Life, yoga and other adventures

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Saturday, 26 September 2015

Season's greetings

No, I haven't lost the plot, I know it's not Christmas. However, I have survived the equinox and am in full-on autumn mood. There is a lovely nip in the air first thing in the morning and as the sun goes down that makes me think it might be OK to start wearing my beloved boots again and browse some woolly jumpers online.

The garden is certainly telling me the seasons have changed. The nasturtiums are just about over, but I'm leaving them in place so they will self-set and give me some more glorious blooms next summer. Up above them, the purple Michaelmas daisies are just starting to come out. I could resist snipping a few to bring into my sitting room.

Do you find your practice changes with the seasons? At a class with my lovely teacher Carrie today, we did trataka, sitting in a circle and concentrating our collecting gaze on a candle. I haven't done this since the clocks went forwards in the spring and it was good to be reminded of its power.

In the Northern Hemisphere, we are being treated to a total lunar eclipse in the early hours of Monday morning, coinciding with a supermoon, so if the sky is clear the moon will appear a rust-red colour and will look bigger than usual. Worth getting up for? I'll let you decide. I might honour the occasion with a few rounds of chandra namaskara in the warmth of my house.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Good vibrations
I've recently experienced several different ways to work with sound in a therapeutic sense. I've done a little more chanting, lain in a yurt to the accompaniment of a didgeridoo and been to several gong baths. This weekend, I took part in a gong relaxation with Carrie-Anne and Kenny from Yoga Freedom, which was, as always, wonderful. They have a 36in Symphonic, 28in Jupiter and a 24in Uranus gong.

Carrie-Anne says: 'Sound healing works holistically by helping to bring back a state of natural balance; as vibrations of sound pass through the body on a cellular level, the body begins to heal itself. The sounds of the gongs allow your mind to relax completely due to the fluidity of sound they produce allowing the mind to drift on the vibration, leaving nothing for the mind to attach to.

'On arrival at a gong bath, you can either remain seated or choose to lie down on a soft floor; you may wish to cover yourself with a blanket for comfort. The eyes would normally be closed to allow the body to relax completely as the gong and singing bowls are played.

'As the sound waves pass through you, you may feel as though you lose all sense of your physical body or gravity. You will experience shifts in consciousness similar to that of deep relaxation or sleep. Time seems to stand still as a sense of inner peace takes over.'

I've always found music in all its forms to be a powerful medium and mood-changer, but working with sound itself is extraordinary, and I urge you to try it if you have the chance.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Yoga is not a competition

Sometimes I spot a student wearing ‘the look’. She might be holding a posture beautifully, but I can see on her face the signs that all is not well. At this point, I remind the class: ‘Patanjali says that asana is a steady, comfortable posture – sthira sukham asanam.’ Then I go and stand by said student and say again, ‘Yoga isn’t competitive. Come out of the posture whenever you’re ready.’
But some people just won’t be told. They think they look tranquil, but I can see the tension creeping up their body, their teeth are clenched and there is a hint of panic in their eyes. They simply won’t allow themselves to release until everyone else has finished.
You can’t teach people what they’re not ready to learn. For some, the idea of listening to their body and stopping when they’ve had enough, even if others have not, is a hard one. Nor is this limited to ordinary classes; I’ve also seen this phenomenon at teacher training sessions, where we really should know better.
Then there are those who like to challenge themselves beyond the point that is beneficial or even safe. These are often the super fit, the strong and the flexible who can normally do everything asked off them. An off day isn’t an option. OK, so maybe they’ve twisted their ankle while out running: so what? Think that’s going to stop them holding Warrior II until they shake?
I regularly remind my students that if I ask them to do something and it doesn’t feel right, even if they can usually do it, then they should work gently and not push themselves too hard. But that man, for example, who has found out his blood pressure is, unusually, slightly elevated might not like to hear that he should keep his arms down.
There is no denying the joy of manoeuvring yourself into an asana you thought was beyond you, but it’s a fine line between exploring what your body is capable of and going too far. I can encourage safe practice and highlight the need for caution, but ultimately the individual is responsibility for his or her own wellbeing.
If I have a particularly stubborn student in a class who won’t heed my safety guidelines, I will say, ‘OK, folks, you all heard me warn her!’ I try to keep it lighthearted, but really what I’m saying is: ‘Please don’t sue me if you fall over!’