Archive for November, 2012

So….to start:  I am hardly Shiva Rea (a famous yoga guru who runs workshops at American yoga retreats like Omega and Kripalu) or a Lulu Lemon worshipping wannabe.

I am, instead, the person who practices yoga for fitness and meditation.  Right now, I’m on a meditative kick.  My new Thursday night yoga class is sublime.  It’s only an hour and fifteen minutes in length, but the poses make me realize how strong I am in a physical, mental and spiritual sense.  My body stretches like warm taffy and I think “Holy shit!  My legs can do that?!” or “How is that happening?!  My wrists can point inwards towards my torso?!” or “Why am I not falling over?!  I can stand up, balance with one leg raised, foot balanced on the opposite knee, and I can lean back into a quasi-chair pose?!  How is that even natural!?”  The last ten or fifteen minutes at the end of the class is given over to savasana, or corpse pose.  When I’m done, I don’t want to be done.  The entire session lets me honour my body, but lifts me out of it somehow at the same time.  It makes me forget about the worries of my day at work, how my book launch will go next month, or whether or not my dog is aging faster than I’d like.

My yoga teacher at Cedar Street Yoga is Willa.  She is my guru; she speaks in poetic metaphor and plays great music before we get ready to practice.  When I get a toe cramp, she knows it before I can even begin to grimace.  I’m not an easy yogi.  You see, when I was about eleven, I had major surgery on my left leg at Sick Kids in Toronto. Now, thirty some odd years later, I am the proud owner of a large staple that is embedded somewhere in my upper left leg, hip high, near my femur.  That story doesn’t matter, but the physical resistance I feel in my left leg when I’m stiff, or tired, or just aging badly, is something that rankles me.  The yoga stretches out muscles I didn’t even know I had.  It tightens and tones my core so I walk taller and straighter, so my legs seem less wonky to me.  For most, child’s pose seems simple, but for me, it’s always a fight to pull my hips down lower.  They just won’t go there because of that darn staple.  I’m good with that now, but when I first began to practice yoga five years ago, I used to compare my form to others.  Once I figured out that it wasn’t about whether or not I could look like a cover of Yoga Journal magazine, it all just fell into place.  I got it.  It’s all about going inside yourself and finding peace where you didn’t think it lived.  Inside yourself.

Tonight, Willa started us off with ‘constructive pose.’  I made a face inside my mind.  “We’re going to start by constructing something?  I’m tired.  I can’t imagine this will help, especially if I have to construct something.” (I’m literal, I know….)  Within minutes, she had us lying on our mats, on our backs, knees bent and feet as wide apart as the width of the yoga mat.  Then, she had us lift our bent legs and slip a strap over our feet and up our legs, above our knees, “just like putting on a skirt.”  We returned our bent legs to the mat.  Then we began to breathe.  Our legs were cradled by the tension of the strap, so that our legs were supported in the pose.

This pose helps to release the psoas (say it ‘so – as’) muscle, which is deep within the core of your body and runs bilaterally.  It connects each leg to the torso.  This muscle tightens up with stress.  Figures, then, that this constructive pose feels so wonderful.  It releases the psoas muscle.  Ten minutes in the position and I thought I’d left my body.  Seriously.  It was a deep level of meditative rest for me and I’m now probably going to be breaking out the constructive pose whenever I feel a bit tense.  (I’ll need to bring a mat to work!)

Later in the class, Willa had us swivel our hips.  “These are witchy hips!” she announced to the room, as ten women all swiveled their hips in small circles, first in one direction, and then in another.  Just when I got the hang of owning my ‘witchy hips’, Willa said “Now….try doing figure eights!”  A chorus of laughter and groans emerged.  How to do that?!  Who knew your hips could do figure eights in a yoga studio?!  “Pretend your hips are stirring a cauldron!”  Stellar image!

I am the proud new owner of witchy hips that stir cauldrons of change.

This is what yoga does for me.  It lifts me up, stretches me out, makes me realize my soul is bigger than anything else I could begin to fathom or imagine.  One pose, seemingly of ‘constructive rest’, cracked me open like a hazel nut and made me realize that I am more connected to the universe than I ever imagined….so that I later walked the dogs and looked up at a star-filled sky that sparkled through trees stripped bare like Irish lace against midnight.  So that I wondered at the raw beauty that exists everywhere….when we breathe deeply, take notice, stop our “monkey minds”, and go inside.



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How to begin?  This week has been strange.

I work at a school that is, truly, my second home.  I practically grew up there.  From 1984-89, I was a student at Marymount College in Sudbury, Ontario.  Now I teach at what is now called Marymount Academy.  Some mornings, as I walk from my car to the front door, passing the beautiful statue of Mary in the front garden, I almost think I’m time traveling.  I have always been drawn to that statue, since the time I was thirteen years of age and entering Grade 9 as a “minor niner.”  It may have been because my aunt, Sister Helen Kelly, used to live in “The Tower” and she was often out in the front flower beds, tending to the flowers, pulling weeds, and making sure that Mother Mary was the centre of attention.  Those flower beds remind me of her every day and she’s been gone a while now…)

This week, the walls between the past and the present, in that space, have wavered and shimmered, so that memories of my time as a student have surfaced in odd ways.

You see….I’ve lost the first of my circle of friends from high school.  As Marymount was (and still is) an all-girls’ school, I remember that we gathered into groupings.  As an intelligent kid who was overweight, I was bullied.  Luckily, I found a circle of girls who were as eccentric and clever as I was….so I felt less of an outsider.  Still a geek, I was surrounded by other smart geeks, so that made me feel normal.

Part way through Grade 9, I met my first circle of friends — Pinky (Fe) Aling, Susan McGuinness, Rochelle Gravelle, Kim O’Brien, and Debbra Dempsey.  I cannot even remember now how we all managed to meet.  Some of the girls lived in Chelmsford.  I lived in the Minnow.  One lived in the West End.  Somehow we found one another.  Lunch hours were filled with honey buns and games of euchre.  There was laughter, talk of teachers (especially the young male ones!), and always the sound of the leaves rustling in the trees outside the classroom windows.  I was a daydreamer, so the classrooms on the top floor — the ones that looked out over the panorama of the cityscape — were perfect for my out of body wanderings.  It was like living in a wonderful tree house….

Around about Grade 11, our group melded into another group.  This other group consisted of Jen Kolppanen, Christine Runnalls, Corilee Osbourne, Philippa Jones (Pippa!), Maria Monteleone, Carla Borgogelli and Jill Penton.  There were others who would somehow float into that group in the last year of our time at MMC, but all together, we were quite a force to be reckoned with….Most of us were readers and creative ‘imaginers’.  All of us had amazing senses of humour, if I do say so myself.  Half the time, I just remember that we cracked each other up at lunch and on spares….it was like a constant laugh fest near the little school supply store at the back of the cafeteria.

So….why this nostalgia?  Well, my old friend Corilee died this week.

I knew she wasn’t well.  I had seen her two years ago, when my dad was in hospital.  I hardly recognized her even then.  (Jen, who works with me at Marymount, had told me Corilee was in hospital.)  Then, just 39 or 40, she looked much older when I saw her in hospital.  She was wheelchair bound and unable to see very well.  She was what is referred to as a ‘brittle diabetic’ and had begun dialysis.  Ironically, her hospital room was opposite from my Dad’s.  I heard her voice before I saw her.  I remembered that voice!  It was strident, I guess you could say, as if its owner knew what she knew and didn’t mind speaking her mind.  It’s one of the things I most respected about her.  She spoke her mind.  She was kind and very funny.  My kind of girl….

When I finally realized it was Corilee across the hall from Dad, I wandered over and said hello.  She couldn’t even remember me.  I didn’t realize how ill she was…until then.  Even though we’d lost touch since our late teens, most other people from high school remembered me (or even just my name).  It worried me that she couldn’t remember me, not from an egotistical point of view, but in terms of her health.  She still had a smile and a bright spirit, even faced with dark and challenging health issues.  But I knew it wasn’t good….even then.  I brought her a plant to brighten her room.  It was the last time I saw her.

Hearing that she had died this week struck me hard.  I keep wondering why.  I hadn’t seen her in twenty years, and it’s been two years since I last saw her in hospital.  I think it really hit home that the first of my extended circle of friends from high school has died.  At 42.  Much too young.  Given my family’s history, I’ve had a lot of experience with death, including two uncles who died in their early 50s, but this was different.  Here was a contemporary who had died.  Here was a great girl who had spent two school years worth of lunches and spares at the same table as me. How many honey buns?  How many games of euchre?  How many episodes of grape tossing under the feet of passing teachers and nuns?  Too many to count….And her hair!  (How could you forget the variety of 80s hairstyles!)

So, tonight, coming out of the school after parent/teacher interviews, tired and headachey, I stopped to take a look at the statue of Mary.  She’s beautiful.  Head tilted up, hands in prayer position, hopeful, her demeanour speaks also of bravery and faith.  Looking up at the night sky, tipping my head, snowflakes swirled in a mad ballet so that I felt like I was inside a snow globe.  For a moment, it might have been a night in 1989.  My aunt’s ghost might have been tending flower bed tributes to Our Lady and our crew of Regals, including Corilee, might have been perched chatting on the stairs leading down towards the green lawn in front of the building.  For a moment, the years shifted and we were all younger and healthier…and Corilee was still here.

I’ll miss knowing she’s here on the planet…but I do know she’s with others who care about her.  I’ll see her again….and maybe she’ll remember me more clearly then…

Most importantly, though, I know she’s healthy again now.  No more pain.  No more fear.  No more being trapped by a rebellious body….and I hope she’s saving a spot for me at some heavenly lunchroom table so that we can catch up some day….when we meet again.

Until then, my old friend, peace be with you….and may flights of angels sing you to your rest….


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