Bali in 00

Style: Personal Sequence
Teacher: Self
Studio: Hong Kong International Airport

After dangling over the Pacific Ocean for 18 hours I'm at the Hong Kong International Airport. It's somewhere around 5 am but I can't tell for sure. I have no sense of time. I've been saturated in airplane food and airplane T.V, airplane legroom with an airplane recline. I've got airplane bloodshot eyes. I'm ready for a new diet. In just under four hours I will be on board my last flight, nonchalantly crossing the equator and landing in Denpasar, Bali. After that I'll be on my way to Ubud, my home for the next stretch of time-space. As usual, I don't know what awaits me or what to expect. The difference is that I think I'm finally getting used to it. Nothing is predictable, no matter how hard we try. Life will never cease to be an adventure. It will always be a blind leap of faith. I think I'm finally ready to accept that. My heart and mind are open. Whatever comes my way will be greeted like an old friend, a cherished relative. I'm ready to live. I'm finished sleeping. In total acceptance I feel total appreciation. Right now, everything I've ever known and everyone I've ever loved are behind me. I find myself holding on to them with every ounce of love, strength and compassion I have. I can feel their belief in me and I have faith that it will carry me safely wherever I go. Sitting alone at the 49th gate of departures it's like my whole life is flashing through my mind. The airport looks deserted. There isn't another soul as far as the eye can see. No passengers, no employees. As I watch the sun rise through the massive windows, fire glinting across the parked airplanes motionless out on the concrete runway, an idea suddenly occurs to me. Before the thought has a chance to be reconsidered I'm flowing through sun salutations in the ghost-town airport, an improptu but refreshing personal practice that's taking on a life of its own. I'm breathing deeply. I'm equal parts scared, excited, homesick and prepared. Shaken not stirred. Standing on my head on the other side of the world below the equator, I know I'll feel upright in the Universe.

Bali in 01

Style: Power
Teacher: Lucy Castell
Studio: Rama Lotus

Today was my last yoga class. All morning I've been halfway between laughing and bursting into tears. Making an attempt to dodge my fluxuating emotions I'm in the Hot room at Rama Lotus, hoping for a third-degree burn. I'm standing at the end of a long adventure but also at the edge of a new one. I have no thoughts. I can only feel. Right now I feel the whole spectrum. I feel a tragic bliss, an ecstatic misery. I feel heavy, suffocated by the burden of gravity but I feel light, like I might float gracefully off the ground any second. Endings are always inseparably bound to new beginnings. They are tightly woven, one melting into the other. Death is followed by rebirth. When one chapter ends, a new one begins. Fade to black. Today I'm at the apex of the pyramid, the split second of suspension between the rise and the fall, the climb and the descent. The journey has come to an end and the journey has only just begun. It's the excitement of a new direction in an intimate embrace with the heartbreak of departure. The mixture of emotion creates a wild chemical reaction. The layers of feeling are subtle and complex, poetic, romantic and nearly impossible to describe. I think this is how it feels to be fully alive. I'll never know what the future holds. I don't even know if I'll put pen to page again in my life, if I'll blog or share my thoughts with the world. Nothing is for certain. I can't be sure that I'll ever return or if I'll even survive the trip. There are no guarantees. Soon I'll be leaving my world behind. Will it still be waiting for me when I get back? Will I be able to recognize it?

Bali in 02

Style: Personal Sequence
Teacher: Self
Studio: None

I taught my first yoga class. I'll admit, it wasn't exactly the endless mat-to-mat army of yogis that Baron taught back in Austin. The atmosphere was quaint and intimate, safe and supportive, consisting of Shawna and my two sisters, Annie and Maria. Despite the mood being comfortable and free of expectation I still somehow managed to cultivate a stage fright that had me closing in on nervous wreck. I argued with myself, fought with the logistics of the sequence, fretted over my ability to emote and project my voice, to clearly articulate and enunciate. As my two lovely sisters arrived I was still second guessing myself, altering and modifying the sequence, scratching out this pose, replacing it with that one. Do back bends follow forward bends? Don't they? What's that rule of thumb again? A twist might work here... Do I have too many standing postures? Enough balancing positions? Hip-openers? Does this make sense here? Does that serve a purpose? Have I covered all bases? As the three mats were rolled out in front of me and a silence descended on the room, eventually I had to surrender and bite the bullet, to swallow my nit-picking perfectionism and replace it with pseudo confidence and self-assurance.

Surviving a resounding Om with minimal residual awkward energy, the process is suddenly in motion. My class is off to a start and instantly I'm drawing a blank. What's a sun salutation again? Is that an inhale or an exhale? Soon I'm stumbling over my own words, stuttering and sputtering, trying to explain simple procedures in a way the three people in front of me can understand. This is definitely more complex then I'd anticipated. How do these yoga teachers make it look so easy, so effortless?

As I guide the three students further into the series of sun salutations I begin to subdue the nervous waver in my voice and pretty soon I've done what I can to stabilize my senses. I swallow my emotions without choking on them and struggle to bring my focus back to my sequence as I glance down at my notes. I'm guiding the yogis through the motions, watching them listen to my instructions and display my words. It's both thrilling and terrifying. As the choreography progresses, I find myself fascinated by the mental spasms and glitches I'm experiencing. My internal dialogue wonders if the students are enjoying themselves, if they're noticing my mistakes or if they're patiently waiting for everything to end. The serene, blank gazes on their faces are unreadable. Are they in a state of deep meditation or sublime boredom? Playing with the choreographed asanas, we move through warrior sequences, triangles, side-angles with binds, reverse triangles and prayer folds. I'm narrating dragons and locusts, pigeons and downward dogs, camels and eagles - almost the entire animal kingdom is present and accounted for.

Eventually I'm forming like Megazord, drawing inspiration from the colorful cast of characters I've been studying with for the past 6 months. I'm amputating Todd's calm demeanour, Ichih's motivational spirit, Mark's smooth delivery, Louise's wit and humour, Mike's ability to stay grounded and chilled-out. I'm melting down Baron Baptiste and Brian Kest, liquefying then fusing them together. I'm trying to organize an assortment of breath ques, posture descriptions, different variations and modifications. I'm a mad scientist attaching limbs and appendages, ligaments and tendons, creating a Frankenstein of blended yoga inspiration and influence. Soon my creation is breathing on its own and standing up, lumbering clumsily across the room with outstretched arms and a dead, blank expression on its face. It's alive.

Before I know it I'm looking at three corpses on the floor in front of me and the dizzying whirlwind has come to final relaxation at last. Gently beckoning my three friends out of savasana and into a comfortable seated position, I welcome them back to the world of the living. I shower them with sincere gratitude for accompanying me on this expedition, my first time behind the wheel as I drove recklessly and precariously, ignoring all roadsigns and stoplights. I want this. I really do. I'm going to submerge myself completely, to dedicate myself with everything I have, the entirety of my being. I'm devoted to doing this properly. I want to become a quality teacher. I don't know how I'm going to pull it off, but I plan on absorbing as much as I can in the jungles of Bali. In the distant future I want my classes to contain something special. I want to create a transcendent experience. I want to share my soul, to give back to the world even a small portion of the magic that's been growing within me since my adventure began. I want to leave a lasting impression. The question remains: How? At this point, only time will tell.

Bali in 03

Style: Yin
Teacher: Louise Sattler
Studio: Rama Lotus

I'm having nightmares in a Yin class. My fate is flashing before my very eyes. It won't be long now until I'm confronting death. It's Todd's birthday and he doesn't know it yet, but soon we'll be bungee jumping off the highest peak in Canada. Shawna has orchestrated an adrenaline-drenched birthday surprise and I'm going along for the ride. Right now as I'm melting in a lethargic, reconstructive Yin class, I feel far removed from my destiny. I'm too cozy to be faced with my own mortality.

The world is stretched out infinitely in all directions. The face of the cliff drops off, revealing a 200-foot plunge down to the blue quarry below. As I walk the metal plank like a death-sentenced prisoner, snug in my harness, my yoga challenge flashes before my eyes. I got into this looking for some exercise and it turned into an intricate adventure literally taking me to the other side of the planet. Sparse flakes of snow drift through the air and the high altitude is chilling me to the bone. I can't think of a more appropriate way to symbolize a leap of faith then diving head-first off a cliff with an elastic tied to my ankles.

An eerie calm is taking over. No thoughts cross my mind. Forcefully entering a state of deep meditation, I watch as I put one foot in front of the other until the tips of my shoes are resting over the edge. Moments later I hear a voice begin a countdown but it seems to be coming from far away, like I'm deep under water, looking up through distorted glass. Suddenly I'm Siddhartha Gautama teetering on the edge of a dramatic suicide and a pure Zen silence clears my consciousness. A few lifetimes pass and the countdown reaches zero. I feel my knees bend and my hands release their white-knuckle grip on the metal bars. I'm airborne. A few seconds of free-fall is an infinity. I feel my jaw clench and a blood-curdling scream gets caught in my throat. The edges of my vision get frayed and blurred as I enter hyperspace. A split second occurs where my mind can't compute what it's seeing. It can't accept reality and I feel it flicker out. Fully abandoned, I become pure perception, unobstructed observation. Soon I feel the cord make its presence known and my descent slows its pace. As my fingertips seem to graze the still surface of the water the cable reaches its limit and reverses its flow. In an instant of delicate whiplash I'm back up in the air, convinced I can fly. Suddenly the harness and rope seem like overkill. I feel like I could slip out of the equipment and remain floating in stasis, hovering in the middle of the sky. Free from the protective confines, I would take my flight up deliriously higher, deeper into the vast blue expanse. I would sail high above the treetops, far away from our manufactured civilization. Reaching for such great heights, the world down below would no longer seem real. It would appear as it truly is. Maya. Illusion. The concrete tumors and metal skin rashes would take on a natural appearance, the impact we've made seemingly erased once and for all. I would sail our friendly skies for a while, wind in my hair as the sun washes over my skin. I would circle the Earth, seeing with my own two eyes all the places I've never been. I'd investigate our home, observing the human condition from a safe distance.

I'd seek out masters all over the world. I would study with sages and sadhus, gurus and rishis, the great pinnacles of consciousness. I would study the ancient secrets and texts, learn the truth of our history and genetic ancestry, the meaning of life and our place in the cosmos. I'd travel the globe on a quest of learning that would easily last five-hundred years. Soon I would seek out teachers from distant galaxies, enroll in off-planet mystery schools to explore the nature of our Universe. I would figure out the specifics of interstellar travel and instantaneous teleportation. I'd learn true physics and unravel the mysteries of the quantum world. I would study in alternate dimensions and parallel realities. I would try to understand the nature of time and my relationship with it. Thousands of years from now I'd arrive at a place in my own pilgrimage of discovery where I could turn around and come back home to share what I'd learned with the planet of my birth. I would speak of where I'd been and what I'd seen. After I'd expressed everything I had to say I would reach out to the distant stars once again. One more time I would head out into the unknown, only this time with no intention of ever returning. This time I would never turn back. Eventually Earth would become a half-remembered dream, a hazy abstract splash of color in my recollection.

Will I still be who I am now when my days on Earth are over? Will I recognize those I've loved when we meet again? Will the fragile moments of my life be scattered and lost? Will I disappear without a trace, come and gone with no indelible mark left, dissolved and evaporated into the endless sea of eternity?

Bali in 04

Style: None
Teacher: None
Studio: None

Today was an unintentional day of rest. The intention to practice was there, but somehow the day seemed to dance and pirouette away from me. I never managed to touch down and settle into a practice. My mat stayed rolled up and neglected, but in the back of my mind I know it was on purpose. I'm floating in the space between words, the silence between musical notes. Time is at a standstill. I'm in the subtle pause between exhale and inhale. There's a crystallized stillness in the air. I'm hovering silently between yesterday and tomorrow. The unfolding of the afternoon contains a quiet beauty and I'm absorbing it as fully as possible, coveting my last few days at home. Soon life as I know it will change dramatically and I'm clinging to all semblance of familiarity. I haven't left yet, but I'm feeling pangs of homesickness with every premature goodbye.

Bali in 05

Style: Vinyasa Inversions
Teacher: Todd Lavictoire
Studio: Upward Dog

Chances are that I wont have a flawless handstand before I leave the country. I'm cool with that. My hang-time is increasing exponentially and every inch of new territory feels like an incredible success. The more fun I have with my progress, the faster my progress seems to occur. I'm basking in the sensation of palming the planet and holding it up in the air, feeling like I could make a jump shot for a game-winning 3-pointer. I'm casually shooting hoops in the solar system. And 1.

Tonight is the last inversion class I'll be at before I leave and I already miss it. There's something special about this Thursday night event. There's a sense of community, a gathering of friends that I've rarely come across in the yoga scene. There's something nice about familiar faces. I'm getting closer to ground zero and I'm feeling intensifying mixed emotions. As usual, getting lost in a series of inversions is the best form of distraction I have. On second thought, that's not altogether true. While it does give my mind and body something to focus on, it's not like I'm ignoring what I'm going through. More accurately, when I occupy myself with a challenge it gives rise to the perfect platform for reflection. While inverting my reality I'm able to calmly and impersonally observe my experience. I can really listen to the way I feel without getting carried away by it. I'm able to consider my life from a safe distance, to analyze myself without overly dissecting. In other words, the sharpened blade of my scalpel is held with a steady hand. I'm carefully making incisions and studying anatomy without a life threatening loss of blood. Just hold still, this wont hurt a bit.

Bali in 06

Style: Ashtanga
Teacher: Matthew MacKenzie
Studio: Prana Shanti

In the heat, as beads of sweat build up and trickle down my my body, I have visions of a Balinese sun. It beats down from high overhead. I'm in the jungle. I hear an orchestra of insects harmonizing with a symphony of tropical birds. The lush plant life surrounds me in this exotic paradise. My mat is stretched out in a clearing and I'm dancing through the physics of tradition. Suddenly I sense eyes watching me from the edge of the forest, camouflaged in the foliage. Squinting against the blinding sunshine, my eyes meet with the eyes of a massive crouching tiger. It can tell I've noticed it and it hunches down in the tall grass, lying in wait. Before I have a chance to turn and run for my life, it leaps out of its hiding place and races at me, letting out a ferocious growl. It bears down on me and leaps into the air, claws extended, white teeth flashing in the sun. I feel its body crash into me, tearing my skin and pinning me to the ground. I can feel her teeth sink in as her full weight rests on top of me. I can't move. As my blood begins to flow and form a puddle around me, staining the grass in vibrant red, I struggle and writhe for an escape. It's impossible. Her powerful jaws pull the flesh from my bones and I submit to my fate. My heart continues to pound as I'm violently torn limb from limb, my consciousness refusing to flicker out and spare me from this horror movie. Soon her cubs make their appearance. They close in around their mother, inspecting their newly captured meal. I hear them sniffing and grunting, hungrily scratching new wounds on the canvas of my body. Like psychopathic tattoo artists they redesign my appearance. I can feel the heat from their breath as they begin to feed, their hot tongues as they lap up the flowing blood. The family of tigers rest in a circle around me, enjoying a lazy afternoon snack under the jungle canopy, concealing any evidence of my murder. The contents of my stomach are revealed, my organs strewn out around me, shredded beyond recognition. All I can do is watch helplessly as I'm eaten alive. I feel no pain but I wonder why I haven't died yet. I'm absolutely alive and forced to watch. Now and then my eyes lock with the eyes of the giant cat, her feral feline stare piercing my soul. I sense mild compassion trumped by indifference. The show must go on, the circle of life unstoppably continues its spiral.

My mind is not focused on this yoga class. I'm not quite halfway around the world yet but I'm not here either. I'm lost in a hallucination. Will I be devoured by my dream? All the things I've been working on, will they be my final demise? Will the end I've been working towards eventually break me? Will I be massacred by my own creations?

Bali in 07

Style: Power Xpress
Teacher: Natalie Holst
Studio: Rama Lotus

Not long ago, when the city was still coated in a sheet of ice with snowflakes gracefully hanging in the balance as I trudged through a dark winter wonderland, 6:30 am yoga was an alternate reality. Stepping out into the balmy morning blanketed in a gentle mist, the sun is already sneaking over the horizon and welcoming me to practice. The north wind has withdrawn its siege on the landscape. Entering the chamber of fire known as the Hot room, I unroll my mat and mentally prepare myself for an hour of Power yoga in the sweltering heat.

This class is known as Power Express. Although it's only an hour long, it contains no rest or repose. It hits the ground running and doesn't wait for you to catch up. There's nothing like getting your ass kicked first thing in the morning.

In my mind there always tends to be a comparison between Power yoga and Ashtanga. They're both very similar but have their own unique genetics, something like distant cousins. I love them both like family. Depending how you look at it, they're both incomplete or they compliment each other nicely. A criticism of Power could be that it doesn't always focus on preparing the body for full lotus like Ashtanga, but it will get you looking like Schwarzenegger in '81. In turn, Ashtanga could be charged with with moving too fast. Like a hyperactive teen with attention deficit disorder, five breaths is a relatively short amount of time to settle into a pose and extract all the benefits.

Like close friends with their lovable flaws, the stance I'll take is one of openness and acceptance. I'm not interested in a debate. I'm at the playground and I'm trying to organize a game of hide & seek or hopscotch, not get lost in redundant semantics. Soon the battle with Power Express is won and I'm back outside in the warm morning sunshine, ready for the day to reveal itself.

Bali in 08

Style: None
Teacher: None
Studio: None

Tying up loose ends. Today I'm trying to clear my karmic history, to be forgiven of my sins and born again. It's a day to pay parking tickets and cell phone bills. It's a time for securing an extended Indonesian travel visa, for booking hotels and coordinating itineraries. It's a moment to finally fix my left rear turning signal and get an oil change, an occasion for laundry and organization. Finances by candle light, phone dates with Revenue Canada over tea. On bended knee I repay my dept to society. Now that my paperwork is taken care of I am invited back into the fold, once again part of the tribe, the brotherhood of Man. Finally I am cleansed of my past and granted immunity, a free and respected citizen. I am a number and I am acquiescent. I am a sovereign nation, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part.

Even on my day off the mat I still find myself flipping up on my hands or going into a headstand spontaneously on my lawn. It's a general increase in playing and moving around in my body, enjoying mobility and flexibility, balance and strength. The approach of summer brings a rambunctious energy and a longing to get outside. The future is uncertain but my foundation is solid. My breath has become my direct connection to well being and I'm having fun with it. Now more than ever I find it absolutely exhilarating to be human. I'm alive.

Bali in 09

Style: Teacher Training
Teachers: Mark Laham, Louise Sattler, Todd Lavictoire
Studio: Greco

Today is my last with my group of yoga teachers-in-training. My trip to Bali unfortunately overlaps the last weekend of the 80-hour teacher training segment. I feel like I've grown with these students and three teachers. I've been influenced by their insights and shared contemplation, their humor and confidence. Goodbyes are always hard. My experience with Mark, Louise and Todd has been amazing. These teachers come from three completely different angles, three totally unique perspectives on yoga, but all three visions come together cohesively and create a superb learning experience. Until our paths cross again I wish those amazing people the best life has to offer. I'm incredibly grateful for the in-depth training I've received. The attention to detail has been exceptional and I couldn't have asked for more. I have no doubt that their training program will only improve over time.

My bitter-sweet last day began with various pranayama techniques. Breathing is said to be the single most important aspect of yoga and that point is reiterated over and over again. We started with Kapalabhati breathing. Also known as skull shining or the breath of fire, Kapalabhati is a technique used specifically for cleansing. This style is deliberately fast and focused on the abdomen. The breath is short, rapid and strong, working to eliminate carbon dioxide gas. Intake of fresh oxygen enriches the blood and renews the body tissues. On top of that, the constant up and down movements of the diaphragm stimulates the stomach, liver and pancreas. The next technique we learned is called Bhastrika breathing, or the bellows breath. Referring to it as "yoga-coffee", Todd explained how this breath wakes up and energizes the body, supersaturating it with oxygen. Caution should be used when experimenting with Bhastrika. Forced breathing can induce relaxation and revitalization, but could induce dizziness, drowsiness and loss of consciousness if practiced improperly or in excess. It's essentially a controlled hyperventilation. After an initial head rush and slight side-stitch, a sparkling clarity arose, focused on my face and head. As I settled into deep breathing with a mantra I felt anchored to the moment. The final technique we worked on is known as Nadi Shodhana or Anulom Vilom. Described as a balancing breath, this technique is the alternate nostril breathing first introduced to me at the Sivananda Ashram. The lingering effects of this practice are serenity, a calm, an entrance to a quiet void. After the breathing patterns I feel myself secure and attached to the present, utterly grounded. Later with Louise we studied the anatomy and dynamics of breathing, providing a western view of the ancient techniques. This perspective complimented and extended her teachings from yesterday when we looked deeper into the human anatomy. We explored in detail the hips, knees, ankles and feet in yoga. I have to admit, anatomy slightly freaks me out. As much as it intrigues me, I find it kind of shocking to see the blatant mechanics of the body. It really is a machine. Studying the way the joints and ligaments function and interact, the way the skeletal structures come together and the precarious placement of the bones, I can't help but realize the intricacy of our bodies. It's fragile yet magnificent, brittle but capable of such astounding physical feats. To wrap things up, we studied different techniques of Thai massage. Working with partners, we practiced making adjustments and alignments. According to Louise, the study of Thai massage is important, if not essential to becoming a quality yoga teacher. It teaches how to touch people, to make posture modifications as safely as possible.

The last day of my training couldn't have come to a better end. Taking our yoga mats out to a nearby park, we practiced Yin outside under the comforting rays of the sun. The ecstasy of outdoor yoga is hard to describe and probably harder to understand by the uninitiated. Today was a stark contrast with the solitude of Friday's sunrise yoga. With tulips in full bloom, a steady stream of pedestrians flowed by as we practiced on the grass. The subtle elements of voyeurism soon disappeared as I was overcome by the simple pleasure of the wind on my skin. I'm ready.

Bali in 10

Style: Teacher Training
Teachers: Mark Laham, Louise Sattler, Todd Lavictoire
Studio: Greco

Thoughts create. Like attracts like. That which is like is unto itself drawn. The human brain is a transmitter and a receiver. What you are focused on most of the time is what you draw into your life experience.

What if your mind creates the world around you? Are you aware of your thoughts? Is there any precision to your thinking, or are you firing random thought-forms out in every direction? Are you the master of your mind or are you its slave? What are you paying attention to? What is your focus? Where is your Drishti?

If the contents of your mind determine your external experience, than might there be greater benefits to meditation than initially meets the eye? If your thoughts are physical and they manufacture your life, it might be in your best interest to guide your focus to settle on thought patterns and visualizations that feel good. Thoughts are real, tangible, measurable quantum particles in the air, a frequency you sent out. Without intention we tend to stray with no meaning or direction. With it, all the forces of the Universe can align to make the seemingly impossible, possible. The trick is to know what you want. Most people spend most of their time and energy focusing on what they don't want and don't like. Humans usually get caught up beating the drum of negativity, never using their preferences to narrow down their perfect life experience. With that said, sometimes figuring out what you don't want helps to specify what you do want. It's a fine line of separation with an overlap of borders, but after all, aren't most things in life? The power of belief is real and beliefs will get challenged.

A working definition of intention is to have in mind a purpose or plan, to direct the mind, to aim. The real challenge is to know what you want. So, what do I want? It's a tough question. If my thoughts and emotions design the world around me, what am I feeling on a regular basis? What are my overriding thoughts? Well, sometimes I feel overwhelmed, uncertain and indecisive. I feel lack, I feel unstable and incapable. I feel fear and I feel powerless. I know what I don't want. I don't want to be a slave to a schedule, to be a faker, to rely on anything or to be dependant on anyone. I don't want to be trapped or stuck in repetition, to ever stop learning. I'm scared of having no freedom. I'm on a perpetual search, although I don't know what I'm looking for or how to prepare.

All is not lost. There is hope. It's been said that in the creation of reality, one positive thought is more powerful than an army of negative thoughts. Thoughts consisting of love and hope move faster, have more agility, spread farther and out-maneuver anything else. Above and beyond the gloom and doom, there exists something else. Overall I feel hopeful, I feel excited and I feel prepared. I feel passionate, adventurous, open and free. I'm happy. I know I want the freedom to be spontaneous, to be real and authentic. I want to provide for myself and to be abundant. I want to travel. I want to learn forever, to embody freedom and to feel joy. And I will. And I do.

My consciousness has drawn my life experience into visible light. I expect the contents of my soul to display themselves in the world around me. I know that I'm waiting for myself in Bali and I can't wait for our reunion.