Monday, 18 April 2016

What is your practice

If your practice is causing you to feel contracted
If your practice is causing you to feel unworthy, small, bad...
If your practice is taking something away from you

It is a milestone we sometimes meet
If it is really calling for your inner inquiry, just take a step back and examine if something needs to shift

Your attitude towards your practice
Your presence at practice
Your expectations

One way to stay focused is to have a clear purpose of why you practice.
Even if your purpose is to achieve as many asana's as possible- if this is really what makes you happy, don't let anyone rock your stage.

I see many discussions these days about what is yoga and what is not yoga. In India, almost everything is neti neti- not this, not that, as is yoga. 
#yogaisnotjustasana
That is true
But if your yoga is just asana, don't be led into thinking that you are doing a lesser practice. Or that somehow, you are missing the point.

For me, after many years of practice, i no longer distinguish between what is and is not yoga (nor have i ever, because I started yoga before social media & it's definition has never been a discussion) Yoga is in everything that I do, every breath that I take, every thought, every emotion, every practice. But before I came to live like this, yoga for me was a lot of very awesome stuff i do with my body that made me feel great.

I still love asana practice and for me, asana & meditation is still at the core of what I deem to be my yoga practice. I practice because I have a strong tendency towards passivity, especially here, in my English home - I am still trying to figure out why. I also have this tendency to drop things when they are not going the way I want it to - perfectly, that is! When I fall into these habits, I become incredibly irritable and pissed off- which is not great for those around me. My practice supports me by reminding me daily that something does not have to be perfect to feel great. Moving - well... moving helps me get going. Above it all, having this time to be quiet, to focus internally, gives me clarity, peace and a sense of my centre. It keeps me connected to my true being- not the lazy, agro self that i can fall into. Those of you who know me might think that is not possible- well, it is, but you do not meet that person thanks to yoga (My husband meets that person sometimes. I am sure he will tell you LOL) 

Just do what makes you happy
If you are doing what feels good for you, everyone around you is receiving those benefits.
When we are happy, we are more open, more giving, more kind, more of everything good and less of everything not so nice. 
Not perfection
Just better.



Monday, 1 February 2016

Mudra Vinyasa

In a general sense, a mudra is translated as a gesture but another meaning of the word is attitude. In yoga, mudra's are usually associated with hand gestures, but mudra's are also whole body gestures. Many will agree that mudra's are not something invented by the Indians but rather something that has been seen and used throughout cultures around the world. 

A simple example of everyday mudra's that you will come across often is the gesture of throwing a fist or finger at someone. Seldom is this done without some corresponding body, face, eye, etc, gesture. So in this way you can see how a whole body mudra is formed 


As stated by Swami Satyananda Saraswati in his book 'Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha' *
"Mudras provide a means to access and influence unconscious reflexes and primal, instinctive habit patterns that originate in the primitive areas of the brain around the brain stem. They establish a subtle, non-intellectual connection with these areas. Each Mudra sets up a different link and has a correspondingly different effect on the body, mind and prana. The aim is to create fixed, repetitive postures and gestures, which can snap the practitioner out of instinctive habit patterns and establish more refined consciousness

Swami Muktibodhananda in her book 'Hatha Yoga Pradipika'* explains that "Mudra is a specific body position which channelizes energy produced by asana and pranayama into the various centres, and arouses particular states of mind. Some mudras can be done separately after asana and pranayama and others are performed with asana and pranayama and others are performed with asana and pranayama to help awaken the chakras and arouse Kundalini shakti"


When we practice asanas as yoga mudra's we are more focused on the energetics (or the pulsation of prana) of the postures as opposed to the physicality of it. Not that all yoga practice should not be focused this way. Yoga asana as mudra for me is a more "advanced" way of practicing yoga asana. It is also difficult, and not practical to ask a student to feel the energetics of the pose when they are still figuring out the physicality of the pose. 


Having said that, it is not something difficult or "out there" to experience energetics or prana in the body. We all feel this in an obvious way on some level. For example, when you inhale and extend your arms overhead, most people will immediately get that feeling of that upward surge in their body.   


Aside from consciously practicing asanas as whole body mudra's, when you embody specific hand gestures (hasta mudra) into your practice, again, you will add another dimension of energetics to the practice. You can experience this for yourself- extend your arms out and do nothing with your hands, and then make a chin mudra gesture (join your thumb and index finger, extend your other 3 fingers) You will feel the difference right away.

Join me in any one of my workshops or at my regular class at red Hot Yoga on Saturday's to experience this. The video below is a snapshot of some flows that we practice. (The video is not arranged for practice and is only meant to be a snapshot) The practice is a fusion of my understanding of several yoga schools (Prana Vinyasa, Shadow Yoga, Vinyasa Flow), Tai Chi and some martial arts, mudra's added are universal.









* highly recommended books


Thursday, 12 November 2015

Advancing Asana Practice



Do you remember your first yoga class? Or even those first few months or years of yoga practice? As cliché as it may sound, I guess I would describe it as the beginning of a journey of discovery. Feeling your body in a different way- in fact feeling every part of your body- some parts that you never even knew existed!

In modern life, we are so accustomed to external stimuli that going inwards feels like a trip to a far away planet, but one that is most beautiful, & one that you absolutely fall in love with. And of course, like all love affairs, it’s a roller coaster ride with many highs and some lows- where we take stock, ask questions, reevaluate our aspirations.

I feel like yoga practice is very much like a romantic relationship- you have the honeymoon period, a period of really getting to know each other; the beautiful and the not so beautiful and then a ripening that is so sweet when you know each other so well that you know how to support each other’s happiness. So in our yoga practice, we have that initial discovery- we literally fall in love with ourselves (not an ego thing, but also lets not use that word like it’s the devil himself) Following that, there is that realization – “my body is so this and that”, but equally, “wow! My body is so strong and amazing”, etc. And then (after some YEARS) you get to know it so well, you know how you feel, how to make yourself feel better, how to move like a rock star!


But like all romantic love, this is not the moment to stop growing and learning, because we are always changing. If we stop putting the effort into our relationship, it is likely that we will lose that space of happiness and contentment. Contentment is not a place of non-activity. Rather, it a place you have found that you are happy to be in, but to remain there, you have to put in the work. The work may change. To remain feeling content does not necessarily mean doing the same thing over and over again. This works for some people but not everyone. So what works for you? You will know if you are doing the right thing for yourself but evaluating if you are feeling that same joy.    

For me, this is what advancing my practice is about. Although I have practiced for many years, I have discovered that the practice never stops revealing connections to my body and inner self. Through my practice, I am experiencing change every day. This is both very powerful and humbling. Let me make it clear though, that I am not experiencing these things just from advance poses. I feel the change in my warrior 2 all the time.

But whilst feeling the change in poses that I am familiar with keep me grounded in my body, advancing my practice continues to help me break barriers that cause me to move from my contentment spot. Advancing my practice is not about doing advance poses. It is about doing that thing you did when you first walked into a yoga class – remember how scary that was? And equally how empowering that experience was? Very soon, you were not afraid to walk into any yoga studio in the world. That is what it is all about – breaking barriers that we unconsciously create every day.

If you have been practicing for a while, do not be afraid to walk into your first level 2-3 class. And if you found after that it was not for you, at least you gave it a try, or you will never know. It is not as hard or as crazy as you think and it is ok to leave it for another day if it was not right. There is no ego and there is no judgement. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Interview Q&A



Interview Q&A with Victoria from Inspired Yoga, Sweden

1. When and why did you start practising yoga? 

I took my first yoga class at university in 1994. I was not inspired to practice it regularly right away as I was distracted by student life and a lot of activities new to me. I only started to practice regularly when my best friend took me along to her class back in Malaysia in 1999. There was no profound reason for starting yoga practice. It was solely a physical love to begin with. I started practicing regularly because it made me feel good.
2. How has yoga helped you in your life?

Over time, i noticed how i had changed- feeling more relaxed, less reactive, more focused & also more mindful. My relationships with everyone became so much better. I guess you could really say, yoga practice changed my life. I realised some years later that everything I learn and encounter on the mat applies to how I flow in my life. I see this relationship clearly now.

Aside from this, I also used to have terrible body image issues. Yoga has really changed my relationship with my body. I have great respect & great appreciation for my body now. It is not that i am completely over these issues, but i am so much more comfortable in my body that I am not even afraid to put myself out in the big social media world now. It's a huge thing for me & i am grateful for it.
3. What does yoga mean to you?
For me, yoga is a complete mind body practice. Physical practice keeps the body healthy, meditation keeps the mind healthy. I think there is some confusion sometimes and there are some who think that physical practice and meditation are separate. Meditation can also happen during physical practice. Just taking time out to focus on the breath can clear the mind too. If practice is focused, meditation happens too.
However, I think it is important to stop every day and just sit quietly to watch the thought waves, even if it is just for a moment. The mind is an incredible place. I believe meditation & physical practice should happen side by side.

4. What is your favourite yoga pose?

I have soooo many! But if i have to name just one, it would be pincha mayurasana. I have been working on this pose since the day i set eyes on it when i could not even do one inversion! The pose just keeps challenging my beliefs. Even when I've got it, it will not let me keep it. Not yet anyway ;-)

5. What is your most memorable yoga moment?


I have a few and cannot pick one so here are a few...

When i took my first Vinyasa class & experienced the freedom of movement & creativity
When I did my first teacher training. There were only 5 of us. It was an intimate & life changing month.
When I first met my teacher Shiva Rea 
When I met you! 

6. What inspires you?

Possibilities inspires me. Waking up every morning to an abundant of possibilities & going to bed, looking forward to the morning. I feel so blessed to be given this life & this moment.
Love also inspires me. Love is so powerful. When love is present, possibilities are endless. And I mean love for anything. In an all inclusive sense.

7. What do you love about teaching yoga?

Yoga is such a big part of my life. I get so much joy from being able to share it. Not just the asana practice but also the many magical & inspiring stories. Some stories & inspiration have been passed on from teacher to teacher, so it is not possible to hear these stories if these gifts are not also passed on.
The big thing of course is also sharing asana practice. For me, it's really like playground time- when we laugh & play & discover the many things that we are capable of. A time when we breakdown many of our perceived limitations that we accumulate in our adult life. For me, it is exciting when I see someone have an "aha" moment. When they find something within themselves. And this is also what I love about teaching yoga. Every class is different. You just never know what you're going to get.

Monday, 7 September 2015

ommm & omming


Before I discovered the many descriptions of om, i never questioned it's origins or it's meanings. It was just something I picked up as a part of my life in a Buddhist home. My first yoga teachers taught me OM as AUM (i will use aum and om in this blog just because neither is right or wrong) This is the understanding I normally share in class:

AUM is the sacred sound vibration. The first vibration in the universe or on earth at least. It is everything and nothing, everywhere and no where. We hear the hum of aum everywhere. When we chant AUM, we start with the vowel Aaah. We feel this vibration in our belly- the beginning. Then we start to move the vibration into Ooo and feel this vibration in our throat region- the middle. And finally we end with Mmm and feel this vibration in our third eye region- the end. And at the end of AUM there is a silence (it is not actually silence but an unstuck sound)  and we get the sense of this as the radiance from the crown of our head- after the end, there is space. So in one breath, AUM contains everything- creation, continuity and dissolution- life. To me, this is sacred sound. We all feel grounded when we connect with it. And whenever & wherever I chant it, I feel it originates from deep within me & releases as vibrations. It is not religious, but sacred. 

I am sharing this today because I often notice how this sound gets belted out. There is no right or wrong way to omm mind you, but lets consider the intention behind om & omming.

When I open and close my mediation practice, or when I am doing a japa, I will never belt out my mantra's or om's. The only time i do this is when I am trying to strengthen my voice when I know i have to lead a kirtan. In fact, when I am on my own, I feel my oms come from somewhere even deeper within. If you have never tried this, I invite you to take a moment, sit quietly, just for a moment & when you are ready, try 3 om's. I am quite confident that you will share the same experience. Because this is so, when we come together in a kula, it should be no different. We are not trying to be heard and not trying to create anything. I think sometimes, there is perhaps that idea that we should make an effort to contribute to the sound so as to raise the vibration- but actually, when the sound is forced, too loud, too domineering, the opposite happens. 

During a yoga intensive, I also received this teaching from a lovely teacher, Ross Rayburn. He said, when you go to a class, you are there to be led, so the time of invocation is no different. Allow yourself to be led by the teacher. Don't start before them, just be right behind them, be a little softer than them. It is also a way to show your respect, a way let the ego go and be ready to receive. (Ego by the way- not a bad word- another blog another time)

I hope this helps you connect to why we om & makes this practice more meaningful for you. Again, a reminder that there is no right or wrong way to ohm, and this is just my practice to share with you and an invitation to try it, if this is not already a part your experience. When AUM comes from deep within you, not as something you are trying to do or create, but rather as something you are sharing from deep within yourself which is all of yourself in one breath, one sound, the practice of chanting om becomes something sacred. And sacred- somethings have the quality of softness and love. When we practice in this way, we feel like we are sharing and receiving love. 

AUM Shanti Shanti Shanti

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Charity

Picture captured by Matt who was travelling with us in north India.
Copyright http://www.matttaylorphotography.co.uk/

“Love is not patronising and charity isn't about pity, it is about love. Charity and love are the same -- with charity you give love, so don't just give money but reach out your hand instead.” 
― Mother Teresa







When I first planted the seed to become a yoga teacher, the one thing that was super clear for me (because everything else was not very clear back then) was that I would like to be able to serve some community through this new work. It was becoming obvious that the yoga community was going to be a community with great capabilities, to reach out to those in their local community, as well as those, far afield. 

The first thing I did when I graduated was to start a 50+ yoga class. Initially, this class was meant to be a complimentary class. But everyone suggested collecting a small fee that would go charity. This was how i came to find Yoga Gives Back (YGB). I cannot even remember exactly how that happened because back then, they were still a small operation, but I somehow stumbled upon them. The founder's words inspired me and their work completely resonated with me. Right away, i knew that this was an organisation i'd love to work with. I got in touch with them and through our emails, we just clicked & I was invited to become one of their ambassadors. That was more than 5 years ago, and I have been following their work closely & proudly, watching them grow as a charity and witnessing the impact on lives. The founder continues to champion the organisation, recently visiting recipients of YGB funds. 

Through their 'Sister aid' program YGB directly funds programs for education and the economic empowerment of women and children through carefully selected partners in India. Through these funds, they are able to empower women to be self sufficient, enable girls to stay in education and avoid child labour or child marriage & fund orphans in schools. With increased support, the funds are now also able to help fund higher education. As the organisation grows, so does the opportunity to reach out to help more communities. 

When i was travelling in India, it really hit me how much support was needed out there. I used to think that there are already so many charities mobilised out there- both local and international. But when you come face to face with the situation, you realise that more help is needed, because there is so much to do. (likewise in Africa) It's not really someone elses' problem. It is a human problem. 

I left India feeling so lucky that I am a woman born and raised in the right place to the right people and now live somewhere where my rights are not restricted just because I am a woman. That I had my basic human right even (never mind as a male or female- just the very basic human right) I really felt the restrictions, unlike what I am used to- walking around wherever i wish in whatever i wish. This strengthened my support for YGB even more. Working to empower the women because women will empower their families and their communities. 

I understand that now, more than ever, there is such a huge need for our charity at home and abroad. We only give what we can. It is important to give with love. I feel that yoga events are a great channel for raising funds, a good exchange of energy, giving a yoga class in exchange for your funds that go to charity. This is YGB's mantra. Please do join me and 9 other teachers this 29th May for a yoga challenge that will change lives. You can try to raise £25 through sponsorship or pay it yourself. If you are unable to join us, you can buy a raffle ticket for £1.50 for a chance to win some fantastic prizes that local businesses have donated to the event. 

If you'd like to know why we do 108 sun salutations here's a good link to visit 
http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/02/why-108-sun-salutations/
(by the way, you don't have to do them all, just join in and do as many as you can)

Thank you from my heart always!

Namaste

check out more of Matt's amazing pictures from India here India


Thursday, 23 April 2015

Me & Social Media


About a year ago, I started posting on Instagram as part of a personal project. It had come up when I had attended a really powerful workshop with Rod Stryker about the Four Desires. It is difficult to sum up the workshop which had many parts in it, but basically, it is about finding what makes you happy and what stops you from being happy and more importantly what is stopping you from living your fullest life. I really recommend it if you have the opportunity to work with him.

During this time, it came up that i was my biggest obstacle. I think most of us are our biggest obstacle, but more importantly, what is it that we do that makes us so. One of the patterns i had discovered about myself is that, my automatic conditioned response is to always not respond. Whether i can do something or not, whether i know something or not, my default reaction is to take a step back, be quiet. Never be seen, never be heard. Not out of shyness, but out of the fear of being vulnerable or wrong. And when i looked back on my whole life- this had always been the story- even when my dad passed away, when everyone was expecting me to breakdown, i didn't and instead put forward someone who had it all under control. After he was buried, I really wanted some personal time with him (because we were very close and i did not make it to say goodbye) A close friend had to take me to the grave- someone i felt comfortable enough to be vulnerable with- or so i thought- and even then, i just laid the roses and left. This is like a 40 minute drive, so I was pretty annoyed with myself that I could not fulfil what my heart desired. 

This was just part of the revelation. Of course, it wasn't just about what was "wrong" but also to recognise that the potential to stop these conflicts, is completely in our hands. Nobody can help us more than ourselves..

At the end of the workshop, I made a sankalpa- a kind of vow, to step forward and not be afraid to be vulnerable but equally not be afraid to shine. In the moment of excitement, it all seemed so easy. I just had to make a conscious choice every time so that the reaction is no longer automatic. On the plus side, once the seed had been planted, I was constantly aware of my actions- the one that got nervous as soon as i knew there was an opportunity to share something- but i still could not change the reaction. A sankalpa is meant to be something that happens in about 6 months- hahahaha how does one break a lifelong habit in that time?? Of course not. 

So I had joined Instagram first because it was the new thing and I am always curious about new things. I joined as Cooper (my dog & posted lots of photos of him) At the same time, i followed the yoga community of course. It inspired the socks off me. Some of these people were really putting themselves out there and just opening themselves out to the world. And how incredible this community was at championing change, encouraging strangers through their goals, cheering creativity and effort, and supporting each other through difficulty (some incredible stories - i mean... really incredible true life, heart breaking, inspiring stories) I started to wonder if perhaps this could be the answer for me. So i stepped in & joined as me..

At first, I cringed...even though i had no followers LOL 
But eventually, I started to become less and less afraid of being seen.
And now, I would say, i have really embraced vulnerability. It doesn't mean i have lost my inhibition. I am just no longer afraid of not being perfect. In fact, I am happy to scream and shout about it!! I think when you scroll through the pictures, the change is obvious. I would never have thought that doing something like this could help me break a habit. I notice the change in me in everything i do. I am also less argumentative with my husband as i no longer have to be right all the time LOL (this is true) It is like all yoga practice; repeating an action makes it easier and easier. The more i put myself forward, the easier it became. It's not that I did not get this from regular yoga practice. I just needed another push out of my comfort zone.

Lastly, i just want to say, there is so much judgement out there about posting pictures- especially in the yoga community. All the other communities i follow- climbers, surfers, wakeboarders, snowboarders- nobody ever comments that these guys are showing off. Everyone just gets super excited, inspired and stoked. But for some reason- this is un yogic yoga practice, showing off LOL
Funny because, if so, then it can be said of any social media posts- whether you are posting about your practice, your lifestyle, your smoothies and food, your kids, dogs, cats, plants...
It is all saying the same thing- look at me- this is my passion, i am proud of this, i am good at this... And really, it is fine. It is only showing off if you think so and that is just your perception. And of course, everyone is entitled to think what they want. For most of us, it is a platform to share our passion- not because we are looking for acceptance or approval, but because when you love something, it's so much more meaningful when you have someone to share it with. 

I'm not saying it is something everyone should do. I'm just saying, don't get so negative about it. If it is not for you, just ignore it. 

Be love.