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The feels……

As I often tell my students, the two most important phrases in therapy, as in yoga, are “Notice that” and “What happens next?” Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

I was reflecting the other day on words spoken to me by various clients after they had practiced yoga in this last week. They went along the lines of:

“I could really feel my tiredness”

“I do not know what it is I feel exactly, but I can feel my legs”

“Anyone who says yoga is easy is wrong, I could feel my heart pumping”

“It is so good to feel my breath, it has been a long time”

Any guesses to the commonality there, to the trend that emerges from the experience of each practitioner? Pretty simple really – each statement has a reflective quality to it and the use of the word FEEL allows the statement to be totally subjective to the individual experience. I am eternally in awe at how amazing yoga is, and the reason for this is because it invites us to “FEEL STUFF” which in a world that through its own insanity continually pushes us to shut down and feel less, is nothing short of incredible. Because it is through feeling that we come alive. It is through the experiential process of connecting the body with the breath that we may have the potential to invite in a greater sense of awareness to the given moment and it is through that awareness that we can see things as they truly are.

Yoga is many things to many people; however for me it is my therapy, my medicine and my daily practice BUT it also my mirror, because every time I step onto the mat I get to see myself reflected back at me. Some days I don’t really want to look in that mirror but yoga gives us no choice and that can be confronting, I know, I have been there many, many times. When I am feeling edgy, irritable and narky I will notice this in the way that I talk to myself on the yoga mat. When I am feeling overly stimulated and heated, I will notice this in the way that I may push my body on the mat. When I am feeling tired and depleted I will notice in the way that my body feels sluggish on the mat. Put simply my yoga practice is an open invitation to myself to feel into the moment and notice what is there; the good, the bad and the downright ugly. It is also an invitation to myself to be ok with whatever is there and that is my choice to take up or not.

The other day someone asked me what my yoga retreats are all about and it was a great question, I have not been asked this in such a direct manner before and it was interesting. At the same time I have been reflecting recently on my identity and how I wish to present myself to the world as a yoga therapist. I have been reflecting on what matters to me about yoga, about why I am so passionate about its therapeutic uses and why I spend chunks of my time persuading others to go away with me to immerse into yoga. I spent a day facilitating a yoga teacher training last weekend and as we talked about the business of being a yoga teacher, we talked about the importance of understanding your “WHY”. The why you do it, the why you teach yoga and of course the why you practice yoga and it helped me focus a little.

My why is this; little delights me more then when people express a felt experience be it good or bad, little gives me more pleasure than seeing a face drop peacefully and a body soften and relax into the moment of acceptance. It enthralls me how every experience is different, no one moment or experience is ever the same. When I teach, no class is ever the same, no response is ever the same. But there is always a common theme – there is always a shared, collective felt experience and an individual felt experience.  An experience in which everyone on the mat, both myself and the student, goes through a journey of sensation, feeling and ultimately waking up. This does not mean every yoga class is a divinely blissful one, not at all, I am not suggesting that every moment on the mat is perfect and delightful and enlightenment is achieved. No, it can be clunky, awkward, painful, uncomfortable and difficult but there is as much beauty in the dark shadows as there is beauty in the joyful and delightful. The ability to look at these shadows and know that they serve a purpose is the best reminder we can have of our own fragility, vulnerability and sense of perspective.

We need to feel, in fact it is imperative that we feel, we need to feel because the opposite of feeling is to be shut down to life. To be shut down is to live a life of avoidance, to never look at our shadows, to never notice the present moment and it will always feel like we are running away from something, we will never allow ourselves to be still. To numb ourselves of feeling invites in a sense of restlessness, discomfort and fear. We are restless as we are always seeking a way to escape the sensation, we feel uncomfortable as sometimes we come close too it, we nudge the edges of what we feel and it unnerves us so we have to find a way to shut it out, we are frightened of it because we fear that if open up the pandora’s box then maybe what will come out will be too big for us to handle.

As a yoga therapist I am slowly finding myself dealing more and more with mental health, people come to me with anxiety, depression and trauma – they come sometimes with purely physical stuff but once we start to talk the underlying issue is always deeper than that. So I also find myself working with auto-immune disorders and pain.  I spend so much time reading and researching, listening and hearing what others have to say, because I know it is what will make me able to serve these people with kindness and understanding. To come into a place of feeling when you have spent so long shutting it down can be hard, talking therapies are amazing but it is not always enough and that is very clear to me. The research shows that CBT is a brilliant therapy but with some forms of trauma it can not get deep enough. What is emerging is that yoga has something that is very unique and it is the mind body connection that makes it stand out. Even when the situation is very sensitive yoga has a way of accessing the body with such gentleness. There is much work to be done here, mental health is a global issue and one that is not going to go away and so it is imperative to continue to invite people onto the mat, to explore what it will take to empower them to feel, to empower them to be vulnerable and to empower them to find self managed practices that enable them to be ok with where they are, in any given moment.

There is a huge amount written about mental health on the internet, it does not take long to find articles and blogs about it. Plenty of stories people have shared about their journey are out there. But for me the science matters, the evidence behind it is increasing but we need more research done. We need to understand even more why it helps, what effects it has on the brain (see below for some further links and reading).

Taken from the book Stress Proof by Dr Mithu Storoni (a great read do check it out – https://www.amazon.com/Stress-Proof-Scientific-Solution-Body-Resilient/dp/0143130471 )

“Yoga demands attentional focus and self regulation, and careful analysis of what happens during the practice of yoga reveals a strong parallel with neuro-feedback training. There is emerging evidence that yoga may hep to correct an imbalance between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity. Some studies show that yoga has a positive effect on depression, anxiety and PTSD. This may be because in addition to being a workout for the body, yoga provides and excellent work out for your self control.

Traditional yoga requires postures that be held in complete stillness for a set length of time…While your autonomic system is seemingly having a party, your cortex must assert control. This pushes you into a form of focused attention meditation and self control”

I came across this TED talk by Mandy Saligari: Feelings handle them before they handle you and the title really caught my eye. She just blew me away, what an incredible woman who is doing amazing work and with such a wonderful passion for what she does. My take home from it was that we:

  • Need to create a relationship with a part of ourselves that we can allow to be vulnerable
  • We need to invest in the curiosity of living
  • That gratitude for what we have makes a difference
  • That we can allow ourselves to be available to live

And finally understand this, it is ok to feel whatever it is you feel and please know that it is very likely that you are not the only person to have felt this way and so never feel that you are alone. There are so many ways to deal with feelings that arise that are overwhelming, scary and uncomfortable. Talk to someone, reach out to a friend or if you seek a more confidential and professional approach, investigate seeing a counselor/psychotherapist. If yoga is not something you have done before, then maybe look into that too, yoga therapy is a fully integrative and holistic process that aims to empower people towards wellness. As a yoga therapist I am not a trained counselor nor an expert in psychotherapy, but I am an expert in yoga and I do know how to use the practice to help people. Yoga therapy does not state that it can provide a cure, nor a quick fix however the evidence suggests that it does do something to improve people’s lives and that is not to be ignored.

In peace folks

x

References

https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/yoga-for-anxiety-and-depression

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768207/

https://www.amazon.com/Body-Keeps-Score-Healing-Trauma/dp/0143127748

The time comes when we all have to step into our power…..

How is it that I have not written anything here since August? For someone who generally has a lot to say that is most unusual, but truthfully other than what I’ve written on social media I just haven’t found the inspiration. Of course, as always seems to be the way, inspiration comes when you are least looking for it and in Bali a whole load of insight came and hit me in the face.

So much has been rumbling within the background for me these last few months, an undeniable and unshakable sense that I am still trying to mold myself into other people’s models and that I am still not fully stepping into my power. Something is still holding me back, a familiar feeling of contraction. I know what it is of course, actually it is blindingly obvious to me what it is that holds me back, the big question is am I able to confront that and push past it. It is my belief that if we can allow ourselves to be guided by what seems true to us then things can happen, doors can open and life can unfold in a way that we would never anticipate.

In Bali as I spoke to people about moving through the layers of the body, energy and mind to find wisdom and insight; as I talked about how we need to embody ourselves, how we need to be grounded, connected and present in order to listen in and hear what it is we need to hear; as I spoke of authenticity and vulnerability, it was I realised what I needed to hear myself. What I love so much about teaching yoga is how much I gain myself, as I talked to people about moving past their fears and into a space of courage, strength, vulnerability and receptivity, I knew that I was also talking to myself.

So this is it. This is where I got to:

I have had enough of playing small

I have had enough of telling myself I am not good enough

I have had enough of trying to fit into other people’s models and being frustrated when it doesn’t work

I am ready for more

I am ready to be brave

I am ready to be bold

I AM READY!

Let me explain a little more. I have been devoting time and energy into learning more and more about the therapeutic uses of yoga, working with people on a one to one basis, going deeper into what they need to find wellness within their lives. It is a process that I enjoy enormously. And next week I am going back into the classroom to spend another 150 hours on advanced clinical studies for yoga therapy, I am ridiculously excited and yet there is always that small nagging voice at the back of my head questioning it, questioning the time I take out of life to do these training’s, the money spent and the fear that maybe it will be all wasted. This comes back to an ongoing prevailing fear, the fear of failure. It is this fear that stops me from investing in myself. The other day I was comparing the prices of two creative marketing designers, one felt quite high and the other pretty low. I was utterly undecided and even though the person with the higher quote was so obviously the right person for me I could not shake the nagging feeling of “I am only a yoga instructor, why do I need to spend that much on myself”. It shook me to the core when I realised this was how I saw myself, what on earth am I telling the universe if that is how I think about myself. I am so much more than “just” a yoga teacher, I am a human being and I am doing the best that I can. Some days I fail, some days I win but mostly I am doing ok. We are all more than “just” anyone, we all have a light to shine and it is a consequence of our fears that we allow that light to be diminished within us.

So going back to the insights that came to me in Bali. I get asked ALL the time, where do you teach or where can I come and see you. My answer is always a bit hazy to be honest. I mean I have some open classes that people can come to, I offer privates and have a busy schedule moving around to people’s homes which I love and have no intention of stopping. But there is a limitation because I have a fear of working in central, or should I say it makes me nervous. Rents, money, costs etc etc is enough to bring me out in a cold sweat. So I find myself with a piecemeal solution between some part time studio work and my own freelance work. Do not get me wrong, this is my choice, I like the freedom freelancing gives me and I also like the chance to connect with other people in a studio however it is time I acknowledged that maybe the studio model is not suited to the work that I wish to do. This is nothing against the yoga studio I just think that I am looking for a different experience, I wish to work with people directly and to engage with them on the yoga mat but perhaps outside of the yoga studio. I am looking for a different set up and it is time to get a little bolder about this, I now see that I want a set up that offers me the freedom to work with people as a yoga therapist in all its modalities, a set up that will enable me to engage with more people about the empowering nature of yoga. I want to be offering classes and both 1-2-1s to people who seek yoga but find the idea of a studio intimidating for many reasons, be it through physical limitations, emotional worries and anxieties or just simply because they feel they need to be listened to and heard more.

When I work with people within the context of yoga therapy part of the process is establishing goals both short, medium and long term. I ask people to lay out the vision for themselves both for the process of yoga therapy but also for the direction they wish to go in their life. So why have I not done the same for myself? Again, another thought that hit my right in the face as I was walking to the ferry one day. I am still working on this but in the short term my plan is to continue to make connections with other people in the world of yoga therapy, to establish an engaged community so that we may support each other’s growth. I also plan to start researching the models for working either within a practice or on my own – both of which could be amazing but not without their challenges. However, the long term vision is what feels the most important to me right now and I have said to myself that I wish to be running a thriving yoga therapy practice in Hong Kong by this time next year – there I have said it, it can not be taken back. I saw a great line the other day and it went along the lines of “we can manifest our future through the people we meet” and after all Hong Kong is the town of connections, it is the place of one degree of separation. Already, since making this decision a few connections have been made, who knows where they will go to but it is a place to start. Since making this decision I feel a little bit more emboldened and sense of great potential. It feels good.

I do not know what will happen next, I do not know where I will end up  but I do know that I am making the commitment to face my fears, to quite literally roll out the welcome mat for them so that I may sit with them and let them be my guide. I choose to let them show me how to be humble, vulnerable and open, I choose to let them show me how to be courageous, brave and forward looking. What I know for sure is that doors will open, opportunities will arise if I allow myself to be open to it, closing myself off, acting small will do nothing but make me feel like I am not good enough which is entirely the opposite of what I seek. I may fall many times along the way, let’s be honest I have fallen many times over already, but I refuse to be told that I will have failed. Failure is a meaningless word, it means nothing, it says nothing about the work that was put into something, the time taken or the care given. Failure is a word we should eradicate from our vocabulary.

About 4 years ago I held my very first yoga retreat on Lamma and one of the attendees said to me as she left “Do not hide your light under a bushel”. They were kind and gracious words and I will never forget them. They are words to live by and words to hold within our very being. They are words I shall remind myself of when I feel myself contracting in fear – there is nothing I need to hide from, there is nothing I need to fear.

Shine On folks

x

 

 

Tell me your story…..

I have long been a fan of Brené Brown but last week she rose in my estimation by a very long way – essentially, if you have not already seen it, she did a live facebook chat on Charlottesville – because it was a live chat I am unable to put up the URL link for it but you can find it through her facebook page. Anyway, before you turn away thinking “I am not an American, this is not my problem” just take a pause, because what Brené spoke about reaches far beyond what is going on across the waters, it matters so very much and as I listened to what she had to say I had so many moments of realisation about myself, my behaviours and the filters I look at the world through, that I have thought about little else since then. It has been bubbling away and now it is time to try to make some sense of it all here.

https://www.facebook.com/brenebrown/

They say we are the sum total of our decisions and our decisions are made based on what is important to us, our priorities. I would add to that by saying that the things that are important to us are determined by the filters through which we see the world because it is these filters that shape our perspective and define the actions we take. The collective experience of family, culture, society, religion, education and work shapes us, it shapes what we think we deserve, what we think we need and absolutely what we think is right or wrong, it sets our moral code and ultimately it creates the content for the script that is our lives. Putting it simply we are all living out our stories based on the perspective with which we see the world. And so we have a choice, do we let those stories define by us or do we empower ourselves to decide how our story runs? Do we run away from our stories or do we turn to face them head on? Can we see that the potential pain and discomfort of owning up to our story is tiny compared to the pain of living out the story?

But what does this have to do with Charlottesville or events like it? The answer being everything. I am not about to get all political, I promise, but nor am I going to say that if we all sit together and send out messages of love, that the world will change and all will be well. Do not get me wrong, we should still live a life of peace and love but it is my belief that spiritual bypassing (check the link below if you are not sure what that is*) is not acceptable, it is in fact a privilege we can not afford to have. As a human being I feel it is actually my duty more than ever to face up to not just my stories but also the collective stories of the world, to stare at them head on and to engage with the conversation around them. To simply offer a message of trite support is not enough, we all know this but how much do we actually walk the talk on that front. With action comes a reaction, when we engage in the story there will be a consequence and however painful it may be, through being engaged we are able to move forwards, not backwards.

And so I come onto the subject of #privilege #perspective & #power – the 3 Ps in Brene’s talk.

  1. Privilege is the unearned rights that we have
  2. Perspective is to see the world through a lense
  3. Power is the ability to affect change

And I also come onto the subject of #shame

And to explain it I need to tell a story. I am recently back from the UK, we spent a lovely 4 weeks there, as always a delight to see friends and family. I am sure though I am not alone in having had conversations with perhaps people of an older generation, family or a friend and have found that they possessed an opinion on a subject that you “felt” was morally wrong, incorrect or just plan senseless. I don’t know why but this year it seemed worse, though I strongly suspect that the current political climate was the main culprit for such polarised points of view. Many topics were covered but two stand out ones for me were gender bias and immigration, again I am not getting political nor offering you my opinions on these subjects, but what I did notice within myself was my reaction. When I heard someone speak an opinion that was so totally the opposite to my perspective I found it very hard to not respond with moral indignation and I am sure that there were times that I was perhaps not very kind in the way that I spoke back, or that the tone of my voice was not very reasonable. Upshot being was that a) I walked away feeling like an awkward conversation had happened and b) I felt there was no progress, no real debate, just a clash of opinion.

I try to remain aware of how privileged I am. I was born with white skin and into a country that was not being torn apart by war, poverty or famine. I have the freedom to explore multiple opportunities, I have the freedom to express my opinion and I have the freedom to travel the world as I wish. I am so very lucky. But for me to understand the perspective of someone with less privilege than myself, it is not enough to simply try to imagine life in their world or to try to see the world through their lense because ultimately I will still be seeing it with the filters of my own lense. As Brené says “we can’t put down the lense, it’s how we see the world, it is soldered to us” so instead we have to engage in the debate, we have to ask questions, we have to hear other people’s stories in order to fully understand their perspective. So when I am in conversation and I encounter an opinion that does not sit comfortably with my perspective, it is my absolute responsibility to engage with the story, to firmly believe that what someone is telling me is “their story and it is what they believe” and to not run away from it. Of course this is not about being passive though, not about nodding the head and just moving on. No it is about listening and if possible finding a point of understanding. Information equals power, that was what they told me in sales training. When we feel powerless we are far more likely to fall into patterns of shaming, anger, violence and abuse but when we feel empowered we are able to feel like we may have a positive impact and bring about change. What happens when we don’t engage in the conversation is we switch into shaming mode and shaming  is simply emotional offloading, it is not a motivator for change. There is nothing good about shaming someone for their actions or beliefs and I know that as there is nothing nice about feeling ashamed, it is a horrid place to be. There is no empathy in shame, all it does it make someone else feel small and unheard and ourselves unhappy. Where is the peace and love in that eh?

So my take home from all of this is that in order to keep moving forward, we need to be engaged in the debate however difficult, however painful and however confronting it is, it is not enough to just sit to one side and to walk away from the conversation, or if you do then fine, but please understand that that is a privilege. We need to see very clearly the stories that we are living personally and also the stories that we are living collectively, we need to see that we can chose to rewrite the script both for ourselves and the society we live in. We are imperfect beings, we live in an imperfect world, surely it is better that we come together with all our imperfections, that we speak of our imperfect stories knowing that we will be heard, that we share our imperfect hopes and dreams and through that look to create an imperfect future together.

As a yoga teacher I want to know your stories and I wish to share with you my stories; we are all as flawed as each other but it is my hope that the more we are able to open up about the things that excite us, the things that we love, the things that scare us, the things that worry us; that the more that we are able to confront our stories and hear other’s stories, the better we get at listening and the better we get at understanding. I believe humans are fundamentally hard wired to be kind and because of this I have faith that we can continue to grow in love and peace.

In love

x

*https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/emotional-sobriety/201110/beware-spiritual-bypass

 

#30days – a pain in the neck or a process of discovery – you decide

Just over 30 days ago I was having a bad day and I made a decision to change that, I set myself a sadhana (resolve) to recommit to my practice. My intention was to bring back in some practices that I had lost, to try out some new ones and to just see how it impacted upon my life. To see if my life was made happier, more joyful as a result of these practices.

I committed to a daily asana practice which I have pretty much done – still though my practice is still something that very much gets fitted in and around both my family and working life. Whilst this is fine, I still feel a sense of discontent over this and wish to find a way that works better for me. Ultimately I do know that the only way is to just get up earlier but I am sensing a little internal resistance to this. I have however been starting my day with pranayama & meditation – the alarm is set for 5.30am and I have 30 minutes before everyone else is up and around and in general it is a time that I love but I have to be careful to not set too much store by this time and to not let it become a chore. But even as I write this I know that all I am creating for myself is another story with which to make myself feel bad about – where do we draw the line between discipline and self shaming? I do not have the answer to this – instead I shall simply keep trying to figure it out.

What became very apparent during this time was that the persistent pain I was feeling in my neck & shoulder was not going to go away. So I took the time to go back to what I know about the shoulder, to read and research and come up with a good, tried and tested therapy program for my shoulder that I would work with daily. This is an ongoing process and shall continue to be so. However, what I have talked less about is our relationship to pain and to what it really and truthfully means. So I started from the beginning and went back to one of my favorite TED talks – see below – with Lorimer Moseley – who speaks in 2011 about what pain is. I urge you to listen, it really is brilliant, it is also very entertaining, so if nothing else, it will make you laugh.

Pain, according to LM’s research, is an output of the brain that is designed to protect you and NOT something that comes from the tissues of the body. In fact he says, PAIN IS A CONSTRUCT OF THE BRAIN – now I do know this, I have read enough, learnt enough to know this to be true. But when it is you experiencing the pain it becomes extraordinarily hard to believe this concept. Pain is happening because my shoulders are not in the right place due to sport, computers, stress etc and this is putting a strain on stuff etc etc………right? That seems easier to wrap the head around though doesn’t it because then surely all I need to do is fix the pain by fixing my shoulders. WRONG!

Well not totally wrong. I mean, of course there is so much benefit to stretching the muscles to create space, engaging the muscles to create strength and working to find greater release in and around the connective tissue. This is all very valid and worth doing, I will never say do not do this. In fact the old RICE (rest, ice, compress, elevate) plan is slightly flawed as we know now that movement, even if very gentle, is better than none at all during times of injury.  However, if we can understand that the more the neurons in the body recognise pain then they simply get better at producing pain and so the levels of pain may well escalate. So my shoulder pain, is it real? If I had a MRI and didn’t see any  damage would that suddenly take away the pain or is it that my nervous system is right now firing too many alarm bells and creating the pain. So is my pain real or perceived? Please understand that I’m not trying to dismiss the pain you or I experience, pain is something we suffer both physically  & emotionally & to ignore that would be utterly without compassion. However by exploring the root of our pain we can empower ourselves to feel able to do something about it.

So then I thought about the location of my pain. Shoulder and neck. What does this mean? Cue more reading, more research and I found this interesting set of words which resonated with me so very much. (In  fact the whole article was pretty interesting to me https://ravenstarshealingroom.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/metaphysical-causes-of-neck-pain/)

“If we are having neck and shoulder problems, we need to question ourselves. Are we being too inflexible in our thoughts? Are we being too rigid? Are we afraid to see what’s on the other side of us or behind us? Are we taking too much responsibility on our shoulders? Are we taking on responsibility that is not ours. Do we refuse to see other’s point of view or perspective? Do we allow other’s refusal to see our perspective affect us.” The Healer’s Manual ~ Ted Andrews

OK so let’s just say that perhaps what I am experiencing is less about the body and more about me……2017 has been a year of many ups and downs. My work is flourishing, I could not be happier with where my work and teaching is going. I love where I live and my family are in a really good place. But there are challenges to life – Hong Kong is not straight forward and certain circumstances have arisen that are pretty high on the stressful list, nothing is new, it is all old stuff and it feels that 2017 is the year to confront it all, to turn around and face down the shadows within me. My awareness is growing, I am slowly learning to accept what has happened to me over the years but it is time to really fully adjust my habitual patterns of behaviour. I have a sense that 2017 is proving to be a year of huge transformation and growth for me, I know that as a result of these challenging days I shall emerge a new person. If I were to look at it from a traditional yogic viewpoint, 2017 is about tapas (austerity / purification) – by this I mean it is time to burn away the old habits that do not serve me and merely cause me pain. This pain I’m experiencing is merely providing me with a reminder that it is time. It is time to be who I need to be, to speak what I need to say and to do what I need to do.

Also in my sadhana I committed to more self care through diet, rest and managing my digital intake. For about 2 weeks I was really on top of it. I pre-made my food for the next day, it makes a huge difference to the quality of my day when I do this and this is simply about being organised. Through a skills exchange I was given 3 floats at Float On HK (www.floatonhk.com) and I had one of these for 3 weeks in a row – I have committed to signing up to a monthly package when I return from the UK this Summer as I really loved these sessions. Floating is such a great therapy for the whole being and I truly recommend them. I gave myself rest time when I could and I did my best to keep the social media intake down. In these last few weeks though I have found myself being sucked back in, for various reasons. World events combined with the need to promote events online drew me back – it is clear to me though how addicted we all are, and that includes me, to social media. I know how it can influence me and I know how it can impact me, for the sake of my mental health this is something to be addressed.

Getting out into nature is important to me. Running the trails always lifts me, the humidity I find off putting however I am looking forward to a few weeks this Summer in the UK where running will be infinitely more pleasurable.

Booze – I decided to give up alcohol – I could write a whole blog post just on this alone! Challenging. I do not even drink that much but a glass of wine at the weekend I see is something I rely on. I noticed some edges creep in, the mental chatter around would my weekend be as nice and as fun if I was not having a drink. What would I do in social scenarios, would it stop me from wanting to go out? To be honest we have not been out much and so that has not been challenged a huge amount but the thinking was enough to create some unease. And then last Sunday came – a friend was coming for lunch. I did not even feel like a drink, there was no craving for it, in fact I think I did not even really want one and yet I felt the social thing to do was to open a bottle with a friend. 2-3 glasses later and BANG – a migraine struck me. I do get migraines and the trigger is invariably alcohol, even a tiny amount can do it, I am able to be functional with them but they are exhausting. This lasted for 2 days & yesterday I crashed – instead of writing this blog I fell asleep for 3 hours. Waking up I still felt unwell and it was not until I stepped onto the mat to breathe and move very gently that I started to feel ok again. So what was that about? What was going on there? Very simply I did not listen to my body and that was that. Now I am not about to become teetotal – I know that come this Summer I shall love to drink a glass of wine with friends and family, but I do also know that alcohol clouds me, it can feel like I am under a fog of something that I can not come out of and so I know that I need to really listen to my body more closely and instead of habitually having a drink because of societal pressure, I shall only have a drink if it feels absolutely right and my body feels ok with it. Not an easy one but an interesting experiment for sure and something I have learnt a huge amount from.

In summary I have developed for myself a really nice program around massage, myofascial release, postures and meditation that is working for me right now. I have used Yoga Glo less and have followed my own instinct more for my self practice, I am genuinely trying to listen to my body right now and go with what it needs. On some days, that is simply lying on a bolster and breathing. Setting the intention to renew my commitment to my practice has allowed me to engage with myself in yoga and it has also allowed me to engage with others in yoga. It has given me a new sense of direction, it has given me a sense of myself and what it is I need right now. It has also shown me in absolute clarity that as much as I have work to do and as much as my family need me, I need me too; I need me to be present, engaged and fully living life and that through this I shall continue to transform to be the best of myself, the happiest of myself and the most joyful of myself. In order for this to happen though I shall not try to rush the process but instead enjoy the journey of discovery.

The lesson of the butterfly 

A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.

The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.

The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shrivelled wings, incapable of flight.

What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.

Sometimes, a little extra effort is precisely what prepares us for the next obstacle to be faced. Anyone who refuses to make that effort, or gets the wrong sort of help, is left unprepared to fight the next battle and never manages to fly off to their destiny.

By Paulo Coelho

Om shanti – peace x

 

7 days in reflection

Patanjali 1:3 – then the self abides in its own nature – in other words through the practice of yoga our true self is revealed and never more so when we are following daily yogic practices.

As I stepped onto my mat yesterday morning, the sky was blue and the air felt clean, and I saw so much reflected back at me from the last 7 days – some of it felt good and some of it felt uncomfortable.

I have been getting onto may mat every day, you would think that being a yoga teacher this is normal for me. But not always. A busy day can mean I start early and get home late, it is easy to simply say to myself that I have done some yoga already. The truth is, teaching yoga is not my practice, yes I do bend and flex during these times but it is not done for my own specific practice. So I have brought back in the discipline of my daily practice. What I have seen here is that it is time for me to acknowledge that I am carrying an injury, my shoulders for as long as I can remember have been my weak point, they have always been tight and sometimes they have felt sore. In the last 12 months though as I have been paddling with a degree of intensity this discomfort has grown and now I see that action has to be taken to allow them not just to recover, but to become stronger, more flexible than before. Healing has to take place. Over the course of this week I will show you the practices I have brought in to work with my neck, shoulders, spine and hips – nothing happens in isolation and so I am working the body therapeutically and in accordance to my constitution and already I am seeing some changes.

I have been getting up early and going up to the roof for a morning sit – in full confession, I find this quite hard. It is not always pleasurable, frequently I feel tired but I am noticing how much better I feel afterwards. What is always presented in super stark reality during these times is how busy the mind is, how controlling and how manipulative it is. But over the course of the 20 minutes I am able to become more accepting, more forgiving and more understanding towards that – for me, as long as I can have a fraction of awareness of what is going on within me I am happy. It is through this awareness that I grow.

The more aware I become of what I eat, the less I wish to eat the sugary snacks, the cravings still come but I am able to see them for what they are now. I have made a conscious effort to make healthy and energy sustaining lunches, I have a high energy and I burn food fast, this is essential and is certainly helping my energy levels. I also made a decision to give up alcohol and this one has been the most interesting – I don’t really drink much but I do like to relax with a drink at the weekend. The idea we have is that in order to relax we need to have a drink and I fully accept that in the lead up to the weekend I started to question this, why was I putting myself through it? I don’t drink much so surely the little that I do is ok! Subconsciously I think my mind saw this as some kind of punishment and I suspect it made me a little cranky at times. However, yesterday as I thought about it, I thought about all the people who do not drink, not out of choice but because they can’t, either for disease or some other reason. I thought about them and I suddenly had a whole new level of empathy for something I had never really thought about.

The struggle around social media continued, the inability to agree on a day in the week to delete the apps from my phone. Typically like all things I realised the less you plan this stuff the better, on Friday night I went to bed and decided that on the Saturday I would not look at my facebook or instagram feed. In the morning I deleted the apps from the my phone – whilst I did not do a full digital detox, I still had access to email and whatsapp, but I did notice how I much more time I had. We are all so addicted to being kept up to date, we do not want to miss out on a thing, we need to see everything in real time, all the time. It was lovely to be away from that. Instead I went for a run, I did not take the phone; I sat on my roof and went through the full range of practices that I am following plus added in some more; I went for a swim with my children and had a meal with my husband. From now on my intention is to always have one day/week as a minimum without social media and next time I may add in the newspapers also as I do not believe that reading the news contributes to my overall happiness!

I could go on – for now though my initial reflection on these first 7 days has been that as I dive more and more into the world of yoga & yoga therapy, empathy becomes even more important. To be able to sit with someone, to see them, to accept them and to be with them and their suffering is so vital. And so even more important is it than I can sit with my own difficulties, my own challenges and my own fears. I may be a yoga teacher but that does not preclude me from the uncertainties of life, it does not mean that I have always got it under control. I am human after all. However, as a human I wish to live a fully awakened life, and I know that for that to be so, to stop myself from falling asleep, I need to stay in a place of awareness in the most loving of ways and the only way I know how to do that is to be kind to myself, I am doing my best and that is enough.

To be continued……..

In peace

 

Stop…..Look around…..What do you see?

So folks how is your 2017 going for you? We aren’t quite at the half way mark yet but we are certainly nearly there, definitely worth a moment to check in so here is mine.

This morning I woke up feeling cranky – I had a foggy head from a couple of glasses of wine the night before, my shoulder and wrist was feeling sore so I had to accept that going out on my boat was not going to be a good idea and  in general I was feeling a touch sorry for myself. So I pulled on the trainers, grabbed the dogs and went out for a run. It didn’t start well, my knee began to hurt, as did my feet and I felt tired, I almost turned back, instead I turned up the music (soundgarden if you wish to know) and made myself continue onwards. When I got to the top and found myself on the ridge line I had a moment of absolute clarity and I saw then what I needed to do. My spirits lifted and my energy returned, as I ran I planned what I was going to do.

20017 so far has been a mixed bag of ups and downs. My work is amazing, I have a book of clients whom I love to work with, who challenge me, who interest me and whom never fail to inspire me; teaching nourishes me in a way that I can not really describe. However, my teaching schedule is pretty full on right now, I have no complaints about this but it has meant that my self practice and self care has been squeezed big time. I travel a fair degree for my work and am invariably carrying a bag. It feels to me that for most of this year I have been on the go and I am feeling it. Add to that the pressures of living in Hong Kong, a city that I love but some days can feel quite hard work to exist in. So this morning I made a commitment to myself –  it was time to find more space to heal, it was time to get inspired, it was time to give back to myself.

Tomorrow I am attending a retreat day with my wonderful Integral Yoga buddies and I know that this is the perfect way to inspire me and to help me renew my own practice and then starting on Monday  I am going to commit to a 30 day Sādhana* and I invite you to join me. Keeping it simple, no fancy hashtags, no fancy practices – just pure and simple yoga.

My commitment to myself is this:

Daily meditation & pranayama – It is time to get back to my daily practice – no excuses! I will aim to get up 15 mins earlier each day, I will give myself the space to sit, to breathe & to be still before the day starts. On the days where I am up and out the house very early I will use my ferry ride for my practice.

Asana – It is time to give my body some rest, no handstanding or arm balances until my wrist feels ok again. It is time to therapy myself with a carefully thought out program involving non weight bearing postures, yin and restorative yoga. However little time in the day I have, I will step onto the mat, using blocks, blankets and a bolster I will support myself and allow myself to feel renewed each time.

Diet – I aim to eat a yogic diet as much as possible. This involves cutting down on the sugary snacks, packing healthy lunches for me to eat when I am out all day and sticking to a vegetarian diet (I have not eaten meat for 25 years but I do eat some fish every so often). Most of all I am going to not drink – I really don’t drink very much and so I have always felt this wasn’t something that I needed to do but I know that even the small amount that I do affects me, so for 30 days I shall stay away from the beer & wine.

Lifestyle – I suspect I may not get onto the water much in this period which I know will drive me crazy, instead I will commit to getting out into the nature through walking and running. But beyond that I aim to be more connected to this world through action, through really observing and seeing what is happening around me. I will endeavour to be more mindful in all that I do, for example – to leave the house 10 minutes earlier for a ferry so I am not in a rush and to take longer over eating a meal. I also plan to have one day/week for a digital detox – by that I mean no facebook, no instagram and no online news (I know that this will be hard for me, I know that because there is already an internal debate going on over what day of the week I shall do this on!) and finally, whilst I will allow myself the odd bit of netflix, it is time to return to the pile of books that has been gathering dust.

Self Care – I have started seeing an acupuncturist and I aim to continue with this and see where it leads to. I also aim to include more self massage and self myofascial therapy into my practice – more on this to come.

And of course I will share it with you all along the way. Which brings me to the next part of this piece. Maybe you are feeling a little stuck, maybe like me, you suddenly have realised that 2017 is passing by without a moment for a breath and that you need to set some time aside for yourself and that it is time make a few changes. In which case do join me, feel free to share with me your goals, aims and practices however small they may be, feel free to share with me your personal Sādhana. It could be something so small, so simple. You do not need to do all that I have committed to doing, you can simply decide that you are going to try to be more mindful, perhaps you will download the headspace app to help you or you are going to reboot your asana practice by joining a yoga studio and committing to a certain number of classes/week. It doesn’t matter – they say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so give yourself the reset you need by making a few changes with the sole aim to do it for 30 days and see how you feel at the end.

Perhaps though you do not know where to even begin, it feels too overwhelming, too much to even think about. No problem, I would be happy to talk with you and to discuss in what ways you wish to reset your year. We could start with a skype call which will be priced according to your budget (skill shares are also available – a massage in exchange for a series of skypes maybe) in which we would talk about where you are, where you want to get to and creatively think about what are realistic ways for you to get there. In other words I would help you start your own Sādhana. I will support you and help you along the way. The reality is we will all be in it together, the joy of a shared journey is that even though the work is ours to do and ours only, by sharing with others our struggles and joys, we feel less alone, we feel more inspired and we feel able to keep going.

Please note that I do not consider myself a life coach, nor a counselor or anything like that but I do know how much life can be changed by bringing in daily habits and I do also know how hard it can be to stick to them. I also know the strength of committing to a yoga practice, not for any other reason than to simply feel empowered and well within yourself.

Om shanti x

* Sadhana means daily spiritual practice. It is the foundation of all spiritual endeavor. Sadhana is your personal, individual spiritual effort.

Be the expert of yourself….

“When you cut water, the water does not get hurt. When you cut something solid it breaks.””

According to Anthony De Mello the key resources to live an awakened life are Insight, Understanding & Awareness

  • Insight so that we may see ourselves as a reflection in a mirror, so that we can see how we become tied up in knots over our emotions.
  • Understanding so that we may understand what it is that truly makes us happy. Did the one thing that we thought would make us happy, did it really make us happy?
  • Awareness so that we can understand what it is that is going on inside of us at all time.

The combination of the three allows us to become our own expert, and through this we may navigate the choppy waters of life with effortless ease. Ever wondered why you were so exhausted? Why you felt so drained all the time? Maybe you are working too hard and maybe you do not actually need to. Maybe you are in effect pushing a boulder uphill when in reality all you need to do is sit back and let nature take its course. Once we learn to dis-identify with the me, once we learn to drop the labels that we give to ourselves, once we see that we do not need to be what we think we need to be – so much can happen. What is the use of all this self condemnation and hatred? What is the use of the endless wishing to be someone body else, the desiring to have someone else’s body, the yearning to live someone else’s life. Quite simply what is the point.

Recently I have become painfully aware of how social media portrays yoga as something it really is not – I saw a video advertising a class, a short but sweet video of a lovely pose but the camera zoomed just a little too close to the practitioners pert butt & breasts for my liking. I saw a picture advertising a personal trainer and in it was said that the goal was a tight butt, a toned back and a teeny waist. Then add to that we have the whole litany of different types of yoga offering different ways of attaining enlightenment. It is like we are unwittingly adding layers and layers of pressure upon ourselves, making out that life is one series of tick the boxes. Through this the scales tip heavily onto the side of self condemnation and hatred, we abuse ourselves on a daily basis through out inability to meet these goals. The truth being that we are ALL already there. And I mean THERE as this esoteric THERE that people tell us we MUST aspire to get to. Why do we have to make enlightenment another “to do” on the tick list, can we not really see that there is no where to go and there’s nothing that needs doing.

The only way to break this cycle is though insight, understanding and awareness. Our attitudes and illusions, they may seem solid at the time, they may feel very real indeed – but only when we understand that it is on account of these beliefs that we experience hurt and pain. Simply put, change your attitude and something will happen. As Anthony De Mello says again and again “DROP IT” – “JUST DROP IT”. It is a choice to make – pain and suffering or freedom and happiness. I know that sounds overly simply but it really is so.

Please understand also that as much as I write this here for others to read, I write this is a reminder to myself. Recently I let myself get caught up on my ego quote badly, I allowed myself to go down a route of self pity and indulged myself in abusive thoughts. It is normal, it happens. But I know within my heart that it is just my ego talking, I know that it is meaningless, I know that I will ultimately come back into that understanding but that sometimes it takes a little time and wisdom to get me there.

Wisdom comes from taking away the illusions, from stripping away the layers by which we identify with. Wisdom means that we do not repeatedly try to apply the solutions of yesterday to today’s problem. Wisdom allows us to to be sensitive to the situation without being influenced by the experiences of the past. Through wisdom, we allow our heart to be open and through an open heart we may love fully. All summed up so beautifully by this Chinese proverb.

If the eye is unobstructed, the result is sight.
If the ear is unobstructed, the result is hearing.
If the nose is unobstructed, the result is smell.
If the mouth is unobstructed, the result is taste.
If the mind is unobstructed, the result is wisdom.

And a final line added by De Mello

If the heart is unobstructed, the result is love.

So folks, put aside the to do list. Where you are is where you are, do not try to change the circumstances around you, change yourself and your attitudes towards it – the rest will follow!

 

Retreat to yourself on a yoga retreat

So here I am, back in sunny Thailand, only this time with my lovely family on a much needed get away together. I am taking this time to recharge the batteries, to practice yoga daily by the beach, to look out to sea and explore my thoughts, to read books but most of all to revel in the absolute joy that comes from spending so much time with my family. And as the time here comes to an end and I am reflecting back on my last retreat to Chiang Mai.

Every retreat is special, magical and unique; each one totally different in many ways and yet there is always the same underlying theme to them, the opportunity to explore the practice of yoga and our relationship with ourself, a space to let time spent on the mat be a reflection of all we think we know and to see all that we can let go of. My aim is always to create an environment for people to get away from the daily aspects of their lives and to spend some time exploring the practice of yoga. The more time I spend on the mat, the more aware I become of how much there is to unlearn, how many layers of learning there are to be unraveled and stripped away. From the moment we arrive into this world we become a student of life, we become human sponges for all that we see, hear and feel and whether we like it or not, we pick up behavioral tendencies and personality traits. A combination of cultural and societal conditioning, education, families, religion and peer pressure can mean that we form ideas around who we are, what our role is and what we are capable of doing in our lifetime. It never ceases to amaze me how many self -limiting beliefs we put upon ourselves, how many times a day we say to ourselves that “we can’t do that” or “that’s not for me”. I know this for a fact, because I do it to myself, so please understand that everyone does it, no exceptions. Everyone has an idea in their head around who they are, everyone has a lense through which they identify with themselves and it is through this lense that they make decisions, form judgements and view their life.

So in Chiang Mai this time I asked everyone to consider what in sanskrit is called a Sankalpa / संकल्प  (a sankalpa is an intention formed by the heart and mind — a solemn vow, determination, or resolve). In our first practice we meditated on the idea of “what is my will” or “what is it that I want” – the idea being that in most aspects of our life we are inclined to live out our unconscious tendencies (what it is we think we should want, what it is we think others want for us) and perhaps as a result suppress our true desires, understanding though that if our desires seem purely materialistic it is important to look beneath that and understand what the true desire is. What remains important to such a resolve is the willingness to tune in, to listen and hear, the willingness to sit with and reflect upon what arises and then finally the willingness to act upon it. A sankalpa is voiced in the present tense, it does not need to be spoken out loud and is a deeply personal thing. It could be along the lines “I am compassionate” or “I am free” or “I am strong”. The suggestion is though that it becomes something that we may turn to, something that we may use to bring us back when we are lost. In fact it is suggested, that the process of getting lost is almost helpful as it gives us the chance to come back to whatever our resolve is, to practice the art of coming back to who we are. For if we are truly heartfelt in our desires, then it is nothing more than coming back to the essence of our true self.

So it was from here we started. This was our starting point and it was the point we always returned to. The question was always there “am I reverting back to my conditioned tendencies or am I being true to myself”? In our asana practice never is this a more important question to check in with. Are we pushing too hard, are we caring too much about what someone else is doing, the shape our body is making – are we acting through the lense of what we have learnt or are we instead allowing ourselves the opportunity to unlearn layers of conditioning asana by asana.

As well as an asana based practice, we acknowledged that according the Sutras the asanas are just the tip of the iceberg. So daily we worked with pranayama (breathing) practices and each day we went a little further into the idea of meditation. We explored the practice of yoga nidra – 20 mins of guided rotational awareness. In this practice the student is slowly brought into a deeply relaxed state, the only sense channel that is kept open is auditory as they are asked to listen to the voice at all times and to stay awake. The 5th limb of yoga is Pratyahara and the suggestion is that to learn to meditate we need to learn to withdraw from the senses, to turn inwards – yoga nidra is a wonderful way to practice this. The next stage on the path to self realisation (the 6th limb) is Dharana and so for this we practiced a “tradak” meditation – we sat in a circle with a lit candle in the middle. Students were asked to stare at the candle, blinking as little as possible and then after around 5 minutes were invited to close their eyes. People often say that when they close their eyes it is like seeing a photographic imprint of the candle inside their head – having something to focus on for many is the most powerful form of meditation as it provides a rock, steady anchor point for the mind which is inclined to wander. Then finally we practiced Dhyana (7th limb) – quite simply the state of meditation. For this everyone was taken on a guided meditation where the invitation was to simply be present, to observe what came up and to let it flow though and out of them.

The final state, the final limb is Samadhi or bliss. It is a complete state of oneness. I am not sure that any of us got there as a permanent status but I do know for a fact that small windows were experienced, small windows of absolute joy and contentment. Of course though, as I said to everyone at our last practice, the biggest and number one challenge is to take our practice from the mat and out in the world. It is and remains to be my number one practice, it is something I stumble over daily but without my practice on the mat it would be even harder, for me anyway (I absolutely acknowledge that for some people a physical yoga practice is not what helps them, it could be art, music, running; whatever that keeps you in flow).

So when we step on to the mat whilst we may get lost in our own conditioning, whilst we may to fall back into old patterns of behaviour but through our resolve, our sankalpa, we may develop a deeper level of awareness to our actions and we may learn to unlearn what it is we know and to slowly find greater clarity and understanding. Ultimately we give ourselves a way to come back, a life line back to presence, peace and contentment and what could be more wonderful than that!

“The curious thing is that with these exponential changes, so much of what we currently know is just getting to be wrong. So many of our assumptions are getting to be wrong. As so, as we move forward, not only is it going to be a question of learning it is also going to be a question of unlearning.” — John Seely Brown.

 

 

The gift that keeps on giving

The first thing that you do when you arrive into this world is to take an inhale, the last thing you will do before leaving your body is to release an exhale. The breath is us, we are our breath. Our breath is our energy, our life force, it is what sustains us. In yoga it is what we call Prana. So how is it that we take our breath for granted, by that I mean we pay scant attention to it? Really is it not the most amazing gift that we could ever have been given, after all it’s our breathe that keeps us in our bodies. Fun Facts: You can survive 3 days without shelter, 3 days without water and around 3 weeks without food (so long as you have water) and yet you can only survive for 3 minutes without oxygen.

There are so many ways to heal yourself, so many amazing modalities available that are continually being developed. Medicine is always advancing and is able to do great things. And yet all of this comes at a cost, a cost because we have to pay for it and potentially with some forms of medicine a physical and emotional cost. This doesn’t mean it is a bad thing, I love that we have so many choices available to us and so many options as to how we wish to journey on this planet. Yet, I do always come back to this thought that what we have available to us is the greatest and most healing tool possible to us and it comes totally for free. The breath within us does not come at a cost, it is there for us to use and to use freely which is quite frankly, pretty amazing.

Breathing is one of the simplest things in the world, it requires no effort, it is an autonomous function of the body to breath. However, it may be simple to breathe it is not necessarily easy and it is increasingly clear to me how so many people are simply not able to breathe in a way that nourishes them. I am a huge fan of the yogi Donna Farhi and in her “The Breathing Book” she says “the process of breathing is the most accurate metaphor we have for the way that we personally approach life, how we live our lives, and how we react to the inevitable changes that life brings us”. Just take a moment to contemplate what this statement means to you. How are you breathing now? Where can you feel you breath? Where is your awareness?

It could be said that most people are not aware that they are breathing poorly but that they may be aware that they are experiencing some disturbances of some kind, again as Donna Farhi says “from headaches to heart disease and a vast array of common maladies in between, breathing badly takes its secret toll”. Learning to breathe well could be the greatest gift that you could give to yourself. Not only does it allow you to feel more in control, more peaceful and more comfortable but it is an empowering step to wellness. Everyone that I work with now, I remind them all the time that the absolute priority is their breath, it is where the party is at. When we learn to breath well we learn to move away from the fight/flight state. We start to move into a place of healing and being. We allow ourselves to move away from fear and into acceptance, to move away from wanting and into gratitude, to move away from anger and into compassion, to move away from grasping and into surrender. We simply move into love. I am yet to witness anyone experience any form of negative response to breathing with awareness, after all breathing is what our body does best and the body is simply doing what it does best only with greater efficiency and greater results.

So let us move away from this

and into this

(No apologies made for the gratuitous Benedict Cumberbatch image 😉 )

 x

How can we live a more empowered life?

Do you believe in destiny? Do you believe that you are here to fulfill your own divine purpose or do you believe that life is simply a lottery game to be played. Whatever you believe, I hope that we can all acknowledge that our life is a gift, and perhaps maybe, like me, you can see that our lives are in fact a divine gift. Let’s start by looking at how we came into this world, we take the creation of a new life for granted every day but if you think about it long enough, it really is a miracle. Being born is not easy, it is in fact pretty darn hard, growing up is not easy and continuing to live life with wellness and happiness is not easy either. Life is hard, tricky and downright messy. So the fact that we are all here, living, breathing and being is quite frankly incredible. Please do take a moment here and now, to stop and let that fact sink in. Giving myself as an example, I have survived almost 16,000 days on this planet so far and whilst it has not been rosy all the time, I am still here!

It is my belief, and I do not expect everyone to subscribe to this point of view, that we are all here for a reason. No, our lives are not fully predetermined, there is of course large amounts of choice to be made, but if we all allowed ourselves to really, genuinely and wholeheartedly listen to what makes us feel excited, inspired and passionate then maybe we can see that there is some purpose to us being in our bodies. And yet even this is not that straight forward. It is not like you are born and are given a little slip of paper telling you what this is, in fact so many people go through life completely unaware that they are missing out on something wonderful; perhaps they may not feel as happy as they would like to feel but that’s life right. Perhaps they know what they love but for various reasons are choosing to ignore the signs. Happiness is not available to us all right? Life is supposed to be hard yes? Maybe we simply tell ourselves that happiness is something we have to earn or maybe we tell ourselves that it is in fact our own angst that gives us an edge and we quite like it. Of course you all know that that way of thinking is the biggest load of BS right, the biggest con in the world. Existential angst ain’t going to make anyone a happier person, a more successful person and certainly not a well person. The reality is those who live like this are fast asleep, not seeing nor understanding that yes, it is in fact our absolute right, our birthright, to be happy and it is our job to do all we can to be happy. Because through our happiness we extend happiness to others. As a parent to me this feels doubly important, because through modelling my belief in my right to happiness I hope that my children will know that they too have a right to be happy and well. Imagine how empowering it would be to feel entirely responsible for your own happiness, to know that your happiness was not just as a result of good or bad luck. That your happiness came from being empowered in the fundamental act of following the path of your destiny.

So how do we figure all this out? It is almost like we need a road map telling us how to get there, a map with different routes & options to take, a map that allowed us to make our own choices but yet still provided us with signs along the way to help us know we are ok and not lost. As I said there is no fortune cookie we are given with our inner truth written inside it. We have to figure it out for ourselves, we have to find a way to access what it is we know is right for us. And even more than that we have to have the guts to stand up and say “This is who I am and this is what I want do”, so why is this so hard? Well the truth is, who we think we should be and what we think we should do does not always meet up to others expectations and this is problematic. It is because of this that so many of us shut it down, block it out or cover it up, we put it away because may be it requires too much of us, is  simply too scary, too daunting or feels like too much hard work.

As a Yoga Therapist I see my sole purpose being to help individuals feel empowered to find their way to wellness. Understanding though that wellness is not about any form of cure, quick fix or get rich program. Wellness is, in my mind, about feeling totally free to explore passions, inspirations, creativity and joy. It is through wellness that we can find happiness. In fact the two are synonymous with each other. You could be riddled with disease & pain but still be well and happy. You could have to work all the hours given each day just to make ends meet but still be well and happy. Because once we understand that wellness and happiness are not derived from how we look or feel nor from our perceived successes or failures but is much more from a state of being, it is through this that we find happiness. Viktor Frankl in his incredible book “Man’s search for meaning” showed that people could go through unbelievable adversity, such as being imprisoned in a German concentration camp, but that they could live to tell the tale so long as they had meaning to their lives. The ones who were resilient to the trauma were the ones who were able to hold onto what they had in that moment.

Still we need a road map to happiness, we need more than just the esoteric ideal of living to your truth, it is all very well telling yourself that the way to be happy is to follow your dream but the reality is not so easy. We need ways to help us figure it out and be ok with it. We need, in essence, to find what it is that gives us meaning and we need to follow that path without any sense of fear. For me this is my daily work and I have a tool box of resources to help me, and it is this tool box that I offer to others.

So here it is……

Yoga – Sutra 1:2 of Sri Patanjali “Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah (yoga is the cessation of the mind stuff) – The practice of yoga encompasses everything – how we live our life, how we act around others, the postures, breathing and meditation. It is the most profound set of practices and has time and time again shown us the way. As someone said to me after class today “I never ever regret going to yoga, I always feel better afterwards” – what could be more amazing than that. Yoga’s sole goal, as laid out in the 8 limbs of yoga, is to guide us to peace, joy and contentment. Yoga’s goal is not to be able to do a free standing handstand nor have 3,000 instagram followers, yoga’s goal is to offer us a route to feeling good about ourselves. (https://www.ekhartyoga.com/blog/the-8-limbs-of-yoga-explained)

Ayurveda – the sister science to yoga and called the Science of Life. It is a sophisticated and powerful mind-body health system. The two main guiding principles of Ayurveda are a) the mind and the body are inextricably connected, and b) nothing has more power to heal and transform the body than the mind. It is a personalized approach to health, and knowing your mind-body type (dosha) allows you to make optimal choices about diet, exercise, supplements, and all other aspects of your lifestyle.

Mindfulness – the practice of non judgemental awareness. A fully secular approach to finding peace and contentment.

Diet – what we eat makes a difference and within Ayurveda practices we advise individuals to eat according to their dosha (see Ayurveda)

Lifestyle – determining what makes us happy through a process of understanding our stress triggers and blissors, that combined with giving ourselves the freedom to set short, medium & long term goals to enable us to get to where we want to be, enables us to start to live a more truthful life.

Homeopathy – I am also a trained homeopath and whilst this is not an essential part of the road map, it is something that I am happy to explore with people. Homeopathy is an ancient and powerful system of medicine, it is based purely on energy and as such is incredibly gentle upon the body but has huge capacity to bring about big shifts.

Bringing all of these resources together is powerful. It invites the individual to fully lean in and explore what it is that makes them happy. It asks them to question all their life goals and dreams and to really be sure that these goals are authentic. It is hard to do this work by yourself, in response to life we build a cocoon around ourselves which forms layers and layers of protection and so to strip that back, to peel back the layers requires plenty of compassionate self exploration. But the beauty is once we start to peel away these layers, once we start to see what it feels like to experience moments of happiness as opposed to fear and anxiety, we know deep in our hearts that we have to keep going. So when I work with people in this way, it is my role to merely facilitate this emergence from the cocoon into a glorious butterfly ready to fly.

So next time your find yourself saying you are “Living the dream” – just ask yourself the question “whose dream are you living, yours or someone else’s” Be empowered to live your own life, know and understand that to live a life of wellness comes from living the life you are meant to be living.

And I leave you with a few words from the sufi poet Rumi

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