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#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

Yeah, me too…..

What if the sole reason I write all this stuff down, the sole reason for any social media engagement at all, the blogs and instagram posts; what if the sole reason I write it all down is purely for my own selfish need – how would that make you feel. When I write stuff down is it because I am there, is it because I know it all and am wisely and kindly sharing my knowledge with you all? Or is it more that I write stuff down because it is the only way that I have to remind myself what I need to know, is it because each day I am reminded how little I know and how much I need to un-know and is it because when I write things down and share them I get this sense of a universal response saying “yeah, me too” and is that really the only reason why I do it at all?

Life is bumpy, messy, shitty, uncomfortable and downright hard, they didn’t tell me that at school and I was a slow learner but I am fast catching up, and yet so often we feel we need to go it alone. We build up walls and barriers (sorry DT but walls never ever will be a good thing), we create a dam to stem the tide of feeling, we create facades to deflect our true self and over time we build up this little internal store house of secrets, the stuff we don’t like to tell people about. In that store we place our anxieties, our fears, our mistakes and all the dirty things about ourselves that we don’t like. But the problem is keeping secrets is hard, secrets take the shine of our own brilliance without us even knowing it because it is as a result of those secrets that we feel ashamed; and shame sucks. Shame is the worst.  As the expert on shame Brene Brown says “Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It’s the most primitive human emotion we all feel—and the one no one wants to talk about. If left to its own devices, shame can destroy lives”. But we keep these secrets so that know one will ever find out that you are a fraud and that perhaps you are not the person you say you are, maybe you know nothing, maybe you know too much. How shocking would that be. What fools we can be!

So what do we do with these secrets, how do we reveal the contents of the pandoras box and how do we as a result allow ourselves to be who we are, to stand in our own truth. The other day I phoned a friend, I offered a glimpse into the fear that I was working with, and her response was the kindest thing anyone could say to me. She said “It is ok to be sad, it is ok to be scared but most of all it is ok to show me your vulnerabilities”. Such a powerful and kind thing to say, so much empathy in those words, so much understanding because in those words, beneath the lines she was saying “yeah, me too”. She was saying “I hear you, I see you and I am there with you”. Empathy is the acknowledgment of someone else’s fear and pain, it is without judgement a moment of profound understanding. Through empathy we are given the permission to dismantle the wall, to show the cracks in our being, to allow the fear to trickle away and let some of the light shine on to our deeply flawed being.

To be vulnerable is not easy though, we create layers and layers of resistance, it is easier and it is safer to build up that wall. And so this week as I have allowed myself time to reflect, to be quiet and to be still, I have found the same words come back to me again and again. “It is time to get out of my own way”. I have had enough of feeling not quite good enough,  I have had enough of secrets but most of all I have had enough of feeling ashamed. And then, as if to confirm all that I knew and understood a friend sent me this quote from the amazing and inspiring Brene Brown’s TED talk on shame

You’re wired for struggle

You’re imperfect and vulnerable

You’re worthy of love and compassion

 And so this is why I write and why I post on social media. Yet, something tells me now that it is time for more, that I need more. That yes in some ways social media allows us to feel less alone, you can reach out at any time of day and there is always someone out there ready to talk to you, but at the same time it can make us feel more alone. I do not have the answers right now but I do know that my soul seeks for deeper connections, for a deeper sharing of my truths – the good, the bad and the ugly and that what my heart really craves for  in this year of the Rooster is the profound sense of healing that comes from when those words are spoken with love and connection “yeah, me too”

In love

x

Wake Up!

To wake up :-  To be awakened – To become aware – To become roused from an inactive state or sleep

But what does it all really mean?

To me, to be awake is to be free from self inflicted suffering and to be awake is to be happy. Sounds good right, sounds super appealing to me, so what is the problem? Why can’t we just do this, why can’t we just wake up and be happy on request? If only it worked like that. Of course the reality is to Wake Up is not something we just do, it isn’t something you can put onto your New Years list of resolutions and hope that it will all work its way out. Whilst the actual process of Waking Up is something that can simply happen to us without any effort at all and can happen in a moment; there is a degree of self realisation that needs to happen, you could perhaps call it a moment of clarity in which we are able to understand that the self (ego) is not who we are, that we understand that pretty much all of the stuff that goes on in our head is an illusion created for us by our mind. Waking Up is not complicated, in fact it is the simplest one thing we can do with our lives and yet we make it so hard for ourselves.

Let me explain. Around 10 years ago I was feeling very sorry for myself, I was lost, unhappy, needy and insecure, I practiced yoga which I loved with a passion and yet there was still something missing. It felt to me that life was unduly harsh and that I did not deserve all that happened to me. I would absolutely go so far as to say I was suffering a form of highly heightened anxiety but it would also be fair to say that I allowed myself to identify with those feelings of anxiety, it became who I was and it became the lense through which I saw the world. Of course, when we become lost to our own suffering we are unable to know who we are, we are drowning under the multiple voices of the self to whom we have identified with, as a result we lose all sense of integrity to our purpose – we are asleep. Truthfully we have always been asleep but now the volume of noise has increased to such a level that the volume of pain and suffering has become intolerable so as to cause such a disturbance that it feels out of control. What happened to me is not unusual, it is not a story that makes me any different nor superior to anyone else, but it did teach me the value of waking up to what is real and what is not real. You see when the pain becomes so great that we hit rock bottom, it can become unbearable. For me, that is certainly how it felt. I was clinging on with sheer desperation to this life that I thought I needed, these things I felt I ought to have and to this insane desire for approval from others and the only way out of it was to let go of the cliff top and fall.

I remember, many many years back, going to a meditation course, I argued again and again with the teacher, my feelings being that I didn’t have time to do what was being asked of me, life felt too hard. Hard was a word I used often, the feeling of relentlessly coming up against an immovable object. How deluded was I! But you see, at that time I was asleep, I convinced myself that I was doing the work already and I was fine and yet as the trajectory continued and the levels of anxiety increased it became very obvious that I was far from fine and it was time to, quite literally, “wake up and smell the coffee”.

This Christmas we went to the UK, it was the first time in 8 years we had been for this time and as a result my children had no real memory of Christmas in England. It was lovely, we created new memories, made new traditions and experienced old ones also. As tradition dictates we went to church, my children asked lots of questions about what it all meant as the church is not an activity we have in our HK life, so naturally they were a little curious, it stimulated an interesting debate. I would not call myself as ever having been religious, but for a moment I felt like their education had been lacking in something but then I had another moment as I caught myself on this one. I teach my children that spirituality is to live a life with honesty and integrity, it is to live a life with kindness and love but I will now also add to that by saying that spirituality is to live an AWAKENED life. We have to be careful to not get caught up in belief systems that create more distortions, a belief system is simply what we believe and it can be dangerous, dangerous as we rely on those beliefs for us to feel we have an identity and yet the result can often be that we become disempowered and passive. I am not arguing against religion and really this is not a debate about religion, however when I finally began to see the world in a different way I found a faith that I didn’t know was possible, it was certainly not something that had been taught to me at school. It was a faith that the ups and downs of life’s rollercoaster were ok, it was a faith that we will go through moments of huge insecurity and challenge but still be ok. I would also say that I started to find an ability to listen and to be open. One day, someone spoke to me the same words as they had done so many years before, but finally I was ready to hear it. I was ready to admit that I was unhappy, I was ready to listen. I woke up. (Please note that to me faith & belief are two different concepts, but please do think about this one yourself and observe your feelings towards each word)

Do not misunderstand me though. I do not call myself an enlightened being, no one is going to make me a saint or call me a buddha, however I am considerably more awake than I used to be. I am also a human being, I am as flawed as the next person. I can be just as much a fool as you all can be. I can slip up, fall asleep and fall back into old patterns of behaviour like you can. I can become fearful, I can close off, stop listening and close off to the experience. I can absolutely be inclined to have a moan about how “hard” my life is, when of course the moment I accept my life for what it is, things change in an instant. But the joy is, once you have glimpsed those fleeting moments of pure freedom and happiness from being awake, you know how glorious and delicious it feels and you suddenly know that everything else that came before was not real. This is not to say it was bad, there is never any value in making yourself feel bad or passing judgement upon yourself, the past is the past, move on.

Why do I write this? Because I believe that many people in this world are sleep walking through life and I want to say to them all Wake Up! Wake up because if you don’t you will eternally be a passive observer to your life. You will permanently be trapped in time, a slave to the past and the future; forever regretting the actions of the time gone by and hoping for things to change. We are all on our own journeys, we are all doing the best that we can, we are all flawed but beautiful human beings and we are all capable of living a life of awareness. So this next week try something out, try to watch everything in you and around you as if it were happening to someone else, do not personalise what is happening to you, just see what is there and see how you respond. Then next time you find yourself in a challenging or uncomfortable situation, do this again and just see how the experience feels for you. Practices such as yoga, meditation, visualisations, chanting and other mindful techniques all help because they are based around coming into awareness and allowing the energy to flow through you. For sure it takes some discipline and it takes practice. I know this because I know that on many days I struggle, but there is something very reassuring about knowing that I am not alone in this. We are all in it together and that to me is enough.

And to close I shall leave you with this wonderful passage from Anthony De Mello’s talks on Waking Up – one of the most profound sets of teachings I think I have ever come across (http://www.demellospirituality.com)

“As the light of awareness settles upon your darkness, whatever is evil will disappear, whatever is good will be fostered, you will have to experience that for yourself. But this calls for a disciplined mind and when I say disciplined I am not talking about effort, I am talking about something else. When there is something within you that moves in this direction it creates its own discipline, the moment you get bitten by the bug of awareness, it is so delightful, it is the most delightful thing in the world, the most important because there is nothing so important in the world as coming awake, nothing and there is nothing so delightful as being aware. Would you rather live in darkness, would you rather act without awareness, would you rather talk without awareness etc? As Socrates said ‘the unaware life is not worth living’ but the truth is most people don’t live aware lives, they live mechanical lives – so Wake Up!”

with love

C x

 

Step on to the mat with me DJT I dare you…..

Because yoga is what I do I can’t help but wonder what I would do if Donald Trump were to step onto the mat with me. What would I ask of him as a yoga teacher, what do I think he needs? And DT, if you are reading this, come to class, I’ll even offer you a free trial because buster, you really need the yoga.

DT you are firmly embedded within your base chakras meaning you exist only to work within the confines of your ego & your pitta dosha is so way out of whack meaning you are angry & irritable. It isn’t a great combination personally. But hey I’m not judging. However you’re an important man now, this stuff needs addressing.

So here we go:-

1️⃣ I’ll ask you to sit in stillness & listen to rise & fall of your breath. Something tells me this would be a new practice for you, but that’s ok, you can start at any time in your life. As you sit in stillness, you’ll notice the thoughts that go on in your mind, some of them may be good thoughts & some may be bad thoughts. I’ll ask you to understand that they are just thoughts & do not necessarily reflect your true self. I’d ask you to observe how you feel.

2️⃣ I’ll ask you move into certain poses, which you’ll stay in for about 5 minutes. This is called yin yoga, it’s suitable for your pitta constitution & it will challenge you on every level. Your body will refuse & not want to soften & let go, your mind will get bored & restless & I expect you’ll get angry with me. That’s ok, I’ll just ask you to stay there.

3️⃣ All the while I’ll ask you to stay aware of your breath.

4️⃣ I’ll ask you to lie down on your back into what we call Savasana & I’ll ask you to be there in peace. Peace with your body, mind & self. I’ll ask you to understand that there is no separation between the mind & the body, that everything is connected.

5️⃣ I’ll ask you to do this every day.

You see Donald being a good person takes practice & discipline. We are all the same you know, we are all made of the same stuff, we are all humans, we aren’t different in that way. But to train ourselves to think before we speak, to listen to what people have to say, to hear what is really being said & to have compassion for those people, that is the practice. That is the discipline. You can make money & be good at business. You can impress people with material wealth. You can buy your way into what you want & believe that’s freedom. However the truth remains that real success lies in our ability to find happiness & meaning to our lives & so that when it comes to the final reckoning that’s what people remember us for. And that’s the work to be done. That’s the discipline & the practice. Don’t be lazy DT, do the work!

In peace

P.S. It’s Friday folks……sending out loving hugs to you all ❤️

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