Our tantric yoga philosophy says at our very essence we are joyful, free, complete, vibrant, and auspicious. We are consciousness and Self Awareness. Divine Consciousness, out of its own free will, chose to experience it self through the many, through us humans, our bodies, and minds, whose intricate layers conceal our true nature. And sometimes, as we go through life, we experience in moments our full potential and remember we are something greater, the truth of our being, and recognise our divine nature.
I want to share this story, of my recent experience of freedom:
Some of you know I quit playing the piano when I was 18 years old. I struggled with performance anxiety. My doctor at the time had prescribed some anti-anxiety medication, however I didn’t use it. I wanted to be able to succeed without a crutch. However, I was not successful, I found it was too painful to endure the same symptoms over and over again. I chose to quit performing and playing all together.
I didn’t really understand what was underneath my anxiety.
I am aware and know now that I had a high level of extraverted-ness. I could not play connected or immersed in the experience when I was in front of an audience. I was too distracted by what others would think. If I made a mistake I would somehow be a failure in the eyes of others, or not be good enough. My mind play was debilitating. I was in a self made prison. I created my own concrete mental blocks, and iron bars from which I could not escape. It was a painful existence.
Why do we make this prison? Create this suffering? Why are we so hard on ourselves? It is exhausting. I was so hard on my self. I was very critical. On the outside, all seemed fine to everyone around me because I kept it hidden well. Inside I was crushed. My protective mechanism was to quit the piano, and keep my self from further disappointment and pain. And move on to something else. However, all the unresolved insecurities stay with you and show up in other areas of your life.
Fast forward 20 years: After a LOT of self work. I revisited my piano dilemma. I loved to play, however I hated to perform in front of an audience. As part of my sadhana, I started to apply all I have learned from yoga, and my tool chest of practices to piano performance.
To put this into practice, I joined a piano performance master class at UofT (University of Toronto) in 2014. This class was a community outreach programme for mature students who wanted an opportunity to perform in a safe space. Whenever I attended class on a day where I had to perform, the same physiological patterns would re-emerge. I would get really anxious. My fingers would grow cold and my hands would tremble. My breath was laboured. I was gripping and contracting in my body. My heart would race. When it was my turn to perform, I was like a dear caught in the headlights. I was in a state of panic. This is the sympathetic nervous system (fight-flight response versus the rest and digest response of the parasympathetic nervous system) kicking into full gear. I could not recall the notes of how to start the piece of music that I had played over 1500 times.
The mental and physical symptoms of my past experience would clearly present themselves any time it was my turn to perform in class, just like they had 20 years earlier.
In yoga philosophy, ‘Samskara’ is a mental impression or deep groove that has been etched into your psych from a past experience. Each time you bring energy to that experience the groove gets deeper.
The Samskara could be from a traumatic experience as a child or from a past life. ‘Vasana’ is the emotional content of the Samskara. That would be fear. Fear of failure. Fear that you are not good enough. (Looking back I believed at the time “I would only be loved if” I was perfect.)
I have tried many healing practices and therapies over the years that have profoundly shifted my life: different paths of yoga, psychotherapy, breath work, inner child work, mindfulness, nutrition, EFT tapping, meditation, visualization, healing energy work, functional medicine, acupuncture, and mantra.
For me, yoga has been a powerful healing practice. Which is why I am so passionate about it and want to share its teachings. Yoga teaches us to be self-aware, and live in full awareness from our center with each moment. Yoga teaches us to be open and expand our limited views. Yoga encourages us to embrace all parts of ourselves – the shadow and the light. When we cut away pieces of ourselves, yoga encourages us to gather back all the pieces to face and embrace all parts of our selves.
Somehow my tools and techniques did not help me with this deeply etched Samskara. Or, maybe I was still missing a piece, or a helping hand to point me in the right direction.
In the music performance industry, many solo performers have stage fright and self medicate to deal with their fear of failure.
In the classical music realm Frederic Chopin hated to perform in a concert, and limited his playing to small salon recitals. Sergei Rachmaninoff, suffered a nervous breakdown from the critique of his Piano Concerto No.4, and shut down for 5 years. Beethoven secluded himself from the public, as he grew deaf, for fear of people finding out about his affliction. During this time, he composed some of his greatest pieces.
A few days before an important performance exam I had been working towards, an incredible thing happened… I was seated on the piano bench and about to perform a run through of my Beethoven Sonata, in front of my class. At that moment my state: My mental cement block wall was fully erect. I was trembling and expressed to the class my current state. This was the exchange with my coach Boyanna:
Annette: “I don’t know why I am so nervous today.” (My mind is racing for a solution.)
Boyanna: “Annette, what do you tell your students in a yoga class when they are anxious?
Annette: “I tell them to breath, ground, and center. But it’s not working for me right now.”
Boyanna: “I believe everyone needs a few minutes of quiet time every day. Close your eyes, and imagine someone you love’
(The first person that came to my mind was my daughter, Michelle. When I imagined her, I started to get even more anxious. I had been worried lately about her wellbeing, and immediately want to help her and protect her.)
Boyanna: ”Annette, imagine your father is here with you”
So, I go inside and I see my father, who had passed 3 years ago. This warm light surrounds me, and I feel like I am in his presence and embraced by his love.
In that moment, I was completely open to receive. It was a moment of grace. I received love. Everything I struggled with dissolved in that moment.
Everything I struggled with dissolved in that moment.
All my beliefs, unworthiness, fears, and mental blocks disappeared. I take a breath, more like a sigh. I open my eyes and start to play the first movement. I am no longer aware of who is in the room, and am fully connected to the music. I am in the moment, fully absorbed in the space, and can bend time. Everything I struggled with didn’t matter anymore. In that moment I was free.
Unknowingly, I had also drawn the audience into my space. I have been in an audience before and have experienced the music connecting me to the highest. You know those mind blowing moments of astonishing beauty?
What I often tell my students is to connect to something bigger then them selves. Bigger than their body and minds. Connect to their full potential. To that divine current, that weaves us all together. Where we are one. Sometimes we need each other to connect to that source. Remember Hanuman? (Hanuman needed his friend to remind him of his greatness, before he could take his leap of faith)
Who are you, and what are you channelling in your time of desperation and disconnection? For me, my father represented unconditional love, revealing to me my true nature. My father was the one who sat on the sofa in our living room listening to me practice the piano when I was growing up. He was patient, kind and loved me unconditionally. I was there when he transitioned and left his body. This was one of the most profound experiences of my life. A lesson in letting go – and trusting that all will be ok. Something we are all here to learn. He did not want to let go, and leave us. He held on, just as I do so often in my life, and so many people I know around me.
Do you know that saying “If you love someone set them free”? I believe that to be true. However, I think even more powerful is: If you love yourself, truly love all parts of you, you will set yourself free.
If you love yourself, you will set yourself free.
I really believe we are here to learn how to love and how to ultimately let go.
Connecting with your self, acceptance, truth, forgiveness, respect, compassion, honesty, and letting go are all parts of that love.
For me the connection to love in that moment was my father’s presence. On other occasions in my life it has been being completely immersed in nature, in music, or in love. For you, that symbol connection to love can perhaps be God, Jesus, a parent, a family member, a teacher, or a pet. What represents love to you in the purest form?
All I know from my life experience is the presence of love is a compelling force. This force dissolved all I had struggled with in one instantaneous moment. After what seemed like a lifetime of struggle, the samskara imprint of unworthiness, was filled.
Recently, I have had the pleasure of attending lectures of Carlos Pomeda, a philosophy scholar.
Carlos said there are two ways to change a Samskara:
- create opposite Samskara
- dissolve the Vasana with self-awareness
When you are living from your center, and are self-aware, you create less of your own Karma. You are not getting caught up. Karma is something that originates from within. It is not something the world is doing to us.
We often get caught in the emotional content of an experience, or a past memory, and our memory filters our perception. Karma shapes our response.
It is so important to hold our center. An internal point of attention, from which we are aware and can witness, and can understand that ‘we the subject’ perceive.
Carlos further says that in meditation, effort is important until no longer effective, then, we are dependant on grace. There is a necessary transition from self-effort to surrender. When we are living in the mind, we are not aware, living externally. Your experience depends on what level of extravert-ness you have in the moment.
What I learned from my experiences is accessible to everyone. However, everyone’s blocks are different depending on the level of extraverted-ness. This extraverted-ness forms our experiences and perception. When we live in the mind: we are not aware because we are living externally, we are creating karma, and we are reinforcing our samskaras, by reliving the emotional content that goes with them.
I had a lot of extraverted-ness where piano performance was concerned.
In other areas of my life, when learning something new, I had somehow been more skillful in applying my teachings more easefully. I noticed that I could apply my teachings to these new experiences like Kirtan, however the old patterns of piano performance were still rooted. There I needed an experience with Grace. It was my openness and receptivity in that moment that allowed me to receive. And, someone had to guide me to get there.
I am blessed and thankful for that moment of Grace. This allowed me to receive love and bathe in the light of love. I was courageous and diligent in my effort to do the self-work over the last 20 years. That work helped me be ready for that moment to receive Grace. Everything in our lives is a gateway to awakening – experiences, relationships, practices, and every moment we have an opportunity to experience Grace.
Over the years, forgiving myself, accepting myself, respecting myself, and being generally kinder to myself, helped me learn to love, let go, and return to freedom.
I am grateful for all the obstacles that helped me grow.
I am grateful for all the obstacles that helped me grow. My mother unknowingly contributed to some of my obstacles, yet she also introduced me to yoga and pointed me in the right direction. The rest was up to me. Someone from Ayurveda recently told me that as parents we give our children all of ‘our stuff’, even our bad stuff. But that is a good thing. Our children have to struggle and face difficulties otherwise they will never learn to grow, become aware, and truly see.
I am grateful to my father for showing me unconditional love and patience. My husband for being my Hanuman, and my daughter for teaching me to love, let go, and trust.
My family, friends, partners, teachers, and students, I have learned so much from all of you. I am overwhelmed with the humility, gratitude, and grace of this miraculous human adventure that I get to share with so many beautiful beings. I am honoured and happy to share with you my wisdom and life experiences. I invite you to join me in this amazing adventure and journey to your freedom.