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On Sunday, May 2nd, I will be a part of a Holistic Seminar, hosted by SOL Pilates FIT. Please join me for a chakra clearing meditation. The event will be held at the Extraordinary Beginnings unit at 5261 Hwy 7 in Markham, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. To register call 416.948.SOUL (7685) or email lynne.stewart@solpilatesyoga.com

Do you live in the Greater Toronto Area? Please join me for a
meditation class at SOL Pilates and Yoga Studio in Markham. The class will be held at 7 p.m. on alternate Fridays. Please contact me for additional details.

Do you long for a relaxing treatment for your mind, body and spirit? I'm now accepting clients for Reiki treatments. To register for a class or to book a treatment, please contact me. I look forward to seeing you!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Embracing the Mundane


This Week’s Photograph: ‘Afternoon Rest’ by P. Grodecki


This Week’s Quote: ‘All of us are apprenticed to the same teacher that the religious institutions originally worked with: reality. Reality-insight says . . . master the twenty-four hours. Do it well, without self-pity. It is as hard to get the children herded into the car pool and down the road to the bus as it is to chant sutras in the Buddha-hall on a cold morning. One move is not better than the other, each can be quite boring, and they both have the virtuous quality of repetition. Repetition and ritual and their good results come in many forms. Changing the filter, wiping noses, going to meetings, picking up around the house, washing dishes, checking the dipstick – don’t let yourself think these are distracting you from your more serious pursuits. Such a round of chores is not a set of difficulties we hope to escape from so that we may do our “practice” which will put us on a “path” – it is our path.’ ~ Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild, as quoted in Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life


I’m certain that by someone’s definition, my current lifestyle would not sound very appealing to many who enjoy frequent outings whenever one pleases, the ability to spend an entire Sunday in bed, or being able to count on getting a full eight hours of sleep every night. To me, washing diapers, preparing baby food, rocking my son to sleep while singing to him, and going for walks to the park are the elements of a perfect day. Mind you, this wasn’t always the case. It took a bit of time for me to get used to and embrace the lifestyle of a mother.


Rather than dreaming of ways to escape reality, or at least to get a break from it, we can embrace it by remembering that there is much that can be learned when we stop daydreaming of and wishing for a different life. Instead, we can marvel at all the seemingly ordinary aspects of our day, and approach them with an attitude of mindfulness. When washing dishes, do you let you mind drift into a sweet daydream, or do you focus on the feel of the warm water on your hands and the scent of the dish soap? When going for a walk in the park, do you embrace the feel of the cool breeze on your face, the sounds of the birds singing and children playing nearby, or do you allow your mind to process the details of the day that has just passed?


When we consciously focus on each task that we undertake, we engage in an active form of mindfulness meditation and, therefore, allow our minds to rest, shutting off the constant chatter that otherwise takes place. It takes practice, but after a while, you may find it enjoyable to full focus on each task – no matter how mundane it may seem at first. You may also discover that such practice improves your concentration and focus in other areas, such as in conversations with friends and loved ones, at work, and during physical exercise. This week, I invite you to approach with mindfulness all tasks in which you engage. Try to make the most of all that you do today. It’s never a waste of time; every task can be made into a meditative exercise.



Affirmation
: “Mindfulness is my lifestyle. I approach all that I do with an attitude of mindfulness.”



Wishing you an enjoyable week!

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Laid Back Attitude


Photograph: 'Breaking Free' by P. Grodecki



This Week’s Quote: "Pick the day. Enjoy it - to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come... The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present, and I don't want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future." ~ Audrey Hepburn


I believe that we never stop growing and re-defining who we are, according to our life experiences. Nothing and no one is static, but at times it surprises me to what degree we often fight and resist change. We may as well put ourselves and the world around us inside a glass case to try to preserve this moment! Although this fantasy is an appealing one at times, life becomes so much more enjoyable when we let go of similar idealistic ideas and simply flow with the times, allowing life to happen around us and to us, accepting change as it comes.


Now that April has arrived, I find myself just a couple of months away from returning to my full-time job and saying au revoir to my oh-so-peaceful maternity leave lifestyle. Walking down the street with my friend, each of us pushing our babies in strollers in front of us, I suddenly uttered, “Oh, how I’m going to miss these days when I return to work!” The warm afternoon sunshine and cool spring breeze on my face were a definite treat, especially in early April. Add to that feeling warm while wearing short sleeves and it’s no wonder I capriciously, and without much thought, wished to capture and preserve this moment.



If we were to put this moment inside a glass case, we are bound to stop and admire what’s behind the glass for only a short time. After a while, we would only stop to glance at it briefly when passing by, and finally, we would cease to notice it altogether as it would become just another useless decoration. Instead of feeling sad or sorry for myself about the prospect of leaving behind entire days spent with my son, I just as quickly decide to enjoy every moment with as much intensity as I can muster. And truly, why do we mourn the happy times in our lives, thinking that things will never be the same again? Life happens, so I’m going to simply let it continue to happen and enjoy the ride.


This week, I invite you to take some time to reflect on how you perceive change in your life. Do you tend to focus on the ending of time, or the beginning of a new time? What helps you to transition from one chapter in your life into another?


Perhaps you are also currently facing an inevitable ending and anticipating – or maybe the sentiment is antonymous with anticipation – the beginning of a new chapter in your life. I would enjoy reading about it, if you’d like to share your story.


Affirmation: I welcome change into my life, in its myriad forms.


Wishing you a peaceful week!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spring Mindfulness


Photograph: “Feast of Life” by P. Grodecki


This Week's Quote: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh


For those of us in the northern hemisphere, and especially in places where the climate is on the cooler side, spring – literally – brings with it a breath of fresh air. What a pleasure, to be able to open the windows in the morning and hear the cheerful chirping of the chickadees on the trees, to go for a walk without needing to wear a winter jacket! And of course, the brilliant sunshine and longer days help us to feel an extra boost of energy.



The Spring Equinox marks a shift toward an attitude of freshness and novelty, often inspiring us to contemplate new beginnings. We may start to think of new outdoor activities we wish to try as the temperatures rise. Instead of comfortably staying indoors, we suddenly begin to find motives to head outside and do just about anything. We grill our food on the barbecue on the deck, enjoy dining on the patio, take our cardio workout to the park after resolving to give the treadmill a break, and find any excuse to linger outdoors for just a while longer. Listening to our bodies, we may begin to eat lighter meals with fresh vegetables. After all, the hearty soups and stews of many a cold winter evening may simply seem a little too comfortable when all we want to do is shed an extra layer.



And what are these extra layers that we strive to shed? Perhaps it’s time to do some purging and rid our lives of old baggage. This baggage could be in the form of old clothing that we haven’t worn in a few years, or – and perhaps more commonly – emotional habits that no longer serve us. Since spring is a time of freshness, new beginnings and wonderful opportunities, it’s a great time to re-evaluate our attitudes toward ourselves and the world around us and fine-tune our self-worth, raising it up a notch and thus allowing ourselves to revere in the beauty that is our being, as well as the beauty that surrounds us every day.



This week, I invite you to spend some time in meditation and journaling. Find a quiet place in which you can sit still, in a comfortable position, taking deep, nasal breaths, allowing your abdomen to expand. Invite yourself to be open to this meditative exercise and its outcomes. After some time, begin to reflect on the physical, mental, and emotional changes that are taking place around you and within you, and make a mental note of anything you notice. Next, ask your True Self about the positive changes that you could make in your life. Again, these changes could relate to your physical, mental or emotional well-being and could occur on a small or larger scale. The final step is to ask your True Self about what actions you may take in order to allow yourself to implement these positive changes in your life in the most effective way. Try to go with the flow of the information you receive and remain open, instead of actively thinking and contemplating. Once you feel you have received your answers, take some time to come back to the present moment by moving your fingers and toes, stretching, and finally opening your eyes.


In your journal record your meditative experience. Write down the changes that you feel have taken place or are currently taking place within you and around you, and then make note of what action you can take, in your life, to improve one or more aspects of your life. Finally, record the actions that you will take to make the implementation of these positive changes in your life as smooth as possible.


Affirmation
: “I welcome the season of spring into my life, with all the beautiful bounty it has to offer.”



Best wishes!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Karma: What is It, Anyway?


Photograph: “A Closer Look Within” by P. Grodecki

This Week's Quote: “Electricity, like karma, is neither good nor bad; its effect is determined by how we treat it.” ~ N. J. Devi, The Secret Power of Yoga


We may often catch ourselves saying – and hearing others say – that a certain action brings good or bad karma. Many of us may believe that when we perform negative actions, they will come to haunt us in the future, as a form of payback. But what, exactly, is the meaning of karma?


Karma is intricately intertwined through our lifetimes and the lifetimes of those around us with whom we associate. I have found Nischala Joy Devi’s explanation of karma, in her book The Secret Power of Yoga, to be most logical. She explains that karma is dormant, potential energy that, when stirred, creates an after-effect. Our actions stir this potential energy, thus setting the wheels in motion. The potential of karma can either be beneficial or detrimental and it is up to us to choose wisely which action we should take. To make the matter a bit more complicated, karma also follows us from our past lives and the life we live now is determined on the basis of our past actions, which we may or may not recall. Of course, we cannot change what we may or may not have done in the past, but we can improve our judgment and act with care in this lifetime. Moreover, our family members, friends and loved ones affect our lives with their own karma, thus allowing our karma to be intertwined with theirs.


Having provided this explanation, I suspect you might wonder what comes next. What shall we do with this information? We could spend our time worrying about how our every action will influence our future and the future of those around us, but I suspect that the action of spending our time in a state of worry would only contribute negatively to our future. Instead, the goal of karma yoga is to transform our karma in order to open our hearts and give birth to beauty and love through selfless service, thus positively affecting our karma and the karma of those who benefit from our actions.


We may begin to practise selfless service by paying close attention to the needs of those around us and allowing our hearts to lead us toward the right answer. This week, I encourage you to begin thinking about how we can best benefit our community or another community that is in need of assistance – either financial assistance or assistance in the form of time that we can volunteer to dedicate to a helpful task. Likewise, please remember to also take some time, everyday, to engage in an activity that brings joy to your soul.


Affirmation: “I dedicate my time to selfless service to help others and to enrich my own life.”


Wishing you a happy week!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Self-Acceptance: Loving Ourselves


Photograph: “Passion Play” by P. Grodecki

This Week's Quote: “Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them” ~ Albert Einstein


“So, is he a good baby?” asked another mother, whose baby is a week older than my son, at a playgroup. I answered that my son indeed is a good baby, and she then proceeded to tell me about her son’s excellent temperament and how well he sleeps at night. There we were, two proud moms chatting cheerfully while our little guys played beside us, chewing away at colourful plastic objects in an attempt to massage their aching gums. We each may have had a challenging night due to fussiness brought on by teething, but that small inconvenience was long forgotten as we were busy adoring our little angels.


Every mother takes great pride in her child and the truly unconditional love of a mother is inspiring. While many of us would do anything for our children, however, we neglect to take good care of ourselves. Moreover, we may often criticize ourselves for the way we look and chastise ourselves for not being good enough. This applies not only to mothers but to all women and men. We all are capable of succumbing to the monster that is self-criticism.


An office worker may find himself, night after night, eating fast food for supper and staying at the office until well past 5 o’clock in order to finish a project to which he has been assigned. After coming home late and sleeping five hours at night, he rushes out the door in the morning without having taken the time to enjoy breakfast, just to repeat the cycle again the next day. We may find ourselves working diligently for others – be it for the boss, a partner, or one’s children – and although we may enjoy our work, we often neglect to take care of ourselves. We may, in fact, begin to feel that the work we do isn’t good enough and begin to push ourselves to the edge.


What if, for a moment, we stop our usual pace and imagine ourselves as children? We may not seem wonderful in the eyes of a stranger who witnesses our cranky meltdown, but to the child’s mother, who knows that her little girl is fussy because she missed her afternoon nap, her daughter is perfect and is simply having ‘one of those days.’ This week, treat yourself as a caring mother would treat her child. Take time to listen to your intuition about what you need, instead of what someone else wants of you, and follow your inner voice. Allow yourselves to make mistakes and acknowledge your positive and negative emotions, all the while celebrating you for who you are.


And remember: you are doing a wonderful job, so be sure to take excellent care of yourself. I firmly believe that when we take good care of ourselves, we empower ourselves to take better care of our loved ones and set an example for others to do the same.


Affirmation
: “I love and accept myself unconditionally.”



Wishing you a peaceful week!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sending Love


Photograph: “Quiet Reverence” by P. Grodecki



This Week's Quote: “"If you truly loved yourself, you could never hurt another." ~ Lord Buddha



Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but I hope we all can remember to cultivate and express love – for ourselves, our partners, siblings, parents, friends, and yes, even strangers – every day. This week, I would like to share with you a form of meditation to help us do just that: send out love. I’m reminded of the blog PostSecret, to which people anonymously submit postcards expressing their secrets. What a brilliant way to get something off our chests! With the following form of meditation, I would like to propose that, instead of expressing our secrets and sending them out, we cultivate so much love in our hearts that we simply need to get it – literally – off our chests and out into the world.



Metta, or Loving Kindness meditation, allows us to open the heart charka and learn to love ourselves. In turn, we also allow ourselves to learn to love those we care about and treat them with true kindness. Once we can love ourselves and those dear to us unconditionally, we can then treat all sentient beings with the same reverence and kindness. The following is a version of the meditation that I find works most effectively for me.



Step 1: Begin by sitting down in a comfortable position, eyes comfortably closed, and start to inhale deeply through the nose. Exhale any tension you may feel, and with each exhalation feel your body relax. Continue to do this for as long as you need.



Step 2: Bring your awareness to your heart centre, the area in the middle of your chest. Visualize a beautiful green or pink lotus flower, the petals of which are slowly starting to expand and open. With each inhalation, the lotus flower opens its petals wider and begins to glow with the beautiful gold and white light that surrounds it, until the entire flower is glowing. Focus on the warmth that you feel expanding in the centre of your chest, and concentrate on the feeling of comfort and love that is starting to become cultivated in your body.



Step 3: Feel the warmth from your heart chakra emanating throughout your body, flowing into every cell of your body, all the while visualizing yourself bathed in the same gold and white light that surrounds the lotus flower. Stay here and continue to breathe in this love for as long as you wish.



You may end the meditation here by skipping onto Step 6, or continue onto Step 4.



Step 4: Next, visualize a friend or family member sitting or standing in front of you. For this part of the meditation, choose a person about whom you care and with whom you share a deep connection. If you wish, you may even choose to focus on a beloved family pet. As in Step 3, breathe out love from your heart chakra and visualize the beautiful gold and white light completely surrounding the person in front of you. Continue to send love and compassion to that person, for as long as you wish.



You may end the meditation here by skipping onto Step 6, or continue onto Step 5.



Step 5: Visualize in front of you a person with whom your relationship is strained. As in the previous step, and without thinking about that person’s negative personality traits or what may have transpired between you, send love from your heart chakra to him or her. Continue to send love and kindness to the person in front of you, for as long as you wish.



Step 6: Return your focus back to your heart chakra, the glowing green lotus flower, and with a few deep inhalations and exhalations, come back to the present moment. Take some time to feel the tranquility that you have cultivated during this meditative practice, and enjoy the openness of your heart. Continue to shine this benevolent quality all throughout your day, sending out love to everyone you meet.



Many people find Step 5 of this practice to be challenging. Please practise at your own pace and only advance to this step when you feel ready. It’s of the utmost importance, when practising meditation, to treat ourselves with the same love and kindness we learn to nurture on this journey.



Affirmation: “Today, I treat myself and all sentient beings with love and kindness.”



Wishing you a peaceful week!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Cultivating Balance: The Individual Path


Photograph: 'A Moment of Stillness' by P. Grodecki
Quote: “Peace is granted to those who see the same Self in friend and foe alike, whose mind stays balanced in the midst of honor or dishonor, heat or cold, pleasure or pain, and who maintains equanimity during praise and blame.” ~ Bhagavad Gita as quoted in Nischala Joy Devi’s The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras

For those of us embarking on a spiritual quest, one of the most challenging practices can often be to find a balance amidst the rush of our daily lives. We seek to become and remain at perfect peace with ourselves in all situations, whatever may come our way. We want to treat all people, even those who may have hurt us, with the same level of compassion. We may seek to maintain neutral composure regardless of how we may feel, how excited, sad, angry, or happy we may be. In fact, many feel that in order for us to achieve balance in our lives, we need to let go of precisely those qualities that make us human.

Take, for example, a person who wishes to find peace in his life. He creates a situation for himself in which he feel satisfied with his job and his private life. He feels that he can go to work each day and come home to eat dinner, read a book, and retire to bed at the end of the day. He is pleased with this pace. Then comes a time when he realizes that he is bored. He feels something is missing. There is no excitement, no variety in his life. Everything has become a little too neutral. Could we say that this man has truly been able to cultivate balance in his life, if he continues to long for something more?

I feel that, when we seek a sense of balance, we may forget that in this life, we are experiencing a human existence. So, why try to get away from ourselves by stripping ourselves of everything with which we have been gifted? I believe that by giving up everything that makes us happy and living a monastic life, some of us, but not others, can achieve enlightenment. Personally, if I were to give up what makes me most happy in this life, I would not feel at ease with myself. Something would be amiss.

Perhaps this is where the challenge truly lies. Instead of deciding to live an ascetic life, devoid of earthly pleasures, we can work to find a careful balance. For some of us, finding the True Self may be facilitated by consciously discarding the many pleasures that this life has to offer. Others, however, are on a different path. And that is okay. I feel that we would be doing ourselves a disservice by attempting to force ourselves into a place in which we feel miserable, simply because we feel we should be living our lives differently, the way those we look up to may live their own lives.


Does giving up sweets make you happy by eliminating this pleasure that often makes us feel oh-so-guilty, or does it make us long for that taste even more than before? Therein lies the lesson. By gently testing our boundaries and renouncing something, we can try to find a place that makes us feel at peace. Challenges are healthy, but only in so far as we allow ourselves to draw lessons from the challenges. If you are not ready to give up chocolate at this time, by all means continue to enjoy it. However, perhaps you could
eat more mindfully, enjoying smaller portions of your favourite treat and only eating as much as you feel helps to satisfy your craving so you can move on to focus on other matters.

I will end here and leave you to contemplate another quote from a book I’m currently reading, Nischala Joy Devi’s The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras:

Many teachers and translators of the scriptures encourage us to avoid the sweetness in life to better prepare us for the big payoff, enlightenment. It is actually the opposite. By generously sprinkling our lives with joy and sweetness, their seeds take root within us, reflecting in our every action. This ever-present joy is the greatest enlightenment and it can be ours right now!”

Affirmation: “I carefully test the waters of my life to find perfect balance.”


Wishing you a peaceful week! Sat Nam, and Namaste!