Sunday, September 27, 2015

Old Habits Die Hard and the Princess Stays at Her First Hostel

Friday night after our graduation was pretty mellow. Everyone was in bed early, and up early the next day to get ready to leave. J and L flew back to England in the wee hours of the morning and the rest of us decided to head into Athens at 10 am for some shopping and celebrating!

J, L, and I got a ride into Athens with Michelle then took the metro to the stop nearest the Air BNB apartment we'd rented for the night. It was in a fabulous location (a block and a half from Syntagma Square) and totally decent. J and I shopped while L got her hair done, and I bought a great pair of flowy purple "Michelle" pants from this great little store that J had found last weekend. We met A and her boyfriend M for lunch at our favourite vegetarian restaurant, then L and I headed out for some serious shopping to find her a new outfit to wear out that night. Our shopping mission was more than successful and we had a great afternoon. The highlight? Getting our brows done at Sephora's Benefit Brow Bar. Irene was a total brow artist and I now have the best brows of my life. I'm obsessed with them. She even coloured them darker which will last a month, then redid my makeup after. What a difference! I wish I could go to Irene every month!
Brows on fleek!
L and I decided it was wine time (it was after 5 o'clock after all) so we stopped at the little bar near our apartment. Our server was a sweetheart, A and M stopped in, and one glass of wine led to two. Two led to three when we discovered that the entrance way into our apartment building was locked with a big gate and J (who was already in the apartment) had the key. It was a test of our resourcefulness to get a hold of her as she wasn't checking her Facebook messages, but we finally made it back into the apartment! At this point, we had already exceeded L's silly rule that we were only having two glasses of wine on Saturday, making me think that old habits really do die hard. I think it takes six weeks to really change an ingrained behaviour, so I should get sent back to yoga teacher training if there's any chance of me following a two glass of wine rule on a Saturday.
What's better than one glass of wine? Two! And the size of the glass varied every time we ordered. First glass: medium Second glass: as big as our heads Third glass: tiny
Missing this Australian beauty already :(

So I would normally not post pictures like this on my blog. But the terrible quality and ridiculous poses (see above) indicate what a great night it was!

Really behind schedule after being locked out, we quickly got ready and took the subway to the Dafni stop where we were meeting Marita, Becca, and her boyfriend for drinks at a lounge called Spoiled. The red wine continued to taste great and the vegetarian diet went out the window with a late night stop at McDonald's! Back on it today though....

And now I'm all by myself in Athens. Yoga teacher training has come to an end for me, but L and A are staying until mid-October to complete their 500 hour certification and studying prenatal, children's, yin yoga, and a bit of ashtanga and vinyasa. Part of me wishes I was still back there and I miss my yoga friends already. L helped me get settled at my first-ever hostel, then after a vegetarian lunch at Avocado, I said goodbye to L, A, and A's boyfriend M. I'm so glad that it wasn't a final goodbye--I'll see them again after the Balkans and Croatia.
And here I am... checking into my first hostel ever. It's an okay experience so far, but I much prefer the Delta. Or Banff Springs.
So I hit the jackpot with my 4 person female dorm. I finally got a roommate and her name is Claudia from Germany. She's a Ph.D. student who is passing through Athens. I just returned from a nice meal out with her and a nightcap at the rooftop bar at the hostel. We're keeping our fingers crossed that no one joins us tomorrow night in our room!
And what's up for tomorrow? I'm meeting one of my yoga teachers, Marita, tomorrow morning for coffee which I am really looking forward to. She's had a huge impact on all of us, both on and off the mat. Maybe a hop on hop off bus tour of Athens, or if it's hot I might take the metro to the beach. It's totally up to me because I am all by myself for the first time in my life. It's a bit scary, and I felt lonely today between the Aussie posse and my roommate Claudia. I filled my time with yoga, Starbucks, and browsing through lots of interesting little stores as I wandered around Athens.
Wine in a mug. Screwing up my courage to visit the rooftop bar by myself before Claudia arrived.
But I think it's going to be okay, and my bus tour of the Balkan countries leaves early Tuesday morning. Sad that I'm not in Lagonissi with my yoga girls, but excited for the next adventure... I'll keep you posted. 

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Waterproof Mascara Kind of Day

At times it seemed to crawl, but for the most part yoga teacher training flew by. I looked forward to graduation day for the last three weeks, but also half-dreaded it as I didn't want this amazing experience to end. I'm really proud of myself for taking a huge risk, stepping outside my comfort zone, and doing something totally different. Here's what I just posted to Instagram and it really sums up the experience for me.
I've doubted myself so many times. I've felt like a fake with genuine people who are so much more yogi-like than me. I'm not the most flexible and quieting my mind to meditate seems impossible sometimes. There have been a few days when my favourite words were "savasana" and "namaste" because it meant we were done. But I never gave up and I stretched myself not just physically but emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I took risks and sometimes I failed, but I always learned something. I made myself vulnerable with people I didn't know three weeks ago. I discovered that when teaching is a huge part of who you are, you can teach anything. And although some days felt like two steps back for every step forward, I grew everyday. I strived to transform myself until I became so immersed in the experience that I quit thinking about it all the time and just did it. Proud, happy, and excited for this lifelong journey I've begun. Grateful for the amazing new people in my life and the ones who have supported me all along. I am a yoga teacher!

So what happened today?
It began as many days do around here, with a trot down the hill to Daily Coffee with L and A. L was teaching her 90 minute class this morning, so we thought an infusion of strong Greek coffee was a great idea. Although we've been very committed to our detox (I've gone three weeks without a glass of red wine, SHOCKING), the caffeine rule lasted until Michelle and Marita admitted that they drink coffee (which I think was the first week).
L did a fantastic job of teaching her class, and it was an emotional one for a few of us as lots of feelings came to the surface. She shared this during savasana and I thought it was perfect for our last day.

Just For Now
Just for now, without
asking how, let yourself
sink into stillness. Just
for now, lay down the
weight you so patiently
bear upon your shoulders.
Feel the earth receive
you, and the infinite
expanse of the sky grow even
wider as your awareness
reaches up to meet it.

Just for now, allow a wave
of breath to enliven your
experience. Breathe out
whatever blocks you from
the truth. Just for now, be
boundless, free, awakened
energy tingling in your
hands and feet. Drink in
the possibility of being
who and what you really are -
so fully alive that when you
open your eyes the world
looks different, newly born
and vibrant, just for now.

-- Danna Faulds

A brief theory lesson, another visit to Daily Coffee, gnocchi for lunch (my not so subtle hints paid off), and it was time to write our final exam. I hadn't written a final exam in years and I was a bit nervous. Michelle began with a guided meditation to relax and focus us, then handed out the papers. Everyone passed (like there was any doubt!) and we headed down to the studio for D's class. Teaching yoga is challenging enough without doing it in your second language and he threw in some Sanskrit too!

And then the moment we had all been waiting for... graduation! It was absolutely beautiful. Michelle set up a "Walk of Angels" that ran the length of the studio. She stood at one end, and all of us lined either side of the walkway. One by one, we closed our eyes and slowly made our way to Michelle. Everyone guided us on the path and whispered a special message as we walked by. Beautiful music played in the background, and it was very emotional as everyone received their diplomas and white roses. More tears!
Next were lots of pictures, followed by a beautiful meal on the rooftop terrace.

Funniest moment of the day? I left my diploma laying on the kitchen table. My French roommate, who has been my roommate for THREE weeks, looked at it and pointed to my name.
D: Devon Caldwell. Is that your name?
Me: (thinking he meant my last name) Yes, it's a Scottish last name.
D: No....DEVON. That is your name?
Me: Yeah. That's my name. (Ouch)

I think I have a lot more to say about yoga teacher training, but right now I'm exhausted and everything is still processing in my little brain. Off to Athens tomorrow with the Aussie crew (joined by a kiwi now) and J for shopping and celebrations! 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Kiria Devon Goes to Greek Kindergarten

Today started in my favourite way--a beautiful sunrise and a walk to Daily Coffee with L. We took our books because we planned to study for our exam. Who were we kidding? Of course we didn't study!
Beautiful lightning-lit sunrise this morning. The rain stayed away though.
It was a pretty regular day in the yoga studio. L from England taught her first class which I really enjoyed. We all have to teach the same sequence, so I thought I'd be sick to death of it by the time everyone taught their classes. But everyone has put their own twist on it, so every class has had a completely different feel to it. Two more classes, an exam, and we graduate tomorrow evening! So excited!
I spent my afternoon break at Michelle and Leo's son's early learning centre. It's called New Generation and it's a private centre for children from birth to age 6. Children attend kindergarten here, then begin formal schooling when they are 6 in what we call Grade 1 in Canada. This was a beautiful facility, and the director was a lovely woman from South Africa named Alice. In Greek, she is called Kiria Aliki which means Mrs. Alice. I was "Kiria Devon" this afternoon. The 90 children who attend are separated by age and each have their own classrooms and play areas. Yearly fees are 4400 euros, and the centre closes from mid-July to the beginning of September each year. All staff are qualified early childhood educators, and the kindergarten teachers are certified teachers. Everything is beautiful, bright, and clean, with high quality books and toys. Kiria Aliki shared that they wash the children and put them in clean clothes before the children are sent home, as Greek parents don't like their children to get dirty. All children wear uniforms Monday-Thursday, and on Fridays they can wear what they like. 
Main hallway
A typical classroom
Conference area and professional resources for staff
Hallway to infant room with toy storage and playground entrance at the end
Lunch room
Infant play area  
Outdoor play area with fake grass (so the kids don't get dirty) and huge awning to protect them from the hot Greek sun

Every year, the school does two major productions. The costumes are out of this world (they have a costume designer and parents pay for these elaborate costumes) and a professional photographer who creates these gorgeous photo albums pictured above.
Kiria Aliki as pictured at the school Christmas concert. Amazing photographs and the most glam director I've ever seen! Wow!
Kiria Aliki and Kiria Devon
Tennis is part of the kindergarten program. That's normal, right??!!
After my fantastic afternoon at New Generation (amazing how at home I always feel in any school, anywhere), it was time for our last session with Marita. I am sure going to miss this yogi! We've learned so much from her in terms of alignment, cues, and hands on adjustments, and I love her sense of humour. The best Marita-ism of today was when we were talking about shoulder stand pose. She informed us, "I'm so in love with this position. Really. For asana study it's one of the glamorous ones." Unfortunately it's not a glamorous one for me. For some weird reason, I'm the only person in my training who can't gracefully roll herself up into shoulder stand. Everyone else just pushes off the floor with ease, and I have two legs wildly bicycling to get my bum off the ground. Today we focused on inversions, alignment cues, and how to do hands on adjustments. 
J drinking in the beautiful view and sunny weather
L being Marita's model and getting adjusted in halasana (plough pose)
My turn to be the model as Marita demonstrates how to adjust someone in headstand
 Sad that it's our last night in the studio with this exceptional yoga teacher... but L, A, J, and I have plans to meet her and Becca on Saturday night for cocktails to celebrate our graduation! Marita is beside me in this picture.

And it's off to bed for me. L and I both had massages tonight (three weeks of intensive yoga can do a number on your body) and we have a big day tomorrow--exam and graduation! Excited to be a certified yoga teacher, but so sad for this amazing experience to draw to a close.... One more great thing happened today though... Erin Motz, the "bad yogi", favourited my tweet about last night's blog post! Kind of a big deal!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Yoga Journey and The Lost is Found...With Tarot Cards

So how does someone go from being a kindergarten teacher in Manitoba to an aspiring yogini (new word I learned today. It means female yogi.) in Lagonissi, Greece? My classmates and I have all shared our stories a number of times with each other and our teachers (and I think we could star in our own version of Eat, Pray, Love), but I haven't really shared it on my blog. I've received a lot of supportive messages in the last few weeks (and they are greatly appreciated) as well as some questions about what I'm doing and how I ended up here. So I thought I'd dedicate a blog post to my personal journey with yoga.

Yoga has been a part of my life on and off for the last 15 years. I dabbled in yoga in my twenties, doing the odd yoga video at home. Six years ago, I attended a few hot yoga classes at Zen Zone in Brandon, but then my fitness direction turned to strength training and cardio. For the past five years, I've worked out with a great personal trainer located nearby, my best friend Leah, and attended boot camps with the Kenton and Lenore girls regularly. I enjoyed my fitness routine and never missed a boot camp or workout without a good reason.

That all began to change this past winter. I started teaching at Brandon University, in addition to teaching full-time, and I was exhausted and overwhelmed all the time. As much as I loved teaching big kids and little kids, I was unsettled and discontent but couldn't put my finger on what was wrong. I no longer felt like pushing my body at the gym, and when Leah suggested private yoga sessions with our local yogini Kaycelyn Rosales-Knight, I immediately agreed. We started Sunday sessions with Kayce at the end of January, and from my first session I was hooked. I loved the physical challenge of the poses, the stretching, and the breathing. And I loved how our sessions focused on wellness and setting intentions and listening to our bodies. Visit Kayce's Facebook page to learn more about her classes if you're in the Westman area!

I loved our weekly yoga sessions so much that I wanted to start practicing daily. One of my friends had mentioned that she had done a 30 day yoga challenge. I looked it up online and found a yoga challenge with a yogi named Adriene. Although her incessant chatter really annoyed me, I looked forward to my mornings on my mat with her and she helped me move forward with my practice. Check out Yoga with Adriene here! There's lots of great free resources. At this time, I began attending hot yoga and vinyasa flow classes at Zen Zone in Brandon. My favourite Saturday morning routine was a yoga class followed by Starbucks and shopping, often with Leah. I began to challenge myself with poses like crow and wheel and noticed myself getting stronger. When I finished my 30 day challenge with Adriene, I started a new one with Erin Motz. Erin is my favourite online yoga instructor and she's known as the "bad yogi" because she eats red meat, drinks red wine, and takes a very modern, no-nonsense approach to yoga. She has a free challenge here.

Yoga began to impact my life in positive ways. Waking up in the morning became so much easier when I could look forward to a cup of my favourite tea and a half hour on my mat. My favourite thing to do on the weekend was yoga on the deck, weather permitting. I became one of those people who posted pictures of herself doing yoga poses. I traveled with my yoga mat, practicing in my hotel room or taking in a class at a nearby studio. When I was upset or stressed out, I always felt better after yoga. I began to use it as a positive tool to cope. And when I had a physical problem, I'd Google, "Yoga poses for ______" and use those poses to help what was troubling me. When I first began making plans to travel, it was Kayce who suggested to me that I consider doing my yoga teacher training while I traveled. The more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. I would get to study yoga, I'd acquire a new skill, I'd meet new people, and travel the world. I looked at a number of different yoga teacher trainings, but ended up selecting a transformational Hatha yoga course with Kayce's advice. The location was beautiful, the teachers highly qualified, and Hatha yoga is a very accessible yoga practice for people of all skill levels. After nearly three weeks here, I am very confident that I made the right decision! Not only have I improved my physical practice, but I feel that I've been given so many new tools (mantra, meditation, and breathing) to be a healthier person physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

I'm not sure where yoga will take me next. I'd definitely like to do another teacher training, maybe studying vinyasa as it is a style that I absolutely love and feel very at home with. I'm excited to share my practice with others when I return home to Manitoba, but I'm not exactly sure how that will look yet. What I do know is that yoga is a permanent part of my life and has had a hugely positive impact on me already. If you'd like to make yoga a part of your life, consider trying some of the resources I mentioned above. It doesn't get a lot easier than starting with an online video in the privacy of your living room. If you have access to a yoga studio with classes, don't be intimidated. I've found the yoga community to be warm, supportive, and welcoming. And anyone who understands what yoga really is will never judge you on your ability to do a headstand or how low you can sink in chair pose! Or consider starting with meditation--I've listed a couple of good apps in previous posts that make it easy to begin. Whatever you choose, you'll feel so much better after only a session or two, I promise! And just remember, "Anybody can breathe Therefore anybody can practice yoga."

Highlights from Today
I took off my ring while I was doing dishes today and absentmindedly set it somewhere. After waking up from my afternoon nap, I noticed that I wasn't wearing my ring. I began to look for it and couldn't find it anywhere. I was becoming really worried when the only man in our group (he's from France) told me not to worry, that he would get out his tarot cards and they would tell him where it was. (See previous post, he's a tarot card reader to the stars and has a program on Asian TV, Really.) Well he produced his tarot cards, asked them a question, and located my ring in under 30 seconds. I was super impressed and grateful!
And my friend J taught her first class! Lovely, calm, and relaxing, it was a perfect ending to the day!

And in other breaking news, we had lasagna for lunch with spinach, pesto, and ricotta cheese. Absolutely delicious! Thanks Chef Leonardo :) 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

So Close I Can Almost Taste It: Food Meditation and the End is in Sight

Today turned out to be a really great day! To become certified yoga teachers, all of us are required to plan and teach a 90 minute yoga class that includes all the components of an integral yoga practice (physical poses, breathing, mantra, and meditation). Well today was my big day! I did a lot of planning, preparation, and research for my class, as I decided that I wanted to do a gratitude-themed class. So I found a gratitude meditation from Deepak Chopra, printed out different quotations for everyone's yoga mats to encourage them to reflect on gratitude, made a special playlist of music, and a sign for the entrance to the studio. I wanted everyone to recognize the blessings in their life, then dedicate their yoga practice to someone in their lives for whom they were grateful.
Michelle said we could have one piece of paper to guide us during our class. I found the biggest piece of paper in the house and double-sided that sucker!
The studio all set up for my first class!

Nervously excited, ready to begin teaching!
I was really happy with how my class turned out, and I couldn't have had a more supportive teacher or group of people to teach. But I came to the conclusion that teaching kindergarten all day is easier than a 90 minute yoga class! Explaining poses and remembering the important cues while getting into them is hard work!
I kind of coasted for the rest of the day! Michelle gave us a study guide for our test on Friday which we will need to pass to certify and graduate later that day. Marita was with us from 3-7 pm, and we did some in-depth asana study then 90 minutes in the studio. The most interesting part of our time with Marita was learning how to do hands on adjustments for some of the poses. I volunteered to be Marita's model as I felt that I could really learn something as she adjusted my alignment. Her adjustments were fantastic and I felt so much more relaxed after. They were a bit scary when she stood on my legs during butterfly, but it didn't hurt and it was "quite fun" as only Marita would say. I'm really looking forward to learning how to do more hands on adjustments tomorrow and Thursday. Another Marita highlight of the day was when we were having some confusion over what body parts matched each prana (energy areas in the body encompassing one or more chakras).
Me: Where do the arms go Marita? Are they part of the udana prana or the maha prana?
Marita: You don't know where the arms go? Okay, just imagine the maha prana is like a boob tube. You know, like one of those tube tops you wear over your boobs. Everything under it is maha prana. Everything above it is udana prana and that's where the arms go.
It was the perfect analogy and now all of us want tube tops that say, "Check out my maha"! You might need to be a yogi to find that even remotely funny, but we thought it was hilarious!

L doing a hands on adjustment on A during Baddha Konasana (butterfly pose)
And like the teacher I am, I decided that I was making study games for everyone to prepare for our test. No one is failing on my watch! Fortunately my fellow yoga students are very tolerant of me!
The "I have, who has" game is always a hit in kindergarten!
I made the Aussie posse try it out after and they loved it!
And now it's time for yoga tip of the day....FOOD MEDITATION
Food meditation is the perfect strategy if you'd like to eat less and enjoy your food more. It encourages appreciation and mindfulness of everything you are putting in your mouth. I don't suggest doing this at every meal, but going through the steps once in awhile will make you more aware of what and how much you are eating. And we discovered that we ate dramatically less while meditating on our food.
Here are the steps! You can do this with an entire meal, a dessert, a square of chocolate, a glass of wine, or anything you want to appreciate and savour.
1) Use your sense of touch to feel the food (if applicable and not too messy)
2) Look at the food with your eyes. Appreciate the colours!
3) Smell the food with your nose
4) As you look at the food, what feelings arise? For example, do you feel hungry, nauseous, thankful, annoyed? etc.
5) Breathe deeply. Do these feelings intensify, lessen, or ebb and flow?
6) Consider all the work that it took to get this food to you. Think about the farmer who grew the food, the workers who harvested it, the truck drivers who transported it, etc.
7) Consider the elements required to grow this food: air, water, fire (heat and sun), earth
8) Put a small bite of the food in your mouth. Explore the texture, how it feels in your mouth, and the taste. What happens to your body as you put the food in your mouth?
9) Try closing your eyes and blocking out distractions as you fully immerse yourself in the experience.
10) Chew your food and be aware of what you are doing. Chew thoroughly--20-30 times per bite before swallowing. Does the flavour and the texture of the food change as you chew it?
11) When you swallow, how far down can you feel the food in your esophagus?
12) Repeat steps 8-11 throughout your meal. If you are doing this with a group of people, there should be no talking so that your focus is completely on the food.