fully present way. And finally I vowed to never go back, to never let myself become unrecognizable, to never stop growing and unfolding, to never let myself feel uncomfortable in the stillness again – until death do us part!

And so it began…

Thanks for reading!

 

 

I want to share with you that going to a retreat isn’t necessary to begin the journey of finding your true essence, of undergoing deep introspection.  It just so happened to be a resource for me, as I was so oblivious to the very need for it in my life.  There are many resources out there, some of which I hope to discuss in future posts.

I also wanted to include this 8 minute audio piece from Sarah Blondin.  I discovered her after the retreat and her work has become close to my heart.  This particular one is about surrendering.  Somewhat of a theme I experienced on the retreat.  Enjoy!

Live Awake – Learning to Surrender by Sarah Blondin

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You Attract the Energy You Emit

I remember sitting in a restaurant eating supper with my family and a close friend back in May. There was this old familiar hum of commentary along with a sense of complacency of the same old subjects. It was comfortable. Yet something inside of me was restless. Deprived.

At the table next to us there were a few girls laughing and smiling and having a genuinely great time. Their table was surrounded by lightness, voices full of cheer. The strength of their tribal energy could be felt in the air. Their eyes sparkled and their giddy laughter shot like a knife straight to my cold numb heart.

I remember several thoughts and emotions coming up as I stared at their table in awe. Resentment, jealousy, sadness, loneliness. I wanted that. I wanted to have a place in a tribe. I wanted to belong. I wanted to be loved unconditionally. I wanted what they had – joy, lightness, peace, laughter. I wanted to stop doing and start being. Tired of stretching thin, of having a hand in many buckets with constant to-do lists. Endless obligations and responsibilities. But never really feeling truly apart of anything, of feeling at home. Too busy with activities to really be fully attentive to anything. Running through life with blinders on, taking whatever new turn in the road I could find.

It became so blatantly obvious that I had become my own thoughts. That people become what they think. They become what they eat, what they do, who they surround themselves with. You attract the energy you emit. In a downward spiral my negative energy snowballed into more and more negativity. I thought I was living an inferior life, therefore my life felt inferior. I acted in a negative manner which caused my friends and family to act negatively. This in turn kept feeding my own negativity. It became a vicious cycle. I was choking on my own pessimism. Trending down into my own disintegration, one thought after another.

I stared up at the universe and begged for mercy. I was ready. ‘I am awake.’ Desperate for change.

Several weeks after the restaurant incident, I took a step out of my comfort zone and decided I would reach out. I would bravely throw a penny in the wishing well. So after a few days of stewing, I finally sent a text message to one of those women sitting next to us in the restaurant. Living in a small town, you get fairly acquainted with who people are. So I sat there holding my phone and my breath, my finger anxiously hovering over the send button. What door would this open, I thought. What would she think of me? A million thoughts entered my mind in those few seconds as I hit ‘send’. I put my phone down, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and walked away – wondering what the heck I had just done.

That is when I knew the universe answered my pleas. That finally something was getting through. Because the woman on the other end of that text responded with open arms. The warmth of her caring response touched my soul. And I have her to be forever grateful for. Because from there my life took a turn. Not just another to-do-list turn. Not another responsibility. Just a hand that reached out and said, ‘yes, I am here.’ From there I was able to cut the ties to my downward spiraling life. I was able to breathe in fresh air for the first time in a very long time. I was finally able to hold onto something, not knowing where it would lead, but trusting it would nurture my need to belong. Trusting that by letting go of the negative energy bit by bit, I would divert the downward spiral.

One text message led to another and eventually I found myself with a ‘big’ invitation. A big chance to say yes.

A spark had ignited in a world full of darkness.

And much to my surprise, I found myself headed to a retreat. Unexpected. Uncertain. Completely out of my comfort zone.

Next time I’ll tell you how that retreat changed my life.

Thanks for reading.

 

Waking Up


Some people have a major trauma or event in their lives that cause feelings of defeat, or profound suffering. It is so profound it causes them to wake up and take notice of life in an abrubt manor. Other people have many things that compound over years and years until one day the suffering becomes so heavy that they are pushed to their limit. They are forced to wake up for fear of tipping over the edge. Of course there is a broad spectrum of the degree to which people suffer. What may cause me great suffering might only cause the next person to brush it off and carry on with life unaffected. For me it was a combination of a few events and the compounding years of self-loathing, negative self-care and a lack of awareness that forced me to wake up.

In December of 2015, my family and I moved to a new home within our same community. We had full-intentions on a major overhaul of the house. While living in the basement, we planned on renovating the entire main floor mostly ourselves. In January I took on a new nursing position in a critical care area, one that I had worked towards for a year and a half through distance education. And to add to the stress, my husband was in a snow-mobile accident in February, fracturing his clavicle bone and developing further complications.

Disaster of a home life, new stressful career environment, down a co-pilot.

I agree it sounds like a very sad case of first-world problems. More than half of it was self-inflicted. The compounded stress derived from a long history of delusions stemming from the constant need of wanting more. I realize that this is nothing in comparison to challenges other people may experience. But for me it was enough to push me to the edge. It was enough to make me wake up.

It felt as if my life were an unbalanced infants hanging mobile.  Circling imperfectly in the air – each compartment of life hanging by a string. As each of the compartments became more stressful it would weigh down and unbalance the rest of the mobile. Then unexpectedly, one big blow to a single string sent the entire mobile in a frenzy – twisting this way and that, strings and compartments tangling in knots.

One forward momentum to a single string turned our entire life into an indiscernible mess.

I thought I could cope. I thought I could handle it. I had to be strong. I had to take care of my husband, of our son. I had to be a compassionate, competent, conscientious nurse. I was dishing out so much energy to everything else that I literally had nothing left for myself.

I was tired of sleeping in the basement while hammers and skill-saws were roaring on the floor above. I was tired of eating drywall dust for weeks on end. I was tired of fluffing my husband’s pillows as he lay in pain before heading off to my nightshifts. I was tired of hearing that Riley was in trouble at school again. I was just so tired of it all. I was defeated – completely ‘strung-out on the drug of efficiency’ (Shauna Niequist, 2016). I didn’t have a happy bone left in my body. I became someone I couldn’t face in the mirror – an anxious, unwanted presence. I couldn’t hang on anymore.

After the universe sent me a few whispers; after I experienced the storm, I started looking for change. I was abruptly awoken to my reality, standing in the middle of it all, not knowing which direction to take. I found myself saying yes to almost every new opportunity, every new invitation, every event, in hopes that I might find what it was I was looking for. That I might grasp onto something that would save me. Never certain I was actually where I was meant to be. Never certain of my path or even which direction I was headed. I felt vulnerable, and as I scrambled to find a ‘different’ way of being, of doing; I felt more and more at a loss.

I was trying desperately to manage two ways of living. Managing my old tangled life and trying to find a better way. A better path. It felt like a tug-of-war. I felt tethered between two rocks, being stretched beyond recognition. Pulled between painful exhaustion and mindless intemperance.

Looking back I can see that this was my soul’s great call to growth. That it was the universe’s way of seeing if I was ready, if I was truly prepared to live awake. To travel a new path. But birth is no easy process. Transformation takes time. So while I continued to be stretched in opposite directions, as I endured the process, I developed a sense of knowing. I developed a sense of trust that I was going to be okay. That we were going to be okay. I had to trust the whispers. I had to trust that the universe had something magnificent in-store for this little life of mine.

So I hung on. Wide awake. Fully aware of the predicament I found myself in. Vowing to not give up. To keep moving forward no matter how heavy it felt.

Next time I’ll tell you where it took me.

Thanks for reading.