Archive for the ‘Yoga’ Category

I have just gotten back from a fabulous yoga-filled weekend in Banff.  About a month ago, when it seemed that I was constantly working 24/7, I received an email from the Airdrie Yoga Studio regarding a couple of yoga retreats in Banff that one of their instructors, Marcy Jespersen, was offering this month. In desperate need of some me-time, I took the plunge and signed up and I am so glad that I did.

I have always been interested in yoga. When I was a child, my mother had a couple of books on yoga with detailed photos of how to do some of the poses and I would copy them. Fast forward to adulthood and a curiosity about the Eastern thought and the New Age and I started to acquire (and still do!) the odd yoga book – my first yoga book was “The Gentle Art of Yoga” by Karen Bailey which was a great book for a beginner as it clearly explains some of the poses with some great pictures. I also got a couple of yoga video tapes and for a little while worked out along with them. Of course me being me, this seemed to be just a phase and I never really stuck with it. Life moved on.

After acquiring Stardust, and suffering a couple of nasty falls which resulted in a sore back particularly upon waking up in the morning or from lounging about on the couch, I wanted something to ease my back and to also become fitter as a rider. I picked up a copy of “Yoga for Equestrians” by Linda Benedik & Veronica Wirth and soon after that I got my Wii Fit Plus. Along the way I think I did about 5 yoga classes, some with the lunchtime yoga we had at one of the law firms.

The Nintendo Wii changed everything for me, which is another blog post in itself. The “Wii Fit Plus” game has some yoga exercises which are a great start. Yoga is also a part of “My Fitness Coach” and “My Fitness Coach 2” which are very different and my favourite exercise games so far.  The first one has flowing workouts and you can choose Yoga, Cardio, Flexibility, Core, Upper Body and Lower Body. (Yoga is also incorporated into the last four, particularly flexibility.) I am currently working on “My Fitness Coach 2” which, like Wii Fit, utilizes the balance board, a fantastic tool to help with balance. Between the Wii remote and the balance board the game will score you on how correct your yoga poses are, be they Warrior, Tree, Dancer, Downward Dog or Plank to name but a few.

One of the great things about Wii Fit is the focus on correct posture and balance at all times and it’s also reiterated in “Yoga for a New Age” by Bob Smith and Linda Boudreau, a book on Hatha Yoga (“sun-moon union” – balancing of left and right – this is the name of the familiar physical yoga) filled with detailed descriptions of yoga postures and dated photos of half-naked frighteningly skinny people demonstrating said postures. After reading it I am now more aware of when I am not standing or sitting straight and when singing in particular I make sure to stand square not my habitual stance with weight on one side.

Over the past year and after regular workouts (almost daily) on the Wii and I started to notice that my back wasn’t so stiff and sore…

I watched “Eat Pray Love” on the plane back from Ontario after Christmas and I started to get a curiosity back about the more spiritual side of yoga.  I’d heard about the benefits of meditation, but easier said than done – would it even be possible to slow my brain down?

And so I signed up for Marcy’s retreat which promised a blend of yoga, qi-gong, restorative poses and sound touch therapy. I have been contemplating signing up for a yoga class with the Airdrie Yoga Studio for a while now and this seemed the perfect opportunity to also meet one of the instructors. What better way to get some me-time and also see what it was like to do some “serious” yoga! I thought I would in the very least find out what I was doing wrong in my postures (surely Wii Fit couldn’t tell how good my Downward Dog or Warrior II actually was) and a real life instructor would help me fix my mistakes. I certainly considered myself a yoga novice.

And so I headed to Banff for the weekend on Friday.  The retreat was held at the Banff YWCA and the room had been decorated with scarves, crystals, candles and the odd Buddha or other Eastern deity statue (I think there was a Ganesha and Vishnu too, but I didn’t look that closely). There were about 9 other ladies on the retreat. Another 2 were supposed to join us but they couldn’t due to the weather. Friday evenings’ session began with some relaxation and then we did some restoration and hatha yoga postures for the first hour or so (I think there may have been some qi-gong too). Then we all gathered together in a circle around a candle to do some focused meditation. I have attempted this type of thing before and it was not unlike the “Lotus Focus” game in Wii Fit Plus which involves sitting cross-legged on the balance board as still as possible gazing at a candle on the screen as the game attempts to distract you.  If you move too much it ends – I usually last about a minute. The final thing we did that evening was lie down and listen to a yoga-nidra CD which guides you to focus on different parts of your body in order to relax them and concentrate on breathing. Yoga-nidra translates as “yoga sleep” and it is a deeper meditation. I did fall asleep for about 5 minutes I think. The whole thing latest about 30 minutes (it felt deliciously longer) and it was wonderful how energized I felt afterwards (even at 9pm after a long day).

Saturday morning started with some relaxation where we were lying down on our mats to relax a bit before starting yoga warm-ups. Marcy had a rain-stick which she came by each of us with. I didn’t know what it was at first but as it’s name implies it mimics a natural sound which just adds to the relaxation. The morning was then spent doing more restorative and hatha yoga poses (some of which was with a partner) as well as some qi-gong which is a Chinese practice for aligning energy and breath using a gentle flow of sequences. Marcy explained that whereas yoga works through the chakras, qi-gong balances the meridians and so they complement each other. Throughout the weekend we also chanted from each of the chakras starting with the root-chakra through to the crown chakra to release old and negative energy and bring in positive energy.

Saturday afternoon was spent doing what I can only describe as a form of Reiki (Marcy is also a Reiki Master) in groups where one person was in the centre and the others brought their hands up and down the body of the person in the middle (not touching) and allowed energy to pass back and forth as a healing exercise. Problem areas would feel warmer or cooler or with resistance. I didn’t feel that I was that sensitive to it but I did feel a warm area for one lady in the group and resistance too in what was possibly a problem spot (a sore shoulder?). My problem are was my brain – no surprise there as I know I have a hard time turning it off (lots of people do). I’m still rather skeptical about this stuff, but remain open-minded – there is so much we just don’t know about unseen energy and I just don’t know enough about it. We also did it as a group where 3 of us were in the middle and the rest around them. Group work and partner work is not my favourite as I like my own space! The remarkable thing is that when I was in the centre and I closed my eyes I didn’t feel I was closed into a group at all, I felt I was standing on my own on a hilltop, like a tree. It was actually a kind of nice feeling. I also could see just orange (which happens to be my favourite colour) which is the colour of the sacral chakra which is located in the reproductive  region of a person. This is the chakra concerned with creativity, sexuality, relationships and emotions. I definitely felt an affinity for the creative as art in all it’s forms has definitely been a preoccupation of mine recently what with the theatre group and my band. Finally on Saturday we finished off with another 30 minutes of yoga-nigra.

Today’s session was just in the morning, but we started earlier. We again started with some relaxation. Marcy went around with a pair of tuning forks which she struck by our heads and the frequency they resonated at felt very pleasant. Then we went into yoga warm-ups followed by more restorative and hatha yoga poses. Then some more qi-gong. In partners we gave each other a back massage followed by meditation.  I can’t remember what kind of meditation it was but we were sitting up with our backs against a wall and a bolster for comfort – I again fell asleep for a few minutes!  Then we worked on some sound therapy using different vocalizations to help heal various parts of the body. My memory is hazy, perhaps it is because a lot of stuff was so new to me and there is only so much retention. The retreat ended with one final meditation called the “House of Light” meditation where you imagine going into your house of light – once again I was so relaxed I fell asleep!

As I recall my weekend, I have a hard time separating all the activities I participated in. I can only attribute that to the flow of the retreat as yoga, qi-gong and meditation etc. seemed to blend together. The time went very quickly. Marcy made all of it very accessible especially to a new-comer like me. I was surprised that I didn’t feel more uncomfortable with some of the more spiritual practices that perhaps I would have considered kind of hokey, but it was interesting to learn about them. As for the hatha yoga, I felt that my own rather unorthodox yoga practice was validated as I had great balance with poses like Tree and Dancer and I didn’t need to be constantly corrected in my poses (which is one thing I was curious about going into the retreat on Friday). I was also happy to be able to do many already familiar poses as well as learn some new ones including Boy Dog (a new favourite because of it’s name – a raised leg variation of Downward Dog, need I say more!) I wasn’t in over my head for one moment, but one thing about yoga is that it is not about the “score,” it  is about physical awareness, personal growth, health and spirituality and with the poses you only push as far as comfortable. The meditation practice was fantastic (my favourites being the focused meditation with the candle and yoga-nidra) as I have a hard time taking even 5 minutes for something like this as I’m always on the go. (Meditation is as good as any nap in my opinion – felt so refreshed afterwards.) After each day I felt energized and physically great and an added bonus was that when I got home to Mary’s house and went to change I noticed some more muscle definition on my upper abs and upper body. Marcy also gave each of us a thank you gift of a little crystal to hang on the rear-view mirror with beads the colour of each chakra – very pretty.

So what next? I am certainly going to continue with my Wii Fit yoga and I am going to sign up for one of Marcy’s weekly classes at the Airdrie Yoga Studio I would go on another weekend retreat too. This was a very unique experience for me and I would certainly recommend it to others looking for some me-time.

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