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The Yukon Branches of Yoga

Photo submitted by: Jessica Read

The People – The Passion – The Practice

To grow a plant one must first prepare the soil. Make the earth friable so that the seeds will not be damaged by rocks, weeds nor the weight of the dirt. Then of course the soil must be watered in order for the seeds to germinate.

The seeds of yoga were germinating in Whitehorse, Yukon when I arrived in 1970. I enrolled in a Yoga class at the YWCA, now the High Country Inn. Joe’s manner was gentle and it belied his line backer shoulders. To my surprise he asked me to teach yoga when attendance increased beyond room capacity. Unabashedly, unashamedly I bought a copy of Light On Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar. I know, it was presumptuous of me, but I followed the asanas (postures) and tried to mould myself into the fantastic shapes and configurations in the photographs. Ignorance is bliss. But I was more interested in the practical and physical benefits of yoga. Releasing kinks in my body, being more flexible.  That was my entry onto a path that I have followed to this day.

Jeannie Stevens was one of the pioneers of yoga and began teaching in the Yukon at Hellaby Hall, Riverdale Dance Studio, and a variety of make-do venues. Jeannie’s inspiration came from both B.K.S. Iyengar and the late Swami Sivananda Rhada. I was particularly intrigued by Jeannie’s style of teaching. The postures were taught as symbols, enabling us to explore not just the physical aspect of an asana, but their spiritual, universal, reflective and intuitive meanings. The Hidden Language of Yoga was one of the courses Jeannie offered, in which I remember we were given a posture to perform and then reflect upon it on paper. I did an upside-down tree pose because I was injured. This new perspective connected me to all of life in its diversity. Asanas are named after animals, plants, mythic gods and goddesses. Exploring yoga in this way had a profound effect on me.

Jeannie also conducted a chanting group (kirtan) with her partner Paul Stevens. How I looked forward to those sessions. In retrospect, I think of chanting as being Bhakti yoga, the yoga of surrender, the offering of ourselves into the ocean of consciousness that felt like a sea of love.  These chanting circles were not restricted to East Indian chants, but those of all denominations. Chanting enables one to get out of the intellect and connect with the heart.

Currently Jeannie teaches meditation, breath work and therapeutic yoga in Sidney B.C. Her book Yoga – A Journey of Self-Discovery is “a love-song to my teachers Swami Rhada and Gangaji.”  It is with gratitude that Jeannie came into my life and guided me through the dark nights of my soul. I bow to you Jeannie.

Erica Heuer's yoga session at the Alpine Bakery space. Photo submitted by Erica Heuer
Erica Heuer’s yoga session at the Alpine Bakery space. Photo submitted by Erica Heuer

Erica Heuer’s introduction to yoga began when she and her mom went to loonie Friday drop-in classes in Calgary. Also an Iyengar practitioner, she studied with Jeannie for a long time. Eventually she became a student of Iain Grysak in 2004 until 2012 in the Ashtanga style. Erica says that her practice of yoga has brought her “into the fullest potential of all that I can be.” Other teachers who have influenced her are Richard Freeman and Tim Millar. She now has completed her 500 hours of teacher training. “Teaching is so centering. It’s like a two-way door. You’re giving and so much is coming back. It’s nourishing. Yoga has purified me. It’s a gift.” This system of yoga is derived from the teachings of the late K. Pattabhi Jois, founder of the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in Mysore, India. He was known to say to his thousands of students, “99% Practice and 1% Theory. Practice and all is coming.” He designated the name Ashtanga to this particular style in order that practitioners not forget that there are eight (ashtau) limbs (anga) to the practice of yoga.

Erica Heuer’s introduction to yoga began when she and her mom went to loonie Friday drop-in classes in Calgary. Photo submitted by Erica Heuer
Erica Heuer’s introduction to yoga began when she and her mom went to loonie Friday drop-in classes in Calgary. Photo submitted by Erica Heuer

Jodee Dixon is another devotee of Ashtanga Yoga. She resides in Juneau, Alaska and teaches above the Alpine Bakery. “I see the benefits of preparing physically and mentally when teaching at 6:30 AM. Some will simply breathe and others do gentle movement. It’s the intensity that drew me to Ashtanga, an intensity that is more than physical. I’ve had a rocky relationship with Ashtanga. Feeling the challenge of structure, and my limitations. But the limitations are what teaches you. They come in waves. Like road blocks, especially practising on your own.” Jodee is up at 3:30 AM and on her mat at 4:40 AM before facilitating the Mysore class at 6:30 AM. “If I don’t have the structure, then I can’t do the work that is necessary. Becoming familiar with the sequence, I don’t have to think about what pose comes next, I can move with the flow of breath. I look forward to practice each night, but it’s still hard to rise at 3:30AM.” This is how Jodee explained how spiritual practice is woven into the first and second series that she currently practises. “ Ahimsa (non-violence) and santosha (contentment). It’s a moving meditation. There is no room for distraction if you stay with the vinyasa (sequence of postures). Over the last few years, my relationship with ahimsa and santosha is accepting what is, and not pushing forcefully, yet still doing the work. I work alone because a led class can be distracting. I feel that I am being forced out of my rhythm. But I also take led classes to force mey out of my habits. Her vision is to create a studio in Juneau that will offer a full rostrum from beginners classes to teacher training courses. I would like acroyoga  and partner yoga to be part of the offerings.”

Jodee Dixon is a devotee of Ashtanga Yoga. Photo submitted by Jodee Dixon
Jodee Dixon is a devotee of Ashtanga Yoga. Photo submitted by Jodee Dixon

When I practised Ashtanga yoga on a regular basis, I loved how each posture was linked with breath, drishti (gaze), and flow, linking it all into an exploration of ever deepening practice.

Both Tegan Brophy and Terice Reimer-Clarke are Iyengar instructors in Whitehorse. Tegan is a relative newcomer to the yoga circles. She taught in South Africa, owned her own studio in Namibia, taught in Abbotsford B.C. and moved to the Yukon in 2011. She teaches at the White Swan Centre and at The Studio in Granger. Terice taught at Golden Horn for twelve years and more recently above the Alpine Bakery.

Terice is a physiotherapist and likes “the meld between the physical body and pranayama (breath work). What appeals to me as a physiotherapist is the neurophysical and muscular alignment. The gift of Iyengar is based on principles that can be modified. The postures provide a strong base. If you practise Iyengar yoga then you are practising safely.” In order to maintain their certification, Iyengar teachers need 50 hours of continuing training every year.

Tegan Brophy taught in South Africa, owned her own studio in Namibia, taught in Abbotsford B.C. and moved to the Yukon in 2011. She teaches at the White Swan Centre and at The Studio in Granger. Photo submitted by Tegan Brophy
Erica Heuer’s introduction to yoga began when she and her mom went to loonie Friday drop-in classes in Calgary. Photo submitted by Erica Heuer

Tegan says that “Iyengar definitely helped me with my own health issues. He is the first to make hatha yoga scientific, in an objective repeatable form.” Tegan’s interest in natural health led her to study and complete her training as a homeopathic doctor. Her sense of adventure led her to the Yukon. “Iyengar is a meditation on the body. It’s evolving. It’s not static.”

I couldn’t agree more. I recently read that “Iyengar has the mind of a scientist and the soul of a poet.”

Jessica Read began her formal training at the Sivananda Ashram in India’s Netala Region in 2006. In 2006, Jessica opened the Breath of Life Yukon wellness collective by the waterfront. “My focus is to make it more of an open community, more accessible to a transient community. Most sessions are drop-in classes. Twenty percent are registered.” Her practice took a turn when she was drawn to the movement and free flow of vinyasa. Shiva Rea, whose own teachings follow the lineage of the late Krishnamacharya, became her mentor.  “I believe we need more freedom and consciousness in our practice in order to create an open body and still mind. Prana is the life force of every living being which is reflected through breath. It is less about the pose and more about the life journey. I use East Indian music as a backdrop to assist in the expression of the body/mind. Yoga is a journey to self-love and inner strength. We are capable of more than what our inner voice dictates.  Vinyasa provides the opportunity to experience and reflect on that deep level. I have an all-male class.” When I asked how it differs from a registered class, Jessica replied, “Energy! Besides a room full of testosterone, they feed the room with strength. I don’t need to coax them to engage their power. I need to encourage them to ease off and not try the hardest pose when provided with choices.”

Jessica Read began her formal training at the Sivananda Ashram in India’s Netala Region in 2006. In 2006, Jessica opened the Breath of Life Yukon wellness collective by the waterfront. Photo submitted by Jessica Read
Jessica Read began her formal training at the Sivananda Ashram in India’s Netala Region in 2006. In 2006, Jessica opened the Breath of Life Yukon wellness collective by the waterfront. Photo submitted by Jessica Read

Bonnie MacDonald began her yoga journey with Jeannie Stevens in the late 80’s. Several years of venturing to the San Francisco Iyengar Institute eventually led her to Rodney Yee and later Mary Paffard. She brought Rodney to the Yukon to give workshops. I was thrilled to be part of one of them. At the time I thought he was the rock star of the yoga scene in the Yoga Journal magazine. But it was Mary Paffard with whom Bonnie took a long distance teacher training certification which she received in 2006. “Mary integrated a Buddhist component into yoga.  Shavasana, (corpse pose) informs me.” This is how she explains it. “We want to live fully. We want to open ourselves to all that life offers. In the Western world, we are very good at efforting. Shavasana we must be totally relaxed in the body and completely alert in the mind. I integrate that concept of relaxation and alertness into all the asanas. I am exploring the practice that takes me into that sattvic place. I’m not looking for a balanced state where I get to hang out. I need to hone back into that state again and again.”

Bonnie’s statements definitely resonate with me in my sitting meditation practice. The mind wanders. We bring it back to the focus of the breath again and again. Or back to the focus of our meditation. Not hanging on, but returning to that sattvic place. Bonnie teaches at the Vista Learning Centre on the Mayo Road where one is surrounded by the majesty of mountains and sky and will soon offer classes at The Breath of Life studio.

Sabu Chaitanya was sixteen years old in India when he began practising East Indian philosophy at an Ashram with Vishnudevananda. “I became a pre-monk.” His regime seven days a week consisted of rising at 4:00 AM, showering, meditation, chanting and scriptural study (satsang). He also had a vigorous hatha yoga practice. After eating, he would do service (karma yoga) either at the Ashram or in the community. At 6:00 PM he ate dinner, and then did satsang.  “Every day was the same.” Except Sunday – residents of the Ashram didn’t have to practise hatha yoga on Sundays.” Between 2002 and 2005, Sabu ran the Sivananda Ashram in San Fransisco. He lived and taught in Montreal and Santa Cruz before moving to the Yukon in 2009. He currently owns and teaches at the Shanti Studio at Hawkins House. “Habits and character are developed through the practice. It’s a system of lineage. Every Saturday and Sunday there is an open meditation class at 8:00 AM. All my education was inspired by Vishnudevananda. He has given me a meaningful and disciplined life. My teachers are my backbone. I spent six years with Swami Vishnudevananda , 1987-1993. He was very joyous. He was a monk. He died in 1963. I feel the presence of Sivananda and Vishnudevananda everywhere. Sivananda was free. He was detached from the wheel of attachment.” When I asked Sabu why he left India, he replied, “I had more freedom to teach. In Kerala, India, I was influenced by a social reformer who was against the caste system. All humanity is one. We are all one. My vision is that everyone does yoga.”

Sabu Chaitanya was sixteen years old in India when he began practising East Indian philosophy at an Ashram with Vishnudevananda. Photo submitted by Sabu Chaitanya
Sabu Chaitanya was sixteen years old in India when he began practising East Indian
philosophy at an Ashram with Vishnudevananda. Photo submitted by Sabu Chaitanya

Indeed, after these interviews, it appears that yoga is for all. The seeds of yoga are scattered in all four directions of the Yukon. The branches continue to flourish, transforming our lives towards self-realization. I bow to the teachers of the past, present and the future. Namaste.

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Rein in your Emotions

Emotions are useful in many types of situations, working better than logic to get you where you want to go. However, sometimes, you just cannot afford to give your feelings the run of the place and completely disregard logic. Relying too much on emotions can make you temperamental, seem unprofessional, and be hard to cooperate and reason with; so how can you quash down your feelings when necessary? By assessing the situation, responding instead of reacting, and taking responsibility for your actions, you can be calm, professional, and collected.

When something happens, whether positive or negative, you should evaluate what is going on before you do anything. Consider what has gotten you to this point objectively and what you steps you need to take to resolve or move forward from this present moment. Get rid of any biases or excuses. Instead, take on the role of a bystander. Take a few deep breaths to clear your mind and calm down. If you choose to, do a few simple math problems in your head, as that activates the logic part of your brain and push invasive emotions to the back of your mind.

Next, after knowing the situation, respond to it whether than react. Reacting means to act without thinking, much like how you angrily reacted when you caught your younger sibling in your room when you were a child. Responding means you make a move only after careful consideration. Think of your life as a chessboard. What piece should you move to get to where you want to be? How would you move that piece? This way of thinking puts you in an outsider’s position, where you can carefully consider how you should respond to the situation without the burden of emotions, which can ruin a cool-headed approach.

Finally, you must take responsibility for all that you have done, the good and the bad. Instinct will tell you to run away, make excuses, and push the blame towards someone else, but logic dictates that the correct thing to do would be to fully embrace the role you have taken in this situation. Whether you were an instigator, an observer, or a victim, you must clearly address what position you were in when this event occurred. Your coworkers and boss will appreciate you more for your honesty and professional ways of acting; they might even overlook your mistakes if they were minor.

This is not to say emotions are burdensome or useless, but that they have a specific role that should only be played when the time and place is right. When you are with your friends or family, feel free to let yourself run wild. At work however, it’s best to tightly rein yourself in and not give your emotions too much credit. When you are in a professional environment, you must act appropriately, making decisions with your mind rather than your heart. When you do this, you are more likely to make good choices, and advance your career.

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Train your Brain

Train your Brain

Your mind is a powerful and important organ of your body, dictating your life. Without it, you would hold no consciousness and be nothing more than an empty shell. In your prime, your brain is sharp, focussed and clear. However, as you age, the mind dims, causing you to have short term memory loss, and find it hard to concentrate. Obviously, you want to slow and eventually stop the damage, but how do you do it? Thankfully, the process to recovering your clarity of mind is not at all difficult…

Make yourself learn something new every day. Whether it is how to get from your house to the new shop that just opened or taking a lesson in astrophysics, every bit counts. Keep your brain active, and open to absorbing new information. Each lesson you learn imprints on the brain, carving out new thought patterns and keeps it curious. The more you learn, the denser and more complicated your mind is wired, which means it can come up with more solutions to problems in less time.

In addition to active learning, embrace challenges in the field you are familiar with to introduce new ways of thinking and to expand on your knowledge. If your boss is asking you to begin a large project, don’t shy away from it. Instead, tackle it head on and don’t back down from complications. The harder you work to resolve issues, the better your mind will be for thinking on your feet and quickly adjusting to new situations. If your work place does not offer enough challenges, go seek out some on your own. Run a marathon (strengthens body and mind), or try your hand at programming apps.

We live in a high tech world where newspaper puzzles are near obsolete (but are still fun!). Instead, there are a wide variety of applications and programs that improve your mental abilities through daily training games that usually take no more than a few minutes. Play on the bus, in the waiting room, or on your lunch break; flexibility is one of the best things about using this option to strengthen your mind. In addition, some apps are free, and most offer a free trial, so you get to try all of the benefits at no cost to you.

Even if you are at your peak, some brain training exercises can’t go wrong. They’re fun, and raise you up to be a lifelong learner that embraces challenges and fosters curiosity. You don’t even have to set up a time to improve you mental capabilities. Most of these ideas can be incorporated into everything you do, everywhere you go. No more excuses! It’s time to get your brain on track.

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Pull an All-Nighter

Pull an All-Nighter

As much as we hate it, it’s sometimes unavoidable to work late into the night. Whether it’s an exam that you’re cramming for, or a project that has been left to the last minute, concentration and focus always seem to evade us. In addition, the caffeinated rush from the five cups of coffee you just drank probably isn’t helping neither. No matter how much you detest being a night owl, it’s still important to know how to work efficiently at the wee hours, which is why you should read the tips below.

First of all, ditch the caffeine – all of it. No coffee, energy drinks, soda, chocolate, or processed food of any kind. Instead, get some fruit (apples are proven to have as much of a boost as a cup of coffee due to its natural sugars) or a granola bar, and drink lots of water. No matter what, stay away from high sodium or high fat foods, which can make you sleepier. If you really need a boost, get up and physically move your body. Do squats, jog in place, or even go for a late night run (on the treadmill, preferably). The exercise moves blood to your brain, making studying easier in addition to providing a burst of energy.

This is a no brainer, but is still important enough to be reiterated. Turn off all distractions and you will have a much easier time studying. Your phone goes inside your bag, not beside you on the desk. To increase concentration, work in small periods only. Set a timer, and after every twenty minutes or so, get up and move around. Every hour or so, take a quick snack break and drink some water. Staying hydrated prevents eye bags that are notorious aftermaths of a long night.

After a while, when the going gets really tough, consider taking a power nap. A twenty minute nap (be sure to set a timer!) refreshes your brain and makes you ready to start working again. However, if you find you just can’t keep going anymore, go to bed. There’s no point in wasting more time only to end up with work of poor quality. In fact, if you begin working the next morning with a clear head, you may end up finishing quickly with better results.

Working late is not entirely unavoidable. If you plan out your time well and never procrastinate, you may almost never have to stay up late. Realistically, you will get much better results if you space your work out over a long period of time. However, when you do pull an all-nighter, it’s important to know how to make the most of your precious time. If you follow the tips above, you can likely get most, if not all of your work done with minimal pain. Just remember to reward yourself with sleep once you’re done.

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Stay Hydrated

A creek besides the Klondike Highway, Yukon| Photo: Gurdeep Pandher

Other than making up a huge portion of our overall body composition, water also regulates our systems, flushes out toxins, and keeps our skin glowing. However, it can be hard sometimes to keep yourself hydrated. In the summer especially, when the temperatures are high, it is easier than ever to skimp on fluids without even realizing it. The result is moodiness, a parched mouth, and possibly even heatstroke. So how can you keep yourself watered, without sparing too much effort or sacrificing flavour? Read on to find out.

First, get yourself educated on how much you need to drink. The average person requires eight glasses a day, but depending on your body weight, activity level, and health, the amount you need may be more or less. A good way to know if you’re hydrated is to check the colour of your urine. If it’s light yellow, you’re doing great! Darker yellow or brown, however, means you should go fill up a cup. Another general confusion is what water can be replaced by. The answer: nothing. No other fluid is sugar and calorie free like water is, and some drinks (like coffee) can actually dehydrate you.

So now you know how much water to drink, but how can you get in the required amount if you keep forgetting to take a sip? The best thing to do is to bring a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go. This means ‘not wanting to get up’ when you’re thirsty in the office is no longer a good excuse for not drinking. If you still tend to forget, you can set a timer for yourself to take a few swigs every thirty minutes or so. Over time, it will become a habit, and a healthy one at that!

For a lot of people, the bland taste of water is uninspiring, leading to many wasted dollars and empty calories at the soda and juice machine. However, if you get a little creative, water can become just as flavourful, and without the detriments other beverages peddle. Simple things like slicing fruits to steep in your water can make a huge difference. Another option is to make a caffeine free tea to keep in a thermos instead. Since most teas have no sugar, and is low in calorie, it is an acceptable alternative to plain water.

Water is refreshing, revitalizing, and keeps you healthy. As we all know, the Yukon water is very clean and tastes great. As tempting as it may be to reach for a bottle of soda or juice, resist the urge and head for the water fountain instead. To make life more interesting, spice up your water with all of the fruits and teas you want to get the taste you desire, but not the sugar high. With a little creativity and practice, you’ll be a water drinking pro in no time.