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Why I feel for Cheryl Cole

Whilst admitting to never having watched an episode of The X Factor in my life, I did feel a degree of sympathy for Cheryl Cole who apparently has been watching her recent performance on repeat after dividing opinions on her singing.

MY INNER CRITIC HAS BEEN VERY BUSY

My own inner critic has been very busy as I’ve just co-hosted a big event and found myself, just like Cheryl, replaying my yoga class over and over and asking myself ‘Did they enjoy it?’  ‘Someone yawned….were they bored? (It was a restorative class, designed to release tension and aid relaxation!)’ ‘I’m sure I wasn’t as good as the others’.

If you start counting the times that you hear other women say, “Oh, but I don’t want other people to think that…” in my experience, you soon run out of numbers to count with. Or you can even count the number of times you think it to yourself without saying it out loud. “Oh, but I don’t want other people to think that… I’m stupid… I’m fat… I’m out of my depth… I’m a bad mother… I’m not experienced enough for this job… I don’t know what I’m talking about… I’m greedy… I’ve got no friends… I’m desperate… I’m getting above myself… I’ve got a big ego… I’m too self-promoting… I’m big-headed…” Basically, insert whatever insult for yourself you’ve dreamt up here. We all have our own different ways to end the sentence, “Oh, but I don’t want other people to think that…”

You get the message. There is no end to the things we don’t want other people to think about us. And not only do we not want them to even think these things, but, also, we want to control the likelihood of them thinking them at all. So, often, we censor ourselves completely from doing the things that might mean other people would think these things in the first place.

So, you don’t say what you wanted to say in a meeting, in case someone else might know more than you. You don’t book the weekend away, because your mother-in-law will raise her eyebrows. You don’t apply for the dream job, because you don’t fit every single last word of the job spec. You don’t ask for the raise, because you already had a small raise two years ago (even though you just found out a colleague is on a lot more than you). And you change out of trousers into a skirt, because the trousers made your thighs look extremely large, indeed.

The trouble is, we don’t listen to ourselves when we say either out loud or in our heads – “I don’t want other people to think that… (I’m greedy/I’m up myself/I’m too demanding/I’m selfish…)” If we were listening carefully, we would hear the first part of the sentence: “I don’t want other people to think.” Say that again to yourself: “I don’t want other people to think.” How strange is that? We actually harbour a secret wish that other people should have no thoughts whatsoever, that they should not be allowed to think anything. If we could control them, we would want them to think only good things about us. As we can’t control them, we just don’t want them to think at all.

NONE OF US CAN EVER STOP ANYONE FROM THINKING ANYTHING.

It’s fantastically useful to focus on what a crazy wish this is. None of us can ever stop anyone from thinking anything. They may think all kinds of wonderful and terrible things about us. They may think that finally someone has said what needs saying in those interminable pointless meetings. They may think that you’re brave and assertive to take a break from parenting and that you’re fostering independence in your kids by leaving them for a weekend.  Or they may think that you are the most terrible person they have ever had the misfortune of encountering. The point is: there is no point in trying to control or influence the thoughts of others, as they are entitled to think what they like. And, actually, their thoughts have very little bearing on us and we often won’t even find out what their thoughts were.

LET US STOP INWARDLY TROLLING OURSELVES

The moment we think, “Oh, but I don’t want other people to think that…” is a moment when we are actually trolling ourselves before anyone has even had a chance to say or think anything. Let us stop inwardly trolling ourselves. Let us stop imagining that we can anticipate, prevent or control the thoughts of others. Bring on the next workshop!!

Wabi-sabi; nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect

Embrace the perfectly imperfect

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy often described as appreciating the beauty in imperfection. Like so many words which are lost in translation, it’s hard to distil wabi-sabi into a single definition or translation which does justice to its nuances. But, broadly speaking wabi-sabi embraces the following 3 ideas;  ‘nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect’.

In Japanese, the meanings and connotations of wabi and sabi have evolved over time. Wabi was associated with a specific kind of loneliness and solitude. Imagine what it felt like to be a hermit, living in remote nature. Sabi was associated with withering, rusting, tarnishing—the natural progression of things. This thought has developed over time where loneliness and solitude were seen as wise and freeing, and the imperfections resulting from the natural progression of life and things were embraced as the beauty of change.

The lessons of wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi is often associated with a sense of peace with the natural progression of life. Accepting that life and things are impermanent allows us to appreciate the beauty and melancholy of it. For example, a wooden table that has aged over the years may seem decrepit and ugly. Discovering wabi-sabi is to see the beauty of imperfection and change.

But it can also teach us much more about ourselves and how we view the world around us:

– Instead of focusing on what could be, wabi-sabi focuses on appreciating what is—the ordinary, old and incomplete.

– Suffering or pain, the ugliness of life, are just like the imperfections of an old table. They are a natural part of life that requires acceptance and appreciation.

Wabi-sabi in everyday life

Wabi-sabi in daily life doesn’t require us to be an expert in design or philosophy. It’s a shift in perspective from one that chases perfection to one that appreciates what is. It’s up to you to decide how wabi-sabi fits into your life. It could mean being more accepting of your flaws, practising gratitude, listening more or finding beauty in the ordinary. It could also be as simple as appreciating the autumn leaves or making peace with the stains on your carpet.

Love is….the absence of judgement – Dali Lama

October’s intention of non-judgement is subtle, after all, judging a comment, a person or action are things that happen within a split second. Before we know it we’ve created a belief or a habitual thinking pattern that can be hard to shift. Thankfully, the practices of yoga and meditation can help us figuratively slow things down, so we’re able to take a step back and observe our emotions, thoughts and reactions. When do we judge others, and why? How does judging affect us, and how can we overcome it? Read on for some inspiration on living your yoga in the world this month, and infusing your actions with the intention of non-judgement.

To Judge Another….

We’ve all been there; judging another person based upon how they look, what they say, or what they’ve done in the past. Judgement however, is only based upon our own perceptions and life experience, and entirely made up of our own personal thoughts and opinions. To judge another person only limits our life experience, closes us off from making a connection with them, and ultimately prevents us from experiencing reality.

The primal act of judging does originally come from a useful place – once used for deciphering whether a plant was safe to eat or an animal safe to approach, our judgements are now reserved for comparing ourselves to other people, and how we might measure up to them. Judgement and comparison go hand-in-hand, and these reactions stem from a place of lack, fear, and essentially not feeling grounded and comfortable with who we are. The barometer for measuring ‘normality’ is entirely inaccurate – how do we know what ‘normal’ is, or how ‘normal’ we are compared to another? Should we even all desire to be ‘normal’ anyway?

Forgoing the act of judging altogether may take many years of mindfulness and practice, but there is something we can do when we catch ourselves judging another; we can choose whether to let that judgement blur our experience of reality, hinder our ability to be fully present and open to new experiences, or we can choose to observe our thoughts and emotions, and approach the situation with fresh awareness. Non-judgement is like taking off a pair of smeared glasses; we’re able to see a person or situation for what it really is, experience it as it really is, and be in the moment for what it really, really is.

Some questions to ask or journal when you’re feeling judgemental:

·     Do I know the full story behind this person / event / object?

·     Through judging this person / event / object, how do I decide to react?

·     What does this judgement reflect about myself?

·     Through judging this person / event / object, what do I miss out on?

Live Your Yoga This Month

October 10th marked World Mental Health Day, opening our eyes to the reality and suffering many people go through on a daily basis.  We all have mental health, it’s just a case of how healthy our mental state is, and just like the rest of our physical and emotional health, it can change constantly. The current statistics tell us that there are about 8.2 million cases of diagnosed anxiety in the UK, with depression being the most predominant mental health problem world-wide. Practice living your yoga in the world this month by casting judgements aside and putting compassion, acceptance and a friendly face in its place.  

Don’t know your asanas from your elbow? Read on!

I’m always being asked to describe my yoga style to prospective clients and, I must confess, it’s the hardest question to answer. Truth be told, I’m just not sure!

Even though I spend my working life in front of the class, I have always made time to reverse the role and become the student. The experience is totally different; in the former, I’m responsible for the wellbeing of others while, as a student, I’m solely responsible for myself.

LIKE A YOGA MAGPIE, I COLLECT SHINY IDEAS

And, the teaching of others informs my own practice and how I deliver my own classes. So, if I’ve been to a particularly fiery vinyasa flow, my planning may reflect that the following week. Similarly, after my weekly yin class, I may tune in to this sense of calmness and teach a chilled out practice, focussing on turning the spotlight inward using more meditation and pranayama. Like a yoga magpie, I collect shiny ideas to feather my mat with; ideas drawn not just from other teachers. The natural world, poetry, loved ones…the sources are many and varied. Life offers a rich seam to be mined.

YOGA OFFERS SOMETHING FOR EVERYBODY….AND EVERY BODY!

Whatever style of yoga floats your boat, this helpful article describes just some of the options available. Yoga offers something for everybody….and every body!

https://www.theguardian.com/freedom-to-move/2018/oct/22/from-yin-to-iyengar-a-yoga-glossary?

 

 

Just let it go!

As we transition into Autumn, this junction point of the year which marks the start of a new season, it is the perfect opportunity to make time to consciously let go of something,  anything that no longer serves you. Here is a short meditation practice to support you in the process…

A meditation to let go

To start, find a comfortable seat – somewhere that you can sit for a few minutes. (Use props to support you and perhaps a blanket to cover you in case your body temperature drops.)

Close your eyes and soften the muscles in your face. Take a few deep breaths and feel the contact of your body with the ground. Allow your sit bones to drop into the ground and the crown of your head to reach towards the sky. Taking a few moments to arrive and settle into your body.

Bring to mind something that you’re struggling with, something that you’re finding difficult to let go of. As you do this, notice where you feel the struggle in your body. For example – your chest. Now, place a hand on your chest and notice the comforting warmth of your hand on this part of your body.

Quietly say, “My peace is worth more to me than this. I choose to let this go”.

Repeat this process as many times as you need until the struggle or tension in your body begins to ease.

When you’re ready to bring your practice to a close, simply take a few deep breaths and slowly open your eyes. 

Make it ‘Easy, always, always, easy’

This is a practice you can come back to any time. And remember to make it “easy, always, always, easy”.

I want to leave you with this very special poem written by Safire Rose that has recently inspired my own process of letting go. For me, her words beautifully capture the quiet, simple process of surrender and I hope they can inspire you too…

She Let Go

She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.

She let go of the fear.  She let go of the judgments.  She let go of the confluence of opinions swarming around her head.  She let go of the committee of indecision within her.  She let go of all the ‘right’ reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go.

She didn’t ask anyone for advice. She didn’t read a book on how to let go.  She didn’t search the scriptures. She just let go.  She let go of all of the memories that held her back.  She let go of all of the anxiety that kept her from moving forward.  She let go of the planning and all of the calculations about how to do it just right.

She didn’t promise to let go. She didn’t journal about it. She didn’t write the projected date in her Day-Timer. She made no public announcement and put no ad in the paper. She didn’t check the weather report or read her daily horoscope. She just let go.

She didn’t analyze whether she should let go. She didn’t call her friends to discuss the matter. She didn’t do a five-step Spiritual Mind Treatment. She didn’t call the prayer line. She didn’t utter one word. She just let go.

No one was around when it happened. There was no applause or congratulations. No one thanked her or praised her. No one noticed a thing. Like a leaf falling from a tree, she just let go.

There was no effort. There was no struggle. It wasn’t good and it wasn’t bad. It was what it was, and it is just that.

In the space of letting go, she let it all be. A small smile came over her face. A light breeze blew through her. And the sun and the moon shone forevermore.

SEPTEMBER IS THE REAL NEW YEAR!

After a long hot summer, September has finally swept in with its cool air, crisp leaves and back-to-school excitement – it’s the perfect month to get going again

Finally, I’ve been anticipating it for ages. Don’t get me wrong, I adored the heady heat of August – I’m as partial to seaside swims and sandy sandwiches as the next person. But there’s something innately hopeful about September. Spring may be the season of hopping lambs and blooming buds but, for me, after the hen-dos, holidays and hedonism of high summer, autumn seems like a wonderful time for renewal.

Perhaps this is paradoxical given nature is in fact shutting down for the year – but with the change in temperature, comes a change in temperament. One crisp morning has the clarifying effect of an ice bath – and I’m suddenly prepared to tackle to the projects I’d been putting off for months.

Summer isn’t the season for studiousness – it’s all sun and sand and sea – and good god it’s great. But now I’m tanned and I’m tired and I’m ready for change. It’s a symptom of living in a perpetually precipitous nation – feeling we must soak up the sunshine whenever it strikes – because we never know when it might be back.

BUT NOW I’M TANNED AND I’M TIRED AND I’M READY FOR CHANGE

So, the recent heatwave, while phenomenal, did put something of a dampener on any plans to be productive. “I must make the most of it:” words I said daily for the duration of July and August: “If I don’t enjoy the sunshine now, I won’t get another chance until next year.” But on and on the summer went, glorious sunshine after glorious sunshine.

Unremitting loveliness which made productivity non-existent. But I’ve eaten one too many magnums and now feel the overwhelming need for soup, a new pencil case and a fresh notepad: a clean slate.

Oh, the joyful symbolism of a new notepad: a new school term: a chance to reinvent yourself, or at the very least, your handwriting. I think we got New Year wrong. January is a terrible time to suddenly uphaul your entire life – when you have half a fridgeful of leftovers and 10 hours of The Crown to get through. It should be now, after the buzz of beach life – when we’re all brimming with ideas stored up over summer and still have residual tans from our week in the sun.

The ensuing months will be darker and colder, but September is all ephemeral light and rust coloured leaves and jacket potatoes and Bake Off being back on the telly. It’s still warm enough for skirts but a woolly jumper wouldn’t be completely out of the question and the hedgerows are jewelled with ripe fruit, so crumble is always on the cards. Crucially, it’s time to go back to school. And as the kids reluctantly return to the classroom, now is the time for us to get back to work too.

It’s time to start tapping away at those goals we set nine months ago, without Christmas specials to distract us. It’s time to opt for fresh vegetables and hearty stews, instead of bread rolls and barbeque food. It’s time to start afresh.

So, while friends lament the declining hours of sunshine, I welcome cloudy days and drawn-out nights with open arms. To me, the cold and dark are comforting. Perhaps now I’ll finally get something done.

BE FILLED WITH A SENSE OF JUBILANT OPTIMISM THAT THIS YEAR JUST MIGHT BE YOUR YEAR.

After a long summer, September, is the time to reset: to feel the crunch underfoot as you walk through the park, welcoming the crisp breeze as it intermingles with the warm air and the auburn leaves as they float down towards the baked earth.

It’s time to give that thing you wanted to do another go, to turn to page one of your new notebook, write your name in your neatest handwriting and be filled with a sense of jubilant optimism that this year just might be your year.

Make today a Pomale day!

I love words and, today I’ve discovered a wonderful new one; and it’s perfect for lazy summer days!

Pomale, also spelled Bumale, Bumali or Pomalo is a term from Southeastern and Central Europe. It describes a moment of relaxed happiness, a feeling of ease and lightness that comes along with a profound sense of peacefulness and the knowledge that everything is alright and life is good.

It’s similar to the experience of quiet joyfulness that sets in after a yoga workshop, movement class, or long massage treatment, while being deeply engaged with a creative project, during a trip to the ocean, or on long hike through the mountains.

Pomale can be the response to the question “how are things going?” or “how’s life?” If you are relaxed, happy and in the flow of life, the response would be “everything’s pomale”.

Pomale can also be used in the context of slowing down. Saying “Pomale! Pomale!” means “Hey, slow down, take your time.”

Pomale always comes with a profound sense of peacefulness and the knowledge that everything is alright and life is good.

You can do things the pomale way, which means that you do things slowly and you enjoy the process. So, make today a day when you adopt a pomale approach to life. The sun is out and everything’s pomale!!

Want to be a weaver? Don’t buy a monkey for a pet!

“If a man is interested in weaving, he shouldn’t keep a monkey for a pet.”

So says the Indian proverb.

That advice has me imagining monkeys speedily undoing the threads on looms with their little monkey fingers the very minute their owners turn their backs. While The Yoga Sutra and their commentaries are often inscrutable to me, I think I get what Satchidananda means here; there seem to have been countless times when I’ve prepared my “loom” by setting a resolution, and then went right out and got myself a monkey; a distraction.

ADOPT A LOYAL PET

But not all pets are distracting and mischievous. Might there even be some that help us weave the tapestries of our resolutions, rather than tearing them to shreds? I wonder if sometimes, when we fail in our resolution-keeping, it’s because we self-handicap ourselves with monkeys rather than adopting loyal pets—the people, activities, and approaches—that might keep us inspired and help us to further our goals. No one said we had to go it alone.

 

Perhaps when we close our eyes and sit in a comfortable seat for meditation, we could not only invite fewer monkeys in, closing the door on the thoughts that disrupt us, but also invite in the pet of the breath. The pet of the candle flame. The pet of a mantra. And for a few minutes, things may grow quiet enough that we can see a new pattern emerging in the warp and weft of the mind’s loom.

 

Are you sitting comfortably?

Traditionally, yoga is a preparation for long periods of sitting and the lotus position would have been a comfortable pose to remain in whilst meditatingfor very many hours.
But most of us humans have subjected our bodies to the rigours of sitting in a chair since childhood, so we no longer spend long periods of time in a squat or in a cross legged position, which is how humans would have more ‘naturally’ relaxed when not standing.
And the trouble with chairs is that they have chronically tensed our hips. We’re addicted to chairs. Many folks drive to work in a chair, sit in chairs at work (if you work in the office), come home and sit on the sofa. Our chair addiction is pretty out of control.
You may say, well, they are comfortable. And yes, we have trained our bodies to find comfort in this position. But do you ever wonder why children at first wriggle when put in a high-chair? Our bodies are made to wriggle, to move, to change positions.
Our hips are made to be open and flexible. Squatting and sitting cross-legged retains that flexibility and also encourage a straighter spine. Chairs tend to encourage rounded shoulders, rounded lower back, weak core, stiff hips. No wonder statistics say that one in ten suffer from lower back pain and that studies say that back pain is the leading cause of disability.
Surely, as well as most of our chronic lack of movement, being stuck to a chair for most of our waking hours is a massive cause of that back pain.
Of course, after all the hours sat at chairs, in our usual slack core, tense hip pose, it won’t be a good idea to hop straight into poses that require flexibility or much mobility of the knee-joint. But if, every day, we start to sit in chairs less, we start to squat and sit cross legged more, we move and mobilise our knee joints as well as our hips, and hamstrings, we might find that our backache is reduced.
So this week, perhaps pay extra attention to how you sit, not only on the mat, but off it. Are you comfortable? Are your shoulders down, your core subtly engaged, your chest open, your hips feeling free? And what can you do to change that?
And what of props? Those with tight hips find sitting still for ages hard and a recipe for pins and needles .. if this sounds like you we would  recommend a prop. This can be sitting against a wall sometimes for a long meditation.. or a wedged type block… or a bolster​ or even just a cushion.. Many folks find trying these things can give access to sitting on the floor for longer. And don’t forget a soft blanket under any boney ankles out there!

I’ve got that lovin’ feeling!

A great philosophy teacher Rose Baudin, once said,

‘We do not see the world as it is, but as we are.’

Those words have continued to ring true for me in the many years since I first heard it. And the practice of yoga can shine a light on the way we view and react to the world and our habitual responses.

‘We do not see the world as it is, but as we are.’

 So what does that really mean? What does it point to?

Well, for me it is that our personal experiences of mind and body directly affect how we move through the world. If we never question or look in to this we can often assume that ‘our’ personal view of the world is the only one that exists.

And then we can find ourselves pushing out against the world and those around us from that point of view, without realising it is just a unique personal lens that each of us look at the world through each day.

Which is why, for example, when a wonderful thing happens in your life, such as falling in love, your spirits are usually so exalted and elevated that your whole world view is too.  Suddenly everyone and everything around you impart great joy, when just a short time ago you were irked and annoyed by it all.

All this leads us back to our sense of self

The relationship we have with ourselves is truly the most important and foundational relationship that exists in our lives. It has most potential to either positively or negatively affect our experience of the world.

So where does Loving Kindness come into all this?

Well, loving kindness or ‘metta’ as it was originally called in the Buddhist tradition that it arose from is a form of meditation that helps us cultivate ‘loving kindness’ and compassion for both ourselves and others.

The concept of ‘loving kindness’ is not unique to Buddhism alone. It is a concept that arises in almost all major religions of the world, which indicates that across time and space ‘loving kindness’ and the cultivation of compassion are acts that humanity values and deeply needs.

In Christianity, for example, you have the concept of loving kindness documented as far back as 1535.

In Hinduism you have the concept of ‘Priti’ meaning “amity, kindness, friendly disposition, love, affection, harmony, peacefulness”.

I have to offer myself good wishes?!

What I love about the practice is that it begins with oneself, and our relationship with ourselves. And what is interesting is that often we are surprised by how hard we find it to sincerely offer good wishes to ourself, revealing perhaps a latent underlying belief we have about ourselves that we are not worthy of well wishes.

This is interesting terrain as yogis to navigate and initially we may feel we are saying these sentiments without fully embodying them but over time I have found my relationship with myself has been deeply softened, improved and enhanced by this practice.

… And someone I don’t like?!

Then the next challenge people often face with the practice is attempting to sincerely and wholeheartedly offer well wishes to someone in our lives we are currently have difficulty with.

Again, initially, in the early stages of practice it may feel that you can’t fully embody offering these well wishes to this person sincerely. However, what I have found over years of practice is that it has resulted in a softness arising within me.  There is a slow embodied realisation that above all our differences, this tricky person and I have more in common than we have in difference.

Intrigued? Fancy giving it a go?

Below is a very simple script to follow to get you started in Loving Kindness meditation. Feel free to tweak and change it to what really resonates and works for you.

Find a quiet, undisturbed place to sit. Either on the floor with cushions elevating your hips higher than your knees or on a chair. Whatever feels most comfortable for you and allows you to have a tall spine. Start by taking a few slow, deep breaths and tuning into the flow of your breath.

Then bring your awareness to yourself and offer up the below 4 statements silently internally to yourself with as much sincerity as you can muster! Repeat 3 times.

May I be filled with loving kindness.

May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.

May I be well in body and mind.

May I be at ease and happy.

 

Then repeat the same thing with someone you dearly love in your life, offering them these phrases. Then repeat with someone in your life you seen often but don’t actually know, then lastly repeat with someone you are challenged by currently in your life.

At the end, pause, allow whatever unfolded to be as it is. No judgement on how sincerely you managed to express these statements to self or other. Just trust in the fact that you made the time and commitment to sit and cultivate loving kindness and compassion for self and other.

Practice as much as you like, but know like all practices, the more you dive into it the more it will deepen and be enriched.