Keep Calm and Travel on


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I have come to acknowledge after many years of vagabond voyages, that travel can be stressful. Especially transatlantic air travel.

Granted, I’m not in my twenties, or even thirties anymore, but the uncomfortable seats, the queues, the airborne germs trapped in that ever-so-snug cabin just don’t seem to do it for me like it used to. And then, something extra-ordinary happens to remind me just how unsophisticated the human face of travel can be.

A few days ago I was due to travel from Baltimore to London, when just before take off, the plane fully boarded with passengers, discovered a fault in the cooling system. For four hours we sat on the plane at the terminal while the crew tried to identify and fix the problem. They served us snacks, cocktails and even dinner. Then, amoung the single serving entrees served without any turbulence due to the fact we were at the airport on the ground, they announced we would, in fact, not be travelling that evening. Half eaten meals, tray tables and drinks exploded through the aisles as people scurried to get off the plane as quickly as their sardined-in bodies could move.

Once we disembarked, the terminal was mayhem. Passengers wanted answers and no one on the ground staff know what to do. The good citizens of India on the other end of the 1-800-airways number, there to solve all our travelling needs, had not been informed of the glitch. All parties pointed fingers in any direction other than themselves to try to put an order to the chaos. Peggy, with her BA badge on upside down, told us all about how much better it used to be when the airlines actually cared about their customers. Dan, also of BA acclaim, complained that all the flights had already been oversold and if the people in the call centre couldn’t help, no one could. On and on it went while customers and passengers alike locked horns without solutions. Everyone, except the captain of the plane.

There he stood in his captain’s hat, behind the checkout counter addressing each passenger with kindness, respect and patience. While he hadn’t done anything personally to contribute to the fault, he took responsibility and worked quickly to start finding new flight assignments. He delegated the hotel management to another staff member who took names with pen and paper. Peggy was reassigned from whinge-master to taxi-voucher-lady, and within two hours, we were all on our way somewhere.

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I arrived back at my mothers house eleven hours after being dropped off at the airport. The next morning as I proceeded to rebook my flight I reflected on what had occurred the previous evening. Despite the pushing, finger pointing, frustration and anger of some passengers, we all arrived, more or less, in the same situation, with a place to stay and a re-booked flight. How we each arrived into our circumstance, was different.

One of the big questions I used to ask when starting out with my yoga practice was, how much do we let go, and how much do we take control? If we have faith in God, does that mean that we leave it all up to Him or Her, sit back and do nothing to propel change? One of my doctors once said it best when he confided in me ” most of the time, we are doing the best we can to make the best choices at any given moment with the information available at hand”. One way to see it is, it’s God who gives us the time and the choices, and it is up to us to make the choices. If we can let go of the ego and our selfish reasons behind our choices, then it’s also God in each of us who is the decision maker, rather than our small self, the one who often makes decisions for the wrong reasons.

In the end, I chose to sit back and assess the situation at the airport. I chose to ask questions about my options when it was my turn in the queue, and based on that I chose to ring up British Airways and to ensure I had a seat assignment before showing up at an airport in a different city the next day. Even though I was just as upset as the next passenger, I admired and aspired to be like the pilot; I chose to keep calm and travel on.

Roots


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“Each person leaves a legacy — a single, small piece of herself, which makes richer each individual life and the collective life of humanity as a whole.”
― John Nichols

While visiting Italy on a recent trip, I stayed in a small hamlet that has been home to a winery run by the same family for 700 years.

Can you imagine, 700 years? The roots of the Tuscan earth run deep and are experienced as rich bouquets of people, landscapes, architecture and food. Despite the deep roots, the hamlet itself was home to no more than twenty five people, with the main house still inhabited by the original family. The locals clearly benefitted from generations past, and continued the traditions of cultivating and living off of the fruits of the earth; olive groves, grape vines, tomatoes defined the hues and strokes of the landscape.

The guest house we stayed in was owned by the original family and contained a depot for books of past generations. In our vast library I picked up a book called If Mountains Die, by the American author John Nichols. A memoir and picture book about his life in Taos, New Mexico written in the 1970’s, he wrote about roots; his own familial roots and those of a civilization displaced and ultimately destroyed; the roots of the indigenous population that have faced centuries of subjugation and persecution. He wrote about transience, uncertainty and loss; quite a juxtaposition from the immediate surroundings and safety in the ancient hamlet where I nestled.

It made me consider my own roots; those of my ancestors, of my generation and the roots of my own small family. Ours is a generation of unprecedented and accelerated change. Never before have people and ideas been so mobile, global and fleeting. We expect information as it happens at our fingertips, and also expect that the information will change, sometimes at a rate that is even more rapid than reality. What is more, the natural temporality of the world is exacerbated and manipulated by governments and media outlets to instil fear rather than to help us to come to terms with what is: our inevitable demise.

As I sat under the fig trees in the garden of our hamlet, I contemplated my own roots, severed and re-rooted in so many ways. Many of the people I know are in similar life circumstances. After all, broken families and global relocation is considered normal in today’s world. But then, my thoughts turned to the earth surrounding me. I looked around in the garden and saw dandelions and daisies, rosemary and wild rose bushes scaling the ancient stone wall. Are we really so different from the seeds of a dandelion riding the wind to discover new soil? At the end of the day, we all have roots that span hundreds of centuries and cover vast terrain. Every one of us has rich and meaningful ancestry that are as based today on location as they were centuries ago. Our relationship with place is surely different, but the more we can be aware of the significance of environment, the more we build meaning for ourselves and for generations to come.

Even as everything is in a constant state of flux, we can take steps to be conscious of how things are around us here and now and appreciate the wonder, for the thing we can be sure of is the next time we look, it will appear different. Roots help to keep us grounded in relationship, even when that relationship is change. The dandelion knows not where it came from or where it may land; only that the future generations of dandelions are relying on it to spread its wings and soar….and then there is the landing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same


With the myriad of changes that happen each moment in our bodies and the world we live in, it can be reassuring at times that there are places where time passes on a slower scale.

Every year, we retreat for a couple of weeks to a place in France where the the clock slows down and a moment can last as long as it needs. As a result, life here resembles the vegetables and fruits cultivated within the region, vibrant and ripe, each seed reaching its maximum potency on its own terms and in its own time. The spectrum of colour, texture and taste is apparent in everything from the vast array of artists who have brought it to life in paintings, literature and cuisine.

The concept of slowing down to produce a masterpiece is nothing new to our contemporary culture. It is perhaps the most over-exploited concept in the world of marketing and advertising, whether it be for the purpose of selling a car or mass-produced olive oil. But what is the reality that exists behind marketeer’s story, and with what goal in mind? When one moves slowly with intention, extra features and unnecessary gadgets are a burden and words like quality, elegance and simplicity have no context.

There is a vegetable garden before me that has been meticulously designed, with produce ranging from pumpkins to rhubarb, fennel to beet root, carrots to peppers, tomatoes and more. The plot has been carefully considered in relationship to the sun, shade, soil moisture, biodiversity, and the positioning of the garden to the kitchen, with the herbs being the closest in proximity. Among the vegetables and berries, simple flowers have been interspersed as well as tables, chairs and a fountain, so while it is maximally functional as a garden, it is also a work of beauty that one can enjoy. As a result, the holistic adventure of gardening, observing the garden as it matures, and tasting its produce is a sensory delight and part of one experience.

A robust garden doesn’t miraculously appear. Rather, it starts with a few seeds and nourishment, unfolding only over time. While some aspects of germination happen quickly, others take time and need a refined sense for attention to detail. In this way, gardening is not unlike the yoga practice. I remember a teacher telling me to assess my practice only once every 10 years. In his opinion this was the time it takes to plant and cultivate the seeds of the practice. One of the biggest challenges I have experienced living in a fast paced world is letting go of ‘fix-it-quick’ expectations; another is finding the time for a regular daily practice. I have so often found myself refraining from rolling out my yoga mat rationalising that 20 minutes is simply not enough time. I revel in the structure and time I’m afforded during this time away to be more explorative and playful without the regular daily constraints.

Every morning before even the gardener is awake, I come to my mat in a shaded part of the garden just before the sun rises. I pay attention to the sounds of the insects and birds already hard at work while I move to my own slow breath. I observe as the extra features and gadgets (my mental fluctuations) dissipate and acknowledge all the things that are different in my body and mind, and all the things that feel the same from the previous day. In this moment, I’m not focused on practicing any one posture, trying to become more flexible or attaining any specific goal. On the contrary. My practice isn’t about changing who I am or how I am in the short term, but knowing that which is unchanging in me a little bit better. Usually practitioners of yoga refer to the soul or life force when they talk about that which is unchanging. Indeed, for all I know this is the one part of me that will never change, and this is precisely what contributes to making yoga a richly spiritual practice. There is another context of the unchanging, however, that I like to refer to as the ‘slow-changing’. These are things which rarely change, but have that change potential. These are consequently the physical and mental aspects that make each of us unique.

Over time, I have seen shifts in preferences for certain postures and have felt changes in areas of the body that I was sure were vaulted shut when I first started practicing yoga. More than the change itself, becoming aware of these sensations and moving, or staying with a place of non-movement with mindful attention has been pivotal to understanding my body, mind, and practice. Of equal importance. revisiting the these areas regularly and from different angles has infused my practice and sense of self with dimensionality. In a sense, these three elements have become the backbone to my self-practice. When the body and mind are listened to, encouraged to have a dynamic relationship and allowed whatever time needed to mature and grow, the spirit inside the body has all the resources it needs to be vibrant and in full bloom.

Small renovations have been made in the town where we are staying, but the same man still operates his vegetable stand, the same woman works at our favourite restaurant, and the summer festival still has the horse parade and carousel, and falls on the same week every summer. I am certainly benefiting from the slow food, the slow breath, and for the time being, at least in one small village in France, things staying the same.

Yoga [and Surfing] Revival Holiday


It’s hard to believe that I’m planning for as far away as November, but now that I’ve planned what I’ll be doing from November 10-17th 2012, I hope you’ll plan ahead too!

I’m delighted to invite you to a retreat I will be co-hosting on the Moroccan coast from November 10-17th, 2012. The location is ideally situated for a peaceful yoga retreat, and due to the proximity to the ocean and natural resources, it also happens to be a bit of a surfing haven. Thus, the Yoga [and surfing] Revival Holiday is brought to life!

My friend and Naturopath, Rhian Stephenson, is co-hosting the retreat, and has designed a delicious menu that will leave you feeling amazing whether you choose to spend the bulk of your days in action on a surfboard, relaxing at the villa, pampering yourself with spa treatments or seeing the coast by horseback.

The attached flyer morocco retreat gives you all the basic information – but for more detailed information, please visit my website.

Please feel free to contact me if you are interested in attending and have any questions.

Taking Flight


It’s hard to believe that in only one more day I will be on the plane to Vancouver, home to amazing air quality, incredible Asian food…and the groove pant. Lululemon athletica has invited me and other yogis from around the world to get down doggy on the yoga mat for a few days and explore Whistler and have a look under the company’s proverbial hood. I’m so delighted to have been asked to take a peek.

The schedule appears to be rather Full On, but all of the sessions look interesting, interactive, and many of them involve sweating. Yippee! Of the physical activities, I halve to admit the prospect of snowshoeing on Tuesday is sounding preeetttty goood right now. I’m also looking forward to hearing the CEOs thoughts on where the company is going, production in China and any possibilities for expanding their line into organic fibers (yes please!). But mainly, I’m eager to meet and get to know others who are passionate about yoga. A change of scene is always such a nice time to shift perspective on the world and allow a little magic in.

I’ll be in Vancouver part of Saturday and Sunday and can’t wait to check out one or two yoga studios, catch up with some friends and explore being on my own in a city I’ve always loved without my sidekick. Monday will be packed with a yoga class followed by a run, a visit to the Vancouver Support Centre and a circuit training class before bussing it up to Whistler. And then the real fun begins.

Stay tuned for thoughts, images and ideas from the road, until then, let it rain! The past few days have been earth quenching and so needed. Keep the ‘brellas out and wellies on!

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