Monthly Archives: May 2012

Celebrations

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We are just coming up to a 4-day weekend for the Diamond Jubilee, and the flags and bunting are going up everywhere.  It’s a big event, once-in-a-lifetime (I was quite young for the Silver Jubilee back in the 70s, and don’t remember a lot about it!).  On top of this, we will be hosting the Olympics this summer, and most of us are feeling at our most patriotic.  We are fostering our sense of belonging and security at our base chakra, at a national level.

It is so important to have something to celebrate in our lives.  Not necessarily, and certainly not only the big things, but all the little things as well.  Our own birthdays, those of our families and friends, Christmas, Easter, whatever festivals  are in your own tradition.  It can be all too easy to get bogged down in the more humdrum aspects of our daily lives, and to forget the wonder that such events can bring.  As adults, we may say we don’t care about our birthday, it’s  ‘just another year older’ – but this sort of thinking can certainly make us feel older.  Children would never say such a thing – and nobody would get the chance to forget their day!  Now, I’m not suggesting that we should go and tell the whole world when our birthday is coming up, but rather that we take the time to think what we would like to do on our birthday.  Even if we have to go to work, to think of some small – or enormous! – way to mark the day.  To see or talk to our closest family and friends, to visit a place we love or would like to see for the first time.  If we most love to cook and share good food,  to do just that.  To have some quiet time if that is what we would truly value.

And, even on our ‘ordinary days’, to reflect upon the things that have made them special, whatever that may be.  It could be some goal that we have achieved, a book we have read, some music we listened to, a yoga sequence we have practised, a meal that we ate, a walk by the sea, the people we have spent time with.  Let us not assume our happiness comes only from the ‘high days and holidays’, but that it comes from within us.  And the more we notice and pay attention to the ways in which we can foster those good feelings, the more we celebrate that which is good about our daily lives, the better we will feel.

One of my yoga teachers once remarked that she has a little holiday every day.  By which she meant that, whenever she really needed it, she practised some yoga or meditation during each day.  What a wonderful idea!  Not feeling a sense of duty about our practice, but using  it to lift our energy and our spirits.  Sometimes it can take only a few conscious breaths to alter our mood and our perception of our situation.  At other times, it may take some movement, whether flowing or energetic.  We may need some quiet time in meditation.  We may need to listen to some uplifting or calming music, or to get outside in the fresh air. It doesn’t necessarily need to take very long.  With Jin Shin Jyutsu, we may use the finger holds (mudras), to subtly identify and change our dominant emotions.  It doesn’t matter what works for you, it only matters that you do something to make every day that little bit special, to give you something to celebrate and be thankful for at the end of the day.

What do you do that makes your day flow more easily?

Moving slowly…

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Sometimes we just need to take life more slowly, and enjoy the moment we’re in. In a world where everything seems to be about not having time, we need to really take our time – at least occasionally.  In yoga, we vary our pace, moving dynamically at times, and at others we move slowly and carefully. We certainly can’t rush meditation – it just takes the time it takes.  An antidote to the rat-race. But how do we bring this quality into the rest of our lives?

Instead of driving somewhere that’s just around the corner, maybe we could walk, cycle or jog there.  It will take longer, but how much better it can make you feel!  Instead of microwaving a ready meal, or opening a jar of sauce, perhaps – now and then – we could cook the whole meal from scratch.  Instead of the car wash, could we find half an hour to wash the car ourselves, and burn off some calories too?!  I recently read an article by a gardener, advocating the use of hand tools.  More time-consuming, but really getting down to the ground, really seeing the garden at grass-roots level – literally.  More eco-friendly than weedkillers, that’s for sure.

When we rush through our lives, we build up more and more stress about how little time we have, about where we should have been 5 minutes ago, and we miss the joy inherent in the moment.

When we take our time to do things slowly, we can truly enhance our lives.  Recently, I prepared some semi-dried tomatoes for a special meal – two hours roasting in a low oven, with fresh herbs, to add to a wonderful Ottolenghi salad (my favourite cookbook of the moment!).  OK, you can buy sun-dried tomatoes in a jar, but these really were so much better, and the smell as they cooked filled my whole home, whetting my appetite for the meal ahead.  The task wasn’t difficult or arduous, but a total pleasure. I’ve also just started experimenting with making my own sourdough bread – making the starter and ‘feeding’ it every day.  Definitely a ‘slow-food’ procedure.  But again, not difficult, not particularly time-consuming, and working towards – hopefully! – a quality loaf in the end…..

So it’s not always just about the end result, but about the whole process.  Not rushing to the finish line, but enjoying the whole event.

What are the ways you slow down and take your time? Leave your comments below….

Keeping the waters flowing

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In my post ‘A feeling of belonging’, I wrote about the sense of security which we find when our base chakra, mooladhara, is strong and open.  When we feel secure and grounded, we find it easier to move and flow with the events and circumstances of our lives, and to deal with strong emotions a little more easily (they will always be a challenge!).  When we come to our second chakra, svadisthana, situated at the sacrum, we come to the element of water – as opposed to the solidity of the earth at our base.

Water should flow.  That’s what it does.  And at this very emotional centre, we can learn to flow like a clear river or stream, rather than stagnating like a muddy pool (yuk!).  We learn to allow our emotions to pass through us, to truly feel them, and then to let them go.  We learn to be flexible in our lives, and to be truly in the moment, adapting to where we actually are, rather than dwelling interminably on where we hoped to be.

Svadisthana is the chakra which will be rocked by grief and its less intense cousin, sadness.  When you are dealing with watery emotions, particularly when you feel blue without any idea why, you can be sure that swadistana may be needing some attention.  Equally, if you find it hard to cry and to show your emotions, you may be experiencing a block at this level.  This chakra, together with Vishuddhi chakra at the throat, is also associated with our creativity, with birth and renewal.  And if you have experienced grief  or depression, you may have noticed how these emotions really dull your creativity.  They are stultifying emotions, extinguishing the ability to create new possibilities for ourselves. If we think of our creative impulse as a spark, then the waters of an imbalanced second chakra may quench the spark before it really gets going.

If you are working with the chakras, it is always worth working with an experienced teacher, who can help you deal with difficult emotions as they arise.  Sometimes, there are current circumstances which elicit these feelings; at other times, they arise seemingly out of nowhere, or previous experiences may come back to the forefront of our minds.  But when we work on svadisthana, through yoga asanas, sequences, meditation or concentration (dharanam), we learn to calm the turbulence of our emotions, as if calming a rough sea.  In yoga, we may use the Moon sequence, Chandra Namaskara, to help balance this centre, visualising the moon shining serenely over still, calm waters.  We may work with forward bends, such as Paschimottasana or Padahastasana, which powerfully affect the lower spine. In Dru yoga, we always precede intensive postures which will activate the lower chakras with heart-opening moves, so that any emotions released at the lower centres can be transformed at the heart.  After a forward bend, we will stretch upwards, extending the spine and bringing the energy up through the spine to the higher centres.  We balance our practice not just on a physical level, but also on an emotional and energetic level, simply by pairing our forward and backward bends.

 

Sculpting with yoga

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Once I was teaching and there were people arriving for a meeting in another room.  As they arrived, I was teaching a relaxation at the end of my first class.  When they left a couple of hours later, I was teaching relaxation again, at the end of my next class. Two men were heard commenting that ‘it’s all about lying down in there!’  Well, that was all they had seen, but of course there had been a lot more to it than that!  Another time, I heard an elderly lady explaining to her friend that yoga was about learning to go to sleep!

People do have preconceived ideas about what yoga IS, even if they have never attended a class.  They may be interested, or not interested,  depending on what  they believe it IS.  There are many different reasons why people take up yoga – it may be to promote fitness or flexibility; it may be to aid in training for, or recovery from, another sport.  It may be to help improve posture, and to relieve aches and pains. Others may come to yoga as an aid to relaxation, to relieve their stress.  All excellent reasons for taking up yoga.

Increasingly, though, people are taking up yoga to improve their body image, as the press is rife with reports of various celebrities using their yoga practice  to tone up and slim down.  Another great reason to take up yoga.  The many forms of yoga vary enormously, and some will veer towards the physically arduous, whilst other styles are softer and more flowing.

When we practise asanas, whether holding the posture or flowing in and out in a sequence, our muscles gradually stretch, strengthen and gain definition.  It’s like a sculptor chipping away at a block of stone – the sculpture slowly emerges out of the mass of rock.  When we work our muscles, they will improve in their appearance as well as in their function.  Even if we can’t at first feel or see the difference, rest assured that just beneath the surface, the changes are on their way.

But the benefits of yoga are so much bigger than this,  even if it’s toning and body sculpting that you’re after.  The body becomes stronger, more toned, more flexible yes – but with yoga you can’t separate the physical benefits from the mental, emotional and spiritual effects.  This is true to some extent of any exercise – I know that running, swimming, dancing, team sports and so on can have an exhilarating, stress-busting effect.  In fact, just getting moving can be key to  our mental as well as our physical health.  However, with yoga we also learn to focus on the breath, to live in the moment,  to meditate and relax.  Yoga sculpts not just the body,  but also the mind.  When we practise pranayama, chanting or meditation, we start to cut through the clutter of the mind, to achieve a greater clarity in our thoughts, and to find the peace that is so often hidden by the endless chatter, the running commentary of our mind.

And we could go so far as to argue that this is what yoga IS – that yoga IS this growing ability to control and calm our thought patterns.  Patanjali does just this, in the first sutra, where he says that :

‘To block the patterns of consciousness is yoga’

~’Four Chapters on Freedom’ (1976) by Swami Satyananda Saraswati

It’s not easy, and there will be times when our mind spins off in all directions – remembering and re-running scenarios in our mind, getting ahead of ourselves with future imaginings, worrying about things out of all proportion.  It’s like a broken record, going on and on and on.  But with practice, it gets easier, just as the physical asanas become easier too.  If we are kind to ourselves when it all goes wrong, those times when we are not present and are swamped in our imaginings, we will gently bring ourselves back to a state of presence, of noticing where we are right now.

Beautiful blogger award

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I am so honoured to have been nominated for this award by Paul at Resting in Awareness – thank you so much!  Do follow the link and check out his blog.  Receiving this nomination has also helped me to discover other wonderful blogs, as well as continuing to follow some which I found when I first joined WordPress.

By accepting this award, I am asked to nominate a further 6 blogs, so here goes, a selection of my favourite ‘beautiful blogs’:

400 days til 40

Serene One

Yoga – on and off the mat

dodging commas

The Yogic Housewife

Amanda Green YOGA

Clear communication

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One of the most important things about being fully present in each moment is that we are able to be fresh and honest in our relationships with others.  Instead of bringing the burden of our millions of previous interactions, some of which will have been distressing, with us into each situation, we are able to approach this current moment and accept it for what it is.  If we are talking to someone we know well, someone with whom we have had many other interactions, we can still approach this moment free from all the emotional intensity of those past encounters.  So, this person may have said or done things which upset us in the past,  but are we able to move on from this and see this moment as a chance to start anew?

If we are totally honest with ourselves, I doubt there is anyone out there who has never said or done something which upset someone else, even if it was unintentional.  There is so much opportunity for misunderstanding, for misjudging someone else’s motivation;  so much chance of getting it wrong and holding a grudge when, seen through different eyes, there really is no need.  If we try, at every opportunity, to see things from another point of view, we can learn to not hold on so tightly to our hurts and disappointments – to let go of all the baggage.  Because when we hold on so tightly, we are unable to live in the moment, and it is ourselves we hurt the most.  We deny ourselves the chance to welcome every fresh encounter, to engage in conversation without restriction, without constraint.  We have so much hurt inside that we judge everything that is said through some kind of filter, one which is expecting criticism, sarcasm or pain.

By contrast, if we learn to process and deal with hurtful encounters as they occur, perhaps at the end of the day, or whenever we have some quiet time, then we can minimise this reactive way of thinking.  We can live and communicate more clearly, free from emotions from some other time, some other place.  I think of  the hurtful emotions which we harbour inside as clogging and muddying our being, making it so hard to see each moment with clarity and freshness. When we engage in reflection, in meditation and in practices which promote our inner sense of peace, then we can clean away all this murkiness and live fully in each moment as it arises – without judging.  Specific mudras and sequences of movements can help to release our negative experiences and emotions, and keep our chakras clear so that we can respond truthfully and peacefully to the challenges in our lives.  And if tricky feelings do come up, and we feel that our communication may become hurtful and unkind, perhaps out of all proportion to present circumstances, we can take a few moments to watch our breath, to calm ourselves down, and hopefully respond more appropriately.  The more we manage to keep our interactions present, clear and kind, the more we keep our throat chakra clear, and the easier it becomes to keep the channels of communication open, even in our most challenging relationships.

It doesn’t have to be difficult!

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Sometimes we set such high standards for ourselves.  We want to be the best, to achieve great things, in an impossibly short space of time.  Whilst it can be good to aim high, we need to practice patience and acceptance of where we are now.

So if we start something new, let’s try not to think we can perfect it straight away.  If we take up a new activity – a sport, say – we will usually improve slowly, remembering that we are meant to be enjoying the process, not just the end result.  If we have never run before, we won’t be running marathons in the first few weeks or months, and some of us never will. If we take up tennis, we hopefully will have a lot of fun, but most of us won’t end up as world-class athletes.

The same thing applies when you start yoga.  Sometimes people have said to me that they would not be able to ‘do’ yoga, as they are inflexible, or they can’t relax.  They feel that if they can’t yet relax or touch the floor, then there is no point  in attending a class.  Of course, yoga is partly about flexibility and relaxation, but these are not requirements for starting a class. They are more something to work towards, while we notice the small improvements and are kind to ourselves as we slowly move towards the things that seem out of reach.  What is more important than where we start is our enthusiasm and our desire to learn.  If we put off starting yoga until we are more flexible, or until we are more relaxed, we  may never start.

Nobody would suggest that you could not attend university if you did not already have a degree, or that you could not write a book unless you already had a book deal.  Once you have those things, you have proof that you can study or write  a book, but if you waited for that proof, you would never start.  So sometimes we just have to act on our own desire to change, our own belief that we can achieve our dreams.  Patanjali uses the word samvega, meaning the urge, the desire to achieve enlightenment, and suggests that it is this, rather than the difficulty of the practice we assume to get there, which is the most important determinant of success (Pada 1, Sutra 21 -22; Saraswati’s ‘Four Chapters on Freedom’).  So we needn’t wait until we can achieve a complicated asana or meditation.  We can start with something easy and comfortable, and the end result will be the same if we truly apply ourselves.  In Jin Shin Jyutsu, one of the attitudes is that of ‘trying too hard’, when everything seems too much of an effort.  We all have those times in life, where we need to  learn to slow down, take it easy and let go with our breath.  Yoga and meditation is the means by which we learn to accept where we are right now.  It should not be another source of stress, another area of our lives in which we push ourselves to achieve too quickly.  We relax and enjoy the process – each sequence, each asana, each breath.