OVMA 2016 and the “Zen Zone”


Rolling through Southern Ontario, on the train to Toronto.  Enjoying the chance to relax and write as I travel to my final destination.  I’m heading up to Toronto for my annual veterinary conference.  It’s been a tradition for almost 19 years now and I look forward to it every time.

What’s different this year is the focus on wellness for veterinarians in their personal lives.  This has been an area of interest for the profession, especially of late.  The 2016 Ontario Veterinary Medical Association Conference is providing opportunities for mindfulness meditation at lunch time, along with morning and evening yoga sessions.  Merial Animal Health is sponsoring the event by creating a “Zen Zone” room where you can relax in a quiet space, giving away free mats to those who pre-registered for yoga, providing comfy couches for lounging and refreshment with lemon/cucumber-infused water.  How’s that for supporting wellness while we learn?  Awesome!

It’ll be the third year in which mindfulness meditation is offered at the conference and I’m grateful for the momentum that’s building.  There’s a theory stating it takes 100 monkeys to jump on board before the creation of a broader awareness leading to popularization of a new behaviour.  The first year, timing and advertising was limited and turnout was not as I hoped.  Last year, there were quite a few interested in the short, 15 minute sitting sessions.  This year, the meditation sessions will be a part of the “Zen Zone” event (thanks Patty!).  I encourage those who want to explore a short, breath-centered practice while sitting in a chair .  (If you’re at the OVMA, check out Twitter and use #ovma2016 for a daily reminder.)

For the first time, yoga is formally part of the conference program.  A colleague in veterinary industry is teaching the morning sessions, which are great to wake up the body and mind before a day of lectures.  I’m looking forward to attending her class.  The evening yoga is where I’m teaching a 30 minute Restorative practice, to help people wind down before going home.  As a type-A personality with an introvert tendency, I have learned how to go-go-go.  Eventually, there comes a point in time where I have to be quiet and reconnect to myself.  Restorative yoga allows me to practice my relaxation skills.  Everything gets better with repetition and relaxation can be learned.

A veterinarian’s work is about helping animals and their owners, with additional responsibilities if you specialize in large animals, academia, industry or public health.   Veterinarians are taught “how-to-do” these things with great skill and efficiency.  But along with that, we need to be taught how to rest our minds and bodies.  In this way, we sustain ourselves and the profession.

My Heart Belongs at Eastside Yoga

It’s the end of an era.

My yoga had its beginnings at Eastside Yoga Studio.  Dianne Bondy introduced me to a practice that connected mind and body, something that had eluded me until then.  I grew my practice through yoga teacher training, workshops with many great teachers, Yin And Restorative teacher training and personal study.  I’m officially an E-RYT 200.  It’s been quite the journey and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

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Mindfulness Meditation Retreat 2015

Nicole: You know how everyone’s always saying seize the moment? I don’t know, I’m kinda thinking it’s the other way around. You know, like the moment seizes us.

Mason: Yeah. Yeah, I know. It’s constant – -the moment. It’s just… It’s like it’s always right now, you know?

Nicole: Yeah.

~Boyhood, 2014

Like a kid waiting for Christmas, I looked forward to being “seized by the moment”.  I was going to see my fellow veterinarians at the Mindfulness Meditation Retreat in Chicago.  Through initial introductions via the Veterinary Information Network, our cyberspace meetings become corporeal.  The names on the computer screen would have faces and voices!  I’d come to share a deep connection with those who had attended every year.  It was this sense of community that drew more newcomers to explore what the weekend was all about.

For the last four years, Dr. Michele Gaspar has organized the retreats in Chicago.  Her vision is to have veterinarians find healthier ways to manage with the work we do.  Sharing our stories was a large part of the time spent together.  The stage was set early by the 24 people that attended.  Many felt free to express their thoughts in this non-judgemental space.  Listening and talking helped us realize how we’re not alone in our daily struggles, as we seek to provide the best care for our patients and their owners.

We needed a different tool for skillful living so we explored how mindfulness meditation could help.  There was a big focus on developing a sitting, breath-centered practice.  This would be a better way to deal with the thoughts (worries, anxiety, stress, depression) than the behaviours we’d been using and which were no longer working for us.  Sitting and watching our thoughts would teach us to pause before reacting, observe how our thoughts were being generated (sometimes randomly) by our overactive minds and that we could eventually learn how to co-exist with uncomfortable thoughts.  We sat several times each morning and afternoon.  My experience, of repeatedly being still and quiet, helped to peel away the layers of tension I didn’t want to acknowledge or maybe even knew existed.

Through yoga, we also developed our mind-body awareness.  After spending most of my life living in my head, I knew how it could lead to a disconnect from my body.  I had the opportunity to teach a few basic classes and a chair yoga sequence during the weekend.  I did it with the intention of feeling the sensations in the body, in order to link breath with movement.  It was encouraging to introduce yoga to those that were new to it, as well practice with colleagues who had already discovered its benefits.  I tried to let people understand the yoga poses were nothing more than a physical manifestation.  We were the ones bringing our stories and interpretations along with us, onto the mat.

We’d just gotten comfortable with being in a group.  We shared meals, took a walk and had a chance to rest.  There was gelato, while watching a movie.  Before we knew it, our moments together had passed.  We’d have to wait another year before we could reconnect.  Knowing these people are out there, doing the best they can, is heart-warming and will continue to encourage me everyday.

Dog Days of Summer Yoga Challenge

Can you do yoga, every day, for 21 days?

I’m a member of yogasteya.com and the members in the virtual community posed the question this summer.   I’ve heard it takes 21 days of repetition to make something a habit. Being accountable to others would help keep me honest.  It would also make me develop my home practice because, confession time here, I really didn’t have one.  I’m great at going to the studio or teaching.  Meditation is part of my morning routine.  I love reading about yoga philosophy.  But the physical work on the mat was an area that I needed to grow.  So I publicly declared my intent to participate.

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Because cupcakes make me happy


These Mexican Hot Chocolate cupcakes (recipe from “Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World”) were inspired by the taco resto where we ate dinner last night.  After a trio of shrimp tacos, with rice and homemade beans, we ordered  a dark chocolate mini cake with a little bit of chili heat in the chocolate sauce.  Heaven!  So, I had to go and make my own version.  As you can see, one of them didn’t last long enough to make the photo…

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Beer cap wisdom

“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.” ~Roald Dahl

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Forget the wine…pass the beer!

Craft breweries are so much fun these days.  My favs are from “Flying Monkeys“.  Their specialty beers are totally amazing.  “The Matador” has hints of Spanish oak and other spices.  The beers are even better because the caps hide a secret message.

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The rich chocolate stout flavours in “The Chocolate Manifesto” were part of my cupcake adventures on Valentine’s Day.  The Apricot Almond version didn’t have any beer in them but it’s good to have the Yin to balance the Yang.  :)

Beer and cupcakes rock!