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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Week one at Pyramid Yoga Center

After arriving at Pyramid Yoga last weekend and settling in, it was amazing to see David, my original yoga teacher after all this time. I had no idea what to expect really, because other than the odd email, I hadn’t seen him in 15 years.  I decided not to give in to the mind that wonders ahead of 20160124_114527time, and when I finally ran into him it was like no time had passed. He greeted me with a hug and asked me if I was comfortable here. Wow, how could I not be comfortable? I’ve got a nice bungalow with its own kitchen and washroom. It has a balcony with a hammock, and did I forget to mention that it’s on a tropical island in the Bay of Thailand? “Oh David, yes. It’s wonderful here.”

I have had this trip in mind for many years. It was just never the right time, and honestly I don’t know why this happens to be the right time, but obviously it is because it happened. I also had some ideas of what I want to receive from this course, but it is such a good practice to drop expectations. This way we can always be pleasantly surprised. So after an orientation, our weekly program began. I start at 5 am with pranayama breathing techniques until 6, then a half our of meditation, then morning yoga until 8:30 am when we break for breakfast. Then usually a talk from David from 10 until noon. It’s been so good to hear him speak again from the yogic perspective on aspects of health and well-being. He is truly captivating and the time flies when he’s teaching.

Lunchtimes have been wonderful too, because we are given a 3 hour lunch break. After a day or two of 3 hours for lunch, it’s a wonder why this isn’t yttgroupthe standard, because it’s so healthy and human to take time in the middle of the day to eat and rest, and maybe do a thing or two that needs doing before going back to whatever you do. I’d say most of the lunches, I’ve skipped the yummy food at the Pyramid and taken a drive into town. I even tried one of the many Thai Massage clinics during lunch on Thursday, and it was amazing. After an hour, they charge 250 baht ($10). Needless to say, I’ll be back! We have more fun classes and yoga in the afternoons, and sometimes an evening class too. Yoga is one of those things, that if you like it, you can do it a lot and for many hours.

This weekend however, we all started a cleanse together as a group. We ate papaya for 2 days, then one day just water, and then today we had vegetable juices and broth. I’ve done a lot of fasts and cleanses over the years, and I must say this one is going well as I feel very steady, happy, and not too hungry if you can believe it. Week two now begins. I’m so happy to be here doing yoga 24/7. I’ll send another little update within the week. Stay tuned!
namaste’
Mandee

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