Talk of the "Universe"

   I am a big fan of explanations. I like to understand what it is I am doing and why certain things arise in my awareness. For someone so keen on logic and rationale I am also fascinated by the seemingly abstract concept of "What the Universe is trying to show me". Referring to "the Universe" as a disseminator doesn't quite seem fair. The Universe is not trying to show me anything. It is not and has never been about me as an individual but about the Universe itself. 

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    We humans tend to fall short of the truth by believing that we are individuals. This is not to say that we are not each unique but this belief rapidly gets confused with severe independence. We are utterly interdependent and that is where the role of the Universe comes in. We usually turn to the "Universe" for answers when things are not turning out as we want them to. "What is the Universe trying to show me?" If we really want to know we ned to surrender to what is actually going on rather than fixating on our made up mental structure of how things should go on.

   Of course things are never going to be as we want them to be!  When we are fine with things just as they are things can flow easily. Then we are in kahootz with the "Universe". The Universe showed me this and its stupidly simple.

   This is the path of yoga: we open up to what is really occurring. This is beyond form just as our bodies are beyond the form of the āsana, beyond concept just as our breath speaks no language, beyond barriers just as we are unable to distinguish where our inner space ends and outer space begins, this porous skin is no barrier. When we learn to breathe through the pores of the skin, to see deep inside to the source of the breath, we meet the Universe in every moment. 

    Like explorers we set forth in our sadhana. Let the adventure begin.

new beginnings

There is a very wise saying attributed to Gandhi that conveys the importance of not letting your life pass you by. "There is more to life than increasing its speed". I wholeheartedly agree, and if you have been to my classes there's no need for me to assure you that I agree!

How much do I go on about slowing down? Any why do we slow it right down? moving as if 'through honey', stretching out the breath and the limbs from the inside out. We undo the effects of rushing.

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Our mind in its panic urges us on. It gives us this constant 'to do' list, that if we were to pause to consider it, we'd realize has no end. As soon as we tick one thing off, a million others crop up. When we do yoga, we practice letting go of our concerns for a time. For some this involves powering through poses, exhausting oneself into distraction. But I dare to say that this form of practice, when it becomes habitual, can become simply that: a distraction. Pleasant for a while, offering a moment of respite but the mental sufferance will re-emerge.

If through our practice we can bring up this sufferance and let it play out, what would then occur? Can we give it space? Could it be that through our intention 'to do' away with this sufferance we perpetuate it? It is a brave act to confront it face on. To stare it face on, to watch it dissolve in presence.

And its in this space that a vast swell of creativity can arise that will lead us to new beginnings. Yogi live on.

Counteract the effects of rushing at my classes at YOGA AKASHA on Tuesday evenings 6-7p.m

golden ticket to fend off winter blues

In a move to help fill the lovely village hall in Forest Row this winter I am offering a class pass for all classes until Christmas to all of those who like & share my promotion on facebook.

It shall be arbitrary, I will handwrite all the names on pieces of paper, shake them around in a tophat and get a neutral passerby to pull a name out. Or something a little more 21st century!

If you are local, a yogi, or keen to try yoga ; I hope you feel inspired to participate!

click here for link

classes run: Mondays 9.30-10.45    Tuesdays 11.15-12.30    Fridays 11-12.15

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Indefinition

Any attempt at defining yoga has always seemed to me to be necessarily limited. But then maybe that's just me, it is what I occupy most of my time pondering. 

How to define yoga? like this: it's not purely physical practice, got it. It makes you feel good, but sometimes not, got it. It's fascinating, to me it is. It has it's historical roots in India, ok. 

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Things might get sticky at this point. We start to identify this thing that turns us on with a nation some distance away with a very rich and complex history, just as our own. We start to think we could never possibly even begin to understand what yoga is. I mean most of us don't speak sanskrit, we may not have even been to India. And yet this is where the chorus of angelic voices chants from, this is where the wafts of incense transport us to. 

The common conception of yoga looks something like this, bendy person on a mat, looking peaceful, contorting in a typically non-peaceful shape. Students come to class for the first time and are so surprised, it's much harder than they thought. The process of engaging the mind and the body at the same time; it has its challenges. This is yoga responding to a need. 

To me the definition of yoga is tricky because it has come to signify so much more than the original word yoga. Yoga comes from the root -yuj; to yoke. It has 'gathered' its own multiplicity of signifiers along the way, and it is gathering a very strong bunch of signifiers at this time, namely: peaceful, stretchy, sporty, physical, spiritual, odd, fashionable, hard etc. And the signifiers that I associate with yoga are more to do with the subtle realms: quiet, nuanced, slow and yes: strong and supple. 

I would like to see a move towards the subtle aspects of yoga. There is a good minority for whom this is happening and it excites me. Many pure hearted teachers are putting great work into helping people develop insight in their practice. Breaking through the surface or as my friend Flor Sylvester quotes: "working from the inside out" looks to me like the greatest need of this time. 

There is so much movement in the subtle signifiers of yoga, there is room for growth, for shape shifting for awakening. There is room for what is needed to arise. 

So when we stop hammering the doors of the body, perhaps we could knock gently and be let in. It is Autumn, the leaves are starting to let go, let us follow suit.

There's still space to join HILL YOGA from the 2nd-5th of November, come and nourish. 

 

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