The “Kind” Equation

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The other day, I read about a woman in Indianapolis who decided to call off her wedding…

The problem being that the ceremony was just a week away, and the lavish 170-guest dinner at The Ritz was already fully paid for — so she did something quite unique: She decided to make lemonade out of lemons and bused in people in need from four homeless shelters to replace her guests and enjoy the fancy dinner.

She greeted each one with a hug and a warm welcome.

Accessing and spreading the kindness in our hearts is not usually the default position we go to in adverse situations such as these, but it’s examples like this one that can give us pause and think, “Well, if she could be kind in that situation, why can’t people be kind within the innocuous protocol of everyday life?”

Instead of believing that there is an elusive “key to kindness,” perhaps we can all adopt a more proactive stance and manifest another truth: “Kindness IS the key.”

The most gratifying emails I receive regularly are those in which one of you takes the time to disclose that you are having a wonderful experience at the studio, followed by why: “Everyone is so kind.”

I smile every time. The predictable irony being that usually the email comes from someone who already exudes an innate kindness, and without realizing it, they are simply getting back a reflection of themselves.

It’s the circle of life, Simba.

There is often no mention of yoga in the email, but there need not be. If we are given a kind, safe landscape upon which to better ourselves, it doesn’t really matter if we are practicing yoga or learning needle-point. It’s a template for success.

Not sold on the kindness equation? Well, how about this: Try it…and watch what happens.

Your cancelled wedding may just turn out to be one-of-a-“kind.”

Namaste.

Paul McQuillan (Owner/Director, BeHot Yoga Toronto)

Author of #1 bestseller, “I Hate Yoga” (Morgan James Publishing, NYC, 2015)

THE CHURCH OF YOGA

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Are yoga studios the new churches of the future?

There’s no doubt that the sense of well-being one gets on a visceral level from either attending church or practicing yoga, could mean that the less rigid or controversial way to connect with one’s deep being might be on the non-denominational altar of asana.

However, I suggest that mixing the two is not the best idea.

In a chapter of his book, God Is Not Great, the late Christopher Hitchens—known for his intellectualism and religious irreverence—answers a hypothetical question: If he were alone in an unfamiliar city at night and a group of strangers began to approach him, would he feel safer or less safe knowing that these men had just come from a prayer meeting?

Hitchens answers, “Just to stay within the letter ‘B’, I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem and Baghdad. In each case, I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance.”

He gives detailed descriptions of the varied social and political tensions within these cities, which he personally attributes to religion. He has thus “not found it a prudent rule to seek help as the prayer meeting breaks up.”

It’s a sobering point.

It’s also best not to seek out the help of religion when it comes to a yoga practice.

Yoga and religion don’t mix. Except they do.

Some zealots will do their best to link their religious beliefs with their yoga practice—and then yours.

Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

Yoga is about freeing the body and mind, not institutionalizing them. I fear that religion is just too formal a construct to complement a yoga practice. Yoga is conducive to creating universal acceptance of all who live on this earth, not just a select million or two based on specified (sometimes dictated) beliefs.

I am not taking a stance against religion, let’s be clear. There are many who use their religion of choice as a personal beacon to guide them through life, and when they do so without the need to enlist others—all the while maintaining their individual integrity and honoring the religion that resonates for them—I have no doubt that it can be a useful tool for faith.

Many benefit from their religious choices, but some will argue that yoga takes its roots from religious principles and doctrines.

It doesn’t.

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There are many assertions regarding the origin of yoga, but despite a self-serving attempt in recent years by The American Hindu Foundation to lay its claim on yoga and give it a religious moniker, attaching religion to yoga has been seen as a futile endeavor.

Besides, even if a sensible jury found yoga guilty of mixing carelessly with religion, the decision can be overturned. By you.

It will not behoove you physically, mentally or spiritually to mix religion with yoga. Red bull and vodka is a safer mix. It’s like putting Mozart and Kenny G. in the same room. It’s just not advisable, necessary or productive. Only dissonance will ensue.

Yoga is a spiritual practice, not a religious one.

Believe what you believe, but in order to start or maintain a lucid, beneficial yoga practice, the complexities and inherent controversies surrounding religion could easily handicap the healing potentialities of a yoga practice.

The unfortunate reality is this: On the best of days, religion remains partially synonymous with war, violence, hate and intolerance in the world. It’s not the tainted backdrop we want to look at it when we practice yoga in front of a mirror.

Therefore, as part of our yoga exorcism—and our quest to expel all impurities from the word and infuse it with a raw simplicity—it’s important to ask religion if it will politely leave the room.

If you’re a religious person, there’s no need to feel offended. If you are, let’s hope we don’t run into each other on the street at the end of one of your prayer meetings.

Here is my prayer: That you understand that I am not attacking your religion, but merely suggesting that yoga and religion remain uncompromisingly autonomous; a distinction that will only serve you, your yoga practice and perhaps even your religion.

By Paul McQuillan

(a partial excerpt from “I Hate Yoga­—And Why You’ll Hate To Love It Too”

Morgan James Publishing, New York, 2015

Hot Yoga. Evolve or die.

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This is fun. ; )

Hot Yoga: Evolve or Die

I remember the first time I stepped into Paul McQuillian’s class at his Bikram Yoga studio in downtown Toronto. It was 2009 and I was dating his best friend. At that time I had a strong hot yoga practice and a zero tolerance for stillness, and that’s the way I liked it. I wanted to be told what to do and didn’t want time in between to think–I was the perfect Bikram student.

Bikram Choudhury, founder of the Bikram Yoga system, was doing something nobody had done before; he had successfully appropriated, branded and commercialized something that never belonged to him and sold it as his own. And people bought it.

Paul was (and still is) a tall drink of water. With piercing clear eyes, a beaming smile and a gentle yet commanding presence, he lights up every room he enters. I became instantly addicted and it wasn’t hard to commit myself to class 6 days a week. The sequence of 26 postures, done exactly the same way, with the same dialogue, in the same temperature, every single time… I didn’t have to think. I didn’t have to worry about what was coming next. Each day was about pushing myself further, getting that leg straighter, bending myself just a little deeper.

Eventually I broke up with the guy, moved away from Toronto and with it, away from the practice of hot yoga. I allowed myself to ease into that stillness and moved towards practices like Hatha, Vinyasa and Kundalini. Being so immersed in the yoga world, it was impossible to ignore the not-so-spiritual yoga scandals that were spreading like wildfire about Bikram and John Friend, the creator of Anusara Yoga. Both were being accused of inappropriate relations with female students, as well as experiencing publicized money drama. People immediately began to distance and separate themselves from the men behind the techniques they practiced. While Anusara seems to have all but disappeared, hot yoga (albeit branded ‘Bikram style’) is still going strong.

Once the namesake had been dethroned, what did that mean for all of the followers and teachers? What did that mean for Paul? I saw that he had written and published a book: I Hate Yoga: And Why You’ll Hate to Love it Too. He renamed his studio Be Hot Yoga and business is currently booming so much that he is about to add a second room where he will offer non-hot options and shorter classes. I caught up with him in Toronto to pick his brain about how hot yoga has managed to survive–and even thrive–despite the scandal.

We spoke about the challenge of finding authenticity in the business of spirituality in an urban world. My impression was that Toronto was always this giant, soulless city that loved a good brand. However, I realized it was the contrary as Paul told me it was actually the smaller boutique studios that were now thriving despite all the big yoga studios that had moved in to capitalize. “The whole ‘spiritual brand’ is built on word of mouth. People hear about your studio and they come and check it out,” he explains. In other words, integrity of personal experience is overtaking brand name marketing and recognition. After a retreat with a business mentor Paul was told survival advice: “Don’t go back and change everything; take it really slow because it will kill your business.”

Slowly he started to integrate changes that never would have been allowed under Bikram’s strict rules. Paul wanted to adapt the practice towards the needs and interests of his students, both current and future. “Modifying the Bikram method so you have 60, 75 and 90 minute classes, that’s what people want,” he says. His main demographic are now ages 25-34. “They look at a schedule and see 90 minutes and they’re daunted by that. Then they see 60 minutes and say ‘I can do anything for 60 minutes!’”

As he saw his attendance increase, he wondered what else he could change. “To me it was about evolving. What do people want? How can I get more people doing yoga? They want instant gratification, they have less attention span. The yoga market has had to evolve or die based on the clientele… like McDonalds–now they have to have salads.”

The yoga world is a product and so it becomes a question of legitimacy and authenticity. This can be solved by having great teachers who provide legitimacy by connecting with students and helping them in their journey. People want intimacy and connection.

At the end of the day it is Paul who is having the last laugh. Taking me back to the old studio, he showed me where the expansion was going to go and how he was planning to integrate other types of yoga and even meditation–slowly, of course.

I hardly think Bikram would approve… and that’s exactly why it’ll work.

Michelle Lipper (Poppy and Seed Magazine)

IF TRUMP WERE A YOGI…

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If Donald Trump were a yogi, instead of a mat, towel and water, he would arrive with a Red Bull, jowel and fodder.

He would demand that a “shock”(ra) wall be built around his mat and the mats of other yogis.

He would not practice without a “rug.”

He would belittle the teacher and bring his phone into the room.

He would ask that all yogis of non-white origin be disallowed to practice beside him so that he could avoid experiencing “minimum rage.” He would call this a fair trade, for his omnipotent presence.

He would pass gas. It would be taxing to others, but personally beneficial to him “on the (w)hole.”

He would not be able to see himself in the mirror, like, at ALL!

Some would see him as a comedy HIT. Others, as an energy kilLER.

His “posturing” would be brilliant, his postures incorrect and un-adjustable.

His form would be atrocious, his depth shallow, his benefits poor.

He would sweat bullets. Literally.

And then something miraculous would happen: Reason would ensue. Compassion would prevail. Humanity would beckon.

He would be given permission to fail and fail miserably. Then, euphoria would overcome judgment and healing would win the day.

Yes, Donald Trump would fall silent with humility and a joy would envelop us all with the realization that we, as a species, are one—and even his dark soul can be shown light and afforded forgiveness.

For this we pray (hard) and say, “Namaste.”

Paul McQuillan ~ Author of #1 Bestseller, “I Hate Yoga” (Morgan James Publishing, 2015, NYC)

God is a terrorist?

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Today, en route to Vancouver, I struck up a conversation with a man in the airport security line who couldn’t have been less than 85 yrs. old. He was extremely interesting and exuded a warm, Morgan-Freeman-in-Shawshank-Redemption kind of energy that is rare and immediately comforting. He radiated wisdom and kindness. I’ll go so far as to say that he emanated a kind of innocuous, yet tangible omnipotence. He was just that lovely of a man.

I’m not a religious person. I find the whole scene annoyingly oppressive and dogmatic, but it struck me that if there was a human embodiment of God, this gentleman could be Him. Maybe we’re given opportunities to meet versions of “God” in our everyday life and I was being afforded the occasion to bask in the God-like glow of this lovely old man and his refreshingly effervescent nature for a few minutes.

My favourite definition of “God” is both complex and simple: “God is who we are becoming.” If taken in this vein, maybe I was meeting a man who is so evolved and comfortable in his own skin that he had connected with his own God-like self, and I just happened to be lucky enough to be picked out to be a temporary pea in in his God-pod, present to witness someone in tune with something larger than himself.

But then things took an unpleasant turn:

Security thought God was a terrorist.

Two young security guards treated the God I now knew with a verbal curtness that reeked of disrespect, took him to the side and thoroughly patted him down from head-to-toe. He certainly did not provoke the actions; nonetheless, he endured the limitlessly rude behaviour—in the name of pseudo-authority—with compassion and resolve.

But I didn’t. And neither did the others behind me in the line. We started discussing the imposing event taking place before our eyes. Three of us bellowed out a commentary on the invasiveness of the endless search that had us feeling like we were watching our Grandfather undergo a colonoscopy.

Really? THIS guy? HE’S the terrorist? Grandpa God?

We’ve come to a place where we can’t even trust God to not blow up a plane, and I could go on at length about how incensed I have become in witnessing the proliferation of disrespect doled out daily from young people to the elderly, as was also evident here. But that’s another day.

Today I met my God du jour and for that I am grateful. I hope you get the chance to meet Him too, in whatever form. But when you do, be warned: He’s also a terrorist.

Sigh.

Paul McQuillan (Author of #1 Bestseller, “I Hate Yoga“, Morgan James Publishing NYC 2015)

WARNING! THERE ARE NO PICTURES IN THIS POST! GIVE IT A GO.

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I like reading good editorials and blogs, no matter the subject—relationships, fitness, yoga, self-help, legalizing marijuana.

They all give me a high.

But the increasing trend of including an image after every paragraph makes me feel like I’ve regressed into childhood. It’s as if the writer understands that the only way to keep my attention is to tell a story with pictures.

What’s even more alarming is that I seem to be one of few who actually find this mimicking contribution to the already prolific epidemic of self-imposed ADD troubling.

We’re catering to it at every turn, Instagram being the pioneer of the movement, of course.

And then there’s Snapchat. Not only are stories (to call them “stories” gives the medium a LOT of credit, as does using the word “medium”) being told with the use of pics or short videos, but you don’t get a chance to muse on what you’ve seen because it magically disappears in ten seconds.

Luckily, most of what we view on both of these catatonic-inducing social media sites has so little depth that it only makes sense for them to disappear…forever. It’s actually a relief.

I know, I know. I sound old school, confused and out of touch.

I’m all those things.

But I’m not writing this because I’m angry about not being “good” at Instagram or Snapchat. I take pride in that truth. I don’t want to be. I already have enough difficulty taking the time and focus to sit down and actually read a book. More distractions will not serve that issue.

And when pictures are suddenly infiltrating the credibility of a beautifully written commentary, I can’t help but feel patronized. All I hear in my head is the editor or writer saying, “Aw. You’re adorable. You’ve made it this far. Here’s a picture. Now keep going, champ. There’s only five more paragraphs, you idiot, but we’ve got four more colourful images to get you through this. We’re with you. Look! A puppy.”

What would occur if we didn’t take pictures or short videos of something we were doing? I’m truly beginning to feel like that simply means it never happened.

But what takes its place is unique and glorious: The irreplaceable joy of full, undocumented presence.

Just writing that made me take a big breath, because we’ve all felt that kind of lucidity, and I’m willing to guess that when you conjure up those memories, it’s not the picture or video you took of the moment that you remember.

No. It’s a feeling so visceral and potent that the thought of “posting” it anywhere, would almost feel like a betrayal of a secret whispered to you by something sacred: Your soul.

IT’S OKAY TO MOURN FOR FRANCE. REALLY.

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Why is everyone so upset about grief being shown for France? Did I miss the memo about France being a humanitarian red herring?

I get it, there’s tragedy everywhere, every day—not just in France. Most of us are quite aware of that fact. I don’t think the suffering in Beirut and Turkey escaped the radar of conscientious individuals.

But if you’re actually angry because it appears as though there’s a current monopoly on the outpouring of sadness for France and not other countries that you rightfully consider to be just as worthy of compassion and outrage, think this through a little.

Isn’t that like being upset because everyone knows about the epic sinking of the Titanic as opposed to the Edmund Fitzgerald?

Both were devastating in their own right, but to spew venom at people because they didn’t know about the latter is missing the point.

The issue here is awareness. Our awareness is more linear because of what we’re fed through the media, but it doesn’t mean we care less about the suffering happening elsewhere. If you’re a compassionate human being with a pulse, of course you care. You just may not be as aware of the anguish elsewhere because it’s not being fed to you 24/7 on CNN—which makes it a media issue or a ratings issue, not a humanitarian one.

And here’s where opportunity presents itself: The France atrocities can be used as a learning tool to direct our attention to a wider scope of similar mayhem taking place every day, all over the globe.

But you have to help.

This occasion for increased awareness can only be realized if it comes from the positive standpoint of educating people, not ridiculing them, because that’s essentially what some are doing: chastising people for not being aware of ALL the suffering in the world, which is—to say the least—a lofty goal.

Be a proactive force! While you join in the respectful mourning of France, use your worldly views to help paint the bigger picture for those of us who are not as globally aware. But use the brush of betterment on your canvas, not the sword of self-righteousness and judgement.

This will sound a little harsh, but let’s face it: People are sheep. Thinking for ourselves can be difficult work. Some of us want to be told what to mourn for and on what scale. On the whole, we’re not mean or stupid, just rather impressionable.

Naturally, we all have our cultural or, perhaps, religious affiliations that can dictate our degree of outrage surrounding any tragic situation that has terrorism as its moniker; but when we see calamity on any scale, we know enough to feel compassion and offer solace.

Don’t shut that down. Broaden it through awareness. Become part of the solution as opposed to pissing all over the problem.