Category Archives: worldy matters

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

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

Be kind (to yourself, and others)

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2013cubes290x300So, 2013 has finally arrived, and with it the optimism and aspirations of a new year.

Just as much as a very english yogi likes each new morning for the  potential that it brings for each new day; so he relishes the turn of the year as it offers so much more potential for a whole year.  That is quite some opportunity.

It’s very easy to start off with some grand plans or aspirations and then slog at these, only in the dull days of mid January to find alternatives or excuses not to follow the grand plan or the dream aspirations.

There are lots of other blogs and websites that will give you all you need to plan and act on your plans.  Below,  the english yogi sets out a few of these. Some are really neat – for example, Stuart Berry’s ‘Ideas to Share’ blog majors on SMART -ly defined goals – and the yogi thinks this approach has a lot of merit. How do you know where you are going if you don’t define the destination?  There are loads of exercise sites but this year the english yogi thought the best (mainly for their fun loving quality) were the frugal fitness site ,  exercise works and Pumps and Iron sites, amongst many others, which  offer some really fun but yet effective, workouts.

I really loved the following sites for their evidence based realism and love of life : Richard Wiseman, David R Hamilton , and Seth Godin . Throughout the year, the yogi has kept coming back to TEDtalks – still one of the best online sources of inspiration generally, around.

The participants of the yoga discussion groups on Linkedin, remain a continuing source of inspiration, validation and  exploration. I thank them for their superb comments, discussions and insights.  If you are interested in yoga in all its guises, you can do no worse than visit the linkedin yoga sites and join in or simply observe.

So there is a plethora of information out there for the aspirant yogi,and my suggestions regarding these, are merely just a starting point.  If you can recommend any blogs or sites – please do!

Mindful of the dangers of offering recommendations and suggestions, my only recommendation for 2013 is that you try to be kind to yourself, and to others. Kind to yourself, because if you can’t be kind to yourself, how can you be kind to others?  And being kind to others just seems right so it’s worth a try.

Good luck and best wishes,  with love,

The yoga of hearing

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Yoga as we know is a package of practices, of which the one that the most people think of and do is ‘asana’ – yoga postures.  There are seven other elements of the yoga package. Meditation is one of these. Lancashire Yogi meditates regularly, and recently he was reflecting on the power of silence. How important it is to experience silence in all its depths.  It’s important to experience silence every so often because we are simply surrounded by noise all the time. There is the internal noise of our own mind to contend with, as much as the noise of the world ‘out there’.  We like to contribute to the noise, with our own thoughts and opinions too. Lancashire Yogi read somewhere that the level of background noise that surrounds us in our daily life is increasing both in range and volume.  It’s rare to hear complete silence. 

When Lancashire Yogi moved to his cottage in the middle of nowhere, it took him ages to get used to the dark nights because they were really, really dark. There was no light pollution. The night hung heavy with darkness.  But the nights, and the days are also heavy with silence.  Lancashire Yogi can hear himself think. Amazing. 

This got Lancashire Yogi thinking. If there was a yoga of hearing or listening – what would it be?  He thinks it is about being mindful of all the noise and sounds that one hears; not contending with it but abiding with it, and connecting with it without judging it.  Just listening.  In this practice, in the end silence, can be very noisey!

Lancashire Yogi was at a meeting with his business colleagues last week. They sat around a table and everyone wanted to say their ‘tuppence worth. Everyone had a lot to say, and everyone wanted to be heard. Lancashire Yogi was amused because everyone was getting quite heated. They all wanted to be heard, and all thought that what they had to say was the most important thing.  Lancashire Yogi was amused, because when he sat and listened, he realised that they were all saying the same thing essentially; with a different nuance or take on things. By listening you can connect and ultimately help others to connect. That’s what Lancashire Yogi did at the meeting.  That’s what he tries to do in life. It’s not easy. And like all other forms of yoga requires practice. But the trick is to not speak unless moved to speak, and then to be sure that one has something to say.  For the most part, the aim is to listen and hear; and integrate.  The synergy that results can lead to new insights, innovation and a fresh perspective.

Namaste

x

Perpetual Energy Machines

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When he was younger,  Lancashire Yogi was fascinated by that holy grail of science – perpetual motion, or perpetual energy.  Of course, over time he has realised that it really is the holy grail of science.  So, no perpetual motion machines, and no perpetual energy.

The other day Lancashire Yogi walked up one of the three peaks in the Yorkshire Dales – Pen-y-Ghent.  It’s a mysterious peak with a table top, the result of millions of years of erosion. It stands like a giant anvil in the Dales, and if you were to visit Lancashire or Yorkshire, the walk to it’s summit is worth doing.  On a clear day you can see Pendle Hill, Lancashire Yogi’s favourite Lancashire hill.  To spend the day walking up and down, and around Pen-y-Ghent meant that Lancashire Yogi had to forego his usual early morning yoga practices. By the time he was up on top of Pen-y-Ghent, he felt very out of breath and quite tired. Which surprised him.

On the summit, he sat down to think more about this, and he realised that he is always quite energised when he practices yoga, whether it is asana, pranayama (breathing practices), meditation or chanting.  So over the last couple of days Lancashire Yogi has been looking at his practice and comparing his energy levels between the days when he doesn’t practice yoga with the days when he does.

Surprisingly he has found that a bit of yoga each day – typically asana, pranayama, meditation or/and chanting do in fact give Lancashire Yogi lots of energy.  From the moment he finishes his practice, and grabs some breakfast to the moment he goes to bed at night – Lancashire Yogi feels much more alive, invigorated and energised.

Lancashire Yogi likes what he calls “evidence-based yoga”.  What he means by this is that there is evidence of the effectiveness of yoga through scientifically valid research, where the data is shared and the findings prove the benefits that have been hypothosised.  A few years ago now, Lancashire Yogi was heavily involved in some research of the benefits of mindfullness meditation for people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety.  The study was well-designed using a randomised control method and the outcomes were evaluated using standard and well researched outcome measures.  The findings were interesting; but the study size was too small to generalise  to the wider population or the yogic population.   On qualitative measures Lancashire Yogi saw that there were benefits to doing yoga but these were not validated through quantative methods.  You couldnt, therefore, say that the results from the study could be repeated on the wider population with any certainty.  However you could say that doing yoga generally is a good thing to do, because people appear to become more flexible, stronger and calmer.

As part of his research studies into long term conditions Lancashire Yogi when he was a researcher used a measure of stigmatisation – developed by Zigmond & Snaith in ’83 – the stigmatisation scale provided a measure of how stigmatised individuals with long term conditions like asthma, epilepsy or psoriasis felt. Lancashire Yogi was working with medics who were interested in something called ‘self care’ and how we could help people take more control of their lives.  We found that people who were stigmatised by their condition generally didn’t fare well with the condition, or the medical and other support that was available.  We thought it would be useful to compare the experience of psoriasis sufferers, with asthma or diabetes sufferers.  Later we compared the experiences of those with epilepsy and survivors of strokes.  We found that if you can measure the level of stigmatisation, you can do something about it. You can help people with high levels of stigmatisation, because once you have measured it, you can help them manage it.  And everyone benefits.

Lancashire Yogi is very interested in yoga as a “perpetual energy machine”. He wonders if anyone, anywhere has undertaken any valid research or studies of yoga as a tool to increase or maintain people’s energy levels.  He used to use a tool called the SF36 – and the SF36 v2, does indeed measure ‘vitality’ which Lancashire Yogi thinks may be a proxy measure for energy levels.  Developed by the RAND corporation the measure is here.  The development of a specific battery of questions extracted from the SF36  into a diary for all practicising yogis may well be a start. Lancashire Yogi will contact the good people at the RAND corporation to see if they can help!

Lancashire Yogi is intrigued by all this and will investigate whether we can begin to develop a tool to test out among the yoga community.  If it works; and we can show the benefits of yoga – that will have been a worthwhile adventure.

If we can ‘evidence’ the positive benefits of yoga in providing practitioners with energy: all the better!

Let me know if you want to join the journey to evidence this benefit of yoga; or if you know of any research out there that is already showing this.  All fellow journeyers welcome!

Namaste

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