Friday, October 30, 2009


Flo told a joke that made me giggle the other day. In fact she won a yoga mat for telling this joke.

Why couldn't the yogi vaccum his carpet?
Because he lost all his attachments!

It brings up visions of a little Indian man sitting in lotus smiling serenely whilst surrounded by pieces of broken vacuum cleaner!

Joking aside, letting go of attachment is a strange thing. What does it even mean? I guess it's something different to everybody. To me attachments are more emotional than physical. Yes, I have physical attachment in terms of non-necessary items such as a TV, PS3, my beloved laptop (although I'd argue that last was necessary!!), but I'm not so emotionally attached to them as to be unhealthy I don't think. I just like having them. No, to me emotional attachment to people places and objects of apparently no value are far more difficult to get rid of.

I have a friend who has a broken tambourine. You can't play it, it's not even pretty to look at, but she cannot give it up. It reminds her of a time past, a time of joy. Some would say we shouldn't need to hold onto that physical object to remember the time of joy. Others would go further and say that we should only live in the right now and therefore we do not need to remember past joys but instead focus on the present joy within. As for me, well my friend knows her relationship with her tambourine is bizarre and she works hard towards present joy. Maybe being aware of our attachments and treating them with mindfulness is all we need.

I have been working through a particular attachment myself recently - an attachment to my chiropractor. My old chiropractor Zane changed my life. For any new readers I have a rather rare form of congenital upper thoracic scoliosis which for many reasons was not diagnosed until adulthood. Yoga does it wonders, Zane worked miracles. When I moved to Cambridge I had to leave Zane behind. I have recently begun to see another wonderful chiropractor here called Jasper. He is very good, very understanding. But he's not Zane.

I have to let go of that attachment though if I want to move forward fully into this new phase of my life. I have to appreciate Zane for what he was and where he took me. And now I have to step forward on my own.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Pratyahara for 2009

Pratyahara is one of Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga. The idea of sense withdrawal, looking inwards. We spend so much time looking out, filling our senses but without some inward direction are we just projecting our thoughts and emotions onto the outside world unnecessarily?

Human beings have a definite tendency to look out on the world as the source of their unhappiness, their dis-ease, their discontent. We spend time searching outside ourselves for contentment. If only I had a better job/more money/the perfect partner then I would be happy. And then we get those things and realise still, something is missing. Looking for happiness in external things is akin to “planting an apple seed and hoping to see a banana tree grow”1.

In yoga we stand all this on its head. If we believe all suffering is about perspective and it therefore originates in the mind then it is the mind that needs to be changed. And to do this we need to bring the awareness inwards. Pratyahara.

Sensory withdrawal is not easy and I don’t want to make this post any longer than is necessary. It involves reigning in ego and judgement. It involves letting go of what the ego tells us is “bad” and “good”. It is about realising that how we see things is only our perspective and not truth. And I learned a very important lesson in this on a personal level recently.

How do we approach Pratyahara in our modern world, surrounded as we are by sensory stimulus? One way that has been springing to my mind recently is occasional technological fasting. A weekend perhaps without computer, phone, iPod. I think a huge amount of insight and creativity can come up out of that. There is nothing wrong per se in sensory experience. I love music, the internet, watching Australian soap operas (well I’m only human!), but I also want to be sure I make time to not be surrounded by these things. To work out who I am.

Some people have said to me that Pratyahara is like closing a door. Shutting out the world around me. Ignoring, or even ignorance. But I see it more like a door opening. I feel if I take the time to withdraw from the things that cause my mind to give me pain and examine the root of that pain I am able to cope with the world around me, or my perception of the world around me with heightened insight and hopefully (eventually) a little more patience and mindfulness.

1 from Darren Main's "Yoga and the Path of the Urban Mystic"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Trying too hard

This post was inspired by the lovely Nadine Fawell.

I have been for many years a great believer in The Middle Way. Balance. In terms of yoga practice, to feel as if you are working on all levels but not to feel as though there is any strain. This is my own version of Ch2v46 of Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras, about finding steadiness and softness at the same time I guess.

In terms of life, I'm not a fan of extremes or fanaticism, I always find that getting too extreme about a belief can lead you all the way out the other side. I try to live a good life, a kind life. But at the same time I'm only human. I try to eat a vegan diet but when I wanted an egg salad sandwich yesterday I had one. I believe in women's rights, but not to the point where we begin deny men rights.

But sometimes when it comes to my own emotions I find balance very hard to maintain. I beat myself up over the tiniest thing. I obsess over constructive criticism. I will try so hard to be kind that I let people walk all over me.

I constantly need to remind myself about balance. Just as I constantly need to remind myself that all that really matters is right now. This moment.

And all of this raises the question - do we try to hard to be "good yogis" whatever that means? Do we put too much pressure on ourselves to reach some sort of unacheivable perfection? Is our pursuit of happiness in fact making us unhappy?

Sometimes I have to remind myself that it is OK to break the rules sometimes. After all, I set the damn rules to begin with!

Friday, October 23, 2009

A Healing Meditation for Women from Louise Hay

This meditation has struck a chord with me over recent days so I thought I would share it.

"I am willing to see the magnificence of me. I now choose to eliminate from my mind and life every negative, destructive, fearful idea and thought that would keep me from being the magnificent woman that I am meant to be. I now stand up on my own two feet and support myself and think for myself. I give myself what I need. It is safe for me to grow. The more I fulfill myself, the more people love me. I join the ranks of women healing other women.

I am a blessing to the planet. My future is bright and beautiful!"

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On the Yoga Sutras (well the first three verses anyway!)

On a yoga day yesterday with Helena del Pino we talked about Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, which reminded me of that "OMG Eureka" moment when I first studied these and realised that it was all right there in those first three verses. Everything. The whole point of yoga.

atha yoganusasanam
yogah citta vrtti nirodhah
tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam

OK so I'm going to try and translate that as best I can. :) We need to commit to our practice and to learning from a teacher (even when we are teachers ourselves). We need to restrain the movements of the mind to allow the mind to be clear and calm. Then we will be able to see ourselves as we really are.

Amazingly simple and pretty awesome huh? Yet so hard. So hard! :)

To even begin to achieve this we need discipline and routine. We need to start to become self aware - we can only change if we are aware of what needs to be changed. We need to surrender - be aware that we just cannot control EVERYTHING.

We need to look after our bodies and our minds together. Sometimes we need to turn all the external stimuli off completely and listen to our bodies and our minds because they contain the real information that is important to our lives. But there is always so much external stimuli. Even as I type this I can hear the hum of my laptop. The sound of my neighbours' (extremely loud) TV. We are constantly bombarded by news feeds, and twitter links and blogs (and yes I see the irony) and music and muzak and advertising and ..... oh the list is endless. This very typically western situation is why Krishnamacharya believed that the only real way to meditate in the West was by using Vedic chanting (it's extremely hard to get distracted when you're trying to pronounce Sanskrit correctly).

Sometimes I love technology. But most times it drives me wild with the constant bombardment of things I don't necessarily want to be bombarded with. It is why over the last few months I have been trying my hardest to cut many forms of reporting and media from my life.

It's hard but I want to find the right balance.

Monday, October 12, 2009

On the role of a yoga teacher

The interwebz have been full of thoughts and answers to this question and it's something I've been mulling over for a while. I thought I'd add my two pennies for what it's worth. This is purely how *I* feel as a yoga teacher and bears no judgement whatsoever on teachers who think differently! :)

I think teachers, of any discipline, are enablers. We enable our students to reach their full potential. We encourage them to keep working, to keep improving. Sometimes our students surpass us. My mother was an English teacher for many many years and got many of her students into Oxbridge - a feat she never managed herself. Sometimes we just help our students move on to the next level.

As a yoga teacher therefore it is not imperitive that we can perform every asana we teach "perfectly" (whatever that means). In fact, in my experience, I have found that my own limitations give my students a deeper insight into their own practice. "Look at me," I say, "I can't do some of these asanas very well. Some of them I may never do in this lifetime, but I keep trying because yoga is a journey, a work in progress". I've always found this attitude makes my students realise what they are capable of, because they can see I am only human too.

Because to me what we as western yoga teachers are not is great leaders, gurus, spiritual teachers. I don't ever want to be seen that way. It makes me uncomfortable when students refer to me as their guru, or even their mentor. I am just an ordinary woman with an ordinary job who teaches some yoga because it is my greatest love. I am just helping you a little along your road in yoga. Most of the work comes from you, from deep inside. Don't become too attached to a teacher or a particular class in a particular place because this detracts from the root of yoga. That part of yoga that you carry around with you anywhere. That ability to practice, wherever you are, whenever you need to.

I am not denying there are some teachers who are able to lead the way, who are able to give deep insight into the spirit and philosophy of yoga. But if you are just an ordinary person who enjoys coming to a weekly yoga class to stretch and relax and meet people and ease your bad back then you really are the same as me. Eventually you will probably strive for more, you will look for further reading, you will self study, you will find yourself being kinder, calmer, less demanding. You may even train to teach yourself. But at the end of the day we are all the same, we are all on the yoga road. We are all in it together.

Namaste :)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Opening out

I went to a Pilates class last night run by my friend Katrina, who is also a yoga teacher (so honestly it's pretty far removed from the Pilates if you are a sort of Body Control Pilates type - but it's exactly the sort of Pilates I like - we use Ujjayi breath - very un-Pilates!!). I find I have to go to Pilates every couple of weeks for so to just check in with my alignment again. Alignment and physiology are so important to my yoga practice.

Katrina was talking about the changing of the seasons - I know she finds this time of year as depressing as I do. She said we all have a tendency to close in on ourselves, to want to hug ourselves - whether that be actually or metaphorically. So to counteract this we did an "opening out" practice. Lots of chest/shoulder/hip openers. Lots of grounding. Lots of strength.

And it felt gooooood!! :)

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Changing of the Seasons

The first signs of winter have begun to show themselves here in the UK. It's still only October but the mornings and evenings are darker, the leaves are turning and there is a hint of unmistakable chill in the air. Not to mention the long grey featureless days of nothingness which are so typical of East Anglia from about October to March every year.

I won't lie to you, I find the winter months extraordinarily difficult. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and without my lamp that simulates sunrise I honestly don't think I could even get out of bed in the mornings. It can be truly beautiful in England at this time of year but I always approach autumn with a feeling of dread knowing that the days will get shorter, colder, drearier. It would help of course if we had had any semblance of summer in this country over the last few years but....

To counteract the onslaught (and for me it truly is an onslaught) of winter, I allow my yoga practice to change, to slow down, to become more introspective. I focus on poses that ground me, that keep me in the here and now and that warm me. Lots of Ujjayi breath, lots of standing and balance. It helps, it is as close to hibernation as I can get. :)

My yoga changes with the seasons, with my body, with my mood. And thank goodness it does because until I can afford to retire to the Gold Coast it is all I have!