Music! It can change how we feel in an instant. It makes the best times memorable and the worst times bearable. It gives us something to relate to, no matter what’s going on in our lives. But what’s most amazing about music is that it moves us – both inside and out.
I find that my selection of tunes varies greatly depending on my current mood or activity. So while I do have some dope-ass playlists including “401 Traffic Jamz” and “Fireside Sangria Sipping”, we’ll save those for another day and get on with my general go-to Yogic Playlist (after all, this is a yoga blog). It fits roughly over a 60-minute practice that warms up in the beginning and cools down at the end. Enjoy!
Hero – Regina Spektor
This track will let you let out all the breath. All the exhaustion. All the feelings.
Something Just Like This – Madilyn Bailey
A slightly more uplifting (and familiar) piano track than the one previous, to bring you back down to your mat and maybe even crack a smile for being in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.
Wonderwall – Ryan Adams
Another cover but one of my favourite covers of all-time ever. Picked it up years ago after it was featured on The O.C.
Stay tuned for more playlists that help move me in my practice including “Warrior Flow“, “Yoga Love Story“, “Namasdrake” and “Stranger Yoga“…
I don’t often go see movies, and I’m not a massive superhero fan, but given all the hype about Wonder Woman I felt it was my feminist duty to support it and I’m so proud that I did. Made by a woman (Patty Jenkins), starring a woman (Gal Gadot), and with the smallest budget of any DC film to date and no deleted scenes, it was a raw and pure piece of badass storytelling that echos resistance, empowers women and has long earned its success in the box office.
I mean really, the entire thing was a freakin’ masterpiece. Firstly, Wonder Woman/Diana Prince has the whole Greek mythology thing going on. She’s an Amazonian queen who comes from a beautiful island with only beautiful badass women on it, superior to the world of men. Her superpowers include dope strength and combat skills, a lasso that forces the truth, energy-blasting bracelets and of course her strongest superpower of all: love. That’s right, she prefers peace and love over war and violence (but will light it up if she has to). She’s a compassionate warrior with the strength and heart of a damn goddess.
The empowering effects of Wonder Woman go back to the 70’s when the original TV show was super popular in North America, and at a time after the World Wars when women were speaking up for their rights (just as in the film). For four decades, women went to war and helped complete missions and earned medals and went to school and went to work and made supplies and became nurses and doctors and birthed children and cared for their families – with little in return. It was a time for recognition, equality, and the seize of opportunity.
And out comes the old time Power Pose! Recommended to women in America to help overcome life’s challenges, like an interview for example. The odds of women being hired compared to men were so slim, that they were encouraged to mentally prepare themselves just like an Olympic athlete before a competition. But it’s all good. When all this girl power comes together it beats the odds.
So as a yogi and raging feminist I present to you an updated version of the Power Pose: Wonder Woman Pose, also known as Badassasana:
How to do it: Begin in mountain pose. Step your feet wider than hip distance apart and evenly distribute your weight. Activate all your leg muscles (think root to rise!) and continue to lengthen up the spine. Keeping the shoulders down and chest lifted, cross your forearms, make fists and gaze forwards.
Advanced: Begin in Warrior 1. Pivit your back foot forward and into a lunge position. Rotate the upper body forwards, lift the chest, cross your forearms to make fists, and gaze up between the hands.
What it’s good for: These days the odds are a little better when it comes to being hired, but you can strike this pose anytime you want to feel like an Amazonian goddess. Maybe your kid is screaming at you, maybe you’re about to go into surgery, maybe you feel sluggish and like you need a confidence boost, maybe you’re frustrated that your President is tweeting bullshit at 3am, or maybe you’re just burning the coffee first thing in the morning and you’re already late for work and you’re going to have a tiny meltdown if you don’t do it. But whatever your reason is, just do it in true Wonder Woman style and do it with love.
If your airplane is crashing and the oxygen mask comes down, they say to put yours on first before assisting anyone else – even your kids. We hear this spiel at the beginning of every flight and just take note without really thinking about it or realizing that if faced with a situation like this, how difficult it could actually be to go against your initial instincts for the survival and protection of your family.
I don’t have kids, but I did adopt a 10-month-old puppy named Summer just 3 weeks ago, as you may have read about in my last blog post. It has felt like a year. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. It’s just that it almost feels like we’ve shared enough experiences to fill an entire year. Week 1 was very different from week 2, and now at the end of week 3 it’s hard to believe she was the same dog at week 1. The ups, the downs, the missed meals, the junk food, the undone laundry, the long walks, the talking to everyone about dogs, the progress in our training, the setbacks in our training, the dirt under my nails, the hours of vacuuming, the cave-woman eyebrows, the Googling everything, the missing her, the needing breaks from her, and the everything in between.
And that “in between” has been filled with thinking about her, which has also been consuming and exhausting. It’s like driving for 6 hours and feeling tired even though you were just sitting the entire time. Those short periods that I wasn’t with Summer were when I reluctantly dragged my ass to yoga. I did not want to go. I still don’t want to go. But I know I have to, and need to in order to be better at everything else. I realized over these weeks that when I lost myself and became 100% committed to Summer without still making sure my basic needs were covered (sleep, food, water, hygiene, exercise, etc.), it didn’t feel good.
Typically, when I first drag my ass away from Summer, I feel really guilty, insecure and then exhausted. But during and after yoga, I feel clearer, more grounded and more present. I then bring a little bit more of myself back to my pup and my life. And with that comes more confidence in my decisions and a little more sanity when Summer has an “episode.” One of the many benefits of yoga is that we learn to accept all kinds of emotions that come up and breathe through them, and the more we practise on the mat, the better we’re able to apply this in our daily lives.
So whatever your Big Life Thing is — whether you have a new furbaby like me, a new career, a new house, your upcoming wedding, a death, a birth, etc. — make time for yourself. Make time for yourself so that you can still be yourself. Show yourself a little love so you can pour more high-quality love into the other thing. Any dedicated dog owner knows how much commitment it takes to train and bond with a new dog or puppy, let alone a rescue. But once I can find my balance (and I’ll get there soon), I know it will help speed up this process and make us both a lot more comfortable in our new lives together. 🙂
It’s been a wild week. I adopted a super sweet doggy last Saturday named Summer, an 11 month old husky/white shepherd mix who had a tough life as a stray. I also learned what it’s like to give zero shits about my appearance, priorities and even a few meals here and there (oopsies) and basically became a new mom. On Wednesday night, which was the first time I left her at home, I took a new (and very challenging hybrid-style) “Bikyasa” yoga class at my main studio in Toronto which really did feel AMAZING, but came home to a very anxious pup who went insane and morphed into an uncontrollable, inconsolable werewolf on our midnight full-moon walk.
And now, on day 6 with my wild wolf pup sleeping soundly on the cool, ceramic tile floor at my feet, I’m able to finally write something. I was actually inspired this morning by Summer’s beautiful downward dog — I decided I’d copy her and she promptly came and laid down beneath me. Though I’m familiar with “Doga“, (if you didn’t get the memo, that’s Dog-Yoga) I’d never really considered it until this moment. And what about these kinds of yoga:
Then I Googled “weirdest kinds of yoga” to see what I haven’t heard of, and up came Food Yoga, Horseback Yoga, Rave Yoga and Twerking Yoga, to name a few. Are these beneficial, are they money-grabs or are they just plain silly? Personally, I’m not too sure at this moment, but I can say that trying something new and perhaps taking a step away from your comfort zone and into the wilderness just might humble you a little.
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I’m one of these people that just loves to clean up messes. Take in strays. Fix people. Put everyone else first and focus on the potential rather than the damage being done currently. And as you can probably guess, this hasn’t worked for me or any of my “projects.”
I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on why this is since I began my yoga practice, as I typically feel most drawn to the mat when I’m going through some shit. See, anyone who knows me well, knows I have a track record of shitty relationships. And since another one just ended, I spent last Friday night Netflixing The Perks of Being a Wallflower with my parents. There was a scene that slapped me in the face (in a good way):
But whatever brings people to yoga — whether it’s a physical reason such as a desire to lose weight, complement your time at the gym, heal an injury or gain flexibility, or a more internal motivation to heal your heart from a loss, addiction or breakup — the yoga is going to start working on you. It’s going to start enlightening you. It’s going to make you strong on the outside and therefore strong on the inside. It’s going to make you love yourself. And no matter what got you on your mat, as long as you’re there you’re doing it right.
I’m very fortunate in that I’ve never had any serious physical ailments that have demanded or challenged my practice (other than instability, inflexibility, etc.) My reasons were more internal. Things like self-esteem, body image and anxiety. At first it was like a chore: I’d be busy at the office all day and try to finish up and run over to the studio still in full-on, ego-charged work mode. Never finding softness, never tapping into the meditative side of yoga and never opening the lines of communication between my body and mind. I would think about how friggin’ hot it was, or how inflexible or bloated I was, and when I looked in the mirror I was comparing myself to everyone else.
But when I was drawn to the mat because I was trying to really heal myself internally (recent history includes quitting my job this past winter with some major fear of judgement issues and lack of support, and obviously a few failed relationships) the yoga started working on me. I became more and more aware of my body by allowing my physical movements to communicate with my thoughts. Sound crazy? Try relaxing your eyebrows right now. Just do it. Chances are you’re looking at a bright screen. Maybe your phone and you’re unconsciously straining the muscles around your eyes. How much better did that feel? Now do lift your chin up, close your eyes, and do it again.
Now when I look in the mirror, everyone around me is a blur. All I hear is my heartbeat and my teacher’s instruction as if it were coming from a faraway cave. My gaze is balanced between looking inwards and outwards into the fiery eyes of my own reflection. Throughout all of these what could seem like “setbacks,” I have not felt discouraged or afraid. My last relationship actually ended on decent terms, because I was able to trust my intuitions through yoga and the self-reflection and self-love it induces. I was able to know what I deserve. And I knew before it ended that I would be okay; I had yoga and I was grateful even through the toughest moments. It’s that feeling of reassurance, just like knowing your family and friends always have your back, no matter what.
Last week, I discovered that yoga can literally be a shoulder to cry on, when I cried a little during my Vinyasa practice. Sometimes the conversation between body and mind starts off a little intensely. “Camel Pose” Ustrasana for example, is known to be one of the deepest heart-opening postures that trigger all kinds of emotional responses. And although it’s a back bend, it doesn’t require an excessive amount of strength or balance or flexibility. Yet there are days when all I have to do is lift my chest up and cactus my arms, and my heart feels vulnerable.
If music is what feelings sound like, then yoga is what feelings actually feel like. Which is a killer combo to heal the heart: music and physical release. Sometimes after a breakup all you wanna do is stay in your room and blast Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares to You”. Now imagine doing that to a heart-opening yoga flow. The point is, pouring rubbing alcohol on a cut you got while rock climbing hurts like a mofo, but that’s how you know it’s working. And even though it hurts to heal it, that’s not going to prevent you from climbing again another day. Knowing I have yoga in my medicine cabinet and the ability to heal my heart, and the knowledge that I can then go out there and keep loving and be deserving of love in return is one of the most reassuring feelings in the world.
“So, I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we’ll never know most of them. But even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.”
― The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Yogis have a bit of a stigma. Like they’re always calm and collected, floating around in a constant meditative state. Even in a chaotic situation, yogis are positive and zen and “in the moment.” They’re never jealous or impatient, they don’t drink, they don’t eat junk food, and they never lose their shit.
But the fact is, they all lose their shit just like everyone else. I realized this after going to my studio in Toronto for a couple of months and it made my experience a whole lot more enjoyable. Suddenly I wasn’t there anymore because I felt like I had to change myself and because I needed to be. I was there because I wanted to find some balance in my life. I began to understand that even the instructors that I looked up to (and still do), who are in amazing shape, could on any day eat half a tub of ice cream and feel like a beached whale afterwards just like I do. And that’s where the yoga comes in. It’s not that yogis are in perfect balance all the time just naturally — after all, the universe presents us with all kinds of unexpected obstacles. But it’s that yogis turn to yoga to help restore the balance.
One time, I @yogicmeli lost my shit in the most ironic way. A couple months ago, I was shopping with my ex-boyfriend and I popped into Lululemon (yep, I’m naming names) so I could grab a microfibre hand towel (great purchase in the end). But at the cashier, things got heated. See, I’m a raging millennial and I only brought my phone with me to shop using ApplePay rather than bringing in my entire purse. So I tried to clarify before the cashier rang the towel through if they accept ApplePay (if you don’t know, it’s just like tapping your debit or credit card except using an app on your phone). The cashier just looked at me like I was from another planet. I kept my cool, repeating the question. I then asked if the machine accepts tapping as a form of payment. Still nothing. I was giving up when my then-boyfriend obviously jumps in and saves the day, while the cashier makes jokes about how “the man should pay” anyways, and how “I deserve it.” As someone who has always been very financially independent and proud of it, this made me lose my shit. Maybe it was my nerves, maybe it was my ego, maybe I was feeling a little hangry. But I can remember the moment my shit went missing, feeling the wave of heat rising up my face and probably giving this woman a lethal death stare after he tapped his card to pay.
People often turn to yoga when they’re feeling some kind of pain. It could be physical pain, such as back problems or maybe arthritis. It could be emotional pain like a breakup or the death of a loved one. Or sometimes it’s a pain associated with self worth and self acceptance. The point is that whatever the source of one’s pain, yoga provides an escape. Just like alcohol, food, sex, and TV. We’re all humans and we all have our own journeys filled with ups and downs and reasons to find balance. It’s how we deal with our pain that is different (turning to yoga for healing is a much better idea than smoking crack).
So next time you see a calm and collected yogi, just know that perhaps he or she wasn’t born that way. Perhaps something painful happened in that person’s life and it has taken a lot of practice to appear that calm. Perhaps that ray of sunshine you thought you saw beaming down was a dark cloud before that person went to yoga.
PS. Dad, I’m sorry for snapping at you while writing this.
As we get older, we tend to notice our parents in ourselves. It could be an expression that slips out, a deep moral view on something, or my favourite — a terrible dad joke.
So in light of Mother’s Day, I thought I’d take this opportunity to write a little bit about my moms. Just thinking about the chain of incredible women in my family who have lived, given birth, and taught life lessons to be passed down again and again gives me chills. Beyoncé found a way to show us what this looks like with her latest audio/visual masterpiece, Lemonade. If you STILL haven’t seen it, here’s a clip:
“Grandmother, the alchemist, you spun gold out of this hard life, conjured beauty from the things left behind. Found healing where it did not live. Discovered the antidote in your own kit. Broke the curse with your own two hands. You passed these instructions down to your daughter who then passed it down to her daughter.”
Beyoncé might be onto something here. I’ve been thinking about and feeling a lot of karmic energy lately, the idea that the universe creates patterns and pulls, and they can be passed down through the generations. Things like personality traits, talents, habits, and emotional tendencies can be “genetic.” Before your eyes roll completely back into your head, just give this a chance.
Neither of my grandmothers had it easy. On my mom’s side, my grandmother’s given name was Lenna Yvonne McNamee, but everyone called her Rene. She grew up on a farm in rural Jamaica (yes, I’m white and I’m half Jamaican). She had 6 siblings, one who had physical disabilities and one who tragically died in early childhood. Her father died when she was only 17 and so her mother was widowed and homeless at 50. At age 21 she got pregnant but it was hushed up to protect the reputations of her and her family and with very little support, she had to give the baby up for adoption (shoutout to my half-auntie Ingrid). But something good was coming her way. My crusader of a grandfather came into the picture, big-dreamer city boy Victor Levy from Kingston, and brought her to Canada to live happily ever after. My memories of her are filled with love, comfort and nurturing. She was the type of person that would be there for you in a pinch, never leaving my side if I was sick. She’d do anything for her family, but not enough for herself. She was a big-time worrier, and I didn’t understand it back then why we weren’t allowed to go to the park without my grandpa. But I get it now, Grammie. You loved us in infinite amounts.
On my father’s side, my grandmother was Donna Marion Louise Skuce. Born and raised with 2 siblings in the black fly-infested bushes of northern Ontario, she was an incredibly resilient woman. Her father (my great-grandfather) was one of the first official guides in Algonquin Park, Canada’s oldest provincial park. There’s even a lake named after him. But despite her ability to paddle canoes, drive tractors, and drink beer, she was stunningly beautiful. She left the bush to become an x-ray technician, where she met my grandfather who was a charming x-ray tech instructor from England. So what happened? Small-town girl meets handsome man with accent, they get hitched, pop out a couple of kids (what’s, up Daddio) and travel the world. Which sounds like an amazing life — except that throughout all this she battled abuse, alcoholism, and an unfaithful marriage. She eventually broke free and came back to Canada, got re-married, and lived a satisfactory life. She wasn’t an affectionate person, but she showed her love in all the ways she could. I believe she struggled with a lot of guilt. Guilt for not being a better parent, guilt after her daughter tragically died of breast cancer at age 49 (rest in peace, Aunt Cindy), maybe even some self-guilt for not making better choices and having a happier life. And eventually all the guilt, alcohol and cigarettes caught up with her, and she died of lung disease just 3 days shy of Mother’s Day, 2 years ago.
My own mother’s life on paper might seem boring in comparison, that perhaps this bad karmic energy didn’t reach her. But it sure reached her sisters and their daughters, and it sure trickled down to me. I had a dream once that I was dying in a car fire. I didn’t wake up because I wasn’t afraid or in any pain, I felt strong and supported by both my grandmothers, one on each side, pulling me out of the wreckage. Now I’m no Bible thumper, but I’d say they were angels. And I do feel their presence every now and then in my life, usually when I could really use some strength or guidance.
If the universe blesses me with a situation where I can conceive and raise strong and beautiful women into this world, I hope that maybe I will have suffered through the last of this karmic curse. I hope they will be born with clean slates and oodles of love and support around them to create new, positive patterns.
Happy Mother’s Day, moms. I love you and I can feel your love so much, whether you’re physically here or not.