Friendship

Have you ever thought about how much the people in your life leave lasting effects on you?

So many people come into our lives; some stay for a short time, and some stay for a long time. In this season, I’m reflecting on the important ones to me, who have, or will leave my life, who I know I may never see again (but hope that I will!)

It’s surreal to me to think about the process of how we meet someone.

Just the day before, we had no idea who they were. We didn’t know their name, or what they looked like, or anything about them. Then we were put in the same place, at the same time as them.

One day, our paths aligned, and we formed a relationship; with some, we formed an immediate friendship.

Then, what feels like all of a sudden, it’s time for us, or them, to move on. As quickly as they entered our lives, they’ve left.

But we’re not the same as we were before we met them, because they’ve influenced us in one way or another. Through shared experiences and conversations, laughter or frustrations, sharing old stories and making new ones, they’ve impacted us.

Some people that enter our lives, we’ll remember for a while, but then probably forget after enough time has passed. There are those that we’ll remember for longer, or that we might see a picture of years down the road and it will spark the memories.

Then, there are those that we know we will never forget. For one reason or another, they’ve had a significant impact on us, or helped us learn something about ourselves, or life, or shared genuine conversation or experiences with us. Those are the ones that remain friends, even if we never see them again in this life. I believe that the more people we meet, the more enriched our lives become; more stories are shared, more memories are made.

Everyone moves on though, eventually. Some move on more quickly than others, but eventually, lots of people will leave our lives.

I naively assumed that since we were coming to New Zealand, we would be the ones to leave. I was prepared to say goodbyes to everyone in Canada; I wasn’t prepared to say goodbyes to people here, and they are tough! I’m grateful though, that these goodbyes are tough, because that’s what I prayed for long before we ever came here; I wanted friendships that were good enough to make me cry when it came time to move on. To me, those are the ones that are real blessings in life.

Relationships and change are both part of life. The more we age, the more our friendships shift, especially in a situation like this. There are always going to be seasons of relationships. They’ll come and go. Some will stick for a lifetime, yes, but many are only meant for a season, and that’s okay. It’s sad to think about the ones I may not see again, but I’m so grateful for the time I got to have with those people.

No matter who comes and goes in our lives, if we’re open to new relationships and friendships, we’ll find them. Special people will bring us so much joy, and leave their fingerprints on our lives in one way or another, and hopefully, we’ll do the same for them.

*inspired by Amy… written with her and many others from years past in mind. ❤️

Learning to Accept Generosity

Moving to New Zealand has brought with it a whole set of life changes, and one of them that’s come to mind repeatedly lately is how often we’ve had to rely on other people’s help since we got here.

Back in Canada, when we had careers that paid us larger salaries, and we had our house, vehicles, and all of our stuff, we didn’t really have to rely on other people very much. We had everything we needed and so much more. If we felt we needed something we didn’t have, we would just go buy it. Greg and I enjoyed having people over to our house and sharing our food and wine with them. We were quite willing to lend our stuff to others, whether it was small things like clothes, shoes, hunting/fishing/camping gear, or bigger things like a vehicle or our camper. We had no problem giving things to people if we no longer needed them.

I also struggled with borrowing from most people, or accepting things from others. I always felt like I owed them. I didn’t mind borrowing things from family, as I felt that was slightly different somehow, but even then, I would prefer to buy my own things rather than use someone else’s, even if they offered.

I’m not sure why I struggled to accept someone’s help, other than potentially having some bad experiences with a few specific people. I can recall a couple of times in the past where someone has helped us with something, and then lorded it over us for some length of time, or used it as a bargaining chip to try and get as much out of us as they could for as long as possible. It’s a shame that a few people like that can make me think that others might be planning in their heads to do those same things when they help me. I have some difficulty accepting kindness, because I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I wonder if some people will come to us and say, “remember when you first got here and we did this for you? Well now you owe us.”

The interesting thing about this assumption or fear I have put on others, is that I would never do that to someone else. I lent a colleague $10 a while back, and completely forgot about it. She paid me back a couple weeks later and I hadn’t even remembered I gave her money. I don’t mind sharing what I have, so why does it even cross my mind that everyone else might be secretly holding what they’ve shared with me over my head?

I think I’ve tried to live my life up until now being on the positive side of owing friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, our families have definitely been generous and helpful to us in many ways over the years, and could choose to lord some things over our heads if they wanted to, but I try to be as self sufficient as I can, and as generous as I can towards them, and leave asking for help as a last resort.

If someone paid for my Starbucks in Canada, I wanted to make sure I’d get them one next time, or the next two times; I couldn’t just accept the coffee without feeling like I needed to try and repay them with something of equal or higher value. I’ve even allowed my own guilt to motivate me into doing things for others that they probably didn’t expect of me, because I have such a good memory, and I remembered when they helped me last. I placed that burden of “owing them” on myself, even when others hadn’t. I still expect more from myself than I expect from others.

When we arrived in New Zealand, we had no physical stuff but the 3 suitcases we brought between us.

We had to accept so much help… I really mean, so much help. We were forced into learning to accept generosity.

Even once we got our jobs, we quickly realized that our lifestyle here was going to have to be very different than it was in Canada. Not only are things more expensive here, but we’ve taken a huge pay cut. We can’t afford to go buy most of the things we want. We can’t even afford to buy things that we used to think we needed. Our definition of what we “need” has really changed as well. We’ve realized that a lot of the things we used to think we need, are really just wants, and we can get by just fine without them.

For example, we have 3 bowls. (4 now, because I took one from work that had been sitting on the table for months unclaimed. It doesn’t match, but it holds food.) We don’t have many utensils! I do dishes at least once every day so we have enough. When we had our biggest party yet, we used every single utensil we had (forks, spoons, serving spoons, tea spoons) to serve dessert to people, and Greg and I ended up using whatever we could find in the drawer to eat ours. But we all ate dessert and I don’t think my friends minded (if they did, they were super polite about having to either eat their cake with a serving spoon or one the size of their pinky finger).

We used a broken clock for 2 months, until we finally decided we could break the bank and buy a new one. The old one ran slow, so every night it would be behind by 20 minutes. I would make sure to reset it 20 minutes ahead of time each day so that we were never running late.

Greg was shopping for groceries one week and I had told him how much money was in our bank account. He got to the till and put all the stuff we really needed at the front, and the stuff we wanted at the back, and when the total reached what we had in the bank, he said to the teller that he had to leave the rest. We’ve never had to do that before. He described it as a humbling experience.

I just wanted some lotion SO bad, and all of the decent smelling and somewhat quality lotions (ie. not Vaseline Intensive Care) retail for roughly $40 or more for a small container! I looked and looked, and eventually came to the realization that I can’t afford nice lotion here. I just can’t justify that price right now. It’s a small thing, but it was the final straw that broke the camel’s back for me in realizing that I have to significantly change my lifestyle in a lot of ways.

(On a side note, we do realize that these are the small sacrifices we are making to gain bigger, more important things, like being fulfilled in working in the wine industry, living in a warm place by the ocean, and living out our dreams, and we wouldn’t trade them!)

The examples above are things we just wouldn’t have chosen to deal with in Canada, or been willing to tolerate before, but we’ve been re-learning the value of a dollar. (And that’s a New Zealand dollar too, not a Canadian one!) I’ve started thinking about how long it takes me to earn something when deciding if it’s really worth buying.

This drastic change in our financial situation has forced us into accepting the generosity of others, and wow, are the people in our life ever generous.

Within a week of getting here, when my first car broke down (twice) we had new friends lend us their car. Their car. They biked to work for the days we had it. That was not easy for me to accept, and we actually had spent more money on a rental car the first time mine broke down, and our friends were upset I was being so stubborn as to not use theirs. So we conceded the second time my car broke, and borrowed their car. I was so grateful, but felt so guilty at the same time for my needing help to inconvenience them.

We’ve had several people lend us camping gear, hiking gear, biking gear, etc. on more than one occasion.

Greg’s bike and fishing rod are both on indefinite loan from friends.

Colleagues bring us vegetables or herbs from their gardens.

People have invited us into their homes for beautiful meals, or wine and charcuterie, many, many times, and invited us to spend holidays with their families.

They’ve welcomed us into their circles of friendship, and been so kind.

Friends invited us to their lake house for a weekend, or others have offered to put us up when we’re travelling through their areas, and they feed us and offer us clean, beautiful places to sleep.

Our family recently sent us a care package, full of things we want and need. They cared to ask us what we’ve been missing, and spent their money to bless us with things we would have normally bought in Canada without thinking twice about. Now, we appreciate them beyond measure. I’m sure it cost dearly to ship that over from Canada, too.

And, a colleague who heard me saying how badly I wanted some nice lotion, brought me one of hers, hardly used, and just gave it to me. Vanilla Chai. It’s fricken amazing. I’ve never appreciated lotion more in my entire life than when I put that stuff on.

We’ve experienced so much generosity from so many people, that it’s gotten to the point where I know I can never pay them back.

That’s a hard spot for me to be in, because I’m not used to it! I’m not used to needing other people this much. I’m not used to having to ask to borrow things. I’m not used to accepting a free gift from someone, just because she knew I wanted it. I’m being stretched out of my comfort zone which, although uncomfortable, I know is so good for me! It’s been really humbling, yet really difficult. It’s been really touching, and it’s made me feel so loved.

The generosity we’ve received makes me want to be even more generous to others.

I still struggle to accept things from certain people. Maybe my pride has something to do with it, such that I don’t like feeling like I can’t provide for myself. Maybe I will always struggle with accepting generosity or help, or maybe it will get easier. Maybe I’ll be in a position one day where I can take care of someone else as much as we’re being taken care of here. Maybe some of these people will lord it over us one day, or ask for something in return. Or maybe, they’re all just kind souls, who know what it’s like to need help, and want to use their positions to bless others, with nothing expected in return.

Hopefully we will continue learning to accept generosity day by day. We will definitely continue to choose to pay it forward whenever we have the means or opportunity. One thing I’m absolutely certain of, is that if everyone in the world was as kind as the friends we’ve been blessed to make here, this world would be a much better place.

In Times of Waiting

The more people I speak to these days, the more I realize that many of my friends, in Canada, and in New Zealand, are in the process of waiting. Whether they’re waiting for a spouse, children, a job, direction, healing, wisdom, friends, or something else, people are waiting, and it’s wearing them down. I get it! Wow, do I ever understand that feeling.

Seeing as how it’s advent, a season of waiting for Jesus to be born, it felt fitting to post this now.

Below, in Italics, is a post I wrote in the middle of September, when I woke up in the middle of the night. At the time, I was so frustrated that things didn’t seem to be working out towards our move. It seems crazy to think that I only wrote this just over 3 months ago, and that’s the position we were in at that time. We were just on the edge of God answering our prayers, but didn’t know it yet. Here it is:

Doubt; The Struggle is Real

It’s 4:16 am on September 12, as I write this. We already thought we’d be moved away by now. I’m laying in bed thinking about our life and our future and right now, doubt is winning over faith. It’s a daily struggle, because our house has been up for rent for almost four months now, and we’re still in it. We wanted to live in the camper this summer and summer is over. We don’t have plane tickets, or visa applications underway. We can’t even answer people’s questions about what we’re doing yet and we sound like idiots every time we’re asked.

I was just at worship practice last night helping play piano so the new singers, who took our spots on the team we’ve been singing with for over 10 years, could practice the songs for the first Sunday that it becomes their team. It brought up a lot of feelings in me, like sadness, grief, maybe even some ugly ones like jealously, and certainly questions for God.

The kids and teachers all went back to school last week, and I didn’t. God allowed me to be laid off in the spring, and I was so happy at the time, because I was convinced we were supposed to move this fall. Faith was winning at that time, but it’s not in this moment anymore, as I watch everyone else, all my colleagues and teacher friends, plan bulletin boards and lesson plans, set up classrooms, and as I hear them share about their students. I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out.

We still have that damn Beamer too. Yeah, I’m mad about it. It’s so fun to drive, but what would be more fun is selling it for a half decent price and being able to pay off the remainder of our debt. I did the right thing; when we considered trading the truck for it in the spring, I went with my husband’s gut instead of my own, and I was proud of that. He believed that it would sell quicker and for more than the truck would. We prayed that we wouldn’t make the wrong decision. Honestly though, I’ve questioned that decision since the day it was made. I feel guilty for doubting God, and Greg, but I don’t talk about that, or let myself dwell on it. What good would that do? We can’t go back in time and see what would have happened if we’d stuck with the truck.

We’ve given things up. And the holes of those things are starting to feel big and noticeable in my life. And I feel like we haven’t gotten a return on what we’ve given up yet. If we weren’t supposed to go, then why did God let us get rid of the truck for this car we don’t need and can’t sell? And why did He allow my job at a great school to come to an end? And why did He let us remove ourselves from a ministry that we’ve been part of for so long, that we’re good at?

In the spring, at school staff devotions one morning, we discussed faith. A colleague shared how having faith is kind of like a bicycle. There are two wheels: faith and doubt. She said to imagine a balance of both wheels always turning on our bicycle of life, because faith can’t actually exist without doubt. If there were nothing to doubt in this life, we essentially wouldn’t need faith. Our doubts drive our need to dig down and find our faith.

This principle has stuck with me all summer, as I’ve been riding the faith/doubt bicycle for months now. The whole time we were planning this move, I had so much faith. I didn’t doubt. I know that sounds crazy, but it was easy to know that we were supposed to move for years. God made it so clear, so often, over and over and over. A calendar that turned up out of the blue with Italy on it (cause we thought that was the plan), or a road sign, or something someone would say to us without knowing, all pointed us in the right direction. When we wanted to live in the camper last year as a test run, He brought us amazing renters within three weeks of us posting the house, regardless of the saturated rental market and our short term of availability. Even though the world seemed to be against us, and our family members were angry, and our friends told us horror story after horror story of renters destroying homes, I lost not one wink of sleep over the house, because I knew we were in God’s will. I knew it to my core, and I knew He was preparing us for this move. To live in a small space. To live without things. To be flexible. To trust Him.

He has proven Himself in the past, so why do I continue to doubt Him now? I don’t know. The struggle is real! The doubt wheel is definitely leading my bike at some point in each day during this season, sometimes each hour, and I have to fight and dig deep to turn it around.

I read a devotional last week about wine that was so beautiful it made me cry. I felt like it was just for me, seeing as it was wine, and God knows that topic gets my attention! The premise of it was that in seasons of waiting and not knowing, God is pressing us, like grapes need to be pressed and crushed in order to make wine. Then they sit and they mature and it’s a process that has to happen in order for the wine to be any good, to be ready. God also has to do this with us sometimes. We have to be crushed a bit, or a lot, and we have to wait for the time to pass until we are mature and ready for what’s about to come. And one day, it will come.

Maybe it’s not what we think it is. Maybe God’s leading us through all of this for some other purpose than to move. That’s hard, because that’s been our dream for so long now. Another devotional I read said that we have to live in a tension between knowing that God may not allow our dreams to happen, but trusting that He put them in our hearts. We have to hold our dreams with loose hands and trust that God is faithful to do what is ultimately the best for us. I’ve had dreams in my past that if He’d given me, I’d have never left Saskatoon; now I’m thankful He didn’t give me those things because I have this new dream of moving! So why do I let doubt win in convincing me that this time is any different? Why do I even question that God has my best interests at heart this time? He can see the whole picture of my life and I can’t. The struggle is real!

During this wine pressing season, this season of waiting and fighting to keep the faith wheel leading my faith/doubt bicycle, I heard a sermon by Andy Stanley, called “In the Meantime.” He spoke of how some of the greatest things we do and the most influential times we can have, are in the meantime. When we’re stuck. When we’re waiting. When we’re doubting and struggling and searching and digging. Paul wrote some of the books of the Bible while he was in prison, waiting in the meantime. That inspired me to at least start writing during this time. I’ve been writing a lot and I started my blog up seriously, but I haven’t written about this. It’s too real, I’m too vulnerable, and I don’t know how any of it is going to turn out in the end. I’m no Paul, and this article is certainly nothing close to the Bible, but I have to write. Maybe one day, something good can come of this meantime I’m in. The struggle is so real.

So there you have it; that was raw and real, in the middle of the night, genuine Chelsea struggle. If you’ve read my other posts on our life in New Zealand, you’ll know we moved here and how it’s turned out so far. Amazing, isn’t it?

I’ve learned through my waiting, that there will always be something we’re waiting for. Waiting can be positive, in that it makes us appreciate what we’re waiting for so much more when we finally receive it. It can lead to anticipation and excitement; however, it can also lead to uncertainty and doubt. Without waiting though, we’d have everything we want right now, and wouldn’t be stretched to grow into better, stronger people of faith. Without waiting, we wouldn’t need trust.

There are still things I’m waiting for. The Beamer still hasn’t sold, and we still have money tied up in that. We have no idea how long we’ll be in New Zealand, or where we’re supposed to go in life from here. We’ll be waiting daily for something for the rest of our lives here on earth. Sometimes it’s hard, and it’s going to be hard again in the future; of that I’m sure. I’ll need to re-read this post, and pray for reminders of what God can do; because He will do it, at the right time… after we’ve practiced waiting. I pray that you, reader, find strength and hope while you wait, and that the wait leads to greatness in your life.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Four

After four weeks of Yoga, I agree that there is a physical, mental, and spiritual component to the practice.  In my first Yoga blog, I focused a lot on the physical, and somewhat on the mental; I’ve concluded that Yoga has great physical benefits for me, and some mental benefits.  As I have continued practicing Yoga, writing about it and participating in discussions that have come from my blog posts, I can’t deny that the spiritual aspect of Yoga is a large part of it, or at least, its roots.  The spiritual aspect is largely what I’ll be addressing in this final post.  I was able to get some spiritual benefits from my practice; however, I don’t believe the spiritual benefits were something that I could only get in Yoga.  I believe they resulted from personal intentions of what I chose to focus on for a dedicated amount of time in a quiet space, something I could do (and have done) in other environments as well.

“Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism…True Yoga neither competes with nor precludes any other religion.  You may use your Yoga – your disciplined practices of sacred union – to get closer to Krishna, Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, or Yahweh…The Yogic path is about disentangling the built-in glitches of the human condition, which I’m going to over-simply define here as the heartbreaking inability to sustain contentment” (Gilbert, Elizabeth – Eat Pray Love – p.122).

You may not believe the Bible, but I do, and there are some verses that I love in there that support contentment and discipline. Here’s one:

Romans 12:2a “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Some might use this verse to suggest a Christian shouldn’t go to Yoga.  I’m proposing the opposite; if Yoga helps someone break away from discontentedness and other “built-in glitches of the human condition” because we are so distracted with our lives, then it could be helping us focus on things that actually matter, and it could be used to renew our minds.

I completed my final week in my Yoga experiment with another evening class of Hot Yoga, with my husband in attendance, and a fourth new teacher.  Guess what?  She was different than all the others.  She had her own style, and there were things I liked about her style (lots of movement through a variety of poses, gentle instruction), and things I didn’t (lack of specific tips on postures, and I don’t think Yoga is the place for repeated silly jokes).  I was pretty comfortable during this class, and finally felt that I knew what lots of the poses were, and how to get my body into them.  I had learned my range for several stretches, and knew when I needed a block for assistance.  I noticed I was way better at paying attention to my breath, and actually taking deep belly breaths without having to consciously remind myself as often.  I was prepared with a verse mantra again, and was able to relax my mind and body, and focus on it with intention during the last 10 minutes of the class.

Whether or not you believe in the Bible, you may believe that Jesus existed; regardless of who you think Jesus is or was, historically, he was a rule-breaker for the sake of loving people.  He spent time with everyone that religion said he shouldn’t, did things that religion told him were wrong, and didn’t care what the religious leaders thought of him.  He was representing the Father – love.  I’m not saying that this means everything is okay all of the time.  The point I’m trying to make is that just because there’s a religious rule saying something is evil, doesn’t necessarily mean it is.

I’m not Catholic, but my aunt is, and after reading my previous posts, she dropped off some information for me titled, “A Catholic Perspective on Yoga,” by Terry Donahue (2011).  Although I’m not Catholic, I enjoyed the article, and picked up on some key points Donahue makes.

“The problem with Yoga, and what must be rejected by a Catholic, are the spiritual beliefs… of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism that are incompatible with the Catholic faith…Practicing Yoga in order to reach self-fulfillment or spiritual enlightenment is to be rejected since it is contrary to the Catholic teaching that such fulfillment and enlightenment are found in Jesus Christ.”  He also explains that Catholics should not mistake all feelings of physical relaxation as mystical experiences, but that relaxation techniques can be appropriate in order to be at peace, less distracted, and able to communicate with God.  “Furthermore, there is nothing intrinsically evil about any particular body pose or stretch used for the purposes of flexibility, exercise, or physical therapy.”  He finishes the article with the stance that “Catholics should not participate in the spiritual practices of Yoga,” but that Catholics “could learn Yoga poses and stretches from a teacher who does not teach or promote Yoga’s erroneous spiritual and philosophical beliefs.”  For him, it’s the teachers that matter, and what they’re promoting spiritually, not the physical and mental practices of Yoga itself.

I believe in God, the Father, and I believe He created the world, and everything in it; yes, I’m saying that I believe God created meditation, stretching, focus, and many other parts of Yoga. (I wonder what backlash will come of that statement?)

People may have given it a name, but God gave us the ability to sit in stillness, focus our minds, calm ourselves through deep breathing, relax through stretching our muscles, and to set disciplines of gratitude.  I also believe He can meet us in the quiet darkness of a Yoga room, just as much as He can meet us in a church, or in nature, or…anywhere?  As my Yoga experiment culminates after four short weeks, I feel confident that the practice of Yoga can be used, like most practices and habits in this world, for good or evil, depending on the intentions and goals of the teacher and participant.   

My position on this is humble, and stands to be corrected if further information presents itself on this topic.  Right now, this is my opinion on Yoga, but I’m open to learning something new, and I don’t like to be closed minded or set in my ways.  I realize that I possess an extremely limited knowledge of Yoga, and that I’m addressing a controversial school of thought within my circle of church-goers, and to be completely honest, even within my own family.

I’m not trying to persuade you into doing anything that makes you uncomfortable; I believe that each person needs to follow his or her own conscience.  I’m presenting what I’ve learned, and what my mind has been opened to during my short experiment, and I’m fighting for more love, and less judgment, in Christian circles on whatever religious rules each person decides are the “right ones” to follow. Just because Yoga/alcohol/(insert taboo Christian topic here) makes one person spiritually uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it should be a write-off for everyone.

I’m also presenting this opinion with my own religious affiliation, and I respect that it may not be yours; however, I’ve learned that unity of people, despite their backgrounds and beliefs, is one of the great things about Yoga. There is so much hate, judgement and division in this world, and I know a lot of people that don’t feel unity in churches.  You and I could be side by side in the same Yoga class, and we could each experience our own physical, mental and spiritual benefits.  You could set your own intentions, and I could set mine, yet we could be unified with each other for 75 minutes, present in the moment we’re experiencing together, regardless of what individual unions that moment held for each of us.  It’s one more way to be a part of a community.

Will I attend Yoga every week now?  No, I probably won’t.  Has my perspective on it changed?  I’d say so.  I believe I’ve found one more tool that I can use in my life for various benefits.  I will go back, when I need a bit of help relaxing, stretching or focusing on a particular something.  I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve learned there’s even more that I still have to learn – and that’s a great thing.

Namaste.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Three

For my third Yoga class of this experiment, I decided to change a few things.  I tried an evening class, it was Hot Yoga, and my husband came with me.  I also came across some Yoga history in a novel that inspired me to look at it differently, as you’ll read below.

Again, it was a new instructor, but I know this instructor from staff parties, as I instruct my own classes at the same gym.  It added a certain comfort level being under the instruction of someone I already knew.  She was early and prepared, she started the class off with moments of readiness and preparation, and focused our minds on loving ourselves and others.  She reminded us to be grateful for our bodies, our hearts, and life itself.  She was detailed in her instructions, and gracious in the areas we needed growth.  Her class was also the most physically challenging one I’ve attended this month, with many strength and balance poses that the other two didn’t include; fine this time, but I wouldn’t always want that.

I’m learning that it’s important to find out what I want from a Yoga class, and then choose a time of day, level and instructor that delivers what it is that I need in that season.  There’s a time for everything.

Coming into an evening class felt okay for me, because I’m not a morning person.  I was more alert and had spent more time preparing for my experience.  I had picked a Bible verse I’d come across recently that applies well to my current life space, and I was ready to use it as a mantra.  I was also using this class to help wind down at the end of a day, rather than rolling out of bed into it, another plus for this time.

It was over 30 degrees Celsius in my city at the time, and we don’t have air conditioning in our house.  I had concerns about how Hot Yoga would affect my already over-heated body, so I consumed extra water before going (something I wouldn’t have done well before a morning class). As it turns out, when you walk from 30 degrees into 34 degrees, it doesn’t really feel that different; however, I noticed immediately how much further I was able to stretch into my downward dogs and forward folds, simply from the added heat in the room. I was actually cold when I left the room, which was just what I needed to feel!

Having my husband there was great.  He attends my fitness classes often, lifts with me, or we run together.  I’m comfortable exercising with him in many capacities, so I was aware of him, but he didn’t distract from my focus.  He’s a bit more experienced with Yoga than I am, so I looked forward to discussing the class afterwards with him.  His main observation was that he appreciates the time to slow down and actually focus on breathing.  The average person breathes in and out more than 20,000 times per day, and breathing is an essential life function, but we don’t stop and think about it unless we make the effort to focus on our own bodies and be grateful for a few moments.

I recently read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, because in the first third of the book, she relays her experiences of life in Italy, a place I hope to move to.  The next two thirds of the book cover her experiences in India and Bali, and I wasn’t planning to read them, but I noticed that the introduction to the India section was about meditation and Yoga, and seeing as how I was right in the middle of my summer Yoga experiment, it captured my attention.  Here’s what jumped off the pages at me.

“Why do we practice Yoga?… Is it so we can become a little bendier than our neighbors?  Or is there perhaps some higher purpose?  Yoga, in Sanskrit, can be translated as ‘union.’ It originally comes from the root word yuj, which means ‘to yoke,’ to attach yourself to a task at hand with ox-like discipline.  And the task at hand in Yoga is to find union between mind and body, between the individual and her God, between our thoughts and the source of our thoughts, between teacher and student, and even between ourselves and our sometimes hard-to-bend neighbours… The ancients developed these physical stretches not for personal fitness, but to loosen up their muscles and minds in order to prepare them for meditation” (p.121).

I love that “Yoga” essentially means “union.”  Sure, it can be a simple physical exercise, surface level stretching, if that’s what you are comfortable with.  But, it can be an opportunity to experience union with other people, or with soul, spirit and body, or with my God, if I set that intention, and I love that.  In the business of this life, this North American culture, and this crazy mind of mine that insists on fighting rest at any cost… it’s a gift.

1 Corinthians 1:10 “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

I also love that it encourages one “to yoke” to something, and attach to it with ox-like discipline.

Matthew 11:28 “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’”

Sometimes, I feel weary, like I am carrying a heavy burden, and I want rest for my soul from a humble, gentle God.  There are many ways I can seek His rest, and I would argue that Yoga can be one of them, if I’m setting that intention – to take His humble, gentle yoke upon me and let myself be taught.

“Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicated effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over the past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise” (Gilbert, p.122).

Phillipians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” 

Exactly.

Needless to say, after reading all of this, I entered my third Yoga class with a fresh perspective.

“Take my yoke upon you…you will find rest for your souls.”

Does Yoga have to be spiritual?  No.  It can be purely fitness related.  You can walk into that room and let your mind wander through all your to-do lists, and everything you’re worried about, and you can watch the clock and just stretch.  If that’s what you need, then do that.  If you’re not into the Bible like me, you can choose a different focus, any mantra you like, and make it a positive or relaxing experience, where you practice gratitude, or learn to focus your mind a little more.  Or you can use it to connect with yourself, a friend, or God.  I have done all three now.

Yoga keeps surprising me. There is one week left in my summer Yoga experiment, and I’m curious to see what it will bring.

Namaste.

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week Two

Two out of four; I’m half way to the completion of my summer yoga experiment. I’m embarking on this journey with an open mind, to discover how weekly yoga may impact my mental, physical and spiritual health.

Following Last Week’s Practice

I noticed a bit of stiffness in my neck throughout the same day, but none following that.  I also felt less back pain and joint stiffness at the end of the week.  Last week was what we call “Launch Week” at my gym, when brand new choreography is released in a branch of fitness classes we offer.  I am a fitness instructor, and on Launch Week, I typically teach upwards of twice as many classes as my usual amount, which leaves me very sore by the end of the week.  I can’t say I wasn’t stiff at all, but I can say that I noticed a marked improvement in how I felt, just by slotting that one Yoga class into the middle of the week.  I should not be surprised; I’ve been well educated on the benefits of proper stretching!

This Week’s Practice

If you recall, there were a few things I wasn’t fond of in the class I attended last week, namely the late instructor, and the overly full room of loud, bad-breathed breathers.  I purposefully chose a different class this week, so that I could experience another teacher’s practice, and a fresh environment.  I’m pleased to report that the teacher was early, stayed late to chat with me, and there were no loud, bad-breathed breathers.  The only breathing I heard today was when the instructor asked us all to exhale forcefully, and we did it as a group, which had a nice sense of comradery to it.

I came into the class slightly more comfortably after having just done Yoga last week.  I began my morning in a similar fashion, getting up early and heading to the gym with ample time to warm up and get acquainted with the room.  I also don’t have my own yoga mat (yet?), and there are only a couple of spares, so I wanted to make sure I got there early to get one.

I was tired today.  I had lots of sun this weekend, and a restless sleep last night.  I seriously considered turning the alarm off and just rolling back over, but then I remembered I made a commitment to myself, and the blogging community, to do four classes this summer, and I needed to get my lazy butt out of bed.

My experience today was entirely different than last week.  I’m discovering that this is something that intrigues me about Yoga.  I never know what to expect; no class is ever exactly the same.  There are so many poses a teacher can choose from, based on the experience level of the participants, requests, or simply what he or she is feeling inspired to practice that day.  In some classes, like the ones I teach, predictability and patterns are keys to success and the development of better cardio-vascular fitness, strength and stamina.  In Yoga, predictability doesn’t seem to matter as much. There’s lots of time to sink into each pose, adjust, and re-adjust.  I can see how familiarity with the poses would add value, but Yoga truly is a practice, and there’s always room to keep practicing and growing in the many facets of what it offers.

Some of the poses were familiar today, but some were new, and the order surprised me.  Not knowing what was coming forced me to be mentally engaged in the class, and to pay attention.  In Yoga, I have to listen and heed the instructions; I must be aware of what I’m experiencing in my body.

The Instructor Matters

I specifically appreciated three things about the way the instructor taught this morning (on top of her timely arrival and personable manner).

First, she made an effort to remind us to be aware of our mental state.  She started the class with a relaxation time, in which she brought our attention to all parts of our bodies and our breath; she challenged us to let go of worrisome thoughts or our to-do lists of the day, and be present in the class.  I needed this.  Throughout, she reminded us to focus in on our breathing.  At the end, she encouraged us to be grateful for something, and to set a goal for our state of mind for the rest of the day, whatever we each wanted it to be.  She wasn’t specifically spiritual, but I was able to make it spiritual for me, in the way I wanted to.

Second, she gave detailed instructions, in a calm voice.  She explained all poses with care, and reminded us to tighten up tiny details in our postures that would have altered their effectiveness if we’d forgotten them.  She taught us how to breathe deeply, to the top of our lungs, into our belly breath, and within our body’s natural rhythm; she cued which types of breathing to do in each pose.

Third, she came to me when she noticed I was struggling, and whispered the question, “Would you mind if I offered you some assistance?”  I gladly accepted, and she helped re-align my legs and hips into the proper placement, which in turn enabled me get the most out of that stretch.  I clearly needed this too, and she acted on it.

I felt more satisfied after this class than last week’s.  That could be partially caused by simple familiarity, but I imagine it mainly had to do with the room being less full, and the instructor’s style.  I will certainly try to make it to one of her classes again.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts last week on how Yoga has impacted you.  Any tips on choosing a Yoga mat?

Namaste!

Summer Yoga Experiment – Week One

The discipline of Yoga, an ancient spiritual, mental and physical practice, was a taboo topic in my church upbringing.

I feel I have to be very careful in verbalizing my stance on Yoga.  I’m part of a circle of people who are extremely divided on the subject.  I’m not promoting Yoga for everyone, nor am I judging it all as evil.  I’m simply embarking on an experiment to see if it can help me as much as it has helped others I know.

I made a goal to attend Yoga four times this summer.  To dedicated Yogi’s out there, I bet that seems like a small number.  To me, it seems like a huge, but manageable goal.  As a fitness instructor, who does weight training, I have muscles that are often tight and sore.  I’m at the gym regularly, and I seldom feel like making time for extra stretching or Yoga.  My flexibility is not increasing, and my recovery time is becoming longer, hence the Yoga experiment.  I was in a car accident in the fall, and got whiplash that persisted for months, despite the more than weekly massages and physio.  Many claim that Yoga has helped them manage pain, and heal from various injuries.  I am also in a season of big life change, and could use some focused relaxation time to de-stress.

In the church, Yoga has been seen as anti-Christian, too new-age, or even demonic.  A simple Google search on “yoga and the church” brings up titles such as “Church Bans Yoga because it is Non-Christian,” or “Should Church Buildings be used for Yoga Classes?”

Here’s what WebMD says about the fitness benefits of Yoga:

“Workout fads come and go, but virtually no other exercise program is as enduring as yoga. It’s been around for more than 5,000 years. Yoga does more than burn calories and tone muscles. It’s a total mind-body workout that combines strengthening and stretching poses with deep breathing and meditation or relaxation” (www.webmd.com, July 25/18).

Hmm.  As a Christian, do I participate in Yoga for the physical benefits, or do I steer clear altogether, just in case?  The answer to this question isn’t simple.  Rather than a black or white, yes/no decision, I believe the answer is very grey, and is different for everyone.

I signed up for my first Yoga class while I was in University.  I was talked out of going to it by some well-meaning family members, who convinced me that it wasn’t right for me.  Ironically, those same family members now practice Yoga as they’ve discovered how much it has benefitted their health.  They’ve experienced relief from nerve problems and other ailments, through Yoga.

About a decade ago, the church I was attending brought in a practice called “Holy Yoga.”  I practised my first yoga class there, and found it to be mentally and physically relaxing; it increased my flexibility, and I was able to connect spiritually with God.  I continued to attend Holy Yoga, until the church cancelled it, due to the overwhelming amounts of negative feedback from several members; people were leaving the church over the fact that Yoga was happening on a weeknight, in the building.

A couple of years later, I tried Yoga again, when I got a gym membership, and discovered it was included at no extra cost.  In the first Yoga class I went to, the teacher had an idol at the front, and he encouraged participants to pray to it.  I respectfully refrained.  As that isn’t something I’m personally interested in, I chose a different teacher the next time. That class was very fitness focused, and helped me loosen up my tight muscles and joints, and relax.

Today, I embarked on the first class of my summer Yoga experiment.  I woke up early, got warmed up a bit first, and then entered the Yoga room and waited patiently.  The teacher was seven minutes late.  That wasn’t a great start, but I put it out of my mind and prepared myself to be open to the experience.

She began by taking requests for certain areas people wanted to work on.  Several participants asked to focus on lower back, so we spent the first part of class loosening up the lower back with a variety of stretches, lying with our backs on the floor.

I was a bit distracted by the lady next to me, who was breathing so loudly, I’m sure everyone in the room could hear it.  She also fell over a couple of times, but that’s okay; I’ll probably fall over one of these days too!  I tried to tune her out and focus on relaxing my own body, and enjoying the relief of my lower back tension.

We spent the remainder of the class opening up our hips, shoulders, and hamstrings.  I wouldn’t consider myself to be very flexible, but I was surprised at how much I was able to move after an hour of being in a warm room, committing proper time to each stretch, breathing through the movements, and slowly relaxing into them.

How do I feel now that it’s done?  Physically, I feel looser, and more relaxed, for sure.  My hips and hamstrings aren’t as tight as they normally are.  My neck cracked at least a dozen times during the class, so I’ll be interested to see how it feels throughout the day, and tomorrow.

As for the mental and spiritual aspects, I was able to focus my mind on my body, instead of letting it run away with anxious thoughts about things I can’t control.  I found moments to pray, and be grateful for the blessings I have in my life.

I wouldn’t say this was the best Yoga class I’ve ever been to, but it’s only week one.  However, I would say it was worth the benefits I got from giving up a bit of sleep, and an hour and a quarter of my time.

I’m curious to hear of your Yoga experiences, and any benefits you’ve found in those experiences. Thanks for reading, and “Namaste.”