Life, yoga and other adventures

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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Arise, great warrior!

Warrior I
It might seem strange that there is such a thing as the Warrior posture in yoga, given that yogis are known for being peace-loving and non-violent. Actually, there are three Warriors (Virabhadrasana I, II and III), strong, standing poses that are the foundation of any practice. Despite the name, however, they are not aggressive.

They are really about tuning into your internal, spiritual warrior: that part of you that chooses right over wrong, good over evil. In the Bhagavad Gita, we read the conversation on a battlefield between Krishna and Arjuna, as two armies prepare to fight; but it is clear that the universal enemy is ignorance of the self.

'Kill therefore with the sword of wisdom the doubt born of ignorance that lies in thy heart. Be one in self-harmony, in yoga, and arise, great warrior, arise.'

That said, though, I maintain that if you practise a Warrior pose before a tricky conversation, you will have a better outcome!

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Add some colour to your day

I like Dawn French, but I have to take issue with her recent comment that adult colouring books can get lost.

I've seen enough TV cop shows to know that one way to make a youngster open up is to sit and do something creative with him in a non-threatening environment. Occasionally the child will come up trumps and draw a picture of Mummy hitting Daddy with a frying-pan; more often, it is simply an opportunity for him to open up about feelings and perhaps uncover a long-forgotten memory.

I've always enjoyed colouring. It was one of my go-to pastimes on rainy days when I was little and even as an adult I've kept my crayons handy since before it was trendy - and long before I was aware of mandalas. A mandala is a spiritual or ritual symbol: a geometric shape that represents the universe, traditionally consisting of a square with four gates containing a circle with a centre point. It is used for focusing attention, for establishing a sacred space and as an aid to meditation. The essence of a mandala is in the act of its creation.

When we covered creating mandalas on my teaching diploma course, I was surprised how emotional it made me. Actually, it made me quite teary and I had to stop. I can't say the same happens when I'm shading in a multicoloured fish, but I do find it calming and it frees up my mind to go off on all sorts of unexpected tangents. In the spirit of the mandala, I don't keep my pictures once they are finished. Sometimes it's tempting to pin them up on the fridge, but then I remember I'm not a toddler.

If you've never tried creating a mandala (or you can't remember the last time you spent some time with your Crayola set), might I suggest you give it a whirl?

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

On the up

So the cold turned into something nasty and Christmas went on without me. Humbug! However, there's nothing like a couple of weeks of complete, albeit enforced, rest for making you realise what's important. It turns out that the world didn't come to a standstill just because I wasn't there to organise everything. Anyway, I'm fully recovered, just in time to go back to work. 

I've been thinking about sankalpa and this will be the theme in my lessons this week. I never make New Year resolutions, but it's good to set an intention, at least in vague terms. I've read on FaceAche this morning the phrase 'wear your life lightly', which is rather nice. That's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to sweat the small stuff and I'm definitely not going to be all things to all people. No, not me.

You might like to remind me of this in a few weeks' time.

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

What not to say to a yoga teacher

You can't be ill: you're a yoga teacher!'

Yes, I've failed, haven't I? I've succumbed to a cold, notwithstanding that over the last couple of weeks in my classes we've been focusing on getting the inner fire going and boosting the immune system. How stupid do I feel!

I've done all the self-help stuff: bowls of steam, neti pot, Lion Breath, but it's no good: I've had to reach for the Beechams. Goodness knows what's in those little magic pills (actually it's paracetamol, phenylephrine and caffeine), but they start to take effect within 20 minutes. Marvellous.

Other things not to say to a yoga teacher include:
  • 'I didn't know you drank beer.'
  • 'Aren't you vegan?'
  • 'Fancy you liking rock music.'
Yogis are people, too.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

On FaceAche today I saw this piece of advice from a yogi: 'Give your food cupboards a pre-Christmas clearout.' Nothing contentious there; but she followed it up with: 'If you've seen an advert for it, you could probably do without it.' I'm not sure I understand that. Is she saying you shouldn't consume anything you've seen advertised? That's unrealistic, surely?

Mind you, it's very easy to get caught up with the whole food promotion game, especially at this time of year. For instance, when did it become the norm to drink Prosecco on a day-to-day basis? You've got to hand it to the marketing bods: they know what they're doing. On the other hand, we used to buy Mateus Rose in the same way (ask your parents) and that went from must-have to wouldn't-be-seen-dead-drinking-it in the blink of an eye.

I mention Prosecco not because I'm a big fan of it, but because as I was cruising the supermarket aisles this morning, I caught myself thinking: 'Oh, mustn't forget the fizzy wine for Christmas morning.' Curious, because I don't drink fizzy wine as a matter of course and I don't drink alcohol for breakfast, not even on special occasions.

I've been seduced, haven't I? Time for some deep breathing and meditation to bring back my focus.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Effortless exchange

The title above is taken from the latest newsletter of the Prison Phoenix Trust. Have you heard of this organisation? It encourages prisoners in the development of their spiritual welfare, through the practices of meditation and yoga, working with silence and the breath.Yes, that's right: it takes yoga into prisons. Isn't that amazing?

I don't have what it takes to do this, but I do support the charity in others ways, including buying its Christmas card, which is always designed by a prisoner. I also receive its regular newsletter and always find it inspiring. In the latest issue, the feature 'Effortless Exchange' begins by posing the question 'What would you really like this Christmas?, which must be a tough one when you're locked up.

The article goes on to explore the effortless exchange that takes place every time we breathe in and breath out, a process that offers us all the chance to offer silent gratitude.

If you'd like to know more about the charity, visit its website:

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

It's getting hot in here

The weather forecasters might be saying the temperatures are dropping, but with my students this week things are definitely hotting up as we focus on agni, our inner fire that governs not only how we digest our food, but also how we process our life experience. Crudely put, it stops up getting constipated, literally and figuratively.

When it's cold outside and you've had a hard day at work, it's tempting to put on your elasticated trousers, turn up the central heating and reach for the hot chocolate, with extra marshmallows. This is a perfectly understandable response and I'm not backwards in coming forwards when there's comforting carbs on offer.

But we're yogis; we know there's a better way. Tune into bastrika breathing, hold those planks, power up your salutations and get your motor running.