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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Stay Sun Safe

The sun shining at McIntyre Creek pond in Whitehorse (Yukon) | Photo: Gurdeep Pandher

It’s the beginning of August, which means it’s really heating up here on the Yukon. With sunshine every day and warm temperatures, it’s hard to stay indoors. The sunlight warms you up inside and out, and gives you a good dose of vitamin D. However, without taking proper precautions, it can also cause sunburn, premature aging, and even lead to cancer. So how can you preserve your skin’s health? Read on to find out.

Covering up when you head out is very important. Obviously, with the heat, wearing long sleeve sweaters and jeans is not the answer. A loose shirt that covers at least half your arm and a breezy maxi skirt or longer shorts, however, are viable options. For even more protection, bring an umbrella, sunglasses, and a hat out as well. Make sure, after a few hours of sun, you head into the shade for some rest to prevent heatstroke as well as sunburn.

As everyone knows, sunscreen is mandatory if you want to go out anywhere, in any weather. Yes, cloudy days can damage your skin as well, though obviously not as easily. Depending on where you live and what the weather is like on that day, the SPF you choose can vary. However, you can never go wrong with at least an SPF 30 sunscreen. Slather it on liberally a few minutes prior to heading outside, and reapply often, especially if you’re staying outside for an extended time or exercising.

Sunburn isn’t the only discomfort the sun can give you; hyperthermia (overheating) is common as well. To prevent it, drink lots of fluids, and limit your sun exposure. If at any point you feel sweaty, lethargic, and uncomfortable, head inside for a while. If the temperatures get really hot, and you don’t have an air conditioner at home, head out to the mall or library, where it’s bound to be chilly, or go swimming. If, somehow, none of those options are available, there’s no harm in taking a cold shower.

The sun is only around for a limited time, so take advantage of it while it lasts. However, no matter what a hassle toting an umbrella is or how time consuming slathering on sunscreen is, it’s still important to take good care of yourself and stay safe. However, if you don’t feel like heading outside, sitting by the air conditioner engrossed in a good book is a great way to pass the time as well.

Conscious Eldering: A Profound New Vision of Growing Older

Larry Gray

By: Larry Gray

It is no measure of health to be well-adapted to a profoundly sick society.

– J. Krishnamurti

Frail. Incompetent. Slow. Long in the tooth. Clumsy. Over the hill. Having a senior moment. Grumpy.

Have you heard any of these stereotypical words or phrases in reference to you? Or someone you know? These are phrases and messages that make judgements of the inevitable fact that, like every other living thing, we are all destined to grow old and eventually die.

Aging, dying and death are completely natural – as right as rain. Yet, we live in a culture that is profoundly disconnected from the natural world. This disconnection shows up in myriad ways and one of them is in the prevailing cultural attitudes towards aging, dying and death. Part of that attitude is simple denial.

In western culture, we sometimes disparage “seniors” or “elders” (these are sometimes just convenient labels that convey little about real people) and even treat them in condescending and demeaning ways. This is a means of distancing ourselves from them for they are reminders of our own inevitable aging and death, which we would rather not think about.

But there are other reasons why our attitudes towards older people, as reflected in some of the cultural messaging, are distorted and disempowering for both the elders and for the people around them.

And that lies within the very body, heart, mind and spirit of the elder him/herself.

Let’s consider our bodies, for example. One of the courses I teach at Yukon College is called Environmental Change and Community Health. One of the models of health is called the biomedical model – essentially, Western medicine. If you have a broken leg, there’s not much a naturopath or holistic healer can do. You want to go to a Western-trained medical doctor who can put your leg in a cast. That’s because doctors are trained to focus on the physical body.

There are many other models of health and probably the most powerful (and empowering) one is based on and rooted in indigenous wisdom. That is the medicine wheel – a model of health that recognizes the Circle of Life (and death) and considers the whole person – body, mind, spirit and emotions.

As we age, there are inevitable changes in the physical body. But these changes need not defeat us or disempower us at all. Sometimes these changes accelerate simply because we believe they will – we are told by the surrounding culture that, after a certain age, our bodies are in a continual downspin and there is nothing we can do about it.

None of this is necessarily true, but many people do buy into such beliefs because these beliefs are so prevalent. And so a self-fulfilling prophesy is set in motion. The fact that millions of people believe something doesn’t automatically make it true.

The truth is we can maintain optimal physical health, strength and vigour well into our 70s, 80s and beyond. My First Nations teacher says that we are not allowed to say we are tired until we are at least 70!

But consider also that we are more than our physical bodies. We have a mental life – thoughts, reflections, memories. We are full of stories that need to be told. We have an emotional life – a complex one, so much more nuanced and balanced and rich than a younger person’s. And we have a spiritual life – a relationship with something greater than ourselves – whether that be Nature itself, God, the Creator or whatever one’s belief system is.

The later years offer a tremendous opportunity to develop all these aspects of ourselves. And so we need not worry so much about growing old. The chronology of one’s life – the passing years – will take care of itself. We can focus not so much on growing old, but on growing whole.

We can train our attention inward, on developing our inner life, healing our inner wounds and traumas, harvesting our hard-earned wisdom, letting go of emotional baggage (and material clutter, too), reframing our life’s experiences in ways that empower and inspire us going forward, creating a legacy for the world, preparing for our inevitable dying and death.

All of this and much more are part of a profound, inspiring and transformative vision of growing older. This vision is called “Conscious Eldering”. This is a process – a way of living in the latter third of one’s life – that counters and reverses the negative and disempowering stereotypes that are part of the surrounding culture. It is, therefore, counter-cultural.

In this model of aging, the latter third of life becomes the pinnacle of one’s development as a human being. It is the very summit of human development – not the decline we are told it is.

I am a baby boomer. My father was on the battlefields of Holland in World War II. He was traumatized by his war experience (who wouldn’t be?) and he never did recover from it. He led a broken life after that because he himself was broken. There was little support in the surrounding culture to help him heal his wounds. So he became trapped in them and never grew whole. He just grew old and not very old at that. He died at the young age of 73.

But the generation that came after his – the baby boomers – have other ideas. We are the first generation in human history to have the potential for long life. There are many reasons for this, including advances in medicine and our knowledge and understanding of health – of the importance of diet, exercise, rest, stress management, work-life balance and other healthy lifestyle factors.

So there is now in western society a huge wave of baby boomers entering their sixth decade of life – their 60s – and they have access to new perspectives on aging. As a group, these perspectives or approaches form the conscious aging movement.

Within this movement, there are several streams each with a slightly different focus. Some focus on healthy lifestyle. This includes healthy eating, daily exercise, periods of rest and often travel – retired baby boomers love to travel!

Another stream focuses on developing an encore career. In this model, you may retire, but you don’t put your feet up – you focus your energy on some new and fulfilling endeavour.

Another stream focuses on volunteer work. Research shows that people who volunteer are healthier and live longer lives. And a fourth stream focuses on inter-generational enjoyment and sharing of wisdom. This usually involves a focus on grandchildren.

These are all valid and empowering approaches.

The beauty of conscious eldering is that it embraces all of these visions of aging and goes even further. It is based on a vision of human development that sees the elder as, to use psychologist Carl Jung’s term, an archetype that is built right into the human psyche. It becomes activated sometime in our middle years – the mid-life period. The middle of your life becomes a starting point for a second journey through life, a journey that becomes the realization of your full human potential.

So the call to become a conscious elder is an ancient and archetypal call that can be found in indigenous cultures around the world – cultures that are embedded and deeply rooted in respectful relationship with the Earth, with Nature. And this call and this model of aging have now been discovered by a Western culture that is also now re-discovering its own relationship with Nature – the living Earth.

Conscious eldering is a choice each of us must make. Do we want to just grow old and become elderly? Or do we want to grow whole, do the deep inner work that this requires and become the very best version of ourselves in the latter years? Each of us must ask, at some point in our lives, do we want to become conscious elders?

Yukoners are getting sick with the flu!

Yukoners are getting sick with the flu!

Whitehorse (January 8, 2013) – Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley is reminding Yukoners to get their flu shot as flu activity surges.

“We have another early start to flu season with 16 lab-confirmed cases of influenza in Yukon since early December,” Hanley said. “That’s only the tip of the iceberg since we know that for every lab-confirmed case, many more are not officially diagnosed.”

As in the rest of the country, most of the influenza is affecting adults in the young to middle-age group. The majority of confirmed strain types have been H1N1, which is covered by this year’s vaccine. As well, there have been hospitalized cases with suspected influenza, awaiting laboratory confirmation.

“If you haven’t received your immunization yet, I recommend you to do so,” Hanley said. “While the most vulnerable are usually the very young and those over the age of 65 years, this year’s flu is just as likely to affect young adults.”

Hanley warns, however, that supplies of influenza vaccine may be limited: “We have already surpassed last year’s total of vaccine doses given. Although we are making contingency plans for extra vaccine, there are demands across the country and there is no guarantee that we will have enough for all comers.”

Kwanlin Dün Health Centre offers flu immunizations Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

Whitehorse Health Centre also offers flu immunizations Monday to Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. and Fridays from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. People can also make an appointment for a flu shot by calling the Whitehorse Health Centre at 667-8864.

For drop-in times in the communities, contact the nearest Community Health Centre.

This increased flu activity and its effects on the adult population are very similar to what is happening in British Columbia, Alberta and Alaska, which have also noted an increase in serious cases and hospitalizations. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, 97 per cent of strains tested so far match the current vaccine types.

Hanley adds that Yukoners can help protect themselves by:

  • getting immunized;
  • covering their mouths when they cough and coughing away from others; and
  • washing their hands frequently.

Symptoms of influenza include rapid onset of fever, cough, sore throat, aches and pains. Rest and symptomatic treatment are often all that is needed. People who suspect they have the flu should stay home until they are feeling better. Those with severe symptoms or underlying medical conditions should get medical advice, either by calling the Yukon Healthline – 811 or consulting with their community nurse, family physician or the physician at Emergency.

Cleanse Yourself of the Myths

Cleanse Yourself of the Myths

By Melanie Hackett

If you are interested in health you have probably heard of “cleansing” diets aimed at ridding your body of toxins by reducing what you eat to a very limited selection of healthy products for two or three weeks.

But wait! Is our physiology that straightforward?  No way.  These diets simply don’t do what they are intended for.  In fact, more toxins are created during these diets!  Of course, there are many different types of detox diets.  Like all fad diets, most of these are merely a tool for companies to earn money off unwary consumers and aren’t based on science at all.  Even my mother, a very health-conscious and active 61-year-old who generally looks for the science, used to do annual “cleansing” fasts consuming nothing but elderberry juice for a week in an attempt to “flush away” toxins.  I will focus on these types of “cleanses”.

In most people with a healthy diet, blood sugar levels are well regulated by two hormones: insulin and glucagon.  Insulin, released by the pancreas after a meal, is the bus driver that takes the blood sugar to work.  Mr Sugar’s workplace is inside all body cells where it can be used as energy for all cell function.  Extra glucose (sugar) combines forming a substance called glycogen, which gets stored in the liver and muscle.  The hormone glucagon, opposite of insulin, is the vehicle that takes Mr. Sugar from these stores back into the blood when your blood sugar gets low.  These glycogen stores are crucial for maintaining blood glucose levels when you aren’t eating.  They can be completely depleted after only a couple of hours of exercise at a heart rate 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. So how do we rebuild them?  Only with a diet high in carbohydrates (fruits, veggies, quinoa, rice, whole grain bread, etc.)!  These stores can also be depleted within a couple of days of consuming much less than you are expending, or not having a diet consisting of about 60 percent carbohydrates.

When the glycogen runs out, your liver breaks down fatty acids and proteins to use for energy instead.  The by-products are three types of what we call ketones.  Two of these are used by the heart and brain, and the third is a waste product stressing the kidneys.  Ketones also make your blood more acidic.  To correct this, your respiratory system goes haywire, and in extreme cases this can be fatal.

For the Bioscience Geeks:

When the pH of your blood is too low, you’ll start to hyperventilate to expel more carbon dioxide.  This works because in the blood, carbon dioxide combines with water and forms bicarbonate and a hydrogen ion (the latter of which makes the blood more acidic).  What’s in your lungs goes into your blood through structures called alveoli.  If there is less carbon dioxide available, fewer hydrogen ions will be produced, and your blood pH will therefore go back to normal.  However, less carbon dioxide also means there is less of a stimulus to breathe.  This is how it can cause fatality.

The main point here is that rather than “flushing away” toxins, we create toxins when we don’t eat enough carbs.  Excess ketones and the physiological effect they have can be considered toxic in the human body.  These effects are pretty much identical to what happens both during starvation and during diabetic coma when a diabetic’s blood sugar is extremely high because they lack insulin, sugar’s bus driver, to help the sugar from the blood to the starved cells.  This is also what happens during the Atkin’s diet, one that should only be tried in morbidly obese people who are at alarming risk of fatality if they don’t lose weight.  In general, if a diet is not healthy or is impossible to maintain permanently, it probably should not be done at all.

When we don’t eat enough carbohydrates and our glycogen stores run out, the use of proteins for energy instead can be compared to burning fossil fuels.  Instead of using renewable energy such as Whitehorse’s hydroelectric power, there are many more waste products with fossil fuels.  The net breakdown of proteins to provide energy (either in a high protein diet such as the Atkin’s diet or when the body is starved of carbs in “cleansing” diets) not only creates ketones, but also causes a negative nitrogen balance, meaning there is a lot of nitrogenous waste being produced.  Just as the burning of fossil fuels taxes Earth’s atmosphere, this taxes the liver as it tries to rid itself of the waste products.  The immune system is weakened, and the levels of cortisol, our long-term stress hormone, may increase, further weakening the immune system.

The physiological effects discussed above merely state what toxins build up in the body and the negative effect on health during “detox” diets, and that’s not even to mention the nutrient deficiencies that occur during such limited diets, which have a cascade of harmful effects in the body.

Dispelling myths about mental illness

Dispelling myths about mental illness

IT was a crisp day in May, snowflakes gently flying in the breeze. At the bus stop, a woman wearing a colourful toque to conceal her balding head wondered aloud whether summer would ever arrive. The woman let out a deep cough that seemed to arise from a deathly monster within her. She was going through her third chemotherapy session, and silently wondered whether she would make it through summer, assuming it did arrive.

The several others waiting for the bus stood a distance from her. As the bus pulled up, someone lashed out at her weak body to the cheers of the group. “Get lost, sick lady!” they exclaimed to her as they filed past her slumped on the ground. As the bus pulled away without her, someone announced they had the episode on video and would post it to YouTube for everyone’s amusement.

Imagine if we treated everyone with compromised health the way we treat those with mental-health challenges. The above story did not happen. The following, however, certainly did:

I was driving to my favourite biking trails with the radio on, listening to the story of the man who harmed himself with a knife on the Today Show’s Rockefeller Plaza set on June 6. The broadcaster explained how the man was tackled to the ground to cheers from the crowd. He then went on to exclaim that in any event with a crowd, there is guaranteed to be at least one stupid person. He expressed his worry that here was a stupid person who pulled a really stupid move.

These comments shocked me, and show complete ignorance of the rising incidence of mental illness. The fact of the matter is that one in five Canadians suffers from some form of mental illness. Compare this to the two or three per cent prevalence of cancer, or five per cent prevalence of heart disease.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the economic cost of mental illness is in excess of $50 billion annually, yet well over half of the people struggling with their mental health fail to receive the health services they need. One of the major barriers for getting treatment is this stigma, which is propagated by such comments as the one made by the broadcaster, as well as a lack of knowledge on mental health issues. This worsens the issue, and I worry how many people struggling with their mental health heard the commentator.

At some point in his or her lifetime, everyone will experience feelings of isolation, loneliness, sadness, emotional distress or disconnection from things. Mental illness occurs when a person’s ability to function over a long period of time is affected. Depending on the illness, it can disturb the sufferer’s thinking, mood or behaviour, and it can either have no obvious triggers, or can be set off by life events that we all find difficult: the loss of a job, a death, a romantic breakup or a loss of physical health to name a few.

Self harm or suicide can arise from some form of mental illness. It’s not a sign of weakness or stupidity, but rather an intense internal pain that manifests itself in physical form. Twenty-five per cent of deaths among youth are due to suicide, and this number increases dramatically in aboriginal populations. Of the 4,000 Canadians who die by suicide each year, most were confronting a mental-health problem. As with physical illnesses, development of a mental illness depends on a complex array of factors including genetics, physiology, environment and personal experiences, and therefore cannot be judged, as it is impossible to know another’s experience.

Mental illness does not mean the affected are “stupid” or less “mentally tough” – quite the contrary. I was a hiking guide for the wilderness therapy program of Simon Fraser University’s Students for Mental Wellness, a club started by my friends, and some of the most courageous people I’ve met are those that have struggled with their mental wellness. Similarly, here in Pelly Crossing, there is a high prevalence of mental illness due to the horrific experiences many of the people here have endured. This originates from the abuse suffered in residential schools, and the intergenerational cycle of social woes created by the obliteration of their language and culture. Knowing their stories sheds light on how mental illness including addictions can progress, and the incredible strength of character they demonstrate through their hardship and recovery.

My vision for the future is that opening dialogue on mental illness will increase knowledge and awareness, and that a corollary of that will be an eradication of the stigma that is held in our society, which is not only a roadblock to treatment, but also a factor that exacerbates this issue, one that either directly or indirectly affects us all.

Melanie Hackett was recreation director for Selkirk First Nation, Pelly Crossing.