Monthly Archives: May 2012

Fail Fast, Learn Quick, Evolve Well

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Lancashire Yogi,  is probably like many people in that he is afraid of making mistakes, and fights shy of ‘failure’.  On the mat and off the mat he wants a perfect world: pure and successful. On the mat he wants a perfect Tadasana, a scintillating Warrior, an outstanding Trikonasana, an elegant Natarajasana.  Off the mat, Lancashire Yogi seeks the perfect outcomes in his business, a beautiful garden, a perfect life. As he has previously blogged: Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says that you shouldn’t seek the fruits of your labours, rather you should just ‘be’ and follow the process. So intellectually, Lancashire Yogi is attuned to this. However emotionally and egotistically, he still is chained to the notion of success and avoids ‘failure’. It’s a life-long practice – and journey.

But, and here’s the paradox – if you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn – or at the very least, you certainly don’t have such a rich, deep and wide learning than if you do make mistakes.  So how to make mistakes and learn from them? Infact, how do you make mistakes, learn from them and evolve as a result?

The first thing is to be open to the idea of giving yourself licence to make mistakes or fail.  The idea here is to seek to just do the practice in a mindful way. In a sense you are doing, ‘being’.   The trick is to make your focus the process of whatever asana you are doing, and once you have made that leap, the next step is to make the ‘doing’  (the asana) change to a focus on simply being.   In other words –  be mindful of whatever it is that you are doing.   Let it happen.  Observe but don’t judge.

So for example, let the asanas emerge from your being – from your centre and feel into the asana with your body, mind and breath.  Your breath is a great way to focus the mind if it wanders.  If you focus on your breathing and the asana you should find yourself becoming mindful and immersed in the process of the posture.  Some people, including Lancashire Yogi have very untamed minds and they monkey around, swinging from one thought to another.  Don’t let your monkey mind tell you you are good or bad, or your neighbouring yogi is ten times better, or fitter or trimmer – or you are better than them, or that you are doing the most perfect asana.  If it does,  focus on your breathing and your body in the asasna.   You will soon receive feedback from your body  or your teacher if your asana is not working for you, and with that feedback you can if you wish, learn quickly how to modify or improve the asana and then again, immerse yourself in body and mind in the asana.

The same principle applies off the mat.  Just be.  You don’t need to set high expectations or strive for success or to avoid failure.You’ll receive feedback from yourself or others to help you improve or modify what you are doing.   If you respond to that feedback, you can learn quickly and carry on enjoying what you are doing in a mindful way. In the longer term you will evolve well.

This process reminds Lancashire Yogi of a self-evaluation and improvement model or cycle called the PDSA cycle. Lancashire Yogi has appropriated it from the Institute for Health Improvement  (http://bit.ly/oADoK3) – where it is heavily promoted for use in evaluating changes in health services.  If it’s good for health improvement – it must be good for yoga!

You could adopt it with your yoga practice on and off the mat.  P stands for Plan. D stands for Do. S means Study.  A stands for Act.  So, you could plan your asana (or anything on or off the mat), do it, study the result, and then act to make improvements using feedback and information that you have about your asana or othe practices.  It’s a neat model and takes you swifty away from the succeed/fail cycle to a continuous and evolving life on and off mat.

Lancashire Yogi thinks that tools like the PDSA cycle can help you continuously evolve and improve.

Your practice can be given a real boost if you adopt an openess and a willingness to go with the flow of your practice through mindfulness, breath awareness and a focus on your body.  A fearlessness about so called ‘failure’ and a committment to focus on being in the asana can help you fail fast – learn quick and evolve well.

Namaste

Glass half full, or half empty?

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Lancashire Yogi enjoys listening to the radio, usually out in the garden while he is weeding. Today he was building some more raised beds for some more veg as the greenhouse is becoming a bit of a jungle and the plants need planting out. You can’t beat home grown vegetables, picked fresh, and cooked in a tasty dish. From plot to pot in minutes has to be good! 

Lancashire Yogi loves weeding his garden and veg patches. He is not sure whether weeding is a metaphor for yoga, meditation and dharma practice; or whether yoga is a metaphor for weeding. Either way both practices seem to help each other. When he is meditating he gets some funny old monkey mind stuff popping up and trying to push him off his perch.  Monkey mind stuff is the stuff that when you are meditating pops up and says “they weren’t nice to me” or “must do the shopping” or “need to get that new thingymajig”, “damn, that rejection from that girl twenty years ago”.  It’s all rubbish and usually ego-driven.  But it certainly likes to find space in the mind to grow.  And our mind loves feeding manure to help it grow too.  For Lancashire Yogi that monkey mind stuff is the weeds, and the practices to keep the mind trained and focused on meditation is the gardening bit. 

Anyway, Lancashire Yogi digresses.  Out_in_the_garden_weeding. Listening_to the _radio.  Someone famous was being interviewed on the radio, and they said “oh, he’s a glass half empty kind of guy”.  And that phrase sent Lancashire Yogi off on a thought cloud. He has always seen himself as a pint glass ‘half full’ sort of person.  But the comment on the radio, got him thinking about the buddhist notion of emptiness.  This is the idea that basically everything, and everyone you see and are involved with are basically empty or ‘neutral’ from their own side – and how you perceive things is based on  your own conditioning and experiences – and karma onto the world ‘out there’ – including objects,life and living things, including people, experiences and feelings. 

So if someone sees the pint glass as “half full” and someone else sees it as “half empty” what they are both seeing is a product of their conditioning, experiences and karma. Because how can the pint glass be half full and half empty at the same time? Well, obviously it can! But as the age old song goes “it ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it; it ain’t what you see it’s the way that you see it”.  It’s not about the pint glass – it’s about the perception of the pint glass.

Of course, the implication of all this is that if you see the pint glass as “half full” then you will typically colour the rest of your experience in a “half full” kind of way – while if you see the pint glass as “half empty” it will colour your experience in a “half empty kind of way”.  So someone who sees it half empty gets uptight about the loss of the beer, and the need to get more, and the stuff about who is getting the drink, and who is paying for it, and why did I drink it so fast, and why aren’t they drinking their drink so fast.  While the person who sees it as half full, is sitting there, enjoying the beer, enjoying the moment, and wondering how it is that this beer seems to be an endless and most enjoyable pint of beer. 

Take this up another level and you’ll see that if you see your life as a kind of “half empty” sort of life – well you are re- creating the conditions to experience life in a half empty kind of way. So it’ll always be a bit of lesser experience, one which is perhaps based on the negative, or diminishing benefits of things.  Similarly if you see life in a “half full” kind of way you are re-creating the conditions to experience life as such.  So it’ll always be a more fuller, richer experience, which is perhaps based on the positive and increasing benefit of things.

The pint glass was always just a pint glass and it can only ever be half full and half empty; but you choose to see it based on your preferred view of it. Which is based on your experiences previously and expectations in the moment.   Same thing with life. 

Lancashire Yogi was talking to Gladys, a lady who lives down his road last week. She said “crikey I am in my 60s now, I feel like me life is over halfway done and there’s not much for me to do – and nowadays everyone thinks of me as past my sell by date”.  Lancashire Yogi squinted in the sun, sort of commiserated with her and then asked her how her grandchildren were.  They were a ‘right pain’ and ‘it isnt like what it used to be in her childhood when kids were better behaved and more well mannered’.  Lancashire Yogi smiled at her, knowing that Fred Lambert who washes his car further down the road will button hole her and say: “come on lass, pull yourself together: 60 something is but a mere lass in my book”, and Fred, will try to ask her out for a drink. Because he’s a sociable chap, and likes to jolly people up and along.   He has a glint in his eye, and has just come back from a hiking holiday around the pyramids in Egypt. He chose Egypt because that’s where “the action is” (according to him). Trouble is,  he tells Lancashire Yogi that the walking holiday got in the way of his two great loves – rebuilding an old Triumph Spitfire and volunteering at a local school and a nursing home.  He’s glad to be back.  He missed his car, the kids at the school, and to use his words, “the grannies in the home”.

Gladys sees her life as virtually finished and increasingly diminishing. Fred seems to see it as motoring along, and is having trouble cramming it all in. Gladys is 62. Fred is 84.

When Lancashire Yogi gets together with Fred they always do a bit of yoga together. Admittedly some gentle stuff, but nevertheless, some asanas that Fred enjoys.  He says he would like to come to a class but he says it gets in the way of his regular weekly night out with the ‘lads’ (who are all in their 70s and 80s).  Although he is not a serious yogi, I am reminded of the 92 old yoga teacher who has attracted a lot of interest recently, when I bump into Fred.

I’ve never heard Fred talk about whether the pint glass is half full or half empty, but clearly he has seen the potential of life and is living and enjoying it to the full.  He looks after himself, and takes an interest in everything and has a desire to help everyone he meets.  Gladys told me a few days ago that Fred did ask her out for a drink but she thought he was teasing her and is now giving him a wide berth. She definately sees the glass as half empty. But who knows? Maybe soon she’ll begin to see the potential of things and choose the ‘half full’ option – I’ll keep you all posted: Lancashire Yogi is planning a meal with Gladys and Fred, and a few other neighbours.  And the meal will be made from plot to pot – with some fresh vegetables from the veggie patch!

Namaste

x

Spinning, not staying still

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Lancashire Yogi has just returned from Konya, in Turkey where he was welcomed with great hospitality and learned a great deal about sufism and the Whirling Dervishes.

The thing about the Whirling Dervishes is that they seem remarkably energetic, certainly very trim and fit, and seem to be quite healthy and young looking.  The whole whirling thing is part of the rites and rituals of the Mevlevi order founded in the thirteenth century by Mevlani Rumi.  They are sufis and sufism is a mystical tradition in Islam.  There is much to commend sufism, and the Whirling Dervishes are fascinating.   It’s entrancing to watch and Lancashire Yogi understands that it is entrancing to do. There is something quite profound about the whirling of the dervishes. And it got Lancashire Yogi thinking about this movement and practice.

Where else does he see people spinning around?  For starters,  Lancashire Yogi is a great fan of the 5 Tibetans practice, whose provenance is strange but whose following is great.  Certainly a lot of traditional Tibetan yoga practitioners don’t recognise the 5 Tibetans; although there appear to be links with Yantra yoga and some of the tibetan versions of Hatha yoga.  The story of the 5 Tibetans is probably for another time, but it appears that they arrived in the west on the back of an English Army Officer.  Very strange story and worth a read if you can find the book.

Lancashire Yogi does the five practices along with the 6th which is uddiyana bhanda most mornings.  Of all of these,  he loves the 1st practice which of course is the spinning.  It’s a maximum of 21 rotations to the right (ie, clockwise).  Arms are extended out to the sides – a bit like an aeroplane.  He loves the energising feeling it creates and always feels happy and full of laughter as a result of doing it.  He loves the look on people’s face when they inadvertently enter the room while he is spinning. It’s a look of disbelief, and then curiosity and then laughter….’what’s a 40 something old man doing spinning round and round’…!  As a result, there is always much laughter at the Lancashire Yogi breakfast table after his practices, when visitors stay. If it makes for some laughter – that’s got to be good.

The whirling of the Dervishes is a more complex practice, with what appears to be an unlimited number of rotations, and hands held in fixed postures – up to the sky and down to the earth.  The Dervishes rotate to the left (ie, anti-clockwise).  They appear to be in a trance-like state – or rather the cycles appear to create a trance-like state.

Children seem to love spinning round and round.  I know I did,  as a child,(maybe I still am a bit of child!) –  and I often see kids in the street or around the place, circling round and round, and getting quite high and giddy doing it.  They always seem fired-up and energised by doing it too.

So why leave it to the Tibetan monks, the Whirling Dervishes and the kids? Infact, why not be a kid again and give it a go?  If you are feeling de-energised, down or grumpy or angry or frustrated or simply just bored – why not go for a spin?

When Lancashire Yogi got back to sunny Lancashire – and it really is sunny at the moment – he did some searches on the medical and health benefits of whirling like a dervish.  He found some references to whirling having a positive effect on the endocrine system but little evidence to back this up. So anyone who can provide evidence-based research or science to back up the health benefits of spinning or whirling will be very welcome !

Putting the science – or rather the lack of it – to one side, Lancashire Yogi thinks that whirling or spinning must be reasonably good to do as he feels energised and full of fun and laughter after.  He guesses that the physical movement is also burning a few calories too.  Obviously if you suffer from vertigo or dizziness, this may not be a good idea.  However, if you can find a bit of space and want to give it a go – why not ?

If enough people try this and are willing to conduct a research trial Lancashire Yogi will see if he can organise it – online or offline.

Now there’s a challenge,

Namaste

x

Yoga : good for your physical and mental health AND your creativity

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Lancashire Yogi has just come back from a wonderful and invigorating yoga class with the ever brilliant Kit Hartley in Burnley.  After a lot of travel in some difficult terrain and environments, and having had his mind opened up more by his Sufi and Dervish friends  – Lancashire Yogi desperately needed to open up his body and re-awaken his spine.  So he was delighted to experience a yoga class with spine awakening firmly on the agenda.  Awakening the spine is also, the title of  Vanda Scaravelli’s wonderful book .  If you are a person who suffers from back aches and pains – its well worth a read – and is infused with insight and love, as well as practical advice and tips for yogis and everyone.  Little do most people know but Kit is also a very creative individual and today Lancashire Yogi saw yet more of her creativity in action. Kit creates mobiles.  Lancashire Yogi is honoured to have one of these. It’s called ‘Spine’ by Kit, and here you can see it outside blowing in the wind.  Lancashire Yogi thinks that you can’t really appreciate Kit’s creations unless you see them in action, refracting and reflecting the light, and spinning in the wind.

To help you appreciate the mobile, and the creativity, Lancashire Yogi has taken a little film of it and you can see it here on thinkadelics vimeo page.

One of the great things about Yoga is that by practising it – Lancashire Yogi thinks that you not only open up your body and create space – but some how you also open up your mind to creativity.  Kit’s creations are just one example of that.  There is such creativity out there amongst the yoga fraternity that you can’t help feeling that the ability to be creative is made easier through the practice of yoga.  Lancashire Yogi is probably biased but he thinks that a lot of the time folks tend to promote yoga because of physical and mental health benefits, and to this you can add another benefit which is creativity in all of its guises.

Physically and mentally healthier, and a tad more creative.  What could be better than that? Time to get on the mat and open up that body and that mind.

Namaste

Is yoga just another form of exercise?

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Lancashire Yogi has been away with some Sufi friends in Turkey for the last few weeks, first in Istanbul and more recently in Konya – which for those who don’t know is the home of the whirling dervishes. More of this, perhaps later,because Lancashire Yogi thanks his Sufi friends for their hospitality and kind teachings.  He has learnt a great deal, and reminded himself simply how interconnected we all are and how all teachings are but different journeys that meet along the way. 

When he arrived at Manchester airport arrivals, Lancashire Yogi spotted some fellow Lancastrians and by some quirk of fate, managed to get a lift with them back home.  On the journey back to Lancashire from Manchester, his helpful Lancastrians began to take an interest in yoga. 

“Isn’t yoga just another form of exercise” one of them asked, with the rest all agreeing that like them Lancashire Yogi was really a bit of an exercise freak.  His fellow travellers were variously, footie players, judo or martial artists or runners. 

For what it’s worth Lancashire Yogi thinks that yes, yoga is another form of exercise if you want it to be – but actually it’s a whole lot more than that.  Lancashire Yogi sees it as a package of “living and being” tools and techniques , and if practiced and lived as a package – it can be a way of life.

So, although exercise is simply a way of getting fit and healthy, Yoga brings together a package of eight disciplines or techniques that provide more than just fitness and healthiness.  These are the    1. exercises or postures (asana)

2. breathing (pranayama),

3. restraints or values (yamas),

4. disciplines (niyamas),

5. pratyahara (sense withdrawal),

6. dharana (concentration),

7. dhyana (meditation), and

8. samadhi (total absorption).

There is so much more to yoga than simply ‘exercise’, and you can start with what are typically described as the exercises – or yoga postures.  In many ways they are a good way to start.  By practicising the postures you begin to exercise the body, and help it become flexible and strong. But in the process, you may find that your ‘monkey mind’ starts to slow down and quieten, along with your breathing, and that you find yourself gradually concentrating and focusing your mind on the postures.  After a few goes of this you may suddenly find that you are becoming absorbed in the practice, and finding new aspects of you, your body and your mind.  After a few more goes, you might find yourself becoming trim or ‘buff’ , and people might start commenting that you are becoming calmer, or more accepting; or indeed you might find yourself becoming more calmer and easy going. 

Lancashire Yogi suspects that a lot of exercise does provide these experiences, but of all exercises yoga is the package that enables you to move from postures to  meditation and ultimately to wholesale lifestyle change,  and a change in awareness.  It is designed so that this happens in a careful, structured and compasssionate way.