I will be emptying my head on occasion to this page so check back in now and again to see what's going on........
I have recently had an adventure with two of my oldest friends. We walked the 96 miles of the West Highland Way. 7 days of getting up, putting our boots on and walking for up to 7 and a half hours a day. Now, we're great friends but you can only talk for so long. So in those periods of silence I became very focussed on putting one foot at a time on the earth. Became very focussed on the Easrth and all its different forms (soil, rock, gravel..) beneath my feet and of the wonderful sights nature displayed every day. My walks became a walking meditation, chanting mantra (to myself and out loud) and being mindful of each step forward. In honour of that wonderful experience we practiced a short sequence "Earth Salutation" in our classes this week and the reaction being so positive I am posting a little short stickplan of the asana and their flow. Enjoy and Namaste!
Dogs in Yoga.....
Some of you will know I have a thing about dogs. Love them to bits. And that theme (believe it or not!) runs through yoga. Dogs are revered in some parts of the East...and seen to be scavengers in others. Shiva, in one of his many maifestations, had four dogs (representing the Vedas, or ancient scriptures). And this wasn’t consdidered too cool but he could be a bit controversial, could Shiva. In our asana practice, Adho Muhka Svanasana (Downward Dog to you and me) finds a place in almost every yoga class. Why? Well, as well as giving the whole of the back body a wonderful stretch (Love it! Love it! Love it!), the fingers, toes and soles of the feet are lengthened, the neck gets a gentle stretch through the weight of the head, the core is engaged gently to prevent the spine “dipping” and there are all of the benefits of going upside down. Urdhva Muhka Svanasana (Upward Dog) is challenging is other ways – it requires real strength in the arms, the ability to relax and retract the shoulders, the focus on opening the front of the body enables a gentle backbend and, depending on your variation, the tops of the feet and the front of the ankles are opened. Phew! There’s a lot going on in these two simple asana! But as a bit of fun lets take that “dog” imagery more deeply into our practice. As well as the physical elements to dogs in asana, there’s the other stuff, the more esoteric imagery of the dog in yoga.....what on earth am I going on about...read on........ Dogs are Loyal.....Does your body blindly do what you ask of it without question or resistance? Your body serves you generally well in life (if you take care of it and respect it!) but now and again it might refuse to go along with what your mind wants – a bit like a dog pulling on a lead! Understand why it is resisting and work with those constraints. Dogs are highly instinctive....do you listen to your body’s instincts? After Savasana I usually say “move in the way your body wants to right now” and I see people listening and moving slowly, stretching, rocking , but do you pay much attention to it the rest of the time? Your body knows what it wants, needs, likes...maybe we should listen to that inner wisdom a bit more. Dogs are focussed...when my dogs get the scent of something it doesn’t matter how well trained they are (hmmm – jury is out on that one!!) or what else there is around them, they won’t be distracted from following that scent. Their minds are one-pointed and focussed and it isn’t easy to sidetrack them. And this is what we should be striving for in our meditation practice. Being very much in the present moment, practicing mindfulness, stilling the busy mind. Hard through that can sometimes be. So, our bodies and minds are a bit like our canine friends....we can train them and shape them to be what we want them to be – but only if we dedicate time and committment, listen to our inner wisdom and hear what it is our bodies and minds need each time we step onto the mat. And if that all comes together we will be waggy tailed and just whooping with joy at our lives off the mat! Namaste!
January Blues........So.We’ve been mulling over all of this New Year stuff in our practice so far this year and generally agreeing that, in order to benefit from looking forward, we need to consider the past. And I’ve been drawing analogies with forward and backward bending asana (such as Bhujangasana or Cobra as its more commonly known) and how as we open our chests and focus forwards (the future?)we are also at the same time aware of what’s going on in the back (the past?) and its been going a wee bit too far to be honest ... but that aside it all kind of came home to roost this week for me with a challenging situation at work. Won’t bore you with the details (phone or email if you really want to know but it’s not advisable! Ha!)but it was a situation which was unresolved by 5pm Friday so I knew was going to be top of my email and “to do” list on Monday and lets just say it kind of tarnished my weekend (whoops to Dry January!) ...I went to Carol’s monthly Saturday workshop and rather than be my cheery (to the point of probably annoying everyone!) self, I found myself placing my mat in a corner and being generally withdrawn. Kind of just wanting to be with my body and my breath and that's it. Feeling a bit raw, a bit vulnerable to my emotions. And these workshops are a bit of a social occasion too so this was not the norm. (See the events page for the dates of all Carol’s workshops)
We all face challenges in life... little annoyances (as I was facing) through to quite traumatic circumstances and we all cope differently. For some people, knowing that a tricky situation lies ahead can make them anxious, maybe even fearful. With me, I withdraw. Don’t want to talk about it. Would rather “stew in my own juice” as my lovely old mum would say. But there comes a point when I have to talk and when I do...boy...you’ll know exactly how I’m feeling. That’s the pitta dosha in me (more about that another time.....).
Yoga can help. It can help you feel more comfortable in the situation or be better prepared to handle it. And asana has a key role in this.... Arm balances build confidence and strength (Vasisthasana or Bakasana for example).....Backbends (Bhujangasana or Salambasana) open the chest and are kind of mood boosters. And trying to find ways to adapt a challenging posture or make the body sync with the breath are all basic parts of our yoga practice. There are entire classes dedicated towards lifting anxiety or depression through yoga! But, just as we face the challenges of an asana class, we also practice trying to keep the mind quiet and learn from the last time we made that shape with our bodies – what could we have done differently?
Using the breath to calm and focus the mind not only helps us to move into and out of asana with control and ease, its a useful tool when we are preparing for that awkward face-to-face situation or plucking up courage to make that phone call. And if we’ve faced that situation before, how could we do it differently or better this time? If we can use the breath to manoeuvre the body into a tricky posture, which was maybe beyond us before, can we use this technique off the mat? We sure can! So next time you find yourself with a tricky prospect in front of you, call on your breath, do a little side plank or a camel and face it head on with a calm mind.....and I’m off to practice what I preach... and I promise my next thought dump will be a bit cheerier!