the true guru

Are our minds too distracted for the true practice of yoga?

The sheer volume of communication we participate in makes it necessary to create new mind ‘filters’ for the information we receive. The valuable teachings of yoga run the risk of becoming dissipated, equated with the one hundred thousand other meaningless, self-serving messages we encounter in the course of a day.

How do we keep our mind honed? The physical practices of yoga keep us sensitive and discerning. For more and more modern practitioners, yoga is not about cultivating taut muscles and toned abdomens but cultivating a supple mind and sophisticated discernment; to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Receiving clear guidance is refreshing and liberating, not confusing and obfuscating. To channel the wisdom of ancients is no easy task. Seek for a teacher who elucidates. Remember the true meaning of the word guru; one who sheds light on the darkness. Accept nothing less. To become aware of your own darkness is to take a step towards liberation. Where do we find such a guru?

As one of my great teachers once said: the most valuable journey you will ever make is the shortest; from head to heart. This is where we hear the voice of truth; the greatest guru of all.

I have started work on my book on Self-Practice. It is aimed to inspire you to work with your own guru. I hope to be free from distraction so it won’t take too long!

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How Yoga can Change the World. Part 1

There is an inner and an outer world. For yogis there’s not much to say about how the practice of yoga transforms ones’ inner state, and how by extension transforms the world, one person at a time.

But is there a way to engage further in our activism through our practice? The yamas and niyamas are core, practical guidelines for a conscious life that can inform not just our own decisions but how we share our values with others. Michael Stone’s book: The Inner Tradition of Yoga is a wonderful introduction to these.

On a more basic level though, I would offer the act of listening. The body knows exactly the response to each situation, enjoyment or injustice, pleasure or pain, yet so often our mind interferes. Be it by hassling us at times of peace with reminders of suffering, or by haranguing us with messages of defeat when we fight our battles worth fighting. 

Last week I had the privilege of attending a day of talks and workshops hosted by Advaya Initiative in which we listened to a range of talkers from various fields of activism. The introductory talk by the co-hosts Ulex Project encouraged us from the outset to not listen only with the mind but with the whole being. To check in with oneself, the practice of which is a constant for the yogi, saves the activist from burnout.

It seems we are living at exciting times when the activists are not pitted against the spiritual seekers as they may have been in the past; the navel gazing narcissists who view the world from afar against the railing angry protesters who have bees in their bonnet about all planetary issues.

No, it seems there is a settling into our shared humanity. And by settling I don’t mean a complacency. The activists are being more active than ever before, but there is a peacefulness to these warriors that gives them renewed energy. As one speaker put it; the energy comes from the victories that have been won already.

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The final speaker on this day of ‘Regenerative Activism’ was less a speaker than an ‘embodier’. Pat McCabe represents Indigenous Truth, and as she herself says: there is no such thing as many truths. We are not many beings, we are one, we are, in the words of Thich Nhat Hanh: ‘Inter-Being’, and to tune into this is nothing less than to tune into every scream, every tear, every smile, every victory, every thing that makes us human.

The word human means Divine Mind: (‘Hu’ Divine ‘Mana’ Mind), let us not drift too far from our shared Divinity.

So how do we do activism? By listening, by continuing to align with the Truth. By our actions, by our words, by our thoughts, by our intentions. We do activism in everything we do and everything we choose not to do. We do activism by being at one with each other.

Hare Om.

sattva - effortless strength

What approach do you take to your practice? It is in the nature of the body to find creative new ways to feel alive. 

Can you be hard and soft at the same time? what does that even mean? We all know our attention, when focused, can be powerful beyond measure. It can be compared to a rushing river than damned creates a pool. If we open the flood gates the water rushes out, it rushes in every direction it can and pours itself freely over the landscape. But if we were to pierce just the one hole in the damn wall, the pressure of the water would be immense, it would cut through space a long distance. There are plenty of metaphors for this.

And yet from the above example we can see there is nothing forced about this intensity. Neither do we need to force our focus in practice. Gentle, but persistent, keep bringing the awareness back. There is no other 'hole' we need to look for but we need to keep finding new ways out, that the 'silt' of our mental constructs doesn't plug it up.

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In your yoga practice, focus; laser awareness on exactly what it is you are doing. This, like so many things, is easier said than done. But keep checking; are you thinking about what posture you are going to do next? how much longer you have to go? keep bringing your awareness back to that timelessness that arises at this moment; the experience you are currently having... and then again! 

Of course it is possible to practice without focus, but your approach will determine your rewards. With distraction how can we truly notice the changes in ourselves? and until we notice this, how can we be of help to others? Your true value is in serving yourself and others. Sadhana to be gentle and strong, soft and hard, continuously aware of what is arising; then share it. 

our attitude or our nature

One of the words my teacher Ruth often uses to describe asana is ‘attitude’, a definition I often borrow.

It is through our practice of āsana that we explore all those attitudes that keep us in a state of conditioned response to life.

Yoga being such a creative practice means that we get to explore a whole range of ‘attitudes’ other than our habitual ones: we explore the attitude of the tree in vrksāsana, of the warrior in virabhadrāsana, of the corpse in savāsana, we explore the ‘attitude’ of ‘tad’ in tadāsana; the attitude of here, of now.

All these attitudes obstruct our true nature that according to those sage old yogis is nothing short of ‘ananda’ or Bliss.

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In our exploration we take a journey through the koshas or layers of our being. We notice where the physical body may struggle, where it is more or less supple. We notice our breath, its rhythm and how it sustains our awareness. We notice the thoughts; some uplifting, some less so. We notice the wisdom that guides us in our own adjustments.

Bliss is not an indulgent affair, one where our senses are for a moment suspended on the upswing of the pendulum. The term seems to have taken on a different meaning to the one I imagine is referred to by those who coined the term ‘ananda’ to our innermost nature. Perhaps this is due to our exposure to numerous chocolate bar adverts or paradisiacal holiday brochures.

It has been noted that to know Bliss is to know the experience of oneness, of non-separation.

If we keep this sense of porousness that attends our yoga practice and drop beyond the attitudes that hold us up we may be blessed by our true nature. Bliss. Ananda.

And of course we know this need not be limited to the mat.

The Value of Suffering

Existential crisis and yoga often meet in the intimate space of suffering. There exists the belief that through the practice of yoga we are building strong and healthy bodies, a carefully constructed pursuit of immortality. But throughout history the devout yogi has sought to transcend the body altogether, to become free from this ultimate attachment. Rather than to make it a comfortable place to reside, the yogi explores the searing fire of mortification and realizes that this is not all there is. Beyond the physical body, the vast field of bliss where all beings meet, awaits.

I came to yoga in my teens. As the foundations shook beneath me in a time that for most of us is characterized by deep uncertainty, I began to embrace a practice knowing subconsciously it would accompany me into whatever age and condition.

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As I explored asana for the first time I became aware of this very clear guidance from within, manifesting through my breath. I have been listening out for it ever since. As the physical body becomes more honed, more trained, sometimes it feels as though I have to push it harder and yet yoga is a practice that improves with age unlike other activities that become a struggle as the physical body declines. The more we cultivate the attitude of ‘letting go’ of attachment to the body, the more – conversely - the practice flows.

When suffering rears it powerful head, can we look straight in its eyes without wavering? Can we cultivate the skillful means to navigate it? Unrestrained by fear can we burn through the shackles that hold us back from our true state of bliss? On and off the mat, these may be the greatest lessons yoga can provide.

The Soft Core of your Being

    There's something funny about this body of ours and its that it keeps being there. Just when we take our health for granted something pops up to remind us that we are merely mortal, inhabiting this precious human form for what seems like seconds comparative to the great big scheme of the things that Really Matter. Which is a better reason than any for letting go of all that stuff we carry, that . stuff . that . really . doesn't . matter.

    And even were we to let go for a fraction of a moment of a second we savour that bliss of softening. Often this goes with the prompt reminder of other things to worry about, if not our own health, that of those around us, of the Environment, of the greater Humanity. These are all worthy concerns, most definitely but in what way are we approaching them?

    Yoga teaches us not to separate from the greater scheme as we are part of it. Not just a small tiny part but the whole shebang. This doesn't mean that we surf on a pedestal above the suffering of the world but we can take a little perspective and realize that perhaps the most counterproductive thing to actually doing something worthwhile with this precious human life is thinking that we can. Or in other words: thinking. 

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    It may have something to do with the way we use our brains. Our education system, brilliant as it is, brings us into the left side of our brain. We are trained to be efficient and rational machines and this vast swell of tension builds up as we strain to learn and memorize factual data and how to navigate this complicated world we believe we live in. The bodies that come to me are knackered, they are worn down by life. They are assailed by stresses and strains, weak, tense, breath is restricted, thoughts are oppressive. Even the approach to a practice as overtly holistic as yoga is strained and competitive. 

    I am by no means promoting a self defeating attitude of complacency, instead a proactive defeating of the 'small' self that keeps us in this state of restricted rigidity. And how, you may ask, do I propose we do this? Practice of course. Practice really sinking into the soft core of your being. At any given time when you are practicing your asana notice where you are holding tension, where the self-aggrandizement or its opposite self-deprecating voice begins to bellow in your inner ear. It is keeping this awareness at all times that can help us move beyond into a state of true freedom from the stuff that doesn't matter. 

   When we engage with the body in true presence the chattering, exhausting left side of the brain gives way to silence. It yields to softness. Then in śavāsana we can let the true work happen. The body's innate healing energy, which is one and the same as the Universal Energy, can dissolve what is no longer needed so you can be a true peaceful warrior and choose the battles you take on with deep strength and selfless concern.

   I hope to be there with you. 

To learn more about moving from the soft core of your being, with freedom and grace, come to my workshop on the 24th of February at Yoga Akasha from 12-2. Book online through the shop.

 

Mother India

In the last lecture of my MA last year the lecturer asked: "How important is it to you to go to India? Is it an integral part of your yoga practice?" My one-dimensional mind said no. Yet on my return to India after 7 years every cell of my being answered with a resounding yes. 

I have been going to India since I was 5 years old. When you are a child the barriers that separate us as adults are yet to appear, to be constructed by the wood, hammer and nails of our conditioning. Communication was open, I drifted into temples barefoot, played with local kids attracting nothing but an initial giggle, delighted at the tinkle of bells at dusk, the manic drum beats marking puja time. Now as a grown up that memory still lives strong and I was determined to take my own children before the skin grew leathery.

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The funny thing for me is that I haven't done any yoga training per se in India. The sadhana I undertake on the mat is homegrown, I practice in isolation. As an introvert I am not one to elbow into a culture's intimate spiritual life, neither do I feel the need to worship particular deities. And yet in so many instances of daily life in India what I observe is yoga in action. The village mothers caring for their babies, expressing love without words. Traffic swerving the cattle that have equal right to the highway, words exchanged as though the conversation had no beginning or end, the impeccable care taken to wrap basic groceries. 

There is a feeling of livity that, granted this is a generalisation, I feel is lacking in most of the western world. The divine is pulsating in the everyday, tragedy and comedy are the best of friends and I would like to return as often as possible, as often as Mother India will have me. 

It has always made me cringe to express how I feel when I arrive in India, because there is so much desperation, suffering and visible strife how could I heave a romantic sigh letting the obvious inequalities dissolve into oblivion? It is the immediacy of it all that soothes my soul. The visibility of death, un-suppressed. 

Imprinting your Resolution

Sankalpa or resolve is a very important component of our practice as yogis. When we set our intention at the beginning of a session it is not only a mental construction but a desire that we place in the heart of hearts from where it infiltrates every cell of our being.

Throughout the sadhana, prana irrigating our vital networks, blood suffusing our sinews, we bring our mind back to our intention, reconnecting to this heartfelt desire. When the going gets tough its important to remember why we're doing what we're doing.

Every New Year, with all the best intentions we set out our resolutions which can be more or less ambitious but are nevertheless the voice of the heart. Over the course of time, the heart itself refines our resolutions so they become our reality. We can choose to listen, as we do in the stillness of meditation or to lambast ourselves if we feel that our resolution has evaporated. Either way that which guides us remains steady, pulsating in our very breath.

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Join me for a Yoga workshop that focuses on alignment and intention.
Saturday the 27th of January from 12-2 at Yoga Akasha, East Grinstead

Through this practical and interactive workshop we use yoga practices to find our deepest heartfelt intention and imprint it into the very fabric of our being.

Using 'asana' to create a limber, supple body; 'pranayama' to soothe superficial tensions and meditation to ward off distractions, we manifest our intention in this moment.

Cup of revitalising tea included!

£20 for 2 hours."
 

Booking is essential and I look forward to welcoming you!
 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

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