I’ll take my soul freerange, grass-fed and pumped full of affirmations please.

Why is it that when I’m in one place all I want to do is move around, and when I’m moving around all I want to do is be in one place? Oh right, because I’m looking for happiness outside of myself. 

Chai love you!
I’ve been reading a book called The Untethered Soul (shout out to Carolynne from Fearless Heart Yoga who recommended it years ago). There’s a lot to dig into so I won’t aim for a comprehensive summary, but a fundamental lesson in the book is that you are not your thoughts and emotions. Rather, you are the one who observes the thoughts and emotions that pass through you. The author, Michael Singer, explains that you are not the voice in your head narrating your life, you are the one listening. Singer describes this voice as a roommate–one you would never normally tolerate, whom you can choose not to listen to.
The real you, the one who observes the thoughts and emotions running through your head, is pure consciousness, heart, spirit, soul, etc. The real you is completely self-sufficient, contented, and free. 

But through our life experiences we accrue proverbial thorns in our heart that are incredibly sensitive and painful when touched. To avoid this pain we « protect » these thorns from the outside world by living our lives in ways that steer clear of potential disturbances. In doing so we change our behaviour and ourselves–we let our fears drive our lives and we barely even notice it. 

For example, if I have a deep fear of rejection I will do everything I can to impress others, make them like me, and avoid disapproval and exclusion. I would try to figure out what kind of behaviour, beliefs, clothes, looks, lifestyle, job, opinions, etc. would be acceptable to others and then do my utmost to stick within those boundaries. I might hold back from connecting deeply with others for fear of them rejecting me. Even in small ways, we’re constantly doing this: weighing whether we should say this or that, debating a different hairstyle, or stressing over what to wear. All while quashing whatever personal truths that don’t fit the narrative we’ve deemed safe.

We spend our entire lives constructing a magnificent internal structure to protect ourselves from pain, and Singer suggests that all we have to do is stop running from it. Instead, when something comes up, we just stay aware that we are the observer of our thoughts and emotions–that as pain arises, and it will, we can just feel it, breath into it, relax, and let it pass. If we do this consistently we will slowly release the thorns that we’ve been trying to protect all these years. 

For some, this will be a little too abstract, spiritual or unscientific, and that’s alright. But for me it really resonates. When I think about change and growth, and reflecting on my last blog post, it’s easy for me to get caught up in hoping for some resolution to my current pain points. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I’m not measuring up to the growth that I know is possible for myself. But it’s clear that this is counterproductive. If I beat myself up about how I’m not fixing all my problems and being the stellar person I want to be, I’m just cutting down my own foundation. 

So I’m trying something different. Whenever fear, frustration, anxiety, or just plain old negative self-talk rises up, I can just feel it. I can breath, relax my face and shoulders, and observe my thoughts and feelings as if they were objects trotting through my mind. « Oh look, some major validation seeking coming through! Oh interesting, I see some victimhood slipping in. Hmm. No need to hang onto or battle with those. Let’s just let that pass on through, ya? » 

Ooo boy. It’s tough to even write those things! It just goes to show how much I try to avoid pinpointing and tugging at the pain and shame that I’ve been « protecting » myself from. I don’t know about you but I’m tired of arranging my whole life to appease those buggers!

Be your fabulous self!
I’ve been playing with a few mantras/ affirmations to help trigger me to find awareness when I’m starting to react to something. Maybe they’re interesting for you:

BYOV (Bring Your Own Validation)

I’m constantly seeking validation from other people and mechanisms. When I become aware of this I think to myself, « What if I had that validation already? What then? » Funny enough, just suggesting that I already have the validation I’m seeking often liberates me to move on to the behaviour I actually want to enact. It’s like banging on a door waiting for someone to come open it for me only to realize I it’s not even locked. Alrighty, don’t mind if I do!

24/7 heart

Another mantra I’m loving, based on a quote in Singer’s book, is « Nothing is worth closing my heart over. » This is such a powerful one. It reminds me that when I let myself be driven by fear I close myself off in every possible way. The sensation might be familiar to you–it’s a closing in around my chest that I can feel physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually all in one fell swoop, and all it takes to trigger it might be someone giving a one-word answer to a story I care about, or just looking at me funny. More often than not it’s arbitrary and small, and the only reason it matters is because I wanted something from them–validation, love, to be proven right (because then I feel valuable), or just to confirm that I do in fact exist. And they didn’t do that! Shame on them, right? Well, why was I looking for that from them anyway? What a weird choice, my dear psyche, and yet so common. So why do it? Absolutely nothing is worth closing my heart over. Because I know that when my heart is open I’m not looking for anything from anyone. I’m just exploring, enjoying, experiencing whatever comes, and having fun with the people, events, thoughts and emotions that are passing on through. Why else bother with this life stuff if not for that? 

Relax, don’t do it, when you wanna get to it

The last mantra I’ll share is underscored throughout the book, but it’s also based on something my Dad says often: « Everything is driven by either fear or love. Choose love. » It’s not always clear what that even means, and sometimes I feel like « choosing love » is like trying to conjure an orgasm* out of thin air (sorry family members reading this, but for me this is exactly the right analogy). You can’t look at it directly, staring it down, commanding it to happen. We all know that’ll get you nowhere fast. We’re more successful with an indirect approach–just being present, feeling all the feelings and letting everything flow through you as you enjoy whatever the experience brings, and then letting it pass. Stay open; choose love. 

Of course, all of this is hard. And I am the furthest from being on a high horse on this–most of what I share here is for me at least as much as it is for you. But it’s all about practise, vulnerability, and doing our damnedest to support each other and keep moving forward. 

What do you think? Do you use any mantras to help you find supportive mindsets? Does this all sound crazy to you? Good thing I’m not looking for your validation! (Lol, working on it.)

*I debated sharing this slightly riské analogy with you, but then I remembered how I feel about sex and shame: we’re so terrified to acknowledge reality when it comes to anything sex related, and in my opinion, this is one of the most damaging hang-ups we have. It leads to tons of misinformation, risky and harmful behaviour, and so much missed opportunity when it comes to enjoying this dear life. How ridiculous! Let’s do better with this, ya?

You can listen to Michael Singer discuss his book with Oprah on a recent episode of her podcast, Super Soul Conversations. Find it anywhere you get your podcasts, or on YouTube below!


What makes someone a yogi?

Before coming to India for a yoga teacher training course, I hadn’t thought too much about what it means to be a « yogi ». I figured that if you like yoga and do yoga pretty regularly then feel free to call yourself a yogi (if you want). It doesn’t give you superpowers, nor the right to teach yoga or be superior; but if it helps you enjoy your practice and find other yogis to hang out with, then great! 

As you might expect, it turns out that being a « yogi » in India is a lot more intense, and the title is a lot more meaningful. To begin with, the study and practice of yoga is both more commonplace and far more spiritually significant in India. It seems to me that the title of yogi is a meaningful sign of expertise and dedication to one’s yoga practice. I should point out that, traditionally, yoga is much more than a physical practice. It’s a spiritual practice that gives guidelines about how to live, the goal of which is to control the mind so that one can reach enlightenment. (This is according to the practice of Ashtanga, or eight-limbed, yoga, which outlines eight elements of yoga, only one of which is the physical practice). So while there are many levels of yogi-hood, the great yogis are those who have reached what’s called samadhi, or enlightenment. 

I struggle with the concept of samadhi. One of our teachers (who considers himself a middle-of-the-pack yogi) describes the path to samadhi as one of detachment. (I’m about to get into some granola here so bare with me). Supposedly, most people spend their entire lives living in their first, second, third and, if they’re lucky, their fourth chakras. Chakras aren’t really my thing, but I’ll give a quick overview in case you aren’t familiar (feel free to skip the next paragraph if you already know this stuff). 

There are seven main chakras or energy centres, (though there are a bunch of smaller ones throughout your body). These chakras start at your tailbone and follow your spine up to the crown of your head. The first chakra, muladhara, is also called the root chakra because it’s located at your tailbone and relates to safety, survival, stability, food and other basic needs. The second, svadhishthana, is at your sacrum and relates to intellectual interests, emotions, relationships, pleasure and creativity. Manipura, the third chakra, is at your navel and relates to things like ego, power, respect and fear. The fourth chakra, anahata, is also called the heart chakra because it’s located at your heart and relates to compassion, unconditional love, passion and devotion. Vishuddhi, the fifth chakra, is located at the throat and governs communication, expression and relates to teaching. The sixth chakra, ajna, is also called the third-eye chakra because of its location just above and between the eyebrows. It relates to intuition (and even the ability to see the future), visualization, and balancing the inner and outer worlds. Last, sahasrara is located at the crown of the head and relates to samadhi (enlightenment), inner wisdom, a sense of oneness with the « universal consciousness », and detachment from the body. 

My understanding is that one should generally aim to balance energy across all of the seven chakras, but that for just about everyone, their first, second, third and, if they’re lucky, fourth chakras are most active. Supposedly, most people want to expand their heart chakra (without knowing it), because they want to be happy, and value compassion, love, service, and helping others–all elements of an open or active heart chakra. 

Getting back to my point about yogis: apparently, a « true yogi » aims to move up into their fifth, sixth and seventh chakras, as they work toward enlightenment. A « true yogi » works to detach themselves from this world, which is why many people on this path become monks, giving up their belongings and families, perhaps eating the same simple food for the rest of their lives, and relying on the generosity of others to sustain them. This is because one can’t move into the upper chakras if one is distracted by the worldly desires and attachments of the lower chakras. « True yogis » even release their attachments to the heart chakra. They can show some compassion for others but, supposedly, they can’t busy themselves with helping others or changing the world if they’re ever going to reach enlightenment. 

The intention of moving into the upper chakras isn’t to deprive oneself of the things and people you’re attached to or enjoy, but rather that through one’s practice of pranayama (breathing exercises), meditation, and living in alignment with the yamas and niyamas (codes of social and personal conduct), one releases any attachment to worldly things like food, ego, family, and service. Eventually, a « true yogi » just becomes disinterested in the world, coming to reject their life as it was, and becoming a recluse. If they’re lucky, they release their attachment to their individuality and spend their time in samadhi, or oneness with the universal consciousness; coming to truly know that every single creature and thing in the universe is an individual drop of the same ocean. 

Now, I know I’m living it up in my first three or four chakras, but I’m having trouble with the idea that the goal of a yoga practice (according to Patanjali’s Ashtanga, or eight-limbed, yoga), is to detach completely from the world. In fact, I can’t help but think that the process of becoming disinterested in all of the pleasures and people that one used to enjoy, and becoming indifferent to life sounds an awful lot like depression. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for someone who’s reached samadhi to decide when they will leave this world, and kill themselves. 

When I asked about this, our teacher tried to distinguish depression from samadhi, saying that someone with depression is sad and feels stuck, whereas someone in samadhi is happy and free. I understand this for the most part, but I still don’t like the idea of becoming so disinterested in life that it would feel natural to leave this world rather than enjoy it. I suppose it makes sense that I feel this way–for now, I’m perfectly content to stick around in my first four chakras. Maybe one day, when I’m much older, it will feel perfectly natural to prepare myself for leaving this world by detaching in this way. 

Perhaps then I’ll be a « true yogi ». But in my opinion, being a yogi is like being a good person who does their best to live with intention and be happy. That’s certainly hard enough as it is, and it’s good enough for me. 

So, what am I doing?

I’m three weeks into a 200-hour yoga teacher training (YTT) course in Rishikesh, India.

I’ve wanted to do YTT for probably five years. I woud’ve loved to do it at my home studio, Fearless Heart Yoga, but the timing never quite worked out. My biggest obstacle was, of course, myself, as I was almost always preparing to leave Waterloo and didn’t feel able to commit to an eight-month program. It’s a shame because I know it would’ve been fantastic. But the upside of not doing YTT at Fearless Heart was the opportunity it opened up for me to do YTT abroad to kick off an adventure. 

When it occurred to me to do YTT in India I nearly booked a course that same night. But in the end it took me another four months or so to think it through and agonize over which yoga school to choose. When I finally booked it, I hit send on my PayPal deposit, looked up at my boyfriend Patrick, said, « I did it, » and immediately burst into tears. That was the moment I committed to leaving Waterloo and the life I’d somewhat begrudgingly settled into there. Although I was extremely excited in theory, I never felt excited in my gut; not even when I got on the plane. Of course I now realize that it’s when you decide to leave a place that you feel most like you belong there. I was fortunate enough to have great friends who celebrated my upcoming adventures with me, and opportunities to do all of my favourite things in Waterloo before I left. 

As expected, it was really hard to leave (big surprise). But it’s been almost four weeks now and I distinctly happier already. I feel a newfound sense of lightness, opportunity and freedom–the kind that comes naturally with a one-way ticket. I’m already feeling more balanced as I build up elements of my identity and confidence that have nothing to do with the traditional career path I was on. Now I get to spend my days thinking about and doing yoga, building up my confidence and knowledge around a huge passion of mine!

It’s been an interesting, challenging, and inspiring time so far at YTT, and I’m feeling more and more like a yoga teacher as the days go by. I feel really good in this role, and I’m super excited about what this skill set allows me to do, especially while travelling. (I’ll write soon about my YTT in India, and generally the differences in style between my experience of Indian yoga teaching and teaching styles in « the West »). 

YTT finishes this coming Monday (already!), and then I’m headed to Dharamsala, in the northwest of India, which is also where the Dalai Lama lives! I’ll spend a week there with no plans, and then do a 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat (where you don’t talk, read, write, use technology, or even make eye contact as far as I know. Eek!). After that I hope to find a volunteer or internship opportunity for two or three months, though that’s totally un-figured out. And I hope to travel until Christmas, making my way through Nepal, Indonesia, Morocco, France and England, though I’m ready to go just about wherever the wind takes me.