Categories
Scholarship

Scholarship Information

Scholarship Application – Land and Heart Yoga School

I am pleased to award one 50% scholarship to a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training applicant. The application process has two components:

  • A 500 word essay
  • A two-minute video or slideshow

I love essays! They have a beginning, a middle and an end. They have a clear thesis statement and each section has a topic sentence. They clearly define themselves in terms of who, what, where and why.

Please write a short (less than 500 words) essay in answer to this question:

What is your dream project? Imagine that you can abandon all your responsibilities (and maybe even the life that you’re currently living) and start something new. Nothing is holding you back except your own fear. If courage is the only catalyst you need to get what you want, what would that be?

Describe your dream project in terms of:

  • Where? Location! Where do you need to be?
  • What? Resources! What do you need to get started?
  • Who? Contribution! Who are you helping with this project? Who do you want to benefit the most from your work?
  • Why? Reason! What inspired this project?

The project doesn’t have to include anything about yoga, but it can if you want it to. The intention is to start thinking creatively about your situation and how you see yourself contributing to the world around you. What does freedom and contribution mean to you?

I also love photos and videos! They illustrate the creative process. Include in this application a two-minute (or shorter) video or slideshow to illustrate the inspiration behind your project.

Please send essay and video or slideshow to

katecovelloyoga@gmail.com

Deadline: One month before program start date. 

Scholarship winner will be notified three weeks prior to program start date.

  

Loka Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu

May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts words and actions of my own life contribute in some way.

Categories
Skiing Yoga

Meditation and Rehabilitation

Meditation is the art of freeing yourself from life’s annoying circumstances. Life’s ups and downs happen all around. Highs and lows. Pain and ecstasy. Love and loss. Meditation is the tool to free yourself from suffering and feel at ease in your circumstances.

A couple of weeks ago, I tore my ACL. Behind me is the foolishness of my pre-injured youthful self. Now I’m a grim-faced gimp. In a moment of inattention, I metamorphosed from an egotistical and childish skier who didn’t know the debilitation of injury into a sedate and crippled adult humbled by the limits of my own body.

Slalok
Since I can’t ski right now, I’ve illustrated this article with gratuitous shots of my friends skiing.

Where formerly I would roll my eyes at friend’s descriptions of injuries to meniscus and patella, now I understand the anatomy of the knee with the same clinical accuracy that Jordan Peterson defends gendered pronouns. I hadn’t heard the sickening pop of a torn ligament and I was blissfully uninformed of the difference between MCL, ACL and PCL. They were just acronyms and I was just skiing. “No more conversation about knees…” I’d plead and loudly sigh as yet another friend detailed ACL injury and subsequent rehabilitation.

waiiiiiting
This is actually a conference on knees and skis. More than one person is bored listening to his friend talk about knee surgery.

But those days are over. Skiing and normal activities stripped away in a moment of complacency; the road to recovery lies ahead. The banality of a knee injury is not lost on me. For skiers, it’s as common as a cold. The tedium of thinking about my knee is oppressive. I’m obsessed with it’s healing, I’m terrified of slipping on the sidewalk and I can’t fathom the elasticity it’s going to take to get back in my ski boots, let alone on to my skis.

posing in the sun
Here’s a bored snowboarder unable to withstand the tedium of her skiing counterparts talking about their knees.

So what to do? So far, I’ve made it up and down a few flights of stairs and done some step-ups onto a 4-inch box. Those feats are a significant departure from bootpacking a 500-metre couloir or even doing consecutive box jumps.

Keyhole - Chamonix
First – walking up the stairs. Then – back to bootpacking

But it doesn’t matter what I could do before. All that matters is what I can do right now. Circumstances can’t be changed, regret is a waste of time and the only thing to do is whatever it takes to heal and get back to the mountain. And that includes yoga.

road to recovery
The road to recovery – one step at a time

I’ve told countless injured friends over the years that they should get on the yoga mat. Regardless of injury, regardless of perceived inability to “do” yoga. “I can’t go to yoga because my back/neck/knee hurts.” Well, you should go to yoga because your back/neck/knee hurts. I’ve said this to injured friends, with tyrannical authority, but I didn’t have any first-hand experience on the logistics of getting an injured body onto the mat and into the practice. Until now. Bitterly tasting my own medicine.

Waves
It’s a deep season that I chose to miss. Cayoosh – January 2019

On the day after the injury, I went to yoga. I wanted to stay home and watch Netflix. I was unhappy about being hurt. It was all so predictable. Skier injures knee. How typical, how prosaic. I was despondent and defeated by my circumstances. Yoga, meditation and the accompanying introspection was the last thing I wanted to do. I didn’t want to accept my circumstances; I didn’t want to be free from suffering. I was furious. This was the strongest I’d felt in years. This season was going to be mine. But that strength and confidence was gone. And I wanted to wallow in self-pity, not meditate on the gift of the present moment.

Japow
Shredding the present moment

But on crutches, in pain and feeling sorry for myself, I wobbled into the yoga studio. And at risk of sounding imperious, I’m here to emphasize that yoga is, indeed, the thing. Logistically, I couldn’t do many of the poses. In fact, doing any poses was out of the question. But I could lie there and quietly breathe, do a few knee bends and focus on cultivating a positive attitude. And as cliche and over-stated a positive attitude is, it really is all we’ve got. A positive attitude, unshakeable by circumstances, is the means to survive all of life’s disagreeable circumstances. Yoga and the accompanying meditation teaches comfort with discomfort.

DOA + Whistler
Keeping your skis going fall-line is the best strategy against knee injury

Yoga is so much more than the poses. The poses are only 12.5 percent of the practice. I’ve said this before, but I don’t think I truly got it until I was lying there unable to do any of the asana, but still participating in the class just by being present. The other 87.5 percent of the practice exists in the mind. Concentration, discipline, meditation, freedom from suffering.

up and away
Freedom from suffering in perfect pow

It’s the freedom from suffering that is central to yoga and the tool to manage life’s circumstances. A knee injury is not the worst tragedy to befall anyone. It’s not really even a crisis, but it’s a temporarily debilitating detail in my story. We all have debilitating details in our stories. Whether it’s the unanticipated loss of a job, illness of a parent, being a victim of burglary, paralysis following a car accident. These are all tragic circumstances. The hard truth though is everything could always be worse. But it could also be better. The point is that good and bad things happen with equal regularity.  Meditation teaches that surviving the ups and downs is possible. By meditating on the present moment, you teach yourself that the collection of experiences that populate your life’s story are not the totality of your existence. Furthermore, the collection of experiences that cause pain and difficulty do not need to equate to suffering.

Spruceman on skintrack
The wise (spruce)man on top of a mountain.

The myth of the wise man sitting on top of the mountain is an archetype of someone escaping the confines of life experience in order to seek enlightenment and avoid suffering. It’s a story to illustrate meditation as a transcendent and literal state of being. But glorifying meditation in this unlikely scenario is a hyperbolic way of viewing the practice. Literally escaping the trappings of society and its accompanying pain and sorrows isn’t necessary because meditation provides an avenue to metaphorically escape the confines of difficult circumstances. The trick is to use meditation to pay attention to the present moment, cultivate a positive outlook and refuse to suffer from unfortunate circumstances.

Experiences and circumstances are sometimes beyond control. Events that cause pain are unavoidable. But choosing to suffer (or not) is definitely within your control.  Practice meditation as a strategy for accepting and coping with difficult circumstances. Learn to be comfortable with discomfort and maintain a sense of ease through all life’s injuries.

Cosmiques
Comfort with discomfort in the mountains

Lying on my yoga mat with a swollen knee, I didn’t feel prepared to accept my circumstances. But recovery will follow a specific trajectory and there isn’t any way to expedite the healing. I can’t change what happened and my ski season is over. So many details in my life are different now: the inability to walk the dog, waking up to searing pain because my knee twisted in the sheets, boredom with the only cardiovascular exercise I can currently do (swimming). But my ability to tolerate these frustrating changes and to thrive as a contributing member of society is predicated on making the conscious choice not to suffer.

Sprucedude
Suffering is optional

Suffering from these circumstances is easy. Using meditation to alleviate suffering and to understand my intrinsic worth is hard. Living a worldly existence populated by experiences and injuries is easy. When something as consuming as injury happens, it can be hard not to obsess with the story and the healing. But circumstance does not represent the totality of existence. Meditation is freedom from preoccupation with circumstances. Pain and difficulty is mandatory. Suffering is not.

Categories
Yoga

The Wheel of Yoga

What is yoga, anyway? This week marks nine years since I started teaching yoga. And I still have only a vague idea what the practice is all about. It’s somewhere between renouncing all worldly possessions in the pursuit of a higher understanding of the universe and ensuring that you aren’t overinflating your ego as you admire your ability to do hatha yoga poses. I’ve been examining the practice and chronicling my observations for more than a decade. Here’s a sample.

On and Off the Mat

Yoga is a complete system of living.  I, like many of my students, started yoga because I wanted to “stretch.” Yoga is a good physical activity, but the practice has been around for millenia; there must be more to it. Indeed, as I delve into the more esoteric aspects of the practice, I’ve discovered there’s a lot more to it than just stretching.

There’s several types of yoga. The wheel of yoga represents the unity between disciplines. The techniques for practicing are diverse, but every discipline agrees the intention is freedom from suffering. Students return to the practice again and again with the aim of reducing suffering by shedding the habits of the ego.

Pain is an inevitable part of the human condition. Heartbreak, loss, failure, rejection…are just a few examples of experiential suffering. The attachment to this suffering is optional. As children, our personality structure is based on seeking love. Seeking and finding love is a strategy of the ego and children must pursue acceptance as a survival technique. As we reach adulthood, however, the pursuit of love, acceptance and pleasure creates a false sense of self. Constantly seeking approval and love from external sources represents the inherent idea that we are “not enough” as we are and thus suffering ensues when external circumstances of love change or disappear.

The intention of yoga is to understand the Self in relation to the self. The Self is the underlying nature of bliss and shared with all living beings. The self is the personality and ego unique to each person. The strategy for navigating difficult emotions and suffering less is to train the mind to be free of misunderstanding of the true Self. Yoga addresses this freedom from misunderstanding through six different disciplines: Raja, Karma, Jnana, Bhakti, Hatha and Mantra Yoga.

Raja Yoga

Called the king of yoga, Raja yoga is inclusive of all yoga brands. It’s a goal rather than a technique and teaches that the intention of yoga is to unite the self with the oneness of the universe.

Raja yoga can be practiced in any way and at any time and does not require any particular poses or rituals. The absence of “process” means that this type of yoga is accessible to anyone, regardless of training or knowledge. Raja yoga devotees teach themselves to find harmony between themselves and the universe as a whole. They practice self-mastery by turning inwards towards love and light and eschewing external stimuli.

Try…

Right now, without changing anything in your surroundings, close your eyes and listen to your breathing. Withdraw from the sounds, smells and external stimuli around you. Without judgement, observe yourself. No blame if your mind doesn’t settle right away. Thoughts will come to you, but regardless of what they are or what circumstances they represent, repeat the following: “my well-being and my freedom is not attached to any outcome.”

Raja yoga is the ability to withdraw your senses from your circumstances and find freedom within.

Karma Yoga

The yoga of action is karma yoga. It is participation in selfless service without expectation of receiving anything in return. True karma is diligently doing your work without feeling attachment to any outcome. Participating in karma yoga teaches kindness and compassion without expectation. It is selfless generosity of spirit without needing payment in kind. As with all types of yoga, the intention is freedom from selfishness and release of the self-serving ego. According to the Bhagavad Gita, life gives infinite opportunities to act, but you must never allow yourself to be affected by the results. Karmic action is a selfless contribution to the world without expectation.

Try…

It’s difficult to find volunteer opportunities that do not offer anything in return. There’s always parties or gifts for people who volunteer their time. But most volunteers don’t do it for the gifts. What are other ways to provide selfless service? Picking up garbage? Shoveling your neighbour’s sidewalk?

Practicing karma yoga provides freedom in the form of selfless service. It’s an active reminder that everyone is equal.

Jnana Yoga

The yoga of knowledge. Practitioners of jnana yoga use the mind to understand the greater truth within the mind. The premise is that all knowledge and truth already exists in the mind. Just like an ice sculpture artist who finds a shape within a block of ice, students of jnana yoga learn how to access knowledge and truth within their own mind. Practicing jnana yoga demands great concentration and strength of will – you must figure out how to transcend your own thoughts and ego.

The process of jnana yoga is to consistently question the self and reflect on the limits of the ego. Through this process, you arrive at a place of yearning for freedom from suffering. The process of jnana is a six-step process. Patience is the key to success in the process.

Try…

The Six Steps of Jnana Yoga:

Tranquility The perseverance to maintain peacefulness in spite of external stimuli.

Control Ongoing mental fortitude against the senses. Train the senses to be used only as instruments of the mind, rather than the other way round.

Withdrawal Renounce everything not directly related to your duty. Jnana requires a lifestyle of simplicity where there are no distractions from the spiritual path.

Endurance Hardiness in the face of external forces that create suffering. Success/failure, pain/pleasure are examples of these forces. Endure all forces and resist the urge to suffer.

Faith Be confident that this is the correct path and that the teachings of jnana will guide the way.

Concentration Complete focus and attention on the greater truth of the universe. Abandon all attachment to thoughts and perceptions of the world.

Bhakti Yoga

The practice of bhakti is union through devotion and love to a personal god. Bhakti is also described as “love for love’s sake,” and includes ceremonial offerings, devotional meditations and reminders of gratitude.

Bhakti yoga includes references to “the lord,” “the divine,” and “god,” but note the lowercase letter. For the secular, bhakti is the belief that love is all around, available in abundance to be given and received. Bhakti Yoga teaches that the divine exists in whatever form you choose; the yogic divine is formless.

The intention of bhakti is to create love and gratitude outside of the self. Recognize that  attachment to relationships and possessions is fleeting, but receiving and giving love to a divine energy is absolute and permanent. Bhakti devotees describe their practice as “romance with life itself, rather than a specific person or object.”

People come to bhakti yoga as a remedy for heartache due to loss of love. In the face of extreme loss, people seek to understand how to love again. Bhakti teaches that love is abundant and that by spreading love and receiving love from all sources, suffering from heartache can be alleviated.

Sufferers of heartache feel heavy because they’re carrying around a feeling of love and loss. Bhakti yoga is the practice of finding an outlet for that love – regardless of which relationships or possessions are present. Bhakti yogis give love to the earth and the sky and everything in between.

The practice of Bhakti includes devotional meditations such as Kirtan chanting, ceremonial offerings such as flowers or sand represent love for the earth, and offerings of gratitude such as giving thanks before a meal.

Try…

Remember a time that you were consumed by grief. As a tool to focus on the abundance of love, ask yourself the following: If the world around you – the trees, the stars, the moon, the sun, the earth, the water – could speak to you to console you, what would they say? What would you say to them?

Practice bhakti yoga as a reminder that love is formless and abundant.

Hatha Yoga

Alternately referred to as “forceful yoga,” Hatha yoga is focused on developing strength and tenacity in the physical body. Like every yoga practice, hatha aims to transcend consciousness and find freedom by understanding a divine reality. The practice of hatha is a physical pursuit that prepares the body for the rigours of transcendence. Transcendence must not be mistaken for a purely mental achievement. Arriving at a mystical state of consciousness has profound effects on the nervous system and other bodily systems. Hatha yoga is the tool to prepare for these effects.

Hatha yoga is the technology to realize transcendence. Tread cautiously though. Due to the intense physical nature of hatha, practitioners are susceptible to body-focused egocentrism. The intention of yoga is to transcend the ego. Be careful not to inadvertently inflate the ego through admiration of yourself in the postures of hatha yoga.

Use hatha yoga as a tool to prepare the body for the rigours of the finite life and the infinite reality. Be cautious though. The poses are a tool to transcend the ego. Don’t admire yourself in the poses. Don’t overinflate your ego on the path to freedom.

Mantra Yoga

Mantra is a tool to focus meditation. Mantra yoga is the use of a phrase or a sound in the practice and its use protects the person who is using it! Traditionally, Mantra is passed from teacher to student when the teacher clearly sees what the student needs. In a moment of revelation, the teacher knows exactly which mantra to provide. The student receives the mantra and repeats it over and over in meditation. Its use creates a shield and protects the user whenever protection is needed.

If you haven’t been offered a mantra yet, start with OM. With practice and patience, a personal mantra will be revealed to you, either from a teacher of from your own intuition (the teacher within).

So what is yoga?

Yoga is a multi-faceted technique for existing in a mindful state. To do yoga is to adhere to a set of guidelines for coexisting with the world around you. Life is full of challenges, surprises, victories and moments of euphoria and sorrow. Doing yoga is allowing the moments to happen around you, but not being reactive to their outcomes. Also, life includes possessions. Things, relationships, jobs, friends, experiences. All of these possessions contribute to a rich and fulfilled life, but their presence is temporary. Doing yoga is observing those things and experiences as they gracefully come in and out of your life but not allowing their absence to cause you suffering. Pain from their loss is inevitable, but suffering due to that pain is optional. Doing yoga is peacefully accepting that everything is impermanent. Yoga is the template for freedom in the face of all worldly experiences, whether they be exhilarating or debilitating.