Can yoga wreck you?

January 10, 2012 § 4 Comments

Yoga can heal you – or hurt you.

In fact, most people should just give it up altogether.

Really?

That was the provocative message of a recent NY Times article, forwarded to me by a friend yesterday.

The Times reporter took a yoga class in 2009 with top-tier yoga instructor Glenn Black, who has four decades of teaching under his Lululemons. Many of Black’s loyal clients are celebrities and long-time practitioners who, over the years, have sought out his guidance and support for rehabilitation following yoga injuries.

Yoga injuries? Isn’t that, like, an oxymoronasana?

Put those two words together, and it will shock the toe-socks off your yoga students – and make a room-full of glowy pretzel-bent instructors cringe and nod knowingly, then wax poetic about their deep gratitude for the humbling, character-refining wisdom gleaned from countless yoga injuries. “Namaste, Achilles tendon, rotator cuffs, S.I. joint, quadratus lomborus and hamstrings.”

I don’t mock; I speak from unsugar-coated experience. Talk to my shoulder, my hip, my sacro-illiac and my ankle. They will prattle on ’til you wish you were deaf about the thousands of dollars and bitter-sweet trips to the chiropractor and Active-Release-Therapists, the accupuncture, accupressure, deep-tissue massages, hot Epsom-salt baths, side-sleeper pillows, Ibuprofen nights and abbreviated mat practices. Is any Downward Dog or Chaturanga Dandasana in the stratosphere worth pain on the mat? No.

I think it was B.K.S. Iyengar who said that “Yoga is a mirror that reflects the Self from within.”

I respectfully disagree with Mr.Black, that most people should not do yoga; however, I do agree with his rationale – that yoga practiced with a big ego and little awareness of the state your body is in, is bound for injury.

As if adding karmic street cred to his incendiary view, after four decades of mindful practice and conscientious instruction, Black underwent back surgery in 2010 to alleviate pain caused by compressed spinal nerves – a condition called spinal stenosis – likely brought on by his 40 years of advanced twisting and back-bending. He’s the first to admit it.

My injuries have taught me to listen more closely to mind, body and breath, whether striving for Handstand or coming up into a simple Cobra. Striking no beautiful pose is worth the weeks, months or years of injury that could result from forcing a posture that takes you past your safe and sane personal edge.

Unfortunately, we often learn the hard way. Many enthusiastic and hell-bent new – and seasoned – practitioners disregard a teacher’s sage advice, and let their ego triumph over inner wisdom and discernment. Yoga teachers are only guides; your best compass and barometer always lie within.

Yoga benefits so many people – bringing them greater ease in their bodies and peace of mind. I would never tell anyone to not practice yoga unless a doctor advised them otherwise or they experience adverse effects while doing yoga.

If you commit to a yoga practice for a sustained period of time, inevitably your pre-existing physical imbalances will surface. In my experience, if you do not study and work with these imbalances – learning to move through a safe range of motion and coming to understand how your feet and knees are inter-connected to your hips and shoulders and core, yoga will eventually exacerbate these imbalances.

As you strengthen the wrong muscles, which are compensating for weaker areas of the body, you will further stress injuries and deepen imbalances. In this well-grooved rut, many a devoted practitioner re-conceives their practice, deepens their journey and starts to grow by leaps and bounds. I did.

I whole-heartedly believe that, for any student of yoga, it is most valuable to put the onus on yourself to work through your injuries and imbalances. Find a teacher and/or a good physiotherapist who will take the time to explain body mechanics and empower you to learn what you need to know in order to self-correct.

Awareness, combined with solid knowledge of your body or your injury, will help you create a safe, sane and sustainable yoga practice. And don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Always ask questions; never stop. Here, in this open space of receptivity and burning zeal (tapas), you may smell pond scum. That’s where the Lotus flower blooms.

Finally, take a deep and disciplined interest in your practice, your strengths and your weaknesses – as my first teacher taught me, we have the most to learn from our weaknesses, injuries and dark places.

Yoga can make you strong, happy and whole. However, yoga is neither something inherently good nor bad for you. Yoga just is – and you are always your greatest enemy or ally on this journey Om.

Having said all this, I still hope I’m standing on my head when I’m 80!

P.S. If you’re looking for a winter getaway, that’s both nourishing and affordable, check out my upcoming retreat at www.jenniferparks.ca or on Facebook.

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To market, to market …

August 7, 2011 § 6 Comments

No fresh pig.

But tables upon booths full of yummy, nutritious, local, organic, colourful, scented, pretty … stuff.

So, basically, everything I love.

I met up with some of my girl gang this fine morning – Patrycia, Corrine and Noreen – for a java-to-go from Transcend, followed by a stroll through the Downtown City Market, then lunch, wine and a hearty gab session at Blue Plate Diner.

The perfect Saturday.

Noreen shared her farm-fresh carrots with us – the kind girl that she is:

Corrine stocked up on a few eclectic ingredients to experiment with in her kitchen tonight – including multi-coloured Swiss chard and some weird veggie called a Kohlrabi, that supposedly tastes like broccoli stems.

And here’s an Edmonton Examiner-style close-up shot of said-Kohlrabi – what can you expect when you get three former reporters and a photographer together, throw in a camera and oodles of great photo opps?! Love the chin dimple, Sweet P.

Confession: I know I’m not supposed to be buying any more clothes right now … but ya see, there was this “Get-the-second-dress-for-50%-off” deal at the cinder + smoke kiosk, and, in short, Patrycia made me.

(Sorry, Ma. I will pay penance by purging my closet of not one, not two, but three items … but I may need a glass of red to loosen me up first;)

Trish: FYI, we have to go somewhere in our new dresses soon. Like tomorrow, girlfriend.

… or maybe I’ll just get me a part-time waitress job at Mel’s Diner … Ha!

“What’ll it be, boys?” … “Do you want soup or fries with that?” … “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?” (insert vociferous gum smacking, hip throw and saucy wink.)

Noreen and Trish got friendship necklaces. I guess Trish and I got friendship dresses … and Corinne just wanted some quality time with us, girls. Smart cookie.

I was lovin’ the East Indian dancers who were performing on a stage in the middle of the market and bustin’ out some pretty cool moves:

And finally, I learned a new word: Guasacaca – a very popular condiment in Venezuela similar to Mexican guacamole. Add a bit of spice, and you have:

This is just one of the many delicious, healthy, unique edibles I will be offering in six weeks time at the 3rd Annual Fall Soul Yoga Retreat.

Hey friend, if you want to treat yourself to an unforgettable getaway weekend full of yoga, good eats, beautiful surroundings, rest, relaxation, organic wine-tasting, awesome peeps, spa pamper sessions and more, this event could be for you. (Visit my website www.jenniferparks.ca for more details.)

Hope to yog with you soon.

xo Jenn

3rd Annual Fall Soul Yoga Retreat!!

July 24, 2011 § Leave a comment

I imagine that no one – including me – reeeally wants to think ahead to the fall … but I am already in creative planning mode for the 3rd annual Fall Soul Yoga Retreat … and believe me, you are not gonna want to miss this one!!

Take time to relax, play and get your yog on with me this September 16 to 18 at the serene, secluded and beautiful wilderness River Lodge – just 45 minutes from downtown Edmonton.


I am feeling so inspired these days by the heart-centered Anusara teachings of Ryan Leier and Tahnee Fournier – and the deep, quiet transformative practice of “yin” yoga, which is the perfect complement to a strong, heat-building “yang” practice.

It’s all Yin-Yang, baby!

Let’s balance, flow, be warriors, play outside of the boundaries, get quiet, let go, soar, shine and yog together this fall (and it better be a warm one).

Treat yourself to a soul-inspiring weekend of flow & yin yoga, delicious & nutritious fresh food prepared – with a generous sprinkling of love – by my friend (and my former editor at the Sun) guest local red-seal chef and award-winning cookbook author, Sally Vaughan-Johnston.

Come and you’ll enjoy relaxing in tranquil surrounds among conscious community, tons of yoga, organic-wine tasting, guest spa services and much, much more. (Spoiler alert: word has it Sally will be doing an Eastern smoothie cleanse demo, offering samples and sending us home with recipes!)

Check out the retreat deets on my website and/or the FB event page.

If you’ve got any questions, don’t hesitate to email me at soulink@shaw.ca or call 780-974-8401

Namaste, friends.

Sweetness

July 4, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ve been meaning to post this photo I took of a little yogini and her grandma at my Holy Trinity yoga class last Friday.

It’s so super-sweet.

Meet Abby, 5, and Janis, 61, hanging out in Child’s Pose (Balasana):

I’ve never seen a pint-sized person so quiet, focused and absorbed for so long (90 minutes!) … much less, on the mat!

A great reminder that, no matter our age, the child within is ever-present, ready and willing to share … if only we will grow silent, still, tune in, trust and listen – to the offerings of that under-rated timeless little game of Show ‘n’ Tell.

What is your heart whispering?

MUG ‘O’ LOVE

My friend, Ciara, however, topped my sweet charts last week when she gave me this amazing gift of a ceramic “Namaste” travel mug with spill-free Silicone lid.

Apparently, she was losing sleep over thoughts of me driving around all the time with an open mug of hot coffee, destined to one day scald me.

Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way; other times, we have great friends who make it their business to save us before the fact;)

I love her times a thousand icing-heaped cupcakes and steaming Americanos.

MEET SALLY

Sally Vaughan-Johnston is my former Sun editor from back in the newspaper days, when I used to work as a Lifestyles reporter … and sex columnist (gasp!) … for the Edmonton Sun.

A few years ago, she decided to follow her longtime dreams of becoming a chef and best-selling cookbook author. (Read her story, Best of Bridge, Baby!) Soon after, I also got antsy, jumped ship and went full lotus, baby – becoming a certified yoga instructor and freelance writer. It’s been all opening and unfurling ever since.

So, what’s my point?

This fall, Sally will be joining us at the Third Annual Fall Soul Yoga Retreat and I’m so excited that she will be channelling her exceptional culinary talents, skills and exuberance into creating the menus and soul food to inspire our transformational weekend of yoga, relaxation, play and pampering.

Stay tuned for my retreat posters around town – coming soon! Registration is now open. Deets here. Hope you’ll join us on the soul train, Sept 16-18.

Choo-choo. Choo.

Retreat, re-enter, unfold

May 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

You know how the day after Christmas or your birthday can feel like a big, fat let-down?

For days, weeks, often months in advance, you make wish-lists, shop, decorate, plan, primp, fuss, prepare. Then it’s suddenly over – done and past – and the plain, old next day somehow feels empty, anti-climactic, wayward.

This is not how I felt after last weekend’s retreat.

In its lead-up, the two-day yoga getaway at River Lodge kept me happily planning, organizing and busy in my test kitchen for several weeks. My guests said they’d counted sleeps to the much-needed time away to relax, rest, reconnect and come home to their practice.

The weekend came and went – delightfully – and now we’ve all gone back to our jobs, families, challenges, stresses and unfinished business.

But it didn’t end. Something began.

As unambiguously as a short, green sprout pushing its way out through the muck, something grew.

It is growing inside of me, and I can only speak for myself, but if the joy and ease with which this motley group came together and gelled in under 48 hours is any indication, then I suspect, as I write this, that it’s growing inside them too.

It’s magical; sharing a space with others who are reaching out – and reaching deep within – to commune with the world – and themselves – more authentically.

I feel honoured and overjoyed to have waded a mile or two, heart-deep, together.

Life is busy. Pain, stress and loneliness are rampant. People build armour to protect themselves and many of us live shields-up just to survive. But to thrive, takes risk, vulnerability; a vision or faith in … more.

When we are open and unguarded with our hearts, then love can truly flow forth and nourish us. And it is this love, whispered and echoing through our cells, that cradles and carries us into the Great Unknown of each breath, each moment.

When I close my eyes, and look inward, I can hear it singing me home.

This sweet song is gallant green, filled with sunshine, blue skies, bright buds and the unparalleled beauty of unfolding.

Flickr Photos of the weekend

Eat, Pray, Love

April 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

Love, love, lovin’ this sunshine!

And how it makes the fresh ingredients on my cutting board so bright and vibrant, must be some kind of culinary Feng Shui.

Delicio!

So happy to be back in the kitchen, testing recipes for my 2nd Annual Spring Soul Yoga Retreat, which is coming up fast – only six weeks away!

I’m going for an “Eat, Pray, Love” theme this time – ’cause we’re gonna mangiamos like Italians, do lots of soul-awakening yoga like the peace-loving bhaktis of India, and will be celebrating the divine light and love within each of us, by taking time to renew, reflect, connect, play, grow and just be.

A little sampling of what’s on the menu – so far:

Italian thin-crust pizzas:

Margherita, Porcini Cream,

Prosciutto Basil, Pesto Artichoke, Spinach Feta

~

Edamame dip with Pita chips

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Banana-Praline French Toast

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Vegan Cupcakes with Tofu Cream Cheese Icing

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Lemon Lavender cupcakes

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Mango salsa + tortillas

Stay tuned for more from my busy kitchen! If you’re interested in the retreat contact me at 780-974-8401 or visit the Spring Soul Yoga Retreat Event Page on Facebook.

xo Jenn

To cosmic power cookies and best friends

May 13, 2010 § 1 Comment

Happiness can be many things to many people.

Each day brings a reminder of what I am grateful (and not so grateful) for.

For example, I am lovin’ the leftovers in my fridge right now, from the Spring Soul Yoga Retreat I just led, with the generous and loving help of my best friend, Meg, at a center in Stony Plain, Alberta.

For breakfast, lunch and dinner I am eating Chicken and Vegetarian Coconut Curry Roti, mango salsa, dill potato salad, mom’s cheese strata, locks, cream cheese & bagels. The freezer’s also jam-packed with goodness, so nothing goes bad before it can be eaten. Happy times for my belly, happy times!

The Planet Organic Cosmic Power Cookies were so popular that they disappeared almost before hitting the plate. Totally cosmic, as it were. Thank yous, and sweet, dark chocolaty gratitude to Planet O for giving us the recipe! (Click on the link above if you want it. And believe me, you want it!)

I am not, however, feeling so grateful for the tiny leak I discovered under my sink, the long spring grass that needs cutting (although the cats seem to love it that way) and the house clutter I left in the midst of my event organizing.

The passionate dance of preparation left a trail of gritty crumbs on the floor that don’t make for happy feet or good feng shui. I must wash, vacuum, sweep, dust … Yes, I am still searching for the gratitude in housework. I guess it’s just something that has to be done, and you’re grateful when it’s finally over!

What I am eternally grateful for, though, is my best friend, Meg, who gave so much energy and love this past weekend to help make the yoga retreat a success. She traveled from another province, gave up Mother’s Day with her children and worked in the kitchen with me for two days to prepare the food she so lovingly served at the retreat center.

Meg, your heart is so huge, and I feel my capacity for love grow when I am around you. Thank-you for your loving friendship over the years. You have walked with me, through laughter and tears, along this winding path of life (at times piggy-backing me), and I will always be your grateful trail companion.

Namaste, my friend. You have inspired my pursuit of happiness more than you will ever know! The light in you is ever bright and beautiful, ever guiding me toward Grace.

On the topic of gratitude, I do think there is a link between feeling happy and being grateful for things. We live in such a “me first” culture, that too often gratitude is a remote, flaky, new-age concept that success-driven narcissists and ego-maniacs squash on their race up the corporate rungs – at their own peril.

People at the top often find themselves counting huge green stacks, but instead of feeling full they find themselves empty.

Gratitude, I have learned, is the real secret to success and true abundance. It is the only way to make a living AND a life!

So, here’s to Meg, yoga, sunshine, cheese strata, Cosmic Power Cookies, gratitude, growing grass, leaky sinks and even, even, housework. After all, great love can help us accomplish great feats.

Last, but never least, to love. I am your servant.

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