fan mail

"The chain of lovely emails truly reflects what a magical retreat it was … 

I do think you have a wonderful gift and you give it so well… I certainly took some home with me… As I walked through my Mother’s door on Sunday night she said I looked so different … so good … so much better!!

I think the yoga had a great effect on me…. THANKYOU… I had tried a few classes of yoga randomly in the past but this time I really got it."

Sarah, Hill Yogi, October 2017

next retreat at Trasierra 2nd-5th November

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your deepest vitality

Yoga asanas should never be practiced superficially. Surely we notice the surface, the direction the skin is pulled in, the beads of sweat gathering in the crevices of the armpits but we reach into the depths of our body for the juicy stuff, the transformative shifts.

The kidneys are the storehouse of our deepest vitality. Nestled as they are in the centre of the back, between the front and the back of the body, they are the deepest organs.

Their job is to filter the impurities from our blood and they are therefore paramount to true wellbeing.

Many yoga asanas have a direct effect on the kidneys, they are rinsed, squished, stretched and juiced up from without.

In Chinese medicine the kidneys are related to the element of water, to the ever-changing nature of reality. The element of water has to do with letting go; letting go of impressions, of impurities and even of life itself as we progress along the path of inevitable ageing and death.

The kidneys are also closely related to the ears and the sense of hearing; to sound. B.K.S Iyengar claimed that we practice pranayama with our ears. We attune to the ever-changing true nature of reality that is presented to us through sound. Reality, often obscured by the various robes it wears is stripped down as we sink into silence.

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Begin by lying in savasana and releasing the jaw and the inner ear, then rest your hands to lightly cup the lower ribcage, feeling the floating ribs flare out to the sides. This way you are able to fill the lower lobes of the lungs, to expulse stagnant air and to deeply refresh. Take a few moments to deepen the breath into the lower ribcage at the beginning of your practice and notice how the awareness changes. Consciously pour the breath into the kidney area tuning into your deepest vitality.

Then you could practice a few gentle twists to wring out the kidneys:

-Bend your right knee and place the sole of the foot on the floor near the opposite knee.               -Press into the ball of your right foot to send the bent knee across the body creating a rich back arch along the right side.                                                                                                                       -Inhale as you do this movement and hold the inhalation feeling the internal massage of the right kidney and the stretch along the waist.                                                                                                -Return the sole of the foot to the floor on the exhalation and let it settle as you observe internal sensations.                                                                                                                                              -Repeat a few times slowing right down and then change sides.

When you’ve practiced both sides pause in savasana and observe sensations in the mid back. 

This exercise acts as a pump for the kidney, aiding its smooth function as a filter.

On our next Hill Yoga retreat from the 2nd-5th November we shall be looking at how we nourish ourselves. Come to learn more practices that will restore your vitality. 

and focus

 

We all know that focus is powerful beyond measure. Focus is also blissful, it transcends time, burns through distraction and is in fact the only way to achieve anything. It has long been a subject of spirituality and in yoga is one of the eight limbs that serve to reunite ourselves with ourselves.

When we apply our attention to a task, an object or even a thought, our energy travels there swiftly. In times of stress our energy is being pulled in many different directions which is overwhelming to the nervous system. Stimulants such as caffeine act as saviours to focus the mind and yet would it not be that the object of focus hold enough delight without such aids.

How did we allow ourselves to get stressed in the first place? What pulled us off focus? Are we focusing on the right thing? What if the answer were no? 

If through our sustained focus we are able to achieve our hearts' utmost desire; why do we not apply ourselves more thoroughly? And what happens when distraction rears its ugly head? Do we follow it? push it back down through the layers?

When we make choices in accordance to the dharma, the energy carries us effortlessly. When we stray; there is stress & strain. Dharma is impervious to outside goings on, it is within you just as you are within all.

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Great masters treat defilement thus: make these the objects of your focus: - if you are a smoker: inhale & exhale with focus, - if you entertain odious thoughts: focus on these, observe their true nature that is empty.

In our modern world we have become good at consuming, but bad at consuming with love, with consciousness. We have come up with the self negating concept of "guilty treat". So make love to your guilt.

This doesn't mean that you keep repeating that which keeps you chained; through your undivided focus you shoot a laser beam through the very links of the chain, that they dissolve.

Initially the energy you summon to focus is tied up in all your distractions, self flagellations and exhausting habitual thoughts. A little grace will help but it can also help to remember that you can only every truly focus on one thing; the one; undivided; just one. Therefore there is no such thing as more focus or less focus. As soon as you try to focus more you will find yourself exhausted by the very effort.

Let it be a natural movement, as if it found you rather than the other way around.

Yoga offers tools to help the mind focus. The mind that skips about like a squirrel from tree to tree. Mantra is one of these tools: repeating chants that vibrate at the level of the heart, quietening the mind that it may focus without effort.

Hare Om

A yoga holy-day

What happened to your practice over the holidays? Did you remember to unroll your mat or were you thrown by the blissful dishevelment of your usual routine?

Do you relish the bliss of your practice or is it yet another chore to tick off your to do list?

The word holiday means holy-day, these are days to pay attention to. Days to be honoured, moments to realize the utter miracle of our existence. What better way to worship than through our yoga practice?

I like to litter my writing with questions, that you, dear reader, may become involved in what you are reading. It is my dialogue with you.

Why do you practice yoga?

I practice because it is my appointment with myself, not one I can be absent from. It is my return home wherever I am in the world. It is a space of utter curiosity, of wonder: a reunion with my inner child. It is a time to recognize all that I am holding and to realize that I can let it all go; just like that.

Can you let go of your asana practice? Sit still and observe quietly the racket that the ego makes. Can you pour your breath into your lower ribcage that it may fill the lungs invisibly? Can you let the inhalation move you? Can you continue to practice yoga in those moments you are given? On those holy days?

Would you like to take yourself on a yoga holiday?

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our October dates are sold out but we still have space in November, please contact me for details and to come on a yoga holiday with me!

The 'San Benito'

Ingredients:

one slice of good quality bread, wholemeal

organic garlic

local honey

organic, extra virgin olive oil

sea salt flakes

                                                                                      

Okay, so I'm going all OTT on the organic, extra virgin, good quality... but I have just inhaled a book that has revived my awareness about what we buy and what we consume. Unfortunately it is not yet published in English but for the francophones and spanish speakers among you; look up Christophe Brusset at your peril.

Shopping locally seems to be the answer, and looking at the ingredients which few of us do regularly. If you are unable to be all organic with the ingredients, never mind, it still beats a pre fab, processed, "treat" as a snack any day in my book.

Method:

 First toast the bread, enough that the surface is rough. Then slide the garlic sliced in half over the rugged surface. Depending how strong  you want it, one or two passes should suffice.                    Drizzle generously with olive oil, sometimes stabbing the toast a bit with the fork first avoids rivers of the stuff pouring onto the plate/your forearm. Smear with honey and scatter salt flakes on top.

 

 

Cultivating equanimity: the practice of Yoga Nidra

Through the practice of yoga nidra we have the ability to heal at a very deep level, or rather to unveil the natural healer in ourselves. 

Unlike when we take a journey to a therapist or even when we go to the average yoga class, through yoga nidra we consciously , progressively and skilfully peel our way through the layers that separate us from the deep pool of bliss that is at our core. We do it for ourselves.

As with most healing modalities, yoga nidra largely consists of letting go. The first thing we let go of is a notion we hold dear: that this human form is solid. We let go of the idea of the body as a solid object, but more importantly we experience the immediate freedom that such a recognition supposes. 

Such mental focus is required particularly in the beginning when we set the scene. We let go of those untruths about ourselves that we rarely, if ever, question. As we progress we start to pay attention to the feedback from our senses. It becomes a sensory awareness training over a mental exercise. How refined can our sensing become? can we begin to perceive that most subtle of holding, in the very energetics of our being?

Our intention is never to achieve a particular state but to be aware of the state we are in so that it loses its hold over us. The aforementioned bliss state is simply the realization that we can accommodate all states. Our awareness is all encompassing: we need simply to awaken to the facts.

So much of our suffering is brought about by the conflict of seemingly opposing forces, We are scared and also bold, trusting yet sceptical, loving but so defensive. We balance joy with sadness when that joy has come to an end, when some external factor disturbs the precarious existence of our so called happiness. 

When we come to realize that opposites can and do co exist all of our experience takes on a richer hue, a sense of truly being lived. Embracing is the only answer, all that arises is welcomed by this embrace of awareness. 

The practice of yoga nidra could be considered as nothing less than a journey back to the true self. Awake to it all. 

Right & left          man & woman        earth & heaven         dark & light        

 

The body & Liberation

How does modern day yoga differ from the traditional practices that are its origin?

For as many years as I have been practicing I have been alternately revolted and enthralled by the calisthenics of yoga.

How can this universal path of liberation have as one of its requisites wrapping a leg around the back of your neck? How can I find merit in practicing 108 rounds of surya namaskar when I know full well that this body of mine is not me at all.

At times, especially in the digitalized world we live in, drenched in filtered images of physical perfection, it seems like the yoga community as a whole is intent on communicating the blissful state achieved through rigorous, persistent coaxing of the body into increasingly sophisticated forms. It is enough to throw ones arms up in despair at the paltry effort one is making. How can my daily offering of uttanasana, trikonasana, tadasana provide even a fraction of this bliss state?

The body, if not attended to, becomes a source of great distraction. We attend mindfully to the body in our asana practice in order to get to know it better, to know its ways. But as we get to know our body better there is a parallel journey occurring, we are going deeper within, to the subtle realms.

We attend mindfully to the body, knowing that the body is not what it’s about at all. The vital energy that animates us cannot flow through a body that is dull, lethargic or stressed and uptight. It is hard to have the mental focus to trace the breath let alone deepen it.

When we have awareness of breath, true awareness, moment-by-moment awareness, we begin to welcome the experience of now. We begin to let go of past impressions. We shape our future in each moment.

‘The Inner Tradition of Yoga’ by Michael Stone is a practical, heartfelt book that brings us back to the heart of yoga. With his death the beautiful mystery of the world becomes apparent. Liberation is not for those who practice perfect physical asanas, nor is it for those who don’t. Liberation is for all who live and die, for all beings, great or small, for all beings everywhere.

Liberation is not an intellectual feat, the body shows us that time and time again.

Thank you to Michael Stone for sharing his enlightened views. May his writings continue to inspire.

the voice that became me

Setting up for my practice the other morning; unrolling the mat, drinking water, straightening the mat, brushing dirt from my feet and tuning into the texture of my breath when all of a sudden I heard it: the voice in my head. It caught me by surprise.

Now if you’ve never heard the voice in your head I may sound crazy, I had never been so acutely aware of it. The crazy thing seems now to be that we believe this voice to be us. I’d go so far as to say that actually recognizing the voice is one of the first steps towards being not so crazy.

The second of Patanjali’s yoga sutras states that yoga is the non-identification with the movements of the mind. i.e: the voice is not me.

Humans have learnt to harness nature. We mastered the incredible art of knowing it all. Even predicting the weather is something we’ve become pretty accurate at. The amount of data collected provides a picture of what is to come. The minute percentage of inaccuracy will only be corrected when we learn the laws of chaos. In other words: never. 

So it was a little moment of chaos that brought on my latest revelation. I now look for those moments in the pauses between breaths.

I see clearly that this voice has been honed, polished, even its tone is similar to what I think that I sound like, the vibration is ever so familiar. But its narrative is mundane and overwhelmingly negative. The voice is critical and if my behaviour deviates from what the voice intones there is a maladjustment, an awkwardness. “Do not go against the dictates of the voice”, it seems to say.

But what does the voice know? The voice knows only my experience thus far. In its attempt to mold the present moment to its habitual grooves it misses out on a vast source of inspiration. The voice is mostly deeply mistaken.

I heard the voice and the experience of freedom that followed was vast. To be free to be oneself, not to conform to the narrative of the voice, this is true presence. To respond to the moment in a way that has not been pre defined, this is happiness.

Another name for the voice might be the ego. Don’t allow the ego to follow you in your practice. The ego is in the foreground but let us not ignore the background. True wisdom arises when we listen to the present. When we are free from the tethers of the past, the fear of the future.

In the postures, relax the brain and feel your mind sit in your heart.

Yoga & Food. A special retreat

Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures, part of our daily life and so often a source of confusion and even torment.

To eat well, in abundance and in a way that provides energy and joy is difficult in this age when desire and pleasure are confused.

This Autumn part of the focus of Hill Yoga will be on exploring small changes we can make in the way we eat.

My sister Gioconda has travelled the world fuelled by her passion for real food. Italy, Lebanon, Argentina and the USA, Hong Kong, India and especially Spain are all cultures that have defined her approach to food.

Having dedicated the past two decades to sharing her joy for food she now joins me as I share my passion for yoga on a retreat that will be both unique and life changing.

Please contact me for more information. Early bird prices before the end of July

Intimacy

There are moments in life when we give up the struggle and sink back into the soft core of our being.

Savasana can be one of these blessed moments. We surrender to the force of gravity and release tensions, some deep seated, some unconscious, some just hanging out on the surface as a result of strenuous asana practice.

The way we perceive the body shifts in savasana. The seemingly solid contours of the physical shape melt into the ground and what is hard is allowed to be soft. Solidity itself is revealed as a concept and not a reality.

In savasana we pay attention to softening and releasing the inner ear. It has been highlighted that through the sense of sight the world seems solid and unchanging but through hearing we perceive things as they truly are, in constant flux, ever changing.

The boundaries between the internal and external space may dissolve. We quite literally become one with what arises in every given moment. There is no longer a difference between what arises internally and what arises from the outside world.

Non-duality being one of the long-standing tenets of my yoga practice; I am constantly searching for this softening into reality. I seek to become aware of the resistance, the habitual holding, the tensions. These attachments are often rooted in the way I perceive the world at times, as threatening and violent. Some are deep seated, habits of old.

When the violence of the world overwhelms you, take to your practice; channeling the emotions into the asanas and then surrendering to the sweet release of savasana.

We are not solid beings. Solidity is resistance to softness. Violence often stems from resistance that in turns becomes the cause of inaction. We want to be warriors of peace, we want to help, to heal and to sustain a vision of oneness and harmony but we need to start and continue with ourselves.

In savasana allow yourself to be intimate with the present and let presence reveal itself to you. Know that your relationship to your body is your relationship to the world and to the present moment.

To finish, a quote from the Tao Te Ching, the last word on the way of softness and immediacy:

A man is soft and weak when living.
But hard and rigid when dead.
The myriad creatures and grass and plants, when living, are soft and fragile.
When dead, they are dried and withered.
That is why the hard and the rigid are the disciples of death, the soft and the weak the disciples of the living.
Therefore an army which is inflexible cannot win.
A plant which is hard will break.
The strong and hard will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.