A Quintessential Balance

stillness in movement & flow in stillness

Growing up on a farm, in what seemed like the middle of nowhere in Manitoba, was a pretty quiet existence – especially for a teenager. I wanted nothing more than to be a town kid. Life seemed so much more exciting for my friends who lived in town. From my vantage point, they didn’t have chores to do. My sisters, brothers, and I were responsible for milking the cows, feeding the pigs, weeding and helping to harvest the garden, along with  an enormous amount of cooking and cleaning. I’m not saying it wasn’t ever fun, but it sure didn’t seem very exciting!

Do I sound bitter? No, actually I am super grateful to have developed a strong work ethic. Work hard, rest, relax, and then play. I learned to distinguish the difference between being really active and really inactive; and to love and appreciate both.

At Surround Circle Yoga we practice Gentle Flow Yoga, a style of yoga where we viscerally feel the contrast of active and inactive. Yang activity is mobile, poses generally flow energetically together building to an apex before calming down, Yin activity is slow, steady and stationary, with a sense of softness and surrender. Blending the two is physiologically beneficial for the nervous system.

The black dot in the white side and the white dot in the black side of the Taoist circle remind us that there is no such thing as a purely yin or purely yang reality. Every balanced yin activity involves some yang elements and vice versa. The goal is a sattvic [pure] balance of tamasic (passive) and rajasic (active) energies – a beautiful marriage of yang and yin, effort and surrender, ha [sun] and tha [moon]. This kind of practice teaches us about stillness in movement and the flow in stillness.

Beautifully illustrated in Sandokai, written by Chinese Zen ancestor Shitou Xipian

Within light there is darkness,
but do not try to understand that darkness.
Within darkness there is light,
but do not look for that light.
Light and darkness are a pair,
like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.
Each thing has its own intrinsic value
and is related to everything else in function and position.

Yoga is often considered the union of oppositional forces, but it’s really about the relationship between things. Yoga is the quintessential balance of front and back, top and bottom, up and down, inhale and exhale. With every breath and every pose, we  embody and discover what a supreme example yoga is for how we live our lives.

At Surround Circle Yoga we focus on mindful living, healthy choices, creating community, living freely and loving fully. We offer programs that strive to entice the senses and stimulate lasting positive changes.

 

Dream Big Dreams

Now is the time for you to suspend your disbelief – to believe that anything is possible in your life – and to embrace change. Be brave and take the leap – what comes next will amaze you!

Each new year brings opportunities and challenges that have never been here before. To dream BIG and to deal with life’s obstacles, I create a Vision Board. Having mine in front of me while I sit at my desk helps bring positive change to my life. The colourful images and inspiring words help me stay connected with my chosen spiritual path, provide a focus for my deepest inner desires, and nudge me toward my very best self.

However, before I get to creating my life’s vision, I do a lot of visioning. To vision is to go on a self-exploration journey. It can be compared to a combination of ‘soul-searching’ and meditation. Michael Bernard Beckwith, founder and spiritual director of Agape International Spiritual Centre in Los Angeles, California, was the originator of the visioning process. He says, “Visioning is an inner spiritual practice by which we train ourselves to intuit Spirit’s vision for our life in areas such as our spiritual evolution, profession, relationships, and creative expression. It is catching the unique way in which we are intended to deliver our gifts, talents, and skills on the planet.”

You might be asking… why do I need a vision for my life? Why does anyone need a vision or a defined purpose? My sense is that people who have no vision sleepwalk through their lives without a hint as to why they are here or what their purpose is. They drift along on the currents of our culture’s conditioned collective beliefs without discerning for themselves whether these beliefs are beneficial or harmful, progressive or regressive.

To enhance this whole experience, it is wise to take time to go through each stage: visioning, drafting a vision statement, and producing a vision board. The benefits of this sequence of events are to:

  • Bring focus to dreams, wishes, and desires when stuck
  • Foster a new perspective about opportunities and challenges
  • Clear the cobweb of uncertainty or confusion
  • Provide a virtual doorway where the future can be entered now, not tomorrow

As the great German philosopher, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said 200 years ago: “Until one is committed there is hesitancy, … Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

Live Free ~ Die Loving

If I was going to die in a year, a month or even a day from now, I would prefer to leave with nothing undone or unsaid.

Not so long ago, I attended a memorial service for a man who I knew only by circumstance. Going seemed like an honourable and neighbourly thing to do ~ I was glad I went. While walking home with a friend later in the afternoon we got to talking and he said, “It is such a tragedy”. Of course it was sad. I was sad. What struck me, however, was how inspired I felt … so much so I had an urge to write about my feelings.

Never before had I heard such poignant words spoken and heart-felt music played as a testament to a life well lived. It truly was a beautiful ceremony in celebration of a generous, humble, kind, and loving man.

Stephen Levine, author of A Year to Live ~ How to Live This Year As If It Were Your Last, suggests, “The single most mitigating factor when someone has time to prepare for death, is that there seems to be less concern with heroics than with clarity and compassion. They do not require the orchestra to play their theme as they exit, although several have mentioned almost ecstatically that they could hear it tuning up!”

Even though we may not see death coming can we still die in peace? Have we healed our disappointments? Have we acknowledged our pain and forgiven mercifully? Have we kept our hearts open? Have we lived freely and loved fully? Have we shared our greatest gifts?

I pray, if I should die before I sleep, these words would be my farewell song… “Maureen had a zest for life, she was curious and courageous, she expressed herself without apology, she was vigorous, warm, responsive, engaging, creative, and passionate. Maureen embraced life and lived fully, she was a compassionate force to be reckoned with.” 

Of course it wouldn’t be right or natural to leave out some of the messy bits ~ the challenges and struggles which are part and parcel of who I am. But we don’t need to go into that! I write these personal sentiments because I have a need to say that we all have a choice to live our days in our own special way … fully expressed, transparent, truthful, and free. Sooner or later this present moment is going to be our last.

As a yoga teacher and mentor, my work involves helping people gain greater strength and flexibility. I support individuals going through stressful times to embrace their vulnerability, acknowledge their fears, and courageously explore their options. I create and hold safe sacred space for individuals to discover their purpose and potential, achieve emotional balance, and experience transformation.

 

Fall in Love ~ Fall from Fear

How many times do I silently berate myself? It’s easy to do. A quick peek in the mirror in the morning – yikes, look at all those wrinkles! Indulge in an extra piece of toast loaded with jam shortly after consuming a tasty nutritious breakfast – did I really need that? Ten minutes late for an appointment – oh my gawd, not again! The one thing I can’t find fault with is my ability to catalogue my inadequacies.

We have long struggled with our self-esteem. The thought of falling in love with ourself – respecting and admiring ourselves – makes us uncomfortable. It’s much easier to lavish attention on others. Particularly women, and a few men that I know pretty well, have been socialized to care for and nurture others, so our value lies in how well we do this. Given this outward focus in defining our self-worth means we are not so great at nurturing ourselves. We’re chronically self-critical. We constantly compare ourselves against unrealistic ideals, which can damage our sense of self and paralyze our relationships with family and friends.

But to be truthful, and to quote the popular Marianne Williamson in her poem, My Deepest Fear, “It is not that I am inadequate, it is that I am powerful beyond measure.” It is the inner critic with harmful and judgmental self-talk that gets in the way of living up to, and into, the best of who I am. After all, who am I not to be talented, beautiful, and brilliant? There is nothing enlightening about playing small and living in the shadows of what I might be. In yogic terms this is called AHIMSA: it is one of the precepts of right-living which means non-violence (non-violent to oneself and to others). It also has a lot to do with being courageous. Courage, after all, is not the absence of fear, but the ability to be afraid without being paralyzed.

At Mindful Living last month, we examined and experienced various ways we’ve been standing on the ledge of greatness. We also experimented with a collective Loving Kindness Meditation, in the Jon Kabit-Zinn tradition. We extended our prayful meditation to ourselves, to a beloved, to a person who we are neutrally connected to, to an individual with whom we’ve been challenged with, to the wider community and finally to the whole world. We prayed that we/you be healthy, to be filled with peace, to embrace silence and to be loved … did you feel our energy?

To offer some hope… here are a few reasons for cultivating a healthy sense of self-love:

  • When you love yourself, things simply become lighter and easier. You will be happier!
  • When your opinion of yourself goes up and you stop trying to get validation from other people, you become less needy and are able to muster up an inner stability even when the world seems uncertain.
  • When you increase your self-esteem you will be more deserving of the things you want in life.

 

The Importance of Asking Questions

There is nothing I like more than to be asked a question that makes me stop in my tracks; to breathe, to sense how the question impacts my physical body, and to take time to respond intuitively from a relaxed state of being.

When I was a kid growing up on a big prairie farm, I really don’t ever recall being asked my opinion on anything. Being a middle child, with a sister and a brother on either side, one can only imagine the challenges our parents had trying to keep a lid on at the dinner table, let alone communicate consciously to the hired men, who lived in the little house down the lane, employed as helpers during the haying and harvest seasons.

Turns out my older sister was a “squeaky wheel”. In my memory, she was the one who not only asked most of the questions but she also seemed to have all the answers! I learned at an early age what it was like to sit silently with words unspoken in my throat. This became my modus operandi … wanting to be asked how I felt about things, and at the same time being afraid of what might come out of my mouth. Would it be the ‘right’ thing, would it be clever or even relevant?

What I would have given for my parents, or my favourite Auntie to ask me what lit me up, made me happy, or dragged me down? Instead the words I remember hearing when I’d go home for family gatherings were, “So, when did you arrive and when are you going back?” Innocent as they were, these words left me feeling marginalized, vacant and essentially passed over. It was unfortunate because this might have been a rare occasion to learn and appreciate one another on a whole different level.

Who’s responsible? Was it mine, or was it someone else’s responsibility to formulate a meaningful question? The marvellous thing about a good question is that it shapes our identity as much by the asking as it does by the answering. Questions can make or unmake a life. Over the years at the yoga studio, I’ve gotten pretty comfortable sitting in a circle sharing my feelings and asking others about theirs. Being authentic and speaking from a soft place in my heart has allowed others to do the same.

A few years ago, I conjured up the courage to initiate a circle conversation around our familiar dinner table. Initially, a lot of eyebrows were raised and there was some easing away from the table from my young nieces … but over time, we all looked forward to the moment when we entered into a dialogue.

In our case, it meant we each had the spot light shone on us for a few moments. The simple rule we agreed upon was that we could take as much time as we needed to say how we felt about one thing or another and no one could interrupt or interject with a comment or a curiosity. Bragging was encouraged, as was saying something humbling about ourselves, or sharing a few words of gratitude. It was and continues to be a very special time, a heart-warming and transformational experience for everyone, speakers and listeners alike.

 

Living Your Yoga

This time of year, while the summer sun softens and the leaves change from bright green to crimson, it’s natural to pull on a sweater and turn inward. The yoga tradition compares this circumstance to the brightly shining sun, which is ever radiant but periodically is hidden from view by drifting grey clouds. Yoga is an extensive program of re-education through which we learn step by step, to live in the light of our true nature. Only when we have truly found ourselves will we be able to live in peace, harmony, and happiness. This is what is sometimes called the sacred life.

I am guided to connect with the sacred in everyday life. It is my responsibility to shine my light and share my wisdom with others who seek to trek along their personal path to greater awareness, intuition, health and freedom.

For many people, practicing yoga means to do yoga postures once or twice a week, or even every day. Although this approach can yield many benefits, such as better health and greater vitality, the real power of yoga is unleashed only when we engage yoga as a way of life, twenty-four hours a day. Yoga is universal and applicable in all situations. It is first and foremost a mental, or inner, discipline. Even its postures (asana) have a spiritual purpose and must be practiced with full awareness. Every single yoga technique – from postures to breathing practices to meditation – is a tool for discovering the true essence of who we are.

The path toward yoga’s lofty goal of self-realization is not in the least glamorous. On the contrary, it is quite humbling. To get to the ‘other side’ we must constantly bravely and compassionately face our limitations in order to realize our unlimited potential as spiritual beings. Are you up for the challenge?

Living On Purpose

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As a woman in the mid-stream of life I have a strong desire to live on purpose, to live fully without anyone or anything holding me back.

When interviewing a few women of my vintage about what it is  they would like for their post-working life, I heard their words vibrating inside of me.

“I am nearing the end of a long, mostly enjoyable, constructive and productive career. My life has been one of juggling numerous personal and professional balls in the air. I no longer feel the need TO DO so much. I want to find a way to experience and explore new avenues and creative spaces, meet new and interesting women who are also traveling uncharted territories, and discover more of what brings me joy and laughter … without guilt!”
It seems this is a recurring theme shared among women who have a history of taking care of things. We look after everything that has to do with family and household needs. We push ourselves, often with little sleep, just to stay on top of our game, and we try our best to maintain a healthy lifestyle while sustaining an active social calendar.

What has been lacking for many of us is self-love and nourishment that is so desperately needed to fuel the next chapter of our lives.

I say… now is the time to say a resounding YES to the things that make my heart sing and NO to things that don’t!

I am reminded and inspired by Mary Oliver’s beautiful words in her poem, The Summer Day. “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Her words give me pause to consider that, first and foremost, my life is entirely what I make of it. That’s right. I alone, am responsible for my experience and existence. Her poignant words inspire me to stretch beyond my comfort zone, to allow curiosity and passion to lead me. I want to look back on my life …may it be sprinkled with awkward moments, failures, and tears of pain. I want to know that I put myself out there; I took risks, and allowed myself to genuinely feel and live whole-heartedly,