A space to reflect on the university experience and the wider educational journey of life and love.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Embodiment of Yoga

Here is a paper I wrote for my fourth year Cultural Studies class on Sex Work, Feminism and Performance.  It's quite long - so beware!  Our teacher emphasized reflexive writing, so it is very personal.

The Embodiment of Yoga: An Analysis

I am ten years old.  I giggle with my best friend, Heather, as we wait for our moms to finish their yoga class.  We laugh at the way they chant “om” and go into strange positions. “Yoga is weird!” we exclaim when they finish their practice.  My mom says that as soon as I turn eleven I can begin.  I have no intention of doing so.  I’d rather be writing stories or playing outside.

            At first it may seem like the topic of yoga is far removed from a class about sex work, performance and feminism.  However, I have come to learn that yoga, for me, is about being in my body and discovering how it is connected to wider politics. Ultimately, through yoga I have better understood my own relationship to the world. Yoga is not just about being on the mat, but it is how I interact with others, how I perform daily, how I feel when I wake up, and how I approach learning about my mind, body, and spirit.  Likewise sex work can be an avenue into all of these topics of exploration and can serve as a gateway into better understanding the complexities of life.  Sex work is ultimately an embodied practice, one that is deeply relational and affects the mind and arguably the spirit as well.  Sex work is about bodies interacting- and the repercussions of that connection.  Sex work is political; yoga is political too.  Sex work and yoga can be sites of power dynamics, resistance, self-awareness, and economics.  Exchange is inherent in today’s yoga world and is fundamental to sex work.

  Both yoga and sex work are sites of intersectionality and a place of convergence for the politics of everyday life. This paper will focus on yoga in terms of embodiment, performance, and feminism, and aim to uncover the sometimes hidden yet pervasive politics that permeate the practice of yoga, and deeply affect those who are involved in the practice.  Interspersed throughout this paper are personal reflections and memories of my yoga practice, to provide some ways that these theories and ideas are tangible, true, and real.

Social Location

            I am a cis-gendered, heterosexual woman of colour who has been practising yoga for more than half of my life (roughly 12 years).  I am also a Cultural Studies student with a strong interest in feminist endeavors and I am minoring in Gender and Women’s Studies.  These facts all inform my bias and standpoint.  In some ways I am an insider when it comes to yoga, as I both practice and teach yoga in the community.  I began doing yoga as a pre-teen, going to a local Sikh temple and doing Kundalini yoga with my mother and grandmother. On the weekends we would do yoga at a local community center.  For the most part, yoga seemed removed from capitalism, colonialism, and politics when I was growing up.  It was simply a way for me to relax three times a week and get more in touch with myself. When I was 20 years old, I decided to take my 200 hour teacher training at the Vancouver School of Bodywork and Massage and I came to a sudden realization that there are many forms of yoga and different values associated with each type.  Although united by a common intrinsic philosophy, yoga is largely an art of interpretation and individual resonance. Since then, I have been teaching mainly in university campus recreation settings, providing yoga to students and staff at UBC Okanagan.  I do not practice every day but I do my best to share and instruct what I know.

I am twenty years old.  During my teacher training, our instructor Dan asks us to do handstands and headstands.  I am baffled.  I have never done either before even though I have been practising kundalini and restorative yoga for nine years. As others effortlessly push up into elegant inversions, I stumble and crumble and tumble all over the floor.  I feel inadequate. How can I be a teacher if I can’t even do a headstand against a wall?  Ironically it is only me (the youngest member of the class) and Mary (the oldest) who cannot do the advanced poses.  We settle for a more humble yoga.  One that perhaps doesn’t look as impressive.  But as we breathe together, I realize that yoga is not about acrobatics.  It is about being in my body, quieting my mind, and hearing my spirit.

            All of these experiences have affected by identity as a “yogini” and inevitably shape my perspective on the world.  Since getting my teacher training I have been very interested in sharing yoga with marginalized populations, and utilizing the healing benefits of yoga for people who wouldn’t normally use it, and analyzing the potentially problematic aspects of yoga.  During critical points in my life, yoga has been there for me.  It has saved me on several occasions.  Yoga has calmed me, centered me, and held me.   This paper is a continuation of many thoughts I have had over the years and allows me to critically reflect on my own positioning within the yoga community.  Similarly, discussions around sex work allow us to locate ourselves.  During our class, I came face to face with many of my assumptions about sex workers, violence, and stigma.  I realized that I held a lot of stereotypical attitudes and ill-founded beliefs.  It is useful to realize what kinds of privilege we hold and to take those into account when we interact with others and make generalizations and judgments.

An Overview of Yoga in the West
            The popularity of yoga in North America has skyrocketed in recent years. In Vancouver, where I grew up, yoga studios are almost as common as Starbucks on street corners.   Statistics Canada states that 1.4 million Canadians practiced yoga in 2005 and estimates of the number of global yoga practitioners are as high as 250 million (http://www.thestar.com/life/health_wellness/fitness/2013/03/19/yogas_evolution_from_basement_studios_to_big_business.html).

Angela McRobbie, in her ground-breaking article, “Top Girls?  Young Women and the Post-Feminist Sexual Contract” argues that “under the guise of equality” young women are imbued with a sense of capacity and opportunity for achievement (718). McRobbie writes, “The meanings which now converge around the figure of the girl or young women (which, from a UK cultural perspective, have global export value including films like Bridget Jones’s Diary and Bend It Like Beckham), are now more weighted towards capacity, success, attainment, enjoyment, entitlement, social mobility and participation” (721).  Women are seen to be active agents in the economic sphere.  Pirkko Markula examines how an ancient Indian spiritual practice reserved only for men has been translated into a vastly different context and time. Today’s market of yoga lovers are primarily young white women.    They are understood as consumers. Inevitably, neoliberalism has shaped and impacted the way that yoga is consumed and produced.  For example, entire business empires such as Lululemon Athletica are built upon the lifestyle and identity associated with yoga – mats, accessories, fashion, etc.  Kern points out in her article that over 5.7 billion dollars is spent each year in America on yoga classes and products (30).  Sometimes I feel flabbergasted at the opulence and profit-based motives of yoga studios.  I grew up doing yoga in a Sikh temple (which cost $10 by donation every month for our entire family) and at a community center.

The first time I try hot yoga it is for a hot guy.  I am going on a first date and I am taken aback by the beautiful art, the impressive desk, the extravagant change rooms and showers at a well-known hot yoga studio in town. I walk into the heated room and before I begin sweating I cannot help but notice the wall of mirrors reflecting my image back at me.  For the entire class I am concerned with the way my body looks in the mirror.  “Will he think I’m fat?” “Does my sun salutation look flowy?”  “Am I sweating too much?”  I am so concerned with my appearance staring back at me in the jam packed class that I forget to breathe.  As I glance over at his fit glistening body and his breathtaking abs, I realize I am not doing yoga, this is some kind of strange mating ritual instead.

 Pirkko Markula is concerned with the way that certain bodies are privileged on the covers of Yoga Journal in her article, “Reading Yoga: Changing Discourses of Postural Yoga on the Yoga Journal Covers.”  She states in her abstract, “However, on the Yoga Journal covers, postural yoga also developed into a practice of finding one’s ‘‘true self,’’ creating a lithe yoga body, and becoming a conscious consumer. When read through the covers of a popular magazine, postural yoga Americanized, feminized, and commercialized into a Western fitness practice increasingly governed by the neoliberal rationale.” (143). Markula utilizes a historical perspective within a Foucauldian framework to analyze how the covers of Yoga Journal have changed over time.  She discusses the discourses of a lean, fit body being marketed as well as a lifestyle brand.  She also seeks to understand the ways that yogis are constructed as “conscious consumers” and define themselves in regards to their purchasing power.  

A section of Markula’s article is entitled, “The Performing Body.”  In her introduction to this part of the paper, she writes, “The visible representations of the yoga body, similar to the media representations of other fit bodies, drew elements from aesthetics of the healthy looking body. The ‘‘looks’’ was, nevertheless, intertwined with advice on correct performance, prevention of physical illnesses, and with sexuality. These themes characterized a distinct yoga body.” (Markula 162).  A specific image emerged in the 1990s of the ideal female body, slender and lithe doing advanced poses such as headstands, handstands, deep back bends, and arm balances (Markula 163).  What kind of repercussions does this have on the general populous?  I have known many people who are too intimidated to attend a yoga class, they are afraid of wearing tight lululemon pants and a sports bra.  Many refuse to try yoga because they are inflexible and afraid of putting their body on display.  The performative aspect of yoga places the emphasis on how one is perceived and seen.  A hyper consciousness of being watched then arises and the attention is taken away from the practice. 
Alternatively, I grew up doing most of my yoga poses with my eyes closed.  The idea of yoga was to unite body, mind, and heart, so it didn’t matter what anyone else was doing.  Quite often in Kundalini yoga I couldn’t keep up with ladies much older than me, so I just sat quietly or stretched out on my back when I was tired. It makes me sad that people decide to miss out on all the possible benefits of yoga because they are so concerned with what others think.  I can relate to that fear, though.

I am on exchange in New Zealand at the University of Canterbury.  Free yoga classes are held in a giant gymnasium.  The floor is hard and there must be at least 70 people in the room.  The teacher is incredibly flexible and incredibly beautiful.  I am in awe as she effortlessly glides into her poses and provides options for advancing our practice.  I cannot do any of the advanced poses.  Once again, that familiar feeling of inadequacy rises like vomit.  I can’t bear to be surrounded by all these beautiful people with beautiful bodies.  I am less than perfect. I don’t fit in, I can’t keep up.  So I leave and I don’t come back. 

  While yoga may be marketed towards a certain audience, there is still a diversity of people who practise yoga. For example, Edward Field’s essay, “Yoga and Body Consciousness” reveals the way that an older, gay man uses yoga as a way to love and understand his own body.  Within the article, Field describes standing in front of a mirror, naked, and through yoga altering the appearance of his body.  Yoga supports body consciousness for Field, and allows him a new and unique way to experience his body.  As Field writes, “If our bodies are the record of our lives, my history was clearly built into mine.” (22). During my teacher training I learned that we “store our issues in our tissues” meaning that memories are embedded in our bodies. So are emotions, stories, and traumas.  The body serves as a tool to explore the self, in yoga.  The body is a gateway to the infinite, a glimpse into the divine, a chance to make friends with who we really are.


Yoga is deeply intertwined with concepts of embodiment, as many types of yoga encourage breath awareness and present moment body consciousness.  For the purposes of this paper I will borrow a phrase from a medical sociology reference book, “embodiment refers to the lived body, our body-being-in-the -world, as the site of meaning, expression, and experience.” (Gabe 73).  We are often encouraged to feel emotions and let them go in the practice, and are similarly encouraged to not get attached to any thought in particular.  Often in yoga, a teacher will encourage students to feel into their muscles, to become absorbed by the sensations.  A constant reminder throughout class is to avoid getting attached to any particular thought.  When I teach, I use imagery of clouds in the sky as metaphors for thought.  I say something like, “Imagine you are lying on your back in a field of green grass observing the sky.  Watch the thoughts pass like clouds across the sky, simply sit back and observe, without getting caught up.”
 For survivors of trauma, this disassociation may be harmful.   As Anastasia  Kirtiklis writes on her blog, Popomo Yoga“If you have trained yourself to detach from your emotions (through meditation or otherwise) you lose the ability to feel even when you want to feel. Unfortunately, you can’t just turn off the painful emotions. The good ones shut down too.” (Yoga, Meditation, and Disassociation).  Kern argues that bodies are sites of emotions and indeed, during my own teacher training I learned about the deep connection between emotions and bodies – I was taught that people store trauma in the tissues and muscles and that certain poses can activate particular memories.  I have also undertaken trauma sensitive yoga teacher training with Yoga Outreach in Vancouver, and we were also instructed not to teach specific poses because they risk triggering people (particularly survivors of sexual trauma) and can require large amounts of vulnerability.  For example, happy baby pose, which consists of lying on your back with your legs spread wide open in the air, grasping the outsides of your feet with your hands, can bring back memories of rape or sexual assault.  To be exposed in such an explicit way may be upsetting, and even harmful.

I am 16 years old.  I cannot understand the phrase “sweet sixteen” because all I feel is misery.  I am in the trenches of depression, or a far reaching sadness that tinges my heart.  I drag my butt to yoga.  When everyone lies down for savasana (deep relaxation) I do not get up.  I hear all the sounds around me but I shut my eyes and remain motionless on the carpet of the temple.  I don’t want to wake up.  Everyone around me thinks I have fallen asleep.  One woman even says that falling asleep is the marker of a spiritual soul and that I must be very advanced in my practice.  I smirk at the thought of that.  I am just lazy and pathetic.  Yoga doesn’t always make me feel better. Sometimes I cannot quiet my monkey mind.  Sometimes the pain lingers after the practice is done and I have left the mat.

So is yoga helpful or harmful when it comes to embodiment? Does yoga facilitate transcendence of the body or immanence? Ultimately, it depends on which tradition the yoga is rooted in.  Tantric practices see the body as a vehicle to the divine, embodiment is viewed as a form of connection to God.  God is in everything and in everyone.  Other modes of meditation and yoga encourage going beyond the mind and the body to the realms of the spirit.  Embodiment is also fundamental when analyzing yoga, as asana (physical) practice undoubtedly has the possibility of changing the appearance and quality of the body.  Doing yoga is often associated with a wealth of other habits including eating healthy and being environmentally conscious.  People often buy into a collective identity when they become “yogis” and this has significant market repercussions as well as social belonging and community effects as well.

            Impett et al. conducted a study about the relationship between embodiment and self-objectification – and discovered that body awareness and responsiveness was correlated with positive affect.  To me, this indicates that yoga has important contributions to make in the arenas of mental and emotional health.  The body can be an invaluable tool in creating stability and calm in the mind, as is evidenced by the recent surge in mindfulness research and other Eastern –based modalities.  Psychology and other fields are starting to recognize the legitimacy of practices such as yoga in helping people heal.

I am twenty two years old. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I am in the hospital, on the psychiatric ward. I felt incredibly alone.  I am locked into a jail like room and I hug my knees into my chest.  Calmly I remember my yoga practice.  I can put my legs up the wall.  I can do a sun salutation.  I can bend my body into comforting shapes.  I can find stillness and peace within.  So I do.  The nurses may think I am strange, but I don’t care.  Yoga helps me.  Yoga heals me. 

Furthermore, ideas of accessibility when it comes to embodied experiences are key to understanding yoga as well.  In Kern’s article regarding yoga, embodiment, and gentrification, she draws on the concept of embodied social capital.  To me, this refers to a type of lifestyle privilege where certain embodied practices such as yoga require a particular amount of social capital.  Yoga is not available to many populations due to its ever increasing price tag.  An average yoga class costs $20, the price of two inexpensive meals.  Those who do yoga can afford it, those who can’t, don’t do it.  Although there are ways to learn yoga through books and youtube videos, yoga classes are the primary way that people engage in yoga.
My personal goal is to bring yoga to marginalized populations so they can experience the healing potential of yoga. I would like to be a yoga therapist.  My big dream is to see yoga offered in mental health treatment, alongside and perhaps for some people, instead of mere medication.  I want there to be complementary healing modalities available to people suffering from depression, psychosis, anxiety and other kinds of suffering.  I want them to be able to find peace within their bodies, which can lead to a quieting of the mind.  Western medicine does not take a holistic approach.  We cannot fix the mind by ignoring the body.   I would love to teach yoga at women’s shelters, in hospitals, in anxiety centers, and to people struggling with eating disorders. Awareness of the breath can lead to so many positive changes for people. Awareness of posture can improve physical and mental well-being.  Awareness of the mind can help us to get in touch with our inner voice.  Everyone deserves the opportunity to do these things, not just those with money.

Last week I led a brief yoga exercise in our studio time.  It was beautiful to be able to witness the change in energy and ambience after the breathing exercises.  Students reported feeling more calm and relaxed after only a few minutes of breathing deeply.  I am continually amazed at how quickly we can “re-set” our bodies and minds.  Why don’t we do it more often?  It was nice to work with a partner and breathe into their hands.  It brought a new dimension to the breath and someone said they felt the desire to synchronize their breath with someone else’s.  I had never tried asking people to say words while they are in a pose.  It was interesting to hear the diversity of responses.  The partner poses were a lot of fun.  I could sense the joy exuding from everyone’s body.  It was such a privilege and an honour to share something like yoga with the class.  Yoga is close to my heart and I love bringing it to new groups of people.

  Most of the time I do not concern myself with arguments surrounding appropriation, as I think that yoga is for everyone.  I believe that some things like music, art, and yoga, hold universal value for human beings and while it is important to acknowledge their roots and traditional sacredness, it is great to bring it to new places.  Many Gurus (teachers) specifically asked their students to bring yoga to the West. Now it is here, and I am grateful.   I straddle two worlds sometimes – being of Indian descent, living in Canada. Yoga is a site of connection for me – a bridge between these two worlds, a way of understanding the complexities of culture, and the complexities of me.


I taught my last yoga class of the school year today.  We laughed a lot.  It was wonderful to see the students interacting in partner poses and I did a lot of hands on adjustments.  The most touching part of the class was at the end.  Everyone came up to me and shared how yoga had helped them, calmed them, and how they had come to trust yoga as they would a kind friend.  I felt blessed to share the practice.  I knew that it wasn’t me that they were celebrating, it was a practice that goes back 5000 years - a lineage, a tradition.  They were grateful for something that they were now a part of - a practice of uniting body, mind, and heart. It was never about me.  Before every class I pray to my Creator that I can be clear, that I can be a vessel for the Divine to come through.  I try to speak from that place.

Overall, this paper has aimed to unpack how yoga is linked to embodiment and dissect its role in today’s society.  I have looked at the economics of yoga, how it relates to neoliberalism.  I have tried to uncover the complex ways that yoga connects people to their bodies, through trauma or body consciousness.  Most of all, I have tried to share my story surrounding yoga, and detail the ways that I have been profoundly impacted by the practice.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to reflect and better understand my subjectivity regarding yoga and embodiment.  In the process of writing this paper, I have gained clarity on why I practice and why I instruct.  Ultimately, I know that yoga will continue to connect people to their bodies and therefore, to themselves. Yoga encourages us to engage with the university within.  One of my mentors often shares a beautiful quote with me from Swami Kripalu.  I will share that same quote with you to conclude, “Self-observation without judgement is the highest practice.”  May we all come to observe ourselves without judgement and live from a place of love.

Works Cited
Field, Edward. "Yoga and Body Consciousness." The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide 18.4 (2011): 21.
Gabe, Jonathan, and Lee F. Monaghan. Key Concepts in Medical Sociology. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2013.
Impett, Emily A., Jennifer J. Daubenmier, and Allegra L. Hirschman. "Minding the Body: Yoga, Embodiment, and Well-being." Sexuality Research and Social Policy: Journal of NSRC 3.4 (2006): 39-48.
Kern, Leslie. "Connecting Embodiment, Emotion and Gentrification: An Exploration through the Practice of Yoga in Toronto." Emotion, Space and Society 5.1 (2012): 27-35.
Kirtiklis, Anastasia. "Popomo Yoga." Yoga, Meditation, and Dissociation –. Popomo Yoga, 22 Jan. 2014. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.
McRobbie, A. "Top Girls? Young Women and the Post-Feminist Sexual Contract." CULTURAL STUDIES 21.4-5 (2007): 718-37.
Markula, Pirkko. "Reading Yoga: Changing Discourses of Postural Yoga on the Yoga Journal Covers." Communication & Sport 2.2 (2014): 143-71.
Tapper, Josh. "Yoga’s Evolution: From Basement Studios to Big Business | Toronto Star." Thestar.com. Toronto Star, 19 Mar. 2013. Web. 14 Apr. 2015.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Dear Source,
I don't thank you enough.  So here goes, on the one day of the year dedicated to gratitude (my favorite holiday of all, perhaps) I devote this blog post to sharing how thankful I am for all you have given.
Let's start with Life.  I'm glad to be alive, here and now in this present moment with these living breathing beings around me.  Thank you for this healthy body. I'm thankful to be comfortable and well-provided for and to have the ability to provide for myself.  I'm thankful for the light that streams in through my sheer curtains every morning and the way the living room looks when people are all lit up inside too.  I want to thank you for showing me dark and light - a deconstructed dichotomy.  Two things inextricably linked and tied to another - I guess I want to be grateful for the deconstruction.  For the decolonizing.  For the knowing and the learning, the failing and the growing, and of course always for the mystery.
Now let me get personal.  Thank you for the people I was born to, my loving and dear family.  The people who have shaped me, nurtured me, loved me, had picnics in hospitals with me, the people that have picked me up, dusted me off and told me that everything will be okay.  I want to reach out and tell my friends that they are the best in the world. Thank you Source, for teaching me that strangers are just friends you haven't met yet.  And for continually sending me the coolest souls.
So thank you to the ones that guided me.  The ones that empathetically and compassionately held me. Thank you to the ones that told me to smarten up.  Thank you especially to those who held up a mirror and encouraged me to polish the mirror of my heart.  The ones that listened on the other end of the line even when they didn't understand.  The ones that picked up the phone in the first place.  The ones that prayed and sent love. And of course, the ones who told me to be strong and allowed me to be weak, vulnerable and scared, too.  The ones that didn't shy away when the fire began to burn too bright.  The ones that stayed.
Now give me the pleasure of being grateful for the ones that left.  The ones that were scared or hurt or angry or lost.  The ones that couldn't stay with me.  Thank you for the lessons they taught me, for the way they illumined my insides.  The ones that taught me how to be alone and to find peace.
I cannot help but be thankful for all of it.  For the both/and.  The sadness, the joy.  The giving, the receiving.  The tide that flows and ebbs and the moon that rises and sets.  We are made of stardust.  Thank you for that.  Thank you for the sun and the stars and the constellations I don't know anything about, the ones that I marvel at anyways. 
Yoga has been a big part of it.  Here's to the deep Namaste.  Here's to my teachers - Dan, Katie, Jot Prakash.  Here's to my students, all of them teach me more than I can say.  Here's to the practice.  The path.  Each to our own, yet interconnected and crossing more and more.
Thank you Source for the ugly parts of Emmy.  For the drama queen, the control freak, the quirky weirdo, the seductress, the "nice" person, the clutz - all of the strange and interesting parts that make up who I am.  The parts I am uncomfortable with.  Thank you for the imperfections that make me perfect.
And Love.  Always Love.  The only thing that is real is Love and for that I will be forever indebted and eternally lastingly beautifully grateful.  Love is what ties us together and gets us caught in knots and then laughing as we become undone.  Love is the glue, the pieces, and the mosaic.  Love is it all.  Love is us and we are Love.
So dear Source, how could I ever say thank you? I can only live my life in joy and let the Light be spread far and wide.  That is my path, my journey.  To heal.  To speak.  To be true to who I am, who you made me....who we have become together.  And be there as a witness as others do the same.  And to smile wide.
Thank you for keeping the Earth spinning.  This beautiful green-blue planet of abundance.
From the sky to the core, I am thankful.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Thank you, dear Universe

As I stare out of the window, I can see an amber haze illuminating the towering evergreens.  I missed the tall trees.  Life has continued to spin since the last time I wrote, and the summer has been ripe with many gifts and new friendships.  I am feeling grateful and grounded.

I just read my last post and as I did, a surge of anxiety pulsed through my veins.  What will they think of me?  A familiar refrain.  When I look back on my life, sometimes it is hard to differentiate the decisions I made for myself and the ones I made for others.  Do this, and you will be successful, they told me.  Get good grades.  Work hard.  Be responsible. Serve humanity. Save the world. The burdens of these messages became too much for me on several occasions and in the last two years my priorities have certainly shifted.  The truth is that our goal driven culture, our 40 hour work week, our crazy expectations, our relentless consumerism have caused a mental health epidemic.  I know I am not the only one who is sensitive enough to feel this.

My ambition has morphed into...gentle appreciation of daily life.  My drive has become more of an intentionally slow paced stroll.  I have socialized more and studied less.  I have changed my career trajectory and my major.  I have spent more time outside, floating on my back in the lake - closing my eyes, letting the soft ripples carry me away.  Surrender instead of struggle.  In fact, yesterday I had this momentary urge to get a tattoo of the word "Surrender" and a bird next to it.  Perhaps I will do it in henna instead.

Am I self-centered saying all of this?  What I long for is to be centered within myself, overflowing with love to pour into the Earth and all of the magnificent creatures that live here.  All I want to do is feel alive.  To be present with every breath.  To be moved by the butterflies and the daisies that open every morning and close every night.  I want to be enchanted by little children.  To feel the ground beneath me and plant a garden in the dirt. To do yoga and get in touch with the stillness that is my true nature.  To open my heart to the light.  Be guided by spirit and in touch with this reality, I'd like to be surrounded by people that know and practice that love, joy, and peace is all there is.

Is that too much to ask for?

Perhaps.  Because I know there will be times when I bonk my head, stub my toe, and cut my finger. I will probably forget to remember how good rain feels when I am getting soaked on the way to school. And there will be times when those that I love are sick, or times when I am sick, or times when I am blinded by my ego and its selfish desires.  But during days like this, when I feel most connected to Source - I know that I can draw upon the unconditional love of the Universe to help me through.  That endless reserve of compassion that created the miracle of this Universe, created us too. 

I'm 100% sure that I've lost some of you by now.  All of this spiritual airy fairy nonsense, I can hear you say.  Is Emmy on crack?  She's talking about God too much.  Not to fear, my friends, I guarantee you that I'm still here.  I'm definitely a spiritually oriented person and a lot of my more...let's say rational, friends bring up the whole science vs. God thing.  The thing is, that I think a lot of what science and spirituality have to say is actually the same.  A great book about that is called Happiness by Mathieu Ricard.

Anyways, the reason all of this existential pondering has been on my mind is because I lost a friend recently.  Sarah died tragically while hiking in Waterton National Park and I will miss her deeply. The short time we spent together was wonderful.  Sarah was so kind, gentle, patient, and she followed her heart - all the way to Italy and New Zealand.  She was incredibly passionate about the outdoors.  On an expedition that we went on in New Zealand, I forgot to bring socks and mine had been drenched in cold rain.  My feet were cold and wet.  Sarah offered me her favorite pair of socks immediately and we shared a tent.  We also shared a love of music and another day, outside a building at the University of Canterbury we laughed as our harmonies didn't get quite work out (I hadn't sung properly in a long time).  She helped me realize that life is beautiful, precious, and fragile. 

What a gift - to live life on your own terms.  To stand in your authentic power, not one that control or belittles others, but to exist from a place of honest integrity.  One where you stand, centered in yourself radiating peace for miles.  Everyone can feel it.

We are spinning around in space, orbiting in some strange way, in a Universe that goes on for eons.  We are born and we die, and in the space between we have this miraculous opportunity to enjoy the ride.  As Michael A. Singer eloquently writes,

" You can turn your eyes from the sun's light and live in darkness for a hundred years.  If you then turn towards the light, the light is still there.  It is there for you just the same as for the person who has enjoyed its brilliance for a hundred years.  All of nature is like this.  The fruit on the tree willingly gives itself to everyone.  Do any of the forces of nature differentiate?  Does anything in God's creation, other than the human mind, actually pass judgement?  Nature just gives and gives to whoever will receive.  Should you choose not to receive, it doesn't punish you...If you say to the light, 'I will not look at you.  I'm going to live in darkness,' the light just keeps shining.  If you say to God, 'I don't believe in you and want nothing to do with you,' creation continues to sustain you." (The Untethered Soul, pg. 179-180).

Thank you Michael Singer.  Thank you Sarah.  Thank you, dear Universe, for everything.

Sarah Lamarche, 1991-2014.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Freedom and a Tendency to Feel

Well folks, it's been a long time.  Nearly two months to be exact.  First off - I hope you are well and thanks for sticking with me on this modest little blog.  I find it incredible how I can somehow transmit these words across the world and have absolutely no idea who is reading.  Yet I feel connected as I write.  Maybe that is the reason why I write in the first place, to feel part of a community.  Maybe that's the reason why I live too.  Life is truly about relationships, isn't it? Blogging is wonderful because it allows so much liberty...it's freeing to just write in a stream of consciousness. So that's what this post will be about - just an oozing stream of consciousness at this fine moment in time.

I've been thinking a lot about freedom these days.  It's something that is easy to take for granted.  Something that has intrinsically informed my day to day life and I never really noticed.  Oftentimes, I simply forgot that I was so free.  Of course, the moment when you no longer have something is the same moment you realize how valuable it is.

For me, this moment of realization occurred as I was staring out of a hospital window while on the psych ward.  I saw a stranger, a woman, walking on the street below me.  Just casually crossing the street.  Suddenly, I was overcome with envy, grief, frustration, and helplessness.  I knew that I was no longer free.  I could not walk on the street until a doctor gave me permission to do so.  I could not leave.

 Now, I think there is a fine line between control and freedom.  There are many times in our lives when we have no control, and some argue that life itself is uncontrollable.  Perhaps we have little to no power over our circumstances.  Yet freedom can be found inside of us, even as we battle external challenges. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, is a valiant example of this.  Kahlil Gibran, who is maybe my favorite poet writes:

"And my heart bled within me; for you can only be free when even the desire of seeking freedom becomes a harness to you, and when you cease to speak of freedom as a goal and a fulfilment.

 You shall be free indeed when your days are not without a care nor your nights without a want and a grief,
But rather when these things girdle your life and yet you rise above them naked and unbound."

At that moment, in the hospital, I was a prisoner within myself.  I did not feel free in my mind and indeed my mind had taken me to frightening places.  But so had society - society had imprisoned me within four walls and pumped my blood with drugs, because my behavior was deemed unacceptable. And even though my psychological experience was at times frightening, it was also awe-inspiring and valuable.  It has taught me so much.

It has taken me nearly two  years to be able to write about this experience and I think that is mainly due to all of the negative connotations of mental illness.  I am so sick and tired of stigma.  Even after so many positive strides have been made in the areas of psychiatry and psychology, we still have a long journey ahead of us.  Several times, I have heard people refer to my "illness" as dangerous or a symptom of the "crazy" or the "insane" or the "homeless."  And little do my dear friends realize, that they are speaking with a perfectly normal, high functioning young adult who faces that particular tendency to feel....what they have assumed is so different from them is staring at them.  People with mental illness are "othered."  We are seen as abnormal, as different, as frightening, as sick.

I think we need a profoundly different lens to view this issue.  Mental illness exists.  But the people who suffer are exactly that - simply, suffering human beings.  They are not any less or any more than anyone else.  In fact, many of these "ill" people have many impactful gifts that they offer to the world.  Our minds are complex and we understand so little, yet our egos seem to strictly enforce norms and conformity.  If we were to be truly ourselves, what would happen?   To me, the spectrum of life experiences is vast.  We all experience things differently and perhaps we need to widen our perspective on what life is truly about.   Maybe we need to approach people who are suffering from "mental illness" with compassion.  Meet them where they are at.  Talk to them instead of inject them.  Love them instead of fear them.  Be there for them instead of lock them away.

I guess all of this philosophizing is a result of a few things that have happened recently.  One is that I was asked to complete a criminal record check for employment and a volunteer position.  Little did I know that in BC, if you have been involuntarily admitted to the hospital (and therefore encountered the Mental Health Act) that involved police, this will show up for a certain amount of time on your criminal record check.  That's right.  Criminal record checks disclose that kind of information.  Firstly, I find it appalling that "criminal" and "mental health" are used in the same context.  Ontario recently established laws to avoid this as discrimination can easily ensue. Now, I do understand that if someone has a very serious mental illness and this had led them to commit crimes, it should be all means by disclosed.  However, Mental Health Act occurrences (that have not involved a conviction) are still noted for 2-5 years following the incident. And like I said, until now I have not felt comfortable disclosing my mental health information to anyone besides those I deeply trust...yet on every criminal record check I complete evidence of my "occurrence" will show up.

You can gather from the above paragraph, that I was not in that psych ward because I wanted to be.  I still get irrationally frightened when I see a police car.  It is visceral.  My heart pounds, my palms sweat.   So secondly, I think police officers need better training to deal with those suffering from mental health issues - they cannot be treated the same as criminals!  Yes, I do understand if someone is deemed a threat to themselves or another person they do need treatment. But they also need compassion.  The police can be an important part of someone's recovery and healing, but they can also be a source of trauma.

Thirdly- mental health must  be treated holistically.  While at the hospital for 9 days, I did not receive a single talk therapy session.  Medication is for sure an important part of healing for many people, but it should not be the only answer.  Mental illness does not happen in a vacuum.  Most of the time, it is trauma and personal history that contributes greatly.  Yes, there may be genetic predispositions but I am sure that mental illness is not purely biological.  Food, exercise, travel, self-regulating skills, massage, acupuncture, reiki, counselling, and good old fashioned love have been so important in my healing.

Thankfully, there are many organizations out there who support those suffering and thriving with so-called "mental illness."  One of the coolest ones I have found is the Icarus Project,  and Sascha Altman Du Brul's incredible and honest articlehttp://www.madinamerica.com/   is another fantastic resource.  The topic of Spiritual Emergency is also fitting, anything by Stanislav and Christina Grof is amazing - especially The Stormy Search for Self.  There are so many other resources that have proved so helpful.  Let me know if you want any more information.

I also want to say that life is beautiful for me right now.  I am so grateful for stability, for grounding, for healing, and for all the incredible souls that have helped me along the way.  I do not feel like I have any sort of illness, perhaps a tendency to feel, but I struggle to pathologize a part of myself.  It doesn't feel right.  So I'm choosing to love all of me, "crazy" parts included.

Phew.  This blog post has turned quite confessional, it took a lot for me to decide to share this.  I hope it helps.

All of my love,

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

New Beginnings and Transitions

Lately I have been happy.  It seems that all the energy I have been sending out into the universe for the last few months (not to sound too new age-y) has finally begun to return.  I am meeting people and discovering new beginnings and feeling optimistic about the future. Isn't it funny how when you are stuck in a rut, wallowing in self-pity, it seems the fog engulfing you will never recede?  And then one day you take a deep breath and realize the sky is clear.  This morning my curtains were illuminated by the morning sun and the beauty blew me away.  It reminded me of first year, seeing my blinds lit up every morning.  There is something beautiful about mornings.  Something beautiful about new beginnings.

I am learning that there is value in all experiences.  I went to a club for the first time a few weeks ago...(I seem to have missed the "party phase" in first year) and while it was not a completely enjoyable experience, it opened my eyes.  Sometimes I feel like I need to live a little.  So that's what I've been focussing on recently, being open to opportunities and friendships that I would have overlooked before.

I can feel Spring nudging her way into my life, in the gentle breeze and soft sunshine on my eyelids...I look up at the trees and see them emerging.  Buds are appearing.  I think the transition from Winter to Spring is perhaps my favorite transition of all.  I can feel the coldness inside me beginning to melt.  Summer is coming.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Words from the Ocean

I want to write well.
No I want to write good, so good, that you fall off your seat
So that the words snake around your heart, clench it tight in their grasp
And pull your insides out, because parts of you are dripping all over my
Paper.  And I want you to feel the inside of my hands as they dance across
The keyboard attempting to form places and people and passions
But sometimes it doesn’t work. I have tried.  Sometimes it is impossible
To try and coax that fish out of green blue waters and all you are left with
Are waves and ripples going out in every direction but landing no-where.
When all I want, more than anything, is for the waves to crash against
Your shore.  Meeting you and letting you go, but never leaving.
I want to write the kind of words people remember in their deep conversations,
“Oh yeah, I read this poem once and it totally described how I feel.”  I love
So much when you can reach into someone’s soul, your own, but it’s as if you
Scooped water from the collective ocean and the saltiness on your lips
Isn’t there because you had to bend down and drink.  It’s there because it is
In everyone and to me that is the sheer beauty of being able to write.  Of setting
This free on paper, or traveling through the wires to reach you wherever you are
I imagine this golden beam from my heart to yours at night sometimes,
It lights up the cities on the way, and when it finally reaches you, my magical energy
It warms up your heart so that you melt inside.  That is what I want, a strange sort of
Microwave from Mars that transmits light in all directions, a magical pen that
Pours love and heartache onto pages so that maybe one day, maybe one ordinary day
When everything else had crumbled to dust, scattered away,
The essence was still there, what I tried to portray
Made shadows on the sidewalk,
Imprints of what I had to say.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Skydiving and (un)Broken Cities

 I sat on the edge of the plane struggling to breathe.  The freezing air was whipping in my face and the sheer terror of what I was about to do was finally beginning to sink in.  Then, I was falling, hurtling through space with my eyes wide open.   I could see the cerulean ocean, majestic mountains, patches of farms and blue lakes. When I sent in my application for Go Global I never anticipated seeing the world from such a unique perspective.  This is a story of how my exchange to New Zealand opened my eyes.

I was drawn to two little islands at the bottom of the Earth because of the outdoor opportunities, the kiwi accent, and an intangible voice that reached into my heart and insisted, “Pick me!”  I chose to live in Christchurch, the largest urban center on the South Island because it was centrally located for travelling and because I was interested in how the city was recovering from two massive earthquakes.  I was intrigued by stories of resilience.

On February 22, 2011 at 12:51pm a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck Christchurch.  Over 180 people died and much of the city’s infrastructure was destroyed.  During my first week in New Zealand I visited Sumner, an oceanfront suburb of Christchurch severely affected by the earthquake.  On top of the cliffs I could see houses ripped in half, rooms and furniture taken down with the crumbling hills.  While exploring the city center I could feel an eerie silence filling empty lots of demolished buildings. Shipping containers held up buildings that were still collapsing.  In the residential red zone, remnants of family life lay scattered across ten thousand empty houses. 

Despite the destruction, the people of Christchurch demonstrated courage and resourcefulness. The University of Canterbury (where I studied abroad) is home to the world-famous Student Volunteer Army which mobilized thousands of students after the earthquakes to contribute to non-life threatening relief work.  A call center was set up and students shovelled tonnes of silt caused by liquefaction.  I took an inspiring class at UC called Christchurch 101 based around service learning.  We learned what kind of service is helpful, and our end of term project was establishing a community garden in a local neighbourhood.

Living in Christchurch taught me that a sense of community can be found in the most unlikely of places.  While attending a world music choir concert, I was spontaneously invited to a poetry slam.  In the sleepy suburb of New Brighton, everything was closed on a Saturday night except for a cafĂ© teeming with 80 ukulele players jamming to old classics.  One evening, after chatting with me for half an hour, a lovely older couple invited me to see their baby goats in the spring. 

I am moved by the generosity and kindness pervasive in New Zealand.  This country is probably one of the last places on Earth where you can hitchhike.  The airport loudspeaker warns you to not let your children play on the escalator.  So many people I met expressed a reverence for the outdoors and an environmental consciousness.

I spent the last two months of my trip travelling around both islands.  It was during this time that I decided to go skydiving.  I found myself continually stunned by magnificent landscapes.  I hiked in an active volcano zone.  I jumped into frigid cold waterfalls.  I went eel fishing.  But despite all of these adventures, the lessons of community and resilience I learned while living in Christchurch continue to resonate.  Living in a city struggling to find its pulse was difficult at times, but taught me about myself and about life.  

The impacts of Go Global are far-reaching - I value certain things in Canada more, I want to travel more, my concept of education has widened, and I developed strong friendships. Whether you are contemplating travelling to a new country for a while, or sitting on the edge of a plane, I hope you keep your eyes open as you leap head first into a new adventure.