Monthly Archives: April 2012

Learning from the donkey

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Lancashire Yogi has had a lovely time with his Aikido master, Sensei Ariana Masayume. Lancashire Yogi has had some brilliant Aikido teachers. Most notably the extraordinary Sensei Wasyl Kolesnikov in Oldham .  However Sensei Ariana Masayume has been a consistent influence throughout Lancashire Yogi’s life.  She taught Lancashire Yogi archery, and they have shared haiku across the world. Infact she introduced Lancashire Yogi to the haiku of Basho:

Breaking the silence
Of an ancient pond,
A frog jumped into water-
A deep resonance

Lancashire has a deep affinity with the poetry of Ryokan whose famous haiku is :

The thief left it behind:
the moon
at my window.

Made famous by the fabulous Joni Mitchell

Sensei Ariana told Lancashire Yogi an interesting story. She told him that she was in Italy exploring Yantra Yoga and was staying at a farmhouse in Tuscany.  They were doing a lot of building work and a new barn was being built for some prize farm animals.  The builders were transporting the rock and sand for the building from a nearby quarry.  They were using Gianni the donkey to carry the sand from the quarry to the building site.  The owner of the farmhouse had gone on holiday, with the express instructions that the job was to be completed on his return. The builders were panicking a bit. Gianni the donkey was working double time and extra ferrying materials and most of the physical building work was nearly complete.  The night before the owner was due back, Gianni had managed to fall down the well.  Lancashire Yogi thinks that it must have been either a small donkey or a big well.  Anyhow the next morning, the builders could hear the donkey braying away, and finally spotted it stuck down the well.  They were caught – they needed time to finish the building work, and yet, the donkey needed to be rescued. After some debate, they decided to sacrifice the donkey because it would take too much time and effort to rescue it, and they needed time to complete the work. As they started back on the job, all they could hear was the donkey braying.  Their consciences were plaguing them, but then one of them had a bright idea. They would fill the well up with sand and cement, burying the donkey, stopping its pitiful noise and hiding the evidence.  Lancashire Yogi stopped Ariana when she got to this part of the story because he was horrified that an animal was about to be killed, but Ariana laughed and told him to stick with the programme. Anyhow, the builders start tipping sand and cement down the well, and the donkey’s braying gets less and more infrequent, until finally it stops.  The chief builder congratulates the men and they turn to get on with the building work, but then one of them hears a strange sound, so they look in the well, and see the Donkey – Gianni – staring at them. They are all taken aback by this and a bit confused. Until one of them surmises that every time sand and cement has been tipped over the donkey, he has dodged it, trampled it down hard under his hooves and compacted it. He has done this throughout the efforts of the builders, so that eventually he has managed to rise up the inside of the well, on a platform of compacted sand and cement.  Finally, the builders tip more sand down, and watch as Gianni the donkey tramples it down, and rises close to the top of the well. With a light jump, the donkey clambers over the well edge and skitters off into the fields beyond.  Relieved the builders get back to work and just about manage to finish the job.

Sensei Ariana Masayume enjoys telling Lancashire Yogi this story.  As they pause over a cup of magnolia tea, she laughs, and says luckily the owner didnt know about the trauma that his donkey went through. And the builders finished on time. But, she says, for her the real story is that the donkey taught her how to deal with the rubbish that life throws you. You know, Lancashire Yogi, she says, you would think that the donkey might be seeing that its end was in sight. It was trapped in a well, the builders were going to kill it, and they were trying to bury it alive. However the donkey used the very materials that were being used to bury it alive, to rise to the top of the well and escape. 

Lancashire Yogi likes this – he thinks that life may well throw all sorts of difficulties at you as you journey through – but the trick is to turn whatever negativity or difficulties there are into opportunities and solutions.

Sensei Ariana Masayume spent most of her time with Lancashire Yogi reminding him about his Aikido and Ki practices.  Aikido means “harmony, energy way” and alot of their practices were about how you use the energy of the moment to bring about harmony.  Sensei Ariana doesn’t practice yoga, but she does practice Ki work – and the power of Ki is like the power of prana – and the energy that is generated by yoga practices. 

The donkey in the well is a good example of both disciplines in action.

Clearing Clutter helps the spirit

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Lancashire Yogi has been clearing clutter. You may be experiencing a similar situation: where a boot is hidden under a chair, a yoga mat is on the window sill, some blocks are propping open a door,  a couple of books stacked on the floor, clothes all over the place. Tools from some gardening escapades stacked by the door. Papers from some research splayed across the sofa. CDs scattered around the table and floor.  He’s a chaotic chap is Lancashire Yogi. Everywhere he goes he leaves a trail and a pile of books,  or papers or CDs or clothes or yoga stuff.  And that’s just Lancashire Yogi. He shares his space with half a dozen others and there are regular comers and goers, dropper inners who leave their own trails and gifts. Mrs Lancashire Yogi is a world class specialist in living in the moment with a trail or pile or two of stuff that follows her round the house too. It’s never a bone of contention, except when Lancashire Yogi falls down the stairs or trips over shoes….

When Lancashire Yogi hasn’t practiced, he notices that there is an inordinate amount of clutter in his living space. When he doesnt practice his system feels sludged up and he feels stodgy. That for him is one of the reasons why he practices yoga – to clear the pipes from sludge…. He’s noticed that whenever he feels sludge and stodge inside – its highly likely that there is clutter outside too.  Interestingly in ‘How Yoga Works’ by Geshe Michael Roach, and Lama Christie McNally,  the authors refer to clutter. In a refreshing take on ‘a cluttered life, shows a cluttered mind’, they highlight pretty much what Lancashire Yogi thinks – although he sees the clutter as a symptom of one’s clutter internally, rather than a cause!

Anyway, he’s having a bit of a clear out. And it seems to be working. He’s feeling less cluttered and that is helping.

More importantly,  he has his old sensei coming to visit tomorrow, and  Sensei Ariana Masayume is very strict and likes order and strictly no clutter. More about Sensei Masayume in due course : however,  she is skilled in Aikido and archery, writes lovely haiku and through her eloquent teachings has to be one of Lancashire Yogi’s favourite martial artists.  He will be at Kit Hartley’s class on Monday night and wanted Sensei Masayume to join him there – but Sensei Masayume will be arriving late at night following a series of international  flights – so they will catch up in the morning, as they both get up early to practice their various disciplines. 

Sensei Masayume says that the most important thing about archery is not the target but the love and grace with which you release the arrow from the bow. This sounds a bit like the words of Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita – and which Lancashire Yogi has described here.  He is sure that he and Sensei Masayume will be discussing this further. 

 “De-cluttering” seems to be a 21st century thing, driven by TV celebrities who go into people’s houses and who clear the house out into a big skip outside.  But actually de-cluttering seems to be part of ‘right living’ – creating a space where people, and energy can flow, and freeing up the mind and the spirit to be.

Namaste

Breathe, but with care

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Lancashire Yogi has recently been teaching other excellent trainee yoga teachers.  He took them through two forms of basic breathing practice – the intercostals breathing exercise which helps draw an understanding of a fuller, deeper breath, and the yogic cleansing breath.

Why are these useful basic breathing exercises?  The intercostals breathing exercise helps practitioners differentiate between the ‘middle breath’ which engages muscles between the ribs, and diaphragmatic breathing which is a fuller breath.  The practice helps practitioners to develop the full breath.  Its useful to understand just how shallow we often breath, and how more deeply we can breath if we know the mechanics of our body a bit more.   The yogic cleansing breath aids understanding of the full breath. It ventilates and cleans the lungs, stimulates the cells and gives a general tone to the respiratory organs, and is conducive to their general healthy condition. Besides this effect, it is found to greatly refresh the entire system.  In fact if you want to feel more energised its a good exercise to do .

Precautionary advice:

Always be cautious, and always be comfortable.  Ensure you feel comfortable at all times, if you start to feel light-headed or faint stop. If you suffer from heart conditions,  have high blood pressure or hypertension – please talk to your doctor or health professional before trying these.  If you suffer from respiratory conditions such as asthma or COPD talk this through with your health professional .  If you are pregnant – chat to your midwife or doctor too. If you have any concerns about your health, or any conditions you have – please check with your health professional that these exercises are ok for you.

Lancashire Yogi has demonstrated these  exercises to a class and there is nothing finer than a physical demonstration for you to check and recheck what you are doing.  It beats the written word…..

So, if you have any doubts at all, discuss these with your own yoga teacher who should be able to demonstrate them. What ? You don’t have a yoga teacher?  There are some fine yoga teachers right round your area – in the UK you can make a good start by going to the British Wheel of Yoga and searching online for a good teacher: http://www.bwy.org.uk .  Precautionary advice over –

We start with intercostals stretching, and finish with a cleansing breath

Stand in Tadasana (mountain pose) : upright, straight, steady

Feet parrallel and as close together as possible, toes pointing straight ahead

press down through all parts of your feet and feel the weight of your body distributed evenly

Keep your thigh muscles firm and straight with your knee caps gently lifted

Keep your pelvis in a neutral position by pulling gently in and up with the abdominal muscles

Keep your hamstrings gently activated and firm

Lift your chest, shoulders down and spine lengthened

Draw your shoulder blades together to allow your chest to open more fully

Extend your arms alongside your body,palms facing the thighs

Lift and place your palms on either side of your ribcage.

Place the hands as close to your armpits as you can whilst keeping your shoulders broad and relaxed.

Your fingers should point to the front with your palms against your ribcage

Inhale (breath in) deeply,

Pause for a few seconds,

Then exhaling (breathing out) gently squeeze your palms inwards against the rib cage.

Continue in this way to feel and get a sense of just how much your ribcage can expand and relax. .

Inhale deeply. Pause for a few seconds, then exhale while gently keeping your palms against your rib cage

Work with your breath inhaling and exhaling gently in and out and feeling what it is like to feel your lungs with lovely fresh air.

Don’t overdo it – its just a technique to help you understand that all too often we forget we have intercostal muscles between our ribs that help them expand and contract, and which inturn push our diaphragm down – which inturn increases our lung capacity – which inturn gives us energy and oxgygen!

Then moving to the standing cleansing breath,

Stage 1 –

Inhale slowly through your nostrils.

Hold your breath for a few seconds only,

Then puckering up your lips exhale a little air out,

Hold for a second and exhale a little more.

Continue like this until you have exhaled completely.

Inhale through your nostrils and begin again.

Stage 2 – for those who wish to make this more effective: (quick reminder: check the precautionary advice above!)

To make this exercise more effective:

You can also bend forwards from your waist as you exhale

And at the last moment of the exhale pull in gently,  your abdominal muscles

This will release any remaining air within your lungs.

Straightening up as you inhale again through your nostrils

Repeat as many times as is comfortable for you

You can build up the number of repetitions over time.

For those without any of the above mentioned conditions – these exercises are useful introductions to basic breathing techniques and can lead on to the more advanced breathing in yoga – known as pranayama.  But for that – have a chat with your yoga teacher – and if you don’t have one – get on the British Wheel of Yoga website http://www.bwy.org.uk .

You can probably guess that Lancashire Yogi is very cautious with these exercises – that’s because he cares about people and above all wishes to do no harm to anyone.  If you have any health conditions – and you want to try these exercises – do talk them through with your doctor or nurse or other health care professional. Lancashire Yogi is sure that they are beneficial but because he is not a medic – and because he respects the knowledge of medics and health experts – he advises you do too.

Namaste

 

True happiness lies this way….(for and from Esme, with love)

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Lancashire Yogi has been away on one his jaunts. At this time of year he likes to travel around the country and catch up with old friends, and make new ones.  He hoped to bump into an old friend, the Druid, when he was travelling this time, but he didn’t.  He knows that the Druid will come into his life when he is most needed, so he wasn’t too disappointed.  This trip though, Lancashire Yogi bumped into a lass who seemed to be very switched on. Lancashire Yogi was practising some yoga asanas on a beach somewhere in Wales and this lass came by and joined in.  There is nothing like doing sun salutation (surya namaskar) on a sandy beach, with the sound of the waves crashing on the shore.  Her name was Esme. She was well-established in yoga and after a good practice, we sat down and traded stories. Esme has lived quite a life. She grew up in Doncaster, the daughter of a miner and tough no-nonsense mother.  She loved dance and became a ballet dancer.  When she had reached the world of shows and reviews in London and Paris and New York, she became increasingly disconnected from it. She left that world when she felt she was being used and the world was getting too fixated on money and image.  She retreated to Wales.  She practices yoga.  She says that she was feeling depressed and anxious and then one day when she told her doctor she wanted to do something to help herself, and her doctor suggested she try yoga or tai chi.  She came across a yoga class and thought she would give it a go. She says that the yoga postures seemed strange at first, but after a few weeks, she felt better in herself.  She had a thoughtful teacher who passed on some books – the bhagavad gita and patanjali’s yoga sutras.  She became transfixed by what she learned.  Soon after she took up walking, and then began to practice a mantra meditation as she walked. She liked the idea that you could meditate just by repeating some lovely words. She chose “I am a beautiful expression of the divine” but you can find something online easily and the buddhists and hindus have some great mantras – ‘om mani padme hung’ – is a beautiful and well established mantra.  The Beatles sang “all you need is love”, the Hare Krishnas say “hare krishna, hare krishna”. A good positive song can do the trick too. It just pegs down your monkey mind while you are walking if you have a repeated phrase or song.

Esme and I walked along the beach. Lancashire Yogi loves life and loves people and their journeys.  He is always meeting exceptional people.  Always learning stuff from whoever he meets.  In his yoga classes in Burnley and Ribble Valley and on the Wirral, Lancashire Yogi has met exceptional individuals who he is privileged to have connected with. What a life to have this – and its not just Lancashire Yogi; if you think about it – we are meeting amazing people all the time because we are meeting people all the time – and they are all amazing. 

Esme was no exception.  She still dances, and we danced around the beach. A couple of dogs joined in.  We walked along the beach and up the dunes. We had a cuppa in a cafe on the hills above the beach. A real greasy spoon.  But like all good traditional english and welsh greasy spoons – the tea was good. And Esme told me that she had some principles which she tried to live her life. She said they seem to work for her. I could relate to many of them. She asked me to share her principles with anyone and everyone. So, here they are: the world according to Esme, sent, as she would say, with love from her world to yours.

I hope you find them interesting and helpful. She says they are simple  and don’t cost much to do, and as Esme says, they seem to open up your life and make it feel worthwhile and fun. Lancashire Yogi is no doctor but Esme said they can help your physical and mental health. Who knows? But they are so gentle and require such little effort – why not give them a go?

Esme’s Principles

1. Be grateful for something each day. 

2. Aim to achieve something or anything, each day.

3. Try to practice a little yoga or some gentle stretches at the least each day.

4. Try to walk for at least twenty minutes each day and try not to think of anything other than what you are seeing on the walk or say a mantra as you walk.

5. Try to treat everyone and every creature you meet with kindness and compassion. Try to be, without too much surrender, on good terms with everyone.

6. Have some fun, and try to have a laugh, but not at the expense of others.

7. Be curious about anything, but never nosey.

8. Try to live in the moment, and live each moment as fully and as ethically as you can in the realisation that it could be your last.

9. Try to learn something new about something or someone, even yourself.

10. Be kind to yourself, which means looking after your body through healthy eating and drinking, getting enough sleep and exercise; and looking after your mind by not criticising yourself or being negative about yourself.

11. Do something for someone or a creature

12. Try to be hopeful and optimistic – as the song goes “everything is gonna be alright”.

I enjoyed meeting Esme and wish her well for the future. She says we’ll definately be bumping into each other again.  And while Lancashire Yogi was sad to say farewell to her, he was grateful for her ideas. 

Today Lancashire Yogi was back in class with the ever-brilliant Kit Hartley.  Kit teaches in Burnley – at the Inn on the Wharf on Monday’s at 6pm, and on a wednesday in Colne. Kit can be contacted on 07854 207701 or emailed at m.j.c.hartley@btinternet.com. Today Kit was on superb form her instruction just gets better and better and you are guaranteed a very insightful and powerful lesson in yoga asana from her.  If you are an experienced yoga practitioner – you will discover more depths to the asana too.  As Frank Sinatra said, “It’s very nice to go trav’ling …..but it’s so much nicer Yes, it’s so much nicer to come home”

Namaste