Round Trip

Full circle…

After 3 months away, I’m now back at my desk.. and for the moment, it’s bliss. Have you ever really soaked in the feeling of return? It’s so nice to come home.

I must say, now looking back, what an interesting trip that was for me, and not anything like I thought it would be. So much more in some ways. Life seems to unfold exactly as it needs to, despite our plans or ideas about it (which, of course, is the source of suffering if we are stuck to our plans). It seems to reveal precisely the things we need to see but often didn’t even know we did.

Follow your Heart

heart_hug_girl_and_butterfly-1600x900Before I even left, the trip was challenging me to drop the mind and follow the heart. Although I might say that I’m already someone who follows the heart, I’ve noticed that all the life lessons have an ever deep aspect to them. I can always deepen more into the understanding. It is precisely when I think I’ve got something down pat, life shows me the places in me that are holding out and where I can take that understanding more deeply into. It is important to never become complacent in our understanding, but to keep it fresh and on the surface and in our daily practice. There were so many things about planning this trip that made it so challenging to actually implement, that I kept finding pockets of fear and doubt in myself. The heart’s pull however, was so strong, that it helped me lean into the discomforts and really believe in myself and benevolence of life itself to see the vision through.

It’s not that we want to blindly follow the heart, as the heart is often served well when balanced with our reason, but what we usually get stumped by is a type of paralysis coming, not from reason, but fear and doubt. When we decide to go out on a limb and do something different, this will surely come up to some degree. When we truly stepped onto “the path”, one interesting thing is we begin to value the uncomfortable moments as ripe moments for our greatest evolution! They are no longer inconvenient obstacles, but instead we start to build the courage and fortitude through our yoga to lean into discomfort and realize that there is a great freedom and healing on the other side. Fear structures that were keeping us from flowing with all that life has to offer us start to fall away and we thank the heart for leading us where the mind would never dare. I had a million reasons bubbling up every minute as to why I shouldn’t go….  and was a true test of faith. Some things literally only fell into place hours before I left, but the point is, everything did fall into place. And it was amazing.

Just how many people hesitate to take a step forward or make a change because the fear thoughts in the mind I wonder. I love how the deeper practices of yoga help us to reconnect with our hearts and help us to build the connection. We learn to trust ourselves in a really deep way.

See the World

20160212_210124Another beautiful thing about traveling is to see a bigger world. Not necessarily just to see one place or another, or that one place is better or worse than another, but moreso to just step out and see that there is a bigger world out there than what we experience on a day to day basis. In our media driven culture, we sometimes get a false sense of being worldly, but actually stepping into another culture is very, very different than learning about it through television or the internet. Although I’ve seen countless documentaries, foreign films, nature programs, etc, it wasn’t until I stepped off the plane, and the tropical air actually touched my skin that I was immediately transported back to my trip to India in 1995. It really surprised me actually. I have thought and talked about that trip a thousand times, but it wasn’t until I was in Thailand that I actually remembered what it felt like to be in Asia.

I’m sure each continent has its signature feeling that would be hard to describe. How many people, I wonder, hesitate to travel due to fear of the unknown. We live in fearful times, and this is exacerbated by the media machine warning us of dangers at every turn. People warning me of amazing things left, right, and center before I left, and of course, with intelligence and reasonable concern about some of the challenges that life can present, as well as a little research into cultural norms, I was able to smile and thank people for their concern and immediately release their fear. I knew it was coming from kindness, but if we really just trusted ourselves and each other, we wouldn’t worry so much. And furthermore, if I went to Thailand with well-intentioned fear, I would be seeing through those lenses, affecting not only what I saw, but also probably the events of my trip.

I don’t always talk about my personal history, but my confidence has been built one step at a time, by actually doing things and going different places. I’ve learned that life is trustworthy, and that there is a common ground in all of us that ultimately has a basic goodness. That underneath all of our differences, we are actually more the same than we realize. It was so weird actually, on my flight home, in the Tokyo airport, I was given a glimpse where I could actually see how it was not metaphorically, but truly the same thing looking out through everyone’s eyes. It’s not something we can actually understand truly until we see it for ourselves, and at that moment we realize, that people just want to be happy. When we see this deeply, it changes our experience while traveling.

Practice

20160206_085310I am always learning more about what Yoga practice truly is. It’s amazing that it is not simply straight forward, but evolves over time. There is, on the surface, the basic foundational practice of keeping the body well-oiled and as pleasant a vehicle as possible for the journey, as well as the practices of getting to know the mind and learning how to release thoughts and beliefs. The deeper practices seem to be variations of this theme, but to go blindly into the deeper practices may simply indicate a lack of clarity in the goal. I’ve come to see that “the goal” is something that reveals itself evermore clearly as we walk the path, and through this clarity our relationship to practice tends to evolve. I met David 16 years ago, and he truly opened my mind to a whole new world. It was beyond amazing to witness how he is still going strong and doing this for people to this day. I loved seeing him again and to experience his fantastic classes. He is a dedicated yogi, a master in his own right, an amazing teacher, and a mystery. To sit beside him, one’s own mind goes quiet. This is amazing to experience. And still, going to Thailand was further cultivating my own personal relationship to my practice, and the revelation of what yoga truly is, in direct and indirect ways. It was Adyashanti that once counselled that one should “never abdicate one’s own authority”, and with that I say we can be a true yogi, for the path of the yogi is to find out for oneself. We need to be able to approach any teaching and determine for ourselves what works, if it is working, and where it is bringing us.

Chakra Yoga is mysterious, complex, comprehensive, fun, mind-blowing, and evolutionary. It addresses the human being on every possible level of experience. After revisiting David and the Chakra Yoga Center, I was able to see that I’ve been true to the teachings over the years. It was also an opportunity to ask questions and refine my understanding and come back with even more. It was really surprising to me, that although I went there to learn more–and there is always more to learn–I ended up not only teaching the level 1 Chakra Yoga teacher training alongside David, I was teaching the teacher trainers that he had hired. It simply happened as a natural progression, but it was definitely a surprise. I thought I went there to learn about Chakra Yoga, but what life wanted was to show me more about myself. I tend to feel like the eternal student, so to be honoured in such a way was humbling, rewarding, and propelling for all that Yogaheart has yet to offer. My experience astounded me actually, from the amazing responses of the level 1 students to my teaching, to David inviting me back next year, to being offered a position to lead teacher training in a completely different school in Thailand, to invitations and encouragement to teach in Costa Rica, India, California, New Zealand and more…   I went from having some ideas of how I wanted to develop my personal practice to being shown that I am now stepping into the international forum. As I said, this has been a truly humbling journey.

So…

20160320_124150_HDRLet’s see where this personal practice goes! I feel excitement about all the potentials that have arisen, but if you are feeling what I’m feeling as I write this… you might be thinking, “what about Nova Scotia?” One thing I know, having lived in most provinces, having traveled the US, Europe, India, and now Thailand, Nova Scotia is a very special place. Every place has its challenges for sure, but Nova Scotia has a depth, beauty, and vastness that I like to call home. So let’s just see where it goes, we don’t even really know 5 minutes from now, so let’s trust the flow. Life is taking us exactly where we need to go, especially when we can’t see it.

Thank you for taking time to tune in to this trip, full circle. Somehow, we are all in this together you know, and your happiness is my happiness, your challenges are mine too. Let’s keep growing together one breath at a time.

Love,
Mandee xo

 

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Fresh and New

racket tailed drongoHas it really been six weeks? When I first arrived in Thailand in January, all the sounds of the jungle were completely exotic. The bird songs were phenomenal. One type of insect however, would randomly surprise me with a shrill, constant, very long-lasting kettle-whistle type sound that I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to handle for the duration of my stay. Another type of incredibly loud insect sings in a chorus with it’s brothers and sisters during sunset each day sounding like a machine so loud I honestly mistook them for some rude mechanic running an engine on full throttle. Along with these insects, there have also been very endearing sounds, such as the frogs, and the birds, and especially the Tokay gecko, whom I’ve grown to love and listen for. And now, after only six weeks, these sounds have somehow become…….   normal.

I hardly hear them anymore. It’s the strangest thing.

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If you think about it, it didn’t take that long. One of the great benefits of travel is precisely how fresh everything is when we journey into a new environment. Our ordinary day-to-day lives have become so “normal” we may not even notice how we are not hearing the forest for the trees. Not hearing, not seeing, not anything really… just assuming we know it all, “been there, done that”, and there is a tendency to believe it is just the same ol’ thing everyday. This is a natural tendency of the human mind to allow the beauty and mystery of our every moment to lose its freshness, its captivating quality, in the face of repetition.

Here’s an experiment: Imagine you were from Asia, born and raised in a distant culture, and traveling to Nova Scotia for the first time. What would you see? What would you notice? Can you even imagine it? It’s not easy. But for a traveler, even the most mundane thing such as what’s for breakfast, or the way the shops display their goods, or the way people interact is amazing. And it seems, amazing can become “normal” pretty fast.

meditationIn yoga, one of our practices is to continually try to see the poses as if it were the first time. To keep reviving the sense of awe and mystery surrounding the human body and truly see it for what it is. It’s part of a bigger practice of being present, releasing the impositions of the “I know” mind, releasing the past moment by moment. Noticing the tendency for all things to become normal, to become automatic, we try to keep cultivating renewed interest so that we can see what is truly here unclouded by judgment and projection. It’s much easier during travel because everything IS new, and we get a sense of what it feels like to live without history for a while, outside of our ordinary reference points. Through this practice, we can uncover the happiness and aliveness that is always right here waiting for us. It’s a deeper kind of freedom–it’s the freedom of being out of the box.

You might say, “Well of course you’re happy, you’re traveling!” But how many people 20160207_154959would agree that no matter where you go, life always seems to present challenges along the way. While I’ve been here in Thailand, there have been great gifts, as well as some challenges for sure. Life is rich in all ways! Yet with the practice of yoga and meditation, I can attest to having access to a sense of freedom and happiness in the background no matter how big the obstacle. This is the fruit of cultivating presence in moments less challenging, for even as I accidentally went sliding down a gravel road the other day on my elbow and hand, scraping my palm, elbow, calf, and ankle I was able to stay home, with myself, in the present moment and not get upset. Alone, in the middle of nowhere, trekking in the jungle looking for a waterfall named Lost Paradise… it was lost alright! I never did find it, but I found myself. As it tends to go, all of a sudden by surprise, life serves up a situation where I need myself. I needed to find my way back to civilization with as little unnecessary suffering as possible.

We can’t predict how we are going to react except in situations. It is nice when we discover that our practice has produced fruit. When you find yourself in a pinch, with perhaps physical pain and thoughts of concern, it is amazing to notice how it is possible to discover that behind it all, even still, exists a deep, constant happiness inside like a warm sun. It depends on the quality of the relationship you have with yourself and life itself. Through the years now, yoga has continued to connect me with a deep joyful freshness inherent in the present moment, even, as I’m pointing out here, in uncomfortable situations. It’s a strange paradox. There are many things that can bring this about, but most of all practicing placing attention on the freshness of the present moment.

20160306_123900If you were wondering though, I did find my way back out of the jungle of course. I thought perhaps to go straight to the hospital, since infection can set in pretty fast in the tropics, but intuition guided me to visiting a pharmacy first since the scrapes seemed fairly superficial. The funny thing is that during the times when I’ve felt the grace of being present in the face of a challenge, magical moments have seemed to ensue. It’s the strangest thing. Pharmacies here, in general, seem to be run by well manicured women who speak very little English. And it’s like being inside of a medicine cabinet, sterile, shiny, and clean–all glass and mirrors–but the staff tend to be cold, uncommunicative, and maybe even a little crooked, sometimes overcharging the unaware tourist… but on this day, my experience was totally different. A kind middle-aged man named Yung took one look at me as I came in the door, disheveled and dusty. He went straight over to the first aid section and started pulling out all the necessary cleaning products and dressings. I asked if he minded I sit in his shop to attend to the wounds right away. He indicated for me to sit on the stool that was there and to go ah20160305_172957ead. In the meantime, he put on a pair of rubber gloves, sat down facing me, and proceeded to help me clean and dress my superficial injuries. He was so sweet, like an unexpected Buddha that emerges from the woodwork when you are least expecting it. When I was all bandaged up and overwhelmed with gratitude, I offered to buy him something as a gift, “Anything!” I said. “I just want to thank you! Can I buy you a fresh coconut?” With a compassionate smile, he replied in what little English he knew, “Just be careful. Take care of yourself.” My eyes began to water in response, so touched by his incredible kindness.

Life is beautiful if you let it. Strangely, it can show you some of it’s most beautiful sides even in the midst of the most challenging of situations, as long as we keep learning how to open up to it all, and not move from our past ideas of good, bad, right, and wrong, but instead from the ever fresh and new. <3

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Life is a good school

Life can be surprising and spontaneous if you let it. There are times we set out to do something, thinking we are doing it for one reason, and suddenly it evolves into something completely different. Have you ever had that happen?

20160212_171308_HDRAside from the amazingness of traveling to Asia and immersing myself in a completely different culture, the decision to come to Koh Phangan was more to just be a student again for a little while. To really deepen my practice and dive even deeper into my lineage, seeing what more I could bring back. Taking the next level of Chakra Yoga with my yoga teacher had been on my mind for many years and somehow this was the time.

And I must say as I approach the half-way point on my trip, it has been wonderful to revisit David after all these years. I’ve had questions, and I’ve been curious as to how all the practices he first offered progress. In just two weeks, my questions were satisfied and my deeper practice was established and since coming here I’ve been following the recommendations and practicing the tapas, mudras, kriyas, pranayama, and mantras on a daily basis. It is a real privilege to have a dedicated period of time to truly apply oneself fully to the practice and have the opportunity to observe the effects. And practicing in the jungle with nature’s symphony all around adds to the experience.

20160202_104920It is interesting however, to realize that of course there is the teaching at the level of the practice, but simultaneously there is always a teaching at the level of life itself. When I arrived at the Pyramid, there were 16 people and two teacher trainers besides David. Out of the group however, only 2 of us were here for the next level. The other 14 were here to experience Chakra Yoga teacher training for the first time. The way David set it up was that he would teach the beginner course at times, and the advanced course at 5am, 11am, and 4pm. For the first couple of weeks Emily and I would also attend some of the beginner courses as it was so nice to hear David going over the concepts we knew so well. It was early in the second week however, that life began to prompt change that was perhaps better suited to my skills and experience.

12717829_10156499666005570_9042413046134316262_nI started noticing some of the things that the Yogaheart Teacher Training offers were not part of the curriculum. The Yogaheart YTT prides itself on being well rounded in all categories and not top-heavy in any particular field. We have courses in Yoga Anatomy that led even one nurse who has graduated from the program to say that in all of her years of nursing, she never understood the body better on a personal level. So somehow the topic came up, and in addition to my practice here, I started teaching anatomy as a collaboration project between CYTT and YYTT.

It’s funny because although I came here to just be a student for a while, as soon as I started teaching, a joy overwhelmed me, and I am reminded that this path is a deep calling. Not only did I light up, but so did the trainees. You could see that the joy was reflecting itself back and forth, and everyone was looking forward to potentially one of the driest subjects, anatomy.

When I was doing my research and building the Yogaheart School, the comment I kept hearing and have heard over the years from Yoga Teachers about their training has been, “It was a great program, but when I graduated, I didn’t feel ready to teach.” This is something I wanted to address when designing the YYTT. I told David, that along with the Yoga Anatomy, I also had classes prepared on Teaching Methodology if he would like to include these in his schedule, I could share. David is very focused on helping students become yogis, and if he had it his way, we’d all be going to practice in a cave in the 20160210_171854Himalayas for a few decades to get the true experience. I love this about this lineage, and I also know that most of the students will be going back to Europe and North America and teaching there, so teaching methodology might help. David agreed and before I knew it, I was teaching 3 or 4 classes a week as well as leading some of the Yoga classes too. Funny enough, I’ve been able to balance this all nicely with my commitment to the advanced practices that have been offered. It’s like having your cake and eating it too, for I have the opportunity to watch my own development while simultaneously watching the group of young eager yoga enthusiasts go through the teachings for the first time. I can’t help but be vividly reminded of how powerful and transformational the science of Chakra Yoga really is! Fifteen years ago, it changed my life forever and it is a privilege to witness this happening to others right before my very eyes.

You would think that the evolving story stops there… but it doesn’t! You should see what is happening right now as other schools of yoga on the island are now contacting me asking me to teach while I’m here. I must say, this school of life is truly surprising and wonderful… I’ll write a little more about that in my next blog.

Take care my friends. Trust the flow… it knows.
namaste’
Mandee

Learn more about Yogaheart yoga teacher training and watch a video with the experiences and path of our teacher graduates. Click here to learn more.
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Practice time at the Pyramid

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The outer work can never be small if the inner work is great. And the outer work can never be great if the inner work is small.
~ Meister Eckhart

20160204_110208It’s amazing to think I’ve been here two weeks already at Pyramid Yoga Center–about to start my third. In some ways it’s as if I’ve been here forever, and on the other hand, the time is flying by. The days have been rich and full with practice. We start each day before sunrise, and with our flashlights, head down to the open air studio to begin our morning pranayama (breathwork) and meditation. The first session starts at 5 am. We’re up before the birds and get to hear them waking up chanting the new day into being. I love listening to the early morning… and all the creatures singing their hearts out, from the geckos, to the crickets, to the Thailand hummingbirds, it’s a real symphony of life out there. Needless to say, yoga in the jungle is extraordinary.

Five am is actually starting a little late by yogic standards. Four am is traditionally prime time for yoga and meditation. I think David is taking it easy on the group, but that doesn’t mean he’s not up hours before our first class doing his own practice. He once said he starts each day with 3 hours of breathwork before yoga… wow. Talk about yoga lifestyle. Anyway, after the 5 – 6:30 am breathwork, we meditate until 7, and then begin our hatha yoga until 8:30, when we break for breakfast.

Oh and by the way, it’s nice to be having breakfast again. At this time last week, I was 2 days into a 7 day cleanse which involved fasting followed by several days of just juice and vegetable broth. This is also very traditional. Yogis throughout the centuries have been conducting and recommending different types of purification and cleansing rituals to help promote an optimal state of wellbeing.

20160203_172135In one of David talks last week he mentioned how bringing the body into a state of wellbeing promotes a sense of happiness. He said, “It’s your responsibility to keep your body in a good state. We want to add yoga to our lives in order to improve well-being, which will in turn improve our self-image as well.”  When we feel good and we feel good about ourselves, we tend to be happier and more content. Such a simple formula, but most of us in the modern world have a hard time taking the time we need for ourselves to exercise the body and calm the mind. It is more common than not for people to prioritize their needs last, and let ourselves be swept up day in and day out sitting in the same position, barely breathing, only to wonder later why we are not feeling well physically and emotionally. This tendency without a doubt has a cumulative effect which weekly yoga classes can help us with, but really our classes are meant to encourage us to take care of ourselves on a daily basis. Although it’s true that I have made my whole life about yoga, I must say that it is really nice for me right now to take some time to myself in a supportive environment that is dedicated to the practice of yoga throughout the day with guidance and inspiration. David reminds us that “every deep breath is a step forward on the evolutionary path.” I am so grateful to be here.

namaste’
Mandee

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