Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Home is... By Shannon Lough.

I’ve called many places my home. A two-story home in a small-town subdivision; a single flat for staff housing sandwiched between a petrol station and bar in a glacier tourist town; a trailer adjacent a raging river, and within the facilities of a popular backpacker hostel; a holiday-home in a popular extreme sports tourist town, at the base of mountain; a tent, in my hobo days; the first story of a duplex; an ex-communist student dorm; a tatami-floored Japanese apartment in a mountain village between Fuji-san and Tokyo; and recently, at the Yogi-Nomad’s home in Kathmandu valley full of budding yogis. I use my grandfather’s expression, that “home is where you hang your hat.” It could be in the back of a car, a beach along the Sea of Japan, or a 200Rs monsoon-sodden bed. But is this home? 

A forest dweller's home
Home is a concept that many of us get attached to. It’s a place where you store your stuff, and your memories. It gives one a sense of security, that after the day there is a place where you belong. A place where loved ones can greet you. A place where you can unwind and feel protected from the world out there. This is the tangible ‘home’ that many people associate with. 

This material place called home also becomes a nest of insecurities, as all attachments do. It’s full of possessions. Expensive or invaluable items that for years have been collected and arranged in your space, and create your sense of identity. With attachment comes fear, that you may lose one of these items, or someone may steal them, or the house could burn down. But you go on vacation and pick up another souvenir that will look great on your shelf, so when people come to visit they think how amazing your life is, and how beautiful your collections are. The ego stays ever present, and grows with each new piece of clothing, or decoration in your home. You build and build this material world around you and call it home. Until, you have to move. 

Nepali homes
Last year, one night I was sitting in meditation, I realized that my time in Japan was coming to an end in less than six months. I had too much stuff. I tried to find my concentration, and I ended up with stress about how I was going to take my snowboard with me. Where could I send it, if I didn’t know where I was going to be? I filled my head with worries over all that winter clothing, jackets and my closets packed with more clothing. Then I realized that I was stressed about stuff that had defined me somehow. I was a snowboarder. I was a hiker. I was teacher. Yet, I knew I had to let it go. I couldn’t admit it to myself. A special person said to me, “remember that a tool is only good when you are in need of it, if you carry it unnecessarily with you all over it will become a burden and keep you attached to this world.” I knew that he was right, and I was set on letting go of my attachments. I sold or gave away all my gear and clothing. Steadily, the burden lifted, and I felt freer. 

It is a process. I traveled to India and Nepal with a 60L backpack, that I crammed till it bulged and spilled out from the top. I had given up my so-called sense of security by ending my contract, leaving my apartment, and sending half my things to Canada, half to Thailand. I had minimized my home to a backpack, which I still managed to overburden myself with. I felt awkward every time I left a new place, and had to swing it precariously up over my shoulders, and waddle to the bus stop, or shove it into an auto-rickshaw. I met a guy who was traveling the boundaries of India with only a school-sized backpack. He inspired me. He was so light, and carefree. He probably only had one outfit, and a few accessories to change up his style from daytime to nighttime outings, like a scarf or a hat. He didn’t have a lot to worry about, and he seemed happier because of it. While I sweat, and toiled with my pack, he strolled effortlessly as we both walked the streets of Dharamkot looking for accommodation after we left the Tushita meditation centre. Again, I had to rethink the concept of home. 

My backpack home

While we had been in the ten day Tibetan Buddhist retreat, we watched The Nature of Mind the teachings of Tenzin Palmo, a female monk who had spent twelve years living in a cave up in the Himalayas. Whatever she had discovered while living in the ten by six-foot cave, was apparent in the spark in her eyes and the command of her words. I wrote in my notes in brackets “(blowing my mind)” because she did. She said: “the mind is our true home, but we don’t clean it, get rid of the junk, exercise it, or air it out” I had never considered my mind as my home before. As a wanderer, a global nomad, I had always considered my home to be the place where I hung my hat, not inside the place where I wore my hat. 
Once you realize that your home, your true home, is your own mind, then you begin to feel a sense of relief. Everything that you need is right here. We are capable of complete happiness, if we know that we already have that light inside of us. Once we embrace that concept, then we let go of our fears of losing the external home. Whether you’re crawling into a sleeping bag, in a one-man tent, under a starry sky, or you’re nuzzling next to your partner in a king-sized bed, in a prefabricated home in the suburbs, you take that moment for what it is and enjoy it fully, without the worry of losing it tomorrow. 

My school-sized backpack friend told me to read Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Professor and author of discovering mindfulness in the West. While I was trekking in the Annapurna region, I read his book Wherever You Go, There You Are. I found nuggets of wisdom throughout the text. Especially in his concept of home. Let me share with you what I discovered during intimate moments of reading in the freezing cold guesthouses that I stayed at along the route.
So why not let go and admit that you might as well be at home wherever you are? Right in that moment, you touch the core of your being and invite mindfulness to enter and heal. If you understand this, then and only then will the cave, the monastery, the beach, the retreat center, offer up their true richness to you. But so will all other moments and places.

Somehow, through all the places I’ve called home in my past, I have arrived back in the place that I called home while I was growing up. From childhood to young adulthood, I was in this place that I had so many different emotions and feelings in. I have felt a welcoming, a familial love, warmth, protection, but also dread, disappointment, the feeling of being trapped and lost. How can one place harbour all these opposing emotions? The answer is that it was never my childhood home, the tangible one in a small suburban country town that fostered these forces, it was my mind. I am capable of creating all these conundrums. But I am also capable of contentment, of finding that place of acceptance and awareness in the present moment, and to embrace it fully. 

On a January day, in the beauty of the snow melting under heavy rain, birds seem unaware 
of the elements as they perch on a feeder, and children play outside in the slush with rubber 
Yogi home
boots under soggy snow pants. We have the power to chose how we see the world. I now clean my home daily. I give it a time to unwind, to rest. I guide it towards those I love, those I don’t, and those I don’t know. I send my compassion to them all. This morning I did a guided meditation with Yin yoga guru, Bernie Clark. He finished off the session with: “Breathing in, breathing out. Right here, right now, I am alive, I am breathing, I am home.”

Take a moment, and consider, where is your home?

Shannon Lough is a 200RYT, who completed her yoga and Thai massage training with Yogi-Nomad in Nepal.  She practices daily, and follows the principles of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, after traveling to India and living in Japan for three years.  She is a marathon runner, a hardy backpacker, and an avid writer.  If you have any questions or comments please email her at 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Traditional Yoga Can Be Found in the Simplest of Intentions. By Shannon Lough.

Full Moon over the Himalayas

            Paying respect to traditions gives us a sense of our roots, our heritage and a sense of being.  We follow tradition because for centuries our ancestors have followed the ways that encapsulate the meaning of life and how to be free of suffering caused by uncertainty and trudging down dark paths.  But tradition has many faces.  It doesn’t always capture the best of us.  There are those who cling to traditions and refuse change, while there are those who fear traditions that are unfamiliar from their own.  With the world being increasingly cross-cultural, traditions of all sorts are being exposed to many reaches of the earth.  In their travel they are becoming transformed.  Through their transformation, we have to find a bridge that allows for us to protect the integrity of the tradition within the roots of their purpose.
            Yoga is one of these traditions.  It’s origins are rooted in the soils of the Indus Valley, beneath the Himalayan Mountains, what is Northern India and Pakistan today.  It’s traditions so ancient, that it’s claimed to have been practiced since the beginning of civilization.  Through internationalism, the seeds of yoga have scattered, blown in the wind and spread to those who seek light.  Yoga now touches upon the lives of people all over the world. 
            Yet the traditions of yoga have altered, significantly, in their travels from South Asia.  In the West, people flock to 40.6 degree Celsius rooms, to sweat it out in a session of Bikram’s hot yoga, or work their core in power vinyasa yoga classes that focus on asanas, or physical postures of yoga combined with fitness.  The roots of yoga, the mantras, the Om, breathing techniques, pranayama, and the intentions of finding inner peace, and stilling the mind to single-pointed concentration in meditation are foregone in the mist of vanity to achieve one’s ideal body type. 
Vishnu on his vehicle Garuda
            When the tradition has diverted so far from it’s roots, then what do you call it’s modern variation?  Is it time for the traditions to shift with the modern currents? 
            If you travel to the Himalayan regions of India or Nepal and take a yoga class, you will experience how the traditions have modernized in it’s birthplace.  Classes are conducted with an opening mantra, an Om, and an intention.  Then proceeded by a series of asanas, or poses, followed by a lengthy savasana.  Sometimes the class begins or concludes with pranayama, breathing exercises, and then a final meditation to use the benefits of the physical practice in stilling the body to ease into the mental practice.  The local yoga instructors have been practicing as a part of their culture, their heritage.  They probably woke up at 3 or 4am to do their own practice before the sun rose, and established their own equilibrium before teaching the class that you participate in for 500Rs.  Your class isn’t glistening with brand names, like Lululemon or prAna.  It’s simple.  You might even find yourself on a rooftop, with the monsoon pounding it’s way in through the makeshift roof made of tarpaulin, spraying you occasionally with rain as you press into adho mukha svanasana, or downward facing dog.  But you feel the wind on your face, and outside is a sea of green fields. 
            In the West, the yogic experience differs depending on where you practice and who you practice with.  Classes are more focused on the anatomy, which is safer than in India where you’ll be put into headstands and shoulder stands without caution.  Sometimes there are real gems out there, where you get the mix of modern Western and classical Eastern traditions.  The class will begin with a centering, focus on the breath, an Om you can join into, a sequence of poses that gets your heart pumping while simultaneously bringing you into yourself and connecting to the core of your being.  Then a calming savasana, and a final centering that reflects on the intentions of the class.  These classes exist.  The music played during class may not be a traditional method, but traditions can change, as long as the intention remains. 
            The next time you step into a yoga class, be mindful.  Leave your ego at the door, and explore yourself in the ancient tradition of connecting the body and mind.  Be aware of the poses that open up that connection, and go inward.  The hand foot bond to the mat should be all that matters, not the mirror in the room, or the person next to you.  Let go and chant Om, there’s a reason it’s called the eternal sound.  Lose yourself in the history of movement and discover how it makes you feel.  You will never know until you try.  Yoga is a tradition of self-discovery through seeking this connection.
            The origins of yoga comes from Sanskrit, to yoke, or union.  This is the intention of the practice.  It can be done through chanting, breathing, meditating, or physical movement.  Whatever form of yoga you practice, if your intention is to create a union of the body and mind with the true nature of yourself, then you are following the roots of the yoga tradition.  It doesn’t matter if you use modern music to carry you through your practice, if you laugh, sweat and shake, call the poses by their Sanskrit, or locally invented name, if your intention is pure then you are amongst the traditions of yoga.  Find your path and allow yoga to become your teacher as you explore its roots, and find a tradition that remains alive and intact in each of us. 

By Yoga, Yoga must be known;
Through Yoga, Yoga advances;
He who cares for Yoga,
In Yoga rests forever. 

Shannon Lough is a 200RYT, who completed her yoga and Thai massage training with Yogi-Nomad in Nepal.  She practices daily, and follows the principles of Tibetan and Zen Buddhism, after traveling to India and living in Japan for three years.  She is a marathon runner, a hardy backpacker, and an avid writer.  If you have any questions or comments please email her at