Saturday, November 27, 2010

Guest Author Kathryn Beet: Evidence Based Yoga Nidra Heals what Ails You

(Lewis Carroll's sketch for Alice in Wonderland)
 "Let's pretend there's a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let's pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze so that we can get through. Why it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare...And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright, silvery mist".  (Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll)

M ost days I forget any one of a number of things: my yoga card, my umbrella, or socks, at my home away from home, Yoga Space Toronto. Maybe that's just because of the sheer number of hours I spend at the studio. Or, maybe it has something to do with the slumbering ease I feel when I walk through those doors. You could call that feeling a kind of "nidra"; a diffuse awareness that day after day, my lost items will reveal themselves in some nook, some basket... and that the front desk will thoughtfully tuck my yoga card underneath their workspace yet again. I've come to trust that Yoga Space is all about making room for restful awareness; even if it means sometimes we're ambling around in a perforated, yoga-induced, dreamstate.

Founder and director Kathryn Beet began Yoga Space 15 years ago in a quiet alleyway on Bellwoods Ave in Toronto. Now expanded beyond its original space, the luminous hardwood floors on Ossington Ave are marked by a continuous, steady stream of staff and practitioners that have been with the studio for years. Kathryn is a sensitive, highly-intuitive and skilled teacher whose teaching style is a powerful blend of intelligent use of energy, and rigorous demand for the hard-facts; the evidence of the therapeutic benefits of asana. She prefers discussions that stay grounded in the physical realities of individual bodies, providing detailed verbal instruction, highly-effective hands-on augmentation, and definitive demonstration. She has been providing Yoga Therapy for individuals in clinical settings for 10 years. Gleaning insight from the many teachers, therapists and artists she has worked with over the years, she has created a unique fusion of yoga therapies in Therapeutic Yoga, which she has been cultivating at YogaSpace for 4 years. 

I had a rainy day chat with Kathryn Beet about her own practice; and discovered her growing interest in Yoga Nidra. I immediately asked if she would be willing to contribute her ideas as a guest author. In the following post, Kathryn explores the mounting scientific evidence in support of the long tradition of Yoga Nidra, its therapeutic benefits, and its transformative potential.
~ ~ ~

Evidence Based Yoga Nidra Heals what Ails You
by Kathryn Beet

(Photo of Savasana, Corpse Pose, covered in a blanket)

Y oga Nidra, which means sleep of the Yogi, is an ancient, sacred yogic practice of meditation that can lead to profound changes in both mind and body.  It is a vital resource for transforming physical health and reshaping personal, interpersonal and professional relationships.  The origins of Yoga Nidra can be traced back to the ancient sacred teachings of Yoga and Tantra.  The practice has been revived over the last half century by Yogis, such as Swami Satchidananda and Nischala Joy Devi, to name a few.  Most recently, clinical psychologist Richard Miller has effectively demonstrated the indubitable healing potential of Yoga Nidra to mainstream North America.

Founder of the Integrative Restoration Institute in California, creator of iRest Yoga Nidra and author of Yoga Nidra, A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing, Miller serves as a research consultant, researching the healing effects of Yoga Nidra on diverse populations including soldiers, veterans, college students, children, seniors, the homeless and people suffering from depression, anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, chemical dependancy and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, (PTSD).

In 2006, the United States Department of Defense conducted research on the iRest Yoga Nidra protocol with soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan experiencing PTSD.  Following the study, the Deployment Health Center integrated Yoga Nidra into it's weekly treatment program for soldiers. Yoga Nidra classes have subsequently been set up in treatment facilities throughout the U.S.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Queen Street Yoga Turns Five in Good Health and High Spirits: An Interview with Founder and Director Meaghan Johnson

  "For some reason, I went and looked at it, and the space was just huge, with hardwood floors and high ceilings, and there two rooms like that with change rooms. And I just thought, "Oh crap, we have to start a yoga studio"!
(Meaghan Johnson, Founder and Director, Queen Street Yoga, Kitchener, Ontario)

Q ueen Street Yoga recently celebrated its fifth birthday in its birthplace, Kitchener, Ontario. That's no small accomplishment for a small studio that opened during a yoga boom. But, with an expanding array of classes and workshops in yoga and meditation, and a focus on the therapeutic function of yoga as pertains to stress, trauma and illness, Queen Street Yoga has managed not only to survive, but to grow its reach and impact in local communities.  Part of this buoyant, "can-do" atmosphere owes itself to the high-spirited approach of Queen Street Yoga's founder and director, Meaghan Johnson, whose exuberance and engagement with her own practice is palpable in our interview.

Meaghan Johnson was first introduced to Yoga in 1992, and has had a dedicated practice for the last 8 years. She began teaching yoga in 2002 after completing a 250 hour teacher training in Toronto. She completed a second teacher training with Hart Lazer in 2004 and has been studying with him ever since. She is influenced and supported by the yoga teachings of Ramanand Patel and Donna Farhi. Meaghan also maintains a regular meditation practice, and completed a month long silent retreat in the Tibetan tradition in India. A self-proclaimed arts enthusiast, she's actively involved in running Queen Street's operations, as well as overseeing its increasing reach in several communities. In our interview, Meaghan talks about her own encounter with yoga in her early teens, and its mitigating influence on her later struggles with bi-polar disorder. We also chat about what it's like to run a yoga studio in a city that sits in the quieter shadows of the big-smoke, Toronto; and, her interest in taking yoga into art galleries to explore the relationship between therapeutic body practices and art.

(Meaghan Johnson, Queen Street Yoga)

"Often there's a lot of rhetoric in yoga and meditation that doing these things is going be blissful and relaxing. And for many people, that's really not the experience they encounter. You're actually going to be thrown back into this body that remembers everything that happened to you."     (Meaghan Johnson, Queen Street Yoga)

Interview with Meghan Johnson of Queen Street Yoga, Kitchener, Ontario: 

PT: What was the actual anniversary date for QSY? 

Meaghan Johnson: I'm not really sure actually. It's funny i'm just not very nostalgic that way, but I think it was at the beginning of September 5 years ago...So our actual birthday is over - but we consider it a long birthday. In some ways it's been an amazing five years. I often say, you know the community must want this yoga studio because I'm just flying by the seat of my pants trying to keep up (laughs)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Syrinx and Systole, Guest Author Matthew Remski Introduces his New Book of Poetry

(Syrinx 2, Marion Dunleavy)
"She will recede with each increment of
light, with each syllable you find in your throat like a cave
painting. The reverberation in the bark is the stutter of your
hand letting her go.
The choir of earth. Over the reeds, the long exhale of don’t
know anything. The shiver that cracks the spine as more
apples blossom, turn red, turn cider, turn vinegar, turn ash." 
(from Syrinx and Systole, Matthew Remski)

M ost of you know Matthew Remski as co-director of Yoga Festival Toronto, an Ayurvedic Health Educator and Practitioner, and adjunct faculty member for many Yoga Teacher Training Programmes in Toronto. Many people are also familiar with the Matthew Remski, who, along with fellow yogi and author, Scott Petrie, co-authored the wildly imaginative and iconoclastic text on re-embodying yoga, entitled Yoga 2.0. But perhaps you are not aware that he has also published several novels, and founded Scream in High Park, a literary festival that has since grown into the 2-week-long crowning event of alternative Canadian literature. Now, on the heels of unleashing Yoga 2.0, Matthew will be releasing his first book of poetry in fifteen years. A book launch will be held at the Supermarket (in Toronto's Kensington Market) on Tuesday, November 16 · 7:00pm - 9:00pm. 

I asked Matthew if he would like to contribute a piece of writing about the launch of his new book, and he responded,
 "Sure. should it be manifesto-style?"
 And Matthew, oracular and enigmatic, offered us this arrangement of words.
(The Unknown Potter, Arthur Boyd)

on launching syrinx
by matthew remski

the pages are lined with consciousness and birdsong, orality and aurality, the oscillation of separateness and communion, space and its filling, the dissociation of seeking, the pervasion of being found, loving the identity-trauma of learning.  learning as terrible pleasure, learning as food.  learning is food, so we are fed by what we have yet to know.

content is paramount: form serves it like a dish serves food.  sleep washes the dishes.

the structure of this book saddens.  not because of its sentiment, which chirrs and clicks between the oriole and the occipital.  not because it is this book, as opposed to any other, it is sad because as a collection of meditations it does not like the prison of a book generally.  it cannot understand the mathematics of a print run, why its words cannot change.  it flutters confused and now resigned against the papers, against the spine.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

When Discipline Sets You Free, The Beauty of a Dogmatic Practice: David Robson on Mysore-style Ashtanga Yoga

(David Robson, right. with pilgrims at Sravanabelagola)
"The beauty of the practice is that, inside of the structure of it, there is still room for interpretation." (David Robson, Co-Owner and Director of Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto)

(David Robson, photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)
T o be honest, it makes little sense to hear David Robson, co-owner and director of the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto, talk about struggling with focus. He wakes up at 3am each morning in order to do a few hours of asana practice before he heads out for his teaching day which begins at 6am. But then, it's often the people who have a measure of focus that know how disconcerting it is to work without it.

After completing a degree in Comparative Religion, David Robson made his first trip to Mysore in 2002, where he initiated studies with his teacher Sharath Rangaswamy. Since then he has returned annually to deepen and enrich his practice and teaching. In 2008 David was Authorized to teach Ashtanga by the Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute of Mysore, India.

I first saw David Robson speak at Yoga Festival Toronto, in a workshop he provocatively titled, Dogma and Discipline. In our hour-and-a-half workshop, David put about thirty practitioners through their paces, slowly and deliberately teaching a sun salutation, followed by standing poses from Ashtanga's first series. Words like regulation, prescription, numerical breathing, dharana, and drsti filled the air; sibilant, measured and consistent as the clock's tick on the back wall of the studio. Each pose was meticulously explained, adjustments were made, we were instructed to find stillness in each pose, and to submit to the discipline that each posture promises.  Furthermore, each student was clear by the end of the class that there were to be no extraneous gestures; no cycling of feet in downward dog, no flicking back of hair strands, and no readustments of spandex, in the repetition of this traditional sequence.

But, as is obvious in our interview, you would be making a mistake if you assumed David Robson was a dogmatic personality, or a rigid teacher that measures out generic prescriptions from the topsoil of his yogic life. Instead, David's approach is the result of years of mining his own search for realization. As David says, "the body is your laboratory"; and, he's taken a look at the substrata of his own makeup, and its fairshare of competing and contradictory inclinations.

In our interview, we have the privilege of observing David's map of complex choices, as he searched for something, "a spiritual high", he couldn't quite name. From his first self-taught encounter with yoga from a nameless book of poses, to playing in an improv post-rock band with Peaches, to travelling the world seeking out his version of Maslow-inspired "peak experiences",  and teaching Bikram Yoga, Robson's early experiences with yoga are energetic and restless. Not until he met Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and his grandson, Sharath Rangaswamy, did Robson feel he had found a powerful diagram for transformation: Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga.

(David Robson at Yoga Festival Toronto, 2010)
 "I was pretty irreverent in my approach to yoga initially. But, you know in some ways, the seriousness with which you approach it, seems to be proportionate with the change that it can effect".  
             (David Robson, Co-owner and Director of the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto)


Dogma and Discipine, Interview with David Robson of Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto:

 Priya Thomas: Hi, is that David?

David Robson: Hi Priya, how are you?

Priya: good thanks, thank you for doing this...So when did you start practicing yoga?

David Robson: I started doing asana classes about twelve years ago. I started with Sivananda style. A friend of mine knew I liked yoga; I had been doing it out of books and things like that..but very infrequently. And so she brought me to a class. And I had no idea actually that were yoga classes.

Priya: Really??

David: Yeah (laughing)

Priya: So where did you find books from?

David:  You know I can't even remember the books that I had. I had books with different pranayamas, and things like that; and simple asanas. But I didn't know that people were in rooms doing it together! I thought it was just something you always did alone.

Priya: oh wow.

David: Yeah I had no idea. I guess I was just out of it! (laughing). So anyway, this friend brought me to a Sivananda class in Toronto; the one at Spadina and Harbord. And I was amazed that all these people were in a room together doing it! And there was a teacher walking around; and it was so relaxing. I immediately fell in love. And at the time, I had just come back from a long trip away, and I had just started studying religion and U of T. So the week after that, I went back twice; and then before I knew it, almost right away, I was going every day.