2011-01-30

Kahlil Gibran


!883-1930...why are the greats living such short lives...Or is it that their mission is complete and thus they depart?

Kahlil Gibran...the Austrian post said of his greatest book, "The Prophet" that he held onto it for four years before submitting it to his publisher. He said he wanted to be sure, really sure that every word was right. This man, whose literary power is understood to have come from some deep "reservoir of spiritual life," is yet to be surpassed. Each word is truly a masterpiece...each line a gift...and each chapter a book onto itself.

I am personally brought to tears when I read his work. It touches the heart so profoundly; even making the most ignorant and selfish person fall to their knees.

"Long were the days of pain I have spent within its walls, and long were the nights of aloneness; and who can depart from his pain and his aloneness without regret?"

"Too many fragments of the spirit have I scatterd in these streets, and too many are the children of my longing that walk naked among these hills, and I cannot withdraw from them without a bruden and an ache."

"It is not a garment I cast off this day, but a skin that I tear with my own hands."

"Nor is it a thought I leave behind me, but a heart made sweet with hunger and with thirst."

2011-01-27

the Godfather of Fitness


It's always sad when a 'great' person dies. Someone who has contributed a lot to society; affecting how people live, think and get along in life. And to be honest, I feel each time we lose one of these guys or gals there is no one to replace them.

It's not as if they are replaceable but there are very few people with the depth, insight and background of some of these 'greats' today. I suppose it's all relative but when Shri K. Pattabhi Jois, the Ashtanga Guru, passed away this was a loss. The same goes for the more recent departure of Jack LaLanne.

A lot of LaLanne's messages dealt with getting out of your rut, stopping feeling tired, learning to become happier and generally striving for all you can be. He said he worked out like he was running for the Mr. America contest. It is rare to encounter such people who possess such drive and energy. A lot of times people can really be the reverse; wet rags! And probably not even aware of how down they are.

Since his death there have been a lot of reviews on his life. An interesting comment was on how he changed the way people looked at exercise but he did not change their bodies. Apparently there are more obese people in the US than ever before! I hazard to guess that he did not change their bodies because he did not change their minds.

The age-old understanding according to Yogis and Buddhists is that mind controls body. If people are still working on themselves physically then it is only knee-deep (so to speak). Changing your body will ultimately involve changing your mind.

I believe this is 2000 per cent true. However, I don't think many people understand what this actually means. It does not mean that because you have a stocky build or short legs that suddenly you will have the legs of a run-way model. It means you will CHANGE your perception of your body. And this, people, changes your life!

A good example is people who are a bit overweight but look great. Yes, they do and they hide the extra tummy flab really, really well. My ex-partner or boyfriend (or whatever you want to refer to him as) was once upon a time quite overweight. Because of his air of self-confidence he did not appear to be. He looked good.

So there is a living example of what I am talking about!

How do you change your mind? The only way I know that is legal and free is by learning to meditate. No amount of yogasana will ultimately have this same effect. How can I make such a bold statement? Because I have exhausted asanas and still never learned to benefit from meditation. Maybe hard to believe but it was the case back in the early 2000's.

Today, it is popular for people to talk of meditation-in-motion and doing this while in a posture. But without being rude this is not correct. They are 2 different things and they should not be confused.

It is right you can meditate while in motion but it should not be confused with a formal sit-down session of meditation. These are 2 different conversations. It's like talking while walking and not talking while walking. Or better yet, sitting down for a meal with yourself versus standing up and eating.

How to meditate and why? I'll write about this in another post. I will add that many years ago I had a student who encouraged me to PUSH mediation as much as I do the asana practice. However, my experience has been you can lead someone to it but you cannot do it for them. In other words, I can become the great cheer-leader for meditation, but ultimately people have to make these decisions for themselves in understanding the great benefit.

For now, I want to pay homeage to Jack LaLanne; losing a 'great' is always a loss for everyone.

2011-01-25

“Tara Stiles has got to be the coolest yoga teacher ever.”


Really, I thought I was. No, just kidding. As the Yoga World continues to spiral out of control this is the latest news...

Actually, I do recall hearing about this gal a few years ago who is now referred to as the YOGA REBEL....It is a whole bunch of hoopla about a former model doing yoga in her bedroom, in her socks and telling students, "it's no big deal if you stretch a little or not."

You can read the New York Times article here entitled, Yoga Rebels. A friend of mine in the US sent it over (good to have informed friends)!

The quote above is what people are saying about her. But that's only on one side of the fence. On the other, the purits are scolding her. I personally find it best not to get too involved in any of these conversations, which are basically going no where. I mean, if she were my daughter I’d probably be cheering her on. If, however, she were my competition I’d probably be envious. If she was my friend or teacher I’d be wanting to get on her good side and if I were a man...well, you get the picture.

In today’s yoga map world being a yoga teacher is also on the 'cool' list! No wonder Eddie Stern, a long time practitioner of Ashtanga-yoga, once wrote it was embarrassing to be a yoga teacher or rather to say you teach yoga.

Nothing against being cool....but has it missed the point (a bit)?

I feel like shouting from a mountain top...

WILL THE REAL YOGA AND ITS TEACHERS PLEASE STAND UP....

(Silence)...

?

?

?

!

2011-01-23

Sadhus & Toy Cars




Taken in Hardiwar near the Ganges. When I saw this guy (often referred to as a Sadhu) I just had to snap a picture. I love the paradox it provokes. I also love the way it challenges the assumption that Sadhus (those who are seeking a spiritually inclined life) don't have fun. In fact, many of them are recovering drug addicts. I suspect they have had far too much fun and need a bit of balance.

So whose says Sahdus can't have fun or inspect a new toy car? It makes them lovingly human with all their weaknesses, fragilities and desires.

2011-01-20

Truth is, no teaching, no teacher, no taught


These lines might feel like unhelpful directions to a person looking to be told where to go, how to do it and what to do. But according to the Avadhoot Gita, a non-dual text, and interpreted by Mark Whitwell in Yoga of Heart this is how it really is.

The truth is, "no teaching, no teacher, no taught" is the path of Yoga and many other practices that ultimately are about the inner quest.

Funny, as connected to this esoteric discussion are the timeless questions of why are we here? what is the purpose? and who am I? I write funny because posing these questions to the modern-day student seems to provoke no reaction at all (as if they have been answered already) OR hostility in that this is getting "too deep".

Too bad, because these are the age-old questions that have been asked a thousand times over by the Masters, saints, sages and all those who have gone before in search of their earthly purpose. But in yoga's popularity today, it doesn't seem many people care to ask the questions or to know more. Perhaps it is fair to say that it is a portion of yoga that is losing face temporarily while exercise takes over. People will naturally evolve into the deeper realms just by keeping up the practice. While this is a seductive point it can also be argued that if the deeper meanings of yoga are not addressed one could miss the point for several years of their practice.

I have always found it interesting to learn how Zen Masters sat and meditated for years with no progress. They literally said, "they sat on stuff". It was not until they understood something of themselves and the deeper elements of practice (or were OPEN to receiving it) that they moved forward.

When I first read the line "no teacher, no taught" I was reminded of the book entitled, "If you Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him." This book, which gained some noterity in the 80's, sugggests a similiar notion in that someone 'teaching' you is a myth, a lie. No teacher can teach you anything unless you are prepared to walk the path and to test it out. If a teacher tells you this is the way and I will teach it to you, it is akin to meeting someone selling tickets to englighenment. The Buddha and the teacher are not outside; they are within.

It is also similiar to what the poet Gibran said on teaching...

Re: The teacher leads you to the threshold of your own mind.

This is how I see Yoga. This is why I practice. This is also why I teach.

The body is the external means, it is not the end. It is a journey in learning and being reminded of how we keep coming back to the body level only to be fooled again. We do many things with the body, but what do we do with the mind? People like to discuss how body/mind are linked and what you do with the body, you have done with your mind. Or, is it that you just keep repeating the same thing with no higher awareness. Kind of like going through the motions, brushing your teeth and all things that become routine.

Hm, this also sounds a bit like the dilemma of, "Which came first? The chicken or the egg?" According to the texts of yoga, however, the body came second and the mind created it.

These are of course murky waters. For how do we explain why people get into accidents? Why are some people born crippled? Why are some people less intelligent and others brillant? Buddhists say it is karma. And while this may seem a bit trite it is fashionable today to blame your situation on either karma or your parents!

Still, and getting back to being taught or not being taught it is all about taking responsibility. In my own journey, my teachers have not "taught" me anything at all.

Really.

They have set out a frame-work and a structure from which it has been up to me to explore. One of the misleading and vast assumptions made is that the teacher's role is to "teach" you. As a teacher, I feel the only way around this is not to enter into the arguement as to how people should see things better or even a particular way. But rather to lead them in a way that brings them to closer to this simple point.

For example, when someone learns to do the headstand pose (shirshasana), who has taught themselves how to get there? It certainly is not me. I only showed what could be done technically to get there...the rest was up to them. The student has done headstand not the teacher. The student has taught themselves based on what the teacher guided them to do.

In part, education can be blamed for the attitude that the teacher will show you the way in 'every-way'. Modern education provides very little importance to self-exploration and inquiry. And as Jack Miller, a professor at U of Toronto has stated in books on a holistic education, "education ignores the inner life."

Starting off with Yoga may begin at the physical level. But the truth is, as well, it does not end there and teachers should make no mistake in reminding their students of this. This never takes away from becoming more flexible, strong and agile, but according to Sage Patanjalim these were secondary not primary goals. They were the by-products of yoga but not the central aim.

Many times, and for fleeting moments, I have discovered and felt the time-limited quality of this body (re: death). We may 'think' we understand this basic idea, but the notion of it actually being this way is something entirely different. A bit scary also since I am not familiar with death yet.

I, myself, started with Yoga as a means for body 'perfection'. But this very desire has, fortunately, lead to an understanding of the way that the body is decaying, subject to injury, prone to decay and never the same each day. And what's more, how deeply rooted the mind is to one's body identity and image.

Ah, body identity...a thousand images competing with each other. Which one is true, which one is real, which one is "me"? Being fat, thin, short, long, lean, tall, stocky, petite, small, large, etc...etc...There are no end to the adverbs.

Once many years ago I had the questions enter my mind:

"If you were not this body and this identity to this body WHO would I be?"

"What choices would have been different?"

2011-01-11

Give Yoga 2011


2011 Charity of Yoga: Events & Donations

I am proud to support and contribute to the following events below. From karma classes to a donation box these are some of the places where the money raised will be going. Small steps for big reasons.

The Schizophrenia Society of Ontario (SSO) launched its Peace of Minds campaign earlier this year, and on March 5, 2011, they host the sixth annual Yogathon for Schizophrenia to benefit the campaign. The Yoga Way will be participating to the SSO for the week of March 1st-6th by offering a FREE (that's right free) KARMA CLASS.

Save the Date: Sat. March 5th at 2:30 p.m. to 3:40 p.m. Suggested donation of $15-20 for the class. Bring your own mat. Pre-pay or pay when you arrive.

Big Brother and Big Sisters of Toronto: Yoga Classes. During the month of January and February I will be teaching several classes in the GTA for the Go Girls Program. This is a a part of the BB & BS non-profit organization, which will help girls (ages 11-13 years old), with the skills and knowledge of living an active lifestyle, through balanced exercises, breathing and promoting positive self esteem.

Applegrove Community Complex: Serving as a non-profit organization for the Riverdale Community in Toronto. Holding their 5th annual Yoga-thon in 108 sun salutations. Bring a mat, bring a friend and donate what you can! Find out more Applegrove

Assaulated Women's Helpline: Donation Box. For December to mid-February there is a donation box making its home at the school. Leave a $1 or $2 when you come to class. All of the funds will go to maintaining and supporting phone lines in over 150 languages (including for the deaf and blind). What I love about this is that the money supports all the areas that the Ontario government does not provide funding for. Even better is that it is not going to admininstrative costs!

Yoga in Motion 2011. At the school find brouchures for this event to see how you can become part of a very special day. Combine fun with fitness and (bonus, support research for cancer. Did you know...

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Canadian women. In 2008, an estimated 22,400 Canadian women and 170 men were diagnosed with breast cancer and over 5,000 did not survive.

Sadly, I have known and know too many people both friends of my family as well as family members of prior students who have died of cancer. A great event...Learn more at Yoga.

2011-01-06

You Don't Have to Practise Any of That Stuff.....


Whenever I read very nice sounding words on love, peace, joy and extending out a big energy vibe to the world and those around us, I get a little bit nervous. It's not because I don't believe in it or feel passionate. It's more to do with the fact that it is easy to get caught up in words and "feel greats", which are in the end short-lived. Something of a Roman candle.

Today I was surfing around and reading what a few other people had to say. As I continued with one blog on what it means to be 'spiritual' (and that's a loaded word anyway) it had a few interesting catch-phrases.

The arguement or rather dialogue was laid-out as a series of questions on what it means to be spiritual? Do you have to join a meditation group? Do you have to repeat mantras? Do you have to become a convert of some practice?


The next line read you don't have to do any of those things. Really?

It is right you don't have to do any of those particular things, but you do have to do something. Gautama Siddhartha (The Buddha) did not become Buddha by sitting on his ass and reading a book on love. By doing something I am referring to practice. What struck me as misleading is the way people suck up well-sounding words, repeat them for themselves and others to hear and read. They fail to really look into the deeper meaning or even question their meaning, and relevancy.

It's not that we have to pick issue with everything we hear and read, but it is good to become a bit more critically minded and discuss rather than blindly accept. In fact, Swami Vivekananda clearly stated many times that you should not believe anything he says. Get out there and find it for yourself.

How's that? By practising.

Eh?


The fact is practice (and not words) is the only way to understand anything related to spiriutality. It cannot be understood through words alone. And this is precisly the problem with a lot of Western pop-self-help books today. They candy coat the hard work of practice and the continous struggle of it.

We can all talk up a good storm and story (lawyers are too clever on that), but in the end do you practice?

Today there is a huge arena to choose from. Practice could be yogasana, breathing, sitting, meditation, mantras (as was poo-poohed earlier), walking meditation....It really does not matter....It's that you have some kind of framework from which to learn to dance within. And something to practice what the 'word' cheer-leader professes can be skipped.

Many practises, one path


As the Buddhist Monk Choygam Trungpa said there are 3 basic points to being on the path (or a path):
1) you have a teacher;
2) you have a practice and;
3) you practice.

One of the greatest blind spots that Master Sivananda spoke about was that 'real' spiriutality has to do with burning off your asuric (Sanskrit word) tendencies. These are the negative qualities of being human. He went onto say that one should never believe they are even close to the goal. Because who among us has truly freed themselves from greed, lust, anger, resentment, hate and pride?

It is practice...and practice alone which is the "REAL" teacher....and only practice that will bring one closer to understanding what love is, what repsect is, what a hug means and how we can become kinder people not just meaning well but 'doing' well.

What I understand from "you don't have to do any of that stuff" is that it gets you off the hook and appeases laziness. It's similiar to the advice that the Moscow Art Director Constantin Stanislavsky gave his actors.

He said something to the effect of, "Fear your admirers for they will never tell you the truth about your art." I don't think he meant be afraid literally (there is already way too much fear in the world). I believe he meant one should be on their toes and not give in to well-sounding words.

Keep practising...All the Greats say it.

If I can practice, you can practice.


What you practise is, of course, up to you.

Sunset
2011-01-03

Jamaicaaaa



Ya man...Jamaica in 2010...and January 1st, 2011!

Left Toronto December 25th and arrived in Montego Bay and stayed at the Negril Yoga Centre. (I will talk about that experience later, which consisted of the walls shaking and screams from the room above). No one said this was a club for celibacy.

It was definitely surreal sitting at the beach on Christmas day with somewhat swollen ankles from the flight and on TO (Toronto) brain-waves. Still, getting away from it all is unmatched from what we met up with in Jamaica.

I learned to cook the national food (akee), a fruit that is absolutely delicious, rented a scooter and paid a security guard to allow us to have a guided 5-minute walk-about tour on the plantation (a complete scam). I was so furious my corel stoned bracelet got scared and popped off. So not only was I ripped off in Jamaica but I lost precious jewellery.

On the beach there was every attempt on my part to stay secluded while being sold everything and anything from fruits, bowels, shells, grass and drum-sticks. (I just threw in the latter for effect.) It was what I came to refer to as 'Highway Beach Robbery.' One morning I bought an avacado for $200 Jamaican (about $1.90 CDN). At those prices I could have stayed in Canada and shopped at Whole Foods.

So stay tuned for the upcoming posts on:

Highway Beach Robbery

Akee & Irie
(the national dish & the Jamaican word for 'great')

Morgan Freeman at the Negril Craft Market

and

the Jamaican Handshake


P.S: It will take some time to get this done. And it will take some time to get un-done.

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


ME

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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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