The Way it Dies until Birth

The pitch black deep hole of emptiness. It appears like the sea; vast and endless. But when you look closer it’s contained within. Alone. In that hole there can be a lot of pain. The pain most likely burns. It is more than a feeling of hurt it is a burn, like when fire strikes the top of your skin, eating its way through to your delicate and open flesh. It burns like crude iron before it becomes cold and heavy steel. That exact heaviness locks you down underneath a smooth, glacial slate-like form of a rock. Transparent.

The pain moves. There is this place where the softness of the saltwater shell that holds your heart beat in tact falls apart and your tears break open. The pain moves from that place to every single corner of your body. It takes less than a second. The sting, so deep into the heart, so vicious, you didn’t see it coming and it stays for a bit. Building itself a nest of warmth and comfort. It itches, like the edge of a blade gliding along side it’s target. That pain.

I was reminded of that pain the other day. On my mat. It showed up in Surya Namaskara A. I kept moving through my asanas, listening to my breath. Ignoring it all. Concentrating. Breathing in hard, exhaling as not to suffocate, moving faster, I felt like an empty pot full of disaster. Control your mind I thought, I grasped towards focus and concentration and wished for it to become a place of refuge. Kumbhaka and hold.

Realizing that the pain was stuck. I was at a cross roads, knowing to completely feel the pain is death. It would simply – break – me. In that moment. Was I ready to pick up my shattered pieces again afterwards? Could I collect them all on my yoga mat?

Allowing pain to sit with you and to feel loss.

To completely feel that, makes you want to disappear. To literally leave space. Like you are not there. But yet, you are. Here. You torturously know that with losing that part of your Spirit, you have also lost a little bit of your Self. Because it formed a completion, it was a bowl of water and now it’s missing a piece. You have emptied your soul to the universe.

There is a moment when you know that the space in between your bones and skin is hollow and the air that was hugging your skin snug – is not holding it together anymore. Especially, when you remember the loss you have felt. The loss of all the people that you have walked away from, the people that have left you, the loss of a child that wasn’t yours to keep, because life was too short, the loss of all the energies that have held you up high and together, they’ve all vanished. Gone. Dead. Empty. In that state, the particles that make up your skin feel like crumbling into little pieces of dust, of nothingness.

You are left with no other than your Self, whom you don’t know anymore. You are left searching and looking into the mirror and not even the deepest corners and angles of your eyes will give you an answer. The only thing you see is someone you don’t even recognize anymore from the outside. You see the pain, very clearly. You feel the stifling agony on the inside. This is when the pain hurts and when the loss is heavy. Your body is held together by nothing other, than by your bones and they are struggling not to fall. Within. When you reach that point you have to think of the timeline of your bones, the relics they will carry on. Remember the strength of your muscles and how they help your bones. Remember the vibrancy of the blood, flowing through, letting them make their little rivers of passaging, to create life. Gently start to feel the little caressing strokes of energies that glue you back together and make your cracks into scars of your story.

Most importantly, remember that this is why we do yoga. We do yoga to see the divine in everything, even ourselves.

From all of that inherent power in your bones comes vulnerability. A little bit like the gentle opening of a flower, delicate and courageous. It reminds you that you can grow. I reached Surya Namaskara B and inhaled into Utkatasana – the intense, fierce, powerful posture. Then bowing and striking the Earth, letting it touch the bottom of my hands, smelling its ground in Chaturanga Dandasana and then moving on up. Letting go. Being supported. Coming up into Upward-Facing Dog and resting in Downward-Facing Dog to refocus, reground, and reconnect. Breathe.

To know that there is support, even if it seems invisible, know that the Earth is there to hold you and there are always people watching you. Allow yourself to be supported (even if that means to grab a yoga block or a blanket). When I used to feel that tormenting pain, my exit strategy was to leave myself, to numb myself, to be everything but myself. Since then, I have learned that I simply have nowhere else to go but up. Rebuild yourself from the bottom up, re-rooting and replanting. Like Utkatasana – fierce and intense.

At the end my heart didn’t break into pieces, but it broke open. I realized that all the countless times I have come home to my mat, stepped my feet together and started to move with breath, have let me to allow this. Space. Give yourself space. And when you think that your heart is breaking, it could be a sign of your heart opening. It might be your heart showing you that it can withstand the power of loss, that it is receptive to feel the pain and that it is open let go and essentially move on. Moving on to a place where you can bow to your heart as your true Self.

Utkatasana .JPG


This picture was taken at Tim Miller’s shala Ashtanga Yoga Center in Encinitas, California in the late summer of 2016. A place where I always feel supported, uplifted and at home. 

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An Intention – June 2017

2017. This is a transition year for so many things in my life. It is a beautiful place to be in. It is a scary place too. Unknown. Whenever I used to find myself in unknown territory I’d grasp for my habits, run into the arms of chaos, and succumb to heavy guilt. A transition can also be messy. Confusing. Whenever I used to find myself bewildered I got lost. Utterly lost in my mind and numb in my body.

This year. I’ve chosen to focus on aparigraha. Again.

Non-attachment has always fascinated me, especially during my time of healing from addiction, depression and heart-break. Moving On. It was the ego that made me do it in the first place. The Letting Go. Without it I don’t think, I’d have ever had the courage to leave my self behind. 

Now, as I’m in the unknown again and looking at confusion in the mirror, I know to breathe and I know to trust the process. Faith. Because I remember the trail I’ve left behind. I know. In front of me. Clarity. There is my path. One step at a time. 

Today, during practice. I took some me time and leaned into Compass or Parivrtta Surya Yantrasana. I opened, stretched and twisted. I have my back. I can hold myself up to the highest standards of my soul. I trust. 

To me. This asana means exactly that; I am the keeper of my Self. Within. 

Hence, when I was asked a couple of days ago, what my intention of the month was, I knew. My intention this month is with āstikya. It is a niyama that means faith. Cultivating our faith to trust the process: on and off the mat.

Compass Chantal .jpg


This picture was taken on Tinos Island in Greece during my self-practice in the summer of 2017. 

A long Weekend in Paris – with a short Note

Dear City of Lights

I just saw you again and spent a whole weekend with you. I needed a break. Perhaps a look into the past. Knowing it is different now. Today. 

Feeling gratitude to be able to come and teach yoga to someone that has supported me since the beginning. Introducing yoga to someone new too. Overall feeling special to having been invited “to come on over” for doing my work. I love. 

Strolling along familiar streets. Feeling fearless about derailing into old habits. Feeling respect for the city that I first moved to with a broken soul from Brooklyn and left with a burned foot from Hveragerði. Feeling excited to go underground  and sink into the lost world with marble statues at “my old office” – the Louvre. Remembering the tears I’ve lost on the metro. Longing for the love that happened in Montmartre, protected by the sight of the Sacred Heart. I feel. Oh love, where are you now? Have we lost it all. On the steps. I breathe it all in. 

Practicing. Yoga; my love, my therapy, my healing on my mat at a shala. This weekend. 

Balancing on one foot is so much easier now than it was 7 years ago. Time has passed.
I am.

Here. 

Respectfully Yours

Chantal  paris chantal.JPG

This One. Is for You.

I grew up a lost little tomboy trying to fit in. With my heart I wanted one thing, and I was told from the outside to do the other. Always. So much so that when I was more of a grown up, my brain believed the outside more than my heart. There was a complete disconnect. It led me through an achievement of self-destruction in several fields of life. I flat-out jumped over the edge numerous times, even without coercion – and whenever I hit rock bottom there was one thing that never left and was always waiting for me: I never felt good enough. I never did anywhere, especially not at the bottom of the pit. 

Yoga changed that for me. Yoga gave me space. Yoga gave me back everything that I had lost or forgotten. It still does. Yoga reminds me to be me.

When I teach yoga, my intention is to give you space – to breathe, to move, to grow.

To feel.
To feel good. 
To feel good enough.

I never would have imagined that I would be – one day – able to find myself as a Lululemon Zurich Ambassador, nor have a picture of myself in a Lululemon store, in my city of birth that I thought to have long left behind.

In this picture I am represented as who I am, and who I want to be. 
I am doing what I love. 
This is Me.

This picture is for You. I open my heart. I bend back. I trust. I am grounded.

I am honored to have you in my class and hold space for you.
Thank you.


ChantalLululemon.JPGPhoto by Silvano Zeiter


 

In Memorandum of a Posture Part 1 and a Fish from Chinatown

When I am on the mat I struggle, I love, and I try. I try hard; I let go as well. Overall, I give it my sweat through and through. There are moments when I find myself lost in a posture, either because she is brand new, or I haven’t “hung out” with that particular posture in a while and it feels strange, yet familiar. The other day, I had one of those “lost moments” on the mat. And I remembered Tokyo.

I was lost on East Broadway close to the Bowery, somewhere in Chinatown. Now where was that pet store? This was before smart phones and Google–or Google/Apple maps, for that matter. I tried to remember my friend’s directions.

After about 40 minutes of walking up and down unfamiliar streets, I found the pet store. There it was, in English letters next to Chinese. I knew exactly what I wanted–the color, the shape, even the shape of the glass bowl, similar to the next posture. You think you know exactly what she looks like. What she has to be like.

Although Finding Nemo had just come out and clownfish were very popular, I still wanted a goldfish. It’s sort of like when the teacher tells you that the pose will get easier with time: use a block first, or a strap, but you just want to go straight to the posture. That’s how I walked into that pet store. It smelled like fish in the store–not that it smells like anything else in Chinatown. I walked straight up to the third tank I saw and pointed to the goldfish I wanted. His name was Tokyo. Although I was never sure of his actual gender, I think he was male. For the lack of science, let’s refer to Tokyo as s/he. The guy in the store kept trying to sell me on a clownfish.

I was in and out of that store. It was fast business. Sometimes it kind of feels like that when you do your jump throughs in and out, back and forth. There, and not there. Somewhere else.

I took the goldfish home in a plastic bag filled with water, glass bowl in my other hand, sitting on a semi-crowded subway. No one wanted to mess with me. Most likely though, people simply didn’t care.
There were moments when Tokyo and I looked at each other for seconds at a time. Small moments. Tiny bits of ‘Oh, hello.’ And then it was over. S/he forgot about me within seconds. We had a lot of silence together. He used to go about his swim every day, up and down, left and right, bottom to top.

Those little lost moments on the mat–I like them. Moving into all possible directions. The movements are full of lightness, carrying a sense of security with them, like that moment when you first find balance in a posture, a tiny second. So fast that you cannot comprehend it until it’s over. You think you know exactly where you’re going and then it feels completely new and different. Because every practice is.

Tokyo died. S/he did. All of a sudden. After hanging out next to my kitchen window, above the sink, looking out into the garden. The best view of the studio. One morning s/he was hanging out, belly up. And I knew it was over. Kind of like when you move on to your next posture. Once you’ve finally achieved that “perfect for you” posture and you want the next one. Or you are trying the posture again and it has disappeared on you. It just won’t work again. That moment.
I gave Tokyo a proper burial. I walked over to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and said my goodbyes before letting what remained of Tokyo go into the East River. I figured it’s a good place to say goodbye, as I’m sure many have done so in the East River. It’s NYC’s underwater graveyard and is sure cheaper than a spot at Greenwood. Not that I couldn’t have just flushed Tokyo down the toilet. S/he would have gotten to the water eventually. Same as with your postures–technically you could just move on to another one, yet another one. You will get to the end eventually. Yet, as simple as the posture might feel, give it an extra breath and remember when it was very far away.

I did not get another goldfish after Tokyo. I have, however, moved on to other postures since then.

Every once in a while I think about Tokyo. I do that with my postures too. I think about them. When I go back to the one, the one that I’ve worked so hard to get to. Sometimes years. And now that asana comes so easily to my body. That one. I savor it and give it an extra breath. Because maybe, maybe the next time I encounter that asana on my mat, it won’t be that familiar anymore; it won’t be that comfortable. It will be like a new posture. Like a goldfish’s mind, a blank slate. A beginner.


 

This writing has been inspired by my late pet fish Tokyo, my recent trip back home to Brooklyn and by my relationship with Ashtanga Yoga. Sometimes not knowing is tortuous. Instead of projecting and agonizing about what is coming next, we might be better off staying curious at the magic we can create in the moment with a beginner’s mind. Always.

Watch out for In Memorandum of a Posture Part 2 and Death coming soon.

Memorandum

What lies ahead we can only imagine… Looking out at the Pacific in Del Mar, San Diego – CA.

 

Dedication – A Life – Perseverance

A thought I had. Some call it marriage. Or a relationship, a friendship. A dedication to something that is bigger than yourself, something that makes you strive for greatness. A practice.

Practicing yoga everyday makes me strive for greatness. It makes me feel connected to my essence, my being.

A relationship is practice, a marriage is practice, it is something to be cultivated between two people and a yoga practice is between you and your Ishtadevata, your Soul, your Self, your Spirit, you name it. It is not about the other person or the yoga in itself. It is about the concept of yoga, the practice. It is what you create. It is also not about your teacher, the teacher is a mentor, there to guide you.

For some it might be the very concept of making a child. But then again, it is not about the child. It is about the connection you grow with your child, the moments that happen, and the creation that you were part of.

The practice grows; it is messy at times. It can be oh-so-selfish, driven, full of emotions, selfless and empty too. Most of all it is continuous. Every day. And when an asana (yoga position) gets difficult, we keep on it, we don’t walk away. Practice. One shouldn’t walk away from a commitment without remembering the initial intention. Yet, learn to walk away when something destroys your soul; an addiction, a relationship. I’ve had to learn to walk away (with a lot of practice) —but not from my yoga. Practicing yoga has made me become extraordinary at who I am, not perfect. There might very well be some pouting, perhaps some toying around with ignoring the practice, but at the end we step back onto the mat. “I surrender,” which doesn’t mean giving up or being weak, but instead to staying focused on the big picture, to not be attached, to stop resisting, to step out of rigidity and simply, to practice. Every practice has an intention.

It is not the style of yoga but the practice of it. It is about the relationship or the marriage you create together with the other person, not the person herself. Basic physics and mathematical logic, biology—it’s the connection and the transition. It’s the path of your life and not death, nor the goal.

I’ve learned to communicate with my body, and to listen to what it has to tell me. It’s an ongoing process. I practice. Keep on practicing. Asana. Yoga. Breath. Mindfulness. Perseverance. Nourish what makes you feel complete. As Guruji used to say: “Do your practice and all is coming.”


There is so much more to this. All I can write for a thought is the above. Patanjali’s Sutras, book 2 verses 23-27, inspired this thought process. As well as the ever difficult pose of Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana B.

Olomana 3 Peaks Hawaii ChantalFinding a moment of gratitude to be alive in the middle of peak two and peak three of the Olomana Three Peaks Trail in Kailua – HI. 

Ode To My Yoga Mat

You are always there for me. Rolled out so that I can step onto you. My feet are pushing into you, trying to ground down, finding stability. My hands are spread out and webbed onto your surface. When my forearms are looking for hold, you provide one. After a while I sweat on you, drops and puddles of saltwater accumulate. You stick around you and you don’t leave. Every once in a while you even let me cry, quietly or with a side of sniffles. I can jump on you without you jumping back. I can hold onto you with my hands, even while I walk on them. Sometimes you hold me up by just one foot. Not quite yet with only one hand. Whenever I am not able to go as far as I want or as I used to (yesterday) you are there holding me in the position I am in, in the here and now. When you are getting a bit smelly, I wash you with twists and soap and you aren’t mad at me. I make you go through a whole washing cycle and you’re probably sea sick….you are there the next day. Ready to hold me together or let me fall apart on you again. The more I use you, the more you change in texture, but stay the same in spirit.

Sometimes out in nature you let me take refuge on you, protecting me from the roughness of the rocks around us. When I achieve a new posture or am able to do something I have never done, trying to show off to you, looking for praise, you lay there, indifferent—reminding me to stay humble, and that what is today might not be tomorrow. Sometimes you make me invite Mr. Block, Mrs. Strap, and Ms. Blanket to our play, diplomatically making me accept that sometimes it’s okay to ask for help and take it. Especially if it is right in front of you!

I carry you with me, like a child carries its favorite stuffed animal. We have traveled around the world together. When I stuffed you into the overhead bin you didn’t complain. When I stuffed you on the top shelf of a busy train, you never disappeared. I call you names and used to even hit you, punching you like a bag, and all I did was hurt myself. I used you as extra armor when I first started and now you have become my close friend. You are not scared when I roar like a lion, filling the room around us with expunged toxins. I am sure you feel how much lighter I am. When I’m approaching my truth during meditation or when I’m listening to my inside through pranayama you lay there quietly. The times I can’t take you with me, I miss you terribly. But I know you will be there when I get back. You might change your color, you usually stay the same size, your character grows but you always foster me with a playground to move around in.

On you, I’ve learned how to let myself feel again. Thank you.
I found my spirit. Home.
Ode to you, my mat!

My yoga mat & I in New Mexico

My yoga mat & I in New Mexico

2015 Note – I wrote this article in Santa Fe, New Mexico a while back. After my morning practice I went to hang out at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and was influenced by all the art; the shapes and emotions made me think about my own.  The shapes I have when doing asana, the emotions I have while practicing, and the one thing that holds me up. My yoga mat! Obviously I was also inspired by Keats’ ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’. It has been previously published at The Global Yogi.

Sweat, Fatigue & Feelings: A Teacher Training Adventure

I sit high up in the Swiss mountains at 10 p.m., beneath a dark and noisy thunderstorm. The past couple of days have been exceptionally hot for this environment and now the sky is shooting thunderbolts and lightning all around. The picture outside the window is tumultuous: Light and dark, wind-strewn rain, the sound of rolling thunder. This cacophonous light storm reminds me of how my body and mind felt when I was embarking on the Forrest Yoga Foundational Teacher Training adventure.

I had entered the training with openness and left with a football field full of emotions. Ana Forrest eased me into the process. Well… kind of. On the first day, I was excited and curious, on the second day I was dehydrated and tired, and on the third, I felt like I had been there for a month, with the end nowhere in sight. I worked through the icky, dormant emotions we all keep somewhere in our bodies. I was left sweating and freezing on the floor talking myself through asanas in voices I did not know I had. I was left sitting and contemplating my life so that at some point I was rethinking Plato’s Republic—and believe me I would have loved to ask Socrates some questions about that. Still in the midst of other participants, I was alone with my thoughts; I felt them re-group, disappear, and multiply.

It roughly worked like this: Everyday (27 consecutive days!) syncing up with my spirit and redirecting energy to what matters in life during our meditation ceremonies, followed by morning Intensives. In the afternoon we had anatomy and teaching theory with practical adjustments, and at night after homework and reflection I slept like a stone. I cycled myself through a cleansing amount of sweat and grew new skin. I pushed myself to old emotions and new edges. I did all of that and at the end of the training I left feeling emotionally drained, physically exhausted—yet completely light and truthfully happy. My head and my body were in sync, and my mind was all over the place, just like the sky is tonight. Still, it is beautiful to look at the sky; it’s the art of nature and admittedly, the teaching from Ana Forrest and her team takes yoga to an art form.

During the training it rained practically every day – granted it took place in the UK – yet, I cannot help to think that the environment cleansed itself, washing away all the old rusty crap and made us ready for new growth. It seems that the rain of tonight is washing away all the sticky heat from the past couple of days. It makes me think that the thunderstorms inside me after the training were an energetically reorganization of myself. It was time for a yard sale of feelings and mastering the business of ‘letting go’.

These days I feel calm, strong, and connected to my spirit. I have been given the tools to play healthily with my yoga sequencing during class and I have learned to breathe through pain. Since the Forrest training I’ve become a better teacher. Ana Forrest has left her mark in my practice and my mind. Expressing my gratitude to Ana’s life work—the standard of excellence in teaching and in fostering overall health. Thank you, Forrest Yoga!

Forrest Training – Photo by Martina Deltcheva

2015 Note – I wrote this article right after the training in 2012. It has been previously published at The Global Yogi. Today, I am a certified Forrest Yoga Teacher and have been assisting Ana Forrest at her trainings. I am given the opportunity to lead other people through the same training that has strongly influenced my life and my teaching.