Monthly Archives: January 2013

Back to Iyengar

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A very english yogi has just returned from a great Iyengar class run by Nicky Wright, in Barrowford, Lancashire.   

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You can find more information about Nicky’s classes here.

The yogi started practicising Iyengar’s unique and some would say it is probably one of the most authentic styles of yoga about twenty years ago,  and on and off over the years. 

What he likes about Iyengar is the focus on alignment and form. It’s a perfect style to discipline the body and get it working along the right lines – literally – given the focus on alignment.

Lancashire yoga enthusiasts are so lucky to have a range of skilled, enthusiastic and friendly teachers, and the ‘Yogi is getting to experience many of these. 

If you are in East Lancashire you can attend classes by going to the British Wheel of Yoga website: here: www.bwy.org.uk and go to the section ‘find a local teacher’. 

In East Lancashire the Yogi recommends Kit Hartley and Rose Mary Board and tonight was very impressed with Iyengar teacher Nicky Wright

Iyengar’s classic book – Light on Yoga – has been supplemented by a number of beautiful books including Light on Pranyama and Light on Life (see picture). The ‘Yogi recommends them all. 

The beauty of Iyengar practice with its emphasis on support (blocks, bricks, belts, etc) as well as alignment is that folk can start practising yoga with support and they can gently build up to full postures without fear of injury or feeling self-concious. 

Namaste

Living in the material world

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Living on,  and off the mat,  as a very english yogi wrote below, is a challenging, yet worthwhile practice.  It is challenging because you bring the whole of your life to the mat – the thoughts, the emotions, the embodied reactions to your ‘day to day’ trials and tribulations. It can sometimes seem a lot to bring with you, and takes time to shrug off through asana and other practices.  It’s also challenging because you take your practice to the world: where you test out your new found flexibility, integrity and learning against the whirlwind of days that we label as work or life.  Somewhere inbetween you will probably begin to realise that there is a sort of equilibrium to be found. Finding that balance is probably an ongoing and perhaps a life time’s work.Material world  The yoga (or other) practices tip the balance back in favour of you and rebalance the business of the days.  The english yogi is intrigued with how we manage the balancing act – it’s easy to be relaxed and kind on the mat with no one around you; much harder to be relaxed and kind when everyone appears to be rallied against you.   There are many practices that can help and it is the english yogi’s aim to share these here, and through links with other helpful sites.

In his spare time, the english yogi works in what some would regard to be the most darkest of arts – public relations. However the ‘yogi sees it as a necessary extension of his life as a journalist and a writer and he believes that public relations can be a noble profession.  He has though, been troubled by those who view it as a dark art and more recently, he has been wondering whether public relations could be harnessed to serve the even nobler practice of yoga.

As part of his efforts to make sense of the world the ‘yogi likes to conduct research and investigate the phenomena of the world.  With the help of the wider yoga fraternity he conducted a survey into the views of yoga practitioners towards public relations. If you participated – thank you.  If you didn’t but wish to make your views heard – please comment below.

This study is published here:  Is yoga practice at odds with public relations?  You are welcome to download it and read it -and share it with others;  and of course, do please post your comments and views. 

One very positive finding from this research is that yoga practitioners see public relations as a tool and if used ethically, aligned with the values of yoga, it can be a force for good. The english yogi is a great fan of the buddhist concept of emptiness.  He sees this as nothing merely than seeing the potential in everything and recognising that one can see something as either a force for good or for misrule and and chaos: worthwhile or not worthwhile.  If we view public relations as an objective or neutral tool to use – the next question is – do you use it as a force for good, or not? 

One recommendation of this work is for like-minded yoga practitioners, who are also PR practitioners, to get together – perhaps across the world ? – to work towards furthering and promoting yoga through a more ethically based public relations.  If you are interested in this; again the english yogi would wish to hear from you.

The ‘yogi wishes to thank all of those who helped and contributed to this research.  Namaste

On the mat and off the mat

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on&off the matA very english yogi spends a lot of his time “on the mat”. It’s called yoga practice and consists of asana, pranayama, mudra, mantra and meditation. You can find a list of the stuff that the ‘yogi gets up to on the mat here.

But in reality when the ‘yogi adds up the minutes and hours of his days, he finds that the majority of his life is spent ‘off the mat’.

This can be at work, or with his family or friends. The permutation of peoples and places that the ‘yogi can find himself in includes, in the car, at a desk, on a computer, in a meeting with others, in the garden, cooking, reading, making or playing music, walking, designing and writing and all sorts of other places and things.

Practice on the mat is fairly straightforward. Typically the ‘yogi is alone, with just asana and other practices to work through.  He can follow the teachers who have taught or influenced him through the postures and practices. It’s good to find a space and a time to practice postures and meditate as well as all the other stuff like mantra and pranayama.

After a morning practice though, a very english yogi spruces up and goes out to meet the world in all its guises.  This is where the real practice starts.

The trick is to bring the practices, knowledge and experiences ‘on the mat’ along with you.  There’s no doubt about it: it’s hard though. 

Off the mat, the ‘yoga finds that the asanas – the postures help him feel good, flexible, healthy, and happy. But it’s the mindstuff that really helps him get through a day without causing too much damage to himself or others.

A few guiding principles help:

1) whatever it is, it will pass: the world will move on and you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

2) people (and all living beings) are precious and special: our job is to help everyone and every creature to a place where they are happy and fulfilled.

3) everything is ripe with opportunity: you can choose to make that opportunity positive or negative, fulfilling or unfulfilling.  It is your choice. Don’t forget that.

4) compassion and love are the spice that makes the dish tastier.

5) it’s all just a projection of your own mind stuff: past, present and future.

There are loads of guiding principles and techniques. The one that the ‘yogi loves most at the moment is a work called Peacock in the Poison Grove. If you search for it online you’ll probably find it. It’s a centuries old toolkit for managing your mind and your life. 

Either way, if you are practicising ‘on the mat’ – remember that the practice continues ‘off the mat’.  Infact, that is where the learning and growth really starts.

Namaste

x

Easy does it….

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Every so often, a very english yogi  comes screeching to a halt to avoid hitting a stone wall.  stone wallHe never crashes into the stone wall; just stops in front of it and pauses for thought. There are a lot very english dry stone walls around the place. They provide margins and borders to the scattered fields, woodlands and valleys around the ‘yogi’s home.

Actually, the ‘yogi isn’t talking about stone walls outside his house; he’s talking about inner walls – mind walls if you like. And they are no different to the dry stone walls outside. The ‘yogi still screeches to a halt in his mind when he comes up against one and still stops to pause and think things through.

Recently, a very english yogi was asked to consider developing a posture profile on the asana Dwi Pada Pitham.  This posture is also known as the two legged table pose. It’s a precursor to the Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose).  It’s sort of a baby version of bridge.

The ‘yogi really struggled mentally with this posture profile. I think that this was because I regarded it as an insignificant asana, in that for me (who loves strong postures which are rich in symbolism and gesture) it wasn’t powerful, strong or rich in symbolism and gesture. For example I typically love working in asanas such as trikonasana, virabhasana, natarajasana, matsyendrasana – all expansive, symbolic, and richly gestural asanasa, involving all the body and encouraging for me,  deep meditation and awareness. Because I am drawn to wildness of posture and real bodily movement and because kinaesthetically I love the physicality of the postures – Dwi Pada Pitham seemed so insignificant and as a result I wasn’t drawn to it.

When I searched for references in classical literature as much as modern texts, the lack of references suggested to me that others think similarly; and as a result I think I became biased against it. As a result I really had to push myself to explore it both theoretically and practically.

My bias and resistance against a seemingly simple posture was my “dry stone wall”.

When you come up against such barriers – the important thing is to work with the edge of your resistance, and use your energy to transform the feeling and the moment.  Ironically by pushing myself and really getting to grips with the posture in theory and practice, I begun to see the value of this seemingly insignificant and rather gentle asana.   The vinyasa of the moment – you can see it here – encouraged me to focus on breathing in movement and posture, and for me although I am considered a quiet, reflective and quite a slow person – I tend towards wildness and activity – people are fooled: a very english yogi is as mad as Milarepa (ok not so mad!).  So it was interesting to be slowed down and grounded by this posture and this movement. 

I tend to find the quieter poses a challenge because I think I need to be energised to feel alive.  Dwi Pada Pitham was a good compromise – it was posture and movement (the vinyasa) but at the same time it was calming and grounding. Perhaps the vinyasa worked to calm and ground me more than, say, savasana (corpse pose) as when my body is so still, the mind kicks off on its monkey like swinging from tree to tree.

For this very english yogi  the lesson was – don’t be fooled or dismiss the seemingly “easy” postures – their gentle easiness can powerfully help you in ways that can sometimes take you by surprise.  Easy does it…..

Namaste

Above all, do no harm

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A very english yogi practices all aspects of yoga.  One aspect of the eight limbs of yoga – also known as  ‘astanga yoga’ is the discipline of yamas.

There are 10 yamas.

The first is called ahimsa. It is pronounced “a-him-sa”. 

The ‘yogi likes to think that living a life of ahimsa is a bit like living the medical practitioner’s hippocratic oath where they vow to “above all, do no harm”.  It’s fairly straight forward: live life striving above all else to do no harm.  A textbook definition of ahimsa is that it is the “principle of nonviolence toward all living things”.

One thing the ‘yogi has done since as long as he can reasonably remember, is to not eat animals.  It’s a starting point for non violence and above all doing no harm.  Eating animals in the packaged form that they arrive on the shop shelf as “pork”, “steak” or “sea food” is easy because those labels distance you from the route that the ‘meat’ arrived on your plate.  The route has to start with some sort of violence towards a living thing. You can’t escape it.  That ‘pork’ was a ‘pig’; the ‘steak’ was a ‘cow’.  Inbetween the animal living out its life in the field or pen and the meat arriving on your plate: it was killed.  To kill an animal is by definition an act of violence. crustaceans feel pain bbc report To eat the animal is a tacit approval of the killing – condoning the taking of a life for one’s plate and belly. The evidence is out there – you can survive and be fit and healthy without any animal, fish or fowl in your diet. So by eating the animal,  you are complicitly supporting the killing of that animal. It’s a hard but real truth.

Over time the ‘yogi has been observing how science and scientists are catching up with the vegetarians, vegans and practitioners of ahimsa.  The scientific evidence is growing and it suggests that not only are acts of violence visited on animals: but that they feel pain. There is a growing understanding that animals will, like humans, seek to avoid pain.  

Every so often the ‘yogi meets someone who for whatever reason dismisses the observation that an animal had to experience pain “on the way to being killed, processed and ultimately to arrive on your plate”.   Today, throughout the media in the UK, and on the BBC, it was announced that scientists have found not just evidence – because there is growing evidence already – but further evidence that crustaceans (lobsters, prawns, crabs etc) feel pain and make decisions to avoid pain. You can click on the image of the BBC news website, and it should take you to the website and the fuller article if you want to obtain more information about this. 

The article suggests that the food and aquaculture industry need to rethink how they treat these animals. Maybe we all do.

Yoga is many things to many people, but for most people it is the practice of asana – the postures – in a class with a teacher. 

If you are doing yoga in a class with a teacher, I am delighted because I think it’s the best thing you could possibly do for yourself and for others.  I think it will make you a better person.

However, you may wish to consider some of the other practices of yoga and you dont need to go to a class or practice physical exercises – you may wish to explore this practice called ahimsa. 

There is a growing amount of research and evidence that is encouraging people to reduce their animal (meat) intake for health reasons let alone ethical reasons. 

So why not try? A good starting point could be, to go a day or two without any meat, fish or fowl.  You might find this an easier experience than you thought, and by doing this you will be practising yoga – ahimsa.

Like Hippocrates said,  you would, above all, be doing no harm.

Seeing the wood and the trees

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“You can’t see the wood for the trees”  is a wonderful and very english phrase which suggests to folk that they are bogged down in the details treesand can’t see beyond them to the greater whole.

But focusing on the details like the trees, is as important as understanding your place in the wood.  You need to see the detail to understand the whole, and the whole is only such because of the detail.

To experience the strength of this saying, it’s advisable to be lost in a wood, with hundreds of trees around you.  There appears to be no way out of the wood let alone an awareness that you are even in a wood in the first place. The trees can be overwhelming. 

Yoga practice is often a bit like this – you start of in an asana – down ward facing dog,  say – and every element of the pose calls for your attention.  Your hamstrings remind you they are there, your hands need to be evenly spaced, can you gently bring the soles of your feet to meet the floor or are you happier raised up on the balls of your feet? Is your stomach drawn in towards your spine, or is gravity allowing it to sag downwards. Are your arms feeling the weight and wobbling? Are you breathing or holding your breath? Are you looking at your toenails wondering if you should have cut them, or considering the alignment of your spine between your shoulders and your hips?

All the individual parts of the pose all requiring some attention. And often what happens is that you focus on the position of your hands and you find your stomach starts to sag, or you ease your feet to meet the floor and your hamstrings plead for bent legs.

Eventually, in every posture, something magical happens. You get a sense of the whole posture and everything feels connected and inter-related. Suddenly you realise that you are in the posture as a whole: complete and integrated.  Some pundits suggest that this is a process of awareness – that you start off in any learning, being unconcious of your incompetence, and then gradually, through experience,  and learning you go from there to unconcious incompetence to concious incompetence, then to concious competence – finally arriving at unconcious competence.  It’s a compelling model and has a place in the pantheon of learning about learning.  This model may help you later when you are reflecting on your experience, but in the moment when you are lost in the wood, or faffing on the mat, it may not be that helpful. 

The trick is to experience every element of the posture, in every detail; and then integrate and connect it into the whole.

Next time someone suggests that you can’t see the wood for the trees, perhaps you could retort that this may be so, but given time you’ll see the trees and the wood.

It’s like someone has switched on the light”

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Nothing but a burning lightEvery so often I bump into an old pal who, after the usual pleasantries and catchups, asks: “what is this yoga thing all about then?”

Being a very english yogi, for fear of putting them off, or appearing some how brash or a braggart, I politely don’t rush into the wide range of benefits or details about how yoga can make you more flexible (in body and mind), how it is relaxing and can help you become calmer, or how it can strengthen your muscles, or improve your balance. I would rather someone found this out for themselves, rather than taking my word for it. Experience, in this regard,  is a far superior teacher.

I also tend to hold back on how it can help make you a better person – easier to be with,  more understanding , less competitive and more compassionate.  Again, this is evident from experience, for example,  from comments or feedback from family, friends and colleagues.

The semi-scientist in me, eager for evidence,  pauses long and hard before I mention that it can help with weight loss, aid insomnia, and can ease anxiety and help depression. I would much rather have the research papers to hand as well as the researchers and scientists who can explain the objective results better than I.

So, while I am mulling over all these points and mentally trying to draw them together in a digestable form, I find myself answering in the only way that an english yogi can, when put on the spot in a high street in a country town in england in the 21st Century.

I say that  for me, doing yoga makes me feel as if someone has switched on the light, and as a result, the circuits are running smoothly; with the energy pulsing around my system.  I feel alive and energised. It adds a zing and a zest to my life like nothing else.  However like any power system you have to be careful, and take it easy, but if you require a readily available, as well as a steady source of energy – then that is what “yoga is all about”.   

If my pal is still interested in finding out more – I point him or her in the direction of the British Wheel of Yoga – www.bwy.org.uk where you can find classes in your local area, if you are in England.  If he or she wishes try some simple postures – I usually suggest the tadasana and corpse pose and some simple breath observation

Every so often, I see a pal in a class, or I get a call from them, for more information – which I freely give.

I usually ask:  “how’s it going?” – and usually get the reply: “you know what? I certainly feel more relaxed, and have more energy”. And that experience is usually the best evidence there is.

Namaste x