Thursday, 6 November 2014

Martha Heilland-Allen RIP

In April 2011 I attended a yoga retreat in Portugal where I met a wonderful girl called Martha Heiland-Allen. She shined with light and beauty and had a deep passion for yoga. She was incredibly strong and flexible and could a great chaturanga :) She was training with Claire Missingham  in London  and after completing her course later that year, travelled to India where she continued her sadhana in Rishikesh, the Krisnamacharya Yoga Mandirim in Chennai and then down in Kerala. She came back and forged a full time career as a vinyasa flow teacher at many studios across London, including Tri Yoga. I was so inspired by Martha's strength and passion for the practice of yoga, we continued to email and she and her blog helped me to plan my own yoga sadhana in 2013. Below is the link to an extremely informative blog of her time in India, a must read for anyone wishing to travel India..

http://marthaheilandallen.blogspot.co.uk

Martha in action

We tried to meet in the summer of 2013 to chat about both our impending travels, but unfortunately our busy schedules meant that didn't happen. I was in my bedroom at Stan's House in Mysore, India, December 2013 when I read that Martha had died suddenly. I was in complete shock and disbelief as I read the words and felt so sad that such a beautiful and caring person had been taken from this world, just 28 years old. 

It wasn't until 2 weeks ago that I learned that in fact Martha had taken her own life, in the midst of a severe bout of depression and self-doubt. Yes, even yogis suffer depression. Even yogis suffer self doubt. It's not always 'namaste', 'light and love', even though that's what we sometimes show and try and want to believe. I came to yoga during a period of being lost. In western medicine they call it 
depression, in the east it is translated as 'being lost', I prefer the latter. At least with the latter term, there's the hope of 'being found'. It's not a permanent state, like everything in life, its impermanent. 'Even this will pass…' 

Martha 1984-2013

Many people come to yoga during difficult times in their lives. Yoga is known for its relaxing qualities, many students come just for the 'little lie down at the end' or 'savasana' as we know it :) A few minutes a week out of their busy daily lives to give themselves some peace and quiet and the space to let go, away from the demands of family, kids, husbands, work, life. It can make such a difference. When I teach I try to give the last 10 minutes of the class to this little bit of peace, this tiny taste of freedom. It means the world to many people. 

But the loss of Martha just shows that even us who try and follow the path of yoga, to make our lives better, are not infallible. Trying to be happy all of the time, doesn't necessarily work. Well, it doesn't work. I wanted to say that being aware that even this, these feelings, will pass, well, even that doesn't sit well with me when it comes to thinking about Martha, because I'm almost positive that she would've been well aware of those words and their meaning. It just shows that we are all susceptible to mental health problems, no matter how hard we try to stay on the path. 

So a year on, Martha, I'm so glad to have met you. You inspired me and gave me the courage to give up everything and go off on my own spiritual journey, for which I will always be indebted to you. I wish we had had the opportunity to 'catch up'. Maybe in the next life…

Claire Missingham has a scholarship fund for aspiring yoga teachers in need of financial support called 'Martha's Mat', which I find lovely. See here: http://claireyoga.com/marthas-mat-scholarship/





Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Book review: Yoga Sadhana for Mothers by Anna Wise and Sharmila Desai


So I've been graciously sent a copy of a new book from Yogamatters entitled, 'Yoga Sadhana For Mothers' for review. Many thanks to the guys at Yogamatters for the opportunity to read and review this book :) Was a little worried at first as I'm not a mother, in fact have not a single maternal bone in my body, but upon reading last night, was instantly drawn in and could not put it down. It's been written as an offering to women and families in the practice. The intention was to create a resource for women steeped in the practice of ashtanga yoga who are going through the rite of passage to becoming a mother. 

Here are the contents:



The book beings begins with a section entitled Parampara. The word parampara means an uninterrupted succession; the direct and unbroken transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. In this section we hear directly from the female lineage holders of Ashtanga yoga—R. Saraswathi, Guruji’s daughter, and Sharmila Mahesh, Guruji’s granddaughter. These interviews offer insight into the Jois’s family life and Ashtanga yoga as practiced by women. Both Saraswathi and Sharmila share their memories of life with Guruji and his beloved wife, Amma, revealing how this impacted on their own personal journeys into motherhood. They also share traditions that have been passed down through generations, and which Indian women follow for health, healing, and longevity. Parampara gives a cultural and historical background for what is to follow, and sets the book firmly in the traditions and teachings passed directly from Guruji himself.

The following section called Sadhana addresses the Ashtanga yoga practice itself in the context of pregnancy. Sadhana can be translated as ‘practice towards a spiritual goal.’ Written with direct input from Sharath and Saraswathi and using the Primary series by way of example, each asana is listed according to the traditional Sanskrit count, with instructions and photographs to show how it should be modified during pregnancy. These guidelines are primarily aimed at pregnant women who already practice Ashtanga yoga, and show how they can adapt their practice while maintaining a sense of form and flow. 


The personal narratives in the next section, Anubhava, are the heart of this book. Anubhava means ‘knowledge based on personal experience,’ and here 31 women from the worldwide Ashtanga community share their stories about conception, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. These women come from all walks of life, often with long years of practicing with Guruji and Sharath and have experienced a wide range of realities in pregnancy and birth. The stories as a whole naturally unfold the different ways in which women weave pregnancy and motherhood with their Ashtanga practice. What they all illustrate is that motherhood is a path that relies very much on personal intuition.

The final section is called Chikitsa, which means ‘therapy.’ This final part of the book focuses on approaching postpartum recovery from a holistic perspective and especially how to use the practice as a tool for healing. Included here are Ayurvedic foods for mothers that give strength and health, supporting the process of recovery after birth. All the tips in this section and in the appendices that follow are ones directly experienced by the women and who have found particularly useful in their own pregnancies, postpartum, and in teaching pregnant women over the years. 

Whilst I am not a mother myself, I found this book just beautiful and insightful. The accounts from the women who have shared their own accounts of the practice, pregnancy, birth and motherhood are both profound and at some times heart wrenching. I have not read all of the women's stories yet (as I wanted to get this post done asap) but I read those stories of the women I have met, who are Saraswathi, Lucy Scott, Joanne Darby, Bella Rossi (my Oxford teacher, along with her wonderful husband Manu), Harmony Lichty (my first teacher at Purple valley, Goa) and Katia Marcia Gomez who along with her lovely husband Nick I had the pleasure to practice along side in Bali, late last year. 

Included is the suggested primary series for women who, after the first trimester, are advised to practice. This is a great tool for both the pregnant practitioner but also for the teacher who wishes to teach pregnant students the primary series. This section of the book has given me the confidence to teach the primary series to pregnant women, as it goes into great detail about modifications which Guruji gave and has photos of all the modified asana, for example…


These modifications would also be helpful for teachers and practitioners of any form of yoga. 

The last section is returning to practice and outlines the basic principle of sensibly returning to practice. What I found most heartwarming and inspiring is the honesty of the women in how their practice changed after childbirth. Sometimes, a lot of the time, the body did not go back to how it was pre-childbirth and the honest accounts of how these women now practice is both inspiring and encouraging.   I sometimes feel even practicing in this way during a period would be beneficial. I can imagine myself (if I ever have a baby) looking to this book for encouragement and inspiration. It even goes as far as giving ayurvedic advice on how to look after your body and your baby's after childbirth, which it seems most mothers did follow and which worked for them. 

There are also 'prenatal appendices' detailing the potential issues of pregnancy and how to overcome them. Finally the book gives advice from 'Birthlight Yoga' on the five gentle steps to postpartum recovery. 

All in all, this book is well worth the buy, for any female practitioner, whether or not they are a mother or not, it is inspirational for any woman. Thank you, Anna and Shamila.

Below is the link to buy the book from YogaMatters.

http://www.yogamatters.com/product/478/bkdesaysad/yoga-sadhana-for-mothers.html





Sunday, 19 October 2014

Sharing our lives...

"Nobody's life is just their life, it is an expression of the place and time we're living in." (Fisher, 2014)

This time of year, when the nights draw in and as it gets closer to my birthday, my mood changes. I tend to withdraw from society, hibernate, spend more time on my own, sleep more, and reflect on my life more. It's normally a difficult time for me. I should probably spend more time with others, get out more and socialise, but I just can't summon the energy. As a result I feel more alone.

In Heideggan philosophy, it is said that human suffering results from the fact that you live in the world with others, all of the time. Even if you are alone, you are with others, given the impact others have on all aspects of your life. There is no such thing as an isolated 'me'. We can only experience the feeling of 'being alone' because we are fundamentally always with others. So even the time spent on my own, I'm not alone, I'm always being affected in some way by others.

We all share the same ontological structures, such as time, space, mood and body, these intertwined experiences. However, our experiences of those ontological structures are not the same, they are our own (ontic) experiences, on which we imprint our own stories and individuality. So whilst you may have shared experiences with someone, both of your experiences will be different. This is why it is a waste of time trying to understand another person. It's healthier to accept that you've had different experiences and understand that you can't change them. The only thing you can change is your own reaction to the other (person), and yoga and meditation helps.

We all breathe the same air. We breathe it in (the they) and inside, we translate it and breathe out our selves, our own interpretation.  

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Mindfulness and compassion

What I like to teach students in my yoga classes (without them really knowing) is the art of mindfulness. You cannot practice yoga without mindfulness, mindfulness cannot be divorced from yoga. I'm enjoying seeing my students asana improve through the teaching of being mindful.

I was first introduced to mindfulness when I was suffering a really low point in my life back in around 2006. My mum had read somewhere about a book called 'Peace is Every Step' by the Buddhist monk, Thict Nhat Hanh. What I learned from this beautiful little book, I still practice every day.. Stuff like making my bed every morning, taking my time when washing the dishes, making sure my clothes are put nicely on the washing line, enjoying taking them in when dry, the smell of freshly washed clothes, bed linen, mmmmm…one of the best things.

Mindfulness is being taught everywhere now, people are being taught how to pay attention and this leads to being more effective at what you do, which is great yet sometimes it feels like it's just being taught as just being able to pay attention to something and not much else. But I feel its more than that. Mindfulness cannot be divorced from the practice of meditation, it is meditation. Michael Stone puts in nicely, mindfulness is being taught as having one foot in the traditional meditation practice and one foot in secular society. And that's fine too, as long as it's getting out there. It's like someone coming to  a yoga class to get physically fit, and finding it more a spiritual practice.

What I didn't know about mindfulness (well, zen meditation/buddhism actually), was that it was taught to the Nazi's and the Japanese Military, so they were able to be more effective in killing and well, I guess, be able to separate their actions from themselves. So whilst mindfulness is seen as a great thing, we must be aware that it can lead to being able to bad things effectively too.

But deeper than the 'being able to pay attention' part of mindfulness practice, beneath the superficial layer perhaps, lies the true meaning of the practice, compassion and right ethical conduct, being truly present and being able to fully engage with life in this moment. Being fully present in the moment doesn't mean you are always going to be happy however, it means being fully present even in the unhappy times. Not hiding from them or putting your head in the sand.

I have resurrected my pranayama and sitting practice, which I'm so glad about, it's made me feel about the practice the way I did about ashtanga practice back in the beginning, when I couldn't wait to get home and practice along with David Swenson's DVD :) Now I can't wait to get up, out of bed, still dark, lighting a candle, wrapping my blanket around me and sitting quietly. I  actually enjoy watching the thoughts as they come, acknowledging where they have arisen from, why they have arisen, distinguishing the good thoughts from the bad and letting the ones that do not serve me, drift away. And in the midst of these 40 minutes, there are one or sometimes two moments where there is nothing, but pure clarity.

There is a free mindfulness and compassion event on tonight at Coventry Cathedral, being run by The Flame where I teach my saturday class. If you're in the area you should go, Dav Panesar, an amazing teacher will be there to lead the meditation. I've attached the link to the Facebook page below.

https://www.facebook.com/notes/coventry-city-centre/mindfulness-and-compassion-event-breaking-new-ground-at-coventry-cathedral-for-s/780061405386122

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Black eyes, aversion (dvesha) and the quest for enlightenment...

During my ongoing quest for 'enlightenment' I nearly knocked myself out jumping into bhujapidasana on Monday night. 

It was funny, all in slow motion of course, but just prior to the jump, thought, 'hmmm my bandhas don't feel right tonight' (I was struggling with navasana (boat) and then 'I feel a little heavy' and 'my balance was awful in utthita hasta - will I make it?'...then jumped….nothing engaged, leant forward and then, 'tiiiimmmbbeeerrr!!!' as I fell head, well face, first into the brick wall of Ben's shala…! There was an almightily crack and I let out an audible 'Oh noooo…' as I curled into a ball on the floor, unravelled my arms from my legs, saw the egg which had appeared on my brow out the corner of my eye, put my hand over it and through the gasps from the back of the room, sloped out into the loo… 

(Just wanted to reach out to those who came to my rescue with cold water eye patches and neurofen, big love, you know who you are :)

Anyway, with my first workshop pending (Nov 8th) on 'Overcoming Fear in Asana' maybe it was meant to happen, maybe to focus my mind on what I'm trying to get across in my workshop! I was also asked today by someone who is interesting in attending, what my workshop is about, so started writing an itinerary for the afternoon. 

Here is my reply:

"Hi Janey

Nice to hear from you :) 

Yes, the workshop is on overcoming fear in the ashtanga practice. I decided to bring together all the knowledge gained from my year studying ashtanga in Mysore/Bali/US/Canada and formulate it into some kind of workshop! I haven't finalised the program for the afternoon but it will include:

  • Examining why and where fear arises in the practice
  • The nature of fear - examining the Kleshas (the '3 poisons') of Hindhuism and Buddhism
  • Exploring attachment and how to 'let go' in postures - a short guided meditation
  • How to effectively employ breath, bandha and drishti in postures and transitions
  • Then on the practical side looking at postures of the primary series and some of intermediate if that's appropriate on the day; hip openers such as baddha konasana and lotus, balancing in bakasana (crow), jumping out of bakasana, jumping into and out of bhujapidasana, jumping in and out of tittibhasana and back bending, including dropping back."
I've just had a reply from Janey, asking to book her and a friend on, so I'm really quite pleased :) Mercifully she didn't ask where I got the black eye from ;) Anyway…

For those of you who don't know what the 'kelshas' are, here's a brief summary…. 

In hindhuism, there a 5 kleshas, namely, ignorance (misconceptions of reality); egoism (erroneous identification with the self and mind); attachment (raga); aversion (dvesha) and fear of death (clinging ignorantly onto life). 

In Mayayana buddhism, they've wittled the 5 down to 3 main kleshas (the root of other 'minor' kleshas ), namely, ignorance; attachment and aversion. These 3 kleshas are known as the 'Three Poisons' in the Mahayana tradition. Other traditions have other kleshas, such as anxiety, fear, doubt, anger, jealousy, desire, depression and pride. 

So the kleshas are, to cut a long story short, destructive emotions which obscure actual reality, they dull the mind and lead us into 'Maya' or illusion (dillusion), where were end up with a 'wrong view' of reality. 

Now, whilst these philosophical view points are based primarily on overcoming obstacles to meditation and 'enlightenment', they can be used as a framework for how we approach our asana practice, our ashtanga (or other yoga) practice. 

But, the good news is, these kelshas, (these 'afflictions') can be overcome, so you can progress your practice  in the 'right' direction by the correct application of breath, bandha and drishti. 

And so I don't give all my workshops secrets away, I'm going to stop there. 

Book onto my workshop! It'll be fun and for anyone who has any doubts over whether their practice is advanced enough for the workshop, yes... yes it is... breath, bandha and drishti underlie the whole ashtanga system, no matter where you are in your practice. Oh, and I should mention, just in case you're worried about getting a black eye, the studio I've booked has a cushioned floor, so perfect for experimenting and allowing yourself to 'let go'… :)


And just so you know, I had Tuesday off as my unofficial moon day and practiced wednesday instead. I did intermediate, and whilst s**t scared of jumping into anything which could potentially damage the other eye, I did all the jumps. Aversion (dvesha)? What aversion?!! :)


Sunday, 28 September 2014

Yoga, TYM and Gary Lopedota

They say that following receiving the "10 series" of Rolfing (Structural Integration) the body can continue to 'open' on its own for quite a while, before the need for further therapy. This certainly has been my experience, as I continue to be able to experience subtle shifts in energy and shifts within the physical body as I practice, deepening the experience of breath and postures. 

A good friend of mine Ray, a Thai Yoga Massage therapist based in Coventry and Warwickshire recently gave me some great info on TYM and releasing energy in the body following a conversation we had about it. (https://www.facebook.com/ray.cluer)

“Happy reading may not answer all your questions fully but you might find it interesting, Re energy lines, and energy awareness, again speaking from personnel experience only, in a recent chat with you, you asked which came first yoga or Thai massage well I guess in an intelligent way Thai massage came first and yoga is recent although having dabbled with it for years but now its to stay and I am finding it very beneficial, but my experience with Acupuncture and our energy came 25 years ago when suffering from stress related illnesses, I was fortunate enough to meet a guy who in my opinion was a master Acupuncturist and also chiropractor, over a two year period he kind of rebuilt me and left me with a interest and knowledge of  the energy lines and pressure points that work for me, kind of a personal prescription so to speak, I have a good awareness, when certain points are buzzing, so I just palpate the point until the energy dissipates, but what I think you are describing is that since you had the “10 series” Rolfing treatment you have kind of been "switched on" to your own energy and its  subtle ways in which it guides you, I have had a couple of people say that they are now more aware how they stand or how they walk after of few TYM’s (postural adjustment maybe) and report subtle energy shifts in areas worked on.

It's my view that you have great physical body awareness through your practice and have now developed a energy awareness, I recently read that when sitting in padmasana its the right leg first with the left leg on top the liver and spleen are purified, so to high light that there are 600 recognised Acupuncture point on the human body it would be remarkable to think that they were not being worked whist doing practice, however Chinese medicine is complex and I feel very lucky to be married to a qualified Acupuncturist (mind you trying to get a treatment is like blood letting from a stone lol ) so it's my view that its better to look at your energy in simpler terms as in Thai sen lines or Indian Nadis although still quite complex but much easier to get your head around, here goes…

The Sen Lines / Myofascial Pathways
- The traditional model of Thai Yoga Massage works on the notion of energy flow, which until now has made it a deeply intuitive and feeling based art form built up over thousands of years. This had caused problems for some westerners used to working on the physical, on symptoms and with sound empirical evidence, but learning to feel and not think too much was good for them. It’s about that letting go thing again and learning how to feel and flow with natural forces; learning to tap into the deep unconscious and instinctive aspect of nature and ourselves. It was this intuitive ability that could feel and work with the subtle energy body and map it. The physical body is only a part of who we are, but its also the tangible basis upon which we can work and influence the deeper and more subtle aspects of our being.
Until very recently nothing was really known about Sen lines, but there has now been some important research, which shows that the 10 Sen lines manipulated in Thai Yoga Massage are in essence the same as Nadis and Meridians, in being subtle energy pathways and part of a huge inter-connected network running throughout the entire body. 

On surface appearance Sen lines seem to follow different pathways to meridians, because Sen lines follow muscular contours, the myo-fascial pathways between muscles and between muscles and bones. So the myofascial Sen lines are what we can get our hands on, whereas the meridians of TCM also follow the internal cyclic flow of energy between vital organs. Research though carried out at the University of Vermont and college of medicine used high frequency ultrasound scanning acoustic microscopy to study acupuncture channels and the effects of needling, and found that most meridians are located between muscles and between muscles and a tendon or bone also. So it could be that meridians, nadis and sen lines are part of the same subtle connective tissue network of fascia and that the meridians which follow the cyclic flow of energy between organs are in fact part of the deep fascia, subserous facia and membrane linings.
Although the 10 Sen lines are a complete system and very effective model to follow, there are some contradictions on the precise location of these lines between some schools. 

Most professionals though and myself seem to agree that Sen Lines are energy lines of connective tissue, known as the myo-fascial pathways between muscles throughout the entire body. This network of fascia is so vitally important because it provides stability and structure to the body, enables movement of muscles, metabolism to take place, protects the vital organs and nervous system, allows for communication between cells and boosts our immunity to fight infection to name a few functions.
One common point of view now is that Thai massage can be explained in the same way that Structural Integration therapy or Rolfing can, because each of them apply a deep and sustained pressure into the body’s fascial binding in order to release deeper tensions and blockages fixed into the fascia elsewhere in the body. It can do this because fascia forms an intricate web co-extensive throughout the body, central to its performance and well-being, and so releasing these trapped tensions in one area of the body can correct postural imbalances, chronic conditions and unexplained pain symptoms elsewhere in the body, because they are often caused by tensions locked into the binding tissue of the fascia. These blockages are often quite subtle and may be due to injury, or emotional trauma, so when therapist and client both focus into the same area being worked, then its far more than the physical body being manipulated, and even childhood issues and holding patterns can be unearthed from the depths of sub-conscious being and let go of.
 

Fascia is so important. The myo-fascia extends from the deep fascia in the body, which is central to the flexibility and function of vital organs, and it covers, supports and separates skeletal muscle. Myo-fascia helps attach muscles to other muscles, and runs between and separates them, thereby improving movement function and acting as a protective sheath. It also provides a protective route and sheath for blood vessels, nerves and lymph to flow through. The fascia also acts as a very important circulatory and communication system and recent evidence now suggests that within the collagen cells of myofascia is cerebrospinal fluid and thus creating a very complex communication system, stemming from the ventricles of the middle brain and reaching out to the heart of every living cell.
The effects then of manipulating fascia during thai massage are endless and perhaps timeless as we tap into a karmic web of the bodies history and capacity. It is obvious that the early Buddhist monks and teachers of Thai Yoga Massage understood this and therefore laid great emphasis on becoming and giving Metta in Thai Massage, which is Indian Sanskrit for loving Kindness. So meditation is practiced at all the main teaching schools in Thailand before the beginning of each class to bring one into the right frame of mind and focussed intention.

We influence the people we touch with our state of mind and so its important to achieve that feeling of benevolence and loving kindness within ourselves because this quality and healing vibration is transmitted to every cell in the body through the huge and living conscious inter-connected web we call the fascia
Despite common agreements, there still exist conflicting ideas around whether Sen Lines can actually be used as a diagnostic tool, as in TCM. But we might say ‘can the body or meridians really be used as a diagnostic tool anyway? Meridians can be used to diagnose a problem in the body and with a particular function, but this does not reveal an underlying cause. The body just reveals symptoms of underlying causes, and all treatments using their particular model try to work on the energetic basis of them. We can work on the symptom, but we can’t always get to the causes which are more often than not based in the mind, past experiences, present stressful conditions and specific attitudes that are preventing the free flow of vital energy in the mind body network. In my experience of giving Thai Yoga Massage, I think we can treat Sen lines revealing a blockage and at the same time help to unlock the flow of energy and stimulate a vital psycho/physical healing process for a client." 

Following my last post on energy channel stuff a blogger friend Doug asked if I'd heard of trigger points and although I had, I've not read anything about them. He also said that, "Anthony Gary Lopedota noted that when adjusting Paschimuttanasana Sri K. Pattabhi Jois always used to press the same pressure points you've mentioned." Which I found really interesting. I've tried Googling Gary Lopedota to try and find further info on it. The only thing I could find was on his website in one of his articles where he talks about 'the series' and how he used postures for therapeutic reasons, adapting postures for students where necessary:

"Tim (Miller) has a rare anomaly; his liver and spleen are switched. Maybe 1 in 70-100,000 people have this condition. Therapeutically he switches his lotus; keeping with the theory that the liver and spleen are the reason the legs/feet are place in that order. That is all good, he does what he thinks is best being the responsible person that he is. My point is that as the therapist, Patabhi Jois told him to switch his lotus to be in therapeutic alignment" (http://ashtangayogatherapy.com/the.series)

If anyone has any further information on the use of trigger points or can point me to more Gary Lopedota information I'd be very grateful. There are also some great old school photos from back in the day of the guys with Jois. :)

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Ashtanga, pressure points and more energy channel stuff...

I don't really know how to start this post, I've had the concept of a post in my mind for a while on pressure points and utilising them in a yoga practice, especially since being 'Rolfed' and since my Mysore experience, but having very little experience and knowledge on pressure points and body work in general, I kinda felt I didn't really have enough knowledge to be able to explain my experience in a useful way. Nevertheless, its something I'm gonna just throw it out there and maybe I'll get some positive (or negative) feedback, and either way it'll be helpful :)

So, having been someone who came to yoga with very little (if any at all) body awareness, the journey towards becoming aware of what's going on in my body has been a long one. But also, a very interesting and enlightening one. I started my ashtanga practice off going to a David Swenson retreat at Purple Valley, having only practicing a very tenuously linked style of ashtanga yoga at a gym! What a shock! At this point I couldn't even do chaturanga, The concept of chaturanga evaded me, to the point when David was explaining it I put my hand up and said 'but what it you just can't hold your belly off the floor?!'. David was like, 'Don't worry it'll come!!'. On my return home I sent the best part of an afternoon practicing going from downward dog to chaturanga, possibly around 65 times, until my arm muscles learnt what they had to do to hold chaturanga! To this day I still can only hold it for a short length of time…anyway, I digress…

It's only been since I have had the '10 series' of Rolfing that I have actually felt energy in body and as I have said before it's changed my life and especially changed my outlook on yoga and the 'energy body'.  My Rolfing experience has enabled me to notice specific energy lines in my body and where they aren't working properly. It's really hard to explain in generic terms but I'm going to try and explain where certain concentration on certain pressure points in the body help in certain postures. OK, here goes…

Dropping back: Before dropping back, going up onto your tip toes seems to energise the correct muscles in the front of your legs. Slowly coming down whilst still engaging these muscles gives a firm foundation in the legs and abdomen to be able to drop back. After all, it's all about the foundation.

Kapotasana: There's a tiny point on the inside of your kneecap which is a bit fleshy, haven't a clue what it's called.. anyway, when setting up for kapo, pressing this part of the knee into the mat, which I feel creates an internal rotation of the femur and engages the front thighs, enables the thighs to remain engaged enough to be able to drop without collapsing in the lower back. It's useful to mess around with this in your practice, I know if I rush kapo without sorting the knee position out I tend to not be able to engage properly.

Paschimottanasana: The one holding your toes - always hold with two fingers and a thumb. Krishnamacharya obviously had a reason for this kind of bind. I haven't read anywhere why it was so important, but I have a suspicion it was because of energy lines. There's something going on in that little fleshy bit between the big toe and the second toe which when pressed creates energy though to the groin area (if you haven't got blockages in rest of your legs). Always hold on tight, point your toes to create an opposition and don't interlink your fingers like I tend to do without noticing!

Urdhva mukha svanasana - upward dog - pressing the base of your big toe into the mat will engage your leg muscles correctly, if you don't do this your heels will splay and your lower back will suffer. Many students tend to outwardly rotate their feet and 'sink' into their lower back. Hamish Hendry teaches this slightly different by flexing your ankles so the topes of your feet/toes engage, but I don't think you have to necessarily go this far to protect your back. (My opinion)

Actually, all postures where you grab your toes, make a point of pressing through the base of the big toe/second toe, so utthita hasta, urdvha padangustasana etc. Same in the Janu postures and baddhakonasanas.

In Baddha konasana pressing into the big toe/second toe area seems to automatically outwardly rotate the femur at the same time as pushing the thigh away from the midline, then you can work on outwardly rotating it down, by using mula bandha (squeezing the anus).

I must have more tips in this vein, but I'm tired, so I'll leave you with these for now and hope they'll help you in your practice :)


Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Hyper-flexibility, energy channels and the not-so-helpful 'micro-bend'…..


Probably gonna get lynched for this post but I think I'm giving informed advice and from the heart and from personal experience. Feel free to give your two-pence worth, I've asked the question for years to teachers but haven't had sufficient enough answers…here goes...

During many classes I have taken throughout the years, I have been told to keep a 'micro-bend' in my elbows and in my knees so as not to 'hyper-extend'. Thing is, yes I do hyper-extend, that's my body's make-up, it's its natural holding pattern, but, I've been practicing yoga now for what, 7+ years and I think have a good enough understanding of my own body, not to have to be told to keep a bend in my arms and legs, which let's face it, feels unhelpful and bloody awful.

Now, don't get me wrong, I understand the need to teach beginners who have hyper-flexible joints not to hyper-extend them, because it could cause further instability. But I have a problem with the instruction 'keep a micro-bend' itself. What is a 'micro-bend'? One millimetre? One centre metre? Enough of a bend so your teacher can see you're bending your flexible bits? I can understand teachers are trying to ensure the safety of their students and I have been one of those teachers. However, I just don't think it's helpful and I've changed my mind.

In my own personal experience, keeping a micro-bend, of whatever degree, in my hyper-flexible joints, actually creates, rather than reduces instability. For me, the instruction should be, 'do not hang in your joints' or something similar and to that effect. 'Hanging' meaning, allowing the joint to extend to its maximum potential without engaging the muscles around the joint to keep it stable. Basically, what you don't want is to be in downward dog say, 'hanging' in your elbows, and some guy to fall out of a handstand into you whilst you have no 'strength' in the joint and your arm snaps in half! Nice thought...

Paul Grilley appears to be the only yoga anatomy teacher to agree with me. I've asked the question to many others and they all say, 'must keep the micro-bend'. Not helpful. Are any of you hyper-flexible?

So I'm gonna take this even further. Having had the 10 series in Rolfing, having had my entire body re-aligned, I can finally feel energy flowing, where once it just did not. I can feel energy flowing from my toes to my groins, I can feel it flowing through my hyper-flexible knees. I can feel it flowing from my thumbs to my armpits and up through my hyper-flexible elbows. I can feel it. Do not try and tell me I can't. BUT when, I am told to keep a micro-bend, I cannot feel the energy flowing. When I press my knees back in downward dog I feel the energy, when I press the knees back in paschimottanasana I can feel the energy. When I bend them…nothing. Stagnant.

Now I'm not anatomical expert. I just know what I can feel. I believe that the postures we do day in, day out, we should try and do them so, just like in Rolfing, your body is working in its most efficient manner. We should be, in my opinion, trying to, at all times, align the body with gravity so it works most efficiently, continually encouraging the body to work towards its vertical axis, creating a sense of lightness, as if we are being lifted up through our joints rather than gravity pulling us down. Chronic holding patterns take a lot of energy to maintain, for me, the 'micro-bend' takes a lot of energy to maintain.

I spend most of my practice at the moment indulging in these new subtle body sensations, which I have been afforded, due to structural integration. Releasing restrictions I had in my body, my knees especially after suffering trauma, have directly stimulated energy channels, which I never believed existed. This increase in energy, has, changed my life, changed my outlook on yoga, the energy body and the way I look at consciousness and psycho-spirituality. We work on the body to change the mind, no? Of course be careful, work on strengthening the muscles around your hyper-flexible joints, but don't let the uninformed, non-hyper-flexible yoga teacher block your path to greater energetic awareness.
“True verticality, the goal of Structural Integration, is a functional phenomenon, 

a line around which the body’s energy fields balance. They manifest 
in real myofascial material structures…The vertical expresses an energy 
relation between Earth and sun.”
- Ida P. Rolf, PhD.




Sunday, 24 August 2014

It always come back to mula bandha...

As everyone who practices regularly knows, your practice is cyclical. Postures come, postures go, postures come back again and…. go again. The body always finds the path of least resistance. So too does the mind. Which is exactly why we practice day in, day out, to explore the whys and wherefores of these changes. Giving up on this exploration, for us, is not an option.

I've been suffering with pain in the right side of my sacrum and tightness in the left hand side of my erector spine muscles. The sacrum pain is dull and feels dense and congested. The tightness in the spinal muscles eases with each forward bend….I can feel and hear whatever it is there releasing on every inhalation and every exhalation, and it feels good. The pain in my sacrum is at its worse when I am back bending. I have a bendy back, well, lumbar spine. And this is exactly what is causing the problem. This week at the height of my pain I practiced second. My teacher thought I was nuts! But given the pain in the sacrum I wanted to see if practicing with more awareness would cause some shift to release the pain. I concentrated all my efforts into engaging uddiyana banda in my backbends and from this point of contraction in the lower abdomen, lifted my spine out from it and who knew…the pain was not there! The thing is I did know, I'd known all along, but for a while that awareness I'd let slip and the pain came. It came back. I've had this before and it had gone due to the exact same method I'd used before. Cyclical. Memories come and they go. Muscle memory comes and goes when you are in the early stages of your practice, which, of course, I still am (7 years now). Pain, it seems, is a great reminder of this. A reminder to embrace the dark as well as the light.

"When you practice, the other shore comes to you". (Can't remember who said that)

Thing is, I find it hard to engage the bandhas (doesn't everyone) but I find it very difficult to engage unddiyana. My teacher Ben, sticks his fingers deep into my transverse abdominus in the hope it will remind me. All I feel is his fingers sticking into layers of flesh, pain…

And then there's my hips. My right hip especially. It drops, I notice it in the standing sequence, the prasaritas, parsvottanasana, my left hip doesn't seem to want to rotate outwards enough, forwards enough, funny, especially when I thought my left hip was more open…? It's causing pain in my left knee. Not a good sign for ashtangis. But again I feel Ben's fingers in my hip socket, reminding it to rotate, fingers press into the left hand side of my abdomen willing me to engage uddiyana and a constant reminder to engage mula. It's funny, I sometimes feel as if I only engage mula on my right side, how can this be?! But the more I focus internally on the engagement of muscles, the more I notice. and the more I can work on these little nuances which affect every aspect of my practice. It's working at least :)

I'm awaiting arrival of a couple of dear friends. My girls from uni. K is down, having had a shit time of it the past two weeks. The FB post from earlier said, 'it's been an awful couple of weeks so it is with gratitude and love I get to spend the next 24 hours with my girls B and Michelle'. B replied, 'Always helps to spend time with soul mates'. When you need grounding, when you need re-centring, you always come back to your core friends, the ones always there for you, the ones who will always support you. Mula bandha, you are one of my bestest friends. :)


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Samskaras and neuroplasticity

So I've moved back into my house after just over a year away. Things are, 'same same, but different', to coin a phrase used a lot throughout my time in Mysore :) Settling into new patterns of work whilst settling into my old, whilst familiar house is hard. Things are the same, but very different.

Sutra 3:9 of Patanjali's yoga sutra states:

The transformation toward total stillness occurs as new latent expressions fostering cessation arise to prevent the activation of distractive stored ones, and moments of stillness begin to permeate consciousness. (Chip Hartranft, 2003).

Exploring the word samskara; Sam = To come together; kara comes from the root 'kud' which means 'to create'. So samskaras are creations, things that we create ourselves. If we think of samskaras as grooves, we can think of our repeated actions chiselling out these grooves, making them deeper, imprinting them deeper into our consciousness, which makes these grooves harder to get out of, harder to fill in. 

Samskaras are things that come into being, through a process, through the coming together of actions. If this is the case, then what comes into being can also come apart. What arises can also pass away. All formations created out of conditions are transient, they come and they go.  Beliefs too, are samskaras. Beliefs are born out of our conditioned (material) world. Therefore if beliefs are born out of conditions, which are arbitrary and transitory, then it follows that they have no solid foundation and as such can pass as quickly as they were born. Luckily for us, samskaras are transitory, the grooves can be deep, but we can create new grooves and the old grooves over time will infill themselves until they are just a faint scar in our conscious mind, having no hold over us. We all have the innate power to change through practice. 

http://www.divinityseeds.com.au/images/brain3.jpg
You are not just a brain in a vat!

Thus as Patanjali states, we can create new latent expressions (samskaras) which will stop the old distractive stored ones and total stillness and peace can arise. 'Neurons that fire together, wire together'. 
Neuro-plasticity is the core of understanding samskaras; no-one is 'hard-wired', they may have deep samskaras yes, but the brain is plastic and as such can change its structure and function by how we act, re-act, don't act, how we think and how we imagine things. It may just be harder and require more practice to carve out new and healthier neurological pathways. Plasticity exists at every level, the behaviour of the body, of bones, of cells, of thoughts and images. So in yoga we first of all work on the gross body, we change the way it moves, it functions and the more we do this the deeper those changes permeate into the bones, the muscles, the cells, our thoughts and our beliefs. It is even thought it can change on a genetic level, with the possibility of affecting the evolution of the human species. 

So we can use our regular practice to re-sculpt our brain, first finding more plasticity in order for it to change, then to create more structure so that new, healthier patterns remain. 

So for me at this moment in time, these new patterns which I find myself in are exciting but challenging at the same time. We are creatures of habit, but we must be careful not to let the grooves we sometimes find ourselves in become too deep, as they could become too deep to easily climb out of! 


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

The red sun, reflected on the square, of the TV...

I'm back to work as an urban planner, exactly one year after I took redundancy from my previous job. I'm grateful, of course, especially given the area I am now in charge of assessing planning applications is ridiculously beautiful, with some of the most stunning English landscape I have ever seen. I even have a favourite view from  my car on my commute into work, the morning light radiates gold off a vast wheat field viewed from the brow of a hill, off the A429 toward Stratford. However living in Coventry I sometimes forget that nature is everywhere.  Living in the city you have just to listen a little harder sometimes. I knew I'd find some haikus which reverberate with how I'm feeling right now...

Instead of foxes howling, or waterfalls, there's a car-roaring up the street, or the drone of  a refrigerator ... part of the life in which we are living.

             The red sun
              reflected in the square
                of the TV.

        Neons flash red & green.
April rains on still street.  Man
   Nods.  Red lights blink, blink.

                        After April rain
                        -in puddles of oil
                        city rainbows

        The whole block flooded.
        Men hauling pumps & hoses;
        children, plastic boats.

                        A great freight truck
                                        lit up like a town
                        through the dark stony desert.
(www.haikuworld.org)


So as sure as nature is found in the city, human nature leaves traces, samskaras if you like and cuts tracks in nature. Haiku can express not only nature, but human nature too. The name for  this kind of haiku is "senryu". Putting human nature in the foreground and nature in the background, everyone can see something of universal human nature in themselves or the world around.




Monday, 23 June 2014

Anthony Hall's Krishnamacharya's Ashtanga Vinyasa Krama Workshop Review, June 2014

I was really lucky this weekend to have been able to attend a workshop run by Anthony Hall, his only teaching gig in the UK before he leaves to live back in Japan. Anthony is known mainly for his awesome blog Krishnamacharya's Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga at Home. I've been following Anthony's musings on yoga since I began my ashtanga apprenticeship a few years back, found his blog extremely relevant being a mainly home practitioner and so helpful in breaking down the practice, the asanas and the philosophy, so I have a real soft spot for his teaching. 

Anthony doesn't see himself as a teacher, OK, he's done a couple of teacher trainings, Ramaswami's and Manju's, but he first and foremost considers himself 'just a blogger'. However, I would argue that it is his blogging and his dissection of his and 'our' practice of ashtanga that makes him such a great teacher, and his willingness to share every single detail of the ins and outs of his practice, the highs and the lows, the successes and failures. He's also shared so much information on Krishnamacharya and has spent hours upon hours dissection and analysing his writings, making sense of it all for the benefit of the western mind. So it was Anthony's work on Krishnamacharya and his teachings of Vinyasa Krama as taught to him by Ramaswami that he chose to share with us at the workshop and I felt blessed to have been there. 



Thursday, 12 June 2014

Even Art has a "Mysore Style"!!



During my stay in Mysore, 'after the yoga', I was fortunate enough to spend my afternoons learning how to paint 'Mysore' style. My teacher was a beautiful man called M.S.Anand whose studio was on the 3rd floor on a traditional Mysore apartment block. He lives there with his wife, his gorgeous son and his Great Dane, 'Rocky'! You might think it a bit cruel to keep such a big dog on the 3rd floor of an apartment block, but Rocky loved it, loved the visitors and used to keep us company…by lying across the entrance the studio! But unfortunately Rocky's residence on the 3rd floor was not without incident! Because Rocky loved birds, loved to chase them that is, but despite great efforts on Anand's part to teach Rocky the pitfalls of chasing birds on a 3rd floor balcony, Rocky fell off said balcony no less than 3 times! Breaking his little legs on a couple of occasions, but mercifully surviving! Apparently Rocky used to be a canine model…however I think his modelling days are unfortunately up.. :)

But enough about Rocky. I was lucky enough to be taught by Anand in the beautiful Mysore style of painting in the typical 'Mysore' tradition. Watch and repeat. Watch Anand draw something and then attempt to repeat it until I had perfected it. I had pages and pages of hands in mudras, hands holding lotuses, feet decorated in anklets, until I perfected every possible combination of hand/mudra/symbol combinations! 

Anand has his latest masterpiece displayed in the departure lounge at Bangalore Airport. Here's a link to a piece on Anand in the Hindu Times:
http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/traditional-and-modern-in-a-blend/article5087497.ece

So what makes Mysore painting so special? Apart from its vibrant colours, Mysore paintings are known for their elegance, muted colours, and attention to detail. The themes for most of these paintings are Hindu gods and goddesses and scenes from Hindhu mythology such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata. 

What Wikipedia says about Mysore painting: (Kannada: ಮೈಸೂರು ಚಿತ್ರಕಲೆ) is an important form of classical South Indian painting that originated in and around the town of Mysore in Karnataka encouraged and nurtured by the Mysore rulers. Painting in Karnataka has a long and illustrious history, tracing its origins back to the Ajanta times (2nd century B.C. to 7th century A.D.) The distinct school of Mysore painting evolved from the paintings of Vijayanagar times during the reign of the Vijayanagar Kings (1336-1565 AD) The rulers of Vijayanagar and their feudatories encouraged literature, art, architecture, religious and philosophical discussions. With the fall of the Vijayanagar empire after the Battle of Talikota the artists who were till then under royal patronage migrated to various other places like Mysore, Tanjore, Surpur, etc. Absorbing the local artistic traditions and customs, the  Vijayanagar School of Painting gradually evolved into the many styles of painting in South India, including the Mysore and Tanjore schools of painting.

Techniques: The ancient painters in Mysore prepared their own materials. The colours were from natural sources and were of vegetable, mineral or even organic origin such as leaves, stones and flowers. Brushes were made with squirrel hairs for delicate work but for drawing superfine lines a brush made of pointed blades of a special variety of grass had to be used. Due to the long-lasting quality of the earth and vegetable colours used, the original Mysore paintings still retain their freshness and lustre even today. 

Devotion: Mysore Paintings are characterized by delicate lines, intricate brush strokes, graceful delineation of figures and the discreet use of bright vegetable colours and lustrous gold leaf. More than mere decorative pieces, the paintings are designed to inspire feelings of devotion and humility in the viewer. The painter’s individual skill in giving expression to various emotions is therefore of paramount importance to this style of painting. 

Embossing: Gesso work was the hallmark of all traditional paintings of Karnataka. Gesso refers to the paste mixture of white lead powder, gambose and glue which is used as an embossing material and covered with gold foil. The gesso work in Mysore paintings is low in relief and intricate as compared to the thick gold relief work of the Tanjore School. Gesso was used in Mysore painting for depicting intricate designs of clothes, jewellery and architectural details on pillars and arches that usually framed the deities. The work was taken up in the morning when the base of the gold work on the painting was still moist so as to hold the gold foil firmly. After allowing the painting to dry, glazing was carried out by covering the painting with thin paper and rubbing over it with a soft glazing stone known as kaslupada kallu. When the thin paper was removed the painting shone brightly and looked resplendent with the combination of gold and a variety of colours.

Finally following weeks of repetition and perfection, I chose a painting to begin my own Mysore style masterpiece. As a die-hard ashtangi I inevitably chose Patanjali, the beautiful depiction of half man, half snake depicted holding the conch and chakra. Here he is below

I gave the original to my teacher Vijay Kumar in Mysore, didn't know any other way to thank him... It's now proudly up in his shala next to Krishnamacharya :) 

Since I have been back in the UK I have continued to practice the teachings of Anand, experimenting with more modern techniques of embossing, utilisation of gold leaf, form and composition. I think I may possibly be the only artist in the UK offering Mysore style paintings, taught by the master himself M.S.Anand. So far I have been fortunate enough to paint pieces for a number of yoga studios in the UK and India. Should you have any ideas for paintings to adorn your home practice space, puja room or shala, I currently take commissions, you can choose the God, the background, the iconography you want depicted and I will design something one-off especially for you!

Peacock Greetings Card

Ganesha Greetings Card

Hanuman

Seated Buddha

Shiva Nataraja

Lord Krishna

Durga Maa (work in progress)





Thursday, 1 May 2014

The places that scare you...

I'm home…. Just in case you didn't know.. Keeping a low profile though... (mind you, pretty unsuccessfully) as it's damn hard to live in the UK, without a job, with your parent at the age of 35, without feeling somewhat uneasy…

Feel like this man in a box
Courtesy of www.experiencelife.com


Living in the same situation in India, however, is completely different, you're surrounded by like-minded people, you don't stand out as the 'odd' one, everyone's given up their jobs, the 'normal life' in search of something... you have no society telling you you're different, that you have to live in a certain way, earn a certain amount of money, 'settle down' (I hate that word 'settle' - I would be damn happy if the word 'settle' never had to be part of the vocabulary of my life.) The uncertainty of India is liberating,   you just know you're going to be OK there..but back here I feel the uncertainty…very...smothering. Anxiety, hovering around the edges, waiting for its chance to take hold...trying desperately not to let it.. My mother would kill me…

I went away to explore the places that scare me….I did this through my yoga practice and by living with uncertainty, so why now is it so hard to keep this perspective?

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say 'Live your life as an experiment'. Life is ever changing, we have no control over what happens around us or to our bodies, but if we live our lives as a controlled experiment, keeping your mula bandha on, or with complete awareness of our true-immovable self, whilst the variables around you are changing, you can observe the external changes without affecting the internal, pure you. But I'm still finding it hard. Clearly I have a low tolerance for discomfort. 

The complete acceptance of ourselves as we are is called maitri….a simple, direct relationship with the way we are. There are four qualities of maitri; steadfastness, clear seeing, experiencing our emotional distress and attention to the present moment. These qualities can be cultivated when we meditate, when we are mindful and relate to difficult situations in our daily lives. I'm not meditating per se at the moment, but this doesn't stop me from trying to cultivate these four precepts during my daily ashtanga practice. The practice, well it pure and simply reflects you as you are that day. The practice is my mula bandha at the moment, that immovable place where I can check I'm still functioning properly, check that I'm not letting anxiety take hold, but at the same time keep pushing and testing my boundaries, moving towards the places that scare me, but where I know I have control….well, at least for the moment…

Mula bandha….who knew it worked on so many levels….

Where are those places in your practice that scare you? Jumping into Bhujapidasana? Into tittibhasana? Breathing in kapo? Jumping into bakasana? Out of it? Do you take each of these postures as the perfect opportunity to take yourself to the edge? To the places which scare you? Do you ask yourself why you don't jump into bhujapidasana? Have you ever even tried it? If the answer is 'no' then, well, you should…the postures are there to test you, to reflect your mindset…they're there for a reason, not just to make the practice look cool! (They do though, don't they?…which is exactly why you should be practicing this stuff!) They are there to take you beyond your self-imposed limits...

So I'm standing here at this present moment, completely groundless… but knowing that everything is constantly changing, that I have to hang on in there and go a little bit further with the irritation of uncertainty, of not being given any satisfaction and whilst I'm not liking it at present, like a zen koan, accept that life is neither form, nor emptiness, but a beautiful groundless answer. 


Monday, 7 April 2014

Canada, Stillness and David Robson

So I finally got to the last country of my little yoga tour, Canada…9 months after I left the UK, the last leg of my journey. This country is so beautiful, so vast and I'm so glad I came at a time when there is still so much snow on the ground, to see the country in all its white and peaceful beauty. The nights are so silent, amazingly different from the mountains of Portugal and Bali, the horns of India and the sirens of LA. Yet it is this silence which has enabled me to focus once again on a home, self-practice which no teacher to push me. It's funny, I've practiced in many countries now and I never thought I'd say it but each country has it's own energy which imprints on your practice. 

I wanted to come to Canada not just to see my family here but to practice with David Robson of Ashtanga Yoga Toronto. I'd heard lots of good things about David and he seemed nice on his little youtube clip, so I thought I'd look him up! There just happened to be a Toronto Yoga Conference on at the time I got there and David was going to be there, so I booked onto his 'Jumpback/Jumpthough' workshop. And I'm so glad I did…

Photo: www.elephantjournal.com


The most striking thing about David's teaching was his focus on the ashtanga practice as a tool for meditation. It's easy to forget this when focussing so much on the asana side of the practice as I have been, so it was a great reminder and he gave conducive tips on how to keep your focus. 

David reminded us that any fidgeting, any extraneous movements or little flourishes in our vinyasas take us away from the meditation of our practice. Ashtanga is a tool that helps us realise any kind of fidgeting. Fidgeting does not belong in the practice!! When you see a thought and do not act on it you come a little closer to attenuating the 'kleshas' or obstacles to yoga and take one step closer to stilling the mind. It's the same in sitting meditation. 

Holding the exact conditions of a posture will show you the distractions of the mind. David says it's obviously harder to keep this focus whilst jumping back or through. However, if you see the 'vinyasa' (Jumpback/through) as a tunnel, or as a linear path to the next posture, then this will make it easier to remain focussed. The tunnel acts as 'blinkers' to anything going on outside your mat.

The fidgeting thing is very interesting in itself. I still have this hamstring issue which has been ongoing for a couple of months now…not sure whether it is a tear, blockage or what… Anyway, I'm working around it and whilst doing this with complete awareness a couple of patterns emerged where I could see I was unnecessarily adjusting myself. I noticed that when I stopped adjusting myself in these two postures/transitions, there would be no pain. Keeping samasthiti, whilst going into and out of postures, with no fidgeting seemed to be the key. It made me think that these unnecessary, minor adjustments (one being moving the feet one by one in downward dog…be aware, most of us do this!) were the cause of the pain/injury. How about that?! So I've started doing a little flick of the feet together to get the correct positioning in downward dog, it feels uncomfortable at first, but it's just another groove you have to get out of right? And doing it a few times will create new more comfortable and healthier patterns of movement. 

The other tool is the breath. David works on a 4 second inhale and 4 second exhale and had us practice the sun salutations to his drumbeat CD. 



Whilst practicing to the drumbeat, you cannot fail to concentrate on the breath, its quality and how the conditions of a posture affect the breath and the mind.  I bought the CD and have been practicing along with it and it is so unbelievably effective. It's more effective than a led class, as the drumbeat is hypnotic and sends you into such a trance, mercifully you've completed the series before you know it! Navasana hold no prisoners, neither does Utthita Hasta Padangustasana which made David laugh when he told me about it! Who knew that I have a massive aversion for warrior 1?! I mean, it's an easy posture, no? But spending 8 seconds in it makes me panic, God knows what that's all about….!!

For all intents and purposes, the drumbeat CD shows you the yoga, it shows you where you need to spend more time, it shows you your fears. It's totally worth downloading (see link above). (Oh, and David's talk through voice is rather sexy, to say the least…:)

So, there it is…I have 36 hours before I leave Canada to fly home. The end of this little yoga journey. But I'm sure only the beginning of others.