Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Recent Writings--take a look at elej!

Hey folks!

Thanks for stopping by. I'm just going to go ahead and redirect you to elephantjournal.com, an [amazing] online magazine about yoga and the mindful life, where I've been posting my thoughts on yoga and life quite regularly.

Take a look here: http://www.elephantjournal.com/?s=Julie+%28JC%29+Peters+ and feel free to browse the site.

love, peace, and unicorns,


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Crocodiles, elephants, and a whale of a tale

I'm shocked and awed that my most recent article, also published on elephantjournal.com, has received over 37,000 views at last count. I've gotten so many personal messages about this article, and it's been an amazing help in my own pile on the floor to know that others are going through it, right now, all the time, and that of course we can do this. We are so strong and capable and amazing and we can get up on our fear and ride it like a crocodile into the river.

I'd love for you to read it here.

Meantime, I'm laid up at home a little longer, having been hit by a car and hurt my knee, to add injury to insult (it's been a tough month.)

I miss you folks, and I'd love to see you this Saturday at Highgate YYOGA in Burnaby BC to learn about Yin Yoga and the Poetry of the Body. We'll be going deep into a physical meditation to learn about the stories we've been hlding onto in our bodies and how we can start to tease them out and create space to tell newer, more interesting, juicier stories about our lives and our bodies. Bring a journal!

See you soon lovelies!

peace, love and unicorns,


Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Warrior in Your Belly: RAWR

Hey all,

This article was originally posted in elephant journal, which is an amazing online journal about yoga and meditation. You can see the original article here, or read on:

Secrets to the Warrior Power in your Belly: Exploring the Core through the Chakras
by Julie (JC) Peters

Have you ever been in a yoga class where the teacher is making you go through a series of crunches, or core planks, or boat pose, and you start to feel your belly burning, and you just get this image in your head of punching that teacher in her smug little face? Really, really hard?

I have. Core work does that to me sometimes. And I love it. (Though i don’t usually follow through, of course.)

There's something about working the muscles of your core that is different than working other areas of your body. Feeling your thighs burn is just not as psychosis-inducing as a few innocent-looking little crunches.

One of the things asana yoga can do is stimulate centres of energy in your body called Chakras. There are seven of them (depending on who you ask) and for the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the lower three, all of which reside in the belly: Muladhara, the root chakra, Svadisthana, the sacral chakra, and Manipura, the solar plexus. These lower chakras have to do with ourselves as individuals: our basic needs and instincts, our emotions, our desires, and our egos. All of our crap is located in our lower chakras (and not just theoretically). The belly holds all of our anger, our desires, our shame, our fear, and our unresolved issues. Poses that work the belly, our bodies know on a deep instinctual level, could create some seismic shi(f)ts.

Engaging the core must always start at the beginning: the root. According to yoga philosophy, we have a magical little spot in our bodies called mula bandha. Located at the pelvic diaphragm, the pelvic floor, the perineum, that special area that we contract when we want to keep shit to ourselves, this magical little spot is the key to the door of our inner power. Reema Datta and Leza Lowitz describe it this way:

“‘mula’ means ‘root,’ ‘origin,’ or ‘source.’ [...] Many yoga practitioners consider mula bandha to be the secret to maintaining strong life-force energy. Mula bandha is a grounding, centering force that helps to create heat, protects the overstretching of muscles, and increases the functioning of the parasympathetic nervous system that is responsible for relaxation. Engaging mula bandha thus creates a relaxed state in the midst of deep movement” (Sacred Sanskrit Words).

They make it sound so easeful. It can be. What’s happening from a physical perspective is this: when we engage the pelvic floor, we can set off a chain reaction in the body that becomes the Deep Core Line. This is a series of muscles that run from the inner arches of the feet, through the inner legs, mula bandha, the low belly, middle belly and diaphragm, through the chest and into the palms, and all the way up to the tongue itself. The belly becomes the brain of this physical connection, the control centre. Did you know that the digestive system has as many neurons as the spinal cord? It has its own unique intelligence, and one that most of us spend our time overriding with the crazy reasonings of our overworked brains. Turning on this deep core line can create access to a completely new kind of intelligence that runs through the whole body, and through several other bandhas, or locks, in the upper belly, the throat, the hands and feet, and the tongue. If you could actually see this electric current turning on, it might look like something out of the anime TV show Avatar: the Last Airbender, when the magic of earth, air, fire, and water come together to create a mythical beast of power. Anyway it feels that way when I do it. Like a skinny, gangly yoga teacher turning into Optimus Prime. It's awesome.

Part of the reason turning on your core can feel so supernatural is because when you turn on the Deep Core Line through your lowest chakra, you get each one of those seven wheels spinning, right up to the Crown, where we connect with the universal or the divine. But first, we must plant our roots: Muladhara is the chakra that connects your feet to the earth. It connects us to our most basic selves that need nourishment, shelter, and protection. It's where we hide our fear. Svadisthana Chakra, located on the level of the sacrum, is our centre of pleasure, desire, lovemaking, creativity, romance, and emotion. Our shame is hidden here. Manipura Chakra is located at the solar plexus, around or above the navel itself. Though core engagement begins at Muladhara, the chakra that is often most stimulated is actually Manipura, the solar plexus.

Manipura is our centre of personal power. This is where we feel determination, willpower, the ability to manifest our desires, our ego, and yes, anger. Its Sanskrit name means "lustrous gem" and it is represented by a bright yellow sun. This is the fire that can distill diamonds from coal. It is what can sort through the shit and find the gems. A lot of us, women especially, have issues with the solar plexus chakra: issues of speaking up, standing up for ourselves, and  self-protection. Working the physical core can often bring up those feelings of weakness, inadequacy, fear, shame, and then that familiar desire to punch the teacher in the face or yell at the father with his adorable daughter riding in front of me on a bicycle built for two going TOO SLOW YOU ASSHOLES! (I didn’t actually say that. Just so you know.)

I discovered that the more I could access the power in my centre, the less unstable those red hot emotions started to feel. I started to feel powerful. I started to do the things I had been planning on getting to for months. I started to speak up when someone wasn't treating me right. I was able to channel that anger into confidence, finding my own inner power, as a woman, yes, but as me, which is a big part of what Manipura is all about: your sense of yourself.

I also learned that as important engaging the pelvic floor is, releasing it is equally important. If the power you access through core work stays in the solar plexus and can’t move out, the anger and the ego start to burn you up from the inside out. Being on fire is sometimes necessary, but at some point we need to hose that baby off.

The pelvic floor is the key to turning on the core, but also the key to releasing energy that needs to move on. Because our issues of control are stored in the belly region, we tend to walk around with tension there unconsciously, which blocks the flow between the chakras. Consciously activating the core can also teach us how to consciously let it go: this is the secret to the power in your belly. By wading into the mystery waters of our bellies and exploring them on our own terms, we can begin to access the courage of the true warrior. My favourite Persian poet Hafiz describes the warrior this way:

The warrior
Wisely sits in a circle
With other men
Gathering the strength to unmask
Sits, giving.
Like a great illumined planet on

In other words, It takes real bravery to get to know your own shit and find diamonds. It takes even more courage to then let them go.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Yoga: pictures of anxiety

I have been haunted, these past weeks, by terrible dreams, fears of earthquakes, and the coffee-buzz hands-trembling anxiety of these words from the news: "consider the earth shaking to be your warning to evacuate the building." That's your warning, folks, the earth moving under your feet. Get the hell out of the way, we can't help ya now.

In the meantime, spring has sprung, the warm weather is goosing everyone and my students are still coming to the mat to play. My students, coming to the mat, looking up at me with this supermoon, end-of-the-world desire to step up onto their hands and do something really fun and crazy and good, has been helping me more than they will probably ever know.

I have something called Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It makes me think of this time when a friend of mine had this skin problem near her mouth. She went to the doctor, and he diagnosed her with something called Perioral Dermatitis, which translates literally from the latin to "skin problem near the mouth."

All doctors seem to know about Generalized Anxiety Disorder is that you get anxious, just generally, with no specific reason. And there are drugs you can take for that. That they know.

I think a lot of people have this disorder. The buzzing phones, the computer screens, the mutating diseases, the news, the coffee, the tsunamis have us all in a state of semi-shock, and we get all tight in the belly and can't release our collective pelvic floors. I think the inside of my head, some days, looks like a cluttered bedroom floor with dirty clothes and half-eaten sandwiches and past-due applications and all kinds of things all over it culminating in a burgeoning mushroom cloud of stuff. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, if you think it's a mess out there, you should see what it's like in here.

Yoga attracts a lot of people like me. We need it so badly, especially now, because our world is so crazy, and yoga is this place where you can just be present, in a room, on a mat, with yourself or with your community, and really, that's all you need to know. I don't do yoga because it gives me a nice bum or because I can do handstands now. I do yoga because it's alive, because it tames the mushroom clouds, and because it's home.

I've been reading this book recently called Yoga 2.0 by Matthew Remski and Scott Petrie. It's a slim little volume about yoga in the 21st century, what we think it is, and what we think it was. This quotation, I think, explains why so many of us choose to call yoga home:

Asana [yoga postures] practice has the potential to constitute the recovery of the unseen, simply by shifting us away from visual focus. The unseen we seek need not be confused with a metaphysical force, but rather what is most literally felt, tasted, etc. While the whole world looks for atman [soul] in HD, the yogi can enter absorption by feeling the warmth of his own hand, laying upon his own thigh.

We spend so much time in this world looking; often we override what we feel with what we can see. Yoga, for many, is actually defined now by these images of beautiful smiling women tying themselves up in knots on the cover of Yoga Journal. It is something we can do on a playstation, with a virtual teacher who can't actually see us. When we are looking at something to see what we should be doing (including a mirror) we become self conscious, we start scanning for imperfections, for the ways in which we are not what we see. We are in another zone of anxiety, and we lose our sense of ourselves without our senses.

When I sit down on my mat, with a teacher and fellow students encouraging me to focus and breathe, i can actually do it. I remember...something. Something I don't need to put into words here. Something I don't want to intellectualize, but just want to feel. My brain works hard enough in the world, and I'm starting to want my gut to be a lot more involved.

I can not listen to one of my favourite teachers, Shiva Rea, and do what she is asking me to do on a yoga DVD. I can't follow through with it. I have tried five times. I love her teaching because it's brought me something living through her students who have become my teachers, something beautiful and flowing and very much alive, and when she is this recorded image on a screen my body rebels, stops listening to her, and starts going with my own flow, and hearing her voice as an irritating distraction. How can she feed me any nourishment from this yoga if we are not even in the same room?

I'm not saying images of yoga are always bad--when NOT on the mat they can be very useful, especially for teaching purposes. But when I am tired and scared and haunted and I wanna go home, I'd rather just be in a room with my students, those beautiful women and men high on the full moon who want to play, and I'd rather play. And if they are not around, well then I'd rather be alone, eyes closed, blasting John Lee Hooker and BB King and letting the blues teach me what my body can do. I'd rather be alive, animal, human, me, with the photographic evidence in another place, another time.

The world is trying hard enough to kill me with general anxiety. On my mat, I'm gonna close my eyes, and breathe myself alive. I'd rather do this with you.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Truth, yoga, jazz, rap


This beautiful sankskrit word means "truth," and it's one of the 8 limbs of classical yoga. Like one of the ten commandments: Don't lie! it sits there solemnly, quietly inching its way under my skin.

For some reason, this is the aspect of classical yoga that I keep coming back to again and again. And not because it's easy.

For me, this word means a lot more than just "don't lie." It means be honest with the people around you and with yourself. We are better at lying to ourselves than anyone else has ever been capable. Did you know that there is a specific part of our brains whose entire purpose is to tell us stories about reality when it doesn't make easy sense? It fills in colours and blind spots in our vision that we can't really see. It rationalizes movements of the body that don't correspond with decisions we've made in our minds. It is constantly explaining the world for us, like a caring mother who does not want their sweet baby to see the truth.

This is immensely useful, actually--it's really what you need when you are trying to get from A to B, or survive, which is the general evolutionary purpose of every part of the brain when you ask a neuroscientist about it. But it's not always useful when you are trying to break a pattern or change something in your life or stop lying to yourself.

Over the last little while, I've decided to start taking some of my own advice: Pussy up, be honest, and show people who you really are. (well I don't phrase it like that in my yoga classes.) I'm a spoken word poet: the sort of label that makes me seem like I must smoke cigarettes, own a beret, be fantastically, immaturely angry at the world for what it's done to me, and have no capacity for maintaining healthy human relationships (some of these things are quite true for many spoken word poets). I'm also a yoga teacher, which means I'm supposed to be peaceful all the time and never feel angry or drink beer or have any problems (not a single yoga teacher in the universe, I'm pretty sure, is like that). My versions of these two personalities go quite well together really, like a dish that sounds strange but once you try it you'll never go back: popcorn with olive oil and nutritional yeast. Seriously. Try it.

Some of the interesting ways this has manifested itself:
the Yoga Jazz Rap: It's a long story, but suffice it to say I found myself onstage in the Jazz Cellar a little while ago 'rapping' spoken word with a hip hop artist and a full jazz band. And it was about the best thing that ever happened to me.

East Side Yoga Studio teams up with Vancouver Poetry House : My little yoga studio is partnering up with the organization that puts on the poety slam: we will be donating free yoga classes to every slam, hosting writing and yoga/writing workshops at our studio, and otherwise collaborating to make the world a better place.

And, my personal favourite: The East Side Yoga Studio Art Party! : On Saturday, March 26th, we will be getting poets, musicians, band members, and yoga dancers together to perform and party at Cafe Deux Soleils, the same veune that hosts the poetry slam. Cover will be $5 minimum donation, and it will be the strangest and best show you've ever seen. You can see the facebook event for it here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/event.php?eid=174930052552047

So my advice to you for this week: be honest about who you are, put the pieces together. You might end up being the world's first Yoga Jazz Rapper. After me, of course.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

My new year's resolution is to not make any resolutions

It's January 6th. I suppose I should be at a gym somewhere burning off holiday calories or making to do lists for the rest of my life. But I am instead drinking coffee under a fuzzy blanket at 10:45 am on a Thursday. Oh, the life of a yoga teacher.

January is a strange time of year: the holidays are, for most of us, stressful in one sense or another: we see family. We don't see family. We see our partner's family. We eat too much. We drink too much. We rest too much. We work too much. It's a time of pure indulgence for some and struggling to get through it for others. Usually our bodies end up mad at us for some reason or another.

And just because it's the beginning of January doesn't mean it's any warmer or brighter than it was two weeks ago: I'm starting to think the coldest and darkest season of the year is NOT the best time to be making huge life decisions.

Especially since so many of us make these extreme New Year's Resolutions that essentially say: this is the year I give up chocolate/booze/sugar/fun! I will be a whole new person, this is the year to do it! Everything will change....NOW!

I think we should reevaluate this masochistic "holiday" for a moment here. How about we give ourselves a break? Ease back into the new routine slowly, rest a little, eat good food, and take the pressure off? Life is stressful enough, why add more to it unnecessarily? The spring is a much more reasonable time to be taking on big tasks. There's SUN at that time.

My New Year's Resolution is to be easier on myself. Hence coffee and fuzzy blankets at 10:45am. I am proud of that.

And I have a suggestion. What if we stopped all this wheel spinning for a moment, closed our eyes, and asked our bodies what their New Year's resolution would be? Setting aside for a moment shame or guilt or judgment, honestly listen: if your body could talk, what would it say? Would the intentions of your gut, your hips, your lower back or shoulderblades be the same as the one you made in your mind?

The new moon was just the other day--write down this gut intention and do your best to follow it, just until the full moon waxes. Remember: it's okay to make mistakes: if it doesn't work out, you probably learned something, and another cycle is always on its way. A year may be a little too big to peer into; one cycle of the moon sounds a lot more reasonable.

And of course you can do it. Look what you've already done.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Isn't every day Men's day?

Actually, no. Not anymore, anyway.

The gender story in North America has changed so drastically over a period of barely one generation. The wildly popular show Mad Men is an uncomfortably accurate portrayal of life between the sexes in the early 60s. My mom's response to the show was: "Why would I watch that? I don't want to remember being chased around a desk." My mom is not that old (seriously. You should see her doing yoga).

Shocking, right? And now things are different: women have a lot more power in the workplace and in family situations, women win most lawsuits related to sexual harassment and child custody, and more and more women are becoming primary breadwinners. Women are also shown to be better at handling mental illness because they have close friend groups and a willingness to seek professional help. So what's the problem? Of course women are still dealing with our issues, and though it's (very) tempting, I will not delve into my own challenges as a woman, especially in academia.

But things have certainly changed. The woman's movement was just that: a woman's movement. Women got together, discussed ideas, created organizations, fought for each other, and worked bloody hard to change the role of a woman in society so that now we have (at least officially) the same rights as men do. The birth control pill meant that women could decide if they wanted children, how many, and when. No one needs to depend on anyone else financially. Divorce is about as common as marriage, it seems, and women are far outperforming men in education, if not in the workplace.

So what have men been doing all this time? How exactly have men been negotiating this new world where women as a whole have become something different, and no one's been allowed to ask any questions?

For example, what is the appropriate way to approach a woman at a bar? Do women still want men to pay for dinner and hold doors open? Do women want rich men or educated men? Is it 'manly' to get pedicures and use hair products? Why is it assumed, at least in the judicial system, that women are better at childcare than men? Now that women want men to express their feelings more, how exactly are they supposed to do that?

And a plethora of other questions I can't begin to imagine because, of course, I am a woman. But I have my own questions.

Like why are there so many sexual scenes between women in popular media and so few of men? Why is it playful and sexy when women are doing it and so serious when it's between men? Why don't men talk about their feelings with their friends? Why are so many men dropping out of school? Why is bullying in schools so bad that little boys are actually committing suicide?

And how can I possibly explain to my boyfriend rationally that I want to be understood and a strong, intelligent woman and still want him to tell me I'm pretty? I can't. I can't explain that. We are all very much still in this thing, and it's still broken.

Last weekend, my colleague Charlie and I went to an event called "International Men's Day" to present our Broga: Yoga for Men workshop. We have created a style of yoga that focuses on opening men's common tight spots (shoulders, hips, hamstrings), healing areas of common pain (knees, lower back) and celebrating the poses that are actually a little easier for men to do (arm balances, inversions). Often when I mentioned this event to my students and whoever was around, I would be greeted with shock, surprise, sometimes expecting it to be a joke, and, a lot of the time, the question: "Isn't every day men's day?"

This is a question about which our organizer, David Hatfield, had a lot to say. David heads a weekly workshop called "Manology: 21st Century Masculinity" that is basically a group for men to get together and talk about the above and many other questions to do with men's health, wellbeing, gender roles, and yes, of course, feelings. One of the main issues men have to deal with today is the common assumption that men still feel totally in power and have no questions at all about their sexual identity, especially if they are heterosexual.

The world is still a very different experience for little boys and little girls growing up, and some of that stuff has gotten a lot better, and some of it has gotten more confusing than ever. Little girls are now told they can be whatever they want when they grow up, they can have children or not, they have the right to do anything a boy does and lots of other empowering stuff (though perhaps teen magazines [and extended families] tell a different story), and little boys are still being told that boys don't cry. The role of the 21st century father has become something pretty different than what most of us grew up with, and nobody seems to know exactly what these new roles are supposed to entail.

At some point in our history, women got up the courage to stand up and start questioning their roles in society and how they wanted things to change. It's time for men to start doing the same.

But if women don't support men in making the world a better place for everybody, then we've all failed. Anyone who thinks every day is already men's day needs to open their eyes, and if our kids are going to do any better than us, we are going to have to help each other out. Things will never get better for women or men unless we are on the same side.

To me, that's the meaning of satsanga: a community (sanga) dedicated to truth (sat). Truth is, we've all got work to do.