24 Oct 2012

YOGA BEYOND THE CITY



Meet Rebecca Watson. She's a Manitoba born and bred ex-restauranteur who's got a new mission: bringing yoga to rural Manitoba.

Although Watson's been practicing yoga for years- it wasn't until a year ago that she decided to take a leap of faith and bring her practice to a new level.

"My thyroid was so out of wack- my whole body was actually. Years of stress and over exhaustion literally brought me to a stand still. I flew to Mexico and spent a month in the desert. It was one of the most special experiences of my life."

After finishing her teacher training in Mexico, Watson has felt a desire to bring yoga and share it in  places that it had never been taught.

Enter Mobile Yoga, Watson's new entrepreneurial venture. Every week she cruises out to smaller towns in rural Manitoba spreading some yoga love. Several times a week, Watson will pack her car full of extra mats, blocks and straps and will drive an hour outside of the Perimeter to her eager students, usually already there, waiting outside for her. And her students- who vary in age and ability - all adore her.

"You wouldn't believe how hard they fall in love with yoga. It's so new to them- that experience."

Watson's commitment to bringing yoga to new places reminds us of a documentary featuring one of our favourite yogis- Tara Stiles! She recently filmed the doc Heartland Yogi, where she returns to her roots in the American Midwest (she's a Prairie Yogi, too!)  to teach people about yoga.

- Written by Monique Pantel


Rebecca Watson is a yoga instructor and owner of Mobile Yoga, living in Winnipeg, Canada. Originally from Pine Falls, Watson is an advocate for the slow food movement and was the sole representative from Manitoba at the 2011 Terra Madre convention held in Torino, Italy.




23 Oct 2012

ASANAS FOR A HEALTHY SPINE


"Yoga is the fountain of youth. You're only as young as your spine is flexible." - Bob Harper

You could think of the spine as the "oneness" we think of in Yoga, one central axis that diversifies into the multitude of our function the spine, or Central Nervous System, is our connection to the world as well as how we respond to it. 

As we practice Yoga we refine our abilities to make sense of the world, process and integrate our steady stream of thoughts and sensations more effectively and eventually create better karma in the world. This freedom of sense and action allow us to stay youthful and vibrant by becoming more deeply rooted in the eternal divine (cit-ananda/conscious bliss).

As we engage in an asana practice and breath work we are literally able to re-integrate and re-connect all the parts of our body and mind. All of our many seeming distant parts and systems begin functioning as "one" whole and the philosophy of the yoga practice begins to be lived through the physical body. All of our wasted energy, ranging anywhere form, poor muscular holding pattern to erratic patterns of frustration or worry is diverted back into an exuberance for life. If you imagine a small child with boundless energy, able to pick up new skills and information easily, no inhibitions to express itself in the moment; this is a nervous system and body and mind at its finest. Now imagine all these qualities combined with your lifetime of experience and wisdom, this is the gift of Yoga.

In our physical practice we want to create and support the natural curves first before we look for length. If you do not, we run the risk of "flattening" out the spine by diminishing its natural curves which best support the delicate Spinal Cord inside.

As the body becomes more open and there is less "static" or "white noise" in the nervous system, the brain can begin to function and integrate better.

Deep breathing helps to open the thoracic vertebrae. Our ribs are all connected at the back to the spine, as they expand with the breath it offers greater opportunity for the deep spinal muscles to open and the smaller joints of the vertebrae to "free up" and move more smoothly. The deep breathing associated with the Yoga practice, from a brain point of view, also helps to reduce the "flight or fight" stress response in the body, control blood pressure, balance autonomic functions, integrate voluntary muscles and primal emotion and is associated with pain desensitization, alertness and consciousness.

Here are some asanas I suggest to improve your spine's health:

Downward Facing Dog
Cat + Cow 
Inhale hips tip forward to backbend, exhale hips tip back to round spine -work to create even movement through all segments of spine especially thoracic on inhale
Twisting Lunge (both sides)
Work to keep pelvis square, twisting occurs in vertebrae(thoracic & cervical) not in the hips -as twist opens begin to incorporate the feeling of a backbend into the twist as well standing forward fold - start with bent knees to create natural arch in lumbar -although whole spine will eventually be more rounded work to maintain lumbar arch as the forward fold begins to deepen(hips tip forward like in cat/cow)
Bow Pose
Have shoulders lifted up and rolled back to create space for thoracic and cervical movement, if the upper back is open pain will not be experienced in low back - lift into backbend from the abdominals and a reaching of the tail bone to the knees to further support low back space
Matsyndrasana
Knee straight up and square pelvis (both sitting bones rooting into mat -maintain lift in chest and evenness in hips while twisting (shoulders and head back)
Head stand + shoulder stand (option!) 
Best done with guidance of experienced teacher if you are newer to the practice for safe variations/ modifications and should be practiced by all yogis.

- Written by Noah Krol. 

Noah is the owner of Peg City Yoga in Winnipeg, Canada. Noah is also a 2200 hour graduate of Foothills College of Massage Therapy. He holds a dilploma in Fitness and Nutrition as well as a Personal Training Specialist certificate through Can Fit Pro. Noah is accredited with a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training and Personal Development program and working towards apprenticing with the Canadian Wing Chun Association.

5 REASONS TO TRY TANTRA

When I tell people I took part in a tantra workshop over the weekend, raised eyebrows, cheeky smiles and some mention of Sting typically follow. No, I didn’t get lucky that afternoon. But I did get a warm introduction to tantra from Sonia Funk, owner of The Whole Avocado in Winnipeg, Canada.
I shared the class with three men and our teacher Sonia Funk in a small studio in Winnipeg’s Osborne Village. I couldn’t believe I was the only woman in the group.
The workshop consisted of different exercises that helped us learn to connect with others in a deeper way.
“Our society is disconnected. We avoid eye contact and connection with others. It’s so backwards.” said Funk.
Funk sat us down in pairs facing each other.
“You’re going to look in to each other’s eyes and not break your focus for five minutes straight.”
At first, I found it uncomfortable, trying desperately to not be too intrusive with my eyes. It’s amazing how intimate this exercise was. I noticed that the longer I stuck with it, the easier it became.
We also talked about the things in our life that cause us to feel fear. Money, relationships, and success- or lack there of rather, all made the list. We countered this list of fears by talking about the things that people love about us and the things we love about ourselves. Creativity, politeness, positivity and family topped that list.
“People’s responses either come from a place of love, or fear. When you can recognize this in yourself, you can begin to work towards more love and less fear.” said Funk.
5 REASONS TO TRY TANTRA
1. CONNECT WITH OTHERS
2. GET TO KNOW + ACCEPT YOUR PERSONAL BOUNDARIES
3. EXPLORE WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
4. LEARN TO SAY NO
5. CONNECT WITH YOUR INNER SELF
- Written by Monique Pantel.

Sonia Funk is a holistic nutritionist, tantra teacher and recording artist in Winnipeg, Canada. Sonia has shared her expertise over the past several years while living in London, New York City and Toronto. Find her on Facebook or visit her website The Whole Avocado.

11 Oct 2012

WHY I YOGA


Every day we learn something new. Whether it is something we read, hear, see or feel, our life experience continuously changing. 

I often say in my classes, that the only thing constant in life is change. How do we approach this flow of life? Do we resist, deny, or even fall victim to change? Do we focus on or get scared by the fact that we’re getting older, every day? Or, do we embrace the unknown and practice finding harmony within life? The choice is always up to us. Yoga has empowered me to remember this, time and time again.

Through the practice of yoga, we have the opportunity to slow down and look closely at our attitude towards life. The word yoga means to yoke or to unite all parts of ourselves from our inhales and exhales, to the mind and body, to the whole concept of who we think we are (often referred to as the small ‘self) with who we truly are (the big, divine ‘Self’). Through conscious breathing and inner focus, we gain the awareness of our current state – mind, body, spirit. This self-awareness is the first of many benefits that keep up actively participating in the play of life.

Once a yoga practitioner begins to study their own self – strengths, weaknesses, false beliefs – a choice is presented. Do I continue to dig in and see what else I can uncover? Or do I try to forget and go back to my old ways? If the student decides to continue this self-journey, it will be the biggest gift that they can ever give to themselves. Ultimately, by choosing to practice yoga for the sake of self-discovery, this is a gift to the entire cosmos. When an individual decides to enhance their quality of life, virtuous characteristics arise such as compassion, understanding and peace.

Yoga is not about competition, but rather about co-operation with all that your body and mind tell you each time you step onto your yoga mat. By taking time to centre yourself at the beginning of class and bringing focus to the breath, your nervous system will settle and blood will flow much easier throughout your body. When the body is relaxed, the mind is happy to follow and the mind will learn to relax and let go as well. All it takes is practice and some patience – sometimes a lot of patience – but the journey is well worth it.

By synchronizing our conscious breath with movements of the body, the mind starts to focus on what is actually going on. We begin to ‘yoke’ or ‘unite’. Often the mind runs wild like a monkey and the body gets so worn out with all the worry, frustration, and impatience. Simply allowing the breath to lead the way re-connects us to our innate freedom. This is yoga. Although the concepts are all quite simple, this does not mean that yoga is easy. Yoga is definitely a process and it is through the process that we gain wisdom, revelation, and enlightenment. Most yoga postures are standing, either with the legs close together, or more commonly with a wider stance. The warrior poses and balancing poses are integral parts of any and every class or school of yoga. The main reason we do so much standing in yoga is to find our root - our ability to ground our energy and our focus down into the earth below. An important harmony that one looks for in yoga is to balance earth energy and sky energy. Energy rises up the spine (sky energy) only as much as energy can root down the legs (earth energy). TheStanding Poses bring confidence to the practitioner, and are very empowering. Standing Poses are also great hip openers, and if the hips aren't open, the energy cannot flow up and down the body to enhance our overall well-being.

Some postures involve forward folding, where the head is below the heart. In these positions, blood flow to the brain is much more efficient and the entire spine receives a decompression. Think about it – all day long we stand, sit, drive, and are in an upright position. Gravity naturally drains blood and energy from our head down to our bellies, all day long. When we fold forward, or go upside down in an inversion (like the headstand, handstand or shoulder stand), the head and heart get a healthy renew. Forward folding calms the body and mind, and settles the heart.

Other postures involve bending the spine, often called heart openers. Opening the heart is perhaps the main reason why all people on this planet should practice yoga. If done with the proper alignment, and only as far as the body will comfortably allow, heart opening reminds us of the juice of life! Love, light, joy and peace are truly present within us all. Physically our hearts want to be open and broad, with the shoulders supporting the back of the heart - not suffocating and collapsing the heart like we so often see in hunched over shoulders these days. Emotionally, it can feel vulnerable to ‘bear our hearts’ in the backbends, but when we practice mindfully, an open heart will change the way we see and interact with all of creation.

When we twist the body in yoga, we are wringing out inner toxins. Sometimes we may be aware of the toxicity level in our lives. However, the sad fact is that there are toxins in the air, water, and food we eat, let alone harsh chemical cleaners, perfumes and hairsprays, and gasoline stations (to name only a few). Twisting our internal organs is like wringing out a dirty washcloth. It is the feeling of spaciousness inside after a deep twist that is so satisfying and beneficial for our health. Twisting can help digestion, assimilation, and elimination when done properly and safely.

Just because time continues to move forward and we all continue to age, does not mean we have to stop exploring all life has to offer. The practice of yoga is as much about training our minds to see the good in life, as it is to strengthening and lengthening our physical body. When a person feels happy and comfortable in their own skin, they are much more willing and able to give back to others. In yoga, the individual does the inner work so that they can be readily available and motivated to do the outer work needed from day to day. This is how we can create positive change – by becoming the change. Remember to stay open and enjoy the process. This is why I practice yoga.

Gillian Grodzik is a yoga instructor from Winnipeg, Canada. She has been practicing yoga for over a decade and has been teaching for three years. You can find her heart opening and alignment classes at Peg City Yoga, Hot Yoga Winnipeg, Urban Wellness Centre and at Shapes Fitness Centre.