All the things I stopped (well, a dozen of them anyhow)

mascara, ponytails, not sleeping and underwires plus a few more things…

1. I stopped working. That is, I retired from the work-a-day work force. I’m not going to lie, it has been a bit of an adjustment but I am quite certain I can make this retirement thing work. I have a list of daily tasks, reading and learning (currently Spanish on the free amazing app Duolingo), exercise, communication with friends and family and meditative walks plus meal planning, groceries, laundry and doodle care. These things shape my days during this pandemic while I dream of world travel once return to Canada testing requirements lift. (There has been a rumour that the restrictions will lift April 1!!!!!) Oh my goodness. Can’t wait!

2. I stopped avoiding stairs folks due to dropping about 50 pounds! Obviously had to climb up before heading down (in both cases, actually). This is hubby ahead of me in St. John’s, Newfoundland. These days I enjoy stairs and getting back into good physical condition. It is an epiphany to witness the body getting stronger and more fit.

3. I stopped social media (is blogging considered social media? Hope not.) This on the heals of watching a documentary called ‘The Social Dilemma’ and now understand the reason social media are free. If a product from massive technology companies are free, it means WE, the USERS and our ATTENTION, are the product. Keeping our attention is the purpose so that their advertisements get more time to normalize into our awareness and become that item we recognize and eventually buy. Our attention is their aim. Sadly, their tactics for keeping our attention can take us down myriad wormholes – wormholes that they provide to us through their algorithms! The top idea to get away from some of the social media pressure is to simply turn off notifications. Simple. Here’s an article out of Syracuse University with further recommendations for you: https://launchpad.syr.edu/3-things-we-learned-about-social-media-from-netflixs-the-social-dilemma/

4. I stopped drinking alcohol. I felt backed into a corner first by peri-menopause and then by full-on menopause along with, lets not forget, mental illness. I found that imbibing begets more imbibing. If I don’t drink, I usually don’t miss it. There are all these new non-alcoholic beverages on the market and at some restaurants which make this an easy choice. Hubby brought home zero percent alcohol coronas baby! So with a wedge of lime, we were feeling tropical. Today was above zero so, there’s that.

5. I stopped wearing makeup. To be fair, I haven’t worn much makeup since the 80s. I’ve always wondered why I sometimes feel obliged to paint my face? Do men feel obligated to put daily colour and chemicals on their faces and eyelashes? So, I’ll keep it to the light pink barely-there Burt’s Bees lip balm and nothing more. (for a funny story on (not pink) lip balm read: ‘Trying Something New‘).

Ok, if I was going to a fancy thang, I might apply a very little bit of makeup. I’m not a fanatic.

6. I stopped hating being alone thanks to the pandemic forcing the issue. But, the sun is coming up folks! This is a pretty morning sunrise on one of my solo (with doodle-dog) walks around a pair of ponds just up the trail from my house.

7. I stopped rolling up my yoga mat. Instead, now it lies in a ribbon until I flick it into place and get on it. Or, it can sometimes be found laying in wait for me, all set to go. I am incrementally building strength, flexibility and balance. It takes time but not nearly as much time as I thought, because I’m doing it daily. I’m back into my fluid, intuitive daily arm-balance and inverted yoga practice. I still love being upside-down, it seems. Several people have asked me what I include in a typical daily practice. Here’s an example.

8. I stopped wearing my hair long and I stopped the perpetual hair band on my wrist. One day I lost the love for my long tresses. It was dragging me down. I put my washed wet hair into a slick ponytail and asked Hubby to lob it off. I later went to a hairstylist and she made it look sweet. It is short. It’s just easier. Fresher. More up to date. (Not saying I hate long hair, it’s just a break from 30 years of the same relative hairstyle which was born of the fear of a loss of femininity should I cut it.)

9. I stopped long enough to enjoy this view, and many others. This is the gorgeous Petty Harbour, Newfoundland. We love this place!

10. I stopped not using snail mail and now I have a five year-old pen pal. She is an incredible communicator getting to the brass tacks in each colourful letter: have you ever seen a puffin bird? Even though people do not look the same on the outside, they are the same on the inside. I like talking with my friends a lot. What do you like? And, what is your favourite pet animal?

11. I stopped sleeping well due to facing past trauma, though it’s important to do so, with professional support, when ready. So, then I stopped trying not to take a sleeping pill. I hate them but I also hate 3 hours of sleep at night. I had written a post about how to get a good nights sleep by taking a health supplement. For me, that lasted about three weeks and then back to insomnia and the dread, loneliness and hopelessness that comes with it. I have sought help and was recommended to do a self-study of this program found at mysleepwell.ca* out of Nova Scotia’s own Dalhousie University. Now I am doing myriad things to aid in the normalizing of a decent night’s sleep. Here’s some of the programs’ recommendations: only sleep in the bed (for example, no reading in bed). That was huge. So, reading in a chair until I’m sleepy for bed. The thinking is to associate your bed with sleep only.

There is much more to it like keeping a sleep diary. Sleep hygiene (clean up you sleep act) like: no screens in the bedroom – don’t use your cell phone for a clock. (I picked up a travel clock for under $20); dim lighting, full darkness at night which may mean better curtains or blinds or a sleep mask, no pets allowed in who would disturb you or other humans who snore. If there is a chronic snorer, or twitchy-legged partner? Try to find a bedroom and a bed that can be made quiet with a tightly closing door and/or a hallway door that closes too. The double door stops you being awaken by the cat. The very one who used to jump on your face at 4 am wanting to be fed or cuddled. We’ve all been there. Feed your cat at night. We have big brains but sometimes these simple little tricks elude us. I know.

Sleep needs to be your sanctuary.

These measures and a few more (caffeine only in the morning; less or no alcohol; dim lighting; cool room, no heart racing exercise a few hours before bed) are to be done for a while until you’re habitually sleeping soundly for seven to nine hours per night without any sleep medications (and if you’re on sleep medications there are instructions on how to wean yourself off of them for good but, it must be done slowly to stick).

I am very hopeful that this system will work for me. Hubby got me a new sleep mask to help with this project (such a sweetie!). It works very well – not letting any ambient light in. Inky blackness is all I see if I open my eyes in it. Find it by searching for zizwe sleep mask. I also wear earplugs that are suited to my female, smaller ear canals. They come from a Swedish brand called happy ears and are very effective. So basically, I put my mask on and my ear plugs in to help block out unnecessary light and sound.

12. I stopped wearing underwires. ‘Nuff said. Good riddance.

13. I stopped taking my good fortune for granted. OK, to be fair I’ve always been really good at counting my blessings but now I really count them.

I stopped to admire this pretty little historic church on one of my many morning walks.

Well folks, what have you stopped in this year 2022 or in the last year? Leave me a comment. I love ’em!

*Sleepwell is led by Drs. David Gardner & Andrea Murphy from Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada and contributed to by psychologists, psychiatrists, family doctors, pharmacists, people who live with insomnia, researchers, and sleep experts to make sure that our recommendations and content are accurate and practical. Funding: Drug Evaluation Alliance of Nova Scotia, Government of Nova Scotia.

The Yoga I do

As a child I did gymnastics and recall the happiness I found in moving my body into various positions. Balancing and stretching, inverting, tumbling and focusing. Twenty years later, I was fortunate to find yoga due to my new friend who was known to be an extraordinary yoga teacher. She invited me to join her beginner class. I recall fondly my very first practise with her and the joy I felt moving back into my body to feel every muscle. Breathing and feeling blessed. I was in tears of thankfulness during her led savasana (final relaxation) her soft accent nudged me further into comfort and reminded me to let go and just be. The chanting of om* while sitting cross-legged, eyes closed, the walls of the room humming with our combined voices, then my palms together, nodding, peace.

My yoga sequence is organic in nature, unconventional. It works for me as I concentrate on doing my favourite postures which reveal themselves to me as I practise. This is just an example of one of my practices which is almost always oriented to inversions (head lower than heart). What to do on the mat comes with practise, like anything else. Start by taking a few classes then take action. Start slowly and build. Stand in mountain. Tree. Sit in easy-seat. Kneel in hero. Roll. Even a ten minute practise is something. It will come. As another fabulous teacher used to say to me: Any amount. Any amount.

***

I come to the mat on my knees, creases of ankles flat to mat, glutes on heels, hero pose, virasana, prayer hands, breathing. Tuck toes under and sit on heels, breath. Hands flat to mat, all fours alternating cat and cow back arches with inhales and deep rounds with exhales then into down-ward facing dog, up dog, down dog then one leg kicks up and over my back for three-legged dog, switch legs. From there to easy seat, sukhasana, with one leg in front then the other. Then butterfly seat. Five breaths. Knees together hands under bent knees, round spine rolling back on spine from tailbone to neck. Five rolls which massage spine. Hands on mat behind me, feet to mat into reverse table, I alternate lifting and lowering hips until triceps zing. Flip over. Prone on elbows for plank for 25 breaths or more. Cobra. Plank for a few breaths. Cobra. Flipping over and lying on my back, corpse pose, savasana. Breathe. Pointed toes now flexed now pointed, raise straight legs up and over my head. Plow, halasana. Five deep breaths. Knees rest just above face. Then bent knees rest gently on forehead. Thankful. Ankles and toes symmetrical. Grasp large toes, straddle legs over head, round spine, rock to seated vee toe-hold on sits bones, ubhaya padangusthasana. Legs together, roll to back for 60 elbow-to-opposite-knee crunches. Hands to small of back, elbows on floor roll back and up into shoulder stand, sarvangasana, toes pointed in air, glutes tight. Split legs, arch back and reach with one leg to mat then other leg comes down arch into bridge, setu bandashana. Bend one knee and push off the mat with other foot back up into shoulder stand and again. Roll down. Taking a foot in each hand, Happy baby. Rocking side to side bringing first the side of one ankle to the floor the over to the other ankle. Focus is at my feet thanking them for each journey they allow. Bring feet flat to the mat, edges of each foot to each edge of mat, back on mat. Bend elbows to place hands under each shoulder to take full wheel, urdva dhanurasana, three times, five breaths each. Flipping over into crow, kakasana, slowly bending elbows lowering my crown to the mat into headstand, sirsana, 15 breaths, pressing into hands and with focus lifting back into crow. Feet spread on edges of mat deep squat with prayer hands, malasana. Hands on mat. Bring feet in front of each hand. Wrap legs around arms drop seat into arm balance with ankles hooked, bhujapidasana. Move mat to wall. Forearm stand, pincha mayurasana, at the wall. Child, balasana. Handstand, adho mukha vrksasana, at the wall. Forward fold into sun salutations, surya namaskar. Grateful. Blessed. Savasana. Namaste.

***

Koundinyasana arm balance. This picture was taken by my sister.

*Om is a sound thought to be the original sound of the Universe. Om is chanted to promote relaxation and focus. Om, pronounced ah-uu-mm is considered an unlimited or eternal sound. It is a deep humming sound made while expelling breath. 

Photo courtesy of currieyogagraphy.ca Thank you!

Yo Universe! Thanks Again

You can’t always get what you want but, if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need*

I was just telling a new friend of mine about how many times it has happened to me, in my life, that the Universe has basically provided me exactly what I need…I mean, what I need has just dropped into my lap.  Pretty cool.  This post is about a few of those instances and how they happened and just how weird and wonderful it is…

The most profound instance of this was the meeting of my husband.  At age 22, I had just driven solo across Canada for six days from Comox, BC to Borden, Ontario to join the Basic Army Logistics Officers’ Course. Day one, October 1988, I arrive at the school hallway with its long line of hooks under a very long hat shelf to hang up my army Issue gabardine rain coat and to shelf my beret.  It was a wet and cool day.  I was trepidatious.  I didn’t know a soul on this course.  There were about sixty other young officers from all over Canada.  So, I am hanging up my coat facing left when a tall, dark and handsome green-eyed young officer hangs his coat beside mine. Catching my eye, he says a simple, “Hi” with a cute grin.  I completely melted and saw stars right then and there.  A feeling enveloped my being.  I knew that this guy, whatever his name was, would be very important to me.  Then he scored a perfect 100 on the opening placement exam and I gulped.  He was intelligent and gorgeous.  When I saw him kick a soccer ball and I realized that he was also athletic, oh my, I swooned.

Dean kicking a soccer ball in Costa Rica, 2019 – he’s still got it!

A year or so later, even though I did not ask to be posted to Germany (when everyone else did ask), both he and I got posted to Germany, same battalion, same company, working side by side as platoon commanders.  Coincidence?  I think not.  We have been married for 29 years.  Thank you Universe!

But what is amazing about this story is all the shit that had to go down before we actually met on that day at Logistics school, hanging up our coats.  You see, I had been at Waterloo University when my summer job money ran out and no one was able to help me.  I fetched about for a way to attend higher education (I am completely downplaying this snippet – I flailed around!) I wanted to qualify for a good career.  My mind came to the idea of joining the army and the many and in-depths steps that had to occur to get in and then take, tolerate and pass the brutal training…then the nightmare of military college…then a short posting to Comox…then the six DAY solo drive to Ontario then hanging up my coat beside my life-mate, enduring months of training and then a posting over-seas…together.  Jeezus.

So, many other much less spectacular things have happened too.

Needing a sleeping cot for my visiting family…verbalize this need to my hubby, (the same cute guy from Logistics school) while driving on a country road.  Thirty seconds later, my eye catches something on the side of the road.  It’s a perfectly fine sleeping cot frame and mattress. We pull over and put it in the back of the car.  Thank you Universe.

A competition is announced at Paddy’s Pub where I worked for a couple of years upon moving to Wolfville.  ‘Whoever signs up the most folks for a loyalty card wins an IPOD.’  Those words were said and I knew in my being that I would win that IPOD.  It was the latest technology.  Friends were digitally storing their music and photos on them.  My son had been pestering for one. A month later I walked home with that new IPOD, feeling like it was a million bucks.  Thank you Universe.

I fell in love with our little bungalow while walking to the first day of school with Leo.  The feeling enveloped me again.  I knew that one day, we would live there.  Eight years later, after the previous owner had raised his family, we did.  It is quite the story, but, we are happy as clams with its ample open space, closeness to trails and proximity to everything we need.

For over a decade, I practiced yoga by attending group classes, eating up as much mat time among community members as I could get.  Sometimes this got expensive as I was paying over $80 ++ per week on yoga classes.  When my new office was directly above a yoga studio again I felt the Universe providing for me.

I began to toy with the idea of becoming a yoga teacher.  My friend Melanie had gone to the Bahamas to study at the Ashram on an Island.  Over a glass of wine and a hot tub soak after yoga at Daisy’s house, she told us of her experience being immersed in yoga.  Not once did I think ‘hey, I could do something like that.’ My search for a teacher training continued.  I tried out a lot of scenarios that would fit my family’s lifestyle.  One day, late in the afternoon, Melanie showed up at my office with her bike helmet under her arm.  It seems she had forgotten her bicycle after yoga class.  She asked me what I was up to.  I told her I was on the hunt for a good, affordable yoga teacher training.  She said, ‘Why don’t you just go to the same Ashram I went to in the Bahamas?’

There is was again…Melanie forgot her bike after class (who forgets a bike while walking with their helmet tucked under their arm?), comes back, sees me, recommends this place to me.  The full-body feeling is there…this adventure will happen.  And so it did, twice, in fact!  The story is at this link.  Alas, I didn’t end up maintaining the teaching aspect of my yoga practice.  But, studying yoga in depth was incredible.  I learned that yoga is a lot of things, the least of which is attaining a yoga body and doing poses on a mat.

Last one for ya…

At a wedding for my niece up in Ontario.  Dean, Leo and I have just driven for two days to Hunstville.  We prepare for an amazing wedding by two foodies where everything is over-the-top wonderful.  We dress and take the bus to the Summit building.  Suddenly I feel my head begin to pound with a headache and a bit of nausea.  If I don’t get an extra strength something soon, I will have to bow out of the festivities and I really did not want to do that!  You see, I adore dancing and socializing and being with my big fun family.  So, I began to quietly but frantically ask around.  There’s no jumping in a car to get to a drugstore.  Remember, we had taken a bus to a remote area.  No one could help me.  Then my eyes fell on my sister.  I whispered to her that my head was aching and asked if she might have a pill.  She was carrying a tiny little black clutch purse. She opened the purse. There was nothing in there. Nada. Except one little red pill! An extra-strength pain-killer.  She plucked it out of her clutch purse and happily handed it to me with as much surprise on her expressive face as was on mine.  What possessed her to put one pill in a purse and carry it to the wedding?

There was that feeling again.  Thank you Universe.

Remember to take a moment and leave a comment.  Comments are awesome!

*Songwriters: Keith Richards / Mick Jagger
You Can’t Always Get What You Want lyrics © Abkco Music, Inc

Amy’s Men

Her hair is Harlow gold
Her lips are sweet surprise
Her hands are never cold
She got Bette Davis eyes
She’ll turn the music on you
You won’t have to think twice
She’s pure as New York snow
She got Bette Davis eyes
…Kim Carnes

My beautiful sister Amy…where do I begin.  She was always a guy-magnet with her long blond hair and huge, kind, blue eyes.  She has an aquiline nose and peaches and cream, skin but even with those attributes, it is her character that the guys fall for in a big way. She is sweet-natured, generous, thoughtful, fun, kind and hard-working.  A guy gets a whiff of that, and game over.  Trust me, I have witnessed this phenomenon my whole life.

Amy was born second in the family line-up.  She was born ten months after Eva, in 1955. She is eleven years my senior and a very close sibling and friend to me.  I could tell Amy absolutely anything and she would nod in a kind and understanding way and with non-judgement would do her best to see my reasons why.  And then, she would join me.

Ike

One of the first men I can remember who LOVED Amy was Ike whom she met thru the A&W in Walden. They were quite young when they met and it was the days of free love, peace, drugs and bell-bottom jeans.  Amy and Ike spent every waking minute together, that they could get away with.  It wasn’t long before Amy found herself in the ‘baby’ way. Of course our parents did what any good Catholic parents would do.

They hastily and by cover of night, sent Amy off to Toronto to live with the Nuns.

For months we barely saw or heard from Amy.  Suddenly she had been ripped from my life and because I was just a little girl (I was six), it really really hurt.  Amy came back once to visit and I remember my older siblings behaving strangely.  Of course they didn’t want me to notice her baby-belly because how would they explain it to me.  We all lived in such a tight-lipped manner back then.  I can still remember this wonderful black velvet, embroidered, baby-doll blouse she wore on that visit and how pretty and rested she looked.  Her cheeks were a healthy pink, her hair was lustrous and thick.  A couple of months later and she was back with us, as if nothing ever happened.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I learned the truth.  One night, Mom and Dad had friends over and Dad had too much to drink.  I had been sleeping in my bedroom down the hall  from the living room but had awoken upon hearing Dad’s voice raised in anger.  He was talking about how his blond daughter (whom I knew must be Amy) had had a baby with ‘a club foot’, ‘out of wedlock’ and had given her up for adoption.  My little brain began to spin.  I was an Aunt, but not an Aunt.  Where was my baby niece?  I did not sleep that night and at the crack of dawn, pounced on my siblings for answers.

Poor Ike, a few years later, lost a leg in a motorcycle accident.  Their daughter grew up, married and had a child.  They all found each other after thirty years, but, alas there were many challenges in the relationship between Amy and her daughter, Kassie. Kassie was raised with different values.  She had serious health issues, addictions and, of course, mobility issues.  She had a wonderful sense of humour but she was needy and was always asking, inappropriately for a hand-out from her biological mom, Amy.  Now, in the way of money, Amy survived and did okay because she worked bloody hard as a hair-stylist and a single-mom to Josh, who was still in middle-school at that time.  She routinely pulled twelve hour days, eating poorly and barely sitting down.  No matter how kind and generous Amy was, it wasn’t long before, with sinking heart, she realized that her daughter was a user.  Amy suffered with guilt and self-doubt but, she finally told Kassie that there would be no more hand-outs.  Kassie was rarely seen again for about fifteen years.

She is now back in Amy’s life and is no longer the free-loader.  One ironic thing about this story that niggles me in the back of my mind is this.  If Kassie were to stand beside her biological father, Ike, you would see a remarkable family resemblance. She was her father’s daughter.  AND, they both have just one leg.

(R.I.P. Ike.  He passed in 2019.)

DICK TOE-SHIT

Next up was a guy Amy actually married.  Dick was a quiet and haunted seasonal mason. In the off-season, he was basically a full-time stoner.  It wasn’t long before we got wind that Toe-shit was physically abusing Amy.  Our oldest and second brothers, Matt and Mark went to their flat and moved Amy out of there and brought her home.  Toe-shit was an asshole.

BUZZ

Buzz was this short, dark-haired, crooked smiled cowboy who was a farrier (horse-shoer) by trade.  He suffered from short-man’s syndrome.  Buzz knew it ALL, and then some. Name a topic and then just sit back and listen to him spout the bull-shit.  It was incredible.  He would come up to the camp with Amy and wear this teeny little noodle-bender Speedo bathing suit and yes, he would hope that you glanced down to check out his stuff.  He was quite proud of his manhood.  WhatEVER.  Bottom line was that the guy was completely bad news.  As soon as the family met him, we wanted Amy out. He was a user and he was verbally and emotionally abusive.  We are still not sure what Amy saw in the Buzz-ard.

BLAIN ROBERTS

Blain was a car salesman.  Tall, blond and a real talker.  He had a Great Dane named Thor (compensating for something?) and fidelity issues.  Enough said.

PHIL

Phil was from the village on Eight Mile Lake.  He was constantly in bare feet with a smoke between his teeth, of which a couple were missing.  Phil was a nice enough guy and we all liked him but, he was completely passive aggressive.  Everything had to be done his way. He was also without a driver’s licence and often without work and therefore a bit of a drain on the finances, especially considering that welders can make big money any day of the week.

Amy came out to visit me for two weeks in August 2013 when Phil was still living with her and we had one wonderful vacation together. It started with a weekend yoga, herbology and belly-dancing retreat entitled:

The Juicy Goddess Retreat at Windhorse Farm  done by two of my friends, Daisy and Lucy.

The retreat was such a great time.  We did lovely yoga led by the highly skilled teacher, Daisy.  We ate wonderfully prepared, catered meals that the caterer continuously told us proudly were ‘vegan’.  I would then say, that’s nice, but no need to go through the trouble because we aren’t vegan.  The next meal though, she would announce the same message again: I hope you enjoy this meal.  It’s vegan.  I was left wondering if I had imagined the previous conversation. So I told her again: that’s lovely but, please don’t trouble yourself, we aren’t vegan.  When she announced it a third time, I took a look at her face to see if she was joking.  She stared back at me rather vacantly and smiled.

Ooookay.  Stepford Wives much?

Yoga retreat
We hiked all over the property of Windhorse Farm and were given a herbology talk by my lovely friend, Lucy.  The weather was hodancer on the fallen treet and dry.  It was an incredible day and we learned all manner of wonderful tidbits from Lucy. Next, we put on belly-dancing costumes and makeup, had white wine, and were given a lesson.  We then walked through the peaceful lush forest of the farm and did yoga moves on fallen logs taking photos and such.

The next item on the agenda popped up out of nowhere.  Lucy had mentioned to us that she had a tooth that was bugging her and that probably just needed to be filed down a bit so that it would stop irritating her cheek.

Amy says: ‘Marti can do it!’ And, with that vote of confidence, so I did.  I put my reading classes on, and in belly-dancing attire, filed down Lucy’s problem tooth. The pictures were hilarious. I asked Amy later why she nominated me for such a task. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘because you were in the ARMY.  You can do anything.’ Ooookay.  Just checking. (The other day, my teenage son said something similar. I was asking him to show us how to download a free movie.  He says, ‘come on Mom.  You were in the ARMY, you should be able to download a movie.  Geesh.’)

Leaving Windhorse farm, I took Amy to Hirtle’s Beach.  I wanted her to experience the vast, white sand beaches of Nova Scotia.  We got out of the car and barefoot, took the

boardwalk Hirtle'sboardwalk over the dune to the beach. Amy gasped at the sight of Hirtle’s.  So vast, so empty, so perfect.  Arm in arm we walked the beach and Amy told me then the sad tale that she and Phil were not going to last.  Up until that point, I had thought Phil was the ‘one’.  Amy had not told me her struggles with Phil.  She told me then, on Hirtle’s.  I will never forget that exchange.  Sadly, Amy told me that she thought she would end up alone in her old age.  Fat chance of that, I thought.

Bayswater Beach
The gorgeous Hirtle’s Beach, Nova Scotia

Upon leaving for a Cuban vacation, our second brother, Mark told Phil to be moved out by the time he and Amy got back, or he would move him out himself.

OTHERS

At my best-friend Kelly’s wedding to the asshole she finally just got rid of twelve damaging years, but two beautiful sons later, comes this proposition.  I had just finished saying my speech about Kelly.  It had gone over well. I was especially glad to see Kelly’s Dad, a retired cop, laughing so hard he had pushed himself away from the table and bowing down between his knees.  He found the story about ‘get out before she blows’ (from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp) quite hilarious and the fact that he never had heard about it, was also funny.

Anyhoo, I was pleased to be done. I walked to the back of the room and there was Amy speaking to Kelly’s mom who then turns to me and says, ‘Martha, your sister Amy is a remarkably beautiful woman’.  Like I didn’t know this?  She carried on to another group of folks and Amy and I then chatted and laughed and were anticipating a great evening of dancing.  Then, over walks Kelly’s brother Sam and begins a friendly conversation with Amy and I.  The next thing you know we are all chuckling and enjoying ourselves with recalling fond family memories.  Sam had been our youngest brother, Luke’s best friend. During the course of the conversation, it came out that Amy was now single.

Sam leans in, ‘So, Amy, you’re single now?’

Amy nods.

Sam inches a bit closer, turning his body slightly toward Amy.  His eyes riveted on her face.

Picking up on the body language, Amy cocks her pretty head to the side, blond hair cascading, smiles and asks, ‘So, Sam, how OLD are you…..?’

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT me to be?’

We laughed uproariously, bent over double at his sweet attempt to entice Amy.

****

Just the other day, I was on the phone with Sue, the guy (yes, Sue is a guy) from the post Fun and Foibles at the Camp (18).  We were talking about all the members of my family that he had met over the years and especially at the camp.  It wasn’t long before Sue asks, (and I wasn’t one bit surprised) ‘So, what is Amy doing these days?  Is she single?  Tell her I said hi.  I always thought she was so nice and pretty, even though she made me clean up her car after I got sick in it.’

At the next opportunity, I told Amy that Sue had asked after her and was saying he was interested.  Amy says, ‘Oh that’s sweet, he was always such a good head.  How OLD is he, Martha…?’

Pause.

‘……How old do you WANT him to be?’

Total Guy Magnet.

(Credit for the feature image at the top goes to my other big sister…the ever talented, Eva Player)

~Remember to leave a comment below.  I love your comments!~

Ashram Rant

I did the 500 hour yoga teacher training at an ashram in the Bahamas in two one-month stints separated by a year. I am still confused about my time there.

I arrived in the Bahamas and caught the wee boat over to Paradise Island but only after a tall cold Kalik from a little place on the dock.  I was heading into my second turn at thirty days of certain austerity.  Surely I could have one last beer?  This was five hundred hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training or ATTC at Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. (I had completed the 200 hour teacher training course or TTC the previous year).

The Sivananda Yoga Retreat is situated on five slowly eroding acres on the tiny Paradise Island which is just a couple of minutes across the water from Nassau.  The ashram enjoys two waterfronts, the South side facing Nassau and the North side facing the Atlantic.  Over to the East is the huge resort of Atlantis and to the West, a few private properties.

There were about three hundred people at the ashram for the two months I was there (Dec 2013 and Jan 2015) and the whole place was run by about six monks, a dozen disciples, a few dozen volunteers, guest instructors and local staff who were mainly cleaning staff.  The volunteers did an amazing job when one considered all of the work involved in running a business of that size.

So for the yoga teacher training we had a tough schedule:

  • 4:30 wake up
  • 5:00 Pranayama (advanced breathing techniques)
  • 6:00 Meditation
  • 6:30 Chanting (or once per week meditative beach walk and chanting)
  • 7:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 8:00 Anatomy
  • 9:00 Asana Practise (Yoga)
  • 10:00 – 12:00 Brunch* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine)
  • 11:00 Karma Yoga (chores, like dish washing, garbage collection, temple preparation, meal preparation)
  • 12:00 Raja Yoga Study or Sanskrit
  • 2:00 Vedanta and Bhagavad Gita teachings
  • 4:00 Asana Practise (Yoga and how to teach)
  • 6:00 Dinner* Satvic vegetarian (no eggs, no mushrooms, no onions, no garlic, no caffeine, no alcohol)
  • 7:00 Homework
  • 8:00 Meditation
  • 8:30 Chanting
  • 9:00 Inspirational Speaker
  • 10:00 Lights out (often, the speaker went late and so lights out was really more like 10:30)

When I showed my teenage son, Leo, the schedule his one remark was: ‘That advanced breathing techniques must have been tough, eh Mom?’  Actually, the morning pranayama was likely my favorite thing, as well as learning to read and write Sanskrit.  Yoga asana was also very enjoyable but, the vedanta teaching and raja yoga were barely tolerable.  A lot of it was very hard for me to grasp as I am more of a concrete person.  Anatomy was interesting but, did I really need to study exclusively the Central Nervous System to be a yoga teacher??!  How about a few hours on say, the spine?

We were up at 4:30 for the full thirty days (The previous year, for 200-hour teacher training, we awoke at 5:30 and did not have pranayama practice).  On Friday’s we were given a few hours off in the middle of the day.  It was my time to walk way down the beach and then to do laundry, shower and a concentrated effort at home-work.STUDYING IN THE GARDEN

Pranayama practice took place in the dark on a deck by the bay.  The water lapping at the deck footings and the breeze off the bay lent the experience a surreal quality.  We lined up our mats along the edges of the dark platform and sat cross-legged, facing in, forming a large u-shape.  Our teacher stood at the opening of the U and guided us through the seven types of pranayama for an hour.  It was completely rhythmical and meditative bringing a

dock-at-sivananda-retreat
The is the Bay platform where we had Pranayama at 5:00 am

deep sense of relaxation, wellness and calm.  The only trouble was, at the end of the hour we were hastily dismissed and had to tear off, silently, to the temple for morning satsang.

Satsang started with thirty minutes of silent meditation, sitting cross-legged on the large garden platform which had been transformed into a temporary temple due to the large numbers at the ashram (a couple of dozen yogis sat in chairs due to various injuries.  I myself sat in a chair due to my army-worn knees which would pain badly after about 20 minutes of cross-legged sitting.  How I envied the knees of the younger yogis).  Chanting took up after meditation and was wonderful especially when it came to twice daily Jaya Ganesha which was fun and musical and small instruments were passed around to make it even more so: bells, tambourines, small bongos and shakers. Now, all of this was taking place before breakfast, so again, there was this lazy kinda of dream-like quality to it.

The inspirational speaker was usually fairly boring and I got the feeling that they really enjoyed hearing themselves speak.  The swami who spoke for two solid hours per night for several nights in a row about the Bhagavad gita had us nearly crying in boredom. It was literally painful to be that tired and to have to try to listen to her monotonic voice. She did not once check in with her audience.  It was astounding.  A few times over the two months I was there, there was actually a very interesting talk regarding something that I cared to listen to.  Otherwise, I would usually just zone out and slip back into that meditative state.  The best speaker for me was the one about sleep and the importance of dreaming as well as the one about sound healing.  At the end of the sound healing talk, we were asked to close our eyes while several helpers floated around with tuning forks humming and waved them over and around our heads to encourage the healing of whatever may be ailing us, physically, spiritually or emotionally. It was a mystical experience.

meditation-garden-e1492796503741.jpg
Garden Platform as Temple due to high numbers at the ashram

The ashram experience was riddled with dichotomous occurrences.  I will attempt to explain here:

  • Compostable Waste: a huge amount of food waste was hauled away daily.  Two or three huge barrels of wasted food.  Why not compost it or at least ask those at the ashram to take less food.  How about stopping the use of trays.  People take more food than necessary if given a tray.  Apparently they tried composting the food waste but it caused a rat problem so they stopped.  So, at least ask people to take less.  I saw people loading up their trays and then throwing a third of the food away. Another reason for loading up was the two meals a day routine. People were VERY hungry come brunch at 10 and supper at 6.  Food waste has always been a sore point for me, raised the way we were.  Mom taught us to not waste precious food. Fill a plate, then come back for more, if necessary.  One of the inspirational speakers did a talk about wasted food.  But, nothing changed.  It was weird.  Hire a speaker. All sit and listen, nodding, ask questions, applaud…then….do NOTHING differently.
  • Plastic Bottles of Water on the temple.  This confused me every time I looked at it. There was fresh water available at a filtered tap for everyone in the ashram and it was located just a few steps from the temple.  There were temple workers who kept everything perfect in the temple.  How much effort would it have been to fill a nice refillable glass bottle or jug and glass for the temple?  To watch the volunteers off-loading cases and cases of water in plastic bottles for the monks in the temple was just ridiculous. This could be improved easily and help save our plastic-choked oceans.
  • High-fructose Corn Syrup Products like Skippy peanut butter and crap jam was being served to us in the meal hall at brunch.  That’s fine and good but let me get this straight, we were not allowed to have (gasp) eggs, mushrooms, onions or garlic BECAUSE WE WERE ON A SATVIC (clean) DIET, BUT HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP is ALLOWED????!!!  I’m sorry.  That’s just wrong.  One of my classmate yogis stood up and informed us of this because he had been helping to offload the supplies.  We would not have known about the poor quality peanut butter and jam because it was dispensed daily into huge bowls.  The brands and ingredients were hidden from us.  This just seems like a pure business decision. These products were obviously cheaper than the better quality more pure equivalents like the peanut-only peanut butter and the fruit-only jam.  My beef here is that if you’re going to spout a SATVIC (clean / yogi) diet.  Make it ALL satvic.  Don’t demonize harmless God-given, Earth grown mushrooms, onions, garlic and eggs.
  • yoga at ashramBeach platform  there were several large platforms around the ashram but the best and most coveted platform was the beach one.  It is ironic that the marketing photo of the Yoga Teacher Training Class in yellow and white uniforms above was taken on the beach platform BECAUSE FOR THIRTY DAYS OF TWICE DAILY CLASSES, WE DID NOT ONCE HAVE YOGA ON THE BEACH PLATFORM FOR OUR CLASS OF ATTC students even when we repeatedly requested it.  Our classes took place in the forest or on the Bay platforms.  The beach platform was ALWAYS saved for yoga classes for guests, not for paying Yoga Teacher Training students. Hmmm. That was a piss-off because when I decided to do Sivananda Teacher Training, I saw the marketing photos and wanted my classes on the Beach platform, just like the photo.  It is lovely to do yoga while looking out to the horizon over the sea. And, by the way, the fee for our month-long program was not inexpensive ($5000 plus flights) .  We too, albeit yoga teacher training students, were paying customers.
  • Light Pollution at Night lighting around the ashram should be on timers and / or on motion detectors.  There were many lights left on all over the ashram, all night long and for those in tents, it must have been impossible to sleep.  In my bunk, I used a dark cloth to form a curtain to block the light.  But here’s the thing. One of our inspirational speakers spoke about the menace of light at night and how it can interrupts sleep cycles, hormonal release and production especially of melatonin. Again, nothing was done. 

So, after twenty-nine days of our strict schedule, we were given a three hour written exam on the final day.  I had studied hard for my exam, in every spare moment allotted. And you may be getting it that there is a lot more to yoga than just stretching and contorting. In fact, there are volumes and volumes of ancient teachings on yoga. From my text: Yoga is the process of uniting the individual soul with the Universal Soul. Yoga is also the state in which the activities of the mind are restrained. In a nutshell yoga is really about quieting the mind (in Sanskrit – chitta-vritti-nirodhah) for meditation in order to one day become fully realized but, only after ages of study (jalna yoga) and devotion (bahkti yoga) asana practice (raja yoga) as well as karma yoga (selfless service). I was never a scholar, so  some of the material, like: What are the six orthodox heads of the Sanskrit literature? or What is the Sakshi Bhav method of Vedantic meditation? (yikes!) came down to straight memorization.

After morning pranayama on the Bay Platform, we were offered a light breakfast with an open lunchtime promised after our exam.  I wrote my heart out and was somewhat pleased with myself that I was the second person finished.  I re-read it and re-read it again then handed it in and walked over to the kitchen.  The first guy finished immediately started asking me about my experience on the exam.  He asked me: Martha, what did you think of the anatomy questions? I stopped eating, my food mid-way down my throat.

Oh my god.  I didn’t have an anatomy section!!! OH MY GOD.  I somehow FORGOT to do the anatomy section.  But wait, I had re-read the exam and re-read it again.  There was NO anatomy section on my exam.

So, reader, you may be wondering why I was panicking so much over this.  Well, I had worked really hard for thirty days of austerity, discipline and spirituality.  I did not want to finish this with the PARTICIPANT Certificate.  I wanted the full 500-hour Yoga Certificate. Yoga Acharya.  Call me crazy, but I wanted to finish with the full designation, and, it wasn’t my fault that a page of my exam was left out by them.

I ran to find the teacher of anatomy and report this error.  There was no way I was going to just keep quiet about it.  Better to tell them.  I found Isaiah in one of the nearby buildings and with pale face and furiously beating heart, told him what had happened. He said, okay, stay around here.  I will speak to Swami B about it and let you know what he says.  Four hours later, he still had not told me what was going on.  My hands were visibly shaking now.  I read in the central garden and I helped in the kitchen.  Finally my Asana teacher found me and told me, All is well Martha.  I was there when the Swami marked your exam, he said it was very strong. You can go now.  All is well.

OM
This is the symbol OM.  It is said that Om is the first sound of the Universe. That it is the sound of creation.

So, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and went for a long walk way down the beach and into and around the Atlantis Resort, which, by the way, was like walking around Mars in comparison to the ashram due to it’s opulence.  I looked at the price tag on a simple summer dress in the boutique: $5000 U.S. I looked down at my simple skirt and cotton blouse. No comment.

 

 

When I came back to the ashram, I helped again in the kitchen and then one of the younger disciples came up behind me and said, Are you Martha? You need to go see Isaiah, he was looking for you earlier.

FOOD PREP ASHRAMWhat the hell.  Oh my god. This wasn’t over yet at all. My heart started to race.  It had been a long, stressful day.

I found Isaiah and he told me he would test me orally on Anatomy.  I was to meet him in the south garden at 7 pm.

I was basically a basket case by this time.  I looked over my notes but my eyes were blurry and my pulse was all over the map.  From my learning about the Central Nervous System, the very topic I was to be tested on, I knew that I was having a stress response. And, that is pretty much all I knew. Ironic. Consequently, the oral test did not go well.  I could barely remember my name let alone the parts of the cell, nerve and brain. In fact, I had one nerve left and it was frazzled.

Finally, the oral test was done and I was free to go to my room and prepare for graduation.  First, I asked Isaiah if I had passed.  He said he wasn’t allowed to tell me. Wonderful. You may be getting a feel for just how torn I was about this place by now.

ashram grad
Graduation Ceremony

As it turns out, I passed and Isaiah apologized to me. He said that the mistake was theirs and that I should not have had to be tested on Anatomy.  Thanks a pant load, Isaiah.

Now I couldn’t wait to get home to wintery Nova Scotia and just chill and have my own time to do what I liked. It’s funny, I went away to a yoga retreat to do something that most people would think of as relaxing.  A month at a tropical beach-side ashram (I swam twice in the month I was there) to learn something I was already pretty good at.  Most of the time I was there, though, I was stressed, and I wasn’t the only one.  My roommates complained about the scheduling a lot.  They were not getting enough sleep and they were very over tired. People were always falling asleep during Satsang and lectures. During yoga classes (asanas) several yogi classmates would lay in sivasana (corpse pose – laying flat on their backs on their mats) for the whole class, sleeping. Everyone became sick with a head cold and some with stomach upset.

Every part of the day had Attendance takers for arrival and dismissal of the section of the day.  Too many lates or abscesses and the disciple in charge of discipline would speak to you.  One could even be sent home for too little discipline.  The first time I was at the ashram, in December 2013, a young woman had taken to walking around the ashram during part of the Satsangs because the Hindu teaching confused her as she was of a different faith.  She was sent home.

Uniforms were to be worn for most parts of the day, as seen in the photo: white pants and yellow t-shirt.  We had two uniforms and only a few machines for laundry to share among 300 people.  A slight problem for getting laundry done.

Before arrival at the ashram, I had asked for a Doctor’s note about my mental illness (I am Bipolar 1 – the kind of bipolar that has led me to psychosis).  I was worried about sleep deprivation and its effects. Sleeping from 10:30 – 4:30 was just not enough sleep for me.  My doctor insisted that I get at least seven hours per night or eight if possible.  So, I had a get out of jail free card for the final speaker at Satsang every night.  BONUS.  My roommates understood and I was honest with them about how bad it could get if I had an episode but, it was hard on them because of the perceived favourtism I had arranged for myself.  At this time, I was managing my bipolar disorder with lifestyle.  I was not on meds (which I know now was a very large risk and, with Bipolar 1, was actually stupid).  So, one day, early in the month of the second time I was there, one of the disciples confronted me on my leaving of Satsang at 9:00 every night.  He asked me if it was truly necessary.  I asked him if he wanted me to contradict my doctor’s instructions.  That shut him up.  I left Satsang at 9:00 every night.

ASHRAM PATH

So, yes, I was happy to have completed the 500 hour advanced yoga teacher training course but, I am really not sure if I could recommend it to anyone. It would be best to go into it knowing all the seeming weirdnesses.  One more thing, it was cult-ish. What do I mean by that?  Well, it seemed that with all the strict rules around little sleep and with feeling hungry all the time and then attending teachings twice per day as well as the chanting and such, I would worry that some poor souls would be pulled a little too far into the vortex of Sivananda.  I personally met and spoke to several full-time, somewhat tight-lipped, glassy-eyed and therefore mysterious volunteers (karma yogis) who DO NOT GET PAID! They stay there and perform their highly skilled trades or professions (like marketing and videography) for months and years at a time. Ok. You gotta ask yourself, where are the revenues going?  They are definitely NOT going into salaries or peanut-only peanut butter or fruit-only jam or washing machines.

But, even with all the inconsistencies of this ashram, I will always love yoga and will always have it in my life.  I will invite folks to join in yoga because even a simple practise is good enough. For example: sit cross-legged or in a chair, then all fours or raise arms in chair, breath, then stand move to tree pose, breath, all fours then cross-legged and next time add another posture that appeals.  Put on some light instrumental music. Sit. Eyes closed and breath. This is intentional.  This is yoga. As one of my best teachers would whisper to me profoundly, Any amount. Any amount. 

It is a wonderful, uncompetitive way to brings calm, wellness and peace.

IMG_1998