Sunday, November 21, 2010


Whether it's mine or someone else's, I love birthdays. Always have. It's such a great reason to see all your family and friends at the same time and celebrate. I'm all about that. It's sad for me to hear others trying to hide or poopoo their birthday, because deep down I think everyone wants to be acknowledged as the birthday girl or boy. (Thank God for Facebook. Now no birthday child is left behind!)

I turned 108 today! It was a great day.  But alas, I have a confession: no sun salutations... I had every intention of practicing my annual 108. However, a wonderful and late party with friends last night lead to leisurely lounging in bed until noon this morning followed by brunch, a walk up the mountain, and early dinner for 25 people at my parent's house celebrating four November birthdays, so I had little opportunity to sun salute. It's also a full moon, and traditionally, we're not supposed to practice at this time. Anyway, excuses aside, I figured I'd take it easy and 'go with the flow'.  After all, it's one day a year I can do whatever I want "because it's my birthday."

It's was a really lovely weekend and I was really spoiled. Friday, Craig and I went to the Centaur Theatre to see the stage adaptation of Don Quixote, which incredibly creative and highly entertaining. Last night, we had some friends over for homemade pizza. Great conversation and great spontaneous live piano music performed by Nico and Andrew. And tonight, it was nice to be with family.

Ok, it's late. I've been officially 29-- I mean 108 for 53 minutes! I think it's time for bed.

Happy Birthday Voltaire, Rene Magritte, Goldie Hawn, Björk, and Cousin Manela!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Back to the Future of Yoga

Recently, I spent four weeks being my own receptionist while in between studio managers at Om West, my Pointe Claire yoga centre. I noticed within the first week of answering calls and emails that most people wanted the same thing: A course for beginners that would make them feel comfortable and where they would learn how to practice yoga safely without feeling silly.

So, I started teaching a new course this week: Yoga Basics for Beginners! It's a four week program designed to introduce new students to the fundamentals of the yoga practice. This is something I've wanted to do for a long time, but didn't get around to organizing it until now.

It's great. I have more than a dozen people registered in my Tuesday class and about the same in my Saturday class! Their enthusiasm and keen interest in learning about the practice has totally re-invigorated my teaching.

Having spent so many years leading people through intermediate and advanced practices, posture to posture, I realized I really missed teaching yoga 101. So, this Yoga Basics program is awesome for me as an instructor and great for my studio. After all, there more people out there who don't do yoga then there are avid practitioners. I hope to make this an ongoing thing at Om West.

Here's an excerpt from my handout "Young Yogi here some things you need to know…"
  1. There is no right or wrong way to do yoga & anyone can do yoga-- Yoga is an art, a healing science, a lifestyle and mindset and ANYONE can do yoga, regardless of age and ability. The great yoga master, TKV Desikachar, wrote in The Heart of Yoga: “The starting point is never the teacher’s needs but those of the student. This requires many different approaches; there is not just one approach for everybody (…) It is not that the person needs to accommodate him- or herself to yoga, but rather the yoga practice must be tailored to fit each person.”
  2. Practice on an empty stomach-- Meals should be taken at least 90 mins prior to practice, so you digest fully and avoid eating heavy food. A small snack before practice is ok, especially for diabetics, hypoglycemics or pregnant women.
  3. “Don’t make and Asana of yourself," (David Swenson, Ashtanga Yoga Master)-- The original intent of the yoga practice has little to do with yoga postures (‘asana’). Yoga postures are meant to build strength, stamina and increase flexibility so that the practitioner can maintain a steady pose for long periods of time without discomfort. So as senior yogi Hart Lazar says: “Let go of competition, especially with yourself at a younger age!”
  4. Breathe-- The breath is key. It's the life of the pose! In yoga, we breathe in & out through the nose during regular asana practice. My basic rule: if you can’t breathe in a pose, you are in too deep!
  5. Seek stability before flexibility-- Be sure that you are stable & grounded in a pose before seeking depth or a greater “stretch”. You don’t build a house without a solid foundation, so think of your postures in the same way.
  6. When not to go upside down-- Inverted postures, like shoulderstand, are not recommended during menstruation as there is a natural downward flow of energy during this time and reversing this flow can disrupt the cycle. (It can also cause a flood!)
  7. Keep the potpourri out of the studio-- Refrain from wearing perfume, cologne or essential oils when practicing with a group, because these smells get stronger the more you sweat and this can be distracting, not only for you, but also for everyone around you.
  8. About chanting-- Most classes begin and/or finish with OM chanting. “OM” isn’t a word. It’s a vibrational sound that helps release tension from the body and helps to connect to the breath and the body. Ashtanga classes traditionally start with an invocation in Sanskrit which pays tribute to the lineage of teachers past & present. Other yoga styles may also chant as part of the practice.
  9. What’s “Namaste”?-- Most yoga classes finish with a gesture and the saying “Namaste.” In Sanskrit this means: “I honor the divine spirit within you and recognize that this is the same spirit that is in me."
  10. Better out that in-- It’s possible to feel a little sensitive or emotional after your practice. This is normal, as yoga and meditation dislodge deep tensions from the mind and body. Clear the residual tension by resting, drinking a soothing tea/water, eating good food and practicing again tomorrow!
However, most importantly, find what’s right for you. Have fun and enjoy your practice. There are many different types of yoga and many different teachers. It’s important to discover what and who resonates with you, and this may change over time. In fact here some web directories to help you find yoga classes near you:

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Anti-Flu Yoga

Wearing a hat outside and choking down dozens of chewable vitamin C might help ward off the flu for a while, but if our emotions are out of whack, our immunity system is severely compromised.

I can't remember the last time I got a cold or the flu, but it recently hit me hard, and I know it has everything to do with the sadness I felt due to the death of our family friend last week. I stayed home yesterday and tried to rest, but I'm not really good at being sick. I think it's because I'm so rarely home that I get excited about the possibility of finishing a bunch of domestic projects. My boyfriend, Craig, is the complete opposite. He does nothing but sleep and sleep, when he has the flu. I have a really hard time falling asleep during the day, so I stare at the walls for a while, but then I get an idea and jump out of bed, regardless of how achy I feel.

Yesterday, I cooked Indian parakas, steamed a heap of veggies, made ghee, and lentil soup. I also watched a movie and tried organizing my computer. But I went to bed early and drank a litre or two of my mom's special Anti-Flu Elixir (recipe is below). This morning, convinced I was fine after a long night's sleep, I practiced yoga with Max, who insisted we wear masks to minimize the risk of sharing my cold.

It was kind of fun actually. The mask wasn't annoying. In fact, I appreciated the fact that it kept my breath warm and humidified. Max has also been feeling a little congested and has had a sore throat for a few days (maybe I caught his cold), so we worked on chest opening poses like dancer, inverted plank, fish, camel and bridge. These not only help to open the lungs (good for asthmatics, by the way), but they also bring energy to the throat area. Shoulderstand is also excellent for sore throat relief, as it promotes circulation in this region. We did a few sun salutations too as they increase circulation throughout the whole body.

In case you want to try this Immunity Anti-Flu Yoga practice, here's a sequence to try:

1- Restorative chest opening pose using a block or blanket under shoulderblades (3 mins)
2- Cat/Cow to warm up spine
3- Sun Salutations - slowly 3-5 x
4- Windmill - stand with feet hip width apart and twist torso right to left, keeping arms relaxed (6-10 x)
5- Triangle pose
6- Twisted Triangle or side angle pose
7- Wide legged forward bend, fingers interlaced
8- Dancer pose
*Transition to sitting
9- Boat pose (to increase digestive fire)
10- Inverted plank pose
11- Boat pose
12- Fish pose
13- Lying on back, knees to chest, head to knees
14- Down dog
15- Camel pose
16- Plank
17- Bow or Half box pose (also to increase digestive fire)
18- Down dog
19- Bridge and/or wheel 2x
20- Child's pose - head on floor or block
21- Shoulderstand (supported with blankets under shoulders) or legs up the wall
22- Kapalabhati breathing
23- Alternate Nostril breathing
24- Savasana or same chest opener as start - if coughing, rest on side in fetal position (5-10 mins)

* All postures should be held for a minimum of five breaths. This practice is approximately 60 mins. Do what you can. (Photo is of my student Amber in progressions of Camel pose.)

I'd love to hear your feedback on the above sequence.

And one last thing, here's the recipe for my mom's Anti-Flu Elixir:

In a cup of boiling water, add: 2 cloves of crushed garlic, a tsp or tbsp of honey, juice of half a lemon or lime. Optional super ingredient: 1/2 a 'thumb' of crushed fresh tumeric or 1 tsp of dried tumeric! (Can use ginger instead of tumeric.)

Drink this concoction at least 3 x day. Yum!

Friday, November 5, 2010


It's Friday evening at the end of an intense few days.

Someone close to me died this week. She was 53-years-old. My aunt's best friend for nearly 30 years and a woman I saw almost everyday because she worked at the hair salon below my studio. She used to pinch my cheeks when I was little and her husband gave me first hair cut when I was one or two. My father took me to their salon, which was then in a big shopping mall. I was wearing overalls of a gender neutral color and I suppose my dad wasn't paying much attention, so they buzzed my feathery blond head, thinking I was a boy.

Even though they called the cops on my kids yoga camp this summer, our families are tight, so this death has touched me deeply.

She had bad migraines for many years. She tried a little yoga and said it helped her a lot, but then wedding season started and she got busy. Then she got sick. The doctors couldn't diagnose her. Meningitis? Tuberculosis? They ran so many tests, but nothing was conclusive. After a few months in the hospital, she got better and in July, she came back to work. She seemed very weak. She was back in the hospital at the beginning of September and it was determined she had "lymphoma of the brain." Her brain was "full of lesions."

Tragic, yes. But apparently, she died with a smile on her face.

* * *
I spent a long time contemplating death this week and the rituals surrounding it-- the wake, the funeral, the eulogy, the burial, the reception. The grieving process is interesting, because we spend our whole lives trying to avoid death and when it arrives, and there's a 100% guarantee that it will, we are so unprepared. I often wonder why.

Several years ago, I read this fascinating book called "A Year to Live." Written by Stephen Levine, a counselor and teacher of healing and meditation, it is about the process dying fulfilled and satisfied with the life we’ve lived. Having spent more than 20 years working with people in palliative care, Levine observed that most people panic at the face of death because of the feeling that they are unprepared and that their lives are somehow unfinished and unresolved.

Buddhists believe we should always live in preparation for our death, so that we leave no unfinished business behind.

With this as a premise, Levine decided to enact the ultimate New Year’s resolution: to live one year as though it was his last. After all, he writes, “No one knows the day on which the last year begins.”

Levine’s book is full of suggestions on how to do this, but his most important and most profound suggestion is to commit ourselves to the simple practice of forgiveness and gratitude.

This theme is also present in another amazing book I just finished. "Five People you Meet in Heaven" by Mitch Albom is such a beautiful story. Here's one of my favourite quotes:
"You have peace," the old woman said, "when you make it with yourself."