Thank you, Michael Stone - Lindsay Gulanes, Virginia Shay, Ryan Case, Kat Lourenco, Claudia Gracias, Brittany Bruce
On Sunday night Michael Stone, Buddhist teacher, yogi, psychotherapist, public figure left this Earth. There is now a tremendous void in the philosophy and mindfulness community. There is an even greater void for his young (including unborn) children, his partner and his loved ones. There is no doubt that Michael was an incredibly influential teacher in our community, and several Fearless Heart yogis have trained with him personally. His books, podcasts, and videos extended that reach to influence many people to question the way they structured their lives and values. He challenged us to discover what it means to truly be present, regardless of the comfort or discomfort we experience in the moment.
I began writing these thoughts from a very abstract place, thinking about what it's like when one is a teacher, and to some extent a publicly owned persona. But as Ryan and Virginia and I discussed when we met in shock to comfort each other in this loss, it's evident that what has been lost is a human being and that's what everything else comes down to.
One of the biggest gifts that he taught was that healing can only happen in the context of connection. That true meditation was about living deeply in each moment, and connecting with the people, places and situations in front of you. The true meaning of being awake is to be connected to others and to love and practice compassion and kindness to ourselves and everyone around us. And, similarly, being awake and giving someone your attention is one of the greatest gifts you have to give.
He deftly wove big philosophical questions with disarming jokes, always reminding us that each moment has the opportunity to be joyful, even as we do the hard work of becoming awake in the world. He encouraged us to stop blaming, to view ourselves and each other with compassion, and he taught us the incredible power of stopping to give attention to our physical, present experience for even just one moment. He revealed how much living opens up when you have the courage to encounter a moment honestly, without hitching it to narratives in your head about your past or your future.
I'm surprised by the intensity of my impulse to cling today. There is an enormous amount of sadness, that I think is about the realisation that despite always knowing how ephemeral life is, I still took for granted that there would be more wisdom and compassionate advice coming from him for years to come. And I've completely transferred that feeling and projected it onto everyone else in my life that I cherish. It's made me feel an urgent need to connect. I've called a bunch of my close friends today, and seen a few more in person. It felt necessary. I needed the assurance of those connections. Being connected is a big part of how I know that I am alive and today there is the raw reality of just how quickly it can all be over, even when you are busy making plans for the future.
Going forward I feel a few different urges. The first is to reflect on the ways that Michael has influenced me personally, as well as the positive impacts on our sangha. To that effect, a few of us here at FHY are sharing this post to give thanks for the valuable teachings he gave. Secondly, we will be having a gratitude meditation gathering to honour him, to gather our community together and to celebrate our sangha. The third is that I would ask you, dear reader to take time to express your gratitude this week. Maybe saying thank you to someone, writing a letter expressing gratitude, paying it forward with kindness, or simply pausing to recognise the moment you are in, feeling your breath and your own beating heart.
Ryan: I attended a workshop led by Michael in Toronto in 2016, and he opened that workshop by inviting us to imagine ourselves as leaves on a tree. Each leaf needs its own sunlight and water. And, at the same time, when one leaf satisfies its own needs, it can impact the other leaves. In this way, we are all individuals and we are all connected.
For me, this captures what Michael's teaching was all about: practicing going beyond postures, beyond your own needs, and arriving at a practice that focuses on relationships and awareness---connecting yoga to what really matters.
Kat: What a hard thing to put into words, how one person's words have stuck with you. Again and again, I go back to Michael talking about the 'little retreat' vs the 'big retreat'; practicing yoga in isolation from the world vs. practicing from within our loud, chaotic lives. Yoga as gift not just for ourselves, but for those around us.
I'm filled with sadness, but moreso with deep gratitude for a teacher who, even in parting, shines light on the practice of being vulnerable and real, and ultimately human.
Brittany: Yoga for a World Out of Balance was the very first book I read when I started practising yoga in 2012. Before I ever attended my first FHY class or knew that teaching yoga would become a part of my life, I had Michael Stone's compassionate insights in my head.
Thank you, Michael, for introducing me to a whole new way of living. I'll never be able to repay that gift
Claudia: Reflecting on the passing of our teacher, mentor and friend, Michael. I carry so many of his teachings with me every day. They have truly helped to transform my heart. Remembering this teaching today has helped me find some peace.
"We can always come back to this moment. And we can learn to be friends with whatever happens in our experience, including the parts that are unpleasant. Bow to whatever arises in the heart moment to moment to moment."
Today, I dedicate my practice of gratitude to Michael Stone and this sangha. May we all support and serve each other and continue to awaken.
Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi svaha
I'm curious what compelled you to read this post. When you see the words, "self-care", what reaction do you have?
Perhaps a piece of you shrugs and says, "yeah, I really should do a better job of self-care". Maybe you decided to read because you are looking for guidance or ideas about what to do that qualifies as self-care. Maybe you are reading because you think to yourself, "well, my yoga teacher/therapist/bowen practitioner are always talking about self-care, so I should get into it".
I'd like to tell you what I have been thinking lately about this whole self-care notion. Where I am at now is part of a long arc and it might not be what I feel later on in my self-discovery experiment either. From a pop-spirituality perspective I think that self-care is currently drowning in self-indulgence. I think it's a middle-class typically white person construct that was creating to be monetized. It's a fairly narrow perspective to think that in addition to the pressures of surviving the current economic and political climate, and the demands of making ends meet, we should also feel pressure if we don't "invest in ourselves" via shoe shopping, expensive goop vitamins, bubble baths, and paying someone else to blow dry our hair. Let me take a second to point out that all of these things are also aimed nearly exclusively at one gender. And that they are almost entirely about external appearance.
I think that self-care goes beyond indulgence for its own sake:
I think if we look at it the right way, it becomes an important MUST.
Here are the criteria I have for self-care:
1) Is it based on a felt-sense, or an image? (eg. Body work like massage, osteopath, yoga, bowen etc are all self-care for sure, and I think they matter tremendously)
2) Does it have a positive impact on my health
3) Is it done to the detriment of someone else, or is it a positive or at least net zero for everyone impacted?
4) Does it help eliminate distractions of illness or weakness so that I have more energy to invest in creating a positive life?
That last one is the big punch for me. If we aren't fighting yet, maybe we will be after this next thought. Depression is now the world's leading cause of illness and disability, affecting about 300 million people. A bubble bath isn't likely to help that. But I think that self-care could play an important role, as long as we understand that we participate in self-care so that we have the energy to go and stand up for what we believe is right. To have the capacity to give to people we love, to people in our neighbourhoods, to do meaningful work and to create our own reality.
So my homework for you today is to start sketching out your mission. What do you think is important in life? Who can you lend a hand to? What is it that you would like to see change/grow/end/begin? Once you begin to crystallize those ideas, you had better get ready because there is much work to be done.
I wanted to provide an introduction to my interpretation of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga (which is a funny sentence if you think about it). First though, why are the eight limbs a useful tool in a modern context? In a post-modern culture we don't tend to have elder wisdom, we don't tend to mark developmental milestones in life (except birth, coupling, and death and even then only nominally). I think one of the reasons people in the west are more and more drawn to eastern -originating philosophy is because we are left without a framework to structure how we understand the passage of our lives, and we also have no idea how to determine what makes our interactions with the rest of the world appropriate. We are all using a different yardstick to measure the quality of our lives and yet we are looking to be as uniform and part of our community as possible in order to validate the choices we make. The eight limbs offer an approach to determining the way that we view our position in the world, in relation to the rest of the world. And even though it is an old system, it is simple enough and also non-dogmatic enough to be just as relevant today, regardless of your belief system (or lack of adherence to one).
1. Relationship to the exterior world:
Do your best to not think violent thoughts, use words as weapons, or harm yourself or others with your actions. Let your words and your actions be true and of good intention. Don't steal. Remember that you are energy and so is everyone else around you. Interact with them accordingly and respect where you spend your energy and what you give and take from others. Do not identify with your material possessions, or your intellectual and emotional possessions, either. Do not hoard.
2. Relationship to the interior world:
Know the intentions behind your thoughts, speech and actions and be sure that you can stand behind them. Honestly accept where you are in the moment and remember that we show up with the resources that are available to us in that moment. You can't get where you want to go without knowing where you are now. Apply discipline and commitment to what matters to you in life, even when it is hard to get out of bed. Do your best every day. Develop and sustain a practice of self-knowledge. Surround yourself with others who are committed to the same. Remember that you are a part of something much bigger, and that the choices that you make have an impact on the greater whole. Do what you believe is right and don't worry about the outcomes.
3. Your Rightful Seat:
Respect your body as a particle state of energy and move it accordingly in order to prevent pain and illness, and to diminish the effects of illness, pain and distraction that are already there.
4. The life-changing magic of taking a proper breath:
You are energy embodied and your best measure of well-being is your breath. Treat each breath as sacred and use them to pay deeper attention to what is going on internally. You can use your breath to alter your physical as well as your energetic state if you know how to pay attention.
5. The Felt Sense:
Learning to pay attention to the internal messages can change the way that you behave in the world. Stop ignoring or overriding the messages that your body is expressing. Ignoring them is a form of violence against yourself. Shut out the noise of the exterior world and listen to your inner voice to help you determine what is right for you. This is a profound way to make good decisions.
Learn to concentrate on the task at hand. You probably don't need that MBSR class. Practice listening fully and attentively as a form of mindfulness and stop making someone else's story about your own.
7. Understanding connection through absorbtion:
When you can complete number 6, you will begin to understand that the seemingly dual nature of the world is only partly true, and in fact you are connected to everything else in the world. Stop treating others as separate and stop acting as if your actions don't matter. In other words, why are you not composting yet?
8. Everything is Everything (to borrow from Miss Lauryn Hill):
You matter. And you are also infinitely small in the greater picture. Both of these things are true and you can hold both of them in your awareness at the same time. Paying greater attention to the smaller things is a way of paying attention to the bigger picture. Taking care of yourself and your community is also an act of greatness. You are connected to everything.
Parting of the veils, thinning of the veils and seeing the unseen as clearly as the seen; the time between eclipses is quite magical. We have super keen insight that allows us to be more in tune to the ancient wisdom of our ancestors…
So what does that mean in practical language? Well, essentially, our Spidey senses become crystal clear. All the problems or decisions we were struggling with before suddenly become blatantly obvious. How do you receive messages? Are you aware of how your body speaks to you? How do you know when your heart is leading you versus your mind? In order to use this energy wisely, we need to understand what our own integration looks like, feels like, tastes like…We are being called to wake up and smell the roses! To allow our bodies and hearts to lead the way. To give permission for our minds to take a break and follow, rather than lead.
All the previous belief systems you carried have helped you get to this point. They allowed you to feel secure enough to stretch and grow into this current state. They protected you like a scab protects our healing tissue as it rebuilds itself. It is time to let the old belief systems fully integrate and allow the next wave to flow into your life. There comes a time when the scab has served its purpose. To carry you to the next phase of this journey, we need to release what is no longer serving us. The fresh new skin beneath the surface needs to be able to breathe and grow on its own, without boundaries or limitations. We are being called to open up to a new perspective. One that blows your mind right into love and helps you to finally feel fear as a change agent, rather than an inhibitor. Allow the fear that once was to shatter into a billion tiny pieces. Call on the power within you, your supportive forces outside of you and invite all of these broken pieces to reintegrate from a place of love and wisdom. The clutter that once clogged, will become the agent that infuses and accelerates transformation.
This world is changing and so are we. Until February 26, we have all the time and space necessary to see where we need to make adjustments to prepare for the shift that the new moon and annular solar eclipse brings… How will you make space to listen? What do you need to heal and reveal?
With love and gratitude,
Marie-Louise de Boyrie
Your body, your meatsuit, that density that carries around the vital stuff, like your brain and your heart – how exactly does it even know what to do? How do I know what the limitations to what I can do are? Honestly, most of us only pay attention to our physiology when something has gone wrong, or when we do suddenly and disappointingly bump into our own limitations. I think that learning about our body with the reverence and curiosity that it is rightfully due is our responsibility as beings who are working towards being awake in the world and being present. Does it need to be intimidating to learn about the body? How come we tend to abdicate responsibility and knowledge to so-called authorities? I don’t think it needs to be scary, and I think it can be beautiful and liberating to get to know ourselves in this meaningful way.
Here are some of my favourite gateway resources into getting to know our incredible bodies:
Gil Hedley: The Heart Dance. Dr. Hedley wears his eccentricity proudly. This video clip shows his interpretive dance of the vascular system. It is memorable, informative, passionate and will make you more curious. This isn't the most famous of his clips, but I love it.
Atlas of Human Anatomy - Frank Netter (ISBN 978-1416059516):
Netter's atlas is a work of incredibly detailed drawings of our interior selves. Showing the different regulatory systems of the body (nerves, circulation, connective tissues), organs, muscular and skeleton arrangements, this book is an endless source of visual information about how we inhabit our inner space.
Alignment Monkey - Barbara Loomis:
Barbara is a highly experienced body worker in Portland Oregon. She practices a number of different disciplines and is a crusader for educating people about how bodies work. Her emphasis is on moving in intelligent ways in our every day lives in order to restore and maintain healthy alignment in our bodies. Her blog has funny videos, provocative information and "alignment snacks", which are homework for people who are looking to help themselves.
Key Muscles of Yoga - Ray Long (ISBN 978-1607432388)
This book was written by an orthopedic surgeon/Iyengar yoga instructor. The detailed visuals are accompanied by written context so that you can see the physical experience and consequences of common yoga postures. It's a great way to help tailor your yoga practice to certain physical goals by helping you see what's going on.
The Liberated Body Podcast - Brooke Thomas
Brooke Thomas is a Rolfer (a type of body work) and this podcast is about sharing her curiosities about the body by interviewing different "body nerds" across different disciplines. Her interviews tend to centre around people who have a belief about the body systems as being a unified whole, and how the more embodied we are, the healthier we have the potential to be. Highlights for me include Joanne Avison, Judith Hanson Lasater, James Earls and Jaap Van Der Wal.
Eclipse season is nearly upon us, earlier than usual. The full moon, lunar eclipse magnifies the usual power that this phase of the lunar cycle affords us; the deepest, darkest purge you can imagine! February 10th lunar eclipse energy invites you to dig deep and really FEEL your oldest wounds in order to HEAL them. Eclipses allow us to see through the vales. The unseen and the seen merge with ease. This helps us to see more clearly what needs to change to help us move forward with our journey.
We are invited to step out of the realm of the mind. To allow our bodies to take the lead. This is a time for reflection, introversion, stillness and openness. To release expectations, control and desire. To allow our sensations and feelings to guide our choices intuitively. This fiery Leo energy calls out your courage to be yourself from the centre out. To really let yourself find out WHO you are. To listen…to be…
Creativity, inspiration and the muse!
Delight in the spirit of the month of LOVE. Allow the magic of this season to infuse you with inner strength. Aquarius is the genius (our fearless leader included!) As an air sign, it represents communication, specifically for the benefit of the greater community. Air feeds fire. How will your communication IGNITE your courage this month? How can you allow yourself to express your truth? What creative possibilities await you?
With love and gratitude,
Marie-Louise de Boyrie
…2017 is blazing in!
Welcome the Red Fire Rooster
Cock-a-doodle-doo, says it best…the rooster is loud! It wakes EVERYONE up. There’s no hiding from its piercing call. This year, it is a call to action. We have been thinking about our dreams (what needs to change) and finding ways to manifest them. One of my teachers said it best, "the universe is not your b*tch!" We need to take action and seek out opportunities. The rooster is reliable, always the first to rise. This is the key to manifesting your dreams in rapid motion. Be bold, let your true self shine through. The rooster knows no shame. Quite frankly, he’s known to strut his stuff. How can you strut your creative stuff to get your imagination flowing this year? What is it that needs to change? Puff out your chest and let your heart lead your way to joy and abundance.
A fresh start with all the pearls of wisdom from the ruthless purification of 2016!
2017, a universal 1 year, welcomes new beginnings and this one marks the year of truth. The end of illusions… the marred beliefs we carry because somehow, somewhere, our ego thought it made enough sense that it plugged our emotional wound and we were able to move on… Those limiting beliefs that keep us feeling small, competing for part of the puzzle, unsure of how we even fit in to the bigger picture. Maybe even oblivious to the fact that there is a bigger picture.
This is the time to create new systems, mindsets, structures and communities. To shift our thinking into action and building strong foundations to set the stage. Remember the childlike innocence of wonderment. Dare to wish upon a star! Open yourself to the magic of endless possibilities.
Treat yourself well to see rapid results!
Just as seeds need water, light, nurturing, love and all the necessities to grow, it is essential that we are nourishing our body, mind and spirit daily. Balance and forgiveness are keys to unlocking more ease and flow in 2017.
With love and gratitude,
Marie-Louise de Boyrie
Many people begin a yoga practice, or some other kind of therapeutic movement practice, is to alleviate pain or stiffness. In a culture where many of us spend a huge chunk of our days sitting down and looking down at some kind of device, neck pain is an incredibly common complaint that a lot of yoga practitioners have. As you know if you've practiced at Fearless Heart, we love tailoring our classes to what practitioners need on any given day, and most of us have a repertoire of stretches and movements for loosening up neck tension. However, if you've ever dealt with chronic neck pain, whether from a single injury or from repetitive stress and postural patterns, you know that sometimes, everything makes your neck hurt. Maybe you've heard yoga teachers give you the cue to "relax" or "soften" your neck in a posture, and you think "if I could relax my neck on command, I'd do it." From my own experience as a practitioner and a teacher, I find that when it comes to neck pain, sometimes there's a little more going on. Here are a few things to consider.
When it comes to exercise, forget loyalty.
Practicing yoga is wonderful. But being exclusive to one form of movement to stay healthy is like taking a multivitamin and refusing to eat food and hoping that it will be enough.
Even though we are creatures of habit, novelty is so important to the health of our tissues. Quick science lesson: no cell is ever more than two cells away from a blood vessel. This is so that cells have a constant nutrient and waste management supply through the vascular system. The nutrients and wastes are moved between cell walls in the extra-cellular fluid. So what does this have to do with moving in unusual ways? If you only ever move your body tissues in the same manner, certain areas will have a build up of old chemical waste and a lack of nutrient delivery to cells. By squeezing the tissues of our body, we are constantly assisting the diffusion of materials (both nutrients and waste exchange) through our body.
Here is another thought: our bodies are a bit like plasticine. We have the potential to be really malleable, provided our tissues are warmed up first so that they become more fluid. This is a state known as thixotropy and it can be useful to imagine that our body is becoming more liquid as we move it around.
When we don't move it around, the opposite is true, we become more solid and more gluey. We develop what anatomist Gil Hedley calls "fuzz" [warning! real body parts - graphic!] Check this out and then meet me after.
So what does all of this mean for the dedicated yogi? We need to get creative. What else can we do to find novel ways of moving around when a sun salutation becomes second nature? The first step is to pay attention to what you are working when you are practicing. For example, my quads are the boss. When it comes to locomotion and power, my rectus femoris is basically Beyonce. It leads the charge and carries the whole movement. So even when I could be recruiting power from my hamstrings and my glutes, I don't need to because my quads already got the job done. One thing that I have found helpful in finding balance in the front and back of my body is cycling. The pumping action feels so good on my knees, and i can set it up so that I utilize and strengthen my hamstrings, making more space for me to get into backbends because now my quads aren't so tight. I have also recently taken up aqua cycle and I am looking forward to reaping the benefits of cycling with more resistance.
To find novelty to foster change you have to know where your habits are. This is way harder than it sounds, and it may require patience and the help of some good friends and skilled teachers to help. If we already knew where our blindspots were, they wouldn't be blindspots! The practice of coming to know oneself happens slowly and has so many layers. And how many of us feel like we don't even identify all that much with our physical selves? Have you ever caught yourself claiming that your body just isn't doing what you want it to? Who is the "you" in that sentence?! It can be really rewarding to just spend time getting familiar with the sensations that you experience on a regular basis.
Practically speaking though, there are lots of ways that you can boost your physical yoga practice by trying something new. Martial arts are a wonderful complement to yoga. They use the breath to harness internal energy and direct it with focus and concentration. Plus your centre of gravity will be challenged in ways that will definitely help your balancing poses. Walking, especially on different terrain is a great way to strengthen the connection between moving your deep stabilizers and your diaphragm in a way that frees up more motion. Did you know that your walking muscles and your breathing muscles are all one piece? And that those muscles not only maintain your posture as a successful biped, but they also are the driving force behind any inversion or arm balance?
As you saw with the unique mannerisms of Gil Hedley, another trick is just never stop moving. Fidgeting helps you maintain a level of pliability in your body. If you are in one position for too long, even a yoga position, you can become stuck and solidify. So now that you are done reading this blog post, get up and move that fuzz around!
At a time of year when many of the people around you may be making new year's resolutions, it can be a really important part of a yoga practice to check in with your expectations of yourself. What do you expect of yourself this year, and how can you find a balance between challenging yourself, and setting compassionate, flexible expectations for yourself? In a yoga practice, we talk a lot about releasing our expectations; this idea is at the core of having a beginner's mind. But what does it mean to actually "release your expectations"? Aren't expectations (whether they're expectations we place on ourselves, or ones that others place upon us) necessary in order for us to accomplish what we want and to fulfill our responsibilities to the people we love?
The thing is, I think that for a lot of us, our expectations of ourselves aren't really our own. More often, they're descended from expectations others have had of us in past relationships (whether that's relationships with friends, family members, co-workers, or partners). I think this unconscious adoption of others' expectations is especially applicable if, like me, you identify as a people pleaser. The expectations we place on ourselves can be a direct line to the core beliefs we have about ourselves. Upon reflection, I was able to realize that my desire to make everyone happy in every situation (at the expense of my own happiness and peace of mind) was directly linked to my beliefs about my own worth as a human being. So often, when you discover a pattern in your expectations of yourself, you can trace that back to a more basic, engrained belief you might operate according to, in a reactive way.
"If I disappoint someone, they won't love me anymore or something bad will happen)."
"My worth comes from my ability to make everyone like me."
"I am not inherently worthy of love, and thus must make up for it by making sure everyone is happy."
"Everyone else's happiness depends on me."
"Other people's happiness matters more than my own."
For me, being a people pleaser and holding myself to a perfectionistic standard ("I can't be anything less than perfect at all times or everyone will hate me") is a really hard habit to break because it's more than just a set of behaviours--it becomes a way of seeing the world.
In her book Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss writes about the importance of giving attention to the feelings that fuel our decisions. Are you making decisions from a place of love, she asks, or a place of fear? I truly believe that the tendency to be a people pleaser and to hold yourself to a standard of perfection comes from fear--fear that we will face conflict with people we care about, fear that we'll be rejected, fear that we won't be loved anymore. A practice I've been undertaking over the last year, when I catch myself in a people pleasing loop, is to start by asking myself "What am I afraid is going to happen if I say no to this person?" One of the odd things about fear, which may sound counterintuitive, is that the more specific you require your fear to be, the more shape and definition you give it by really looking at what you're afraid of...the less scary it becomes. The scariest horror movies are the ones where they don't show the monster up close; your imagination creates something way scarier than what they could actually show. The more vague and undefined our fears are, the less power they have over us.
Starting with fear cuts right to the heart of the matter. What are you afraid of? Start there.