Monthly Archives: October 2012

Nurturing ourselves

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It is so important to look after ourselves.  Many of us are ‘givers’ and  ‘carers’ rather than ‘takers’ from life.  We put ourselves so far down the list we may not get around to our own needs at all.  We may be looking after our families, our partners, our parents, our friends, and somewhere we can get lost in the middle of all this.

I have recently been reminded of just how much I take for granted, and put off for another day.  Becoming aware of the need to stretch,  to move, to ease my aches and pains, I will sometimes just soldier on with the demands of the day, putting off what I need to do until later – or maybe tomorrow; sometimes  even until next week.  By the time that need is calling even louder – perhaps with a muscle that just needed a little attention and is now in spasm, or with a migraine that I could have avoided had I listened to the earlier need for rest – it really is time to pay attention.

Going through a period of ill-health can be so enlightening.  It can remind us of how important it is to take care of, and nurture ourselves.  Yes, others may be calling us more loudly, but we are equally important.  It’s not selfishness.  After all, you getting sick is in no-one’s best interests.  I have been reminded in recent months of the very nurturing quality of the work I do, but which I hadn’t been making enough use of for myself.  Having all the tools at my disposal, but not always the time, I have  now been forced to make the time, to take time out for me.  I have been reminded again just how amazing the Dru yoga sequences can be for shifting my energy, for making me feel better and more myself – especially when done so much more regularly.  I have sought out reflexology treatments for myself with other therapists, and I have been giving myself time to apply Jin Shin Jyutsu treatments (almost) every day.  I have made time for daily meditation by getting up earlier, and am practising more pranayama than at any time since becoming a mother.  And I honestly don’t think it’s only me that has noticed the difference.  I am calmer, more focused, much happier than I was before.  And that has got to be better for everyone!

I’d love to hear how you make time for yourself, and what makes you feel  better.  Leave your comments below!

The symbol of the lotus

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lotus-587335_1280Back in the summer, I visited Kew Gardens for the first time.  One of the -very many- fascinating things I learned there was that the lotus flower, although in appearance quite similar to the water lily (which is a much more common sight here in England!), is in fact closely related to the plane tree, which grows to up to 50 metres high!

An aquatic perennial with large showy flowers, the sacred lotus has long been considered a close relative of water lilies. However, lotus flowers differ markedly from those of water lilies, most notably through the obconical (ice-cream cone-shaped) receptacle in the centre, into which numerous free carpels are sunken. Recent molecular research has shown that the closest living relatives of the sacred lotus are the plane trees (Platanus spp., Platanaceae) and members of the protea family (Proteaceae). Their isolated phylogenetic position indicates that both Nelumboand Platanus may be living fossils (the only survivors of an ancient and formerly much more diverse group).

                  ~  http://www.kew.org/plants-fungi/Nelumbo-nucifera.htm

The lotus flower is held as a sacred symbol by yogis, as well as by  Buddhists and Hindus.  Its rhizomes grow from the mud at the bottom of a lake and rise up above the surface of the water, so that its stalks may be as much as 1 or 2 metres tall.  In yoga, each chakra is symbolized by a lotus flower, of different colours and with different numbers of petals for each chakra.  For Sahasrara, the crown chakra, the lotus is said to have thousand petals, although this may also be interpreted as meaning an infinite number (Swami Satyananda Saraswati, ‘Kundalini Tantra’ (1984), p 189). 

The symbol of the lotus flower is highly relevant to those of us working through our chakras.  Just as the seed germinates in the mud at the bottom of the lake, we begin in the dark, and in the earth of our base chakra (Mooladhara).  We then strive to ascend through the different chakras, through our energy system, developing and growing along the way, just as the stalk of the lotus ascends through the water, until we reach the air above the water, coming into the light of the sun, and into our true potential in the higher energy centres.  The element of the air is found at the heart centre, Anahata, and this is where we first start to really change as a result of our yoga and meditation practice.  Anahata is the centre of our energy system, and acts as a transitional point between the lower chakras (Mooladhara, Swadisthana and Manipura) and the higher chakras (Vishuddhi, Ajna, Bindu and Sahasrara).  At the heart we find it easier to truly commit to our yoga practice, and as Swami Radhananda says,
‘If you really set your heart on your higher goal in life, your commitment can lift you out of the merry-go-round of the first three Cakras’ 
Swami Radhananda (2010) ‘Living the Practice’
And so we reach up to the light through our yoga practice, just as the lotus flower reaches up to the surface of the water, and finally blooms in all its beauty.  If we persevere and commit to our practice, it will lift us up to our true potential. 

 

Finding balance

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Some yoga students find balance postures easy.  But many, many more find them difficult.  And even once we master a particular asana, on some days they may still prove more challenging than others.

I think balance is like this.  We can be drifting along, happily centred and relaxed with the way things are in our lives, and then something happens, maybe even something quite small, which rocks us and knocks us off balance.  A little irritation, a cross word, an unexpected traffic jam, anything which interrupts the natural flow of our day can throw us off course and make us lose our balance.  Imagine that you are walking along a nice, smooth path, which you’ve walked many times before, and then – bam! – you land on the ground.  You’d never noticed that patch of uneven ground before.

Maybe we weren’t ‘in the moment’.  Perhaps we were concerned with other things than the here and now.  Maybe that’s what tripped us up.

We can be ‘tripped up’ in our yoga practice, too.  We can think yes, the tree is a cinch, I really get it!  And then comes the day when it’s just too much to concentrate, to focus, and it’s not so easy.  The tree is wobbly, it’s a real effort.  It’s harder to stay grounded through the foot while reaching up with the arms than it should be, than it normally is.

Maybe what we tried to do was to set a moment in stone, instead of noticing the flow of our life.  ‘I can do this posture, it’s easy, now I will be able to do it forever’.  And then we can’t!  Instead of getting irritated with ourselves, and getting even further from our centre, we could remember that everything is changing, and practice acceptance of where we are today, in this moment, in this class, right now.  Not last week, certainly not last month or last year.  And when we do master that posture again, to try to relax into it, not to grasp after that success, not to cast it in stone, but to live in this moment, the here and now.

Sometimes, we can take our practice away from our normal environment.  Practicing in nature, maybe on the grass or on the beach, can add in the challenge of uneven ground.  Then we need to step up our mindfulness, and ease up on the need for perfection.  We can feel the movement in our body as we try to find equilibrium, without leaning into any wobbles and making them worse.  In our lives, when we encounter those irritations that disturb our peace of mind, we can learn to stay in our centre, rather than lean into the wobbles of our mind, and worsen things by our unhelpful reactions. We take the lesson from our yoga on the mat, and use them in our lives when we are off the mat.

Entering the heart space

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You may have heard of the ‘heart space’.  If you’re lucky, you may have encountered your own heart space during meditation.  It’s that space in the chest, around the heart chakra, anahata, which feels supremely still and peaceful, and which – on a good day – we may find in our meditation practice.

But it’s not really just in the chest.  There is such a sense of spaciousness that it cannot be contained within our physical body.  It is a space which transcends the physical heart, in which we feel boundless joy, peace, equanimity, love and compassion.  It is, like all our experiences of meditation, hard to describe fully, as it is beyond mere words.  But my own experiences of the heart chakra in meditation, and my reflection upon these experiences, has led me to some interesting realisations and insights into the Safety Energy Locks (SELs) located around the heart and chest area, and which I use when treating with Jin Shin Jyutsu.

The only way in which we enter the heart space, and attain an experience of our heart centre, is by letting go of our attachments to the way things should be.  By gaining an acceptance of what is.  By letting go of our overwhelming emotions that live in our lower chakras.  And so it’s interesting that SEL 9 is located at the lower end of the shoulder blades, within the heart area, and is associated with ‘the end of one cycle, and the beginning of the new’.  Whenever we feel ‘stuck’ in our lives, trapped by familiar patterns of behaviour and reactions, we are trapped in the lower energy centres and are resisting the natural flow of energy in our lives, and in our physical bodies.  At these times, we are less likely to experience the peace of our heart space!  But when we let go of our resistance, and move through whatever is blocking our peace we step into this vast space.  So it’s really interesting that the next SEL, half way up the shoulder blades, is SEL 10, known as the ‘warehouse of abundance’.  If we are not feeling abundant in our lives, we  need to let go at SEL 9, and step into the peace and joy which is waiting for us at the heart.  We learn to recognise that:

‘The little space within the heart is as great as this vast universe’

~Chandogya Upanishad

Another Safety Energy Lock situated in the region of the heart chakra, at the level of the third rib, is SEL13, which teaches us to ‘love our enemies’.  To develop unconditional love and compassion- maitri – for others and for ourselves.  To see ourselves and others clearly, with all our faults, and love ourselves anyway.  To embrace the lessons others present us with, rather than pushing them away,  and to see the blessings within all the events of our lives,  without labelling them ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘friend’ and ‘enemy’.

When starting out in meditation, it can be hard to rise above the churning of emotions at our lower centres, but once we find the stillness and the joy of the heart, we are encouraged along the way.  If you have a lot of emotional issues surrounding the heart centre, it can take time and perseverance to step into the peace of the heart, but rest assured that it is there, just waiting for you to let go, and to step into your warehouse of abundance.