Monthly Archives: March 2012

Lancashire Yogi reads St Francis of Assisi

Standard

St Francis of Assisi must have been living the dharma. He was certainly to all intents and purposes living a deep and profound life, with a good heart. He was from a wealthy background, and lived a bit of a worldy life but became disillusioned with it and took the path that he was ultimately sainted for.  What Lancashire Yogi particularly likes about St Francis of Assisi is that he loved nature, and all living creatives as much as humanity.  He perhaps, saw the circle of life and how we are all interconnected.  Legend suggests that he preached to the birds and persuaded a ravenous wolf to stop attacking some villagers if they in turn, agreed to feed the wolf, which they did.  His language depicts a world and a life that is interconnected and related.  He called all creatures his “brothers” and “sisters,” and in his “Canticle of the Creatures”  he refers to the Sun as “Brother Sun” and the moon as “Sister Moon”. Lancashire Yogi loves this inclusive view of an interconnected world. 

One of the loveliest pieces of writing that Lancashire Yogi meditates on (amongst many) is the prayer of Saint Francis.  Lancashire Yogi appreciates that the organised traditions and religions have a place in life and have contributed a wealth of experience, knowledge and insight to our human experience, as well as being a force for good – mainly through the lives, work and contributions of such figures as Saint Francis. 

The prayer goes like this:

Lord, make me an instrument of they peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

Where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console,

To be understood as to understand.

To be loved, as to to love;

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

It is in dying to our self that we are born to eternal life.

There are some lovely sentiments in this prayer, and Lancashire Yogi likes to contemplate and meditate on it. What Lancashire Yogi particularly likes about it is an almost karmic response to the challenges of everyday life and it certainly is food for thought…

Namaste

x

Still standing, still

Standard

Tadasana – also known as mountain pose is a pose that Lancashire Yogi thinks we tend to take for granted. After all, it is a standing pose, and the start of all the standing poses. And anyway, we stand around a lot don’t we? 

The correct title of the asana is Tadasana samasthithi which means “mountain pose in an upright and steady state”. So straight away, if you look around, you’ll note that not many people stand upright, nor do they stand steady, nor particularly straight. You might feel that you don’t. Some days Lancashire Yogi feels that the world throws some weighty concerns onto him (he probably generated this karmically!) – and he feels himself stooping under the weight. Grandpa Lancashire Yogi was in the British army and was compelled to fight at the Somme in the first world war, of all places. So he was present when some mighty karma was going down and experienced some stuff that he never revealed to anyone. Yet he used to say, “stand up straight, shoulders back, stomach in: stand firm” – and in a small way he was doing this asana. And having gone through all that the first world war could throw at him, he appeared to Lancashire Yogi to be one of the gentlest, kindest and calmest of men. 

Lancashire Yogi likes the name: mountain pose. When he is in it he becomes a mountain, unmoveable and solid. He uses his breath to breathe into the pose and feel the firm solidity of the mountain.  Looking at people who stand still, they generally don’t stand straight nor steady; and nor do they stand evenly. Lancashire Yogi thinks that you can tell a lot by the way someone is standing. He thinks he can spot a knee or hip or back problem from 200 yards. If you look carefully you can see where hurts and other ‘stuff’ (usually mind stuff) is also manifesting in the body. Its usually because the person is standing unevenly or heavily on one side of their body.  So, first off, you can get a sense of how people are physically and mentally from this pose. For personal awareness it is, like savasana,  a great starting point and it is a useful place to help people readjust their body – and their minds. 

Lancashire Yogi likes the simplicity of this pose, in that it’s one (with arms unraised and in shoes) that you can do anywhere: while in a queue, while talking to a colleague, while on public transport. He also likes it that by standing upright and steady it helps confidence, poise and balance. to paraphrase a lovely book by Jon Kabat Zinn – wherever you go, whatever you do – get into this pose, and suddenly you find yourself – there you are!  Years ago, Lancashire Yogi was an akidoka. One of the keys to aikido is finding your centre, two inches below your navel. Some call it the hara. The point of this is that in standing in Tadasana Samasthithi, Lancashire Yogi is able quite quickly to find his centre.You might too.

How to practice Tadasana Samasthithi

1. Stand with both feet bare on the ground, and together.

2. Stretch your arms along the length of your sides with the palm of your hands facing inwards as if about to pat your thighs.  Keep your arms slightly away from the sides of your body though. Keep your arms and fingers straight and pointing to the ground.

3. Keep your head up by looking straight ahead, with your neck muscles straight, but soft and relaxed.

4. Ensure that your body’s weight is evenly spread on the whole of your feet – evenly balanced between the toes and the heels, and either edge of your feet.  Watch carefully as you may have a tendency to exert more weight on your heels or toes, or with some people on the inside or outside edge of your feet.  Lancashire Yogi likes to run barefoot on the sand when he can, and is always surprised to see that he supinates: his feet leaving a strange pattern on the beach.  Supination is when the foot rolls outwards, putting weight onto the outside edge of the foot.   You may be surprised to find that you put weight on one part of your foot rather than evenly distribute weight -but kerb your surprise and remember to spread the weight evenly on the whole of your feet. Of course, if there is a problem with this you need to see your doctor to get it checked. The point here is that we typically don’t evenly distribute our body weight and that is the aim of this pose.

5. Now, straighten (gently) your legs, and tighten your kneecaps, feeling the opening of your knees at the back of each knee. To help the legs straighten, gently turn the front thigh muscles inwards – gently and to aid the upright steady state that you are trying to achieve.

6. Tighten your buttocks (or “arse” as Chaucer might have said). to keep your body aligned you might need to gently  and slightly tilt your pelvis up, which will happen to a degree if you tighten your derriere.

7. Pull in your lower abdominal muscles: firm and steady, not painfully tight remember.

8. Lift your chest – particularly this lift should be felt at the point of your sternum.  is located in the center of the upper chest. If you arent sure where your sternum is – place your fingers between your pectoral muscles or breasts and press lightly – you will be able to feel your sternum which is the bony bit in the middle.

9. Now you are in Tadasana Samasthithi – and you can keep your head still, looking straight ahead, breathing evenly and without effort. Stay in this pose for a minute or two, breathing gently and evenly and feeling your whole body: balanced, upright and steady.

Lancashire Yogi extends Tadasana Samasthithi to ‘Tadasana Urdhva Hastasana’ which means : “mountain pose with arms stretched up”.  This is a great stretching exercise – and particularly for Lancashire Yogi’s office friends who spend their time in chairs, at desks gawping at computers, or his sales friends who are out and about on the road in their flashy cars. Some of his doctor and nurse friends find it useful to stimulate and open up their bodies because although they spend most of their time standing on ward rounds and tending to patients – they have told Lancashire Yogi that they tend to hunch down and around doing their nursing and doctoring thing. A couple of gardening friends and brickies find that after a while of stooping on the patch or over a line of bricks – this seems to reinvigorate them.

1. Stand in Tadasana Samasthithi as above.

2. Breath out gently and while stretching from your waist lift your arms either in front of you or out to the sides (see which you prefer) to shoulder level. The palms of your hands should be open with fingers stretched outward, and facing each other.

3. From the side or the front (again, see what works for you), raise your arms above your head, and in line with your body. Stretch your arms and fingers upwards without straining. In particular don’t strain your shoulders – check to see how they feel, and conciously draw your shoulder blades down and inwards to avoid an unnecessary overstretch.

4. Keep stretching upwards, keeping your arms facing each other.  The aim is to feel the gentle, and easy stretch throughout your arms, wrists, fingers and hands, as well as a gentle stretch on both sides of your body. Again, keep it easy dont strain.

5. Pull in your stomach muscles, gently and easily. 

6. Some people turn their palms to face the front – again see how you feel with this.

7. Remember throughout – breathe evenly and easily.  A good test is whether you can smile without a sense of strain. And remember to draw your shoulders down and inwards to release any strain you may be forcing on them inadvertenly. Breathe, and smile looking straight ahead.  Hold the pose for a minute or two, or until you feel you are at the edge of your limits.

8. To come out of the pose reverse the instructions and conclude by lying down in Savasana to scan your body and see how you feel.

Remember Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra – “Sthira sukham asanam” – he reminds us that yoga asana (these postures) should be steady and easy or comfortable. So as the great master said over 2,000 years ago – take it easy and don’t strain yourself.

Do make sure that you are able to do these exercises, if in doubt, if you feel any slight pain or are in pain, or perhaps you have some medical problem – check  out with your doctor before attempting these exercises.

For a picture and more detail go to Yoga Journal – alternatively get hold of one of Iyengar’s picture books published by Dorling Kindersley which helpfully depict the postures clearly.

Finally, you can’t beat going to a yoga class in your area – there are some superb yoga teachers out there – and practical hands on teaching beats the pants off any book, blog or website. In the UK a good starting point is the British Wheel of Yoga Find a teacher site.  Elsewhere in the world start with google – and explore the different sorts of classes such as Iyengar, Bihar, Ashtanga, or Desikachar.   Alternatively try to get recommendations and follow them up.

Namaste

Sun, sand, and sea

Standard

Lancashire Yogi has been away again. He drifted eastwards to the Yorkshire coast where he spent a few days walking along the beaches of the north yorkshire coast.

In theory he was looking for fossils. In practice it was an excuse to ‘zone out’ and connect with the sand, sea and sun. He wasn’t really interested in finding fossils, and wasn’t looking for fossils, but found some lovely fossils  – ammonites, brachiapods (sea shells) and bellemites.The more you look for beautiful fossils, the less likely you are to find them (unless you are a paleontologist). If you don’t look for them, and breathe in the sea air, and enjoy the warmth of the sun on your back, and smell the sea and feel the sand between your toes…you might just glance down at a pebble on the beach and find that it is a beautiful ammonite.

When Lancashire Yogi was younger, he accompanied his family on a trip to france. In those days Lancashire Yogi was obsessed with yoga and fossil collecting. On this trip, he found himself on a long, wide sandy beach, which his family camped down on. Looking up and down the beach, Lancashire Yogi told his family that he would go looking for fossils and they all stared bemused at him in the bright french sunshine : ‘you’ll never find anything here’ they said, ‘look it’s just sand, for miles and miles, just relax and enjoy the sun’. Lancashire Yogi has always been a great fan of shrugging, and he just shrugged his shoulders and said, “lets see what I find’ and with that he just walked along the beach for a few miles. About an hour later, the young Lancashire Yogi glanced down at the sand and found one single stone, an ornate spiral of ammonite surrounded by sand. For Lancashire Yogi, even now, some thirty years later, he looks at that ammonite and for him, it is proof that anything is possible.   When the waves of life ebb and flow, you’ll be surprised at the opportunities that are presented to you. You just need to see what happens when you venture out, with a good heart and hope. You’ll be amazed what happens. Life has a funny old way of popping up and presenting you with opportunities and insights.

Namaste

x

Spring has sprung

Standard

Lancashire Yogi likes to spend as much time as possible out in the garden. He loves the fresh air, the chirping of the birds and the sunlight through the trees. Everywhere he looks he sees the vibrancy of nature: daffodils trumpeting their arrival, celendine carpeting the woodland, snow drops a reminder of colder spells, and the trees coming into bud. He is reminded of Larkin’s poem, where he says that the leaves are coming into bud “like something slowly being said”. The whole fanfare of nature feels like one enormous magic trick to Lancashire Yogi. You know the one where the magician pulls some beautiful flowers out of his hat?  This is what spring feels like to the Yogi.  Something is playing one big magic trick on us, and it’s delightful.

Today he has been spending his time planting seeds, and tending to his garden. He can’t help but be amazed by the vibrant energy of nature.  Plants and seedlings are coming up everywhere. In the distance he can hear lambs bleating and a tractor. Birds are actively nesting and marking out their territory with song.

Living in harmony with nature is one of Lancashire Yogi’s goals, along with living as sustainably as possible.  To this end, He and Mrs Lancashire Yogi try to grow most of their own food.  This endeavour fits in with the yamas and niyamas in many ways but principally Lancashire Yogi feels it represents “right living”.   His grandfathers both grew their own veg’, and could often be seen pottering in their green houses, and Lancashire Yogi feels he is following a strong family tradition.

With his grandfathers long gone, Lancashire Yogi relies on the writings of gardeners past and present.  One of Lancashire Yogi’s all time favourite writers and gardeners is a chap called ‘Dirty Nails’, and Lancashire Yogi reads his week by week guide : ‘How to grow your own food’ avidly. It is a practical, down to earth (literally), and good natured read and is esential reading for tried and tested gardening tactics and techniques.  Dirty Nails appears to adhere to ahimsa too, in that he doesnt appear to wish to do harm to any living creature, including slugs and snails: which is a high art if you are a gardener to say the least!  If you wish to have a go at growing your own – ,and you are looking for a handy, readable book on the science and the art, you can get hold of  ‘How to grow your own food’  from amazon.

Namaste

Being, not doing or having

Standard

Lancashire Yogi has been re-reading the Bhagavad Gita. He does this most mornings as part of his practice.  But today he has been planting seeds and tending his garden, and in a moment when the sun came out, he downed tools and picked up the Gita to read verses 2.47 and 2.48 again. His teacher Sarah Beck has suggested that he should read this as a contemplation exercise and this is what he did.

Verse 2.47 is Krishna saying to Arjuna: “You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engage in action for the sake of reward, nor should you long for inaction”.  Verse 2.48 follows through with him saying “Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself – without selfish attachments, and alike in success and defeat.  For yoga is perfect evenness of mind”

 Lancashire Yogi thinks that ‘being’ rather than doing or having is the key attribute of these verses.  The action in itself is important, rather than the result.  If you have selfish attachments, such as “the reward” and “the glory”, Lancashire Yogi thinks that you will get caught in the web of that attachment.  

If you are attached to the fruits of your work; you will be caught up in them, and by them,  and by doing so, lose yourself in the web of feelings and angst that they represent.  So for example, you will get lost in the thoughts of success or failure or anger or frustration; and these then take you away from yourself.  If you focus on success and then you ‘fail’ – you’ll beat yourself up. And anyway what is ‘success’, and what is ‘failure’? To each person they represent different things; and even to ourselves, ‘success’ in one thing, could be ‘failure’ in another.

The moment one starts thinking about the ‘result’ is the point when one forgets oneself and the intention and inspiration behind the action.  And one stops ‘being’ and becomes focussed on having and doing.  This focus on results is futile really, because ultimately we have no control over ‘the results’ of anything. Krishna is suggesting that an evenness of mind means that one will not get caught up in the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ of things and results; because of themselves, nothing is good nor bad; everything is inherently neutral in its own right, and it is only us who put a label on it and ascribe a value to things. The son with the broken leg, is the son whose father berates him for being foolish by breaking it in one moment, but when war is declared and boys are called up to fight, the father is then overjoyed when his son can’t go to war because of his broken leg. The broken leg was the result of an act of folly in one moment but a lifesaver in another. 

By placing a label on things,  such as ’good’ or ‘bad’ we construct a reality that isn’t actually there anyway; and that reality builds into a super reality that controls how we perceive life and ourselves. By thinking ‘good’ and thinking ‘bad’ or ‘success’ or ‘failure’ we limit the potential of every living moment and become coloured, or shrouded by the labels we create and impose on things, including the fruits of our actions. Talk about seeing the world through rose tinted glasses – we put on different shades each time we label something and that shapes our experience until the next set of tinted glasses gets put on.

Lancashire Yogi’s experience is that actually, the achievement of a goal or rewards or fruits of our labour – are not really in our gift anyway. There are so many forces and effects that are happening around us that its amazing that we ever ‘achieve’ anything. It’s not unsual to say you want ‘x’ and then strive for it only to find that ‘x’ doesnt represent what it was when you starting striving for it. Everything changes and nothing is completely in our control. So why worry about the result anyway? Infact there is a compelling argument to say that the more you worry about the result, the less likely you are able to do the work and immerse yourself in it and the related moments.  

Krishna is saying that one should have equanimity or evenness of mind regardless of the outcome of your work – to be alike in success and defeat, or as Kipling would say in the poem, If, “to meet triumph and disaster just the same”. 

These verses are not a call to do nothing but to act, and to act with depth and integrity, in the moment, without worrying or focussing on the outcome, with an evenness of mind regardless of the result. Krishna is saying beyond this, there is nothing more to do but simply to ‘be’, rather than to ‘do with the desire of having’.

Lancashire Yogi loves this. It’s a call to trust in the process and give everything as much as you can from your heart, with passion and love, and in the moment. It’s a call to living a life of depth and love.

Lancashire Yogi has spent most of the day planting seeds and tending to seedlings and plants. He can’t think of a better example for these verses,  as the plants that he has tended to. They simply grow (with some tending) and dont appear to be thinking of the reward or the goal or the outcome. They simply ‘are’ and this is what Lancashire Yogi loves about the plants, and nature. He thinks that this being, not having, is the key to these verses.

Years ago, Lancashire Yogi followed the writings of Erich Fromm. One of his most influential books was called “To have, or to be”, It was a discussion about these two ways of living – one focussed on having (things, status, rewards, goals), and the other on being (self realisation, experience, shared experiences and relationships). It’s worth a read. Lancashire Yogi thinks that Fromm’s distinction between a ‘being’ way of life, and a ‘having’ way of life is compelling, and reinforces the points being made in these verses of the Bhagavad Gita.  They are as relevant now in 21st Century Britain, as they have ever been.

 Namaste

Savasana – the corpse pose: definately not for corpses

Standard

Savasana is one of the definitive asanas or poses. Lancashire Yogi likes to start, and end his morning practices with this. He starts his session in savasana and integrates what Jon Kabat Zinn calls the body scan. You can read about it in his beautiful and helpful book Full Catastrophe Living.  The body scan is literally what is says – a mental scan of your entire body while in the pose of savasan – mentally moving from your toes to your head to gently explore and experience how your body feels. It’s a good stock-take of your body and takes in aches and pains – good feelings and not so good feelings.  This stock-take can help guide your practice. It can guide you as to what asanas to do following savasana,  and what modifications and support, if any,  you need to help you in each subsequent pose.  Lancashire Yogi loves Iyengar because he loves and promotes blocks and belts and all sorts of props to help. Don’t knock it – the body needs this kind of help and Iyengar’s books depict lots of examples.

After doing a body scan – Lancashire Yogi lies in savasana and practices breathing. It all helps with the practice to follow. He likes to start on an out breath, followed by an in breath. One out and one in breath is one breath cycle. While doing this allow your mind to follow the breath. Focus on the air that is felt at your nostrils, to ‘peg down’ your mind to the breath cycle, and help you focus. Don’t beat yourself up if your mind drifts off – its good old monkey mind. It will take some time to train your monkey mind to stay on his perch and follow the breath. Just keep trying. Don’t worry. Monkey mind can be trained – eventually.

After his practice (which can be up to two hours later on a good day), Lancashire Yogi tends to drop into savasana to repeat the process and feel how his body, and mind feels.

A good place to start to unpack how to do savasana is Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. But you can find examples in all the classic and most modern yoga books.

Yoga Journal runs a good series on yoga poses and you can find a good picture and description of savasana here . It helps you to relax and get to a position of calm and serenity.  There is some evidence that it reduces blood pressure, and eases head aches and stress.

Lancashire Yogi hears a lot about how yoga is complicated with poses full of contortions and twists. But savasana is probably the most relaxing, and grounding pose Lancashire Yogi knows. With a mental body scan – its a nice way of keeping in touch with his body.  Infact, most nights he goes to sleep in this pose. Although it’s called the corpse pose, it’s definately not for corpses, but Lancashire Yogi likes the gentle and calm state of relaxation that it promotes as he drifts off to sleep at night, and the calm state before his practices in the morning and evening.

Why not give it a go? Particularly if you are having trouble sleeping.

Namaste

Karma and dandelions

Standard

Living with karma is a bit like holding  a dandelion up to the sky and reflecting on it’s beauty. Of itself, it just is. But to Lancashire Yogi, it’s beautiful and he marvels in its 3-D mandala-like quality. The silky threads of the seeds create the ornate and delicate globe that we know and love as the dandelion clock.

As kids,  Lancashire Yogi and his pals used to pluck dandelions from the ground and shout out “what’s the time?” and with a puff of breath, blow, and some seeds would sail off into the sky,  “one o’clock!”, we’d shout and blow again, some more seeds would sail away.  We would do this until we were left with a bare stalk and a sense of the time according to its scattered seeds.  Of course, it never was that time and we’d rush home to be soundly told off for being late for tea by our mums.

These days, the dandelion is becoming revered again as a medicinal plant and for culinary uses. Lancashire Yogi likes dandelion and burdock to drink.  The leaves are nice in salads.  This year he will be trying dandelion tea.  Home-grown and home-made.  But if you are tempted to try it for any of these uses,  check with a good book or two or online – and if you have an ailment and are on medicine – talk it through with your doctor to check  you arent “messing with the medicine” – or yourself..!

Why does Lancashire Yogi think that living with karma is like holding up a dandelion seed head?  It’s not the seeds theselves, but our action of blowing them and sending them out to find fertile ground and grow in profusion.  Lancashire Yogi understands Karma to be the results of your thoughts, word and actions.  In previous posts he has described karma as having an action like a boomerang. Ok, so he is mixing metaphors here, but stay with him.  Accumulated negative actions, words and thoughts are held by you. You can break the cycle by not responding to experiences that are merely a ‘here and now’  replay back to you of your previous negative actions, words or thoughts. Or you can perpetuate the cycle by responding negatively.  So, if in the past you gossiped badly about someone and when challenged by that person you denied it; some time down the track someone’s going to dish the dirt on you, and when you challenge it – they’ll deny it.  It will likely consume you with anger and frustration. And usually because we are so perfect, or because time has passed by we forget we previously acted this way and feel incredibly hurt. ‘How could they treat me like this?’ we think.  And you’ll want to ‘get even’.

But as Lancashire Yogi understands it,  there’s a way to ‘get out’ not ‘get even’ and that is simply by firstly recognising that you are experiencing karmic feedback, secondly by carefully regreting that you may have created this in the past and then simply not responding negatively in this moment to this situation,  in thought, word or deed.

Now, back to the dandelion.  Lancashire Yogi equates this to the moment when you are holding up a dandelion seed head. You can just admire it’s beauty against the evening sun. Or you can fill your lungs with air and blow a big breath of air to scatter the seeds.

And that’s how Lancashire Yogi sees these moments when karma comes back to him. In the moment when he feels like responding to the shouting man or the gossip, he pauses and appreciates the intricate beauty of karma in his life, regrets where he may have caused this, and then moves on. He tries not to respond by shouting back at the shouting man – or gossiping about the gossip. And in doing so he doesnt blow karmic seeds all over the place to sprout in profusion, and to create a perpetual experience of shouting men and gossips. Of course it’s a continual journey and Lancashire Yogi cannot claim to have cracked it, but he’s getting there, slowly and surely.

Namaste,