Some great questions from a student...

Recently I received a great email of questions from a student after a Yoga Fundamentals Masterclass I hosted at Another Space in January. Here's some of our dialogue that may be helpful as you start out on your yoga journey! Please feel free to email me with any questions that come up in your practice, and if i can shed any light I will try!

I'M STRUGGLING TO GET TO GRIPS WITH THE FORMS AND THEIR NAMES !?:

This is completely natural- essentially this is like learning another language thats physical and verbal- theres a lot going on!

You'll find that there are the sanskrit names for the postures and the the english versions- i.e Virabhadrasana two / Warrior two and most often in class teachers use a mix of both to guide the flow as well as instructing the movement. We do this to try make the class as easy to follow as possible while still providing an authentic yoga experience that honours the roots of the practice. 

Sanskrit is one of the oldest languages on earth -  predating—greek and Latin, arising from the Proto Indo European language spoken 7000-8000 years ago. The word "sanskrit" itself translates to perfected, polished, or refined. And that translation is appropriate, given the healing power the language is thought to have and within this the names have a certain resonance to them and a sound frequencies certain benefits. Yoga stems form Tantra which is about living is a deep connection to nature. The sanskrit also relates to the environment of the the time when yoga was developing- nature, animals, sages, demi-gods  and desirable attributes form the names of the postures and give us a clue as to how and why they are performed. For example in Bhujangasana ( cobra pose) we are close to the ground and lift the heart and head like a snake rearing up. A snake is long, strong and flexible and so the actions and aim of the cobra posture is to not just mirror this but embody it.

A good reference online is https://www.yogajournal.com/poses - which will give the names, how to, benefits, contraindications of the postures. 

WHAT IS THE MENTALITY BEHIND YOGA? 

In terms of your mental space while practicing- you cant force it to be anything other than what it is and I cant tell you how to be. The best place to start is exactly where you are- curious and open to learning-  and have an attitude that supports that - which means being non- judgemental of yourself and happy with being involved in the process ( and its a long one!) . There are no shortcuts in the yoga practice as with life. Why? Because yoga is actually for the mind and quieting the 'mind stuff'. This is reflected in a well know a well known text - The Sutras of Patanjali- which is a work not on the physical aspect of yoga but on the readying and steadying the mind for meditation. A well known quote or sutra  (1.2) is 'yogash chitta vritti nirodah' which translates as 'yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind'. This sutra gets right to the heart of why we practice yoga which is to see things as they truly are: to be non affected by the sensations and reactions of the body/mind and be in a quieter space of pure consciousness or awareness. Fluctuations are the mind being pulled from place to place and then forming an identification with those distractions- we can lose our sense of self in that and wonder who and why we really are. As we practice yoga in the class setting or eventually in self-practice we are in a process of removing these identifications and to start with we use the physical body ( that is one pathway) so we can start to feel into the subtle sensations and attune to whats going on within. Then we can have a better understanding of how to interact positively with what is happening both internally and externally.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS FOR EACH POSE: 

The idea of a goal in yoga is a bit of an oxymoron for me! Yes we are practicing with purpose towards liberation of the mind from the ego but the idea of a goal may take us out of the present moment- which is distraction and identification with something external. The best goal would be to be really open to feeling what arises in the body and mind as you explore the postures- be really involved in the process with the mind of a student. A posture will look and feel so different on everybody so your goal is to find 'sthira sukham asanam ' a 'steady and stable posture'- somewhere you can breathe comfortably and still feel into every part of you with the right amount of effort and ease. This is a dynamic balance that will change day to day, moment to moment so awareness and listening to your body is the key to discovering the personal benefit, relationship and maybe goal of each pose. On the physical level again the Yoga Journal website will tell you the benefits but really the joy is in discovering for yourself through a sustained practice. 

last thoughts:

Success is relative. If you feel you are getting enjoyment, peace, health out of your yoga sessions so far then that is a great success- all we can hope for is to be content and that luckily is mostly in our power! Yoga is a wonderful tool for this and you are right connecting to the breath is vital so keep on breathing!

A great book which is the first I ever bought is "asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha' by the Bihar school of yoga which is traditional yoga school with some great publicaiton. I use this book all the time :)

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Reasons to take Yoga Teacher Training: ‘8 points from practice to way of life’

Taking inspiration from the term ‘ashtanga namaskar’ meaning 8 parts or 8 limbs bowed or greeting ( to the earth) I offer 8 points to consider and encourage your investigations into the path offered by yoga teacher trainings. As you read the below notice what resonates or sounds familiar to help you decide if this is the journey for you!

1. You cant seem to get enough:
Have you turned into a yoga bunny or yoga ‘bro’? Can you remember the turning point when you just kept coming back to class- once a week, twice, 3 times- a membership? Theres no denying that the process of yoga pulls you in- why? Because yoga is a system of health and healing that helps us feel good from the inside out- by working from the outside in. More importantly than feeling good is the feeling of balance and sense of perspective that emerges from a regular practice that positively influences our lives. Some people say their practice is like a home- coming, a regular check-in that leaves them refreshed, calm and at peace. Yoga is experiential and therefore its benefits are both personal and universal - in yoga speak the effects are on both the micro and macro-cosmic levels. This is part of the mystery that has kept people studying and delving deeper into the layers of this ancient practice.

2. You want to deepen your asana practice:
Most of us first get into yoga through the physical practice of asana. This makes sense as physical yoga classes are generally what is on offer as most yoga studios, gyms and through online resources.
Likely by the time you consider doing a teacher training you will have been going to classes regularly( see can’t get enough above ), might have a favourite teacher and a self practice. Taking a teacher training provides you with longer practice sessions, hands-on workshops and discussions where more attention is given to details such as physical and energetic alignment, breath, feeling and exploration. You will also have space to accumulate and process your own experiences which is where a lot of the ‘aha’ moments take place. You will have the chance to explore more challenging postures and movements that may take your practice to a new level. The purpose of the asana practice is to render the physical body ( annamaya kosher) strong, adaptable and pure for long periods of intense mediation.

3. You want to take it past the physical:
If this sounds familiar, you will most likely of discovered that yoga is more than just a physical practice. How? from your experience of feeling through and after each practice, perhaps by further research or philosophy artfully weaved into class by your teachers. Past the physical does generally mean getting into the ‘spiritual’ - which is the real essence and heart of yoga- that which connects you to your spirit. In yoga our greatest connector is the breath. In Latin breath translates as “spiritum’ and when we talk about someones spirit we generally mean there essence, vitality, soul or life-force. Yogi’s know this as Prana- an all pervasive and subtle force of motion in creation that we could simply call energy. Through the asana practice and breath work- pranayama ( breath regulation/expansion)- we start to work with the subtle energy body ( pranamaya kosha) to create profound shifts in our human structure so we are able to experience the higher bodies and states of awareness bliss and ultimately union with the source. Studying some of the enlightening main yogic texts, The Yoga Sutra’s , Hatha Yoga Pradipika and other texts that resonate with the course tutors is also a huge part of TTC so expect some academia and daily meditation.

4. You want to spend some time getting to know you:
When was the last time you challenged your self-perception and faced your ego? Your chosen teacher training will most likely do just that with equal moments of joy, realisation, bitter sweet truth’s and frustration. Yoga Sutra 11.6 states “ egoism is the identification of the power of the seer

with that of the instrument of seeing” . An interpretation of this could external labels, items & ideals do we use to define ourselves and the image we out out into the world- who ‘we think we are’. All the practices of yoga are to remove these separation causing ego binders and strip us back to the bare essentials where we can see ourselves as one and the same as every other thing. This process and its up’s and downs can lead you to greater self expression , confidence, creativity, new insights revealing thought patterns and habits, ability to feel comfortable in your own skin, to have a greater level of contentment and even form better relationships- ultimately becoming a more peaceful, understanding and loving human.

5. You want to live with more integrity:
At the end of the day, stripped back we can only be true to ourselves to find contentment
( santosha). The process of a yoga training asks you to be authentic and connect in a way that aligns your heart and mind. You may discover new ways to live from the heart that have profound benefit on self and others with little wasted energy or resource and that make you truly happy. It is a reality that the a good modern yoga teacher has an important role and responsibility in society- to have positive impact on individuals, the community and the environment. The key to this is to practice what you preach. A good way to discover if your are living with integrity is to ask your self some simple questions- what is really important to you ? ( make a list), do you take ownership of your actions and reactions? ( be honest and kind to yourself) and do your actions support what’s important, you & those around you?

6. You want to learn about self healing and balanced health:
Balance within in the context of yoga doesn't just mean standing on one leg or on your hands- though we can learn a lot about the state of our mind and body from these challenges. Ayurveda is a 5,000 year old system- a natural healing science and root of the tantra’s (root of yoga) that is still practiced by many people today in India and beyond. Ayurveda honours the dynamic process of health that changes as we do with the seasons, our life phase, our body type and with what activities we do- recognising there is not one size fits all method to vital health. The ultimate aim of this process was to release or find Soma - a regenerative elixir that bestows radiant vitality even immortality on the receiver. In a TTC you will learn a little about ayurvedic diet, the dosha’s ( forces that build and effect your being) and the elements that form the basis of ayurveda.

7. You feel an innate calling:
Not enough emphasis is placed on intuition in todays society. Yoga takes you out of your head and other distracting social demands or devices that hinder intuition and asks you to get into your body, initially through asana, breath work and integrative mediation. You may feel that your experiences will be helpful to others or have received some insight that you have a call to share. Check in with your self about the source of this calling ( being wary of the ego!) and start to investigate. You could talk to a teacher or friend about this feeling or just follow your heart. Remember yoga is a life path and there are no short cuts to being a great teacher just as there are no short cuts to true happiness.

8. Your inspired by community; Sangha is the sanskrit and buddhist word for community. As well as the rapidly growing global yoga community you'll find smaller communities centred around local studio’s and teacher communities that support one another. Your sangha is a bit like your tribe for sharing discussion, practice and ideas or coming together for Kirtan ( group devotional singing ) or darshan ( beholding a sacred form). Perhaps you have felt inspired by teachers or friends who have made connections in this way and given and received support. In practical terms once you start teaching your sangha is a pool for work exchange such as recommendations or covering classes. Your sangha also provides a space in which you can talk openly about yoga without boring those who aren't into the practice! On the global level -sangha can be both inspiring and confusing. The internet social media creates a great platform for community for those who can’t get to a physical class and connects people from all around the world which is wonderful. The confusion comes from advertising that use’s yogas growing popularity to buy into a product or lifestyle that could potentially take you further into ego-centred attachment. So choose a sangha that inspires, supports and uplifts your vibration and do the same for others as you continue on your sacred life path.

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The 'Essential' Yoga Kit

 

When I first started attending yoga classes I would wear some old stretchy trousers and a vest and just rock up hoping there was a space. After some time I sought out an eco-friendly mat and then purchased a strap that rarely got used.  If there was yoga fashion (which there must of been) I wasn't aware of it and it didn't effect my experience of the class or myself in the class, which was medium busy most of the time.  Over the past few (say 5) years as the world of wellbeing has exploded into the mainstream there has also been a massive explosion of well being kit! So much fashionable Yoga stuff! Stuff that looks pretty and helps us look hot but feel cool while we’re ‘doing’ yoga- but who knew we needed all this equipment to re-connect to our essential nature? 

How do we feel about this, how useful is this stuff and and how well intended are all these ‘cant do without’ accessories?  There is no doubt that as humans we like to hunt out, gather and adorn- with things that can help make our life easier and things that we really don’t need. Who has a pair of jazzy yoga leggings and more than one mat..? hands up, me too and I like them- the mats more than the leggings.

And this is the issue- yoga is the systematic process of going back to the source of pure consciousness - essentially towards wholeness. This has been traditionally explored by abstaining from excessive consumptions, increasing mindful awareness and observing non- harm (ahimsa) to self and others. Our collective and individual recent evolutionary experience’s have shown us directly the harm of consumeristic patterns- on how we attribute value to ourselves, to things and our sense of self worth and what excess and waste does to the planet. 

Mat spray, hip water bottles, toe socks, yoga sweat wipes, wheels and precious stone mala’s are all up there on the ‘must have’ lists of what you simply cant do with out as a modern yogi. Some of this stuff can be useful and make life a little more convenient - especially if your hitting the road for some yoga festival action  (more of these too!) and need to pack light. Definitely a travel mat can make a big difference to how your shoulders feel at the end of a long journey, and stepping onto it will help soothe all the kinks from the day. 

But who is doing the soothing- is it the travel mat, the presence of your Lapis Jade mala and breathable tank or is it you just being, just breathing? Do these objects make you appear a good yogi, living the yoga life (?) or is it very clever marketing disguising materialism creating and nurturing a need through our human weakness- desire. Not that desire is bad, in-fact desire is a motivating force that can lead to some great achievements - though it can ultimately bring us pain if we are bound to the fruit of those achievements by our ego.

The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving from objects seen or heard about is non-attachment . Yoga Sutras .book 1, thread 15.

It takes a strong will ( still working on mine) to not be susceptible to this kind of sneaky self- love based promotion and this is exactly the kind of inner strength that yoga seeks to create. It is innate within all of us, but sometimes hidden under so much layers of non essential stuff- bought or absorbed that it takes a huge, guided and honest effort to strip back and to truly become comfortable with ‘less is more’. 

Do we need less ? For most people the answer is yes- we all can be familiar with the weight of having to much clutter. So our minds also need to cleared of the idea that to ‘start or become this i need this (insert piece of i.e activewear) ’: a  refresh, reset and then hopefully a recycle is essential.

I would also like to extend this notion to those who have just started on the teaching path amidst all of the pressurised social yoga hype:  yoga is not just about feeling good all the time and telling other people how they can feel good too.

Yoga is a process of increasing awareness and attention through connection ( though some would say mastery) of body, breath and mind to become a liberated being- Jivanmukta. This slow process is going within towards the true naked, neutral self which is un-coloured by fashion, fads and marketing. A true yogi is not impressionable and radiates soul-force energy. They are austere with an inner vibrancy which is always relevant to the now. 

So what is an Essential Yoga Tool Kit ?  Really all you need is you and your good intention. You don't even need a mat, you don't need a whole lot of time and you don't need £80 quid leggings and a bottle of mat wash. Please don't think that you do!

The most valuable thing to remember is to feel the breath- listen to it and feel it in as many moments as you can. This will slow you down creating more time and opportunity to feel. Feel your breath in connection to your heart and drop your awareness deeper within- the heart needs no accessories to know its truth. 

Explore to find a teacher who can guide you humbly and clearly in a way that resonates and moves you. Don’t worry about the hype and gloss. Yoga is for life, for everyone, it doesn't matter what your wearing, where you go to class and what asana you may do ( that isn't the only path!). 

Below are some questions that may help you discover if you need to update or even throw out your current kit!

Are you becoming more connected to what serves yourself and others through expanded intuition? 

Is it easier to ‘just be’ for some time with full attention on just being? 

Has there been a shift in what brings you Joy?

Can you start to see beyond your thoughts becoming more self aware ? 

Are you moving towards and increasing your capacity for stillness ? 

 

Namaste 

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Chakras: wheels of connection

 Chakra literally means wheel or ring. Chakra’s are spinning vortices of radiant energy located at vital centres along the spine, connecting nadis ( psychic tubes,passage ways) to various bodily sheaths (kosha’s) on the physical,subtle and causal levels. Chakras as receivers pick up vibrations and distribute them through out the body through the nadi’s- so they both take in and give out energy- accumulating it, transforming it and then transferring it. Therefore if a chakra is out of whack - too closed or too open we can feel this in our whole being and we feel and act off balance. Chakras are also meeting points for the two main channels- ida ( moon)  and pingala (sun) which weave through the spine and cross at the chakras centre providing them with a direct source of balanced energy. Generally we want to keep all our systems in balance, though sometimes it is nice to take our awareness and energy to a specific chakra and corresponding body part as a way to feel more deeply and connect to what we need, through feeling and deep listening. There are many of these energy wheels residing within the body so generally  we focus on the seven main ones  that can be felt through experience. 

Sometimes we may need the courage for a big task such as public speaking- requiring confidence, clarity and humour - for this a beneficial yoga and meditation practice could focus on the sun in the body- third chakra manipura, and the communication centre of the fifth chakra Vishuddha. In most yoga classes there is a lot of talk about ‘opening’ the chakra’s- this opening helps us find connection on the physical, emotional and energetic levels and ultimately leads to the realisation of how interconnected and impactful our actions, thoughts and feelings are on our selves and how this travels outwards to our immediate and wider relationships and environment. Beyond this I think it is important to consider that the practice of yoga is to dissolve the chakras and our attachments to and through them. Chakra’s- as a beautiful, useful map  tie us to the body, emotions and environment through their very nature- transcending them and our egocentric attachments is what provides freedom and the ability to live fully for others. 

For those who find it hard to connect to the notion of chakras residing within the body- your right on one level, they don't exist and function in the same why that your physical heart or pelvis exists-  instead chakras offer us a way of reading the physical, energetic and spiritual body and provide us with a map of how to connect to ourselves on a deeper and more subtle level. 

One way to see if the chakra model works for you is to consider your life experience- have you experienced a break up that felt like it wounded your heart,  zapped your energy, shortened your breath to gasps and caused you to close the door of trust to others ..? Have you experienced the bliss of a magnificent view thats taken your breath away, and lifted your fluttering heart and open arms skywards? These are signs of stimulation, surge or shift in the energy of Anahata, the heart chakra. Perhaps you can think of more examples to bring the chakras to life for you. 

I would encourage you to find your comfortable meditation seat and through a sitting practice see if you can make the chakra’s your own and use your imagination!  Locate them from the base up, give them a visual, a colour, texture or whole landscape and a sense of how being resident in that space makes you feel. Keep steadily travelling with your breath from base to crown allowing this sense to grow stronger and become more embodied until you have a sense of the chakras resident within you. From here with an established practice the chakras can become a map for helping us to navigate the unpredictable journey of life from a place of full embodiment- letting go of what is non serving and providing us with more of what helps us serve others and ourselves to the fullest. 

Muladhara: Seat of the Earth element and our sense of smell. Red colour. Located deep in the pelvis above and forward of the anus. Associated with survival, stabilty, nourishment, downward gravitational flow of energy and elimination. The home of coiled sleeping Kundalini Shakti ( creative potential energy). To have. Mantra: Lam

Svadisthana: Seat of the Water element and of taste.  Orange colour. Above Mula below the navel level of the hips. emotions, reproduction, health, movement or stagnation.  Creativity and pleasure. The moon. To feel. Mantra: Vam

Manipura: Seat of the Fire element. Yellow colour. Located around the navel. Power, energy, vitality, purpose, humour, anger. The Sun. Mantra: Ram. To Act.

Anahata: Seat of Air and of touch. Green colour. Located in the chest. relationships, compassion, love self, individual and universal, giving, acceptance, balance. To Love.  Mantra: Yam

Visuddha: Seat of sound, Ether and communication. Located at the base of the throat. A bright or deep blue colour. Intellect, self expression, good communication internally throughout the body and with others, creativity, To speak. Mantra: Ham

Ajna: Seat of Light and vision ( inner and outer). Located at the space between the eyebrows in the mid-brain. Visual and clairvoyant perception, intuition and imagination, joy, spiritual aura. Indigo colour. To see, truly Mantra: Aum

Sahasara: Seat of Knowledge and supreme spirit. Violet Colour like the purest light. Located at the top of the head. Expanded consciousness, learning, teaching, meditation. To Know. Manta: Aum

 

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