Monthly Archives: December 2012

Yoga is a good hinterland to have


viewing the nature of realityEvery so often while the ‘ yogi is reflecting on something or other, synchronicity usually crash lands around him to prod him further on in his reflections, and from reflection to doing, or being. 

Recently, he was reflecting on the value of depth and breadth in being fulfilled in life. In essence, the more broadly you expose yourself to things and the deeper you explore them, the richer and more fulfilled you may be. 

So he was thinking about this on his drive up to Cumbria recently, and on the M6 he turned the radio on and what should the singer be singing?  “the river is deep and the river is wide, you got to ford it to get to the other side”………………..

And then in the place where the yogi was staying, he decided to sit by the fire and read. The only available readable material was an old Daily Telegraph, which if you know a very english yogi, you’ll realise it’s not his default newspaper…Anyhow it’s a seriously dated newspaper and he opens the pages and there is an article about the importance of “having a hinterland”, written by Emma Soames. For the curious, the article can be found in the Daily Telegraph online,  and can be found here. Hinterlands according to Emma Soames are experiential or existential space created by people through their interests and outlook. Having a hinterlands makes people  deep and broad…….

And then over lunch with Mr Ross one of the Gateshead Druids, the next day, the yogi, heard him mutter : “you have got to have your own hinterland”.  He nearly fell off his chair, but recovered his composure and asked Ross what he meant.  Ross said that he encountered so many people, who didn’t have  a hinterland and this was, he felt,  much to their personal cost. He came across people who had retired with little else to interest them because they had focused solely on their careers, or whose sole focus had been family, and they had woken up feeling too one dimensional as a result. 

So many references to ‘hinterland’ and all at the same time. The english yogi has to say that something, or someone, somewhere is giving him a fairly big hint about something. He counts this as a synchronicity thing but more importantly he thinks it needs some serious consideration. 

The general consensus is that it is important to have a hinterland. So, yes, push or stick yourself out like a promontory facing the wide expanse of the sea and all its glittering opportunities, but make sure you have a good solid swathe of land to fall back on when the waves of the sea crash on your cliffs and start eroding them.   So if you aren’t sure if you have a hinterland, the first thing is to review yourself and your life.  The key thing about this is that providing you are, or have become, genuinely curious about the world beyond your own then you can start building your hinterland if it’s not already there. 

The yogi is influenced by his now, deceased,  Grandfather.  Inspite of his horrendous experiences on the Somme in World War I, or maybe because of these, Grandpa had an unswerving interest and natural curiosity about the world around him, which led him in many directions, and made him, even in his later years when he was elderly and infirm, an interesting, ecletic and intriguing companion.   hinterland swirlHe has learnt a great deal from him over the years, but more importantly he learned with fun, humour and with what we would call nowadays, a hypertextual interest in a wide range of often unconnected matters.  Grandpa also had many hobbies and interests: he would potter in the garden, growing flowers and veg’; he followed the space programme, and loved food and art. He was always interested in people, and what made them ‘tick’.  One of the many things he told the yogi, was to “never underestimate the value of a hobby or three, and always keep your eyes and ears open to new ideas and views”.   The key to building and maintain your hinterland is to have lots of interests, and hobbies, take an interest in the world around you and beyond your patch, and learn as much as you can.

So when the waves and winds of time start eroding your own personal promontory, built as it may well be on career, family, status, ego,  money or any other such thing – you’ll find that you have a richer, wider, deeper life to fall back on and launch yourself from in due course when the glittering prizes lose their glitter or recede in importance as things often do. 

Of course, the best hinterlands have emerged, as a result of sediment piling up over time, creating a large expanse of land, so that when you find the erosion starting on the promontory,  you can look back to see this land you created and which you can return to.

Emma Soames in her article describes (as one example) doing yoga as a contemporary hinterland. ‘English Yogi couldn’t agree more. Making a decision to go to a yoga class is a big step for many but once you have gone and have kept going – you’ll suddenly find that yoga is not only very beneficial and fun, but that it isn’t just about the asanas or poses. As your practice deepens you’ll find that yoga is a rich tradition with many aspects that you can explore with many benefits.  However, the first thing is to get to a class. 

Although it’s not the only thing in a very english yogi’s life, he does consider yoga to be a good hinterland to have. He hopes you can find it and draw on it too.

Namaste and best wishes

The solstice has been and gone


The best thing about the solstice celebrations this year was the overwhelming realisation that the days will be getting lighter here onwards.  This year a very english Yogi celebrated the solstice with close family and friends.  It was a time for walking in the woods, eating seasonal foods and sharing our love of life, art and love.   The yogi, went walking in the woodlands near his home. The trees were bare, and the ground hard with frost.   As he walked through the trees, he reflected that on the 21st December – the solstice – his part on planet  earth reaches the point where the day is the shortest and the night the longest; and then the earth shifts it’s axis and the days start getting longer, and lighter. It’s a moment worth celebrating if you prefer the light, and the longer days.  Bare Trees Spherised

Walking through the winter trees, ‘english Yogi practices the grateful mantra. It’s particularly useful when he is assailed by folk bemoaning their life or situations that life presents them with. Sometimes he finds himself moaning about his life or a situation in it. Not often; but he is human after all. So when he’s out walking he will list all the things that he is grateful for.  Today on the solstice he is grateful for the beginning of the days becoming longer and lighter with all the hope and opportunities that this presents. And then he lists all the things he is grateful for in his life. 

If you are struggling with this yogic practice, you can remember that maybe you have your health,  a home, food in the fridge, fresh water and fresh air…..If you start with the basics and work up to the fantastic holiday in Timbuktoo you had last year – you may find it easier. Inbetween there may well be a list of people: family and friends who have been there for you and who you value and love.  You may be grateful for an actor or actress whose acting transformed your life in some small way.  Or a film director or writer, musician or artist.  You may start reflecting that the refuse collectors, posties, and public services have given you much to be grateful for. You may be grateful for a company like google or microsoft….When you start to assess who you rely on, collaborate with, share your time with or value, you’ll begin to build a big list of people, places and other things to be grateful for.

Sometimes in this exercise, you can’t see the wood for the trees, as overall, it is very easy to forget that in relative terms,  you may have good health, a home, food in the fridge waiting for you, fresh water etc, but in reality, there are folk all around the world who aren’t quite so fortunate with these basics let alone the luxuries.  The trick is not to feel guilty or negative about this, just to be grateful.   At the end of a gratitude inventory or mantra like this; the yogi  can feel not only very fortunate or lucky, but also grateful for the life he has.  Paradoxically, if you are feeling down or low; or out of sorts. conducting an inventory like this can really give you perspective and a platform for getting on with life with a spring in your step. 

There is some evidence for the value of gratitude.  David Hamilton PhD, the author of ‘Why Kindness is Good for You’, and ‘Is your life mapped out’  sets out in his blog some of the benefits – here .  In the fantastic  ’59 seconds’,  it’s author, Professor Richard Wiseman suggests that a daily review of the good things that happened in your day may have some value.  He also recommends the use of a more formal type of  ‘gratitude journal’ or (if you are a diarist or journalist), a section in your diarywhere you keep a record of things you are grateful for.  The Tibetan Buddhists are pretty hot on this stuff too. The very english yogi understands that the key is being grateful for being born, being given a chance to break the cycle of karma and the opportunity to seek and attain enlightenment. The yogi is very sure that other traditions have a gratitude attitude. If you know of any do please let me know.  If you keep a gratitude journal or have done – do let me and others know what your experience is.

So, for the yogi, the solstice heralds a new year, and new beginnings on his journey through life.  A chance to be grateful for everything and an opportunity to build on this.  But don’t despair if you think you’ve missed this opportunity.  In reality, unlike the wonderful film, Groundhog Day – every day is a new day, bringing with it new potential, opportunity and adventure.  And the beauty of celebrating the solstice, is that there is still the ‘official’ New Year to come.

Best wishes for 2013

Vasistha in a cold climate


Days are getting shorter in Lancashire. It’s winter and the Solstice is almost upon us. For those who want to know when the Solstice is – it’s on the 21st December. And Lancashire Yogi is really excited. It’s the end of the days shortening: those cold dark days which appear to be more night than day. And it’s the beginning of the days becoming longer, lighter and slowly but surely…warmer.

‘Lancashire is ordering seeds on these dark nights, and the leaves are being swept up into the chicken wire coop that will ensure a nice crumbly leaf mould for the next year.  Of course, Lancashire Yogi leaves piles of leaves for the hedgehogs to burrow down into.

winter sun

These dark, cold mornings and dark cold evenings make the effort to practice yoga asana a real challenge.  Sometimes it’s just a reading session wrapped in a blanket; sometimes it’s the usual morning practices.

On these dark and cold mornings and evenings, Lancashire Yogi is re-reading Vasistha’s Yoga. It’s an interesting book. Some say that just by reading it you are likely to become enlightened. But Lancashire Yogi likes the story. It’s about a disheartened yogi who is disillusioned with life because he’s realised it’s all an illusion. And if it’s all an illusion – what can or should he even bother with?

It’s a good question: and Lancashire Yogi is spending his morning and evening’s reading the book to get to the crunch point. He’ll keep you posted. 



Learning from trees



How can you possibly learn from trees?

Lancashire Yogi thinks that they are great teachers. And now, at this time of the year, without their leaves,  they are looking very sparse with their bare branches and the glaze from the early morning ice making them shine like glass ware in the bright winter sun.

The yogis obviously did think that you could learn from trees. After all they created an asana – that we call ‘Tree Pose’ and that is called Vrksasana.  It’s a great pose that calls us to our centre and helps us find our sense of balance. Lancashire Yogi loves this pose. 

You start in tadasana.  Lancashire Yogi writes about this pose here:

When you have found your sense of rootedness to the ground, and your centre in this position, choose which leg you feel comfortable raising.  Once decided, move your weight gently onto the leg that will stay standing, and staying rooted to the floor with the foot of that leg,   bend the knee you wish to raise.  Then, reach down with the hand on that side and hold your ankle.

 Bring your foot up and gently place the sole of the foot against the inner thigh of the oppose leg.  If you can, it is suggested that you should gently press the  heel of the foot  into the groin, with the toes of that foot pointing towards the ground.   Your pelvis should be aligned with the standing foot to provide balance.  You can place your hands on your hips. This helps to ensure that your pelvis is in a neutral position – not pushing forward or tilting back.  

Once in position, gently press the sole of the foot against the standing leg’s thigh and gently resist this with the standing leg. 

You can keep your hands rested at your hips, or you can raise your arms and bring the palms of your hands together at chest level – typically around your sternum or centre of your chest – in the prayer mudra – known as Anjali.  At this point many individuals stop and stay in this balance. 

Lancashire Yogi finds that a couple of tips can help: 

(1) Think: “up” – imagining a thread pulling the crown of your head up and your body being eased up like a puppet or marrionette.

(2) Breathe. It’s easily forgotten; but absolutely vital. If you are holding your breath, and your face is glowing red as if you are about to explode: you are probably also swaying vigorously like a tree in a gale. So breathe deep and easy.

(3) Focus. Focus on a spot on the floor about 3 – 4 feet in front of you. This helps you focus more generally and zone out the monkey mind thoughts that also seem to help us sway like a tree – or perhaps swing from branch to branch like a monkey in the tree.

(4) Don’t worry. If you are swaying like a tree or wobbling like a weeble. Don’t worry. It’s a useful sign that you need to think up, breathe and focus. And more importantly it’s a sign that you might want to enjoy and have fun, rather than get all angst ridden or competitive or embarrased. Remember also that “weebles wobble; but they don’t fall down” – so try not to get into a battle with yourself which ends with you doing falling on the floor legs in the air yoga – ouch!

Some folk decide to go a bit further and raise both arms up above their head and  keep the arms, with palms facing each other, and arms straight past either side of the head and ears.  Some folk go a bit further and bring the palms together in the anjali mudra above their head.  Find where you feel comfortable and work with this. Don’t strain, and don’t try something that feels uncomfortable. And as Kit Hartley –  ‘Lancashire’s Yoga Teacher always says:  “breathe”.

You could stay in this posture for any time – but typically up to a minute or so is fine. Again, don’t strain. Find your limit and work within this or to it’s edge.  Build up to it,  rather than fall down too.  When you have finished, return back to Tadasana breathing out, and then repeat this for the opposite leg. 

Walking in Ennerdale, Lancashire Yogi spotted four trees on the brow of a fell, silhouetted against the bright blue sky, like four fell walkers strolling up the hill. It got him thinking – apart from the posture – what else can trees teach us?

If you look closely at the picture of the four trees on the hill – you’ll see that they are all bending in one direction.  A major lesson that trees have given Lancashire Yogi is that it’s best to bend with the wind rather than fight it.  He also thinks that its as important to have strong roots which give stability, as it is to have branches which offer shade. 



Going out, to get inside


Lancashire Yogi loves this time of year. It’s cold, and the air is crisp and sharp. The sky often open and wide, and stunningly blue.  Nature is either moving into hibernation or has already hibernated. The sap in the trees has long dropped.  And most of the time it’s freezing.   Tree branches are glazed with ice, and grass frozen in spikes.  High above and across the sky, flocks of migrating birds swoop and undulate in perfect motion on their way to a warmer, more welcome climate. Sometimes ‘Lancashire sees the birds spell out goodbyes and farewells in the undulating sweeps and swoops. The occasional vapour trail from a high altitude ‘plane spells out migrations of another sort.

It’s a perfect time to get out of the house and go walking.  Lancashire Yogi likes to take off over the fells and this year is exploring the Wasdale and Ennerdale valleys in Cumbria. The silence is astonishing: it’s almost as if every possible sound has frozen along with the grass and trees. And the silence hangs heavy in these Cumbrian valleys: heavy and deep. The occasional dog bark sounds like an exclamation mark in the silence. A crow on a tree branch, a comma of the frozen pause that has begun.

frozen grass (2)Lancashire Yogi always find that through the process of walking  in nature, he comes back to himself, and finds his centre.  Perhaps he finds his place and along with his pace. The rhythm and pace of his walking are like a metronome guide back to himself, as much as to the destination of the walk. But in many ways, the destination is always only one aspect of Lancashire’s walks in the ‘Lakes.  Somehow the forays are always about walking back to himself, and the destination and scenary are simply an excuse to get back to himself.

And what happens when ‘Lancashire walks back to himself? Intriguingly he makes an astonishing and mindblowing discovery – (as Easwaran says in the Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living) – with all this walking and out in the fresh air, with beautiful views and the senses alive to the environment, ‘Lancashire is not this body that he has.  It’s an experience thing rather than an intellectual observation or analysis. The body is merely a vehicle to pass through the land, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the journey. And if ‘Lancashire is not this body ; then others cannot be their bodies either.  The outer thing we call a body is simply a jacket or outer covering. It suddenly means we can dispense with our sense of difference about others and ourselves. Without identifying people as ‘bodies’ we can see them as people, souls, perhaps, within a vehicle that is simply just helping ‘us’ get through.

The walking thing then brings about something even more extraordinary realisation – often half way through a nice long walk : we are not our mind either. Because as you walk, you begin not merely to observe your surroundings; you begin to start observing your thoughts. And then you begin to wonder, ‘if I am observing my thoughts, who is thinking?’.  If the mind is generating thoughts, and I am observing them, what, or who , is doing the thinking? This perspective means that the you that is observing the thoughts can start responding to the thoughts that are perhaps mistaken or wrong, or unhelpful. And you can begin the process of mind engineering – for example,  tightening a bolt here, loosening a nut there, pouring some oil into the mechanism.  As an aside,  ‘oil’ for ‘Lancashire is repeating mantras. We can watch the torrent of negative or disabling thoughts rush by like a river full of flotsam and jetsam.  And we can follow the flow down stream and away out of our thoughts. And as a guide, Lancashire Yogi finds himself looking around to nature, and observing it’s “is-ness”: where it apparantly has no thoughts and no worries: and just ‘is’.

And then, finally Lancashire Yogi finds that actually, there are no boundaries between him and nature, and probably, well, everything.  There is a sense that he, and everything are all interconnected. He feels this particularly as he moves through the Cumbria landscape, through the valley, in the shadow of the fells, with the water of the lakes beside him. And if he is interconnected with everything, and indeed, all of us are interconnected – then to put up barriers and create degrees of separateness must surely be an illusion for some reason or other. And if everything is interconnected perhaps we need to cherish life and living things, and value our place in the big scheme of things.

Yes; Lancashire Yogi loves walking and loves walking at this time of year. However walking at any time of year is a good way of coming back to yourself: a sort of going out to get inside.  If you are feeling physically, mentally or soulfully cooped up – why not get up and go for a walk – just wrap up warm and enjoy.

The days are getting shorter at the moment. We are heading towards the Winter Solstice: where the sun is at the lowest point on the horizon at midday, as a result of the earth tilting on its axis. The Solstice is not a time for sadness though, even though it is the shortest day in the year.  From the Solstice (the 21st December, this year), the days will start to lengthen again. And although most will be rightly celebrating the Christmas and New Year; the Solstice is surely worthy of celebration as it is the beginning of the days slowly becoming lighter and a pointer towards Spring and Summer even in the cold, dark, often snowy days of Winter.