Coming home from teaching the other evening, I found my nearest and dearest as pleased as punch as he looked towards a line graph on his laptop.  It was late on a Friday evening and I assumed he was still working, so I was confused by his happy demeanor, much as he loves his job!

All was revealed when he quietly mentioned that much to his surprise, he had clocked up as many miles as a car would over the course of a few years, yet his miles where on his pedal bike.  A man who loves his gadgets, he invested in a little tracking tool back in 2010 as a fun way to monitor his daily commute and here he was looking back on the journey.

Yoga by bike

Yoga by bike

It was never his intention to reach a particular mileage in a certain amount of time and was purely incidental that he’d cycled the equivalent of almost 9 times there and back from John O’Groats to Lands’ End!  For him, this was his mode of transport to and from work, a way to stay fit both physically and mentally, a form of mindfulness or even heartfullness that set him up for the day and helped him unwind at night. It brought to mind the question that if he’d set himself that initial goal to reach 15,000 miles in 3 or 4 years, would the target have seemed too huge to contemplate or even achieve?  Like so many aspirations we might have, if the stakes are set too high, or the challenge too great, then we may be overridden by fear or feel defeated before we even start.  And when it involves changing habits, starting and sticking to a new way of thinking, being or acting differently – taking those first steps to change can be extremely hard without the added pressure of meeting targets set upon ourselves.

We always talk about looking at the bigger picture, but sometimes it’s this big picture that’s too intimidating.  When it comes to changing habits and achieving goals, whilst we want to have an outcome in mind to help to focus us, actually looking at the smaller day to day picture might prove an easier initial step to getting started, plus isn’t life so much sweeter when we’re living in the now? Most of us for example wouldn’t wake up and decide to run a marathon that day without any prior training, so why do we expect so often that we should become overnight experts in our chosen subject or that we should suddenly change the habit of a lifetime in a day?  Putanjali’s three fold approach to kriya yoga or the yoga of action, is just one such way we can start to make changes in our yoga practice on and off the mat and unbeknown to my husband, he was in many ways living out Putanjali’s yoga sutra, tapas svadhyaya isvara pranidanah kriya yogah (chpt.II v I) as he took to two wheels.

Tapas which can translate as to ‘burn’ or ‘consistency’ can be seen as a way to bring discipline, it is both an action and an attitude and is done without attachment to the outcome.  But it can also be seen as a way to purify the body, to burn off the toxins that we accumulate and to literally cleanse from the inside out. On our yoga mats, tapas can be seen as a daily or regular commitment to your yoga practice.  It’s this consistency combined with pranayama and asanas that allow us to really get to know our body and to tap into the healing benefits of yoga as we start to work through any areas of tension and allow for the free flow or prana throughout our entire system.

But how does that translate onto two wheels?  Well, there he was, come rain or shine, wind or snow, pedaling through the elements on his bike, not because he was attached to an outcome of trying to rack up the miles, but because he knew on those day that he didn’t cycle into work, things were profoundly different and not in a good way.  On the days he did occasionally take the bus he would feel physically drained and sluggish.  His body would arrive at work feeling stiff and lifeless and as much as he would try to let it go, he felt physically tense at the frustration of the stop, start slow nature of the bus ride and he would arrive into work with gritted teeth and shoulders around his ears!  To cycle every day, just felt good to his body. Added to this, cycling each day was good for his brain and soul too.  Suffice to say, one of hubby’s great passions from an age when his thighs were no wider than yoghurt pots, was cycling, and so to him, to do what he loves every day as part his daily routine is a no brainer.

You could say he is demonstrating svadhyaya, that self-awareness that allows us to get to know ourselves, to see things for what they really are and not what we perceive them to be. On our yoga mats, we are constantly enquiring and checking in with ourselves, trying to be an observer of our physical body, fluctuations of our mind and the flow of our breath.  All of which can can be considered a form of svadhyaya.  For my nearest and dearest, cycling gives him a perspective that allows him to be more of a witness to how his thoughts, actions and behaviours influence the way he sees himself and his interactions in the world.  For him, cycling is a way he can tap into his own true nature, that part of him that is never happier than when the wheels are turning and he’s fleeting through the ever changing countryside. And this is what svadhyaya allows for, a space that allows us time to be with ourselves, so that in time, combined with consistency of practice, we can start to tap into that inner voice of wisdom that resides in each and every one of us.  A voice, that should we allow it any air time, will help to bring about positive change to the way we participate in life.

As T.K.V. Desikachar says in Heart of Yoga, “We can never be sure of the fruit of our actions.” [p.14 Heart of Yoga], and there was hubby each day religiously taking to the pedals for the sheer love of it, not because he was attached to how far he could cycle in a year or even 4 years’ time.  And that is what isvara pranidanah is all about.  It translates as ‘surrendering to God’ or a ‘certain quality of action’ – an action that Shiva Rea describes as heartfullness. [http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/776]. On our yoga mats, we learn to accept ourselves each day we arrive to our practice and come to realise that we may feel completely different from how we felt yesterday or how we will feel tomorrow.  If we can let go of these attachments to the outcome, (which might be for example thinking we need to get into the perfect pose), and start to be more heartfull and more present in our actions, then we start to surrender our own mind and ego and come to witness our true nature.

Sometimes, we might invoke strength from a particular faith or deity or offer up our practice to something or someone bigger than ourselves, but ultimately, this is about understanding that God exists within each and every one of us. Putanjali’s yoga sutra, tapas svadhyaya isvara pranidanah kriya yogah describes the more ‘practical’ side of yoga, the part that guides us to get to know ourselves better so that we really understand our actions, how they influence our lives, and as we turn the mirror on ourselves, the part where we can start to create positive change andexperience life fully and no longer as a spectator. So I guess what I am trying to say is that it’s time to get on your bike, put your feet on the pedals, set your limbs free, put your heart into it, enjoy the journey, don’t be too attached to the outcome and you too might be just as surprised at how far you can go in such a short amount of time! caroline on bike

If you’re not entirely sure whether vinyasa flow is for you or perhaps whether the style I teach is what you are looking for, then why not come along for a no obligation trial session for FREE!  Full details below – drop me an email if you’d like to book on.

Offer is available for a limited period only and applies to Wednesday Broughton St Mary’s Parish Church classes only.

flyer

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I loved a fellow yogi friend of mine’s recent post on Facebook – ‘I bend so I don’t break!’  It brought back teenage memories of my mother’s words of ‘don’t force it or you’ll break it’ in those moments I turned to brute force on a bulging suitcase zip.   Needless to say, I came worse off, yes the zip broke but it was me that had to pick up the pieces-literally-holiday clothes strewn across the floor! 

And whilst we don’t always like to listen to our mothers, they tend to be right!

Like the zip, try forcing yourself into a yoga asana (posture) and you’ll likely fail or worse case, cause yourself injury.  After all, yoga is not yoga without the integration of breath and a carefully crafted balance of sthira and sukham (steadiness and ease). 

So often we have high expectations of ourselves, what we should be doing and when, that we forget that our minds and bodies are an ever changing moving feast.

We all have those days where we beat ourselves up over what we haven’t done, what we should have done or what we could have done and really, why?  In the same way, why does is matter if I swim 60 lengths this morning or 6?  Or if I run round the park once or three times?  Is this reality or is this just our ego-self goading us on?

Of course, it’s great to have goals, to have targets, to be motivated but as with anything in life, there needs to be a bit of give and take. 

If we take unrealistic expectations of ourselves out of the equation, suddenly things start to look a little different.  Rather than fighting with ourselves physically or mentally to be or feel a certain way, we accept that we are where we are and it is in these moments that we are most connected and at our most truthful. 

Take the willow tree, all flimsy and willowy, blowing in the wind.  He had no control of what direction the wind would blow in the same way we have no idea of what challenge life will throw at us next.  When a storm hit the woods, the willow tree went with the flow adapting with the changing winds and despite losing a few branches and leaves along the way, he survived the storm.  Unlike the willow tree, the oak tree that had previously stood strong, solid and steadfast, resisted the wind so much so that it caused his roots to unearth much to his demise.

Creatures of habit, it’s hard to be flexible and to adapt to life’s challenges but if you can allow yourself an inch to bend mentally as well as physically, then like the willow tree, from a place of strength, you’ll weather the storm.

Click below for a little practice to get you started…

Yoga Journal Strength & Grace Practice

Abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodha
In order to achieve a state of yoga, one must develop both practice and detachment.
—Yoga Sutra I.12

If yoga is to mean union, to come together, to unite, then last week, at an event called 2020 Vision, yoga was definitely in full swing and its benefits were being spread into the hearts and minds of all who filled the lecture hall in one of Edinburgh’s top venues.  But this wasn’t an event about the ancient Indian tradition, there was no mention of asana, pranayama or a single adho mukha svanasana.

2020

Coming home to nature, bringing our land back into balance, living in harmony with our surrounds and restoring our wild places and natural ecosystems was the compelling message whose argument was told through the lens of the UK’s top 20 wildlife photographers.  Through stunning visual imagery, we learnt why it’s time to stop taking from our world, why we need to rebuild and reconnect our fragmented habitats and why we need the animals, plants and wild spaces for our survival as much for theirs.

It scares me to think that the very trees, plants and animals that feed my soul and those of so many others may not be here for generations to come but thanks to the vision, the energy and the progressive thinking of this collective of forward thinkers, we can plant the seeds to ensure our land and its beautiful wild places with all its creatures great and small will be here long after we are.  Sure, we might not see it in our life time, but then isn’t yoga all about practicing without attachment to the outcome!  Click here to find out more about this inspiring project.

http://shop.theaa.com/store/anywhere-and-everywhere-1/2020vision

Greet yourself each day with an open heart #happyholyheart

Greet yourself each day with a #happyholyheart …

Maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadana – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33.

“Cultivate love for those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, joy for those who are virtuous, and equanimity for those who make mistakes.”   Translation from Kelly McGonigal, Yoga Journal.

I was catching up with a good friend last night over a spot of dinner when she declared that she was taking tomorrow off work as she’d booked in for a spa day at one of the city’s top spas.  Here was a woman that recognised that she worked hard, felt incredibly grateful to have a good job and to be in a fortunate position to receive a decent wage for her efforts, so decided that where others might put their money towards something material; an expensive dress or designer handbag perhaps, she would invest in her own well-being.  How refreshing I thought.  Free from feelings of guilt and selfishness, the distorted emotions we often attach to our own nourishment, she had recognised that in order to give herself to friends, family, work colleagues and the wider community, she needed first to give to herself.

Now I know we can’t all afford spa days or luxury massages every day or even every month but that’s not my point, this is about recognising when to give back to yourself and this can be done in the smallest of ways but with maximum effect.  What’s more, it can be completely free, the only investment is your time and when it comes to your well-being – surely that’s time well spent.

So see if you can make a commitment to yourself over the coming days to set some time aside to give back to you, to nourish, to nurture, to slow down.  Perhaps you like to sing, to paint, to dance, to cook, whatever your passion, aim to connect with your creative side and allow more time for pleasure in your life.  Whether you can afford to take five minutes or five hours, work out how much time you can regularly commit to set aside for ‘me’ time and then stick to it as a promise to yourself.  Notice when you start to be more compassionate towards yourself, how much easier it is for you to live out Patanjali’s sutra 1.33 and offer out a greater level of kindness, compassion, joy and tolerance towards others.

Unfortunately, I will not be here  to teach tomorrow evening but this could be a great opportunity for a great home practice and here are some ideas to get you started.

The biggest hurdle is rolling out your yoga mat but believe me, your body and mind will thank you for it

 

 

home practice

1) Sit in a comfortable cross legged position – close your eyes and start to notice, without judgement, how you are feeling this evening.  Allow yourself several breaths just to ground and let go of the day.

2) Think about what is really going to serve you this evening.  Are you needing energy, are you needing to stretch out your body or is your mind full of the day that’s been and you just need to quieten down all of that mental chatter that’s floating around your head right now?

3) Based on the above – set an intention for your practice – what do you really want to get out of your practice?  Adopt a breath that reflects that intention eg: nourishing, energising, calming.

4) Offer up this intention by chanting in with 3 x OM

5) Start with some simple warm ups such as cat, cow, linking the movement with the breath.

6) Go with the flow – tuning into ujjayi breathing flow through several rounds each of Surya Namaskar A and B

http://www.yogajournal.com/sunsalute and http://www.yogajournal.com/video/269

7) Go where the mood takes you, perhaps the above is enough or maybe you want to add in standing balances, twists or forward folds

8) Ground down – take it down to the mat for your final poses – try poses such as seated forward fold – paschimottanasana  http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/477 and a reclining supine twist http://www.yogajournal.com/basics/1382

9) Let go – savasana – allow the body and mind to come into complete relaxation for at least 5 minutes – don’t be tempted to skip this bit as this is where the magic happens!

10) Come back to sit – come back to your intention and bow down to yourself as you chant out with 3 OM to seal your practice.

Have fun with it, be creative, put on your favourite tunes as you flow, create a space for your practice, perhaps light some candles or burn some essential oils, let go of attaching to the idea of perfecting each pose, move mindfully and enjoy the process of the journey!

For some music – you can follow me on Spotify or else look out for the likes of  the Angel’s Prayer track on the album, Invocation.

Namaste my fellow yogis….  See you next week.

sunday sequence

I’ve called this a Sunday sequence but this is a sequence for those times when you need to honour your body and your brain’s need to slow down and let go.  Great for that time of the month, if you’re feeling sluggish or if you just need some ‘me’ time.  Grab your mat and create some space, because you are so worth it.

Couple this sequence with some deep belly breathing, lie on your back, knees bent, soles of the feet to the floor, hip distance apart.  Right hand to belly, left hand to heart.  Inhale all the way down to your right hand into your belly for 4 counts, retain the breath and exhale out for 8 counts.  Repeat for several rounds before starting your asana practice.

Enjoy!

My thoughts on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika… my go to guide particularly for pranayama and kriya practices.hatha-yoga-pradipika

Many people might consider whether a text written in the 15th century by a yogic sage living in the Eastern world is relevant to those practicing yoga in a modern day Westernised culture.  My aim is to highlight the importance of Hatha Yoga Pradipika (HYP) if we are to understand the roots of yoga as a practice that goes beyond developing and maintaining physical health to a practice that aims to awaken the vital energies that exist within each and every one of us.

HYP’s introduction from Swamiji on Hatha Yoga clarifies the differences between hatha yoga and the eight limbed approach of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  Where Patanjali was influenced by Buddhism and developed an eight step path to liberation focussing first on yama (self restraints) and niyama (observations) present in the mind, Swatmarama is in contrast influenced by Yogi Goraknath of the Nath sect and seeks to purify the body through self control and self discipline before purifying the mind.  For me, this clarifies a sometimes cloudy area within other texts on the subject.  Swatmarama states that he “offers light on hatha yoga” in order to make it easier for the “average person” to reach “raja yoga”, explaining that hatha yoga is always practiced as a precursor to other forms of yoga such as raja or kriya yoga (V3, p.29).

Once we are introduced to the aims of hatha yoga, the book is split into four chapters that outline the practices of purification that need to take place to awaken the vital energies made up of prana, chakras and kundalini shakti.   The four chapters cover the following: asana; shatkarma and pranayama; mudra and bandha; samadhi – the end product of hatha and raja yoga.  The first three, asana, shatkarma and pranayama are all performed to awaken sushumna nadi, (the central and only nadi of out of three by which kundalini can ascend – ida and pingala being the other two nadis).   They clear any blockages that might occur in the chakras and ensure a clear pathway for kundalini to ascend.  The mudras and bandhas are practiced to awaken kundalini once sushumna is clear, allowing kundalini clear passage to samadhi, the step beyond hatha yoga.

In V.17 p.67 Swatmarama reinforces that the starting point of hatha yoga is with asana.  Asanas enable the yogi to open up the energy channels within the body so that it is open for purification to take place.  The idea is that once the body can be controlled, so too can the mind.  Of 84 different asanas, Swatmarama has chosen four ‘essential’ asanas for achieving “a correct meditative posture”, (V.34, p.10), required if prana is to flow freely throughout the body and if ascent of kundalini is to be achieved.  Siddhasana is singled out as the most effective asana in purifying the nadis and balancing the flow of ida and pingala.

Recommendations that the “hatha yogi should live alone in a hermitage”, (p.40), remind us of when this text was written but the help of the English analogies we understand that by cultivating the right conditions in which we practice, we can improve the effectiveness of hatha yoga.

Chapter Two gives a fascinating insight into shatkarma that yogis can perform to purify their bodies in order for prana to flow freely. It is an example of the self discipline required if we are to succeed in achieving yoga.  Despite some shatkarma being extreme by today’s measures, it is important to appreciate the dedication of those who laid the foundations of the yoga that we know today.  This chapter also highlights the effects of the different practices of pranayama.  Whether we want to achieve a balancing, vitalising or calming effect, we can influence the levels of prana or Shakti within our bodies by controlling and retaining the breath which in turn stills the mind.  Prana is closely linked with mental activity, as discussed in V.2,p150, “When prana moves, chitta moves.  When prana is without movement, chitta is without movement.”

Chapter Three focuses on awakening kundalini, the cosmic energy within each of us, “Indeed, by the guru’s grace this sleeping kundalini is awakened, then all the lotuses (chakras) and knots (granthis) are opened.” (V.2 p.280).  The text then guides us through ten mudra or gestures that should be used to channel this cosmic energy within us, which according to the HYP can, “destroy old age and death”, (V7 p.287).  Mudras such as “khechari mudra” are not for the faint hearted, however, it is important to know their affects on opening the chakras and their ability to arouse a higher sense of consciousness. We are told kechari mudra is the ultimate mudra in connecting and controlling bindu, the seed of creation that leads to the realisation of Shiva and samadhi, (V54 p.330).

Uddiyana, Mula and Jalandhara bandha are highlighted as the three most important bandhas of Hatha yoga owed to their ability to control prana and apana in the body and to minimise nectar falling from the bindu.  It is now Swatmarama confirms the power of the physical combination of asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha, saying it can induce a state of “spontaneous dhyana”, (V.76 p.360).

Swatmarama concludes HYP by explaining the stages of samadhi, described as a “timeless state beyond birth, death, beginning, end”, (p.467).  In V.80 p.577 we learn that shambavi mudra awakens the inner awareness and allows us to absorb the mind in one point of concentration.  At this point, we are working on a mental level and can tune into nada through mantra in order to hear the inner vibrations created by the union of Shiva and Shakti and thus reach laya yoga or samadhi.  As Swatmarama concludes in V.114, in order to experience samadhi, we must be practice under and be guided by the experiences of a guru in the belief that we too will one day experience what they have already experienced.

For me, HYP was a thought provoking and challenging read.  As hatha yoga provides a foundation to raja yoga, HYP seeks to add to the foundation of knowledge for yoga practitioners.  The book demonstrates the power of physical practice over the mind and is a reminder that, “the sleeping kundalini must be patiently aroused by devotion to daily yogic sadhana” (p.438).  Thus regardless of where we come to yoga, true union cannot be achieved without a loving commitment to daily practice.