Thursday, September 19, 2013

Invest wisely in your health!

Early this morning I heard on the radio that OHIP announced that many changes are coming to how physiotherapy services will be funded. The story focused on a 104 year old woman; however, my thoughts quickly turned to our youth and to the baby boomer population and I thought about how yoga is also such a valuable asset in one’s life. As a long-term practitioner of yoga, I understand first hand the multifaceted benefits of a sustained yoga practise over time. I have also been privy to how quickly new students derive the immediate benefits of the practise as well as seeing the ongoing effects and positive changes for students who have remained on the path for many years.

Canada is an incredible country and we have much to be proud of and thankful for. For example, with governmental support we are encouraged to begin making payments towards RESPs when our children are very young. These are worthwhile investments. Similarly, by investing time and payment towards one’s well being and acquiring the life skills that yoga teaches and reaping its many benefits, we are better equipped to maintain good health (mentally, physically and emotionally) while also engaging in preventative measures against future adverse potentialities. When we consistently practise yoga, we experience how it enhances our life today while also arming ourselves with invaluable tools in preparation for whatever future challenges we may have to face.

I often joke that my youngest student is five years old and my eldest student is 86 years young. Yoga is for all ages and stages and I have been blessed to be able to share this discipline with thousands of students over the years. Having entered my fourth decade of practise, I have observed how the yoga process has continually demonstrated its immense meaning and value for me. I can only hope and believe that for my own aging process, like good aged wine, the richness and rewards of the sustained yoga practise will improve becoming even more pleasing, developed and multi-layered because of the significant amount of time and investment that I have put in.

Don’t wait. Don’t search elsewhere because Iyengar Yoga is the finest system of yoga available today. It is highly refined, safe and thorough, and its certified teachers are the most knowledgeable and well trained in the world. Don’t go to yoga for simply a fitness class or settle for less! Forget the drop-ins; make the commitment to a full session of yoga and sign up your kids, self and loved ones to classes or private sessions at YogaBuds this fall. Surely what you put in to your yoga practise will come back in spades, and your investment towards good health will return excellent dividends. Awaken your wellness at YogaBuds today. Now is the time to invest.

“Are you happy in your heart?”

Cultivating Samtosha or Contentment through Yoga

Recently, during a practise on the dock comprised of some simple asanas or postures, the late day sun sparkled on the quiet lake. And suddenly, a sensation of immense gratitude flowed forth. These feelings were for the universe for having provided me with all that it had over the past few months, and in particular to B.K.S. Iyengar. Just prior to embarking on my yoga studies in Pune, India this past June, I had experienced a very disturbing process with some members of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada and left feeling unsettled. It wasn’t the yoga process or the Iyengar methodology that was unsettling but rather the lack of yogic behaviors that was experienced first-hand and what I perceived as an apparent disconnection to the legacy that B.K.S. Iyengar was creating for his practitioners and teachers. My decision to try to share some of this with him during my time in India was made although I wasn’t sure how he would respond. Thankfully, he answered with kindness, compassion, support and guidance, and was my teacher in every sense of the word.

It was several weeks before I began to absorb the meaning of my interactions with B.K.S. Iyengar and to really appreciate the gift bestowed upon me by him. In these late day moments during my practise on the dock, when these strong feelings of gratitude spontaneously arose from my unconscious, I was touched deeply by the experience because the feelings that surfaced were honest, raw, uncensored, and welcomed. As I sat in gratitude, tears flowed for the understanding that Grace had placed me at the Ramamami Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute at this time. The understanding had evolved that B.K.S. Iyengar, or “Guruji as he is affectionately called by his students, was now truly my Guruji, providing me with exactly what was needed – guidance and hope.

Samtosha or contentment is one of the five niyamas or personal practices that we are encouraged to use. The niyamas are one of the eight limbs of yoga. Ultimately, contentment is one’s responsibility and part of this task is to maintain a focus on the gifts that life brings us. Patanjalli’s yoga sutra “Samtosad anuttanamah sukhalabhah” tells us to cultivate contentment by bringing satisfaction to whatever unfolds and by accepting that there truly is a Divine flow of life even if it doesn’t always go according to our plans. This sutra (chapter II, verse 41) states that from the continued practise of contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness. This verse guides us and gives hope and joy and suggests that through following the path of contentment, happiness is indeed attainable. My experience with Guruji and my recent spontaneous response illuminates and reflects for me this sutra, and my interactions with him seem to have been connected to other things in a unified and profound manner.

During the day at different times I attempt to focus on my blessings even amidst the not so positive moments, and then to touch down and sit with gratitude even when I am not sitting down. Through our immersion in yoga studies, we learn how to remain present moment-to-moment, and to accept that which is unfolding, breath-by-breath. When we inhale, we receive the breath with an acceptance for this Divine gift of life and for what each moment offers. With each exhalation, we surrender and there is also an acceptance for whatever is occurring, including embracing equally both imperfections and perfections. When we remain cognizant of practicing samtosha or contentment, we develop the ability to remain present – and happy – with the circumstances of this moment. We become more willing to live in this present moment with acceptance of whatever it brings and to more easily let go of the desire or need to change anything or anyone or the wish for it to be different than what it is. Then we are able to focus on gratitude.

One of the outcomes of practicing samtosha or contentment is that the moments during which feelings of longing for something other than what is or those moments when coveting for one’s self what others seem to have occur less frequently. Naturally, from time to time such feelings do arise but through my ongoing practise of svadyaya or self-study (another niyama or personal practise), I am generally more able to identify when I am experiencing jealousy, greed or dissatisfaction or when I have succumbed to the temptation to look outside of my self or the moment in order to feel content or happy. With this self-awareness and understanding comes the opportunity to consciously choose how I will respond. I return to Patanjali’s sutras, and this one in particular, and recall his suggestion to simply be content with the “whatever”, thus living in joy regardless of what will next occur.

Yoga’s recent surge in popularity during the past decade is well timed for more and more people report feeling disillusioned, disconnected and discontented while also searching for balance and satisfaction in their lives. Although the more common physical benefits of yoga are experienced almost immediately, over time there are other subtle or not so subtle positive changes that occur. For example, in addition to observing when the previously mentioned base emotions of jealousy, greed and dissatisfaction arise, the tendency to react with greater acceptance for the way things are has developed. This change has been fueled by the belief that we are provided with exactly what we are meant to receive at any given moment and by maintaining a simple trust in the universe. These changes are also because of my committed practise of samtosha or contentment.

I believe that one of the most beneficial outcomes of sustaining a long-term yoga practise is the natural evolution of this practise of contentment, and the concurrent feelings of happiness and gratitude that are experienced. Simple phrases such as: “whatever”; “it is what it is”, and “it’s all good” have become more common in the popular lexicon and are spoken more frequently albeit at times in a seemingly flippant manner. But with the continual and ever evolving practise of cultivating samtosha or contentment, I have observed that these phrases have definitely become more entrenched in my speech and are spoken in a truly heartfelt manner. More importantly, through the practise of this niyama and the guidance of this sutra, I regularly experience samtosha and gratitude, and thankfully, happiness resides in my heart. 
“Samtosad anuttanamah sukhalabhah” (chapter II, verse 41)
“From contentment unsurpassed happiness is obtained.”


Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Art of Finding Balance and Unity in Everyday Life

The first instruction children hear when learning to cross the street is “Stop, look both ways and wait until the road is clear.” However, if children in India listened to this advice they would grow old waiting to cross! There is an order to the endless flow of traffic (cars, scooters, rickshaws, bikes, cows, buffaloes, goats and people) that ensures safety. Once one has started to cross, one must keep going and crossing on the diagonal seems to work best! Indeed, there is a balance underlying the chaos.

My time in India continues to be filled with several hours of yoga each day - in class, one learns and thinks while during practise, one studies and feels. The yoga process is about evolving consciousness and here in India, learning to mitigate the contrast between my inner world and the outer world is a part of the learning experience. The quietude of the mind, the stilling of consciousness and the intense inward focus one strives to maintain during practise enables one to penetrate deeply inward and block external distractions in spite of the ongoing honking, birds or voices that came be heard through the open windows of the pavilion. Thankfully, yoga has taught me how to access my center so that I am better able to merge my inner world with the outer one without losing my balance or stability regardless of the intensity of the situation at hand. My center is like the fulcrum of the teeter-totter.

Studying here at the source of yoga, and with the source of Iyengar yoga is a double blessing. While assisting in daily Medical classes, Mr. Iyengar has had his eye on the woman that I have been working with this month. He has been designing sequences for her and I have been actively involved in implementing these sequences including his prop setups and verbal instructions. During Medical class, poses are fully supported with multiple props and many of the therapeutic postures are restorative ones. Although there is a bustle in the Hall filled with dozens of patients and teachers, there is also a sacred quiet focus. Stepping out onto the street afterwards, one experiences an immediate sensory overload of the never-ending cacophony and constant motion. The 6 p.m. rush hour after Medical class is such a contrast to the inner sanctum of the Institute. And again, yoga’s lessons on how to remain calm and contained even in these contrasting moments of extreme intensity are applied and appreciated! Yoga, or Yug, means unity. Without the valuable lessons of yoga which include being able to experience unity of mind and body, walking down the main street at this hour would likely result in a very jarring effect on the nervous system. This balance is the baseline upon which I walk.

When the desperately needed monsoons arrived ten days ago, a driving relentless rain persisted for four days straight! My daughter and I were walking through a local market called Lakshmi Road when the rains came and we were caught in it, unprepared. Finding a store to purchase a rain slicker for her we stood four layers deep with people doing the same thing. Unable to find a rickshaw to take us home later that evening and laughingly trekking through what seemed like small lakes instead of streets, we were caught up in the energy of the monsoons. Lying awake that first night listening to the rains, walking around with wet clothes and wet feet (and with a broken umbrella to which I have since become very attached), and hearing words of gratitude spoken by many local people for the arrival of the monsoons fully awakened me to how very precious water is for the billion people of India. It also served as a strong reminder to appreciate our blessing of the abundance of fresh water available in Canada. With the arrival of the monsoons, I again noted extremes, and the balance to the inhospitable dry hot climate that had prevailed for so long.

Over the past several years, I have casually studied the science of Ayurveda medicine. My friend Sonali, a very accomplished Ayurvedic doctor in Pune, gives me treatments when I am visiting. Ayurveda has been practiced in India for at least 5, 000 years and is a form of alternative medicine – it is the oldest surviving whole body system of healing and health. Ayurveda seeks to prevent and treat illness by maintaining balance in the body, mind and consciousness using a comprehensive holisitic approach that emphasizes diet, lifestyle, yoga, meditation, massage and herbal remedies. Because of the importance of balance and promoting positive health, the universal principals and practices of Ayurveda holds great appeal for me. It is also the other side of the yoga coin.

A few years ago I had a very interesting conversation with a family member who did not agree that balance was attainable. However, it is my belief that by embracing the Eight-fold Path of yoga and by implementing Ayurvedic practices, the possibility of successfully creating a state of balance on a day-to-day basis is within reach. During the past few years, I have had to navigate difficult challenges including various hospitalizations of three different family members, and a very disturbing experience with a professional association. But by practicing yoga and utilizing Ayurvedic principles, I was better equipped to access inner strength and maintain my stability while managing these life hurdles. Studying yoga in India, while it nurtures my passion, solidifies my commitment, and deepens my understanding, it also enables me to restore and rejuvenate my mind body and spirit. In my ongoing quest for integration and balance, I continue to learn how to trust in the universe and experience the interwoven fabric of reality.

Temporarily pausing normal routines and responsibilities requires support and resources and spending time studying in a foreign country is a veritable treat to be savored. Learning the valuable lessons of how to merge our inner world with the outer one, identifying personal imbalances and symptoms in order to take care of one’s needs and promote positive health, and recognizing the underlying balance to everything, need not only occur when visiting a foreign land. Attempting to maintain one’s awareness of the yug, or unity of all things is an ongoing process regardless of where one is. But travel is an exercise in mindfulness training and provides a way of shifting perspectives with open eyes and an open heart. With new eyes that are wide open we are able to find or rekindle a balanced way of moving through our days and of observing the unity that exists everywhere.

When I return home I will no longer be wearing my travel lens but I will continue my efforts to maintain the perspectives that India has helped me to have. Undoubtedly many things will arise that will require balancing, including my own state of being. Starting the day with a very mindful sip of coffee and returning over and over again throughout the day to this kind of quiet and appreciative focus and presence – be it on my mat, in my creative pursuits, or in my interactions with others - will continue to be very important. Engaging in the simple practise of being mindful during my daily activities and practices combined with maintaining my intention to evolve consciousness and health will help me to create and experience unity and balance in everyday life – yoga, both on and off the mat.

Temmi Ungerman Sears
June 27, 2013

“Pilgrim, pilgrimage, and road – it was but myself toward my Self,
and your arrival was but myself at my own door.”

In the Spirit of the Times

Arriving back in India last week and stepping out of the airport at 3 a.m., the heat, smells, sights and sounds were strikingly familiar although it had been a few years since my last trip to the Iyengar Yoga Institute to study. As the taxi left the Mumbai airport for Pune, the necessary combination of the patience of a saint, a good sense of humor and just the right amount of assertiveness was soon required. First stop, air for the tire. Second stop, pulled over by three policemen hoping to find a reason for baksheesh (a tip). The last stop en route was at a checkpoint where we were held for having “invalid papers” during which time at least eight men gathered around to discuss the situation. After a total of 27 hours of travel, I finally arrived in Pune, and unpacked in my rented apartment only to discover that the electricity is shut off all day on Thursdays. No ceiling fan but LOL, I was back!

India is a total experience. It is an assault on the senses, and is colorful, diverse, crowded and magnificent. It is a land of contrasts from the squalid to the luxurious. Colorful and fragrant flower offerings are for sale on every corner (instead of our Starbucks) and these are created daily to be offered to the plethora of deities that are worshiped and revered in India. In addition to the many gods and goddesses, intricate images and sculptures, sacred texts, the diversity of religious denominations and the ritual of puja, there are of course, the holy cows that roam the streets.

In a place where spirituality is infused in daily life, and where tradition underlies everything, I was immediately struck by how much has changed here yet how little has changed as well. The last time I had seen BKS Iyengar he was still in his eighties and now he is 94. Although his appearance has changed, he continues to practice a wide range of poses including advanced backbends and inversions. His postures are fully supported with props and he holds them for long durations. I feast my eyes upon him during the practise sessions and I am intrigued, inspired and humbled by this man, a veritable genius in our time.

Assisting in the Medical Class, I feel honored to be able to help facilitate healing in others and to also observe BKS Iyengar working the room as if at a party. He is like an athlete in the zone, flowing from one person to the next, fully present. One minute “The Lion of Pune” is barking a command or pressing with such force on someone and in the next moment, he is bending down to kiss a young girl all the while leaving his indelible mark as he touches with pure brilliance.

Herein lies the mystique and transformative power of yoga. BKS Iyengar has made yoga accessible to the world and while the practise is bound in tradition, it is also constantly evolving. As I observe him practicing or teaching, I glance up to look at the hundreds of photos that adorn the walls of the Institute and I am transported across the lifespan of his practise. Change is truly the constant.

There is more traffic in Pune and available rickshaws are harder to find. I used to visit the Internet cafĂ© in order to stay connected with home. Now I have Wifi. The rickshaw driver pulls out his cell phone. Walking to the vegetable market to select my produce sill holds an allure but there is now a “supermarket” in the new Pune Central department store just minutes from the Institute. However, staying true to tradition, each day I still buy the un-pasteurized “cow milk” (to be differentiated from the available buffalo milk) and boil it for my morning coffee. This has been something that I have enjoyed doing during every trip I have made to study here. Boiling the milk and using a percolator on the stove takes time and slowing down is a part of the learning for me here. I don’t want to give up this simple ritual. The coffee also tastes better.

Within Sacred India, many changes have arisen including technology, the emerging middle class, and the more common style of western clothing. Yet there remains an incredible sensory experience. Constant noise and movement threaten to overwhelm the visitor but the bombardment is offset by choosing to focus on the surrounding beauty including the rich jeweled colors of the saris, the sweet smell of the jasmine, the deep chants of the religious, the lyrical songs of the birds, the intense flavors of the food.

It is a privilege to return to India to study yoga at the source. I am grateful that the universe has at this time supported this experience for I am once again blessed to learn from the living masters of our time. As I open myself to all that this incredible country offers and in particular, the rich teachings of the Iyengars, I simultaneously open to my yoga practise. And change is what permeates both my inner and outer worlds. And just like India, where tradition underlies the changes, the constancy or ritual of daily practise provides for the ongoing process of change for the yoga practitioner. As I embark on this new-old journey, I reflect on the many changes that have occurred during my thirty-year yoga history and ponder what new changes will undoubtedly unfold.


June 6, 2013

“I’m living in the moment, I’m living my life
Easy and breezy, with peace in my mind
Peace in my heart, with peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going, I’m already home”

Jason Mraz from his new album, “Love is a four letter word”

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Giving Thanks for the Journey

Having just passed the milestone thirty-year anniversary of my long engagement with yoga, many reflections arise pertaining to the swift passage of time and about the many invaluable gifts that yoga has given me through several life stages, including adolescence, pregnancy, motherhood and into middle age.

As my students share their passages with me, I am humbled by the responsibility to teach this powerful process in ways that are inspirational, authentic and personally meaningful. I feel especially blessed to share the timeless tradition of yoga with students of all ages ranging from four to eighty-five years! In a recent evening class, two teenagers, a twenty-something year old, and men and women in their thirties, forties and fifties were learning together. Regardless of age, gender, life stage, profession, physical capability or intellectual prowess, Iyengar yoga is truly available to all. For those who stay the course and practise with consistency, a wide range of benefits are experienced.

My dharma or path has included the incredible opportunity to share with thousands of others for over twenty-five years something that has been so important to me. The YogaBuds for Kids program is now in its seventeenth year; to help facilitate a child’s maturation process from early childhood to adulthood is a privilege. Helping to foster meaningful connections between parent and child teaching them yoga together has been another gift in my teaching career. Guiding a teenager towards developing greater self-acceptance; supporting a woman through pregnancy; helping a very stiff man to eventually touch his toes; rejoicing in someone’s first moments balancing in headstand, or sharing the pain of loss with an elderly student… Ultimately, the gift that I have been given is sharing the gift of yoga with others while developing meaningful relationships with them.

Having just celebrated Thanksgiving, I am reminded that it is how we use our blessings, not what we say about them that is the true measure of our thanksgiving. Thus, it is through my commitment to continue to “pay it forward” to my students – from all walks and of all ages – that I will express my thanksgiving.

Best of all is it to preserve everything in a pure, still heart, and let there be for every pulse a thanksgiving, and for every breath a song. –Konrad von Gesn

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Presence and Peace in Moments of Change

One of the most popular and well-known rituals during the Jewish New Year involves dipping apple slices into honey. This sweet combination is symbolic of expressing the hope for a sweet year ahead. Round challah or egg bread is also eaten to symbolize the circle of life and the cycle of a new year. As the seasons change, and years flow one into the next, we are reminded that the only constant that we can always rely on is change itself.

It feels as if the transition from summer to fall is the most dramatic of the changing seasons when the temperatures and leaves drop and the light changes noticeably. The colours become more saturated, and everything prepares for sleep. One morning we awake to a new crispness in the air. In addition to environmental changes, there is also a shift in attitude and behavior. Back to school, back to the studio, new programs begin and schedules fill up. We shift gears and slide into the new normal.
Early in the classic Yoga Sutra, Patanjali defines yoga as “Control over the mind’s fluctuations comes from persevering practise and nonattachment” (1.14). The two guiding concepts, abhyasa (perservering practise) and vairagya (nonattachment) are key to yoga. Practise requires will and discipline, and nonattachment is a matter of surrender, release and letting go. Abhyasa becomes firmly established when it is cultivated without interruption and with devotion. We become grounded in the practise of always returning to practise without being bound to past patterns. Vairagya is a state of mind when desire is gone and over time, through practise, vairagya becomes possible.

This September marks my thirtieth year of yoga practise. It is not possible to briefly summarize all that I have learned or what these years of consistent devotion has provided me with. My persevering practise, or abhyasa, has carried me through several life stages. Yoga buttresses my life. Studying the wisdom from this timeless tradition, we learn to focus with attention and discernment while on the mat. Taking these lessons off the mat, we practise letting go and surrendering to each change, breath-by-breath, moment-to-moment.

As my mother takes my elbow for support when we walk together, our son, standing on the threshold of adulthood, at times, pushes back. Our daughter is now balancing with one foot in and one foot out as she prepares to depart for university in a few days. The other night, our youngest crawled into bed to cuddle and chat. Supporting loved ones in different ways, I try to be steadfast with devotion while remaining open to change and fully present. I experience serenity and stability and feel the fullness of the moment. As I practise complete awareness and attunement I also let go and embrace each change as it unfolds. A sense of peaceful spaciousness within is felt.

Whether alone on my mat or with loved ones, I practise gratitude for my many blessings. Cherishing feelings of connectedness and abundance, I am most thankful for my yoga practise. Tradition will ensure that apples and honey welcome in the new year. And as I greet each change and hold it in awareness, I taste and savor the sweetness of the present moment.

Temmi Ungerman Sears
August 21, 2012

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Finding the Stillness

Life doesn’t wait for nor consult with anyone. Change can occur in any moment. So practise. Be present. Learn where your center is and how to access it for when you need to go there. My sweet fifteen year old, a strong athletic intelligent beauty had a sports injury a few months ago. An emergency room doctor’s use of the wrong splint on her fracture resulted in a hospitalization and two serious infections, one life threatening. Thankfully, antibiotics and time facilitated the healing and we averted having to face anything worse than a terrible interruption in our lives and a scare.

The second time in a year and a half staying in a hospital advocating for loved ones, I again had to know where to go inwardly in order to remain grounded, calm and focused while still occasionally moving at a frenetic pace. In the first situation, my parents were both hospitalized at the same time. This past February, the work was endless supporting our daughter while trying to prevent her from slipping through the cracks in the system, unsuccessfully. However, I am grateful beyond measure for the many years of yoga practise that helps to weave together the fabric of my life. From this practice and the acquired skills and lessons learned, I was again able to tap into the source of my stability when needed, and for this, I am most grateful.

When life is spinning fast, and stress penetrates the skin, when change is in every moment and time just marches by, I try to move through the concentric circles that protect my heart. This is done symbolically while standing still in Tadasana (mountain pose). As I breathe, I ground through the soles of my feet, engaging muscles while quieting the mind, and I move in to access inner stillness. I am thus able to stand inside of the stillness for postures are tools to help reach deeply into yourself. I remain on my yoga mat, literally and figuratively, for as long as I need to.
The yoga mat is a symbol of the practise. It is a concrete manifestation that delineates the sacred space that one goes to when practising. It is a living mandala. For standing in the centre of the mat, the path leads home to one’s own inner point of stillness. This is found inside of the heart. When change arrives, in its simplest or grandest form, what is constant remains. The consistency of the practise, the strength of the connection with the Divine, and the rhythm and mystery of the breath… this is what remains constant and what pulls you towards where you need to be.
It really is simple. It is committing to remaining present and aware, awakened in each moment – breath by breath, moment to moment. Life passes. Time moves in one direction. But my yoga has taught me to stand still in the fullness of each moment. When I tune into this place, my reality has meaning. My practise has taught me to keep coming to the mat, year in and year out, to keep learning and to live my life with the understanding of what it means to be alive and to be present. My practise has taught me what yoga really is.

I don’t know what curve ball will be heading in my direction next. But I do know without a doubt that there will be one. And with humility and gratitude, I will continue to step onto my mat, to pause long enough to breathe with awareness and serenity, and to remain present in the Now. I will be standing still to catch the ball.