Today’s post was written by fellow blogger and Yogi Bram Levinson. Bram is a Certified Yoga Teacher and Co-Manager at Centre Luna Yoga in Old Montreal, as well as an ambassador for Lululemon. Bram graciously agreed to share the details of his Yogic journey with me – a journey that has lead him down an incredible path, one that has allowed him to discover the essence of who he is and what he’s passionate about. I want to thank Bram for sharing his experiences so openly and honestly. So, without further ado, meet Bram! (Don’t forget to show him some LOVE by commenting on this post). Carry on!
Two years ago this week I left my old career and never looked back, and when I look back at how my life changed once I made room for the opportunities and greatness to be introduced into the equation, I find myself (almost) speechless…
I started working in the retail industry in my 20’s. I had never felt a calling to any one vocation, and as some of my friends had connections to the industry, they hooked me up with the owner of a boutique that pretty much defined the 90’s for Montreal’s club scene. I worked my way up to management there, and was subsequently headhunted by a major international retailer who was coming to Montreal in the late 90’s, and were looking for management candidates. I took the opportunities that they offered me, and was with them for 12 years, working in every management role that was available, even creating one for myself when I felt less than stimulated. And then I hit a wall. I knew in the core of my being that I was wasting my time there, that there were greater things in store for me and to not at least attempt to pursue them would be a massive mistake. But I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and it was all down to the person who I consider my guru, Jennifer Maagendans, that I figured out the path that I find myself following today.
I had been practicing yoga for nine years when I sat down with Jennifer to discuss the state of my life, and when I told her I had no idea what to do now that I had left the career that I could no longer tolerate, she asked me, “If there were no obstacles, if you had a guarantee that you would be successful, what would you do?”. My reply was that I’d be a yoga teacher, a writer and a photographer. And voilà. I had my answer.
My yoga practice started in 1999 when I needed an outlet for the stress I was feeling in my retail life. I found a teacher whose specialty was a basic hatha flow, and from the first class I knew I had tapped into something that felt insanely familiar, but that I had never encountered in my life to date. As a kid I was a gymnast, flipping around and doing cartwheels the second I found a surface flat and vast enough for me to let loose, but I moved away from it as I grew older. I had tried going to the gym a couple of times, which felt completely unnatural to me, so when I found yoga, I was ecstatic because I felt like I was getting my muscles moving in a way that felt wholly organic and natural to me. When I discovered Sirsasana (headstand), I felt like I had died and gone to heaven, and the fact that after every class I felt a clarity and a groundedness that I felt nurtured by was an added bonus 🙂
I kept my practice going with my teacher, on and off, until 2008. One of my closest friends was a store manager for Lululemon and she kept telling me that I had to check out this teacher in Old Montreal, whose classes were really challenging, but fun…that the entire vibe of the studio was laid-back and welcoming. At that point, I had been with my teacher and practice for so long that I was terrified by the thought of trying out a new studio and teacher…my hatha practice was not very active compared to the yoga that I knew I’d be exposed to at this studio my friend was telling me about, and I was also petrified of not being able to keep up, not being as advanced as the other students, etc…I was literally at the mercy of my internal dialog, what I now identify as the left-brain’s fluctuations of the mind. It took an introduction to this teacher by my friend for me to drum up the confidence to check out her studio. And that’s when I went to Centre Luna Yoga to take classes with Jennifer Maagendans, whose charm and relatability was refreshing, to say the least. I loved the class. I felt like I had come home…to a place where there was no psycho-babble from teachers walking around like puffed-up peacocks. Where students could put their mats down before class and chat and interact without having to keep their gaze down and their voices quiet as they started stretching. I was so grateful that Jennifer had created a space infused with her light and sense of humor, a space that is as beckoning and warm as it was when I first took a class there well over 2 years ago.
Shortly after I ended my career in retail, and after Jennifer and I had become close friends, she asked me if I would be interested in co-managing the studio with her partner Jason. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I felt like I had been presented with the opportunity of a lifetime, and I took it. This was in November 2008, which was also when I enrolled in Darby’s teacher training at Sattva Yoga Shala. I figured that I’d go to an Ashtanga master to get the best training I could, despite not loving the Ashtanga series itself. I knew that I would end up teaching a Vinyasa-based practice, but that having the Ashtanga base would give me the best platform from which I could structure my classes. That training was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Hardest physically, which served as the catalyst for the emotional and mental challenges that come up when we put ourselves into situations that don’t feel entirely comfortable. I was dead-set, however, on seeing the training through to completion, as I was intent on ending a long-running habit of mine of starting things I knew I’d never finish…a habit that was born of my taking part in activities that my parents wanted to see me participate in, but in which I would quickly lose momentum and just stop going to. A habit that repeated itself throughout my education, where I left CEGEP repeatedly to get myself into the workplace. Leaving school left me feeling like I had somehow failed at something, despite knowing it wasn’t right for me. And so I kept at my training, through the grueling practices and hours upon hours of breaking down the practice…and then one day I had an epiphany. I was sitting down taking notes about whatever we were discussing, and I lifted my gaze, looked around the room, and thought to myself, “This is my classroom.” It was then that I felt like I had finally gotten past the invisible hurdle of my educational shortcomings. I felt free, which is something I always feel when practicing yoga, but this time it didn’t recede hours after the practice had ended. It’s with me still, right now, this second.
I started teaching at Luna Yoga mid-way through my training, with Jennifer taking me into the studio on any given afternoon to train me on how to teach a group class, a private class, a private group class…we went through it all. And so within 6 months of my having left my old career, I found myself immersed in a new one. I was also writing and taking photographs for an online magazine, so I had literally accomplished my 3 goals with 6 months. Fortunate doesn’t even begin to describe it. For the first time in my life, I knew what I wanted to do professionally. I was ambitious. I wanted to be the best, and do my best. And through yoga, I realized that what I was experiencing wasn’t ambition – it was the reality of experiencing a return to my self. To where my passions and dreams originated. To the space that makes me who I am, in my purest and clearest version of myself. And so I keep at it to this day, no longer with the online magazine due to the yoga side of things taking on an enormity I had not anticipated, but writing and snapping away nonetheless.
My physical yoga practice still isn’t where I’d like it to be, as my hamstrings seem to be unable to loosen up and let me move into the postures unobstructed…but I also know that if it was all immediately attainable, I’d have nowhere to move towards, and the process of evolving is important to me. When I compare my practice from years ago to what it is today, I’m amazed at how far I’ve come, which gets me excited to see where I’ll be in the future. On the flipside, however, the meditation aspect of the yoga practice has always come naturally for me. I understand that it’s not about clearing your mind, but rather about focusing the mind on one thing, which for me is the breath. Of course I find my thoughts get the better of me, but it’s all about standing back from myself, taking the role of the observer to gauge my reactions when I realize I’ve lost my focus…then bringing it all back to the breath…and then bringing that approach to my physical asana practice…which then brings a meditative element to my teaching, where the rhythm, cadence, and tone of my voice allows me to feel almost as peaceful after teaching as I do after practicing. I stand back in awe of the entire process, and at my good fortune to be able to have left a career that starved my soul, to now find myself with my cup running over.
For anyone who is contemplating bringing yoga into their lives, I only have one thing to say – get ready to come back to who you are, who you always have been…before the defense mechanisms started piling up like armor around you…back to the being of light and truth that we all start out as. For those who are contemplating delving deeper into their practice and into their reality through a teacher training, my advice is to go take classes from all the teachers that offer them to find the one with whom you connect. The trainings are not for the faint of heart – they demand a commitment and a focus for sure, but the process of being trained, of being a clean slate, a student once again, is incredible. And while I’m all about the process and the journey, the feeling of accomplishment once the training is over is an entity unto itself. When we take on an endeavor like training, we create a space where we can come closer to our potential as beings of light, sources of truth and wisdom. Don’t let the internal dialog I referred to earlier convince you to opt out. The less we pay attention to the voice that tells us that we can’t, the closer we’ll get to our ideal selves. Yoga brings me closer to my ideal self every day…and for that, I’m grateful 🙂
Share your journey with us – we’d love to hear from you!