CULTIVATING CONTENTMENT

One of the most powerful teachings of Yoga is probably the art of cultivating contentment. Santosha in Sanskrit.

It is easy to be content when our asana practice and our life flow effortlessly, when everything is just the way we want it to be. But we all know it is not always like that. Practice and career come to a stall, relationships turn sour, bank accounts shrink, unpleasant emotions surface. Just Life happening. And it is so, so hard to be content when life take those unexpected turns. How can we content when we just want things to change, to go back to what they used to be, or to improve? How can we be content when we just want more out of this life?

First, by observing and accepting what is. It is as easy and as difficult as that. In the face of difficulties, you (and I) have to apply the lessons learned on the mat: observe what is going on. Why am I stuck? Why does it feel so unpleasant? Why does it even hurt? Observe with complete honesty, feel the tension, and breathe into it. Create space in your body, mind, and heart, and let go. I know you just want to hold tight, but no that is not the answer. By holding on, or by trying to make things happen when the time is not right you will just end up hurting yourself. Try not to judge, to label things as bad or good. Do not forget that events are neither good nor bad. They are neutral. It is your mind that labels everything according to your experiences and your needs. And you, my Dear, are not your mind. You are the Observer. Always. So take the situation as it is, and cultivate love and respect, both towards your self and the others.

This doesn’t mean that we should give up or remain passive, not at all. It just means we are accepting our current situation while keeping our eyes on the goal. If you find it too hard to do, I suggest you develop a regular meditation practice (I know, who has time for that when life turns upside down?). Start with 5 mn, and slowly build your way up to 30 mn a day. There is nothing to do here, except staying with your Self in silence. Just observing, and accepting whatever arises: thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations. Let them be, and let them go, one at a time.

Second, when you are finally at peace, focus on the task at hand: if a door has closed, instead of focusing on it, shift your focus to the other ones that are still open, or better yet, the ones you can create yourself. Focus on what you can improve, on what you can change. Put all your mind into it, and let it get absorbed in whatever activity you engage into. Work skillfully with what you have, at your own pace, without forcing things that are not ready to happen.  No more negative self-talk, impatience or frustration. Just do what needs to be done to go a little further, with all your heart, grace, attention and resilience.

Om shanti.

BREATH OF LIFE

I think the words I repeat most during class are « relax » and « breathe ». I know. What powerful insights. But honestly, these might be the most important aspects of any Yoga practice. Sometimes I see students losing their focus: their eyes wander around, the mind follows and the breath becomes nothing but a distant phenomena. Or they get so tensed up, they forget to breathe altogether. And for the humph time they hear me say « don’t lose your breath », « back away, and relax », « breathe ». So why am I putting so much emphasis on the breath?
Because that is how, as Yogis, we can heal ourselves: do not forget that breathing is the change of shape in our thoracic and abdominal cavities which contain our precious organs. The air getting in and going out, coupled with our body mouvements (asanas) and awareness, allow the prana (life force) to move freely within ourselves, from the superficial to the deepest layers of our beings. Each inhalation allows us to create space in both our body and mind, and every exhalation liberates toxins and tensions, making more room for what we really need.

Inhale, create space. Exhale, let go.

If you haven’t really done this exercice before, maybe you can try and do it now:
– seat in a comfortable position (you can laydown if sitting is too uncomfortable for you) and for the first few minutes, just focus on your breath. Nothing else. Observe the air getting in and going out, without trying to change anything. If your mind wants to take you elsewhere (to the horrible date you had last night or to the store you have to go to because your fridge is empty), go back to your breath. Your breath should be the sole object of your attention. Stay there as long as you want. Do not judge anything. Just observe with no attachement, and breathe.
– when you are ready, try to balance your inhalation wtih your exhalation. You can do it intuitively or you can count, whatever works better for you. It can be 3, 5, 7 seconds, it doesn’t matter. Just make sure you can breathe comfortably without straining yourself. Nice and easy. Do not pay attention to the stories your mind is telling you. Observe, let go. Go back to your breath.
– Lenghten your breath, again, as much as you comfortably can. No forcing, no speeding up, just slowly lenghtening. Relax your jaw, relax your forehead. Keep going for a few more minutes.
Now observe the space & the calm within. And smille. You did it.

I love this statement found in some ancient Yoga scriptures: the Yogi’s life is not measured in number of days, but in number of breaths. Your breath, body and mind at strongly interrelated and the quality of one always, always has an impact on the quality of the others. And do not forget: your breath is the only thing that truly connects you to the present moment, to that second you are living right now. So do not let it slip away, unnoticed: live it to the fullest, every time you can!

 

WEEK-END WISDOM

Ok, so it turns out my inspiration has been on vacation for a few days now, and since I don’t want to leave this week’s blog blank, I’m posting a couple of inspirational quotes for you beloved yogis and spiritual seekers :). Do me a favor: Do not just read them. I mean that. Absorb them. Meditate on them. Live with them. Try and change part of your life with them. One step at a time. One word at a time. Om shanti.

“Yoga is about clearing away whatever is in us that prevents our living in the most full and whole way. With Yoga, we become aware of how and where we are restricted – in body, mind and heart – and how gradually to open and release these blockages. As these blockages are clear, our energy is freed. We start to feel more harmonious, more at one with ourselves. Our lives begin to flow – or we begin to flow more in our lives. ” – Cybele Tomlison

Note: I especially love this one because it really is what Yoga does for me. With every minute of practice, I become aware of what is going on in my body, mind, and heart. Yoga makes me feel and see clearly within myself. I might not like what I feel or what I see but then I know where to put my attention and my efforts. I know what needs to be faced and healed. It is not easy. There are some things that I wish were not there but it is the best window and path I know towards self-healing and self-realization.

“What if you offered your body love instead of self-criticism? What if you offered it some compassion instead of insults? What if you saw the decades of abuse, wear-and-tear, and aging as cause for more love instead of less? What if you acknowledged the thousands of miles it has trekked through this rough and wild world and you felt nothing but appreciation and love for all it has withstood for you? What if offered it more sleep, more hot baths, better foods, healthy exercise, fun activities, and more rest? What if you gave it more love? What if you stopped punishing it for belonging to you?” – Emily Maroutian

Note: again, this one rings true for me. If you’ve read my previous posts, you already know that I’ve been through years of bullying and eating disorders, which left me with nothing but suffering and feelings of hate towards myself. Yes. Hate. How horrible is that? Can you imagine being in a skin you just can’t stand?  I was always “not… (fill in the blank) enough”. And for that reason, I will never be grateful enough for Yoga. The practice has taught me self-observation. Self-respect. Self-acceptance. Self-love. And even there is still lots of room for improvement I just want to say one thing: thank you for finding me and changing my life for the better. 

Interview : Yoga, yoking mind & body through the breath (Tahiti Fit Magazine)

So… about this blog: my fiancé and I had a long conversation about it. He said I should post this interview I did a few months ago, but I said no, thinking it wouldn’t be very relevant. He said yes do it, I said no again, he gave his arguments, I gave mine, and… long story short, he won. So here it is: both the article (in French) and the short translation.

Please keep in mind that it was done for a health and fitness magazine, and that it doesn’t cover the spiritual aspect of the practice. Om shanti.

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Why do you practice Yoga? What benefits does it bring into your life?
I started practicing right after my oldest daughter’s birth to start moving my body again in a nice gentle way. Now, 9 years later, I’m physically stronger and more flexible. But I’m also more serene… It may sound cliché, but it’s true. When something stresses me out, Yoga is the only practice that allows me to center myself. By working with and on my breath, I manage to control my mind.

4 preconceived ideas about Yoga.
Yoga is for women and older people only : False. Yoga is for everybody and every body. There is not just one way to practice, and Yoga can benefit the pregnant woman as well as the elite athlete. Define your goals and work with a qualified teacher to reap the full benefits of the practice.
Yoga is for flexible people only: again, false! Flexibility is one of the results of the practice, not a prerequisite! Therefore, lack of flexibility should be a motivation to get started, not a reason not to try. It is really important to develop flexibility to make your body more resistant to external trauma. You want to bend, not break. I personally couldn’t touch my toes when I started practicing… now I can fold forward, touch me knees with my head and I can even put my leg behind my head.
Yoga doesn’t strenghten the body: False. Yoga is a great practice to get physically stronger. Some classes include the equivalent of 60 push ups (sometimes more), not the mention the important isometric work done with most of the postures. Some students often realize they had forgotten about the existence of some of their muscles. The great thing about Yoga, is that it works your muscles in a different way, thus making them stronger.
Yoga is slow and boring: Yoga is what you want it to be. It can be as slow as you want, or as intense as you want. If you want some nice gentle stretches, take a Yin Yoga class. If you want to sweat, choose Power Yoga, or try an Ashtanga class.

Vainui has chosen to give private classes only, even if this option is not the most financially interesting. She explains: « it is for me the only way to bring students what they really need. Each and every person gets into Yoga for different reasons and with different abilities. Some students just want to relax, pole dancers want to learn specific postures, free divers want to develop their focus and breath capacity. Some people can get into a full split while others can’t fully extend their arms and legs. As a private teacher, I give my full attention to that person in front of me during those 90 mn, in order to bring them what they need and make them go further in their practice, in a safe way and at their own pace.

FIND A YOGA TEACHER, NOT A YOGA LEADER

Believe it or not I started Yoga with a couple of DVDs bought on Amazon. At that time, I just wanted to get some nice easy exercise after a long bed-ridden pregnancy. I got exactly what I wanted, nice gentle lenghtening and strenghtening moves, and kept practicing on and off in front of my TV for years. Needless to say, the spiritual (and most important) part of the practice totally eluded me.
And then this trip to Bali: while cruising in Uluwatu I stumbled upon an old friend of mine and decided to spend a few days with him in the Bukit. He would often tell me about yoga and the importance of the breath and asked me if I wanted to practice with him. I said I was fine just surfing and cruising and just watched him practice while sipping on a cold drink.
But whether you want it or not, Bali is a very spiritual place, and I believe it is for that reason that something clicked. I got back home telling myself I would practice Yoga every day.
I started looking for more videos online and reading about yoga philosophy. I still had no teacher and practiced in front of my giant bedroom mirror to check my form. But at some point I found myself being stuck, not knowing how to get deeper into my physical and spiritual practice.
So I just booked a ticket to Maui, probably my favorite place in the world, to start taking « real » classes. But most times I would just feel a little disappointed because I couldn’t find the yoga teacher Iwas looking for: what I did find though, were yoga leaders who would just instruct students to go from one asana to another without much detailed instructions, adjustements or spiritual insights. I especially remember one of them being very judgmental of her students and I promised myself never to take another class with that person.
So one evening I decided to talk about my frustration to a friend of mine, and she told me: « I think I know someone you might like. I never practiced with her but all my friends speak highly of her and her teaching. But she travels a lot and doesn’t teach on the island all the time. » Of course, I checked right away and she was on the mainland. I went back home and booked another ticket a few months later for one of her Asana Intensives.
The classes included chanting (which at that time I found a little bit weird), asanas, pranayama, meditation, philosophy and poetry. They were physically and mentally challenging: we were often instructed to stay in certain poses for up to 5 minutes – and I’m not talking about nice relaxing stretches – focusing on very precise parts of our body while maintaining the steady flow of the breath. Sometimes I felt like I was being pressured and crushed. My body and my mind were in full resistance mode, so much that at some point I wanted to quit. But I stayed and after a few days I realized all my inner tensions were gone and I was actually breathing right, with the right alignements for me. I felt space in both my body and mind. I looked within and saw peace. For the very first time, after years of practice, I experienced the real benefits of Yoga.
So this is my advice for you: find that Yoga teacher. Find that guide who is going to inspire you and help you take your practice a few steps further. Find that someone who is going to help you look within. Better yet, find that Guru, in the litteral sense of the word (not in the weird creepy way): someone who will bring Light into your areas of darkness.
Om shanti.

THE VALUE OF YOGA

Yesterday someone called me and said: « I want to take classes with you every day for a week. What I expect from you, is to teach me the value of Yoga so I can develop a regular practice. »This request really got me thinking: what am I going to tell that student when he comes to class? How am I supposed to teach the benefits of Yoga? Despite being detailed and explained in the myriad of books, Yoga, and the value you give to the practice, really is a personal thing. My practice, and what I get from it, is probably different than yours, because we have different paths in life.
As long as I can remember I’ve always been through emotional highs and lows in my life, the highs being very high, and the lows being very low (think: below sea level, not too far from the abysses). I’ve always been a little wary towards the others. Just the result of being bullied on a regular basis throughout my childhood and teenage years : I was a very ill child (read: different), not very pretty and certainly not very cool by my classmates standards. It was rough but it made me develop a strong, independent character.
When I was in college, my dad got sick from cancer. I guess I entered in some kind of denial mode, burrying all my emotions deep down and telling myself « everything will be OK ». As a result, I ended up developing a series of eating disorders and getting very sick myself. My battle with anorexia and bulimia lasted long after the passing of my dad. I struggled for over 10 years. I struggled until I found Yoga (or until Yoga found me, whichever you prefer).
With regular practice, I became conscious of a lot of things: my breath, my heartbeat, my body, my mind, my emotions, even my soul. I became the observer of my inner life. Meditation led me to real moments of epiphany: moments when I connected with the Infinite, moments when I could feel the Universe dwelling inside of me. I was not my negative self-talk anymore. I realized that no matter what was going on outside, no matter what my mind would tell me, everything -including myself- was just perfect the way it was.
I learned to observe and eventually control the fluctuations of my mind; the discipline I put in my asana practice, led me to discipline of the mind and self-healing: the emotional roller coaster I had always known, started disappearing, almost getting to neutral position. I now experience less passion, less attachement, and as a result, less suffering. I’m not saying I’m a Light Being sitting on a lotus flower all day long, but my inner life is definitely more calm and balanced.
This is my story and it probably has nothing to do with yours. But I can tell you one thing that is true for every single person on this Earth: Yoga will not always bring you what you want, but it will always, always  bring you what you need, exactly when you need it.
Practice, and everything will come. Om shanti.

YOGA: IT’S NOT ABOUT THE (PERFECT) POSE

I just started a Youtube channel – Mana Yoga – where, for now, I post video tutorials for new yoga practicionners: nothing fancy nor mind-blowing you know, only nice, easy poses and breathing techniques to start a practice with (it’s in French for now, but I might add English subtiles later on).
It wasn’t long before someone (actually a fellow yoga teacher) sent me a message to tell me that I « lacked flexibility in my lower back”. Ugh. Really? OK. I thanked her for her feedback and stayed with that terrible feeling of « I’m not good enough » for some very long minutes.
I have had issues with my spine for over 20 years, since a horseback riding accident left me with chronic pain and limited mobility in my lumbar spine. I honestly didn’t really care, until that person pointed it out.
Of course, to make things worse, I started watching lots of online yoga videos in order to compare myself to those super bendy yoga teachers / celebrities. And yes, my body definitely doesn’t bend like theirs. Actually, my body is nothing like theirs. And the spiraling negative thoughts went on : « maybe I should stop making videos. Clearly I’m not good enough for that. People will judge me again. I don’t want to be judge. I’m going to delete my channel. Maybe delete my Facebook page as well. And go find a hole to hide into. Sounds like a plan. Yes, that’s the plan.» Someone made one comment and it turned my whole world upside down: one day I was doing something great for the community, the next I was the worst failure in the world.
And then a deep breath. And a moment of clarity: who cares about the shape of my body? After all my videos are not about me, they are about Yoga. I spend a lot of time working on them to inspire and to bring the benefits of yoga into other people’s life. The only thing that truly matters is that I give good, clear, valuable information.
Although you have to respect some basic alignements during your asana practice to avoid injuries, yoga is not about the shape of your body or the way it bends. It is about the intention you put in your practice. It is about working on and with your breath. It is about developing focus and cultivating mindfulness. It is also about identifying your dark corners, and with consistent practice, bringing light into them. The goal is not the final pose, the picture-perfect pose, even if we love to see those on social media : the goal is the work we put in, what we learn about ourselves along the way, and how we transform ourselves in the process, on and off the mat!
With that in mind, keep practicing, and enjoy every breath!
Om shanti.

Slayin’ the Ego

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a great reminder that yoga is a highly spiritual practice requiring hard work and dedication. But Patanjali barely talks about asanas, probably because they are “just preparation” for the ultimate work : the one we do off the mat and into our daily life, the one that will ultimately lead to the destruction of our worst enemy: our ego. Practicing off the mat means paying attention to our thoughts, words and actions and asking ourselves if they come from our loving soul or from our scared, needy ego. Ego needs attention, gratification. It doesn’t want to let go, to give ground. Practicing off the mat means recognizing when our ego steps in and gently pushing it away: “yes, I see you, I hear you & I understand you. But you have to go now, I don’t need you. I am safe. I am whole. I am love.”

Yoga, the ultimate Healer & Messenger

I am going to be honest: until recently, I had not done much asana practice. Pregnancy. New baby. I got very busy taking care of those around me and it kind of threw me off balance: I was exhausted physically, emotionnally, and felt like something was missing. The lack of sleep, with my baby waking up up to 4 times a night didn’t help much either.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally decided to make time for myself and not feel guilty about it. Yes, I am that bad. Leave baby with daddy, get back to my daily yoga practice.
It felt awkward. Actually, no : it felt bad. Seriously. This body I was moving in wasn’t mine anymore: it was so weak, and so stiff. I couldn’t believe it: how could I let that happen? Remembering what I was once able to do and realizing where I was 2 years afterwards was downright discouraging . My body, with its own language, just laughed at me: you really want to get into hanumanasana (splits)? Don’t even think about it. Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Handstand) now? Hahaha, you gotta be kidding me, stick with your Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1) little lady, and try to get your breathing right. »
After feeling reaaaaaally bad about it during the first sessions, I remembered that Yoga is not about the perfect posture nor the end result. It is about the practice. It is about getting on my mat every day and doing the work, no matter where I am physically and emotionally. I repeat: IT’S ABOUT DOING THE WORK THAT NEEDS TO BE DONE. That’s it. Period.
So I put those pretty yoga images and memories in the back corner of my mind and dived into my practice, with as much patience and humility as I could gather. Not that easy when you tend to have a « type A » personnality (read: competitive and impatient, among other things).
It took me a few days to feel my breath again & to move with it freely. As the weakness and stiffness slowly went away, a flood of wild, raw emotions started surfacing.  There was anger. Lots of it.  I stayed with it, allowing myself to fully experience it without judging it. I realized this anger was  the direct result of the fear I had accumulated in my bodymind during those past years, and which had made my body so hard; it got stiff because it had built an armor to protect itself. The message was clear: « You used to be scared, now it is time to be strong and fight back. »
But how do you fight back when you’re doing your best every single day to set aside your ego and live with an open heart? I guess you try to put into action that famous quote : « do no harm, but take no shit. » Over the years, I forgot to set healthy boundaries for myself. I would just take all the bullshit (sorry, I couldn’t find any other word) and live with it, without saying a word. I thought silence was the best answer. And I was wrong : when people don’t treat you right, silence is never, never the best answer, because things will only get worse, escalating to a point of (almost) no return.
Now as I go through some more cleansing one breath at a time, I’m trying to figure out what might be the best, most loving, healthy, healing response and behavior. I have to thank the art & science that is Yoga for helping me on this journey on Earth: asanas, along with meditation have saved me more times than I can remember, from healing my eating disorders, to helping me cope with an unfaithful (now ex) boyfriend. And that’s why this beautiful practice will always be part of my life, in one way or another.
Some of you might think it is not very wise as a yoga teacher to share my struggles. After all, we as teachers, are supposed to be flawless, super duper flexible enlightened human beings, right? Well… no. We are just like every other person, just like every other student, because we are students ourselves. Students of Yoga, and students of life.

Of self-honesty

I guess one of the most important things I’ve learned so far is to question & analyze everything: what I see. What I hear. Society. Human behavior. My self.  And what I’ve realized is… it is very easy to point finger at this society we live in. It is very easy to stand there on a rock and think of yourself as a different human being because you refuse to obey society’s standards. Because you’re against consumerism. Because you believe all living beings are created equal. Because you’re against animal suffering. Because you meditate & do yoga. Because you want to achieve full realization of the self.

But doing the exact same thing with your Self, looking within, with the same sharp look you use to judge and condemn society, that is a whole different story. Having a honest look at yourself is probably one of the most difficult, most painful (& most liberating) things you’ll ever do.

Yes, I’ve learned to question everything about myself: my thoughts, my beliefs, my behavior, my feelings, my speech. Everything. And I’ve come to realize that there’s a big difference between who I would like to be, who I think I am and who I really am. I’m vegan, yet sometimes when making nutella crepes for my kid, I’d have a bite.Or two. Maybe a whole one. I’m against consumerism, but sometimes I would walk into a store and buy an expensive bikini, and a cute pair of shorts. I try to live with an open heart every single day, but no matter how hard I try, there are people I just can’t love. People I can’t forgive. People I just can’t stand. People I avoid. I practice yoga everyday, on and off the mat, but sometimes I just can’t tame my mind. And honestly,I don’t want to. I want to let it be. Just the way it is. Wild, tormented, restless. And yes, sometimes I lie. Always to protect myself, never to hurt people. But that’s no excuse. A lie is a lie. I preach non-attachment, yet I still have a hard time letting go (even if it gets easier with time). Does this mean I’m some kind of hypocrite? Does this mean I lack integrity? Or does this mean I’m just human? Perfect in my own imperfections? I don’t know, I have no answer to that.

What I know though, is that it’s all good: no I’m not perfect, and yes,there’s plenty of room for improvement. Looking at my self with total honesty has taught me to accept myself. Just the way I am. Life is a process. We live this life to become stronger, wiser, better people. So yes, I spend a lot of time in my head. And because I do so, I know every single one of my flaws. I know where my inner demons hide. And I’m learning to correct them, tame them, one step at a time. Sometimes I make one step forward, two steps backwards. But it doesn’t matter, as long as I’m going in the right direction. And yes, I’ve also learned to be gentle with myself. There’s a lot of work to be done, and I’m pretty sure I’ll need a few more lives to achieve what needs to be achieved. But no need to rush, what matters most is waking up every single day being a better person than I was the day before.