Leave the Past in the Past

This was my mantra as 2020 was prepping to unleash all its glory upon us. It’s a strong statement, one that has escaped my lips on several occasions in relation to various aspects of my life. Unfortunately, I actually can’t recall more than one discarded item as I prepare to draw a symbolic narrative on how freeing it has been, and I doubt that it has been so successful as to have erased my memory of those attachments, but it has been a hell of a year. This has been the kind of year that demands more of the present because reflections on the past are too painful when we consider all that has been lost, but this was not my goal when I put those words onto my private 2020 bucket list.

I wanted to see what would happen if I softened my grip on the shadows of the passions that have actually been fading for years. Some of these practices have defined me for decades and as their images shrink in my rear-view, the feeling of loss has disarmed me to the point of not being able to truly let go. 

When I retired from teaching yoga in 2016, I was exhausted from trying to meet my own expectations of success, and retirement gave me permission to stop wanting embodiment for everyone else. At some point I realized that all those years of teaching had kept me at an imperceptible distance from my own embodiment and I had to leave it behind in order to reclaim my own mind-body connection.

After leaving the dissection lab in 2019, I committed to taking a year off to write. The revelations my yoga practice exposed following my retirement were so profound I wanted to see what a year of reflecting on dissection would uncover. Turns out, a lot. And I’m not sure I need to cut into another cadaver as long as I live.

That’s a tough statement to swallow.

Chances are if you think or speak of me, the words yoga and dissection are probably present. So you know how huge this is.

This past weekend I cleaned out all of my drawers, cupboards and closets. I came across the first book I wrote. I hand wrote it during the years of 2007 though 2009. It’s about my journey into yoga and teaching —and it’s really bad. I pulled it out months ago as reference for the current manuscript, but couldn’t stomach more than a few pages.

It’s not that the writing is bad. It does perfect justice to the young woman I was when I wrote it… but I’ve come a long way. 

I knew this volume would not survive me to live on in my absence, but didn’t know how to dispose of it properly (and completely). I thought of throwing it in a campfire, but I only filled 200 pages of a 488 page hardcover journal —that would take some time to burn. I could take it to Staples and pay for it to be shredded, but that would mean trusting someone else to complete the task. I had to do it myself. 

This week I had a brief text conversation with a friend from the lab. She had a scalpel in her hand carving her way around the shoulder, neck and skull. 2020 has unceremoniously closed her business and she confesses to be nearing her limit on dissection; aimless and wondering what to do next. I respond in support of her sentiment, like one foot is in the familiar, while the other is already marching forth into something new… but neither of us really know yet what that is.

I pull out the scissors and begin tearing pages out of that first book. As I do, my eyes are taking in small snippets of the manuscript that wasn’t destined for anything greater than this moment. As the words flash through the blades of my manual shredder, I see exactly what 2020 has taken. Taken in terms of denial; all the things we had to forfeit. But also taken in terms of what it has required; all the ways in which we were or were not prepared.

This pile of paper on my coffee table is the past. It’s all the hurt my young self carried along to the point of finally saying: Leave the past in the past.

2020 has been pretty great, actually.

COVID Economic Recovery Phase III

I took a stunning picture on one of my walks along the canal on day 7 of this craziness. It was a particularly difficult day for me as I wrestled with the uncertainty of what lay ahead.

Over the past four months I have walked that route repeatedly while struggling to recreate the photo as the seasons changed. I have a thing about documenting  the passage of time, and it seems as though that moment has refused to cooperate.

I live in a very vibrant part of town. I have an amazing apartment with a huge area of outdoor space that looks over a quiet residential street. Looking for this apartment nearly 10 years ago was an enormous stress. I had moved back from Costa Rica the year before with $2000 in my bank account and decided to return to school for massage therapy. I was born and raised in Ottawa but fled as soon as I could (it took me nearly two decades to return for good). It was a difficult landing, and I spent my first summer in Toronto teaching yoga and doing thai massage to raise my tuition fees. I settled on an apartment in Westboro that really wasn’t my style, so when I gave my two months notice, I was insistent on ticking just three boxes: laundry onsite, centretown location and aesthetically pleasing outdoor space, (not a concrete balcony). Two and a half weeks before moving day I still had not found my home. I started lying about my income (which was zero while I was in school), and it became a full-time job cycling around the city looking at potential places to live. They were all dumps! 

Stressed to the max, I scored my now home just two weeks before moving day, and have not budged since. It ticked all of the boxes and at the time, was the priciest place I had seen. I didn’t care.

I am introverted by nature and spend a lot of time at home. My home has to feel like an oasis, and often people entering my space comment on how great the energy feels… this is not unique to my current apartment, it has always been the case. 

Like everyone else, I have ridden the wave of the COVID ups and downs. Overnight we all experienced drastic life changes. I slumped right into the victim roll exclaiming, “at least you still have a job,” and “be thankful you have a partner by your side.”

It was a lot. 

I learned quickly about the role my work plays in my life. Massage therapy brings me social connection through the tiny snippets of small talk to the deeper heartfelt conversations with my clients. The physical aspects are just as healing for me as they are for you. I was feeling the loss of this more than anything. But I have a lot of experience with introspection and I got right down to it.

I walked 10K a day. I devoured book after book, completing one every few days. I wrote. A lot. I explored new territory on my bike and rode farther than I ever have in a day. I drank a lot of wine too (and beer, and gin and moonshine -maple, if you’re wondering). I did all this, not because I am disciplined (or an alcoholic). I did it because I had nothing else to do.

The hardest part was hearing my friends who were also struggling —but in very different ways— tell me how lucky I am to live alone. How lucky I am to have this beautiful outdoor deck. How lucky I am to have time to get out on my bike and go for long walks. How lucky I am to be able to afford to live on the $2k a month offered by CERB. 

I want you to know that my feet have never been so constantly blistered and sore in all my life. My neck is in perpetual spasm from poor reading posture and I need glasses now from the screen (I read on my iPad). In the spring on my walks, my mind was consumed with finding a decent place I could shelter myself to empty my bladder, (which makes for a lousy walk). Now that it’s hot, a migraine might blind me while I’m barely hydrated 30k from home on my bike (despite the water I brought with me). There is not a lot of perfection going on. But my home? Thankfully I made that happen a decade ago.

My favourite are the yogis. The ones spouting words that I cringe to admit have been my words also: “this is a wonderful opportunity to dig in and do some deep emotional work.” Can you hear the sugary patronization of that tone? It’s not intentional, but it can come across as lacking in empathy.

I am so sorry for ever condescending to you like that. Apart from maybe your therapist or partner, no one has the right to allude to how much work you have yet to do.

The BIGGEST lesson I have learned through all of this is to let go of comparison. Your struggles, that are the thing I long for, and my struggles, that are the thing you long for? They feel the same amount of crappy.

And you’re right. I am lucky, (but really, I made those choices and luck had nothing to do with it —for better or for worse).

I got to return to touching people this week and it has been more glorious than you can imagine. I am in an industry that has allowed me to resume a somewhat normal life. I feel so greatly for everyone who is working from home, longing for the day they get to leave the house for their morning commute. I have no advice for you… do what you have to do. No one knows when things will change, and I hope that if you are out there getting blisters on your feet, obsessing about where to pee and fighting off a migraine, you’re doing it with authenticity.

COVID Isolation and Human Dissection

In the dissection lab we cling to one another in unprecedented ways. All that we are seeing and cutting into cannot be shared with those who are not present. It’s a grave imposition to ask anyone to hold space for what we are looking at. Beyond the tissues of a human cadaver we are excavating intricacies of our own existence as we penetrate the layers that make up the skin to eventually dive into viscera. 

It’s thought provoking and exposing in unexpected ways. The light as it enters the spaces normally shrouded by the busyness of life, is brilliant. We take it in stride, but are keenly aware of the impermanence of this moment in time. Once the donors are neatly reassembled and laid to rest in their boxes, we must leave one another and continue the work from the still mysterious spaces of our own bodies. The lab provides a tiny amount of x-ray vision, but there are so many blanks to fill. I can name the structures of anatomy but still cannot find the link between it and my emotional awareness, which seems to deepen following a week of dissection.

We keep each other on speed-dial for a few days or weeks, comparing the revelations of sleep or lack there of. We laugh about the ways in which dreams link the most fucked up sections of our psyche with the mundane bits of our home routines and connections. Eventually these things fall away and life goes on as usual. The dreams fade and the phone is quiet. The work however, continues at a low murmur behind the scenes.

The stillness that follows is welcomed at first, but eventually turns to boredom. There is comfort in the friction of an unsettled mind. It propels me forward into tasks that either avoid (in this case), or feed what is rising. Either way, I am productive and creative in satisfying ways, and it works. Now that I have done all the domestic tasks I can stand, my habitat is clean and well prepared with sustenance, I sit down to enjoy the space. Sounds a little like COVID isolation, no?

The disquiet inside surfaces just as the last bit of a well earned sigh is released. I know better than to busy up the mental space the pause from my daily routine has offered, but I do it anyway. I come home from the lab ripe to explore my own insides but an old habit makes me pick up as if nothing transpired the week before while I was literally cutting open a human heart.

I go back to work following the same bike path. I stop at the same spot for my coffee and once I arrive at work, I eat the same breakfast. I problem solve the body and its aches with my clients. The comfort of routine envelopes me like a soft but impenetrable armour. Months pass and the seam around the neglected revelation of my scalpel has mostly bonded again. The moment will come when some benign event, a popped tire or expired coffee cream, (a pandemic), will rip open the vulnerable tissue that had been ripe for healing a short time ago. The once clean incision is now frayed and raw at the edges demanding immediate attention.

That avoided thing, be it physical, mental or emotional, is taking up precious space. How do you recognize when to dig in? There are times when it’s so obvious it hurts. This is probably one of those moments.

Proclamation of the Constitution ACT

“It was raining on Parliament Hill as Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau signed the Proclamation of the Constitution Act on April 17, 1982. Marks left by the raindrops as they smudged the ink can still be seen as physical reminders of the rich history of the act.”

More than ever, I am proud to be Canadian today. As the second deposit of the Canada Emergency Care Benefit has reached my bank account, today bears a deeper meaning on many levels for me.

The quote above is taken from the Library and Archives Canada website, and I remember the rain that day. I was 9 years old and had gone to my ballet teacher’s house after school to rehearse for my role as Cinderella in our upcoming recital. I was called home early, and recall skipping through the puddles and around the worms bathing in the wet of the sidewalks. I’ve always loved the rain.

My father had left the house that morning to take pictures of the Queen, as history was being made on Parliament Hill. He didn’t make it far before a cardiac arrhythmia stopped his heart. 

I had to piece it together for myself because I didn’t quite understand what my mother meant when she said he “collapsed at the wheel”. The days following were full of ceremony and logistics. There was a lot of emotion, but not much expression of it. 

My mother immediately began working long hours to support three kids. I didn’t know anything different, and did not immediately feel damaged by the tragedy of these losses. I learned how to navigate the tangible aspects of life quickly. I became what those who knew me described as, strong and independent (qualities I am now trying to outgrow), and by the time I left home, I knew how to stretch a dollar.

This day, 38 years ago, shaped my life of today in so many ways. There is sadness for all the things that were missed, but also so much gratitude for the ways in which life has prepared me for this time of chaotic stillness. 

The father of our current Prime Minister laid the foundation for the funding that so many of us are relying on right now. 

I have never in my life used social assistance, and in my gratitude, I cannot wait to start giving back. 

Isolation day 18 COVID-19

This feels so familiar.

The first time I “ran away from home” was when I was in my mid-twenties. Struggling to make my way in the world and carve out an identity for myself, I gave very little thought to the move before I packed my things and took up residence in downtown Toronto.
I had one friend in a house of six others, all roughly my age. It took me two years to settle into a routine and I remember well, the sensation of loneliness and boredom while I wandered the city looking for work and purpose. I lived solely on credit for a long time, but I didn’t care because I was young and I was doing it on my terms.
At the two year mark I wasn’t working at anything fulfilling but, I had found yoga, and it was breathing new life into me.

In all, I stayed in Toronto for 8 years before moving to Montreal.
I followed a boy there, but that didn’t work out. Actually we had already split up but I moved anyway, because I committed to an apartment, and was ready to leave the big city.

Montreal welcomed me warmly. My yoga experience allowed me entrance into the city’s largest studios, and I soon gained a tiny following of students. I loved the slower pace of the city and would spend hours each week in cafes, writing in my journal between classes or thai massage clients. But I was lonely.

I co-facilitated my first yoga retreat that year in Costa Rica and absolutely fell in love with the country. I was desperately searching for meaning and connection in my life, but I seemed to keep missing the mark. Sometime after that trip, I made the bold decision to take six months off and travel for three months on either side of the next retreat.

I left on December 15th which was no accident. This time I was not only running away from home, but I was doing it intentionally and without excuse, which made me very unpopular with certain members of my family.

There is so much I could write about that time but it all really comes down to the solitude of travel in a foreign land. I am an introvert who delights in the vast spaces of social withdrawal. But this was extreme!

I did not feel safe to be out after dark, and dark came quickly. Unlike Canada’s long, picturesque sunsets where the sun lingers on the horizon for hours, a Costa Rican sunset is over in seconds. There are beaches all along the west coast of the country, where communities gather to witness the few minutes of dusk at the end of each day. By 6:05 the night sky would have me locked in my room.

There would be times I had travel companions or Spanish classes to keep me busy, but much of the time I was on my own.
Days would be filled with the details of running errands, mapping out my next destination, meals, laundry. It was so dull, I can barely recall passing the time. I did a lot of writing and self-examination. It was intense in all directions and I learned quickly that I could run away from home, but my inner turmoil would constantly be nipping at my heels.
Internet was a treat if it could be found, but everything was slow to load, and I felt farther away from home when I checked in with friends. Introspection had put more distance between us because I was supposed to be having the time of my life, not going deep into my cells to excavate the dark mysteries within. I longed for the distraction of technology.

I wasn’t doing yoga because, by it’s very nature, it is designed to illuminate the internal environment, which I was trying to avoid. I would go weeks at a time without moving mindfully, in fear of stirring the beast.

When I would settle in one place for an extended period, I could allow routine to prop me up. In one town, the monkeys would move through the canopy just once a week, and I could busy myself for hours watching them. I counted down to the day each week.
In an indigenous village, I assisted with washing the laundry in the river, smacking the fabric against the rocks to release both the water and dirt. The physicality of it was refreshing. I made friends with two porcupines in a wildlife sanctuary, where feeding them gave me purpose.

Yorkin, Costa Rica

It was half a year of monotony and boredom, sprinkled with tiny revelations from my soul. I was forever changed by those six months. I learned that it didn’t take a lot of doing to fill a day; that the spaces in between were where the magic happened. I learned to taste my food and prepare it anticipation of flavour, rather than hunger. I placed greater value on being spaciously present with other human beings…

It was hard, but so far, it’s cured me of my need to run away.

Photography & Human Dissection

Me. Printed in Photo Life, September 1981
(photo by my Dad)

The more I look, the more insatiable my appetite becomes. I can easily lose track of time with my hands on or in a body. It’s so similar to being in a darkroom that in some ways I have been doing it forever.

In the darkroom, creative use of light is used to expose, manipulate, combine and edit the mood of an image. The negative is an objective template and the light that passes through it is subjective. It is the light that reveals the image, and the light that also has the capacity to hide or reveal finer detail. What I appreciate most about being in a darkroom is perhaps the illusion that I have some control over the image I wish to expose. Either it exists or it doesn’t, and I have been known to spend HOURS attempting to reconcile the image in my head with that on the page. I emerge from a darkroom marathon exhausted and exhilarated. Inspired and planning the next roll.

When I was young, my Dad, who was an X-ray technician by profession, had a passionate hobby in photography. He shot black and white film that he processed in a darkroom he built in our basement. Myself and my brothers were often his subjects, but I took a deeper interest, wanting to spend time with him in the cramped darkroom. I remember sitting on the couch with him, eyes closed, attempting to thread an old film onto a developing spool.
I would eventually inherit his cameras, darkroom equipment and passion for images. The combined work and luck it takes to bring an image from conception to print is simultaneously fraught with excitement and frustration. The entire process is not unlike being in the lab.

I love all photographs. I am interested in what the person holding the camera wants to reveal. I want to know the stories behind the light, the angle and composition. I love how photographs document the passage of time, and the mysteries they hold. I believe that a body also holds the documentation and mystery of time.

The dissection lab is not unlike the darkroom for me. I was good with a scalpel from day one. The precision required to uncover structure satisfied the photographer in me. To me, a scalpel is akin to the light in the darkroom. It’s the tool used to expose and bring to the surface, what lies beneath.

Massage Therapy & Burnout

The World Health Organization is including Burnout in the 11th Revision of The International Classification of Diseases.

It is described in the chapter: ‘Factors influencing health status or contact with health services’ – which includes reasons for which people contact health services but that are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.


Stress acts on the body by suppressing the immune system. During times of stress, the body’s natural response is to shut down all functions that are considered secondary to preserving life. This means that wound healing, tissue repair, digestion and metabolism, all take a back seat to the stress. Stress increases heart rate, blood pressure, and reduces our ability to cope.

Massage Therapy is one effective way to reset the system and begin the process of returning to balance. Massage can be used to increase circulation and assist in the management of stress.

Taking time out to be still, can go a long way in your road to health.

Relationships: Antagonist, synergist, agonist.

Jenga: one small shift can disarm an entire structure!

As a massage therapist and (ex)yoga instructor, I have studied muscle relationship more than anything else. When there is an irritable body structure, my job is to find the source. The point that is throwing everything off balance is not normally the area of pain. The “cure” is often to calm the antagonist and build up the weaker opposing structure.

Antagonist, synergist, agonist 🤔, in a three dimensional, emotional structure… Theses are not static labels or relationships. Balancing the roles and figuring out the equation is my happy place. I’ve never been bored in my attempts to disarm these duelers. In my practice, massage and yoga are besties!

What is Thai Massage? (VIDEO)

Thai Massage is a comprehensive, full body treatment that works on a physical, energetic and emotional level. Directing attention to the body’s energetic pathways through movement and mindful massage, blockages are free to release, restoring the flow of energy, and thus liberating your innate ability to heal.

Thai Massage allows you to connect on a level that goes beyond the skin. In this flowing movement practice, awareness is passed between giver and receiver, resulting in a therapeutic experience of full body relaxation. Thai bodywork incorporates movement and stretch which has the capacity to deliver greater pranic flow through the muscles and joints of the body, inspiring deeper, long lasting effects.

Thai Massage differs from other forms of massage in that it is done on the floor, fully clothed.

Thai is offered for 60 minutes, 75 or for the best full body experience 90 minutes is recommended.

The REAL Reason I Practice

Practice is not about improving my asana. It’s about seeing who I am and grasping an opportunity to explore my tendencies, emotions and reactions. As children, our parents navigate life and relationship for us; we learn these things for ourselves first by mimicking them. Without knowledge or intention, we become mini versions of our role models.

The beginning breather knows only the inhale and the exhale. A practiced breather learns to explore the spaces between. I begin each day as a beginner in this realm, and as I unlock the space between, I open up the potential for calm action. Like an exhale is the response to an inhale, I move through life on auto-pilot.

My asana practice gives me the experience of space. With space, I can choose when the next breath comes. In the space, I enjoy the bliss of presence and witness. I don’t have to live in a reactionary way. I am training to be the observer first, rather than having my reactiveness tell me without process, how I feel. In this, I am seeing the opportunity to change the patterning of my family. To re-wire the emotional tools I was given and have them better reflect who it is I am constantly becoming. I am not done. I will never be done becoming. “We are growing younger towards death” (words often heard in the lab of somanauts). The best way to connect to the experienced breather is to begin each day by moving my breath.

With practice, my chances are better for success.