Monday, 23 May 2016

Yoga is Great

Yoga is great; you know this.  You start out a little bit mad, a little bit obsessed by the wrong stuff, looking to other people to reassure you that you are doing ok, that you are a good person, trying all the time to be better, to be worthy, to be good enough.

Yoga shows you, through practice, over time, that you were born good enough, you have plenty of love around you; it takes away the barriers you had erected around your heart to protect yourself, it silences your mind and then the love comes crashing in unhindered and you realise that you knew how to live all along.  

You were your own worst enemy, and now you are your own best friend.  

Now you can make decisions, be brave, do new things, reach out to friends in need, nurture yourself, stay healthy, feel vibrantly alive.

For this reason, among many others, yoga is great.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Love

It is crucial that you discover how to value yourself;
That you know the truth of your own worth.

So much of your suffering comes from not understanding this simple truth:
You are unique and deserving of love, respect, care & tenderness.

You and everybody else.

If you don't know this,
If you don't understand this,
Then there is something wrong
And you have work to do,
The quiet, patient work of uncovering all that stands in the way of your love.

You can only progress,
You can only become all that you can be,
If you know your worth and value yourself.

It is not enough to open your heart and to shower your love onto other people,
You must learn how to receive love,
You must find out how to believe you deserve it.

It really is that simple
And that difficult.

If you are a student of yoga,
Or a student of life,
Then you already know that
Love is the answer.

That being the case,
Why did you think that you were,
In some unique way,
Undeserving of it?

You were wrong.

Thursday, 31 December 2015

New Year's Evolution

Here's the thing about your brain.
The ancient part of it, the limbic system, reacts to threat instinctively with self-righteousness, attack, anger and withdrawal from connection with the (real or perceived) source of threat.

We all know we have this capacity within us: responding to a threat (to our way of life, our dignity, safety, sense of self), with a desire to hit out, to withdraw from connection with the source of the threat, or to draw the battlelines between us and them.

But know also that there was a later evolution of the human brain (the neocortex), which enables us to manage our self-protective reactions.  This is the part of us which seeks to reach out to other people in the face of threat; it is the part of us that knows that together we are better; and which gives us the courage and confidence to remain open-hearted in the face of vulnerability.


As you step out into the new year, please remember that the ability for humans to connect and help each other, to offer each other respect and love, is as much of a human instinct as that which tells us to become defensive or aggressive; remember that your capacity to reach out to others in times of uncertainty is the higher function of your brain.

It might take practice - the functions of the limbic system have dominated human development for many generations - but your yoga practice will give you the time and space to engage with this practice; times of peace, times of prayer can be guided towards seeking and finding this higher place in yourself, the place which seeks to understand and care for others.

It all starts with you.

When the world feels full of fear; when it feels as though the voices of aggression get the most airtime and shout the loudest; you can walk through your life with peace and generosity, you can remain dedicated to the practice of compassion and to the development of your own empathy; you can be the one that takes the time to encourage, care for and nurture other human beings, be they strangers, friends or family.

This is the best new year's resolution that I can imagine: to turn always towards empathy and compassion and to reach towards that part of our brain which knows that we are nothing without connection and understanding.

People just like you are doing this everywhere, every day.

We make a difference.

Start where you are and you have no idea how far the positive ripples of your actions will travel.

"Don't miss an opportunity to exert the power you have to remind others of who they are: invaluable priceless and irreplaceable.  Remind yourself too."
Dr Donna Hicks

Namaste x

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

When you don't know how to begin, just begin

When you don't know how to begin.

When you have no idea how to begin.

When you become aware that there is something new out there for you, some new place to be, or a new way of living; when a new project beckons you, tantalisingly from the edges of your consciousness.

When you see that you might be healthier, wiser, kinder if you chose differently.

When you remember that life can be exciting and there are new things to learn, new places to discover, new experiences to have.

When you ask after that new thing that is calling you: What are you?  What is it that is wanted of me?  How could this life of mine be different; how might it be better?' When curiosity rises in you.

When that project that you have always wanted to begin, but have never known how, keeps whispering to you, 'Create me, create me, you know you were born to do this'  When you have heard that voice for years now and you still haven't done it.

Just begin.

When your old friend Fear stands in your way, with her hands on her hips, blocking the path and tells you that you are safe where you are now; what you have is enough; when she wonders who you are, anyway to think that you could ever do this new thing, this new project of yours.

Even then.

Just begin.

She's only trying to keep you safe; she's trying to help; but she's getting in your way.

Then comes Procrastination.  Think of all of the things you need to do before you can begin: you need to clear things away; you need to build things up; you need more knowledge; you need to be ever so slightly different (slimmer, fitter, smarter, braver, less tired, more financially secure).

Look closer: Procrastination is your old friend, Fear, in disguise.

Everything begins inside of us: it is an inkling, an instinct, a desire.  But it must move from our heads to our hearts to our hands if anything is to be made of it.

You plant a bulb in the winter and you can't imagine that from that hopeless looking, dried out thing, will come the most encouraging growth, the most beautiful colour, just when you need to see it at the cold beginning of next Spring.

One word
One stitch
One step
One phone call
One click of the mouse
One conversation where you admit your secret plans to a beloved friend

We already know we're not in it for the glory; we're in it for the love; we're in it because we are in the habit of tuning in to what is wanted of us and we're committed to using the unique gifts that we have been given, because, well, that's what they were given to us for.

I'm not talking about other people's gifts (some people have such intimidating gifts and that can be discouraging); I'm talking about your gifts and mine; our small gifts to use and share and relish in our own small communities.  I never did want to stand up in front of the whole world, did you?  I wanted to do my own beloved little thing here, in the place where I live among the people who make me happy.

Don't get waylaid any more.

Now you know that you want to begin; just begin.

Namaste x


Thursday, 19 November 2015

Spanda

It is such a shame that we live in a time when money, position and power are the chief arbiters of success in our lives.

It means that when it comes to doing the things we love, just because we love them, it is too easy to talk ourselves out of it.

But it is a human instinct, isn't it, to create for no reason other than the joy of creation?  Every child knows this.

And people all over the world are quilting, sewing, drawing, painting, baking and writing for nothing other than their own, quiet fulfilment.

I say that there should be more of that.
Further, I say that people are born to create and that when they do not, something inside them withers and dies.

In Tantric terms, this urge to create is known as Spanda.  It is our desire to move, to flow, to use our brain and bodies in the creation of sound and movement, but also in the bringing into being of some new thing.  In this philosophy, Shiva brings consciousness, our awareness of the fact that we exist, that we are connected both to one another and to everything in the universe that lives, and Shakti brings action: she creates something out of nothing.  Without Shiva, we are lost, aimless, randomly moving through the world; without Shakti, something within us is dead and frozen.
 
There is a time in our lives when we are told that we are not good enough at something and we are made to feel that we ought to stop doing that, because we are not going to be successful at it; this usually happens in childhood and often at school.

But this is like saying that only the birds with the most beautiful song should be allowed to sing and only the prettiest of flowers ought to be allowed to bloom.

So please go ahead and write your poetry for nothing but you own pleasure - we shall never know how many beautiful poems have lain undiscovered in drawers throughout history - create collages and paintings that will only ever grace your private portfolio or your kitchen fridge; bake cakes that do not rise, then cover them with icing and eat them anyway; throw paint and words and pictures at paper with scant regard for a measurable outcome; strum your guitar, play the piano; grow vegetables and flowers for your own enjoyment, no matter that you can buy bigger carrots for less money in the supermarket; sing in your car and dance in your kitchen.

Don't do it because you are good at it; don't do it because you want to be famous for it; do it because you love it.  And know that that is enough.

Namaste x

Monday, 16 November 2015

Viveka

We know what does us good, don't we?  Even if we are only just now learning what it is that we truly want and need in our life in order to live in the fullest, most vibrant, most generous way, there are certain things we know that we need.

We need the support of good people; we need regular sleep; we need to not drink too much alcohol or eat too much sugar and fat; we need regular exercise of the kind that suits our constitution as it is today (not how it was 20, or even 5 years ago); we need connection and movement and light.

How can this be so hard to maintain?

Somebody asked me: 'If I know that those people are no good for me and that hanging out with them makes me ill; if I know that drinking that much and staying out that late interferes with my life in a bad way, why do I still do it? '

Bless his heart, that man.

What he is looking for is VIVEKA: the discrimination with which we choose wisely.

At first, our efforts at viveka are stymied by our lack of self-awareness - when we are starting out it is so difficult to realise except by trial and error, what serves our best self and what does not.  Perhaps it is the human condition to want everything and to have it all, or perhaps it is the byproduct of living in a capitalist society that entreats us all the time to have more, want more and do more.  More likely, it is just the case that part of learning what does suit us, is learning what does not.

I'm not going to list here the choices you make every single day and I'm not going to make value judgements around herbal tea vs. a cup of coffee: sometimes a nice glass of wine is a Very Good Thing.  You are a grown-up; you know this stuff.

But I am going to suggest that you set yourself a few boundaries around what you are allowing into your life, your day, your soul and I am going to encourage you to take time every day to consider the choices you are making (and if you don't have time in your day to take some time to breathe and consider the choices you are making, then you definitely need to take some time every day to ponder why you don't have the time). 

Somebody told us that we can have it all; this is not the truth; but we can have a full life and a happy one; we can be the best versions of ourselves; it only needs that we choose wisely. We must learn to say no to the things that harm or deplete us, without guilt; we must learn how to keep ourselves well.

Every day I come across people who are so run down by life that they come over as unfriendly, belligerent and angry - these are the ones who most need our help; but that we feel least like helping; they are not choosing well, perhaps they don't know how.  It behoves us to be the kindest, most respectful, peaceful human beings we can be; it is our duty to learn how to expand the love we have beyond our small family and friendship groups for the benefit of everyone and everything.

So be well, my friend, be healthy, be happy; set your boundaries so that you can stay wholehearted and generous even on the days when the sadness in the world makes you want to lock the doors and hide inside.

Namaste x

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Voices

Valuing yourself as much as you value others is a tricky subject for many yogis.  In my experience most yogis are kind and humble people, apt to put others before themselves; indeed, doing so is part of our practice.

But we cannot give wholly if we are not ourselves whole, as the Dalai Lama puts it:
"One must be compassionate to oneself before external compassion".

Let's begin with the way you talk to yourself: sometimes the playlist we have running in our heads is not kind; I know that the voices in my head have sometimes been downright mean and destructive; what's more, because those voices in our head stay in our head and are never openly expressed or challenged, we tend to think that those internal voices speak the truth.  I recently found out that one of my dearest friends believes that if everyone knew what she was really like, then nobody would love her - life for her is therefore a continuous struggle to hide those aspects of herself that perceives to be unacceptable in order to avoid being rejected by those she loves.

I sometimes see people in class struggling with voices that tell them, with utter conviction, that they are rubbish at yoga and will never be able to do it (I salute them, those brave ones, who keep turning up anyway).

Recently a new student asked me what you do about the voices in your head.  You wouldn't believe how beautiful this person is: a gentle spirit, kind, friendly and gifted.

Here is my answer:

Listen to the voices in your head.  Make friends with them.  Get to know who they are and what their purpose is: in my experience they want to keep you safe - they want to save you from being embarrassed, so they tell you that you can't start yoga until you've lost a few pounds; they want to save you from showing yourself up, so they keep you small and in safe places that you are familiar with; they want to circumvent any harsh judgement, so they tell you that your painting/writing/vocal (fill in the blank) skills are no good, that way nobody will ever see or hear you; that way, nobody will be able to hurt you with their criticism.  But I'm afraid that listening to those voices and following that road leads to a small, frightened life, when what we are seeking as yogis is an expansive, generous life of constant growth and growing understanding.

Make befriending yourself part of your practice; meet with the voices in your head, so that you can contend with them and find ways to rewrite your internal script, making it more kindly and positive and thereby freeing yourself from the negativity that hurts you.

Start with this: you are beautiful; you are here for a reason and you serve the world by finding out that reason and using it for good.  Learn how to overcome your internal naysayers and confidently be who you are.

Try this: when one of your negative inner recordings starts rolling, stop it short, thank it kindly for trying to keep you safe, but remind it that it is not needed and move forward with your day.

Think about this: if you are someone who gives all of their time and energy to other people, but who is regularly unwell, or low on energy - why is it that you think that other people deserve your attention and care, but you yourself do not?  Learn what you need to be well, then learn both how to ask for it and how to give it to yourself.

There is so much that you have to learn about yourself and there are so many things in the way of your own sense of peace, as Rumi wrote:

"Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within
yourself that you have built."

Love is a given; it's clearing all of the stuff that we put in the way of love that is our life's work.

One place in which you can begin your journey towards peace is to meet, greet and get to know all of those voices inside yourself, to encourage the kind ones and to leave aside the unkind; to nurture yourself as if you were your own child, for whom the only thing you wish is a life filled with peace and love. 

You were made this way for a reason and you are supposed to be this way, so please stop fighting it and let yourself be who you are in all of your glory without letting those harsh, judgemental, fearful voices within rule you.

Namaste x