Wednesday, 20 April 2011

The light within and without

The last few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating teachers and the impact they have on our yoga practice and lives. There are also super interesting symmetries between one of the meanings of guru (the weighty one) and the Anusara opening invocation.

What this is leading me to is that on some level everything is a teacher. Something I’ve known intellectually for a long time and links back to my previous post of simply acknowledging you don’t know and moving from there. However, when everything gets turned on its head and you feel buffeted by life, how do you find centre? I don’t have an answer other than moments on and off the mat where we see ourselves and can reflect are moments which lead us to a greater understanding of ourselves and our response to the world. Then maybe, just maybe, we can respond in the highest.

For me, teaching then completes the circle. Somehow simply practicing and taking on these great teachings is a great spiritual goal and you’re definitely going to see shifts and changes, positive (just to be clear) in your life if you practice in this way. There is something totally profound about putting yourself back in the dark, by adding a new dimension to your practice to illuminate it even more brightly. Then again, if you’re showing up on your mats, that’s amazing to me. Even if you’re not, it’s still pretty cool. Our teachers, in whatever form hold up a mirror for us, whatever you see is impermanent and changeable. I try to move from that knowledge.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

I heart Shakespeare

As I take time to process everything I learnt with Ross last week I find myself filled with such gratitude for these teachings and the profound way they can make shifts in an instant. There are a few themes coming through, which I’ll be savouring and exploring over the next few weeks, months, years, decades.

However, there’s a quote from Hamlet which keeps arising which keeps coming up for me. I’m a total Shakespeare geek, almost to the same extent as I’m a yoga geek, I just love the poetry and am constantly blown away by how relevant the words are today and how much the characters resonate. So the quote which keeps coming up goes:

Hamlet: ...There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet Act 1, scene 5, 159–167

Or, to put it another way: I don’t know. There is such freedom in these words. Somehow, when I started letting go of the assumption that I needed to know everything my capacity for learning took off. Coming at everything with a fresh pair of eyes, a new perspective opens all kinds of doors and makes everything possible. It’s very, very exciting.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Building up to flying!

My first Anusara teacher’s last class in the UK was a sad one. I didn’t really know what Anusara was at that point, although I’d been studying with this teacher for several months. I just liked her and her classes made me feel amazing, that’s all I needed right then. The thought of her going was quite terrifying, mainly because I never thought I’d find a teacher like her again. And to be fair only a few have come close but that’s a story for another blog.

During this class, I remember particularly what she said in her opening “We’re going to do arm balances because I want to leave you feeling really strong”. Strong was the exact opposite of how arm balances made me feel at that time. Like a lead weight would be more precise.

What I learnt from that lesson is that arm balances are built up, step by step. You can’t miss a step or you’ll come crashing down. You need to open up the four corners of the body (shoulders and hips), build strength and muscle. There’s usually a little trick involved too, something they don’t tell you in the yoga books, something teeny which rocks your world. Then there’s that final act of surrender, when you’ve put all the building blocks in place you just teeter into balance.

I remember Marc Holzman saying, there’s nothing quite an arm balance for opening you up. They’ll drive you crazy for months, then there’s the moment of exquisite bliss when you find your way into the pose and you know life’s never going to be the same again. That’s why I keep chipping away at them, because there’s nothing quite like that delicious moment between effort and surrender when everything comes together. That’s when you start to fly on and off your mat!

Monday, 11 April 2011

Moving in, finding my light

I struggle with forward bends, I'd much rather be out there in the world bending over backwards (quite literally) for other people. Yet, what I noticed when I was asked to consider what I've got from Hatha yoga in the last year was the massive impact on relationships in my life: with myself, with those around me, with people I come in contact with.

The thing is, when I feel like I'm connected to myself, that's when I'm empowered to go out into the world with confidence and zeal. That's when my inner landscape becomes my outer landscape and I can see the world in a new light, the light which shines within me. So that's why I've set an intention this week to practice forward bends. Because when we fold in on ourselves we reconnect to what is true within us, then we can't help but send it back out. John Friend often uses the analogy that when you light a candle with another candle the first candle doesn't diminish, everything just gets brighter.

So although going into forward bends might not be my favourite thing, they're hard, I need to do a lot of stuff: ground my thighs, power up my legs, inner and outer spiral, be honest with myself about maintaining the integrity of my spine AND BREARH! I know that when I go back into my happy place of backbends I'll be able to maintain the integrity of my own light.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Diving deep to swim in the currents of grace

I've recently come to the realisation that I'm tired of being terrified of new things. OK, well not terrified but sometimes nervous enough that I miss out on some of the experience. Looking back on my notes for my immersions and teacher trainings I find myself thinking: "where exactly was I?".

You only get to experience firsts once and I for one don't want to miss out on it. The way I see it is that if I can be mindful in a situation which has a few other emotions tied up with it, I can enjoy the moment and the more I rest in the moment the more and more I want to be there. It then becomes like a spiral (inner or outer, sorry, Anusara pun), can I see the patterns in life where get tossed and thrown around as simply that, yet still hold my centre and find fresh meaning. Then, if I can see these patterns can I see each an every moment as a gift, something to be seen through a fresh pair of playful eyes. Then I'll truly be swimming in the currents of grace.
So, I'm doing what I usually do. Put it on the mat. Challenging myself in new poses, poses I don't like, can't do. It's an experient and play all rolled into one.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Feeling Full

I love cooking. There's nothing better for me when I go home to get in my kitchen and create something delicious. Last week when I got home I had planned to make a biriyani, so I got out all the ingredients to make sure I had everything I needed. Hunting around I was out of raisins, so searched a bit more and found some apricots which I thought would do just as well. Looking at the ingredients I felt it looked a lacking on the veggie front so threw in some mushrooms. I then got to firing up my stove, pouring in the oil, smelling that delicious aroma as the onion and garlic fried. It was a labour of love but eventually we sat down to eat.
What I realised from this is that I really already had everything I needed. Whether it was recipe perfect or not really doesn't matter. What matters is that I trusted in my own intuition and from that trust I could pour my love into making the meal.

So what has that got to do with yoga? One of the attributes of the divine as defined by the tantric system is Purna. The knowledge that we are complete, full, whole. That we don't need to look outside ourselves, everything is within. That's an exciting feeling but it takes a lot of trust so when I come to my mat and want to embody this quality I go straight for backbends, which get me right out of my negative self doubt and into a full, expansive me.

Try it, it just might work!

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Rinsing & Soaking into spring

I love this time of year. The promise of newness, feeling naughty because you're going home when it's still light, the lightness of spirit as the rest of the world lightens. There's something about spring which lets me open up to new possibilities in a way I don't do so much during the rest of the year. I'm reminded of calling my mum a couple of years ago, I could tell she was flustered and there was a lot of noise. I said "what are you doing", the answer, "spring cleaning"...

I was transported back to my youth when every year my mum would turn the house upside down to dust away the cobwebs, throw away the junk and invite the new light in. What really made me worry is that this week I found myself on the floor of the kitchen, cupboards in disarray as I prepared myself for my spring cleanse.

So this has to be fodder for my classes this week. I wanted to welcome the spring and the answer came when I took a YogaGlo class with Marc Holzman this weekend, the theme was different and so inspiring but I loved the focus on twists. The idea of clearing and cleaning can't get any close to the mat than when we practice twists. They're so much fun! So that's what am doing this week, rinsing and soaking, clearing and decluttering so I can let the new light in and the beauty shine out.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Honouring the past, welcoming the future

In yoga we have these things called Samskaras. They're like grooves in the body that we default to when under stress, kinda like being stuck in a rut. The cool thing is that we can create new grooves, by seeing our current Samskaras and knowing that we can take steps to let go of what no longer serves and create new impressions.

The Tantra wouldn't say that Samskaras are bad or wrong. Infact, if they weren't there, we wouldn't know that we needed to create new impressions so they can serve as a catalyst rather than a barrier.

There are loads of times during the year to make these changes: new year, new moon, new week, new day, new hour, new second. Infact, as yogis, we're constantly managing changes to navigate all the storms and waves which move us about. Thing is, when we let go of the assumption that we can hold on to anything permanently, we find ourselves free to do anything.

Dr. Douglas Brookes says that we are so inherently free that we are only bound by what we choose to bind ourselves to. So when we come at the world with a sense of freedom and possibility, we change our default from contraction to expansion, then things look a whole lot different.

When I put this on my mat it’s all about hip openers. We hold so much of our emotions in our hips and by opening them with grace and awareness we start to recognize our holding patterns and begin to be able to see a move through them. It’s very cool.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Playing the edge

This week my beginner students asked me to review wild thing, a pose I introduced last week as a way to experience Organic Energy. It's a funky pose, which I've always found gives me a lot of freedom to express myself.

You need a few things to get to this place of expression: a melting heart, ability to move the head of your armbones back, power in your feet and legs and the willingness to go somewhat into the unknown.
To get a feeling you can build up a sequence with some shoulderopeners, funky downward facing dogs and backbends. All good, fun poses in their own right.

Where it really gets interesting though is building up a theme around this pose. My theme on this occasion was given to me through Chris Chavez, at a teacher's practice he led last week (THANK YOU CHRIS!) He was talking about "playing the edge", a phrase we use a lot in yoga. When you break it down, to it's consituent parts: play and edge (or boundary is a word I like to describe the heart quality) you get an idea of how it's possible to face a challenge with a sense of childlike enthusiasm and inhibition. We are contained within out body, yet this gives us a way to feel our experience even more profoundly.

So thinking about my own challenging situations of late, I find that by approaching these challenges with an enquiry mind rather than one of aversion I begin to find where the lesson is and what I'm meant to learn from any situation.

What we're really talking about here is what we refer to in Anusara Yoga as the "Optimal Blueprint". This is the place where you're aligned perfectly, where you'll find new openings and from there it just keeps on expanding.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Through commitment, celebration

This week, I've been considering how to express Organic Energy the fifth of Anusara Yoga's 5 Universal Principals of Alignment. If always feels to me like a rounding out, offering your highest back out to something greater.

Yet, there could be no Organic Energy without the other primary principals: Open To Grace and Muscular Energy.

I liken it to organising a big event, something which I do a fair amount of. At first the task seems so enormous, with so many disparate pieces, the only thing to do is: take a step back, take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Only then and always keeping the bigger picture in mind, can you begin to organise the pieces and keep refining and refining until finally you get to enjoy your day unfurl as a final expression of everything which went before.

This is why I like Anusara Yoga so much, well one of the myriad of reasons! You can apply the principals off the mat, directly into whatever situation you're in right now. We are a product of everything which came before and we get to celebrate that right in this moment.


In preparation for the workshop I'm assisting in on Saturday, I've been considering the concept of oneness. This is the aspect of tantric philosophy which posits that at our essence we are one, we breath the same air, we walk on the same earth, we are, inherently, the same. This is all well and good, yet for me it raises two questions:
Firstly, it's easy when we're enjoying a glass of wine with a great friend or getting comfy in the arms of a loved one. It gets more tricky when you've been trampled in rush hour / yelled at by the boss / ripped off. At these moments it's very difficult to see this as a perfect soul who happens that day to be late for their wife's birthday / under pressure by shareholders / in need of something.

Secondly, if we are all one, where does that leave me? The individual who has learnt, struggled and played to where to be who they are?

When I'm contracted by these sensations I try to remind myself, (ah remembrance, the subject of a future post) that as yogis we hold the eternal paradox: to see the world as a part of ourself we must go inside and find our Self. Theoretically intangible, this experience becomes tangible when we place our awareness within ourselves and understand that we are, as Mark Darcy would say to Bridget Jones, perfect, just as we are. And our true Self is our unique individuality.

Our world is a reflection of our inner consciousness, I know, I've been on all levels of that spectrum, it's up to us what we want that reflection to be.