Month: March 2020

A vital life!

I did a workshop recently with the wonderful Katy Appleton and, something she said really resonated. She said yoga was about ‘Being the best version of ourselves’. Yoga is about thriving in all areas of our life, not just on the mat. In its fullest expression, yoga is both a transformational toolkit and a measuring stick that allows up to weigh up the efficacy of our choices.

Tradition states that although we come into life full, as we move through life, make choices and experience things (some helpful and some not so helpful) our ‘Vital Essences’ (of which there are three) flux and at times, will run low. Furthermore, that it is the depletion of these master forces within the body that creates the gap between what we ‘want’ to experience in life and what we ‘do’ experience.

One of the things that I love most about the science of Yoga is that as a science, it is systematic and pragmatic. Yoga clearly outlines the hurdles we will face on the path and then the practical solutions to overcome them. No wishy-washy, airy-fairy nonsense. Ambiguity has no seat at the sacred table of Yoga. The stakes are far too high for that; our vital health is far too important.

In the West, we often think of ‘health’ as ‘the absence of disease’, but Yoga has a different take on it. The word for health in Sanskrit is ‘Swasti’, which means ‘to be established in your Self’. Self with a capital ‘S’ – the biggest version of who we are. To the Yogi, this is health; to be rooted, grounded and operating from the highest version ourselves. Swasti, health, is defined by the following 3 elements:

  • Stability: mental and physical.
  • Immunity: in regards to both inner bacteria and the negative energy of others.
  • Emotional health: which speaks to the state of our relationships with others and also our self, including our capacity to easefully return to a state of joy, inspiration, motivation, gratitude and enthusiasm. It’s not about shutting down our emotions. Health is not holding onto them.

The sum of these three signifiers creates Swasti and is an indication that our three Vital Essences have been restored. The Vital Essences are Prana, Tejas and Ojas

Prana is the master guiding force within the body, coordinating our breath, senses and mind. It is responsible (among other things) for our adaptability. There’s a saying in yoga, “We’re only as good as the amount of Prana we have access to”. When our Pranic tank is full we ‘flow’ more easily, we can skilfully navigate change. Prana acts like the neutral space in a gearbox that allows the gear shifter to move between the gears. We always have to move through neutral to get from first to second, second to third and so on. We need Prana to gear shift, which is handy because in case you didn’t notice, life has a tendency to do that from time to time; shift gears.

Prana also governs our capacity to ‘take information in’. When we’re at ‘the end of our tether’, as the saying goes and the thought of one more email or car horn feels as though it will tip the mental stability scales, it’s a sure sign that we need a Pranic boost. Breathe!

Pranayama is the best way to build Prana, specifically working on increasing the length and quality of our inhalation and working with retentions at the end of inhalation. That’s the fastest way. Asana or the physical postures also builds it (although overdoing it can deplete it and doing it incorrectly can derange it). Time in nature is also a great way to build the vital force of Prana. On some level, even if we are not Yogis, we can sense how deeply healing that that is.

Tejas, the second vital essence is the subtle energy of fire and the transformative power at the heart of Yoga. Tejas allows us to metabolize life, to break down our experiences, digest and eliminate the waste and convert the knowledge gained into wisdom and maturity. Prana allows us to take information in, however whether we convert that information into nourishment is completely dependent upon our level of Tejas. These essences are the stuff life is made of and they work on all levels of our being.

Tejas is also the energy of will and vigour. It motivates us to change and inspires us to do whatever work needs to be done. Courage, fearlessness and insight all stem from Tejas and believe it or not, the most effective strategy for building Tejas…. is Silence. Control of speech is included under this heading as too much talking depletes our inner radiance. Great Masters say what needs to be said, but not more.

Concentration and focus practices also build Tejas. Many Yogis these days don’t like doing true Tejas-building work, known as Tapas. We think that sweating and jumping around and exhausting ourselves is Tapas… it isn’t. Tapas (the practices that produce Tejas) are the hard things we do that we really don’t want to do; like sitting still and being silent 😉

That is the deal – If we want more Tejas, then we have to cultivate a will like steel. No way to buy our way through or side-step around that one.

Ojas is the third and final essence. It is the energy-pool of our own pure vitality – the place from which we draw our vigour. Prana allows us to take things in. Tejas allows us to break it down. Ojas is the nourishment we extract – ‘Life minerals’. It manifests as our immunity and also provides us with stamina, stability, patience, peace, confidence and calm. Ojas is also the energy of protection.

Ojas as patience, peace, stability, stamina and calm is the framework and foundation for success in Yoga, behind the scenes protecting our practice and ensuring we don’t burn out. As the ancient texts proclaim, we have to stabilize the Moon (Mind) before we rise up the Sun (Prana). This is skill in action and the recipe for a vital life.

To build Ojas it’s important we minimize sensory impressions. Yes, exactly – get off your phone! Phones and computers deplete Ojas but Yin yoga, Meditation and Yoga Nidra are great tools to cultivate it.

One final suggestion; Bhakti or love builds Ojas. People who have a mate (the right mate) in their life live longer. So find someone to love!! Even if it’s a dog! Love builds Ojas 😉 Let’s share it!

Make March matter!

As we move into March and the beginnings of Spring, mother nature is gently pulling back the blanket of winter and asking us to wake up. January 1st may be the calendar date we adopt for setting resolutions and intentions, but in terms of nature’s rhythms, Spring is really the season of new beginnings. If you’ve had a great start to 2020, make March the month to really solidify those positive aspects with your March Intentions and continue any newly ingrained healthy habits. If the past two months haven’t been the most abundant however, fear not, because if there was ever a time to ‘start again’ or re-set your mindset, this is it.

Monthly Mantra: “This is my season of personal growth”

In many traditions, March is a time of special celebration and signals the awakening of nature. Pagan communities celebrate the ‘Green Man’, who symbolises rebirth, and whose image of a green face surrounded by leaves can be traced throughout Europe, North America and East Asia. All over the world, no matter the language we speak, the symbolism of lush greenery, budding flowers and shoots has always been celebrated as a sign of rebirth abundance, newness and growth, reminding us that even if things have been a little sparse or difficult recently, there’s always the opportunity to start again, to grow new shoots, to leave behind the old and welcome the new.

Flower Power

The lotus flower is a symbol used throughout Asia to represent the journey of personal growth; starting life in the depths of murky, muddy waters and eventually emerging on the surface, unfurling pure untouched petals. In the same way, plants in our gardens start life in darkness surrounded by dirt, but eventually start growing towards the light, pushing their way to the surface and reaching upward, providing fruit, leaves or flowers. The flowers and plants don’t stay in the dirt where its safe, they don’t race each other to grow the highest, they don’t grow half way then retreat back to the familiarity of the pot. No, nature grows at a steady pace, is strengthened by withstanding strong winds, drinks up the heavy rain and turns towards the light of the sun.

Everywhere we look come Springtime, we’re offered a reminder of the power we have to keep on growing and keep on going. If the only thing holding us back from being our very best selves is fear (and most of the time it is), then perhaps let March be the month you take nature’s advice and grow. This month, I’m going to adopt the mantra – ‘This is my season of personal growth’. 

This can be used as a daily reminder to pursue your purpose and follow your dreams, but it can also be used throughout more challenging and difficult times – those times when you may need to remind yourself that even when we’re facing challenging times, we can learn and from each experience. So this month, I’m going to:

DO MORE – Things that frighten me. Naturally I’m a bit of a risk taker, but as of late I’ve got in a rut where when it comes to new things I’ve steered clear of them. This month though, I’m committed to doing things that make me a little frightened. The first step this month will be committing to putting together and publishing my online newsletter.

TAKE TIME TO- Be creative! Whilst I can be creative with my planning, I want to try to do something just for me. This month I want to try harder to try some more recipes and practise my calligraphy, a much neglected hobby.

LET GO OF- Things that don’t serve me! Self doubt is a big one for me. When I feel a class hasn’t gone to plan, I can be riddled with anxiety and do a good line in beating myself up.

WORK ON- Being m0re organised with my time planning and focus my butterfly mind on one thing at a time. Let’s just say, you don’t want to see how many icons are on my desktop!

TRY NEW- I’m going to challenge myself to try different styles of yoga and try to go to some workshops to open myself up to some new experiences.

Fancy making March your season of personal growth? I’ve attached a handy resource to help you stay on track. Let me know how you get on via Facebook!