yogabeing

yoga blog by yoga lover in Bicester

Anger

I’ve been leading a mindfulness course and in one of the sessions we had a discussion about anger.  One of the course participants found it difficult to understand my perspective that, whilst it is OK to feel anger, we need to consider skilful ways to respond to those feelings rather than to explode.

So this has made me reflect on how I can explain the concept more simply and I share my thoughts with you:

Anger is a powerful emotion.  We feel it physically and it can galvanise us to take action.  What we are probably less aware of is that anger is generally the result of a build up of ‘little niggles’ that accumulate and finally erupt in what we term anger.  This eruption can often be misjudged and cause distress to others (our ourselves).  So what can we do to avoid this?

Firstly, let’s look at what happens physiologically when we feel anger.  Anger is a form of stress response.  So the amygdala in the brain fires up and triggers the release of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline – i.e. the fight, flight or freeze response.  We may feel muscles tightening, our heart rate pumping, our breath may be faster and shallower, we become totally focused on the recipient of our anger. When this happens repeatedly (the little niggles that we are perhaps less aware of), our body is repeatedly subjected to these hormones which can have a ‘toxic’ effect – headaches, tummy upsets, neck and shoulder pain, frequent coughs and colds (immune system affected). In the words of the Buddha “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intention of throwing it at someone – you are the one that gets burned”.

In mindfulness we learn to pay careful attention to the present moment.  To really be aware of what we are thinking, feeling and sensing – which is so different to our usual ‘being busy’ and being unaware of the chatter of our minds.  This applies not just when on our yoga mats, but throughout our daily lives.  This frequent ‘checking in’ can be a powerful way of diffusing tensions, taking us off the hair trigger so that we don’t feel the need to erupt.  We in effect learn to respond rather than react.  During these ‘check ins’ we may notice an angry thought.  We don’t try to push it away – we notice instead how what we feel in our bodies.  And this change from thought to sensation can be a powerful tool to dissipate the thought (and emotion).  We in effect allow the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and release the ‘feel good’ hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin.

By bringing frequent episodes of mindfulness into our daily lives – not just restricting it to a formal seated meditation practice, we can really change our perspective on life and live in a far more peaceful way.  “Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing our awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations which may be used as a therapeutic technique”. (Mark Williams & Danny Penman : Finding Peace in a Frantic World).

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What is Yoga?

Increasingly yoga is seen as exercise.  Many of the posts you see on Facebook, blogs, websites etc focus on the physical side of yoga with often physically challenging postures being performed with a competitive edge

To me this is not at all what yoga is about.

On my website I have a quote from the Yoga Bible by Christina Brown: “Yoga is learning to come back to yourself.  It’s finding your limits, expanding your boundaries and being able to relax into who you truly are.   It’s about taking time to remember who you are but have forgotten while being caught up in the whirlwind of a fast-paced life.”

This highlights that yoga is not all about the physical postures – it’s about finding yourself, a sense of contentment, coming back to the centre of yourself, away from the scattered, fragmented way we tend to lead our lives.

Yoga is also about finding balance – yes we practice physical balances, but also seek to gain a sense of equilibrium in life as a whole – a greater senses of harmony, like all the pieces have been put back together again.

As you learn to centre in a pose (I often talk about finding the inner silence) you start to find a greater sense of focus which can help in other aspects of life.

So yoga is much more about a state of mind which influences the choices we make in our lives as a whole.

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I love my gongs!

I’m all set up ready to share a lovely Gong Bath …… instruments have been blessed (I always like to do that), the fairy lights are twinkling, everyone is snuggled up in their blankets.  I talk everyone down into a relaxation and am then ready to start playing.

Usually it’s the Tibetan Bowls that call me to them first ….. a wonderful mix of gentle tones that soothe everyone into a state of readiness to receive.  Then perhaps some clear Crystal Bowl sounds …… but not too loud …. I find the very intense, almost shriek that some players use quite aggressive … so I keep it powerful but gentle.  And now the Gong … as I pick up my mallet and consider which gong and what to do … I feel a wave of calm flowing through me … and then the sound just seems to come with the gongs responding  both to me and the energies in the room as a whole.  The sounds build and fade, build and fade as wave after wave of sound vibration flows through the room easing out the tensions, physical, mental and emotional.   After a short silence, the Koshi Chimes dance their wonderful tinkling notes and then perhaps it’s a rain drum or rain stick to start to bring everyone back from wherever they may have journeyed to.

But before coming to completely, there is silence for several minutes, deep peace to allow healing to take place on whatever level that might be.  Then I gently bring people back into the room encouraging a slow, gentle awakening.

Of course the order is not always the same, the instruments not always the same … but the experience always seems truly magical …people tell me they’ve journeyed they know not where, they’ve seen lights and images felt the sound vibrations deep within.  Some are a bit discombobulated, some floating in a peaceful oasis of calm, others have felt the tensions flowing out.

I feel privileged so share the experience of sound … it’s a truly magical journey.

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Being kind to our world

I’ve been deeply affected by watching Blue Planet which graphically demonstrates the awful effect our modern lifestyles are having on our planet.

It’s made me reflect on the commitment that I feel I have made as a yogini to the Yamas and Niyamas – the codes of ethical living.  Can I be practicing non violence (Ahimsa) if I buy things that cause suffering to others?  Am I actually stealing (Asteya)  if through my activities or purchases I am using a perhaps unfair share of the planets resources?  Am I being truthful (Satya) to my yogic beliefs if I make these lifestyle choices?  Or could I be more contented (Santosha) with less?

I’ve been vegetarian for over 40 years and am increasingly adopting a vegan diet, using locally sourced products.   I choose skincare and makeup that’s free from toxic chemicals and is cruelty free. I’m trying to use my car less an cycle, walk or use public transport more.  I use eco friendly and cruelty free cleaning materials.  The next challenges I have given myself  are using less plastic and  reducing my purchase of synthetic clothing – I was not aware until I read a post on social media that the fibres from synthetic clothing can get into the sea and harm marine life.

Any suggestions for more?

 

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Living your values

What interesting information is coming to light with the leaking of the ‘Paradise Papers’ revealing how individuals and corporations, sometimes aided by so-called public servants, seem to do their best to minimise their contribution to society by way of seeking to avoid paying their taxes.

Those same individuals and organisations may have invested a lot of effort and money in creating an image – now completely shattered by this unsavoury behaviour.

It has made me reflect on the importance of living your values – being true to your beliefs in all walks of your life.  In yoga we have the Yamas and Niyamas – our codes of  behaviour and following these sets us on the right path.

The five yamas ask practitioners to avoid violence, lying, stealing, wasting energy, and possessiveness, while the five niyamas ask us to embrace cleanliness and contentment, to purify ourselves,  to continually study and observe our habits, and to surrender to something greater than ourselves (taken from yogajournal).

Somehow just a very simple ‘be kind’ is enough – test your thought, words, actions against this – is the thought kind (to myself and others) etc.   If the individuals and organisations identified in the Paradise Papers lived by this simple mantra, things would be very different.

So let’s all think hard about how we can be a force for good by making changes in our life to embrace the ‘be kind’ .

 

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Teaching Yoga

Having a few quiet moments reflecting on how lucky I feel to be able to earn my living through sharing something I love so much – yoga.

I really, really enjoy teaching.  It is just so rewarding to observe the changes in people as they attend classes regularly.  Practical things like being able to balance better and co-ordinate movements more smoothly.  Also observing changes in breathing – often smoother and deeper.  Seeing flexibility increase.  And of course noticing people seeming less stressed out.

My classes always include pranayama, mudras and mindfulness, never just asanas – so I ensure  am providing insight into each of the eight limbs of yoga

I love it when people tell me how much their yoga practice is affecting their lives – in positive ways.  Often people will tell me they feel they have more patience – don’t get wound up so easily.  They tell me back, neck and shoulder pain often reduces.  And others tell me they feel more confident, happier and calmer.  People really value the oasis of calm my classes provide them with.

I feel proud to be a yoga teacher – my original 500 hour training course has been added to with many additional study days and courses so that my professional skills continue to be enhanced.

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Yoga for health

‘Study finds yoga injuries are on the increase’  – I was interested to read this headline on a blog post recently. And not entirely surprised either.

Increasingly we are seeing classes taught by teachers who have done the minimum amount of training, often via an intensive course that gives no time for reflection and assimilation.  Plus yoga seems increasingly to be promoted as a keep fit style exercise, encouraging people to perform attempt pretty extreme postures.

How different this is from the type of training I did – a 500 hour course is now a rarity.  How can you learn how to teach something as complex and multi-faceted as yoga in a course that may last little more than a weekend (Fitness Yoga).  Can you really absorb the classic texts and make them a part of yourself in a month (Intensive courses).  And can you get by with the minimum of anatomy and physiology?

I remember writing about how dis-spiriting a Fitness Yoga class had been – how I had missed the spirituality.  And also writing about how the image of yoga seems to have become young and fit.

And this article seems to show the damage the yoga community is doing by moving so far from its’ roots.

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The Stillness Within

People often come to yoga classes as they are stressed out and have heard that yoga may help them calm down a bit … and they are so right …. yoga can be magic!

When you can loose yourself in the movement of an asana (posture) and find the moment when you feel the stillness that somehow comes from within, it can seem that the world has stopped spinning and you have those precious little spaces of quietness.

Equally when you can really focus your attention on your breath – completely and fully on your breath, everything else can seem to fade away ….. cares, concern, worries, can all just lift away for a few precious moments.

When I’m teaching, I often hear myself saying something like ‘dropping into the stillness within’ … and that stillness is within all of us … but just gets masked by the business of daily life.

Inevitably it will take some people longer than others to tap into that stillness, but we can all do it … and the more we do it, the easier it becomes.  And of course the benefits stay with us as we go about our daily lives.

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Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

This can be a lovely calming pranayama (breathing technique) to work with.

Nadi means ‘channel’ – the channel through which your subtle energy (Prana) flows.

Shodhana means ‘purification’.

So when you practice this technique, you are undertaking a Pranayama that purifies the Nadis – which is why you feel so lovely and calm afterwards.

If you take time to notice, you may be aware that you are breathing more strongly thru one nostril than the other at various times of the day – so taking in prana predominantly thru one channel.  By using a practice that balances the breath, it is said to balance activity in the right and left hemispheres of the brain which in turn can calm the storms of the mind.

There are may different ways you can do the practice …. I’ll list some of them here.  It’s always a good idea to spend a few moments sitting  comfortably, spine upright and just tuning into your breath before you commence:

  1.  Using your left thumb, block your left nostril and breathe in and out through your right six time.  Then using your right thumb, block your right nostril, and breath in and out through your left six times.
  2. Using your right thumb, block your right nostril, breath in thru your left.  Then, using your left finger (right hand) block left nostril, and having released your thumb, breathe out thru the right nostril. Breathe in thru your right nostril, then close it with thumb, release fourth finger and breathe out thru left.  Repeat for a couple of minutes.  Using this technique, you can also add a short pause between the inhalations and exhalations to slow the breath down more.

There are various way you can use your fingers and thumbs – I’ve just chosen a nice simple way that suits most people.  If you want to experiment with other ways, using your right hand, tuck 2nd and 3rd fingers into your palm – then use thumb and 4th finger as above.  Or alternatively, let your 2nd and 3rd fingers rest on the bridge of your nose and use thumb and 4th finger as above – this method helps you focus on your Anja Chakra which can deepen the practice, but some people don’t like the feel of the hands over the face – find it a bit claustrophobic.

If you have a cold, it is not a good idea to do this practice.

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Cruelty Free?

As a yoga lover, I try to follow the principles of the Yamas and Niyamas in my daily life.

Ahimsa – non violence –physical, mental and emotional is one of the Yamas, and one way I apply it, is by aiming to always buy cruelty free cosmetics.

You might think that the big brand names would make this easy …. but that is definitely NOT the case.   A quick google search on using something like ‘Does Clinique test on animals’ will reveal that yes, they do … because they want to sell their product in China where animal testing is still required.  So most of the big corporates will not be offering you truly ‘cruelty free’ cosmetic or skin care products.  You need to read the corporate PR with a sharp eye …. look for phrases like ‘except where required by law’ ….. it will be there for almost all the big names.  They choose to put commercial profits above animal welfare.

Big corporates have also bought up companies like ‘Body Shop’ which was founded on the ethical principles of Anita Roddick.  Now the company is just a brand within the L’Oreal group.  Whilst L’Oreal state that Body Shop products are not tested on animals, every time you buy a Body Shop product you are contributing profits to the parent company.  Try the google search I suggested above for L’Oreal. Or Esteee Lauder ……do you still want to buy products from brands owned by those organisations?

I now source my cosmetics and skin care products from a little company called Tropic.   Based in Surrey, all their products are vegan friendly … no animal testing, no animal based ingredients.  And everything looks, feels and smells gorgeous too.

So what choice will you make?

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