Tag Archives: yoga

Equanimity

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The aim of yoga is to cease the movement or turning of the mind as Patanjali suggests in the 2nd sutra of his Yoga Sutras. So if through yoga asana, meditation and pranayama the practitioner achieves this cessation of mental fluctuation – what then?

The stillness of the mind quite possibly creates the conditions for equanimity. A very english yogi likes this word. It means composure and evenness of temper regardless of the situation.

This state of being is perfectly symbolised in a quote that the ‘yogi heard recently. He thinks it’s Tibetan. It goes like this:

“If something is broken, why worry if it can be fixed? If something is broken and it can’t be fixed, why worry?”

and just the other day, the Yogi was re-reading a well known poem by Kipling which seems to sum up this sense of equanimity:

If by Rudyard Kipling
Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a man, my son!

Equanimity comes from yoga practice – the more you get on the mat and practice asana; the more your cittas stop vritting and the more likely you are to have a sense of equanimity.

Life throws us plenty of challenges to this. You walk in to your office and your work mates are arguing, your boss is shouting at you, your car broke down, another driver cut you up, you didnt get the job you had placed all you energy and hope for. There are so many scenarios in the play of life that one is tempted to think that these things are thrown into your path to test your much treasured and worked for equanimity. Much treasured because it is hard in this world to achieve this; and possibly the only way to get this is to work hard, turning up on the mat practicising asana and living yoga off the mat as much as possible.

A very english yogi knows that Kipling is a bit dated, and recognises that it’s written from a father to a son – but he thinks that it has resonance over the years and across generations and gender.

Here’s to your equanimity!

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 for the trees

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Sometimes Lancashire Yogi is so focussed on all of the beautiful trees at the back of his cottage, that he forgets to see the wood.  Then he climbs up onto the rocks above the wood and looks down to see the beautiful wood in its entirety.

It’s good to see each individual tree – they are beautiful and unique.  But it’s equally good to see the wood as a whole.

Likewise it’s very easy to struggle on specific contortions in a yoga posture – an arm here, a leg there, a twist round, a hand this way, a foot that. Particularly when we are learning a new asana the focus is very much on each individual body part of the posture. As we grow and learn into the posture we gradually begin to ease our concerns and effort for each body part. But we also begin to see the whole posture and appreciate the whole as the sum of those parts.

For beginners it’s often very frustrating but its worth sticking with the effort, and then to eventually appreciate the whole posture. As you learn the posture – you do eventually see the wood for the trees.  And over time, you may find that your yoga practice is becoming a bit of a vast forest.  It’s beautiful and profound and worth sticking with.

Namaste