Monday, 22 February 2016

Ashram Life 101 - The Importance of Retreat for Transformation.

Ashram,  its a place that is remote in terms of Western understanding, perception, or practice.  You really cannot get much further from ashram life in our consumeristic society.  But for a healthy, balanced and evolving experiance, that needs to change.

Ashrama - according to Yoga Journal means " “that where effort is made”: a hermitage; also a stage of life, such as brahmacharya, householder, forest dweller, and complete renouncer (samnyasin)"   Its a place of work.  Not just external, physical labour,  that is a mode of integration and exploration,  but more importantly a place of internal work -  transformation, evolution.

Whether you are consciously working on transforming an aspect of your human experiance, eg. moving through depression, anxiety, PTSD, or if you consider yourself healthy and want to go deeper into exploring yourself, the principles and teachings are the same.  This is because the teachings are not directed at the personality to which these characteristics cling,  but to the Soul.  As the Soul embodies the teachings,  the personality aspects that cling to discord, disease and suffering start to fall away.  

An ashram is a simple place,  on the outside.  There can be great activities, projects, festivals and activity,  but the essence is simple.   Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate,  Realize.   An ashram is made up of simple buildings,  simple food,  simple clothing.   In the west we have allot of psychosis around what we think we can and cannot live without.  "I can't live without hot water,  I can't live without a flushing toilet,  I can't live without my morning coffee."   99.9% of that is hogwash,  and delusion that actually holds you in tremendous amounts of physical and mental tension.    Ashrams are designed to create a set of circumstances and conditions so that you can strip away all the fluff of "I need I need I need" into an experiance of the essence of what you actually need.  Shelter, to sleep without fear,  good nourishing food,  purpose in action,  real connection with others (community),  the ability to be content - alone.   Creating this clean slate of essentials,  you can start to witness more cohesively the fluctuations of the mind, and see how it is your own perception that creates a thriving or a stunted reality.

Boundaries = Freedom
To the outside world,  or to people who equate safety with control,  an ashram can seem too constricting in its guidelines and boundaries.   To others,  the stripped down need for independent thought is absolute freedom.   For me, being someone who when out in the world, juggles my duties of wife, motherhood, a farm, bills, cooking, cleaning, teaching, and retreat centre,  i'm bombarded with decisions day in and day out.  By contrast, my time in ashram life is wonderful.  Its a place where I don't have to worry about anything.  I just need to put full effort into the tasks I am assigned.  I don't need to think about what i'm going to eat,  I don't need to wonder how something is going to be financially managed,  I don't have to think about what needs to happen next.  All I need to do is get up do as I'm asked.  Its bliss!

Food is such a loaded topic for most.  The intertwining between societal and cultural indoctrination of what is "healthy",  our drive for emotional fulfillment from sugars - fats - salts,  and how we play out, sometimes completely unconsciously, our need to control food to feel safe and how we connect food to positive or negative memories.  Yet in the ashram,  food is not designed nor cooked to emotionally satiate your neurosis, it is to nourish your physical body into optimal working and preparation for meditational practices.  From the western point of view,  you can walk away vowing to never eat rice and subji (cooked vegetables) again.   Only to turn around 2 months later find you are craving them as a thread to memory of your time in retreat.  Food is a great opportunity to really take a look at how we are medicating ourselves to feel better in our day to day lives by using something external. 

Viveka - Discernment
An ashram is set up so you really have an opportunity to witness your monkey mind against a base line of high vibrational yogic practices such as havans and puja.   To witness the mind while in action and watch how our personality ebbs and flows between happy and grump purely based upon experiencing likes and dislikes.   This is key in shifting our primary focus from personality/ego to souls experiance.  We always suggest that people are fully engaged with their task, but leave a space in the mind to be focused on the Divine, through mantra, or devotion, so that the personality of the mind has something higher in frequency to focus on,  leaving no space for the mind's decent into negative, unhelpful through forms - which it often does when it is bored or not fully engaged.  

Vairagya - Dispassion/ Non Attachment
Vairagya, or non attachment can be one of the most challenging aspects of ashram life,  as it really has to have a foot firmly rooted in Īśvarapraṇidhāna - or surrender to the Divine.  It is hard in the west to let go to opinions/ideas, likes/dislikes, especially when you feel you have a better, easier or more concise way of doing something.  But that is not what ashram life is about,  it is about letting go of all you think you know, emptying out the righteousness of the little “i”, and allowing something new, softer, and more expansive to come through.

Svadhyaya - Self Study
Self study is such an amazing and humbling practice that we are simply not taught in the West.  Its a muscle that in many of us is atrophied.  We spend allot of our energy examining others behaviour and others decisions, without turning the spotlight on our own.   Many are scared,  make that terrified, of what they will see.  Acting from a deep rooted belief that we are not good enough,  loveable, and sometimes fundamentally flawed people.  To have the courage to really look at our best qualities, and humbly acknowledge our shortcomings can be a very challenging exercise.  But I tell you, its where the gold is!   How tightly we hold onto, and try and hide, our shortcomings from ourselves and others take allot of energy!  Thats where all the stagnated, unused, frozen energy lies. When you liberate that energy, thats when you have the courage to make the changes you need to make.  Once you have taken a good look, you realize that we are all multifaceted humans, that have tremendous potential to grow, if we are willing to look at what is planted, where we need fertilizer, where we can use a pruning.  

Shraddha - Faith
A combination of all of the above cumulates in an act of faith.  Committing, before you even arrive in the ashram,  that whatever your experiance is going to be,  be it blissful,  or excruciatingly challenging, is the perfect experiance for you,  here, now.  FOR YOU GROWTH.  Sometimes upon leaving the ashram, I cant fathom leaving without knowing when I will be back.  Its the only thing that gets me on a plane back to Canada. The memories of the amazing time I have just had, and the knowledge that I am committed and welcome to come back.  Other times,  I have had such challenging time,  that I couldn't wait to leave!  Convinced that “I've learnt all I can from here”  and “ maybe this isn't my path anymore”.  Only to realize 6 months later that the hard parts were such a deep mirror to my own relationship with integrity, indignity, humility, insecurities and courage that I have still much road ahead of me.  So,  I go back,  and once again, and have another perfect experiance for me, here and now.  It is such a humbling act of faith to show up for yourself, over and over through the platform of Ashram Life.

Ashram Life, is such an important platform for any practitioner of Yoga or aspiring Yogi.  Or for anyone who wants to grow and heal.  For it is through being challenged, that we grow.  It is through setting aside our needs and wants,  that we realize our own strength.  It is through retreating to the inside,  that we evolve.  

For a list of our upcoming retreats and Ashram life residency options please see

For supporting your transformation through trauma with yoga, please contact us directly on

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Why I Believe Yoga is a Critical link in the Recovery from PTSD.

 Myself and Ishtadev Niwas patrons have recently launched what we feel is an innovative way that has the yoga community “lift up” and support those challenged by both acute and chronic Post-Traumatic Stresses (in this article, we refer to Post-Traumatic Stress as its formerly and more well-known acronym as PTSD).  The innovation comes by way of a webpage that allows many people to contribute small monthly amounts to supporting the teachings and directed time to assisting those within our communities and networks that desperately need a new lens and path for deep and comprehensive healing.  In direct relation to this new initiative however, I was asked the other day why I believe that Yoga is so critical to the enabling healing from PTSD.  Yoga is a big and complex topic...but here is a start for anyone interested in looking to a Yogic path on your recovery from PTSD.

I truly believe that Yoga is a huge untapped resource in North America for people suffering with PTSD,  
PTSD is a “big picture” experience and Yoga* is a “big picture” modality that can offer a complete and total shift in the health of mind, body, emotions AND soul. 
PTSD is not an isolated symptomatic experience that does well nor even adapts to the western methodology of treating each symptom individually until the disease is cured. It is not like a bacteria that can be wiped out by an antibiotic.  Alleviating a symptom of PTSD does not create the framework for recovering from the trauma.  That perspective is like juggling spinning plates on pin heads.  Eventually things come crashing down.

By the time I meet new clients who with varying levels of PTSD, they have been doing everything they can from a western medical perspective for usually 2 - 3 years.  Their symptomatic dominos usually fall like this:  You can't sleep?  You're prescribed sleeping pills.  You need to wake up early to go to work?  You take a stimulant like coffee.   You are depressed?  Here have some anti depressants.  Oh, you’re experiencing suicidal ideation?  Let’s adjust the dosage or try another anti depressant.  The cascade of medications has no end in sight as it isn't actually fixing the problem.

To be clear here, there is definitely time and place for each of the above mentioned medications,  but they need to be administered as a tool or temporary support,  not long term dependency.   Nor am I blaming western doctors as PTSD from a western perspective is a very new “disorder” that is in its infancy in research and solutions. Western perspectives of mental disease and illness are those that people don’t understand well enough as these perspectives don’t fit in the western “medical paradigm box.”

Prolonged Exposure Treatment seems at this time to be a front runner for helping people, but the treatment is not wildly available and is based on being exposed to similar traumatic stimuli until it doesn’t hold the power or same reaction anymore.

The levels of anxiety, depression, hopelessness,  isolation, and the fear of something triggering a flashback can be truly debilitating. However, Yoga, as mentioned above, is a “big picture system."  It sees the interconnectivity of the symptoms leading to a source.  Yoga doesn't try to mop up the symptoms while the source is still over flowing, it addresses the source directly,  and then offers the tools to mop up the mess.

In Yoga, we have a system called the Koshas (sheaths of perception) which give context to the different layers of perception we have as souls having a human experience.   Anandamaya Kosha, the bliss body, is connected to the souls original and innate form before any karma or experiance is imprinted on it.  The memory of this body, while in human form,  we connect to as the “heart,” or Love.  The experiences we have, from eating ice creme to murder, originate in Vijanamaya Kosha, or the archetypal/karmic sheath.  These experiences need to be digested and transcended for the souls evolution to happen.  The nervous system is an aspect of the mind which is connected to Manomaya Kosha, or the mental sheath. If the soul or heart, is unable to digest the experiance, because the mind is unable to reconcile the traumatic experiance it to its rightful place in memory, then a mental/nervous system fracture occurs, it gets short circuited.  Time and space, from a soul’s perspective, is not linear. When a trauma or traumatic event happens and our nervous system gets fractured we are no longer able to discern the present moment with the past experience.  The head cannot be reconciled with the heart.

If the mental sheath has a fracture in it, undigested or traumatic memories float in the psyche constantly trying to connect it to the present moment.  At any moment a once benign experiance can trigger you into reliving the trauma as though it is happening in present time.  You no longer are able to discern reality in this time and space.  This  has direct implications on the Pranamaya Kosha or emotional body, creating heightened and prolonged emotional responses to the trigger and Annamaya Kosha, physical experiences, which become the actions in which we try to avoid any trigger for the traumatic memory to latch onto in real time - which over time creates a reality of entrapment, perceiving suicide as the only “out”.

The trauma has such an impact on the mind that it refuses to recess into memory and keeps barging through the door of present reality at any time of day. However, I believe that there is a critical step in the process to evolving past PTSD that needs to be addressed before stepping into direct engagement with the traumatic experiance itself.  This is to heal, and strengthen the nervous system.

The trauma, and subsequent inability to file it in an appropriate memory locker puts one’s already fractured nervous system into hyper alert and an over-stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.  When the sympathetic nervous system is jammed permanently “on,”
 one is in a constant fight or flight mode, resulting in adrenal fatigue.  Furthermore, the parasympathetic nervous system gets worn down and unable to balance itself to compensate for the sympathetic nervous systems short-circuiting.  It is the parasympathetic nervous system that corresponds to our ability to relax.  The nervous system cannot heal, if you cannot relax.  So, the sympathetic nervous system is short circuited and jammed on, and the parasympathetic nervous system is fatigued.  This needs to be addressed and steps made to rebalance this before the memory of the trauma can take its rightful place in the memory bank without, or critically reducing, emotional association - thus digesting and transcending the experiance.

The experience of being unable to digest or reconcile memory is the definition of crisis.

crisis |ˈkrīsis|
noun (pl. crises |-ˌsēz| )
a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger: the current economic crisis | a family in crisis | a crisis of semiliteracy among high school graduates.
a time when a difficult or important decision must be made: [ as modifier ] : a crisis point of history.
• the turning point of a disease when an important change takes place, indicating either recovery or death.

ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting the turning point of a disease): medical Latin, from Greek krisis ‘decision,’ from krinein ‘decide.’ The general sense ‘decisive point’ dates from the early 17th cent.

So from a big picture perspective, someone who suffers from PTSD is at a huge cross roads in their human experience.  They are in a crisis, or at a point of decision.  The decision to evolve or cycle out of this human experience. Please note that I don't, or try not to, use the word “recover” when talking about healing from trauma.  You don't recover, or go back to an original state from before the trauma. You don't get past it, or get over it. You use the experiance to evolve.  You integrate the experience to a place where it no longer causes you pain whether mental, emotional or physical.  This, I believe, is the opportunity with PTSD.  I believe, that it is a fundamental opportunity for exponential acceleration within that soul’s evolution. 

So, from a yogic perspective, what do we do?  Firstly, we give the mind a context, or a map of how the symptoms are people on the street trying to direct you to the source.  Then, through yogic techniques, postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, we give you the tools to start to bring the sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous systems into balance, through simultaneously reducing anxiety (coming back into the body, back into the present moment)  and strengthening the relaxation response.  It is both of these that start to make headway on the symptoms and take you out of the crisis. Human connection, relationships built on positive experiences and trust,  acknowledging moments of joy and actively seeking them out,  conscious time in nature through gardening or animals are also crucial lifestyle aspects to reconnecting and creating a new expansive reality.   But it is not the end of the journey.

As this continues, we start to strengthen the muscle of discernment.  This is the ability to acess a memory without feeling like it is happening in the present moment.  Through the short circuiting of the nervous system, our discernment gets disconnected.  We have techniques and practices that help to recreate that link.  It takes time, as life is not a quick-fix pill.  However, Yogic tools are those one can do anywhere,  and they are tools that empower you to be able to heal, evolve, and ultimately understand and learn why THIS experience is part of your human reality this time around. 

Our symptoms are teachers and PTSD is a university degree, sometimes I even wonder if it is PhD material.  This is a huge undertaking for a soul in one lifetime, but one can graduate!  No one ever goes to university expecting to fail.  You go knowing that with the right professors, the right environment, and considerable effort, you will graduate with a skill set that sets you apart and allows you to feel success.   

But it can be hard to understand what the symptom is teaching if you don't speak its language.  Yoga, though the matrix of philosophy, the chakras, and perspective, decodes the language of belief, emotion, and reality and works as a translator for these different languages.  It can be done. 

For more information, or to contact the Living Yoga Society about our outreach programs for people experiencing PTSD, Anxiety, or Depression please contact email us.

If you are inspired by these teaching, and would like to support our patronage and outreach efforts please click here.

* please note, not all yoga classes are created equal.  For people suffering from PTSD and other related medical illnesses please a)
 contact your doctor and inform them that you are looking to try yoga to support your recovery.  and b) make sure you take a yoga class, or work with a teacher who has experience in supporting people in crisis and trauma related experiences.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Dear God Ramblings. #1

Dear God,

sometimes i see the light through the trees and feel such a presence of love,  thank you for the hairs on my arms that capture those moments.

why are we not taught how sweet Silence truly is?

is it possible, that we actually live in completely different space time realities within our own human experiance?  that the year 2016 is merely fabricated for the overall order of humanity, yet really means nothing? maybe the future/past/present is but a state of evolution/perception?

why,  when the mind drones on "the lotus feet," yes yes, "reverence",  yes yes, "dust on head", yes yes "thy will" over and over... the heart skips a beat like your first date is walking up the driveway?
such is the nature of transmission and remembrance...?

parenting is hard,  just in case you were wondering.

if i say a prayer that everyone can feel the nectar of love for life, will it make a difference in someones day?

to your lotus feet.


Wednesday, 3 February 2016

I Forgive You. For Me.

Forgiveness,  its like another "F" word,  like Fear and F#&%,  just with more letters.   Theres more in there to get yourself around For-Give-Ness.

Even as I write it I can see a flashing mirage of faces with their noses slightly screwed up and the soft roundness of their bodies turning into sharp block people.  "yeah, forgiveness, its good and all, but no way, not in this instance... they have to pay!".

Its amazing how somehow in the west we have equated forgiveness with consent.  As though to forgive someone for bad, sometimes absolutely horrific behaviour, is to tell them it was ok to do that.  That is NOT what forgiveness is.

To forgive someone for their crappy behaviour is to unburden YOURSELF from the load and impact of their actions.  You are giving it up, from your shoulders, and refusing to carry the burden of that trauma anymore.  And no,  carrying the burden,  not forgiving, is not an act of love in the memory of something or someone you loved.   Your suffering is not, and will never be, an act of Love.  LOVE IS LOVE.  Love is to keep stepping forward in life,  cherishing connection,  kindness, and holding that person in your heart - always.

But to do this,  we have to shift our paradigm.  You see,  to be in the place to need to forgive someone,  you are usually acting from the perspective of victim.  Where there is a victim, there is a perpetrator. This is a dualistic paradigm that cannot heal.  You cannot truly heal, and be a victim at the same time. (yes i can feel many heckles going up as we speak,  - but bare with me)

This society holds victims as heroes.  Its fashionable.  "victim of cancer"  "victim of depression" victim at the hand of another person, rape, murder, etc  People experiance horrible things.  People, find themselves in circumstances BEYOND THIER CONTROL and experiance horrible things.  NO, THEY DO NOT ASK FOR IT.   We cannot control what our experiences are,  but we do have some say on how we respond to these experiences.  Do they hold you back?  or propel you forward?  Its a process i realize,  but its a process with a direction,  not a sentence of stagnation.

It takes community, it takes support, it takes crazy amounts of courage.  But it can be done.

Once you can entertain the idea of stepping out of being a victim.  (Believe me,  I have had years of being identified with being a victim.  I was the queen of "its everyone else's fault".  I get how comfy it can get in that chair. )  You can step into forgiveness.   Again,  forgiving someone doesn't condone their actions.  It sets YOU free from the weight of them.  And here is how you do it...

You shift the paradigm of perception.  You step into the perspective of the soul having a human experiance.  The full complicated, messy, groping in the dark for the light switch, experiance.  And then you acknowledge, that so is the soul who was the "perpetrator".  They are also having a complicated, messy human experiance.   Two souls playing out their lives.   All souls are beings of light,  yet,  depending on what stage of evolution they are,  sometimes their ignorance and the level of pain they are carrying blinds them to the effect and understanding of their own actions, either before or after they have done them.   We have all made mistakes, most of us have known the feeling of compulsion to do something we know innately is not ok.  From telling a white lie, to petty theft, to cheating... the compulsion is no different for bigger things.  The compulsion is always born out of our own pain.  The more pain we are in, the worse actions we seem to be able to justify.

So we forgive.  We acknowledge that people hurt other people corresponding to the degree of pain THEY are in... it doesn't excuse, justify, or condone the actions, but on a soul level it creates a little space inside of YOU for, understanding.  Its in this space that we forgive.  We forgive from my soul, to yours.  We understand that pain creates more pain.  We start to allow the process to journey from understanding, to maybe, one day, soften into compassion.   This process.  This softening,  is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is not an all or nothing,  its a bite by bite softening out of victim, and into a souls understanding of the roles we play for the lessons we are here to learn.   You morph from a sharp edged block person, to a round, soft human.  Doing the most human thing of all, we Love, Forgive and keep stepping forward.