Ask Parvati 34: The Journey to YEM – Part 1: Early Beginnings
Thank you for sending in questions while I was away performing in Florida. This week, I answer a more personal question about how I came to develop my yoga practice. Please keep sending your questions. I enjoy both receiving and answering them. Send yours by Thursday to firstname.lastname@example.org to be answered by lottery beginning next Sunday.
Enjoy the entries this week!
I have recently bought your YEM DVD. I really enjoy your teachings and all the amazing information that the DVD offers. I have found the exercises are really starting to sink into my daily life. Thank you! I would be interested to find out a bit more about you. Would you be wiling to share a bit more about how you came to YEM and what Yoga means to you?
When I was a child, as early as I can remember, I was aware of “otherness”. The unseen world, a place that children know and adults forget, was a place where I felt safe and comfortable. I saw spirits in our house, beings without form. I saw shapeless presences of immense light I called angels and spoke with them. I played in my room with my tape recorder creating songs to communicate with them. I composed musical scores, played my wooden soprano recorder and sang. Though I sang as part of various choirs from a very young age, I felt I sang for the angels. Sound was a way of prayer, a way to communicate with God. It was how I felt connected and alive.
I would lie awake for hours and hear the nighthawk sing in the summer sky. I saw nature as alive. I remember lying underneath the massive maple tree in our front yard in Montreal and feeling my body dissolve into the grass and my spirit commune with the life force of that tree. It was my guardian and my friend. In nature, I found a purity of expression that grounded me and supported me to feel safe and fluid as I communicated with a world without form.
I grew up in a spiritually aware household. My parents were both Christians. Unlike many people who follow organized religion, my parents encouraged me to connect to spirit in whatever manner I felt comfortable. They just wanted me to connect. They wanted me to know that life extended far beyond the tangible. Family dinner conversations revolved around spirituality, art and culture. I was exposed at a young age to Church and went weekly, but also I was brought to Synagogues and other places of worship, as well as places of need, such as long term care facilities and food banks. Despite my parent’s open-mindedness, it was challenging for them to comprehend my comfort with the unseen world.
As with most children, I found out that it was not “cool” to be spiritually connected and see things that “were not there”. With the desire to fit in at school, I began to suppress my joy and natural connectedness. I did not speak about what I saw. I suppressed what I felt. Yet as spiritual things are undefinable, so are they unstoppable. Spiritual guidance still crept in.
I became aware of Yogic arts when I was about 10 years old. When I was over to play at my school friend’s house, I saw her mother, a tall, beautiful German woman (who I remember as having perfect skin and deep turquoise eyes) quietly excuse herself to go into a room in the house for some time. I was never invited into that mysterious room. When the room door would open, it seemed that it pulsated with something I only now understand as the spiritual energy I have seen in a yoga studios and meditation halls. After what felt like an expansive, infinite amount of time, my friend’s mom would come out of the strange room and somehow, she seemed magically transformed, radiating, brighter, glowing. I wondered what went on in there. It seemed somehow the fairies were in there helping her with something. All I knew is that I liked it, and wanted to be part of it.
Later I found out it was not magic or mystery that made that room seem so special, but a systematic, disciplined practice and life science called Yoga. She knew that if she did certain breathing exercises, calmed and focused her mind, allowed her body to move into certain positions, she was boosting her life force energy, vitality and sense of inner peace. I later found out she was a long time practitioner of Iyengar Yoga, which I later ended up practicing quite extensively.
Around that same time in my life, each year at Christmas, my grandmother from Edmonton would come stay in our Montreal home for a month or so. She was my first spiritual teacher, more consciously so in my mid-teens. My grandmother had a special light. She spoke about her choice to cultivate “quiet assurance” through sitting each day in meditation to “connect with her Maker”.
Though she had a Christian background, she had long since found the politics in churches dissonant with her joy for mysticism. She had lived through hell and back when she lost her husband around World War Two, and faced a debilitating disease herself that confined her to bed for a full year, without money, no husband and three young children. But she had a deep faith in a God that provides. Faced with what seemed like an incurable illness, she said she just knew that she had to give her whole life over to God, and go to bed and pray for a cure from the disease. At that time, there was a knock at the door. A woman who had also lost her husband in the war was without a place to live. She became the guardian for my grandmother’s children, my mom and her older brother and sister. A year or so later, my grandmother was “miraculously” cured.
Through adversity, a deep faith in God, a daily practice of what I now know to be meditation, my grandmother had found and exuded a spiritual fluidity and grace. I wanted to know how I too could find that. Each year she came, we had longer discussions about yoga, prayer, spirituality and meditation.
Upon this intimate foundation, inspired by “otherness”, meditation and nature, my life flowered in reverence to the mystical. I learned to see that whatever happened, we were part of a much greater whole. I was taught from a young age that we were close to the Divine, something we could embody when we open in humility. Spirit and matter were not two but one along a continuum. From these teachings, YEM would eventually emerge. These early years were just the beginning.
(Continued tomorrow with Steps Towards Yoga)